Running The Long Con – “White Collar” Then and Now – Part 1

As the USA Network starts cranking up the gears to ready its fans for the mid-season return of WHITE COLLAR, it seems appropriate to take a look back at the last two-and-a-half seasons, to see the impact our favourite criminal consultant (or CI) has had on his FBI partner, and vice versa.  If, like me, you have tried to fill the long void of a near-five month hiatus by re-watching the first two seasons on DVD and the first half of season 3 on your DVR, then you will no doubt have noticed the many changes over the last forty episodes.

Those of you who have been following me on twitter (@valshopaholic) or been reading my blog know that this is the one show that I have been so obsessed with that I feel like I know it inside and out.  There is just too much to talk about in one single post, so this is part one of some of my observations and musings on the evolution of the show and its characters.

1.  The Wardrobe

Since one of the major selling points of WHITE COLLAR that separates it from all the other cop-and-con show is its fashion, I would be remiss not to start here.  Neal Caffrey, “the world’s most charming con man” still sports his trademark fedora.  Series star, Matt Bomer, wears it like nobody’s business. Seriously. The hat flips are still charming (and I still can’t do them) and, as we saw in the season 3 mid-season finale, “Countdown”, the hat can be used as more than just a fashion accessory.  It is also handy in hiding pins to pick locks with and to throw off the 43rd floor to check for wind direction just before you BASE-jump off the building to escape with a stolen painting.

Even in an orange jumpsuit, Neal still manages to look good – it brings to mind women who fall in love with inmates and marry them without ever meeting them.  Having said that, in polls I have seen run by various press sites where readers vote “Marry, Dump or Hump”, the winning vote always seem to be on the last option (tell me I’m wrong!).  Neal may have left prison with only what he had on his back – a white tee, black pants and an old black coat to shield him from the New York winter, but he quickly scored himself a designer wardrobe, thanks to the kindness of the widow of a former con man with great tastes.

Putting aside the coincidence of Neal being the exact same size as the dearly departed Byron (let’s assume June found him a nice tailor to alter the suits to fit), Neal certainly has proven he is a man of great tastes himself. From the laid-back, rolled-up sleeves and vest look, to the three-piece suit (my favourite being the one he wore in Season 2’s “Payback”, pictured below), Neal Caffrey’s style has only got better over time.  The man even has a tie-drawer in the office!

Evolution of Neal's Style Seasons 1-3

Of course, we cannot forget FBI Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) who first came to our attention looking more like a younger version of Columbo with his crumpled trench coat – Neal even commented that Peter was wearing the same suit when he was being re-arrested as the one he wore when he arrested him the first time four years earlier.  Classics may never go out of style, but no one would argue that the man who always wore buttoned-down shirts in the first two seasons is looking more like the man who very much deserves to get the winning bid at the Manhattan Millionaires Bachelor Auction in season 3.  Mr Brooks Brothers is one very stylish FBI agent – and come episode 12 (“Upper West Side Story”), our favourite agent will be sporting a three-piece suit.  Mamma mia!

Evolution of Peter's Style Seasons 1-3

But really, who are we kidding.  All the fans are just as happy to see the show’s two leading men shirtless.  (Yes, I said it – and we want more of it, please!).  I could also mention the hair (on both our leading men) – longer and less styled in season 1 compared to shorter and more slicked-back styles in season 3 – but I think I may have already lost half my readers to dreamland after mentioning shirtless Neal and shirtless Peter…

2.  The Truth, The Half-Truths and Little White Lies

“I’ve never lied to you,” said Neal to Peter in season 2 (“Need to Know”).  We’ve heard Neal say this on occasions even earlier, and to date, the writers have worked hard to ensure that this is kept true.  Neal may skirt around the truth, or not correct your assumptions when wrong (nope – he never had the music box everyone thought he had), but he has never lied to Peter.  On the surface, this may seem an odd fact, considering who we are dealing with – a man whose very core seemed to be built on lies and deceptions.

