More thoughts on the White Collar series finale

Being as nonspoilery as possible, I'll just say outside the cut that the tone of this one is different from the tone of my last post about the finale, and leave it at that ...

BECAUSE FRITH IS MAGIC AND ALSO AWESOME, somehow an epic chat session about the finale this afternoon worked me around from being weepy and miserable about it, to being bouncy and happy and wanting all the post-finale reunion fic! I DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW IT HAPPENED. <3

Trying to reconstruct the chain of conversation, what basically kicked off the tone shift was talking about Jeff Eastin's insistence that Neal faked his death & left New York to go back to a life of crime, which brought up the possibility that Neal's been planning his fake death the entire season, starting from when he first got in with the Panthers. (It fits surprisingly well with canon, if you go back and look at it.)

Which is really EVEN WORSE, if you think about Neal spending the entire season lying to his loved ones' faces and planning to run the whole time.

But then I got to thinking about it.

At the end of season five/start of season six, he's in a really bad headspace. He's just come off a major resentment kick towards Peter (which there were certainly lingering bad feelings about, even if he perked up a lot at the end of the season), and he got completely screwed over by the FBI. He was planning to run. The only reason why he didn't was because the kidnapping thing happened.

And I can TOTALLY see Neal in his S5 headspace deciding to make a clean break of it and either leave with the Panthers, or steal all their money and run. Screw Peter, screw the FBI. By this point I can see him being at least halfway to believing they wouldn't care anyway.

But then season six happened and things began to change, as Neal realizes that he's loved and needed here, and Peter's put everything on the line to win his freedom ...

[personal profile] sholio: The more I think about it, I do think the original plan was either to run with the Panthers, or to let them get caught and run with their money
[personal profile] sholio: Keller being with the Panthers really fucked up his plan though
[personal profile] sholio:  I can also see Neal in his end-of-season-five/beginning-of-season-six headspace being all "Well, they won't really miss me anyway, SO THERE." and only slowly realizing that's not true.
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  It's very Neal
[personal profile] sholio:  yeah, that's .... wow. It fits EVERYTHING.
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  :)
[personal profile] sholio:  Including him being more distant in the first couple episodes.
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  it does!
[personal profile] sholio:  Strangely enough that makes me feel better about the season? Because, in the beginning, he's bitter and resentful and going through the motions, mostly, and looking forward to it just being OVER. And then he starts to realize how much Peter's put on the line for him, and how much he really is cared about here, and starts to go "oh shit, maybe I won't go through with it after all". And then he realizes he's going to have to go through with it anyway because the Panthers pose a direct threat.
[personal profile] sholio: .... which actually fits really well with his overall behavior all season long.
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  I like that too!
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns: also if he's ALREADY started setting it up, it means he'd be even less likely to consider other options when faced with the Panther threat to his loved ones
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns: he's starting from a place of "THIS is The Plan"
[personal profile] sholio:  oooh, that makes a LOT of sense
[personal profile] sholio: It also, in a way, gives more closure to his character arc, I guess. Because one of the things frustrating me about the finale is that it seems like he hasn't really learned anything after all, but his whole arc this season is a sort of mini-version of his arc all series: he starts out only thinking about himself, and then he starts to include other people's welfare in his planning, and by the end he's mostly doing it for them.
[personal profile] sholio: (if we look at this as having been his plan all along)
[personal profile] sholio: .... when the entire story comes out, Peter is going to STRANGLE him for going through this all on his own. Strangle him lovingly. But still. XD
[personal profile] sholio: remember "lying to me is never protecting me" from season four?
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  definitely XD
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns: in one ear and out the other
[personal profile] sholio:  *swish*
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  it's all just SO Neal, everyone is just going to cover their face and scream in exasperation
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns: and then strangle him
[personal profile] sholio:   when we first started talking about that particular line of possibility (Neal planned it all season) it was just making me MORE depressed about the whole thing, but ultimately it ends up tying up all the character/plot arc stuff I really liked from season five, and makes his eventual character arc a lot more positive, I think!
[personal profile] sholio: As opposed to just deciding halfway through the season to kill himself and make all his loved ones miserable. XD
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  I really think it does!
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  and Rachel telling him he'd end up dead or in prison and then killing herself definitely contributed to his fatalistic planning
[personal profile] sholio:  oh wow
[personal profile] sholio: yeah, I completely forgot the season started with THAT
[personal profile] sholio: He's really been in a terrible headspace for awhile now

