Peter: ...to our first case.
White Collar is a drama by USA Network about a white collar Gentleman Thief, Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), and Peter Burke, the FBI Agent supervising him (Tim DeKay) who work together, albeit begrudgingly, to stop white collar criminals.
Caffrey is a convicted Con Artist, having broken out of jail three months before his sentence of four years was completed. He's quickly caught by Burke (who was responsible for catching him in the first place) and is in for another four year stay, but manages to be released to the FBI (Under Burke's supervision and being tagged with a GPS-tracking anklet) to assist with catching some of the most ruthless white collar criminals in New York City, which also gives him an opportunity to pursue his lost girlfriend, Kate, on the side.
Other important characters include Elizabeth Burke (Tiffani Thiessen), Peter's loving and devoted wife, with whom he has a wonderful relationship; Mozzie (Willie Garson), Neal's lovably eccentric partner in crime; and the members of Peter's White Collar Crime Unit, including Clinton Jones (Sharif Atkins) and Diana Barrigan (Marsha Thomason).
- Absurdly High-Stakes Game
- Neal poses as a multimillionaire gambler to infiltrate an underground Pai Gow game in "All In."
- And again in "In the Red".
- Action Girl: Diana, Alex, and Sara all qualify. Even Elizabeth gets her moments.
- Aesop Amnesia: Apparently, in Season 3, Neal has completely forgotten about the aesop of the episode "Countermeasures".Neal: There's no such thing as "one last score". Just the next one.
Neal: How many men do you have?
- Peter and Neal keep learning and then forgetting that they work better together when they don't go behind each other's backs, and Neal keeps learning and then forgetting that in the long run, hiding things from Peter almost never works.
Peter: Including my agents, and the marshals? All of them.
- Neal eventually realizes that he can't stop; he just likes conning people too darn much.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Sara essentially states this as the reason why she likes Neal in the season 4 finale
- Always Gets His Man: Peter
- Though to be fair, every time Peter catches Neal, it is part of Neal's plan.
- Except the first time...face it. Neal knows Peter WILL catch him, so he just factors that inevitability into his plans now.
- Anachronistic Clue: Peter and Neal will often look for such clues to determine if an item is a forgery. It is usually averted with forgeries Neal makes since he does detailed research on the original and makes sure not to use anachronistic materials. This is invoked in one instance when Neal has to make a forgery that is good enough to fool most art experts but has just enough anachronisms that a detailed examination in an FBI lab would reveal that it is a fake.
- Anti-Villain: Garrett Fowler at the end of the second season summer finale is shown to be this. You really do have to feel for how messed up and sad his situation is, with him basically becoming a pawn for the Big Bad. The parallels between Fowler and Peter, and Fowler and Neal, are pretty interesting.
- Arc Words
- Argentina is Nazi-Land: A U-boat filled with treasure was on the way there with Nazi Gold when it sank.
- Artistic License – Law: Some (most) of the show's schemes go beyond zany (see below) and go into full-blown, Cowboy Cop, massively illegal territory. Of special note, they at one point assault and poison a man before kidnapping him and threatening him with death if he doesn't incriminate himself (1x10, "Vital Signs"). Not only would the case not hold up in court, but Neal and Peter would go (back) to prison.
- Another important point is that the cops can't ask another party to do what they cannot themselves do. Bloody hands at arm's length and all that. Neal's activities are all illegal and any evidence obtained thereby would be inadmissible. Over the course of the series, somewhere between 99 and 100 percent of their cases would have been thrown out.
- Artistic License – Sports: In the episode "Stealing Home", everything about the heist during a Yankees game pretty much seems to be fine, until you see the date of the check handed to Neal, dated "3/7/12." Unless it was backdated, regular season games at the earliest start in late March, and normally at the beginning of April.
- Authentication by Newspaper: The kidnappers in "Front Man" use this in their proof-of-life tape.
- Bad "Bad Acting": Averted with Mozzie, who is the worst "actor" in the main cast, yet tends to be a just little hammy.
- The Bad Guy Wins:
- In "Payback", Keller is prevented from killing Peter and making off with a priceless ring...but his primary goal is to break out of jail, and this he accomplishes without a hitch, walking off free and clear at the end of the episode.
- In "Most Wanted", in order get Neal pardoned for fleeing FBI custody, Peter is forced to concoct a plan that requires Collins to win. In return for letting Neal go, Collins takes the credit for arresting the #4 fugitive on the FBI's Most Wanted List.
- Bait-and-Switch: With the premise of the show, even. You wouldn't think investigating white collar crimes like fraud and art theft would involve so many guns, and yet, it's the rare episode that does not include someone being threatened with violence.
- Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Peter shoots Adler before he can shoot Neal.
- Bank Robbery: Committed in "Withdrawal".
- Batman Gambit: Keller pulls off an impressive one to successfully break out of jail.
- In "Honor Among Thieves," Peter thinks Neal pulled one in order to get everything he wants. In summary, Neal managed to catch the criminal of the week, escape legal punishment for stealing a piece of artwork, avoid taking the rap for the stolen files from the US Marshals' database despite Abigail planting his hairs in their offices, obtain the files on Ellen that the Marshals weren't going to give up, and perhaps most importantly, retained Peter's trust despite not telling him about all the stuff he should have. It gets to the point where Peter isn't even sure if Neal pulled a long con on him, and doesn't know whether he was right to believe Neal when Neal said that Peter's trust was more important to him than Ellen's files on the flash drive were.
- Batman Grabs a Gun: Neal snaps in this manner when he has a chance to encounter and kill the man who he believes killed Kate. All of his friends are so worried about him being in this state that when Mozzie finds out he's got a gun, he immediately calls Peter.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: Both Neal and Mozzie are adept at this. Mozzie in particular managed to fool a local cop into thinking he was an actual FBI agent with nothing but a jacket and some forensic tools.
- Beardless Protection Program: In the pilot, Neal grows a beard in prison, and then shaves it off the day he escapes so he won't be recognized. He doesn't look all that different, but he does look just different enough to fool the facial recognition on the prison security cameras.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Mozzie has always wanted to fake his death and start over. He gets the opportunity in "Out Of The Frying Pan"... except that the identity that was killed? Is his real name, which is tied into all his retirement assets. Mozzie ends up off the FBI's official radar, and penniless.
- Berserk Button
- Mozzie gets riled up in "In the Red" when he finds out that the perp Neal and Peter are going after is running an extortion scam involving adopted kids. This is because Mozzie was raised under foster care and understands the hardships adopted children must go through.
- This one could likely stretch into real life as well. Willie Garson (Mozzie) mentions in USA's "I'm a Character" promos that he's an adoptive father in real life, and could very possibly have the same Berserk Button about messing with adopted children.
- Not just Mozzie — in the same episode, a Russian mobster gets equally pissed off when he hears that the adoption scam is using Chechen kids.
- Peter loves his wife very much. DO NOT mess with Elizabeth or try to bust up her shop, even if you are an FBI agent. He will punch you in the face. And that's just for starters.
- Slightly lesser example, but if you mess with Neal's clothes, he will be very annoyed with you.
- Not to mention, damage a valuable piece of art and Neal will be horrified.
- Mozzie gets riled up in "In the Red" when he finds out that the perp Neal and Peter are going after is running an extortion scam involving adopted kids. This is because Mozzie was raised under foster care and understands the hardships adopted children must go through.
- Beware the Silly Ones: Mozzie sells the Degas painting to finance a bounty on Matthew Keller for murdering a fence he was friendly with, and to stop Keller from coming after Neal and their treasure. It isn't just the act itself; weird, quirky little Mozzie is chillingly calm as he arranges with an intermediary for a Carnival of Killers to go after Keller. Turns out that if you really anger Mozzie, he's more dangerous than Neal...