However, die-hard fans know that Neal trusts Peter above all others, as shared in a drugged-induced state in Season 1 (“Vital Signs”).  Why? Perhaps he recognises that Peter’s core is for justice and right? Or maybe, as he has admitted, deep down, he wants to be like Peter and have his life – with a loving wife, a house with the white picket fence, and to stop running. Or maybe it is just as simple as recognising that there is one person in his life who doesn’t base his life on lies.  Whatever the reason, it is the core of the friendship that has developed between this unlikely pairing.

On the other hand, Neal has lied to his partner-in-crime, Mozzie, on more than one occasion.  The first instance that we, the audience, are aware of was Neal lying to Mozzie about where he had hidden all his loot after he was arrested the first time.  Even then, Neal didn’t trust Mozzie or Kate – the woman he loved and broke out of prison for.  More recently, in a most game-changing way, Neal lied to his friend that the U-boat manifest wasn’t in Peter’s house even as he was looking right at it.

Flipping the coin here, Peter has lied to and kept secrets from Neal on more than one occasion: pretending to be on a stakeout with NYPD when he was actually meeting with Diana about the music box; keeping the existence of the U-boat manifest from him and his investigation into the missing art.  Is Peter right to lie to Neal?  How can Neal still trust Peter knowing that his partner is keeping secrets from him?

The cat and mouse game continues.

3.  The Quirky Friend

Mozzie - the quirky friend dressed like Truman Capote in "By the Book"


In Australian slang, “mozzie” is short for “mosquito”.  Although this character is not actually named for this pesky insect, there have been times when the insect seems more appropriate, especially in season 3, when I have wanted to swat this fun-but-quirky friend and mentor-of-sorts of Neal’s.  In season 3’s “Dentist of Detroit” we finally found out that Mozzie is named after Mozart – the teddy bear that was left in his baby basket when he was found as a bespectacled baby on the steps of a church orphanage.  Mozzie’s true identity is so secretive that even Peter admits he has no idea what his real name is – and he has looked!

At their first meeting in season 1 (“Flip of the Coin”), Peter asked Mozzie if the mansion with the view is why cons like him and Neal became con men.  The “average” con man may have said yes.  But as we all know, Neal and Mozzie are anything but average. No, they do it so they have the freedom to do what they want to do and answer to no-one.  Perhaps he should have also added that they love the challenge because Neal and Mozzie are too intelligent and well-read to be doing it just to be anti-establishment.

Mozzie has been involved in every case since Neal started working for the FBI.  Being the conspiracy theorist that he is, he is not doing it to help the Feds.  But whenever his friend needs help, he is the first (and mostly the only) person Neal calls.  And when it comes down to it, even the Feds will help him when needed (season 2 “By the Book”, season 3 “Dentist of Detroit”).

We have seen a different side to Mozzie in season 3 – the side where he is pulling Neal away from Peter.  As much as we, the fans, dislike this, it also serves as a reminder that, although Neal may have been getting comfortable with the Feds, he is still a prisoner (don’t forget Neal is still wearing a tracking anklet).  And as much as we have grown to love Mozzie (my heart was thumping for an hour after watching the season 2 mid-season finale “Point Blank” when he was shot), he has also reminded us this season that he is, at his core, a con man not to be confused with a CI.

During a USA Network-hosted Character Chatter earlier in season 3, I asked Willie Garson, who plays Mozzie, if he thinks Mozzie would ever be willing to take a bullet for Peter, given he has shown some sort of respect for the Fed (the Peter/Mozzie scenes provide some of the funniest moments of the show).  His reply was “Doubtful.”  When I posed the same question but for Elizabeth Burke, he said “That’s an interesting question…perhaps.”  We shall very soon find out how true this is when season 3 resumes.

Oh, and if you ever invite Mozzie over to your house, keep a close eye on your wine collection.  It may not still be there when the party is over.

4.  The Women

Elizabeth Burke, Diana Barrigan, Alex Hunter, Sara Ellis


Elizabeth Burke (Tiffani Thiessen)the smart, beautiful and understanding wife of Peter Burke is the glue that keeps everything together.  From the start, she convinced her husband that Neal escaping prison to chase after the love of his life is more than just a romantic notion.  Whenever Peter seems to question Neal’s motives, she’s the one who reminds him to take a leap of faith.  And best of all, she has the respect of Mozzie.  And, as we will soon see in “Checkmate” she is the one who is going to bring our gang back together to work as one (spoilerish as this may be, what else would you have expected?).

