This 'White Collar' Friendship Could Be Over

USA's White Collar went deep on Thursday night's episode — deep into the criminal mind of Matt Bomer's Neal Caffrey. Was Neal actually a "changed man"? By now, answering to criminal mastermind Curtis Hagan — who he cut a deal with at the beginning of the season to secure Peter's prison release — has done a number on Neal's conscious. Mozzie, who's destitute following the fed's raid on his black market warehouse, is also tap dancing on Neal's last nerve while he crashes with our fedora-ed star until he gets back on his feet. Basically, Neal, for the first time in awhile, is overwhelmed and wondering why he's even bothering with this lifestyle in the first place.

Neal and Peter's most recent case, involving a recently stolen $2 million dollars, took them to my old stomping grounds, New York University's Washington Square Park and its surrounding campus. (Sigh.) There, they met with a criminally manipulative psychiatrist for criminals, Dr. Summers. While trying to delve into exactly how Summers is using her clients to fulfill her dreams of white collar crime, Neal and Peter convince her to take Neal on as a client. Things go south (as they normally do on White Collar) and Neal ends up drugged in her office, spilling every secret in his head. As you can imagine, this doesn't go over well with our well-dressed, lovable, and incredibly intelligent ex-con.

So naturally, Neal turns to his new roommate (who's now taken to storing rotting fish in his refrigerator under the pretense that it's a "delicacy") to recreate the "Cinderella" serum Neal got slipped during his session. (Amazing logic, really — those of us prone to wine-induced blackouts might be interested in testing it on ourselves: If you can't remember what the substance made you forget, drink more of it to try to remember.) Neal remembers what happened during the session and what exactly he told the manipulative evil doc, but he also remembers something else: He still loves crime.

Peter and Neal solved the case because they always do (apparently Neal has super strong eyesight that allows him to see a phone keypad in detail from across a room), but things are different now. After rushing over to Peter's, high on the stimulant Mozzie mixed with the truth serum to keep him conscious, Neal spills his history of criminal activity, starting with his first act: swiping some money from an unsuspecting woman's purse. The episode ends on Neal, after he secures the stolen money for Mozzie to start a new life for himself, saying that he's back and it's time to start an exit plan. Things are going to get interesting.

Can Neal and Peter still be friends?

Thursday night's episode reminded us that even though Neal has the best intentions (like getting Peter out of jail for a crime he didn't commit), he still has both good and bad in him. (His bad side just involves stealing millions of dollars.) The episode also reminded the audience that this is what White Collar is about: showcasing Neal's inner struggles. Now, of course, he's been interfering with FBI investigations for the entire season to maintain Peter's freedom, so why can't they still be friends?

Neal is technically betraying his friend, colleague, and handler which, in the real world, would immediately be grounds for friendship annulment. But like White Collar, we're going to explore a gray area. Even though Neal's ultimate plan is to escape from under the FBI's watchful eye, he's not going to hurt Peter, and he's definitely not going to get him fired. He'll also probably help him take down a serious amount of criminals on his road to freedom, because there's no way he's going to pull anything off without a fall-guy. So maybe they can still be friends for awhile... or at least until Neal's gone.

Neal loves crime, but he also loves Peter in the bromance-y, partner-in-crime (pun intended) sort of way that will definitely have an effect on his newly reborn criminality. He won't hurt him because that's not the kind of guy he is. Criminal or not, he's not a bad person or a bad friend (he is letting Mozzie use his towels and has pulled him out of plenty of holes, hello). He has too much respect for Peter to actually go through with any kind of betrayal, even though we know Peter will take Neal's escape personally. Peter also is already painfully aware of the fact that Neal is a criminal and that's not just something that gets turned off overnight, so he expects this behavior and understands it. The mark of true friends, I suppose: understanding one another's bad behavior, sticking together, and forgiving each other's mistakes. And these two are capable of all of those things.

Even if they can't stay friends, which would be a real shame, Neal taught Peter a valuable lesson in how to make a fake company ID with a few simple materials — a chapstick, a photo, a company brochure, and a simple barcode. Impressive in a pinch for those of us wanting to break into some company headquarters anytime soon. There's your criminal how-to of the week. Now, if only we knew how to keep Neal from going up in flames.

Images: USA, LiveJournal