- Big Applesauce: Shot in NYC itself, and utilizing as many panoramic shots of the city as they can cram in.
- Big "NO!": Many fans' reactions to Season 2's summer finale, in which Mozzie gets shot in the heart.
- Neal gets one in the first season finale, when Kate is killed in front of him.
- Probably many fans' reactions to the fourth season summer finale, in which it is revealed that the fake Sam Phelps is Neal's father, except this one is in disgust. Many fans saw it coming from a mile away, but were hoping TPTB wouldn't be that cheesy. They were wrong. (Of course, there are probably as many fans who are pleased...)
- Birth/Death Juxtaposition: A metaphorical one. When Mozzie's true name of Theodore Williams is revealed and on the FBI radar, he finds he needs to kill off this identity. Diana, who was 8 months pregnant at the time, decided to name her baby after him as a secret thank you for Mozzie helping in her delivery. Neal lampshades this trope.
- Black Widow: In "Veiled Threat", Neal, Peter, and Jones go undercover as wealthy bachelors to snare a black widow.
- Blatant Lies: This exchange in Season 3:Peter: You can come out Mozzie; I know you're there.Mozzie: You have no evidence that proves I'm here!
- Bond Villain Stupidity: In "Under the Radar", where Adler leaves a tied up Peter, Neal, and Alex to drown in a slowly filling drydock. Once they escape they Lampshade how Adler is trying too hard to act like a cartoon supervillain.
- Actually, Adler wasn't there, his henchmen were, and it is not revealed who came up with the idea. However, once Peter et al escape, the henchmen simply open up with guns.
- Book Safe
- Neal keeps the key to his anklet in a book in his apartment.
- He also keeps a hundred grand in a hollowed out weapons manual.
- Booze Flamethrower: An unusual example involving a bottle of (counterfeit) whiskey chucked into a glass-blower's furnace.
- Born Lucky
Peter: How is it that you always get the penthouse suite with the girl and I end up with the sweaty bald-headed guy in a warehouse in Queens?
- Peter sometimes perceives Neal as being this way and slightly resents him for it, for instance, when Peter scolds Neal for getting something for nothing in the pilot.
- To be fair to Peter, what were the odds of Neal encountering, straight out of prison, a Cool Old Lady with a soft spot for conmen? One willing to offer him the spare room in her gorgeous Manhattan townhouse? (Not to mention some of her dead husband's gorgeous clothes.)
- Peter comments on Neal's luck again in the second episode of season two, "Need to Know."
Peter: It is a pattern. Neal misbehaves but because he's Neal he doesn't face the consequences and gets a gold star for it.
- Peter watched Neal get kissed by Raquel after betraying her, lying to her, and getting her caught by the FBI. Of course Neal is born lucky.
- The opposite also seems to be true; Neal apparently wants the "normal" white-picket-fence life Peter has.
- Subverted in "Company Man" when it's shown Peter could have been wildly rich and successful with his accounting degree, but prefers the nobility of the FBI and his loving wife. When he's faced with a grand hotel room with everything he could ever want, Neal tells him, "Seems like you picked the wrong universe," to which Peter immediately replies, "Nope." And out of all the grandeur in the room, Peter considers the best thing to be the photo of Elizabeth he brought from home.
- Later, we learn he also could have been a pro baseball player.
- Definitely the case after Neal gets away with the crime of hoarding the Nazi treasure because Keller lies that he's the one who found the submarine and kept the treasure. As such, not only is Neal cleared of everything to do with the Nazi treasure, he gets a commutation hearing to discuss reducing his sentence for outstanding service to the country since he helped catch Keller. As Peter puts it in "Upper West Side Story":
- "Judgement Day" reveals that the treasure Keller took that was eventually recovered by the US government was only a little more than half of the total Nazi treasure. The rest was shipped out of the country by Mozzie and is still more than Neal and Mozzie could ever want for.
- Yet whenever things start looking up for Neal, something bad happens to the people around him. An example would be after he was allowed to return to New York and continue as an FBI consultant, Peter got re-assigned to the evidence warehouse temporarily. And when Peter was allowed to return to the White Collar division two episodes later, everything is where it should be and Neal is happy for about five minutes before Ellen is shot.
- Boxed Crook: Neal, albeit in a far less extreme version than the definition presented on that page.
- Alex gets such a deal from the Greek government after trying to rob the Acropolis for art with which to decorate her villa. They figure if she's so good at stealing Hellenic antiquities, she can go reclaim Greek cultural treasures from other countries for them.
- The Boxing Episode: In "Gloves Off," Peter and Neal go after a Wall Street stock trading operation. They learn that insider information is traded to the winners of boxing matches set up by the leader, so they finagle things so both of them fight each other in the ring, to make sure at least one of them is told the insider information. Even so, the plan is for Peter to win to make the case stick better. But just before the match begins, Neal learns about a screwup of Peter's that sends him into a rage, and he ignores the choreography and tries to beat the snot out of Peter.
- Briar Patching: Neal needs to get away from Peter so he can swap out a painting from the Nazi treasure for a forgery. He lets Peter catch him with a set of lockpicks, causing Peter to confiscate them and lock him in a nearby room. Neal protests all the way, to cover the fact that locked up in this room is exactly where he needs to be for his plan to work.
- Brick Joke
- At the end of "Need to Know", Neal comments that he expected Peter's mustache to be more Magnum, P.I. and less Mario and was thus disappointed. Guess what he calls Peter when he goes on the run.
- Actually, that second reference to "Mario" was probably Mario Andretti.
- And in the flashback episode, we see the mustache again!
- Another example: Neal knows that it's Peter knocking on his door because mostly, it's only Peter and Mozzie who come around, and Mozzie has apparently started knocking in iambic pentameter. Several episodes later, Mozzie knocks on Neal's door ten times, with an iambic pattern of stressed and unstressed knocks.
- In Upper West Side Story, Neal and Mozzie are trying to help a teenage boy get a girl to notice him. Neal tells Mozzie that the girl, Chloe, is obsessed with Romeo and Juliet, and compares Mozzie to the helpful old friar trying to bring the lovers together. Mozzie remarks, "Sans vial of poison." Later in that same episode, he has to create a chemical compound for Neal to use as a distraction so he can free Peter from the bad guys. Mozzie hands Neal a small glass bottle and says, "It turns out, I did need a vial."
- When Mozzie first meets Peter, he pretends to be at the house to have drinks and play Parcheesi with June. In a later episode, he and June do exactly that.
- At the end of "Need to Know", Neal comments that he expected Peter's mustache to be more Magnum, P.I. and less Mario and was thus disappointed. Guess what he calls Peter when he goes on the run.
- Briefcase Full of Money
- Subverted in "Front Man," in which Neal and Mozzie run a scam to obtain a titanium briefcase filled not with cash, but high-limit credit cards.
- In "Withdrawal", four bankrobbers use briefcases to carry away their loot. But Neal realizes that the total amount of cash stolen couldn't have fit into the eight cases seen on the security video. Implying the existence of a fifth robber, whose share was left hidden inside the bank.
- In "Unfinished Business" we see one which boggles even Neal's mind; "Samurai Bonds" - Extremely high-value non-government Japanese bearer bonds:Neal: The bonds are transferable?
Diana: No title. Whoever holds ‘em owns ‘em.
Jones: Each certificate is worth two hundred grand.
Neal: So a stack of a hundred million dollars is this thick.(holds finger and thumb less than an inch apart)
- Busman's Holiday: In an even more extreme version of the trope, Peter and Ellie aren't even on holiday yet when they get kidnapped! They were literally just getting into the car to head out of town.