Which led to contemplating Neal in Paris:

[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  I was just thinking about the delicious angst on Neal's part there
[personal profile] sholio:  so much angst
[personal profile] sholio: especially if he'd gone in a couple of months from desperately wanting to be gone, and being all "YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT ME YOU JERKS", to realizing they DO care about him and wanting to stay
[personal profile] sholio: EXCEPT HE CAN'T
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  Neeeeeal
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns: and then TRYING to go back to a life of crime, and realising almost immediately that it's not making him happy anymore
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns: or trying very halfheartedly
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns: as part of the angst
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns: ...maybe he works in a Parisian bakery now instead 
[personal profile] sholio:  XDDD
[personal profile] sholio: Maybe he just left the newspaper KNOWING that it would make Peter drop everything and come to Paris
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  YEs!
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns: and actually it was a troll
[personal profile] sholio:  XD
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  Peter will DEFINITELY strangle him
[personal profile] sholio:  XD XD
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  to Neal's utter surprise
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  Peter should be HAPPY he's not actually heisting
[personal profile] sholio:  But yeah, I LOVE the idea of Neal spending a lot of his solo year in Paris, etc, attempting to pull off heists, and going to Monaco casinos, and taking long beach walks, and doing all the things he couldn't do on the anklet -- but it's just not the SAME
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns: Yes!
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns: and pining
[personal profile] sholio:  hahahaha yeah
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  and going through a million different ways he could totally contact everyone without the Panthers finding out, but deciding each time he can't risk it
[personal profile] sholio:  awwwww bb
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  writing a million coded postcards and never sending them
[personal profile] sholio:  oh god
[personal profile] sholio: BABY
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  piling them up in an apartment
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  his shrine of pining
[personal profile] sholio:  some of them written late at night while drunk on expensive Parisian wine
[personal profile] sholio:  which he then burns because they're too maudlin and honest
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  or possibly can never decipher
[personal profile] sholio:  .... shrine of pining ahahahaa YES
[personal profile] sholio: XD!
[personal profile] sholio: yes
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  pine-shrine
[personal profile] sholio:  with pictures of Peter and El!
[personal profile] sholio: stolen via hacking into their Facebook
[personal profile] sholio: where El posts all the baby pictures for her parents
[personal profile] sholio: and holiday pictures of them in stupid sweaters
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  staring sadly at facebook photos while drinking
[personal profile] sholio:  In a beautiful, super-expensive Parisian townhouse
[personal profile] sholio: that he fantasized about in New York
[personal profile] sholio: but now it's too big and empty
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  awwww bb
[personal profile] sholio:  and full of stupid shiny stuff
[personal profile] sholio: that he doesn't care about
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  he doesn't even unpack it all
[personal profile] sholio:  (meanwhile Peter and El are weeping over photos of Neal as they carefully arrange them in the baby's room so he can see his namesake)
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  such strangling in Neal's future
[personal profile] sholio:  First hugging, then strangling
[personal profile] sholio: followed by more hugging
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  then more hugs
[personal profile] sholio:  while yelling
[personal profile] frith_in_thorns:  and then drinking

So, yes. I want all the reunion fic now.

♥ ♥ [personal profile] frith_in_thorns ♥ ♥

I dunno why this changes things so much for me. I guess that it picks up all the character threads I liked from season five and actually deals with them. It gives Neal a much more coherent character arc, and makes his eventual faking-his-death plan a logical consequence of things he was already planning to do earlier in the season, which he decides not to do because of its impact on other people ... and then has to do anyway because of changing circumstances. It makes the whole thing feel so much more solid, and so much less a violation of everything we thought we knew about the characters.

This entry is also posted at http://sholio.dreamwidth.org/988402.html with comment count unavailable comments.

I have been struggling for a way to love this finale since yesterday, because really, last ep of WC, I want to enjoy it! THANK YOU SO MUCH, OMG.
Awwww, thank you! <3 (Really it's Frith more than me, because she coaxed me onto chat when I was being all gloomy and depressing, and I'm really happy to have found something to make me love it again!)

