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Saturday, 3 January 2015

White Collar, Series 6.

White Collar.
Series 6.

You know, White Collar might encapsulate much of what I dislike about police procedural shows. The rigid reliance on a status quo, the relative sameyness of the plots from episode to episode, the turgidly static relationships between characters. I profess, even though I like the basic premise of the series, and a lot of other things about it, I wasn't remotely torn up or surprised to hear that the sixth series would be the last.

White Collar's sixth series follows conman Neil Caffrey and his FBI handler Peter Burke as they pursue the Pink Panthers, a group of elite thieves who the FBI has been hunting unsuccessfully for years. A wrench is thrown in the works when old enemy Keller shows up, working for Interpol, with the same goal and plan as Neil and Peter. 

As a final series, it is - there. I'll be honest, if it weren't for the last fifteen minutes of the last episode, and the fact that it's much, much shorter than most White Collar series, you wouldn't be able to tell that it's the final series. It feels, in fact, like a rather hasty wrap-up to a series that the writers were realising had reached the end of its natural life. 

I mean, re-introducing an old villain, really.

The re-introduction of Keller and the introduction of the Pink Panthers is clearly meant to feel like Peter and Neil's Moriarty, but neither really establishes much in the way of villain cred at any point in the show. Keller's most manifestly evil action in this series is trying to kill an innocent woman, only to pout adorably when he's told that he can't; and the Pink Panthers never really do anything, except throw about threats and consider committing a large-scale theft. 

Theft, of course, isn't a very good crime to make an audience emote, especially when it's massive theft from a massive, faceless organisation, because the audience isn't really going to sympathise with the victim. That's why heist movies, or con shows like Hustle, will often have the money resting in the hands of a very much individual, human villain, either as the owner of the money or as a representative of the organisation which owns it. Even Doctor Who knew to do that in its heist episode.

This scene was not as dramatic as the picture makes it appear.

But I'm not sure who's meant to be our human villain here. Woodford, who gurns for the camera while barking orders and doesn't have much of a personality beyond that? Keller, who if you divorced him from his actions in previous series would seem more like a slightly darker anti-hero than anything? I find neither of these villains to be especially threatening.

So what we're left with are ineffectual villains, and that's nothing new for White Collars. The heroes are not so bad: Peter and Neil's chemistry is excellent, as always, and the same goes for the chemistry between Elizabeth and everyone. I'd like to say that Diana and Jones' chemistry with everyone is also good, but they barely show up in this last series. It is striking how comparatively little they appear. Sure, they're in every episode, but their screen time feels like it's minutes at most.

But my real bugbear with this series has to be the ending of the final episode. After some vague hints of a greater plan, Neil dies from a bullet wound, only for Peter to find out some months later that Neil was actually alive all along and living in Paris. It's a con meant to be so complete that neither of Neil's best friends know he's alive until Peter finds out, and one of them might not find out even after that.

Good thing they had an episode all about how Peter and Neil are practically
family to make it even more weird!

This strikes me as gigantically out of character. If there's one thing that's been true since the very first episode, it's that Neil places a high value on his friendships and the well-being of his friends. For that to be thrown out for an incredibly cliche plot twist that anyone with two brain cells can see coming from a mile away, in which he emotionally breaks his closest friends and then swans off to Paris, is insulting to the audience.

Endings are difficult, I know, but that ending gives me How I Met Your Mother esque vibes of 'I'm not even sure you tried.' In a way, this would be another series in which a straightforward ending would have worked better: If Neil was given the option to run away and fake his own death, chose not to, and the deal for his freedom came through - it would have represented character development, increased maturity, and ended the series on a positive note. Instead, we get this shambolic mess, in which a bland mass of villains are vanquished before Neil makes an absolutely awful choice.

A disappointing end to a disappointing series of a show that while often very fun, disappointingly failed to live up to its potential. Bah, I'm angry now.

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