Neal: Cryptic postcards from old friends mean trouble. ... In my experience. [See: Keller]
- Early in season one, Peter sent Neal to look through files. "Don't you have agents for that?" "I've got something better, I've got you." Near the end of the second season, in "Power Play", they end up posing as one another and Neal has some fun. "Neal, I've got a better idea. Cream, no sugar." "You have agents for that." "I've got something better, I've got you."
- Also, during the pilot episode, Peter snarks at the Guards that they will not find the escaped Neal with "road blocks and wanted posters." Fast forward to "Free Fall": after framing Neal for a jewel heist, Fowler asks how Peter plans to capture Neal. He deadpans, "with road blocks and wanted posters."
- In the fifth episode of season one, "The Portrait", Neal gets a museum curator to claim a forged painting is the real thing, because the museum wasn't supposed to have the original painting in the first place. In the first season finale, "Out of the Box", Neal helps Elizabeth's event-planning company get a gig at that same museum, because, "I've got a friend at the Channing Museum...he owes me a favor."
- In the fourth season, they end up at the Channing again, hoping to stop a heist and they spend a moment reminiscing about that case in front of the painting Neal forged.
- In "Bad Judgment", Mozzie tells the Burkes that they need to upgrade their wiring. Two episodes later, Peter ends up staying at Neal's place for a few days while the power's out at his house... it's being rewired.
- In "Dentist of Detroit" we see a number of the same cons we saw Neal call to help catch Mozzie's shooter in "Burke's Seven" at Mozzie's slight-of-hand-me-down sale.
- The permanent alias Neal gets in "Scott Free" is Victor Moreau, a callback to Kate Moreau. Granted, this was unintentional on the part of the alias's maker, but Neal seems to like it.
- In the flashbacks in Forging Bonds, Neal is naked and can possibly be seen by the neighbors through the window. Kate puts the hat on his head and says he's dressed enough. Neal does the exact same thing to Sara in Scott Free when she's wearing [Sexy Shirt Switch only a dress shirt] at the loft, and adds that the sale of binoculars in the neighborhood has gone up because of her.
- The man who broke into Jones's home was after a postcard from an old friend.
- Neal's tie drawer, first seen in "On Guard", gets a callback in "Countdown".
- When Mozzie first meets Peter, he uses the alias "Dante Haversham"; in a later episode, when Neal has a message sent to "Mr. Haversham", he reveals that using that name is a distress signal between them. In Season 3, when Mozzie walks in on Peter's date with a Black Widow in Neal's apartment (it makes sense in context), Peter clues him in by introducing him as "My man, Haversham."
- The plot of "What Happens in Burma" is started by the theft of a ruby. When the FBI is sent into investigate Peter asks Neal how he'd do it, Neal responds with the plan he was concocting in "Forging Bonds" just before his arrest.
- The FBI jacket Mozzie... borrowed, shows up in season 2.
- And again in Season 4!
- Calling Card: A literal calling card is left by the Architect, the bank robber in "Withdrawal" — he sends his card to the banks he plans to rob.
- Call-Forward: Blink and you'll miss it: a magazine in "Company Man" has a cover that mentions electricity blackouts in its headlines. It's a possible reference to a later episode in the season, "Power Play".
- Car Fu: Seen (so to speak) at the end of "Flip of the Coin". Arguably a Crowning Moment of Funny, as well.
- Cardboard Prison: The prison Neal escaped from in the pilot. The guards don't monitor the prisoners' Internet use, don't screen their mail, and don't recognize one of them when he grows a beard and then shaves it off. And this is supposed to be a supermax facility, which in Real Life would be The Alcatraz.
- Carnival of Killers: Occurs when Mozzie places a six million dollar bounty on Keller who killed one of their friends and was threatening them.
- Cassandra Truth:Peter: The first time Kramer and I went after you for the Degas — how’d you switch the paintings?
Neal: I snuck up to the penthouse, pulled the swap, then base-jumped off the building and landed on Wall Street.
Peter: Fine, don’t tell me.
- The Cast Showoff: In "Countermeasures", Diahann Carroll and Matt Bomer doing a lovely rendition of "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)", accompanied by Billy Dee Williams on the piano.
- Casual Kink: When Peter accidentally interrupts a sexy morning between Neal and Sara and then gleefully shows off his detective skills to prove that he knows that that's exactly what he's done: messy bed, empty bottle of champagne on ice, breakfast for two on the table... and a pair of handcuffs. They're Sara's... and Neal's teaching her how to pick them... it's their version of sudoku...
- Character Development:
- In "Payback", Neal's first move is to tell the FBI that Peter has been kidnapped. It's more likely that, several years ago, Neal would have tried to rescue Peter solo and through a con rather than go through official channels. And then in the denouement, Peter offers Neal back the ring he used for ransom with no strings or assumption of guilt as to the origins. Neal politely declines and suggests that it is indeed stolen. As much a step forward for Neal on many levels as it was also the ring he was going to propose to Kate with.
- Also at the end of "Checkmate", Neal intends to fully confess to Peter his part in the theft of the Nazi treasure, even though it means serious jail time for him. He is genuinely sorry for betraying him and regrets that Elizabeth was kidnapped as a result. However Keller takes all the credit for the theft (claiming he did it in order to return the treasure to its rightful owners) before Neal gets the chance to confess. Peter, however, has a good idea of what Neal was going to confess to and greatly appreciates the gesture nonetheless.
- The Charmer: Neal
- Chekhov's Gun
- Peter mentioning that he grew up upstate and knows some things about horses.
- In "Payback", Peter and Elizabeth have a not-quite-a-fight over Elizabeth having to pick up Peter's suit from the dry cleaners. Later, Peter finds a dry cleaners' tag still attached to the suit jacket with a safety pin, and uses the pin to pick his way out of a pair of handcuffs.
- Neal's tracking anklet serves as this in the series finale. He spent most of Season 6 being entirely off-anklet due to being undercover in a semi-long-term, high-stakes operation. However, once they've caught the bad guys and Neal slips away with Keller, Neal—who knows that Keller plans to betray him—secretly puts his anklet back on to help Peter find him and and Keller in time to stop the latter.
- Chekhov's Gunman:
- Curtis Hagen was the show's Starter Villain, and returns to be the Big Bad Chessmaster of Season 5. Or so it seems...
- On a related note, The real Big Bad of Season 5 turns out to be Neal's girlfriend "Rebecca Lowe" a.k.a. Rachel Turner.
- Matthew Keller as well. He's originally introduced in the Season 1 episode Bottlenecked as a former associate and rival of Neal's, but is arrested at the end of the episode. However, he breaks out of prison in Payback, shows up again in Season 3 to try to steal the Nazi treasure from Neal and Mozzie, and reappears once more in Season 6 as an undercover CI for Interpol, ending up in an Enemy Mine situation with Neal who is also undercover.
- Clear My Name: Neal in "Free Fall", Peter in "Burke's Seven".
- Subverted with the Season 5 premiere. Peter was wrongly accused of killing Senator Pratt, but the real killer, Neal's father James, refuses to confess and help him, so Neal is forced into Framing the Guilty Party by forging a confession from James to clear Peter.
- Season 1 ends with Kate's plane exploding. Season 2's summer finale ends with Mozzie getting shot.
- Don't forget the Season 1 mid-season finale where Peter's waiting for Kate in her hotel room, wearing the ring from the surveillance photos. Doubled as a What the Hell, Hero? moment as far as fans were concerned, until the show came back for the second half of the season.
- Season 2 ends with Neal in a room filled with a fortune in lost art/riches. With a look on his face that screams "Better Than Sex". He didn't steal it... but who did?
- Season 3's summer finale ends with Keller kidnapping Elizabeth.
- Season 3's finale ends with Neal fleeing the country with Mozzie.
- Season 4's summer finale is Neal finding out the guy calling himself Sam and helping him look into his past is actually his father James, who he last saw when he was three and then Season 4 goes on to end with James framing Peter for murdering a senator and disappearing again despite all Neal's desperation to get him to do the right thing.