Though now that I'm not angry at the show, I'm mostly just sad, partly because the show's over and partly because Peter spent a whole year being BROKEN and Mozzie spent a year thinking his best friend in all the world was dead, and that's still terribly sad no matter what. :(
I like that way of looking at it. I haven't had a lot of coherent thoughts about the episode since last night. Mostly I've just been sad it's over.
Well I did think after watching the episode that I liked the ambiguity in the direction Neal went. I may be the only one that didn't have specific direction I wanted it to end in.
I'm REALLY happy you're happy about this show because regardless of what happens in canon I love your ficcing about these characters :)
Awww, thanks. <3

I have been reminding myself that the thing which got me into fandom was writing a giant (120K) post-canon fixit for a show I loved that ended on a miserably depressing note, reunited the characters and giving them happy endings. And really, the place where White Collar ended is WAY easier to write a happy ending than the other case (in which one of my favorites was killed off and the rest were scattered). Looking back on it now, 15 years later, I remember my fixit at least as vividly as actual canon. Maybe I just need to write an epic-length post-canon fic making everyone happy and then pretend that's what really happens!
The fact that all Season 6 happens, say, within a month or two of the end of Season 5 is crucial, because it explains Neal's mindset that the FBI would never let him go and he needs to break free. Also, look at how many people Neal has lost because of his past coming back to haunt him. Kate was murdered before his very eyes... he held Ellen as she was dying because his connection to her put her in danger. Siegel was killed, Mozzie was shot, Peter and El kidnapped, Peter in prison - Neal might act like he's over these things, but he isn't, and we saw how Keller mentioning Kate still affected him. And all this happened just over three or four years. In this context, Neal faking his death to keep them safe actually makes a lot of sense - even if in reality, it might be more for his own peace than for their benefit.

(I stopped hating the finale and started liking it about two hours afterwards. Wrote a long post about it here.)
Yeah, I think looking at the finale, and Neal's decision-making in the finale, as the endpoint of a very bad series of years that's given him no reason to trust the FBI and every reason to want his loved ones as far from him as possible -- basically, Neal in a very bad headspace -- makes a lot of sense.

I still feel like ... I dunno, like I was saying in a comment below, really the ONLY thing making me okay with the finale is fannish analysis (i.e. the kind of over-invested, "even the creators probably didn't think about it in this much depth" analysis we fans do) and the promise of future fanfic. I'd be unhappy if this were the final thing with these characters that I'd ever have ... but it's not, because I've already started writing my own post-finale fics, and I know other people have; it's a finale that makes a great jumping-off point for all kinds of reunion fic, reconciliation fic, cat-and-mouse fic with Neal going back to a life of crime and Peter chasing him if that's what people want to do -- really it's wide open for any sort of future you want to write or imagine for them (but without being the total vagueness of Jeff Eastin's original coin-flip ending, omg that would've been so frustrating!). And sometimes we write our own best endings anyway.

Thanks for linking to your post -- I'll go have a look at your thoughts! :)
I am so happy you are in a happier head space. I'll miss d show. :(, yay for reuniting fics.
Yay for fanning, and putting right what once went wrong! :D
Hooray fandom! \o/

I gotta say, though, that fanfic and fannish (over) analysis is really the ONLY thing making me okay with it. I've been thinking about why that is, because there are shows that had much more apocalyptic/death-filled finales that I'm still perfectly okay with, but this one really threw me for a loop. Looking back on the early seasons, what the show promised us in the beginning compared to what it eventually gave us, is still painful -- it feels to me like this show broke its "contract with the reader", and it hurts thinking back on some of those early scenes (Neal yearning for a home and family, and being drawn into the Burkes' family) ... and then thinking about what canon eventually gave us in the end. Not to mention the complete and total lack of emotional closure for certain things. :P

.... buuuuuuut it DOES leave the door wide open for fanfic to supply everything we didn't get in the show. Some finales are lovely and wonderful, but wrap things up in such a way that I can happily tie a bow around the show and don't really need any more. This is basically the opposite of that -- in order to get closure, I'm gonna have to write it myself, because canon sure didn't provide it. But sometimes that's nice too. (I mean, my main fandom this summer was a canon in which my OTP spent the entire movie trying to kill each other, and then it ended on an EPIC lack of closure, and that need for some kind of satisfying ending was the big thing that drew me into the fandom! I just ... wasn't expecting that here, I guess.)
I'm glad you were able to reconcile with the finale.

