I knew it was coming. It was foreshadowed in the earlier part of the season (see my analysis of episode 403, “Diminishing Returns”), but I couldn’t see exactly how it would happen. But then it happened.
Episode 416, “In the Wind” was written by show creator Jeff Eastin. It’s Mr. Eastin’s custom to write the season finale, tying together some loose ends, only to unravel new, totally gut-wrenching ones. And there is usually a completely maddening cliffhanger that causes us to ponder, argue and stew for the whole of hiatus, over the possibilities that await us in the next season.
This episode is no different. The big questions that were hanging over the entire season – was Neal’s father responsible for the death of another officer, and how does much of Neal’s character actually comes from his father? – would be answered by the contents of a 12 x 12 x 6 evidence box stashed in the ceiling of the 50th floor of the Empire State Building. And at the end, Eastin gives us a brick to the forehead as a “Thank you for playing”. Read on.
I’m going to excuse the writers for having us hunt for another box, as we spent the first two seasons searching for a much prettier and more cryptic box; instead, I’ll congratulate them for giving us another irresistible treasure hunt. Discovering clue after clue during season 4 was as enchanting as opening up Russian nesting dolls. So, it was nice to finally get to the last clue and be allowed to see what was in the box.
First, I’d like to point out how delicate the setup is. Just before Peter (Tim DeKay) is about to execute a search on the Empire State Building with a team of agents, he gets a call from his old boss, Reese Hughes (James Rebhorn). Hughes meets Peter at a diner somewhere and plays a tape for him that is supposed to suggest that his new supervisor is corrupt.
Callaway: I spoke to Burke and he confirmed what you said, but he offered an interesting twist on the story.
Pratt: I said he would.
Callaway: I also found what they’re looking for. The evidence is in a box.
Pratt: A box? I’ll be there in the morning.
However, the content of this conversation isn’t enough, really, to suggest that Callaway is, in fact, in Pratt’s pocket. I don’t think that’s an accident. If the writers meant to show that Callaway (played by Emily Procter, one of my favorites) was firmly on Pratt’s side, then there would be some sort of deal-making in the conversation. Because the conversation is short and vague, it’s entirely possible that Peter’s initial instincts about Callaway were correct: she is simply extremely ambitious and pragmatic.
Maybe because the tape (and the direction to get the box before Callaway sees it, forcing Peter to work off-book) comes from Hughes, Peter instantly trusts the conclusion his old boss has drawn. Traditionally, Peter is smarter than that – no, he’s one of the smartest agents the FBI has. If he hadn’t had his conclusions drawn for him and an extremely small window to react in, our Peter Burke may have found a way to do things a little less impulsively, and perhaps much of this would have been avoided.
Here, I’ll take a moment to complain about Hughes’ characterization, because I think we heard him say things in this episode that we never would have heard him say before.
Peter: I can’t go outside the law.
Hughes: You ARE the law, Peter…
A few beats later:
Peter: You always told me working with Caffrey would put me dangerously close to the line.
Hughes: Sometimes you have to redraw those lines to stay within them.
I don’t know if we’re supposed to be looking at a bitter, betrayed Hughes, or a Hughes that is searching for vindication through the instrument of Peter. Maybe Hughes has been recruited by the NSA specifically to locate a mole in the FBI, and that’s why he’s pushing Peter. But the Just-Do-It attitude he displays here is, I think, different than what we’ve seen in the past. And that’s what puts Peter into a situation where it’s Neal and Peter against, basically, the entire FBI New York Office – and on a super-short timeline to boot.
After the setup, we see the basic caper come together. In this show, if it’s just shy of a Rube Goldberg machine, it’s perfect. And this particular caper – retrieving the evidence box before anyone else gets to it – is extremely complicated. If the season-long arcs makes it imperative to watch the show from week-to-week, these complex cons and deceptions make it fun and entertaining to do so.
In order to get the evidence box, Mozzie (Willie Garson) and James (Treat Williams) must dress as caterers, then cleaning people, then break into an office. They must dissolve the marble on the 51st floor with an acid, take the contents out and get them to Neal (Matt Bomer), who – in order to get to the top of the Empire State Building – had to propose to Sara Ellis (Hilarie Burton). Neal would then take the evidence and put it in the basket of a miniature dirigible, then program the blimp’s coordinates to fly to his apartment. That’s a hell of a plan if everything goes right, which, of course, it doesn’t.
Because James and Neal end up assaulting Pratt (played wonderfully by Titus Welliver), Callaway begins monitoring Neal’s tracking anklet. Since the FBI can’t know that Neal is in the building, Peter wears Neal’s anklet to throw them off of Neal’s trail. (I don’t understand why they didn’t just ditch the anklet somewhere. It’s the Empire State Building. Throw it out a window. Wearing the anklet puts Peter in unnecessary trouble, in my opinion.) Unfortunately for Peter, Callaway does discover the deception and asks him to hand over his badge and gun.
Meanwhile, everyone including Pratt rushes to the 50th floor because there’s a report that they’d found something. This clears the 51st floor for James and Mozzie, who execute their part of the plan and get the evidence box. Just as they get it, part of the floor drops onto the 50th floor, getting the attention of everyone in the search team. (I love the quiet voice of Mozzie, understating the accident with a “That’s not good.” in the background.)