- And at the end of Season 5's finale, Neal is kidnapped.
- Combat Pragmatist
- Jones. When an encounter with an intruder in his home gets down to fisticuffs, the first thing he does is rip off his necktie. The second thing he does is grab a skillet.
- In S03E11, "Checkmate", Keller is faced with Neal, using a shield with some proficiency. After Neal manages to disarm him, he picks up a priceless Raphael, which Neal doesn't want to damage, and smacks him down with it.
- Comically Missing the Point: Peter assigns Neal to a rundown hotel and returns the next day to find Neal living in a penthouse with a million-dollar-view. Cue Peter's jealous speech to Neal about not getting into trouble, with mentions of having really good coffee. Neal replies that Peter would feel better if he found out where June buys her coffee.Peter: "This is what gets you into trouble. This is the start of those something-for-nothing schemes that lead to the frauds that get you locked up."
Neal: "I think it's... some sort of Italian roast."
- Conflict Ball: When Peter's brakes were sabotaged in his helping Neal take down the corrupt Senator and ends up in the hospital, Elizabeth makes Neal promise to cut her husband out of the loop, making Neal lie to Peter's face and Peter knows it but doesn't know why Neal is doing it and wouldn't think his wife was the cause. Thus making some conflict between Peter and Neal . . . again.
- Con Man: Neal, yet again.
- Con Men Hate Guns: Neal, who is "not a gun guy."
- But, as we see in "Hard Sell", not liking guns doesn't mean Neal can't use one really well.
- And again in "Unfinished Business". Putting together a Ruger MK II with custom specs? Like a boss.
- Later, we find out that when Neal was a kid, his mom told him his dad was a heroic cop who died in the line of duty. Neal grows up wanting to be just like that, and ends up learning a lot about guns.
- Conspiracy Theorist: Mozzie.Peter: For the last time, Mozzie, the government is not conducting mind-control experiments.
Mozzie: That's what they made you believe.
- Lampshaded in one episode where Peter and Neal discuss a Revolutionary War conspiracy, ask who would believe in such things, and then remember Mozzie.
- Consummate Liar: Neal is this, except when it comes to directly lying to Peter. He has done it, rarely, but he's much worse at lying to him than anyone else. As the cast includes a lot of con artists and other white collar criminals, there are numerous characters, both among Neal's friends and enemies, who could fit this description, as well.
- Continuity Cavalcade: The series finale has quite a few continuity nods, referencing how Neal and June met in the pilot, multiple references to how Neal and Mozzie met as revealed in Forging Bonds, and Keller references Kate's death in Out of the Box, which also alludes to the rivalry they had over her (which was a big part of the tension between them in Keller's first episode, Bottlenecked, but was not brought up in any of his appearances since).
- Continuity Nod
- In "By the Book" Elizabeth says that Mozzie had mentioned a waitress he had been bonding with over mystery novels when he was wiping the Burkes' house in "Home Invasion".
- Also, the bakery from "Free Fall" gets a nod in "Out of the Box".
- The painting from "The Portrait" titled "Young Girl with Locket" shows up at a museum in "Honor Among Thieves".
- Continuity Snarl
- Neal's backstory is a bit tangled. Some of that could be excused as him being an unreliable narrator, but it's not just him contradicting himself. Peter, Mozzie, and others have also added to the confusion that is his backstory.
- He and Ellen claimed that they hadn't seen each other or spoken since Neal ran away when he was eighteen. However, the Raphael that he left with her and the pagers that they used to communicate seem to contradict this.
- The events that occurred between Neal first coming to New York and him getting caught doesn't seem to make much sense. Neal didn't do any of the high level cons before meeting Mozzie. He stuck to basic street cons, and forged a few bonds. No art theft, no heists. Then he met Mozzie and got involved with the long con against Adler. After Adler fled the country, Kate joined Neal and Mozzie. This was supposedly about a year after Neal met Peter for the first time, and they were still in New York. They were pulling some higher level stuff, but nothing like what Neal pulled later. Neal claimed that he started doing the more elaborate stuff after Kate dumped him and he went to Copenhagen with Alex, once he got back to New York. But by then, the FBI had his name, his face, and apparently a lot of other information. They knew he was guilty of bond forgery, and the only reason Neal was able to stay ahead of them was through aliases. They couldn't arrest him because they couldn't find him. But if that's the case, how did they figure out all that other information? And they had to have had some idea at some points, because he was sending them crytic clues, birthday cards, and cookies, and Peter has mentioned places where he knew Neal was. And where does Sara fit in? How long did he spend on his own? When did he start working with Keller? When did he do half the things that he mentioned in the series? "Forging Bonds" took place eight years after Neal first came to New York. Four years of that were taken up by prison, and maybe another year with the FBI. It's kind of hard to fit everything else we know about Neal's past and his relationship with Peter into the three years that are left.
- Cool Old Lady: June, the widow who supplies Neal with exquisite vintage suits and a penthouse apartment in the pilot, knowing full well that he's a con man just out of prison. Elements of her character (such as her ties to the Rat Pack) are apparently based on the real-life Cool Old Lady portraying her, Diahann Carroll. June shows herself to be an excellent actress during Neal's commutation hearing.
- Cops Need the Vigilante: The series plays with this, as the FBI know the crook-of-the-week is operating out of a warehouse, but they do not have a warrant. So convicted felon Neal Caffrey, who works as a consultant, simply runs to the warehouse - where the FBI then tracks him using his monitoring bracelet, and can use probable cause to go inside. This follows under the heading of "an agent of the police can't do what the cops can't do".
- Counterfeit Cash
- Creepy Doll: Elizabeth's childhood doll from "Pulling Strings".
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: While hardly a moron, Peter does generally come off as a bit bumbling and sometimes a little clueless. And then he does something that reminds you why he was the only one able to track down Neal Caffrey. (Twice.)
Peter: Let's see what they said behind the back of the bumbling FBI agent.
- The scene in episode 12 at the auction house when Peter plays the part of a wine snob to perfection (after admitting to numerous people that he doesn't actually like wine) is a particularly awesome example.
- As well as in "All In" where he intentionally goes up to a group of Chinatown escorts asking questions in English — to record the bitchy and smug answers they shot at him in Chinese.
Diana: (after Peter shoots Fowler) How did you know he was wearing a vest?
- From the season one finale:
Peter: I didn't.
- From Episode 14 of Season 2, Peter is kidnapped and blindfolded — when the kidnappers remove his blindfold, he tells them his location to the block.
- In "Checkmate", Peter manages to ad-lib his way through a con while Mozzie stood there stunned. He also executes an excellent flying tackle on Keller just as he is about to land a killing blow on Neal. He manages to hold his own pretty well in the scuffle with Keller too, right up until Neal shoots Keller in the leg.
- In S04E7, Peter lets a fixer control the interrogation and Sherlock Scan him and Diana, playing to her ego. He then tells her he thinks she's all bluff. She calls the Mayor to prove a point to him... Not realising that as City Hall logs are public record, Peter now knows her phone number, and can subpeona her records.
- One generally doesn't think Mozzie can possibly be badass, but when held in gunpoint during "By the Book", he manages to grab the gun from the mook when he is distracted.
- Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: No, James, you didn't. (Technically, it was Neal's mom's idea that he not follow them to St. Louis, but that still comes down to his horrible, horrible decision-making. And then there's all the other horrible decision-making that continues to screw what's left of his family thirty-odd years later and which is all on him.)
- Damsel in Distress
- Kate seems to have been one, but we're not sure exactly how distressed she was.
- The kidnapped girl in "Frontman"
- In Season 5, Rebecca gets kidnapped by Hagan as part of his plan to force Neal to decode the Mosconi Codex for him. But it's subverted because she turns out to be behind everything.