I'd like to believe that Neal tried to get back into heists post finale but losing the appeal for it and then just end up going the way of Burn Notice where he uses his skills to help people.
Thank you! :)

Yeah, I think that's kinda how it works out in my head -- Neal thinks he can go back to a life of crime, but ends up being unhappy with it.
It makes more sense if he was planning something like this from the start, then changed his mind, then changed it again due to the threat of the Panthers. I'm still upset by the ending, but I'm not as upset as I was yesterday and this post has helped too, because yes please, to all the Neal angst fics that need to be written now. And fluffy reunion fics too.
I am still very annoyed the show didn't give us something that was less sad and more unambiguously happy. IT WASN'T THE KIND OF SHOW THAT SHOULD HAVE ENDED THAT WAY. And I'm still frustrated about it.

But yeah, there is always fanfic to make it better ...
I am mostly very glad that I didn't just annoy you to hell and back with my relentless arguing of NO I REALLY LIKED IT AND YOU SHOULD TOOOOO XD

And really, yeah, Neal is in an utterly terrible headspace at the start of the season. He's only just out from under Hagen's blackmail, Rachel's manipulations and staged suicide, Peter rejecting him for how he caused his freedom, and the FBI utterly fucking him over. ALL WITHIN A COUPLE OF WEEKS. It's really not hard to imagine that the idea of dramatically cutting all ties and running away FOREVER with no one knowing he's alive might sound *really* enticing right then. Definitely enough to be able to override guilt about leaving his friends in NY to deal with the emotional fallout.

In fact.. you already know that I read Neal as having periodic struggles with depression. In that light, his plan is, in a very real way, suicidal, and was conceived in that mindset. Even or especially when it develops into "The people I love will be better off without me there," as reinforced by Keller's many digs about how they're the same really, how Neal hurts everyone around him, how Peter etc are totally trying to con him anyway, how he can't keep anyone safe or even help himself. His perceptions and planning are already being warped by all the trauma he's recently been through.

(Look I did tell you I had many many thoughts on the extent of Neal's angst :P)
Thank you for helping sholio—and me—to see the better side of the episode.

I completely agree about depression, and I think Neal was thinking he was going to die, especially after Rachel's death. Even while rationally he should have known she killed herself and she didn't have to, I think emotionally he heard her say that people like them just end up dead, and sooner rather than later, and he had the proof right there in front of him. All the threats from Keller and the Panthers just reinforced Neal's idea that he's dangerous to the people he cares about, and I'm a little surprised that he was clear-headed enough to plan it all so carefully when he was under so much pressure from Keller, the Panthers, the FBI, and just lack of time!

OMG Yes. This helps a lot to survive. Thank you for that POW.  I'm still gonna look for Neal in Paris and send him back home though.  But I won't yell at him.

Good luck finding him! :) He needs to come home. And he needs lots of hugs. They all do!
...maybe he works in a Parisian bakery now instead 

I cannot stress enough how glad I am that I read your spoiler post (well, parts of it) before I watched, because then I had two days to work through my feelings and try to come up with my own justifications for what I knew would happen—and I could watch the whole episode looking for what Neal had in mind, and it's totally there. If I hadn't seen the spoilers, I would have thought that Neal really was convinced he would die, because Rachel's death really shocked him, and he is afraid of ending up like her, or like Keller, or like his dad. Even before the episode, I thought back to the woman he met outside the storage container and knew he was setting it up, but also his insistence that Mozzie stay outside, that the Panthers never learn who he is. Bringing in Peter basically covers the fact that anyone else exists who might know anything, because Neal told Woodruff that someone had helped him, and Woodruff assumes it's only one guy. These bad guys just cannot handle the idea that someone like Neal could have multiple people who genuinely care about him—or even that he has anyone who genuinely cares about him. I think Keller believes that Peter doesn't really care about Neal, because he can't imagine that kind of relationship; he has no experience of it.
Well, he might also be genuinely convinced he's going to die, so he figures he might as well take control of it and make it work for him.