Everyone then rushes up to the 51st floor, but they tell Pratt to stay on the 50th floor for his own safety. And then they proceed to take every FBI agent with them, leaving Pratt alone (which, I have to say, is a bit odd for people who are concerned about someone’s safety.) They also leave Peter’s gun and badge there. Pratt tells his guy to go get the evidence box, which he does, in the hands of James. He brings James and the evidence box to Pratt, and then Pratt tells his bodyguard to “go help Callaway find the others.” This also drives me mad, because Pratt just saw James take out one of his bodyguards with a single throat punch. Why does he send his guy away? (“Just leave me here with the big angry guy who’s bent on destroying me. I’ll be fine.”)
Of course, this is done to set up what I will call “The Royal Screwing of Peter”. After Pratt discovers there’s no actual evidence in the evidence box, he pulls a gun on James, demanding to know where the evidence is. James sees Peter’s gun, grabs it and points it at Pratt. Peter shows up, and tells both men to put their guns down, but James pulls the trigger and shoots Pratt with Peter’s gun. Pratt drops his gun on the floor and Peter checks Pratt to confirm that he’s dead.
Peter then tells James that, while it’s a shooting in self-defense, he’ll still have to take him in. Here’s what we learn about James in this episode: This guy does NOT want to go back to prison. Even a remote possibility is enough to make him a crazed lunatic. It’s the same trait that Neal has: when he’s backed into a corner, bad things happen.
And so, James pulls Pratt’s gun on Peter. Peter gets his gun back, fires a warning shot, but James escapes. And there you have it: Peter, with the murder weapon and gunshot residue on his hands, standing over Pratt, who’s lying in a pool of blood. Talk about getting the shaft.
Neal, having had a chance to look through the evidence, finds out that his father did, indeed, shoot his supervising officer so many years ago. While he confronts him, he gets a call from Diana about Peter, who’s been arrested for the murder of Pratt. “What did you do, Dad?” is one of my favorite lines in this episode, because it mirrors all the times that Peter has said something like that either to, or about, Neal. And also, the way the word “Dad” rolls off Neal’s tongue is now filled with disappointment, even as a little while earlier, it seemed so natural when he asks Mozzie, “Where’s my Dad?”
I love this scene between Neal and James. Neal, now struggling with two fathers in crisis, has to convince James to clear Peter’s name, but James is too scared of prison to do anything like testifying that he shot someone. These are probably the best two lines of the whole episode: “You show me you’re better than this. You show me you’re a decent man.” Neal wants his father to be the person that Neal, himself, has grown into. But James can’t. Too much time on the run and too much time in prison has made James bitter, jaded and angry. Treat Williams in this scene actually barked at Matt Bomer when he tries to grab him, which was such a great emotional climax of the scene. “DON’T!” he yells. “Don’t make me do something I’ll regret.”
I wish we had seen just a little bit more of the icy stare of death that James must be giving Neal, even though the camera stays on the equally compelling Neal-being-shocked. Father actually threatens son, and for those people who think that Neal should have tackled James at this point, I go back to my argument I made last week: we really need to get Neal some hand-to-hand combat training. James would have killed him, or come close, I’m sure. A stunned Neal watches his father walk out the door again, and James’ departing advice to Neal belies the kind of person James actually is: “In this life, somebody always takes a fall. Don’t let it be you.”
Five stars. Can’t wait until summer.
After James threatens Neal, he walks away to That Music. We heard it in “Under the Radar”, when Neal realizes he’s sitting in the middle of millions of dollars of treasure. We heard it in “Point Blank” when Neal is beside himself with angst over having the person who shot Kate in his sights, only to find out that he wasn’t actually the guy. (This episode, “In the Wind”, competes with that one for my favorite of the entire series. I think “Point Blank” still edges this one out, with the tie-breaker going to that episode’s portrayal of Neal and his absolutely out-of-control look of freaking unhinged determination that he has from the beginning of his entering the party, through the swashbuckling swing on the banner, through pulling a gun on Fowler, all the way to his apartment to wallow in stress and adrenaline. Also, I love Noah Emmerich. But I digress.)
I love this music, because almost every time it comes up in the series, it accompanies a feeling of “Holy Shit.” (Sorry, but that’s the exactly appropriate phrase.) They always do a nice job with music in this show, but sometimes, they do a perfect job.
What kind of a Neal/Sara fan would I be if I didn’t spend some time talking about how lovely the proposal scene was? I think the part that I liked most is that Neal was being totally honest. If he could, he’d marry Sara, get a home in Westchester, and raise little cons. Sorry, Neal and Alex fans: Sara is The One. I had thought that the perfect woman for Neal was actually the character played by Laura Vandervoort earlier in the season, and I hope she’ll be another of Neal’s romantic entanglements in future episodes. But for a little while now, Neal’s in love with Sara. And, after the proposal happened, Sara said the perfect thing. In the sweetest, saddest voice she says, “You bastard.” Very nice.
