White Collar's second-season finale has everything but the kitchen sink: the return of several prominent guest characters, including the villainous Vincent Adler. His takedown was certainly rewarding, but did it live up to the hype? That depends on how you look at it.
Peter and Neal are strolling through New York, with Neal carrying a box full of fake Rolexes, on their way to the FBI office. Sara is there waiting for them, claiming she's found something big in the ocean - but first, we have to have the obligatory awkward moment between the two of them since they were locking lips at the end of "Power Play." And everyone else can see the mood shift in their body language within moments. This doesn't drag on too long, and we move immediately into Peter briefing the team on the Adler investigation. Sara believes he's looking for a sunken U-boat off the New York coast, and Peter is all for using that obsession to their advantage. After all, crazy people can sometimes be baited into making mistakes.
Jones and Diana are dispatched to find Alex, while Sara demands to know about Alex's role in Neal's life - and then, when he says that he and Alex are "over," asks him to lunch. Meanwhile, Peter and Neal meet Mozzie to discuss proper use of the fractal antenna. Peter thinks that Alex might be able to help them narrow down their search area, so Neal agrees to call her again. When he does, Adler picks up, smarmy as ever. "After all you've lost - first Kate, now Alex - why keep doing this to yourself?" he questions.
Mozzie tells Neal that Alex was doing business with a guy named Teddy Eames, and in turn, Neal tells Peter that as he was the last person to see her, Eames might be useful. Since he likes trafficking in hot merchandise, they decide to make use of that box of fake Rolexes. Once Peter puts a bit of a show for Eames' benefit, Neal gets him to talk about the last time he saw Alex. She was headed to the garden at a local conservatory.
Neal and Peter decide to check the place out themselves, but when they go their separate ways, Neal disappears and Peter gets a phone call from Adler. He's got Neal in the back of a limousine and makes it clear that Peter is to join him. He forces Peter to surrender his weapon and then pops up in the front seat. "The Kate I knew would still be alive," he taunts Neal, making it clear that what he wants is his former protege. He orders Neal to remove his tracking anklet, then has the two of them drug themselves unconscious so no one knows where they're headed. Oh, Mr. Adler, you are a diabolical one, that's for sure.
Our heroes wake up in a room with Alex, who isn't thrilled that they don't have a rescue plan. Before they can start thinking of one, Adler shows up and reveals to them that he has, in fact, already found his missing U-boat. In fact, he wants to give them a whole museum-level spiel about it. Dude could make a good tour guide. He's expecting Neal and Peter to crack the thing. They find an Enigma code-breaking machine (yep, like that great Robert Harris novel) which is wired with explosives. Alex has a lightbulb moment, and is able to give them the appropriate codeword to stop the detonation. Yet when they open the hatch of the sub, there's still more explosives. Yep, this is the world's most explosive submarine.
Meanwhile, since Neal's missed his lunch date, Sara and Mozzie call Jones and Diana for help. The Justice League - and the fractal antenna - set out trying to find their friends.
Neal and Peter are eventually able to get inside the U-boat and soon find its very pricey cargo: lots of, as Peter calls it, "Nazi plunder from all over Europe." Neal believes it's worth billions of dollars, much to Adler's delight. Peter is wondering how to get out of the boat, and Neal realizes that Mozzie must have gotten the fractal antenna to work somehow. He finds a similar fractal on a device inside the cargo hold, but before they can make a run for it, Adler shows up with his goons and orders everyone back in the limo. They all wake up again, this time in a drydock tied to cinder blocks. Adler intends to drown them all. "He's taking the whole archvillain thing pretty seriously," Neal deduces.
Thankfully, Mozzie is getting a signal from his fractal antenna, and is able to bring everyone else to their rescue. This means that Sara has to watch Neal and Alex kissing. Obviously, they're not over. This is going to be awkward. Sara and Alex meet awkwardly, and then Alex parts ways with Neal, who's left trying to patch up things with Sara. They eventually kiss and make up after dinner at the Burke residence. I hope Alex makes a comeback, because I sort of wish she'd put up more of a fight for Neal on the way out the door.
We still have to find Adler and make sure that he gets what he deserves - before he gets away with the sub. Neal is understandably determined to do this himself, and he's the first one to find his former mentor. He demands to know why Kate had to die. "The explosives on the plane were her idea," Adler tells him, detailing how Kate called him to say that Peter had arrived and ruined the plan to have both Neal and Kate escape. This is about the time that stuff starts blowing up bigtime. Perhaps that's a requirement of White Collar season finales.
The explosion (and Peter) is the end of Adler, but in the wake Peter finds a flaming piece of a painting he also saw in Neal's apartment. It's enough for him to accuse Neal of stealing the entire haul. Hello, massive line drawn in the sand.
Neal gets home to find a note leading him to a storage unit where the contents of the U-boat have been stashed. What's he going to do with all of that stuff? Well, it's pretty much his ultimate temptation, and now he's at odds with Peter, not to mention that he's free of Adler. He can do whatever he wants. I guess we'll see how much he's changed in season three.
Keeping in mind that there's a certain expectation that season finales will be a Big Deal, I found myself content with this finale but not necessarily in shock and awe like I was in season one. Season one caught me by surprise; season two didn't, so I'd have to give the edge to season one in that category. This is not a finale that's going to keep me up tonight. I'm glad that we wrapped up the Adler/Kate plotline with this episode and didn't drag it out, but I'm also curious to see what the show does now without that ongoing mystery to propel it. I've said before that I believe White Collar can survive without a mythology, so I'd love to see if the writers try that, or introduce something else we've got to start unraveling.
As usual, the heart of this show is the dynamic that exists between Neal and Peter, and that's where the best parts of this episode were for me. With all that history between them, the revelation with Neal seemed a bit rushed; I'd love to have seen a few more little hints, something that creates a growing suspicion for the audience, not just that it happened and now Peter is ticked. And I would have been more excited had Neal knocked off Adler himself. After all, Neal has every right to want the guy dead - so much like when he finally confronted Fowler in "Free Fall," it'd be great to have that ongoing undercurrent of "Is he really going to become a killer?" Probably not, but if there was ever anyone he deserved to get a shot to shoot, Adler was it. I'm certainly interested to know who left him the goods, and how far Peter is going to go in order to prove his suspicions that Neal's a thief.
The rest of the episode was hit and miss for me. I have to agree with Neal that Adler was taking the supervillain thing a bit too far; he was starting to veer into cartoonish territory for me. Would've loved some more Diana and Jones in the mix, certainly, but I seem to say that often. While I'm glad to see the return of Alex, I'd love to have seen her depart on a higher note; she obviously still has feelings for Neal and I wish she'd fight for them and not just resign herself to his being with Sara. As far as the Sara subplot, I've already registered my dislike for it, but moving past that - the entire scene with Peter and Elizabeth seemed to be a very obvious setup for pushing them together. And now, it seems we are to infer, they are together - or on their way there. Where is that going to go? I have no idea, but it's something I'll be keeping my eye on.
To me, White Collar sort of pulled a Burn Notice. The lead character has what he wanted - now what? I was quite enamored with this bold move when Burn Notice tried it, but that show has another two years under its belt, and a certain clear path laid out for it. White Collar, not so much. I don't have a real firm idea of where the show might go next season, which is both worthy of curiosity and trepidation. All good ideas can quickly become bad ideas and vice versa. So when it comes to this finale, all I can do is turn the page, and wait and see what's next.