- The Dandy: Neal, ever so much.
- A Day in the Limelight: "As You Were" mostly focuses on Jones, and Elizabeth gets an adventure of her own in "Neighborhood Watch".
- Dead Guy Junior: Diana's son Theo, named after the late Teddy Winters (actually Mozzie's real identity, whose death was faked).
- In the series finale, Peter and Elizabeth name their son Neal.
- Death Trap/Drowning Pit: Adler, the man who killed Kate puts Alex, Neal, and Peter in one of these. Why? Apparently, For the Evulz.
- Delayed Wire: The con used in "The Dentist of Detroit".
- Delivery Guy: When Diana, after climbing down a 10ft-15ft tall metal ladder, is so stressed her water breaks and cannot go back up Mozzie, who she was there to arrest, starts to run but returns to help Diana birth her child. When Neal finds them, Mozzie exclaims he's a midwife.
- Did You Just Have Sex?: El notes that Neal is very chipper after a night with Sara. Then Neal notes the same thing about her...
- Also in "Stealing Home", when Neal drops by the Burkes before work, Peter comes down the stairs calling El a "Tigress", only to find Neal in his kitchen, drinking orange juice. Peter proffers breakfast; Neal professes to have lost his appetite.
- Dirty Harriet: Diana in "Need to Know".
- Distracted by the Sexy: Neal and Mozzie enlist June's granddaughter Cindy to divert a security guard's attention when he is guarding the burned scrap of painting that could prove to Peter that Neal is involved in the theft of the Nazi art.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Peter burns one of Neal's remaining valid aliases just because he introduced him to a jewel smuggler as "Mr. Satchmo", the name of Peter's dog.
- Double-Meaning Title: The episode "Forging Bonds", which is about both falsifying financial instruments and building interpersonal relationships.
- Drop-In Character: Mozzie.
- Dude, She's a Lesbian: Neal goes for Diana in a big way until Peter deflates his hopes.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: After six seasons, Neal finally gets his freedom when he fakes his death.
- Easily Forgiven: Subverted: "Checkmate" has Peter let go of the fact that Neal kept the gold Mozzie stole while looking for Elizabeth. The next episode is driven by Neal's attempts to get back in Peter's good graces.
- Neal does get mad at Peter for meeting Kate behind his back, but even after she's murdered, he is not pissed at Peter for not only failing to save Kate when he had the chance, but frequently telling Neal that Kate was betraying him based off speculation.
- Enemy Mine: The series premise is a cop and a criminal being forced to work together.
- Even Evil Has Standards
"What kind of sick animal takes advantage of innocent Chechen children?"
- Peter manages to convince a Chechen mob boss to help him take down an adoption agent who was running an extortion racket using Chechen orphans.
- Everyone Has Standards:
- In order to facilitate their sale of the Nazi artwork, Mozzie and Neal need uncrackable identities, but one of the only ways to get them is to steal the birth certificate of a dead infant. Of course, Neal decides to try and Take a Third Option.
- Neal has limits as to who he pulls his cons on. In "Parting Shots", Neal refuses to con an innocent widow.
- Everyone Can See It: The UST between Neal and Sara.
- Evil Counterpart: Keller — the "Blue Collar" version of Neal.
- Evil Mentor: In "Copycat Caffrey".
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin
- The show revolves around white collar crime.
- The episode "Point Blank" alludes to Mozzie getting shot at point blank range at the end.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: In the episode "By the Book", there is a Let Me Get This Straight... moment when Peter points out the flaw in the Perfect Exchange but later when Mozzie figures it out is more of one of these as he exclaims "There is no middle man!"
- Fake Guest Star: Sharif Atkins as Clinton Jones, who has appeared in every episode. Jeff Eastin said it was actually in Sharif's contract to be kept a guest star, therefore leaving him free to do pilots.
- As of the fourth season he is credited as one of the stars of the show.
- Fake-Out Make-Out
Neal: What are you doing?
- Between Neal and Diana in "Need to Know" .
- That extra-frisky frisking with Fiametta in "Book of Hours".
- A variation right before Alex first meets Peter. She takes off some of her clothes, messes up her hair, and lies down in Neal's bed.
Alex: Why else would I be here?
- A mild variation with Neal giving Elizabeth a quick peck on the cheek to convince a nervous whistle-blower that he was agent Peter Burke. Seconds before, however, they almost did kiss. Cue Peter's Death Glare.
- Fake-Real Turn: In "Need to Know", Neal goes under as a political spin doctor, and creates a fictitious public park project for his client to be in favor of, in honor of an equally fictitious childhood friend. This creates such a response that by the end of the episode, the park is actually getting made, with the nonexistent kid's name attached.
- Faking the Dead: One of Mozzie's contingency plans involves this, literally burning his aliases so he can start afresh. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out completely, and ended up burning his real name. Mozzie ends up following through, so as to stay away from an FBI investigation.
- And in the series finale, what Neal successfully did.
- False Reassurance
Neal: I'm not working on anything.
- After borrowing Burke's FBI jacket, Neal swears that "under no circumstances will I use this jacket to impersonate an FBI agent". Cut to Neal's friend Mozzie using the jacket to impersonate an FBI agent.
- Peter's beginning to get wise:
Peter: Which means Mozzie's working on it.
- Neal's habit of wandering around his apartment in sweatpants and no shirt.
- Peter in short-sleeved shirts — the man's got more than one gun; he's got a pair, in fact.
- Flanderization: Mozzie's interest in conspiracy theories and distrust of the FBI are exaggerated midway through the second season.
- Which could be intentional on Mozzie's part.
- Flatline: Mozzie gets one at the beginning of "Burke's Seven", mainly for effect; we see activity start again almost immediately.
- Follow the Leader: With the success of Burn Notice, USA seems to like the motif of an exiled protagonist returning to his usual lifestyle. Also includes using terminology frequently used on NCIS (such as "Probie" and BOLO), which is frequently replayed on USA. However, to be fair, those are real phrases used by law enforcment.
- Other similarities are evident between Neal Caffrey's and Michal Westons' M.O.s - conning a bad guy to reveal his plans/hiding place/incriminating evidence and figuring out a "that's what I'd do" plan when trying to get inside the mind of an antagonist.
- Fool for Love: Neal to Kate
- Framing the Guilty Party:
Burke: Oh, you're alleging that a thief broke into your office to crack an uncrackable safe to give you millions of dollars in diamonds?
- "Scott Free" has a particularly notable example in that the guilty party is actually guilty of the exact crime he's being framed for. There's this kid, right? Stealing from Asshole Victims Just Like Robin Hood. Only his latest heist was from another thief who's fully capable of killing "Robin Hoody" for the hell of it. Neal's solution? Put the loot back and call Peter.
- The Season 5 premiere sees Neal do this to his father James, the real killer in the murder that Peter was wrongly arrested for, by forging a confession to the murder.
- Gaslighting: Used to get the villain-of-the-week in "Vital Signs" to give up his account number.
- Gentleman and a Scholar: Neal. He loves art and fine wine and adores clothing from the fifties. And he has multiple degrees. And apparently they're all in whatever crime has occurred this week.
- Gentleman Thief: Neal; though not born into wealth he worked his way up there through crime, and otherwise exhibits all the traditional attributes.
- Get a Room!: Mozzie in "Deadline" to Neal and Sara.Mozzie: Get a room!
Sara: We are in a room.
Neal: My room.
Mozzie: ...That hurts.
- Give Me Back My Wallet
- Neal picks a number of pockets, including Peter's.
- And the little Chinese girl Bai in "All In", although it was more of a case of Give Me Back My Sock.
- Good with Numbers
Mozzie: M is the 13th letter of the alphabet. 13 is a prime number.