At the end of Season 3, Agent Kramer asked Peter a question: Are you handling Neal or becoming him? While the character arc for Neal throughout Season 4 was about Neal’s concept of family as it relates to his identity, Peter’s arc has been much more subtle. Peter starts the season in his own kind of prison, and he’s ending the season in a literal one. But along the way, we see Agent Burke taking chances that he never would have at the beginning of the series. He’s a little more reckless. When Neal is reckless, he seems to make it work. When Peter is reckless, he lands in a world of hurt. Not to mention that, throughout the series, every time things begin to get better for Neal, things absolutely start sucking for Peter in proportional amounts. Neal is just finally finding his way as a respectable adult who can stand on his own, and Peter somehow lands in jail. (These writers are cruel, cruel people.)
-Treat Williams with a little one-handed security-guard-neutralization. Neal didn’t inherit that! That was badass.
-“You are the blue in my eyes.” I get that this is a sentimental scene, where Neal is essentially telling his father how profoundly he was hurt by James’ absence. But I thought, for a moment, that we were headed for the Hallmark Channel. My soul was crying tears made of puppy dog angels. Please don’t do that to me again.
-In the same scene, James says to Neal, “You know, you’re not me, Neal.” It’s what he needed to hear all along. I hope he remembers it.
-I wish there was more Mozzie. The episode was so plot-thick that was probably hard to fit in the requisite number of Mozzie-isms. That being said, Mozzie rounds out the intensity of the plots with his amusing banter, and it would have been nice to hear more of it. (Read: I’m traumatized by this episode. Please send chocolate and comic relief.)
-I don’t buy that Callaway was working with Pratt. I’m just judging by the way she talks to Pratt. She’s cautious and doesn’t know whom to trust, but she doesn’t seem like she’s stacking any particular deck.
-Did anyone else think that James and Pratt’s scene with Neal at the park was more like two gangsters from opposite families meeting, and Neal was the consiglieri? It had that feel to it. I really, really liked this scene, well-acted by all men involved.
-You can’t include everyone, this isn’t a little-league softball game; so I was glad to at least have seen a little of Agents Jones and Barrigan. Nice work, agents!
-Poor El, puttin’ on makeup and gettin’ ready for a night out. Hope she at least gets some sushi; things aren’t looking up.
Favorite Scenes, Honorable Mention
Neal and Sara testing out the proximity card scanner was really sweet.
Sara: Time’s up.
Neal: We made it work.
Sara: While we could…
Mozzie, with finely-honed instincts:
Neal: What’s wrong, where’s my dad?
Mozzie: I pulled a swap, I don’t have time to explain now.
Neal: You don’t trust him.
Mozzie: If I’m wrong, mea culpa, just go.
-“Drink more champagne. It improves cognition. It’s a proven fact!” – Mozzie
-Everyone showing up at Neal’s apartment as Neal and Sara are getting out of bed. “How is it possible that three grown men don’t understand what’s going on here?” – Neal
-A nice scene between Peter and Neal at Peter’s House, where they briefly reminisce. Neal thanks Peter for his life, essentially, and for being his family.
“Family doesn’t show up on your doorstep after 30 years. They’re the ones who’ve been there when you need them.” – Neal
People I’d like to see in Season 5
Aside from my usual beloved guest stars, like Diahann Carroll, Hilarie Burton, and Gloria Votsis, I request that at least most of the following people put in an appearance. Some, just so I can make sure that their characters are still in jail.
Noah Emmerich (Agent Fowler…where are you?)
Tim Matheson (A visit in jail for the Architect?)
Ross McCall (The evil, evil Keller.)
Lena Headey (C’mon Mozzie, give her a call!)
Billie Dee Williams (Always made a great conman.)
Eliza Dushku (Did Raquel LaRoque get time off for good behavior?)
Treat Williams (Dad!)
Laura Vandervoort (Maybe the young widow is lonely?)
Hal Ozsan (Is the internationally-known thief still in Paris? We should go get him.)
Mia Maestro (She needs to get off that island!)
There are others, but the WC Writers killed them off, mean folks that they are! Missing you, Andrew McCarthy and Judith Ivey!
And much as they tear me apart, great season to writers Jeff Eastin, Joe Henderson, Jim Campolongo, Alexandra McNally, Channing Powell, Matt Negrete, Dan Shattuck and Bob DeRosa! See (some of) you in S5, and “break a leg” to those who are doing other projects.
Make sure you check out Graceland, premiering this summer, and Walking Dead, for some familiar names.
Personal note: I was at Gantry Plaza State Park when they filmed the opening scene between Neal and James. It’s a great park with a great view, a cool playground and hammocks, and it made me want to move to Queens. Sadly, it was a very quiet, personal scene – not like the ones on the street in New York – so I couldn’t get close enough to effectively spy. I would not make a good FBI agent. FYI.
Ceil Kessler is a fiction writer, reviewer, and text book writer and editor. She’s also a traditional and social media marketer. Follow her on Twitter at @ceilck. She plans on using the Twitter tag #WCSupport after the show, for anyone who needs group online counseling and consolation.