That's a really interesting point, though -- that the bad guys lose, and Neal ultimately wins, because he has people who care about him and he's not working alone. (Which was much the same point that was made about Mozzie in an earlier episode this season, though in a, er, fluffier and less depressing way.)
"Kate loved the classics."
"get back to basics"

I think we get back to the basics and the classics: when I read the spoilers, I thought, "Reichenbach Falls" and "BBC Sherlock" and "what a rip-off"! But it's less a rip-off than an homage: Neal pulls a Sherlock Holmes. He keeps Peter and El and little Neal safe, and he protects Mozzie and gives him tens of millions. Only Holmes is surprised that Watson cares so much, but Neal knows Peter well enough to leave the clues for him and send him a hint when Peter is too grief-stricken (and too busy, and too sleep-deprived) to get it.

I like to think of it as Neal taking a page from a classic detective story, and what the hero and not the villain does, and further evidence that he's not just going back down the same old road. Bakery. Totally.

And Mozzie is back to three-card monte, which is much less harmful to people than many of his more complex schemes.
I like to think of it as Neal taking a page from a classic detective story, and what the hero and not the villain does, and further evidence that he's not just going back down the same old road. Bakery. Totally.

Awwww, I like that! BAKERY. YES.

Though .... AARGH I have to say I'm still working through a lot of irritation that it worked out this way and didn't turn out that, say, the characters were all working together on faking Neal's death. Which is the kind of ending I could have gotten behind! This one still makes me sad. I'm definitely not back around to having happy feelings about the show yet. I can deal with it by fixing it in fanfic, but I'm pretty far from being able to go back and rewatch episodes yet, knowing where it's all going.
It’s a very nice interpretation and I want to believe it :) (It’d been easier if they’ve just shown us Neal having some kind of emotions about leaving his whole family behind, aargh!) But I’m glad you feeling better about it. And yay reunion/coming hime fics!

I’ve been reading the comments, and “The show broke the contract with the reader” – you are so right. That’s what I’ve been feeling since season 5 - it suddenly became not the found family show about unlikely partnership I felt so hard for, and it hurts, and I’m still not over it a year later, but I think I might be getting there. I hope you will, too…

But I want to remember all of them the way they’ve been up to S3-S4, family and partners and together, not being forced to rewise all characters' arks I loved to tie them up with what they’ve ended with. So I’ll continue trying to banish from my mind anything after S3-S4. It was just the nightmare of one of the characters’, and then they woke up and it never happened, that’s it, yep:)

Just so you know, your fics helped me a lot doing this through this year.
Just so you know, your fics helped me a lot doing this through this year.

Awwww, thank you. ♥ I'm so glad!

.... btw, I got your card! \o/ Thank you so much -- your cards are always so great with the stickers and extra goodies! :D I was really terrible at sending out cards this year, but I will try to be better next year ...
I am so late to this party it's not even funny, but I only now saw the finale. My over-all opinion of it (at the moment that is) is kind of "meh" and a shrug. I wasn't a big fan of everyone thinking Neal was dead and having to live in that misery, but I get why he did it. And, yes, fandom and fanon fixes everything :D but not just fandom because I do think it's canon, in a way, that Neal eventually finds his way back, because he always does... usually against his will, but I like to think that this time it's a choice, and either he does come back even if it's for a little while, or he makes it possible for Peter to find him in a non-man hunt fashion (say, getting Peter, El and baby - and Mozzie - to vacation in Paris or somewhere close by).

But, for me, my problem was that the ending was cliche and predictable. It's not a bad ending IMO, but I do think they could have done it better (but keep in mind I experienced the Merlin finale, which has to be the most horrible finale ever that left many of us mighty depressed for quite some time. It was so depressing that the final season doesn't even exist for me - I stop at season four. So while the White Collar finale wasn't all that great, it at least ended on a happy enough note in which it's incredibly easy to think up a more happier outcome).
Yeah, I heard about the Merlin finale. Poor Merlin fandom. :( At least with White Collar, even though I'm still awfully frustrated about not getting more closure and ending with the characters separated, it's incredibly easy to fix with fandom fixits -- the characters are all still alive and on good terms with each other, and Neal's reasons for leave were pretty handwavy in the first place, so all that's necessary is to write a fixit to bring Neal back to New York and/or unite them somewhere else. It's not the ending I'd hoped for, but it could definitely be worse!
I really had to think about it, but I decided I like the ending. He had to know that Peter would obsess over the key, that's why he left everything all set up. Maybe he'll send the baby anonymous birthday cards now. =)