Back in September, when I wrote about “Point Blank,” I complained about how I was tired of Neal going behind the FBI’s back as if he would never learn from his mistakes. It was a similar frustrating lack of character growth that led me to abandon Burn Notice.1 I was worried that White Collar was falling into the same trap. “Burke’s Seven” somewhat assuaged my fears in that regard, but “Countermeasures” finally put those worries to bed.

I feel that “Countermeasures” was a necessary episode. If Neal’s character were to grow at all, at some point, he would symbolically have to renounce a life of crime, and while some might lament the fact that this removes his shades of gray, I think that he’s still an interesting character. People don’t need to be morally ambiguous in order to be compelling. The reason I say that this renunciation is symbolic is because Neal didn’t really have the opportunity to break the law in this episode. Sure, he got to hijack an armored truck and counterfeit a bunch of cash, all without his tracking anklet on, but he did that all under coercion, and he was in no position to run. The temptation of the counterfeit plates was largely symbolic for Neal.

But for June’s friend Ford, that temptation was all too real. He was after one last big score in this episode, but as Peter so wisely told Neal, “There’s no such thing as a final score, only the next one.” Until that moment, I don’t think that anybody had ever put in such stark terms for Neal, and that’s when he realized that crime is a vicious circle. If Peter had never caught him, he’d still be conning people, and he’d never have been content enough to cash out.

In his final scene with Mozzie, Neal voiced his uncertainty about the new lessons that he had learned, as if to ask if he were ready to grow up. While some might say that his final words point to the undoing of all the growth that happened during this episode, I think that they’re indicative of him choosing Bryon’s path over Ford’s; he will keep the plates as a reminder and also to keep others away from temptation. (On another level, it might be indicative of him choosing Sara over Alex, but let’s leave romance out of the equation for now.)

Like I said, “Countermeasures” was a necessary episode. While it took a risk by changing Neal’s attitude towards his past crimes from one of pride to one of wistfulness, it cemented Neal’s position with the FBI, and it solidified the Neal/Peter relationship. I think that the will-he/won’t-he-run tension has fully played out by now, so if this is the end of it, then I’m glad.

The bonus here is that all of this happened against the backdrop of a very funny episode, one of the most entertaining of the season. I laughed out loud at Peter’s reactions to Neal’s phone conversation with Elizabeth, and Peter’s discomfort at the dinner party was almost as hilarious. The dialogue was a bit heavy-handed at times, but overall, this was a very strong episode of White Collar, and moreover, it points to the show being ready to let its characters mature.

 

1 That’s part of the reason I gave up on it, at least. At some point, I’ll get around to writing an entry about why I think that Burn Notice is a bad TV show. That’s not to say that it’s totally unenjoyable, but it annoys at least as much as it entertains.

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