- Neal demonstrates this in the pilot, calculating 64 years of compound interest in a matter of seconds.
- Later when Jones estimates the street value of a case of counterfeit Rolexes, Diana remarks that he's been hanging around Neal too much.
- Peter's degree was in accounting, and he was apparently good enough to be recruited by several Fortune 500 companies.
- Mozzie tends to be quite good with this trope too.
Neal: Thank you, Rain Man.
- Gratuitous German: The label on the dynamite in the U-boot reads "Gefabrlicher Exploeavstoff" and "Halten sie trocken", "gefaehrlicher Explosivstoff" and "trocken halten" would be correct.
- Guile Hero: Neal
- Gun Struggle: Peter, with the guy who shot Mozzie.
- Happily Married: Peter and Elizabeth; in fact, their marriage is quite possibly the happiest on American television. Potential opportunities for marital strife (e.g. Elizabeth's friend in episode 4, Peter at the hotel in episode 5) are used to show how much the two depend on each other.
Elizabeth: The last thing I said to him was "have a wonderful day."
- In "Vital Signs", Peter had to flirt with another woman to gain contact information and trust. Elizabeth found the idea of Peter flirting hilarious, and the same pickup lines were reused at the end of the episode to give more support to this trope.
- In another episode, Elizabeth makes a few passing mentions of how Peter wooed her. And she's right; Peter flirting is hilarious since when wooing her, Peter did things straight out of romantic comedies. Him flirting doesn't mean anything to her since she knows if he really meant it, he'd be doing much more romantic things.
- The fact that most of the fandom (the fandom) is unwilling to break up Peter and El's marriage in fic and the biggest ship is an OT3 of Peter/El/Neal should go far in showing you how Happily Married they are.
- In one episode, Peter is pretending to be an auditor and gets put up in a 5-star hotel penthouse. He's talking to Elizabeth on his laptop, showing her the room, the view, and otherwise gushing about how swanky it is. Then he gets to, in his own words, "...the best part." And that is? A picture of Elizabeth he packed with him. In addition, several scenes later as he's getting ready for bed, he spends the time talking to that picture.
- In the episode "Payback", we see what passes for domestic drama in the Burke household: an argument about picking up the dry cleaning and a failure to call each other "hon" when they part. Neal and Mozzie both lampshade this incredulously:
Mozzie: I'm guessing in a fight about dry cleaning that that's pretty severe.
- Hide Your Pregnancy: Tiffani Thiessen's pregnancy has been hidden very badly during season 2, with highly awkward use of warped green screens.
- Hidden Depths: Peter is shown to have proficiency in a number of fields that even surprises Neal, such as being an experienced horse rider, knowing how to speak Chinese, skilled enough at baseball to have been a potential major leaguer, and possessing a very prestigious accounting degree.
- Hollywood Density: A briefcase full of Krugerrands was quite easily passed around in one episode, while in reality that much gold would have weighed about a hundred pounds.
- Homemade Sweater from Hell: Elizabeth's mother made Peter one. It isn't completely horrible but he only brings it out when the in-laws are coming over and really did not like Neal catching a look at him in it. Then there's the one she made for Satchmo. Poor, poor Satchmo.
- How's Your British Accent?
- Marsha Thomason pulls out her natural accent in "Deadline". They even specifically ask her to use a Manchester dialect.
- In "Veiled Threat" Matt Bomer pulls out his native Texan accent.
- And Scottish-born Ross McCall gets to use his native accent when Matthew Keller impersonates an Interpol agent in 'On the Fence'.
- Humble Hero: Jones' biggest schtick is that he's the most modest character in the entire series, even more so than Burke.
- Hypocrite: Peter repeatedly berates Neal for looking for Kate and assuming she was in danger, and never apologizes to Neal for his part in her death. But when Peter's wife is kidnapped, he loses all composure and immediately blames Neal for the entire ordeal.
- He also chastises Neal every time he makes a lie of omission or makes morally grey decisions for the greater good. Yet Peter is more than willing to do exactly the same things.
- I Have Your Wife: Keller to Peter, in the heartbreaking cliffhanger ending of 3x10, "Countdown".
- I Know You Know I Know: The subtext of a lot of exchanges between Peter and Neal, especially in Season 3.
- I Lied: In 1x12, Wilkes says this after Neal gets the briefcase to save the kidnapped girl. When Neal reveals that the briefcase is empty, he replies that he lied too.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: When June's old friend, fresh out of prison, shows up looking for another big score, semi-coerced by a violent acquaintance from prison, he and Neal end up working together under cover. Unfortunately, he lets slip a bit of info he shouldn't have had, and Neal has to dance on air to work his way out of it. Refuge in Audacity for the win.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When Sara gets a job offer that would take her considerably outside of Neal's radius, he tells her she should take it, and immediately subverts the ensuing misunderstanding that dogs so many other fictional couples by explaining that he doesn't want her to go, but he wants her to be happy.
- Idiot Ball: In the Season 4 finale "In the Wind", Peter discharges his weapon into the floor inside a building as a warning shot, which no trained federal agent would ever do. This then results in him having gunshot residue on his hands when he's discovered with a murder victim, whom Peter had motive to kill.
- Ignored Enemy: At the end of "Withdrawal", Neal and Peter start an argument to distract the woman holding a gun on them.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Neal, despite not liking guns, has this. During Keller's struggle with Peter, Neal manages to shoot him in the leg despite Peter blocking him. The improbable part comes in when Peter shows the camera a hole in his pants' leg, revealing that Neal shot Keller through the cloth of Peter's pants without hurting Peter at all. And Neal happened to be down with injuries too.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Halfway through season three.Mozzie: The feds only have a partial list; the odds are miniscule that the Degas is even on it!
Neal: But if it is and we sell it...
Mozzie: We'll be long gone before anyone can say "Degas away with it".
Peter: Looks like we found our widow of opportunity.
- And early in season four, when Peter has Neal seduce a widow so they can catch her husband's business partner for the murder of said husband.
Peter: Get it? 'cause I dropped the 'n'.
Jones: We get it.
- Peter gives a lot of them, much to the chagrin of his coworkers.
- When Neal impersonates a substitute teacher in "Upper West Side Story", "Textbook behavior, Neal."
- In the same episode, Neal tells Peter the next day's lesson is on Dickens. Peter replies, "Someone has Great Expectations."
- When Neal needs a quick alias while Peter's thinking about fake prosthetics, "Thank you for your time Mr.... Armstrong. Neal." Followed by "At least it's better than 'Neal Hand..leman'" and "I should have gone with 'Eye-senhower'".
- Indy Ploy: Neal recommends Peter uses this against a Genre Savvy opponent.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Mozzie in "Countdown" after Neal reveals his plan to switch in a fake Degas for the real one. He at first looks like he'll fill a short glass with wine...then he half-fills a tall one...and then seems to say, "screw it" and fill the tall one nearly full.
- He does this again during "In the Wind", after coming to Neal's apartment to plan, and runs into Sara. It's quite clear what she and Neal were doing the night before.
- Inspector Javert: Agent Kramer. He's totally misjudged and mishandled Neal, and has revealed himself to be a bit of Jerkass in the process, but it looks like he genuinely believes that he's doing what's right.
- Instant Birth: Just Add Water!: Played straight when Diana's water breaks. The baby is coming right then and there, and Mozzie (of all people) has to be the one delivering. Leads to a Crowning Moment of Funny when a surprised Neal walks in on Diana and Mozzie holding the baby.Mozzie: I'm a dad!
Diana: Not even close!
Mozzie: I'm a midwife!
- Instant Sedation: The drink Adler gives Peter and Neal knocks them out instantly.
