Summary

  • White Collar ran for 6 seasons with ups and downs in quality, highlighting the core dynamic between agent Burke and con man Caffrey.
  • Season 5 features an exciting storyline with agent Burke framed for murder, but the series shifts away from the original dynamic.
  • Season 6 is short but ends strong with Burke and Caffrey taking down a criminal organization, showcasing their strong bond.

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White Collar’s crime procedural series ran for just six seasons in total, with some spectacular seasons and a few that did not quite match up. White Collar began airing on the USA Network in 2009, where it continued to be released up until 2014. The show is a gripping story about an FBI special agent and the criminal who was his white whale for years. When agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) finally catches up with notorious con man, Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), the pair have already developed a mutual respect despite being on opposite sides of the law.

Several years later, Neal finds himself with just a few months left of his prison sentence but chooses to break out in order to find his longtime love interest, Kate Moreau (Alexandra Daddario). However, when he is recaptured, he is likely to have his sentence lengthened, or, he can take a deal and become a criminal informant for the FBI. Caffrey opts to take the job as an informant, working with his rival, agent Burke, and the pair must learn to work together, and in the process, understand each other’s point of view.

6 White Collar – Season 5

agent peter burke and neal caffrey visiting in prison in white collar season 5

White Collar does heat up in the final seasons with some incredible episodes, but there is no denying that some of the magic that was present in early seasons had mellowed. Season 5 is the second-shortest of the entire series with 13 episodes instead of the typical 16 that the first four seasons had, but it uses them well. Season 5 also features a storyline where agent Burke is being framed for murder, and it’s up to Neal to try and clear his friend’s name. This season also explores a new romantic connection for Neal with Rebecca Lowe.

However, it isn’t long before Rebecca is revealed to be another master criminal by the name of Rachel Turner who is actually behind the killing that Burke is being framed for. These twists and turns are exciting, but the series has shifted a lot from the original dynamic with Neal and Burke at the core of the show. With Burke locked up, and Neal working with other agents and criminals, the relationship that makes the heart of the show is less represented, and overall contributes to season 5’s ranking at the bottom of this list.

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5 White Collar – Season 4

Neal Caffrey and Mozzie on the run in White Collar season 4

White Collar season 4 marks a notable difference in pace for the show that sets a clear divide between the first half of the series and the second. Neal begins the season on the run, after escaping from his obligations in order to continue his life of crime. The interactions between Neal and Mozzie are a highlight in the early episodes, along with seeing agent Burke relegated to the evidence lockup, but this season also suffers from the duo not having as much of a focus as in previous seasons.

Fortunately, the boys are reunited for most of the season. There are major revelations about Neal’s family history, bringing his father out of the woodwork, and the season finale leaves the show on a huge cliffhanger. Agent Burke is framed for murder, which leads into the events of the following season, and the show turns the heat up for the detective and his criminal consultant. The series may not be the best of the show, but it is in no way a weak season overall, as it builds drama and intensity leading into the series’ end.

4 White Collar – Season 6

Keller and Burke in a car looking out the window in the White Collar series finale

Season 6 is by far a much shorter season with just six episodes. The season finale is absolutely one of the best episodes of White Collar in the entire series, but due to the brevity, and lack of other developments, it has to join the rankings in fourth place. Peter and Neal are back together and in full swing. Together, they set out on a mission to take down the biggest criminal organization in the show, the Panthers, and the series is full of double-crosses and intrigue.

While there is some development around saying goodbye to Burke and Caffrey’s spectacular duo, the season is considerably shorter than the others, and it’s hard to overlook. The final episode is the crowning achievement of this season, and one of the best endings of a popular TV show in general, with Burke stepping up to save his friend, and Neal being rushed to hospital, only to be confirmed as dead. However, Neal is nothing if not a great con man, and his death is revealed to have been faked when he drops clues for his old friend Burke to find.

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3 White Collar – Season 1

peter burke and neal caffrey in white collar pilot episode

Season 1 is the start of everything for White Collar, and from the beginning, the show came into being as a fully realized and thoroughly well-developed series. The dynamics between Peter and Neal are established early on, with their enemies to uncomfortable allies relationship being the core of the show. The only reason that season 1 is not higher on the list is because it takes a moment to fully get into its groove, and the procedural aspect of the show is most noticeable early on.

As the season progresses, the wider cast of characters, such as Mozzie (Willie Garson), and Peter’s wife, Elizabeth Burke (Tiffani Thiessen) round out the cast and add to the wider narrative outside of Burke and Neal’s relationship. The series features an on-edge Neal, still plotting ways to break free and pursue a life away from the FBI. However, when the season finale sees him about to achieve this goal, before having that dream completely shattered, it sets the pace for the next two seasons to take things to the next level.

White Collar season 1 is the most important season of the show as it helps to establish the setting and the story. It does this remarkably well, with all of the major characters becoming very familiar in a relatively short amount of time. While many other shows struggle to get off to a good start, White Collar manages to stick the landing both in its premiere season, and the final season, which is rare, but also a testament to how talented the writers and cast are.

2 White Collar – Season 2

Neal Caffrey talking to Catherine in White Collar season 2

This season is truly spectacular and could have taken the top spot with how solid the episodes, relationships, and overall story arcs featured are. Neal and Burke get into a groove working together and start to have a lot more fun with each other. This season also introduces Burke’s Seven, a play on the heist movieOcean’s Eleven. However, season 2 also has to deal with the terrible aftermath of the explosion in the season 1 finale, and Neal’s girlfriend Kate having died in the accident.

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Season 2 is a more confident outing for Burke and Neal, with more fun and engaging plotlines that take the series in exciting new directions. This season also introduces Andrew McCarthy as the villain Vincent Adler. This comes as a significant revelation as, up to that point, the show was setting up agent Garrett Fowler (Noah Emmerich) as the villain. Season 2 helps to take the series from a standard procedural crime drama to a show that leads its own category and breaks the mold from what came before.

1 White Collar – Season 3

Mozzie, Peter Burke and Neal Caffrey in White Collar season 3

White Collar season 3 takes the top spot thanks to the chemistry of the cast, and the action throughout the entire season. Season 3 is fairly close in quality to season 2, which makes it difficult to put one above the other, but, season 3 does have the advantage of bigger stories. Season 3 also has Elizabeth becoming a more prominent character with her being kidnapped by Kellar. However, she manages to make her escape on her own. Neal and Burke appear to have a more tense relationship, with Neal still struggling to adjust to living a life without crime.

This, of course, leads to Neal ultimately escaping from FBI custody at the end of season 3 when he leaves with Mozzie. This season also had Neal and Sara becoming closer, while the underlying threat of someone hunting for Mozzie’s secret treasure becomes a central part of the plot. “Judgement Day” is also a standout episode in season 3, as both Neal and Burke finally find some common ground. By the final episode of season 3, Neal has been working for the FBI in this special deal for a lengthy period well beyond what his prison sentence was set to be.

Neal is owed the freedom he was promised by the FBI, but agents like Kramer seek to block his exit and trap Neal as a part of their team against his will. This is especially frustrating because Neal already made it clear to Peter that he was ready to change his life and work with him whether his sentence was commuted. Of course, both Neal and Peter recognize the injustice when Neal is denied, and Neal breaks free with Peter’s help in the White Collar season 3 finale.

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