Diana Barrigan (Marsha Thomason) – she was Peter’s probie when we first met her but after she disappeared for most of the first season, she returned as the trusted friend that Peter called upon to take down Operation Mentor (“Out of the Box”).  Since she returned permanently to Peter’s team, she has been the “go-to guy” who Peter calls upon for any secret investigation he is running.  He gave her the music box for safe-keeping after it was recovered from Fowler and the U-boat manifest to translate and guard.  She has a deadly aim and has proven she can handle anything thrown at her: whether it be as an undercover hooker (season 2’s “Need to Know”) or as the personal assistant of a magazine editor (season 3 “Deadline”).  She is also the only woman who can resist Neal’s charm – she has a girlfriend!

Alex Hunter (Gloria Votsis)gorgeous, tough, a thief and a fence.  It was always implied in season 1 that she may have had a romantic relationship with Neal.  We found out in the flashback in season 2 (“Forging Bonds”) that they did indeed have a fling before Neal got together with Kate.  Alex and Neal work well together and as much as they have tried to trust each other, there was always something that held them back.  She proved to be the key to the music box – well, she had the actual key but she also helped decipher the secret behind the treasure.  I have missed Alex very much in season 3 and honestly hope we have not seen the last of her.

Sara Ellis (Hilarie Burton) – the sassy, baton-wielding insurance investigator who testified against Neal when he was first arrested, was introduced to us early in season 2 (“Unfinished Business”).  Back then, she was after only one thing – Raphael’s St George and the Dragon painting Neal allegedly stole (for which he was never convicted).  I laughed out loud as she waved a recorder in his face as he tried to win her over with his trademark charm, and said “Everything you say to me can and will be used to nail your ass to the wall and recover my painting.”  Since then, her character has been added to the regular cast and has become a love interest for Neal.  Personally, I thought her transition from wanting to nail him for theft to just wanting to nail him was more than a little awkward (and I respectfully point out caused a big kerfuffle amongst the fans), but thankfully, things seem to have settled down a little and the character is better utilised in season 3.  Given where things left off between Neal and Sara in the first half of season 3, it will be interesting to see how she will fit into the rest of the season and beyond.

You can now read Part 2 of this post when I will talk about some of the notable villains and guest stars over the last two-and-a-half seasons, as well as what I think the ideal crossover show should be.

You can now read my advance review of the season 3 mid-season premiere, “Checkmate”, published at LenaLamoray.com (and follow Lena on twitter @LenaLamoray).

And if you liked this post, you can also read some of my other White Collar related posts:

Ten Things I Learnt From “White Collar”

How Well Do You Know The Villains of “White Collar”

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9 thoughts on “Running The Long Con – “White Collar” Then and Now – Part 1

  1. Laíse

    Do I even have to say it? You know I love your writing, and I have so much reading your posts about White Collar, cause you can amazingly find words (the right ones!) to say anything about it. Juat.. never stop writing! You have a gift.

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  2. Suzy (@KittyFantastik)

    I am now left wanting the second half of this post..stat! As always enjoyed your insights to which I mostly agree with in particular that three-piece suit Neal wore in “Payback” – definitely the best (and favourite) look ever!

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  3. Damietta

    The title of your post got me thinking perhaps all of this IS just a very long con for Neal (he didn’t expect to care for Peter and Elizabeth so much however) and the end game is something only he knows.

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    1. Valerie Leung Post author

      I agree…a con will always be a con, just depends on whose side he wants to be on. I think he wants to be on the good side but where it leads…I’m sure only Jeff Eastin knows and he’s not going to tell us until the end, which will hopefully be some time after 2020 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Running the Long Con – “White Collar” Then and Now – Part 2 « LibraGirl Rules – My Life, My Rules

    1. Valerie Leung Post author

      It’s always hard to do those character chatter Q&A things when you’re trying to watch the show at the same time. I nearly missed his answers…I kept throwing questions out there in the hope they’d get answered. Lol I hope they’ll do another one later on!

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