- Internal Affairs: The FBI has the Office of Professional Responsibility. Unfortunately, one of its lead agents is quite obviously corrupt and is the leading contender for the Ring Man.
- Interpol Special Agent: There's one in "All In."
- The Irish Mob: "The Dentist of Detroit" is mostly about an Italian mobster from Detroit, but the New York Irish mob plays a bit role in Neal's elaborate plan to arrest him.
- Ironic Echo: Sometimes several times an episode, often between Neal and Peter playing off one another's dialogue.
- Irony: Mozzie calls FBI Agents "suits". His best friend, Neal, is known for wearing very nice antique suits.
- It's Fake Fur, It's Fine: Part of the shopping spree, in the episode "Taking Account", involves buying lots of fur coat, and the episode notes twice that they are fake, just very high quality for artificial fur.
- It Works Better with Bullets
- Neal tries towards the end of "Book Of Hours". The perp points out there's still a round chambered.
- He managed to pull it off better in "Unfinished Business" though. Apparently mooks don't chamber their rounds.
- In the series finale, Neal pulls this on Keller in a very complex fashion, combined with a bit of Fridge Brilliance. The first round in the revolver is the trick bullet Neal uses to fake his own death. The second chamber is empty to guarantee Peter gets the drop on Keller. The rest are full, to give the gun the appropriate heft.
- Jerkass: Kramer quickly becomes this. When he was initially introduced, he appears to be a Reasonable Authority Figure. However, he returns with the aim of derailing Neal's commutation hearing, since not only does he believe that Neal is hiding something, but he also wants to deliberately find an excuse to extend Neal's prison time and then have him forcibly transferred to the FBI branch in Washington DC under his control.
- Kansas City Shuffle: It happens occasionally. Notably, in the pilot, Neal pulls this on the FBI and the suspect at the same time: when it turns out that Peter and Neal figure out exactly where the crime is occurring, but can't actually get in there without a warrant and have no probable cause to get a warrant, Neal jumps the bounds of his tracking device and heads to the location, convincing the criminals that he's trying to rob them, badly. The FBI raids the location to get Neal back, and just happen to discover the illegal activity there, which is admissible under the "Exigent Circumstances" exception of law: they were there to get Neal back, but any evidence of illegal activity discovered in the course of said apprehension is perfectly legal.
- Kids Are Cruel: Played straight in "Dentist of Detroit". Mozzie was bullied a lot as a kid because he was an orphan.
- Know When To Fold Them: Henry Dobbs pretty much owns his little part of Costa Verde. For a price, he will more than willingly handle minor complaints his renters have and take care of the local government's complaints against them. The US Federal Government, however, is a force he will not go up against and be more than willing to help them so his little paradise is not disturbed.
- Lampshade Hanging: In the second season, Mozzie does some investigation using a hair dryer.Neal: Why do you have a hair dryer?
Mozzie: Do you want the information or not?
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: In "Power Play" Neal and Peter switch identities and Peter has to tell the entire office to play along. After he explains the situation, he goes on to say "no questions, no laughing... we don't ever speak of this again."
- Licked by the Dog: In "Book of Hours", the mob boss looks about to rip apart a homeless guy who had stolen his antique bible. He deflates when the guy's dog licks his hand.
- Lie Detector: Neal is given polygraph testing twice.
- In "In the Red", when Sara questions him about Mozzie's break-in at her apartment, he uses a thumbtack on his skin to alter his responses.
- In "On Guard", when Peter questions him about the missing Nazi treasure, Neal just sticks with the truth: he didn't steal it, and (as of that moment) he has no idea who did. Fortunately Peter doesn't think to ask if Neal knows where the treasure is...
- Like a Son to Me: June says these exact words about Neal during his commutation hearing, complete with tears. It's not clear whether she truly meant it though, since she was putting on her best act to help Neal go free. It's probably true to some extent.
- Like an Old Married Couple: Neal and Peter's spat in "Dentist of Detroit" comes off like this.
- Living Legend
- Alright, class, that's it for today. Next week we'll begin the unit on Neal Caffrey.
- Mozzie does Neal one better, for once. He managed to become an Urban Legend. By accident. The Dentist of Detroit has committed every crime, and no-one has ever seen his face.
- Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: In "Payback", Peter manages to escape a locked cell with nothing but a clothespin, soda can, light bulb, and cell phone. With some help from Neal, of course.
- Loophole Abuse: Neal uses this to nail the perp in the pilot episode. The FBI knows exactly where his counterfeiting operation is, but they can't go in without a warrant... unless they were pursuing a fugitive who just happened to wander into the criminal's hideout.Neal: You know the secret to living with rules?
Sara: Learning how to bend them.
Peter: "I love how you two think that law was designed as a loophole."
- Lampshaded when Peter complains to Neal about how he and Mozzie treat the very limited utility of the exigent circumstances law as an all-you-can-subpoena buffet.
- Lovable Rogue: Neal
- Luxury Prison Suite: Keller appears to be living rather well in prison.
- MacGuffin: In the Season 1.5 premiere, it's revealed that the Ring Man wants a music box that was stolen from Russia's famous Amber Room, and he believes that Neal has it. However, Neal actually doesn't have it, and needs to steal it to find out why the Ring Man wants it so badly.
- The Mafia: Naturally, various characters have had dealings with the Family.
- In "Book of Hours", Peter and Neal wind up helping a local mob boss recover a bible stolen from his neighborhood church.
- In "Copycat Caffrey", Peter poses as an enforcer for the Detroit mob.
- The Magic Poker Equation: In "In the Red", Neal plays no-limit Texas Hold'em against an adoption lawyer with an embezzling scheme. For the final hand, in which both players are all-in, the cards on the table are Spades 6, Spades 2, Clubs 8, Hearts Q, Spades 9. The adoption lawyer reveals a Spades J and Spades Q for a Queen-high flush, only for Neal to reveal his Spades 10 and Spades K and win it all with his King-high flush.
- Man Behind the Man: It's revealed in the season 2 mid-season finale that Fowler isn't the Big Bad. He's working under a higher power.
- Manipulative Bastard: Kate, at times. Mozzie, at other times.
- Peter is more than willing to manipulate Neal when he thinks it is good for him.
- Master Actor: Neal is quite skilled at getting into character in order to become one of his many aliases. At one point, Peter calls him an 'alias savant'.
- Meaningful Name
- The episode name "Forging Bonds" has a double meaning.
- Caffrey appears to have a care-free attitude, Keller is a killer, Fowler was up to something foul...
- Also, an in-universe example with Neal using word-associations to remember names.
- A variant occurs where Mozzie calls Peter by his name instead of the usual "Suit" at the end of "Dentist of Detroit". This implies he has gotten over his bad experience of being adopted by a family of Feds as a child.
- Mock Millionaire: Neal during several investigations. Peter during several other investigations.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: "Agents... and Neal". Also "Gentlemen... and Neal."
- My God, What Have I Done?: At the end of "As You Were", Neal breaks into Burke's house to steal the Nazi cargo manifest when he receives a call from Burke, who tries to cheer him up over his recent breakup with Sara. Neal then breaks down when he realizes the gravity of the deed he has just done.
- Mysterious Informant: Mozzie
- Named After Somebody Famous: Quite a few characters (Peter, Elizabeth, Alex, Kate...) share their names with Russian monarchs. There's also Neal's standard alias Nicholas Halden, and Mozzie checks into the hospital as Ivan Bliminse.
- Mozzie's "real" name derives from his inability to pronounce "Mozart" as a child.
- Nazi Gold: Adler turns out to be hunting lost Nazi treasure.
- Nerdgasm: Diana when she sees the suitcase MP5s in "Countdown".
- Also in "Vested Interest" when she's talking to the inventor of the TGV-6 bulletproof vest.
