At first I was conflicted about White Collar’s finale. I was battling between the duality of character development and character tendencies. Neal has come a long way since the first season, but at heart he’s still an adventurous, freedom-craving con artist. So I wasn’t sure how I felt about him faking his death and running off rather than just accepting the FBI’s deal for his freedom since he did take down the Pink Panthers.
Part of it doesn’t make sense. With the FBI-sanctioned contract, Neal would legally be a free man. He would never have to look over his shoulder or worry about his anklet range. If he didn’t fake his death, he could see Baby Suit grow up, save Peter, El, and Mozzie the grief of losing him, he could live however he wanted. So why (other than the thrill of the chase) would he run?
We know the Pink Panthers are dangerous. They are the greatest thieves in the world and certainly not above killing someone in cold blood. Keller warned Neal that even in prison the Panthers would hear about Neal’s double-cross and could potentially pull some strings from the inside in order to get revenge.
Neal faked his death to save everyone he loved.
The only way to ensure the Panthers wouldn’t go after his family is to have them - and everyone else - believe Neal was dead. Neal was protecting Mozzie, the Burkes, June, everyone in his wonderful little family. Neal would never intentionally hurt Mozz and Peter like that just for the sake of his freedom, he’s never been that cold. Neal always, always, always has a reason.
The finale is very open-ended. It leaves us with a sense of freedom and possibility, something that has been denied to Neal for six seasons. Hell yeah he’s going to enjoy it, but after the heat of the Panthers’ arrest dies down, after news of Neal Caffrey’s death circulates through the criminal underground, Neal will return to his family. That’s why he sent Peter and El the wine. If Neal truly and selfishly wanted to ensure his freedom, he would never have risked sending Peter that specific wine. It’s a promise. Their whole adventure started with a wine bottle, and now Neal is sending Peter a message - I’m not dead, another adventure is right around the corner.
Anyway, that’s just what I think. All in all, I think it was a wonderful finale and it remained true to the heart of White Collar and Neal Caffrey. Way to go, White Collar team! It’s been a truly epic ride.