- Never Bring A Knife To A Gunfight: Neal walks in on Mozzie and another character in his apartment. Mozzie is brandishing a corkscrew, and Neal calls him off. His opponent then casually takes out the pistol he's been wielding in his pocket.Mozzie: I brought a corkscrew to a gun fight.
- Never Hurt an Innocent: Neal is highly averse to cons that will involve hurting innocent people, which is one of the major traits that sets him apart from fellow conmen like Keller and makes him sympathetic.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Not as egregrious as some examples, but Neal definitely seems to have a lot of relevant knowledge just when they need to know about the most random things.
- Nice Hat: Caffrey's signature trilby, picked up from a wealthy widow's donations to a thrift store.
- The Nicknamer: To Mozzie, Peter is "Suit", Elizabeth is "Mrs. Suit", and Diana is "Lady Suit".
- Jones and Diana collectively are the "Demi-Suits".
- Mozzie even calls Christie "Ms. Lady Suit", quickly corrected by Neal as "Doctor Lady Suit."
- During the years when Neal was chased by Peter, Neal nicknamed Peter "Burke the Jerk", which Peter was not happy to discover.
- The FBI gives nicknames to all the criminals they don't know the true identity of. The list includes "The Dutchman", "Ghovat" (The Ghost), and "James Bonds" for Neal and his bond forgery.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: In "On The Fence" the FBI has Matthew Keller apprehended, until the hitman Mozzie hired to kill him shows up and opens fire. In the ensuing chaos, Keller gets away cleanly and then, in "Countdown", kidnaps Elizabeth, setting off a chain of events that leads to Mozzie and Neal losing the treasure.
- At the beginning of the fourth series, Neal (and Mozzie) have made a clean break; Neal is living under an expertly-made assumed name, and the FBI - neither Peter nor the bloodhound the FBI assigns to track Caffrey down - have any idea where he is. The bloodhound spooks Peter, who manages to talk the one person Neal still has a contact method with, into giving him that contact method. Peter then gets Neal to call him, to warn him, but Peter is planning to get to Neal first, and records the call; with which recording Peter figures out where Neal is. Then the bloodhound raids Peter's home, finds the map on which they circled the location Neal is at (having found it via the background sound from the call,) goes there, and puts a $500,000 bounty on Neal, quote "in any condition" and without specifying that said condition needs to include "alive." Whooops.
- Peter's efforts in trying help Neal find out the truth about his father end up inadvertently getting Ellen murdered and forcing their only other lead to go into hiding, since he put their names through the FBI database, which can accessed by corrupt officials.
- No-Nonsense Nemesis: Why not just shoot? Peter does.Diana: How did you know he's wearing a [bulletproof] vest?
Peter: I didn't.
- The shooting was justified as the bad guy had already threatened both their lives and was about to use his firearm. As a law enforcement officer, Peter would know this gives him justification. That the bad guy is someone he really doesn't like was just icing on the cake.
- Non-Action Guy:
- Neal. As an incredibly intelligent Guile Hero, he's great at talking his way out of situations, but since he's averse to violence and Doesn't Like Guns, he's not much good at fighting his way out. The few times he does end up in a physical fight, he loses the upper hand pretty quickly and has to be saved by someone else. In one episode he's heard trying to persuade Peter that he should receive combat training since he's out in the field so much, but Peter understandably shoots this down.
- Mozzie, for similar reasons as Neal.
- Noodle Implements: Amusingly subverted in "Need to Know". The objects Mozzie requests sound random at first (shoelace, refrigerator magnet, magazine, twenty-dollar bill, hammer, crowbar, radio), but each one ends up serving a purpose. Except the hammer and the crowbar. We still don't know what he needed those for."There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant."
- Noodle Incident: The many jobs Neal has 'allegedly' pulled only get vaguely alluded to, letting the audience take their best guess.
Mozzie: How about... a Cannonball?
- In a specific incident, Neal and Mozzie discuss how to steal a book that is in a high-security case.
Neal: No, there's too many people. This place is nearly empty during the day; they only have two employees.
Mozzie: We could do the Laser Susan.
Neal: I like what you're thinking, but I don't want the sprinkler system running.
- No Sympathy: Averted with Elizabeth, who never seems to mind (too much) when Peter's work gets in the way of their personal life. When a fugitive FBI agent inadvertently hijacks Peter and Elizabeth's date night, she acts more like he's stuck in traffic than anything. To be fair, she asks Mozzie for Peter's safe word to make sure he's okay first. When she found out he spent an afternoon flirting with another woman, her response was to laugh hysterically, knowing how awful Peter is at that and how much he must have hated it. Of course, when she finds out he was posing as a chiropractor and the other woman refers to his "magic hands"...
- Played straight when Neal starts dating Sara Ellis. They both lead rather unconventional lives, but she views herself as being on the correct side of the morally gray area they live in, and doesn't like that Neal's on the wrong side.
- Not Listening to Me, Are You?: Elizabeth and Peter in "Front Man":Elizabeth: ...and so I told him I would spend the night with him for a million dollars. I'd have to run it by my husband first, but honey, it's a million dollars. What do you think?
Peter: I think that's great. [beat] I don't think it's great. What are we talking about?
- Not So Different: After we find out a little more about Fowler's past, it's quite clear that he was very much like Burke in his early career and it is quite possible that Burke may have fallen like Fowler if the situation was right. Likewise, if Neal had continued his life of crime, he could have very well turned out to be like some of the criminals he helped Burke arrest. "Payback" suggests this as well that if Neal continues his lifestyle, he'll end up always looking for a con to the point of, functionally, acting like a (classy) addict well into old age and ending up alone, penniless, and ultimately, an empty shell with nothing in the world - not even money or fine things - but trying to hold on to something he's losing.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: In "All In", Peter acts like a bumbling idiot to have Mei Lin's coworkers talk freely (in Chinese) around him.
- Odd Couple: Neal and Peter are basically polar opposites; and in "Home Invasion" they get all Felix and Oscar when they're forced to share an apartment. Somewhat of an inversion too as the by-the-book cop is the sloppy one and the break-the-rules criminal is the uptight and tidy one.
- although one could argue this is the more logical alignment, as Con men often Thrive on a mark being disorderly, Neal keeping order in his personal life is a defense mechanism; and Peter while restrained by the rules of being a Government Employee would let himself relax when free of oversight
- Odd Friendship: Elizabeth and Mozzie
- Acknowledged and lampshaded in Prisoner's Dilemma. Peter sends Mozzie home to Elizabeth in order to let her knew he's safe. And to keep her company on what would have been Peter and Elizabeth's date night. He mentions as much to the person he's with.
- With season 3, it starts to solidify more in various episodes. Elizabeth calls Mozzie over for assistance when Neal and Peter are hesitant. And Mozzie has begun to occasionally call or refer to her as Elizabeth rather than Mrs. Suit.
- Official Couple: Peter and Elizabeth.
- Only Sane Man: The dissenters to Neal's crazy political campaign plans in "Need to Know" come off as this. While everyone else on the politician's team goes along with all of Neal's suggestions for Suspiciously Specific Denial, at least one person gripes that it makes absolutely no sense. Which is, of course, why it's working.
- Origins Episode: "Forging Bonds" tells the story of the first time Peter and Neal crossed paths.
- ...Or So I Heard: "Allegedly."
- Papa Wolf: A member of the State Department, in a quiet fashion. He comes to Neal and Peter because a college student has been wrongfully convicted by the Myanmar government. Only it turns out the college student is his estranged son. And he came to Neal and Peter because... Neal.
- Parental Abandonment: Mozzie's parents left him on the doorstep of an orphanage when he was an infant. May also be the case for Neal as his crooked cop father left when he was 2-years-old.
- Parental Substitute
- Peter is more than a little like this to Neal. Lampshaded by Mozzie on more than one occasion, starting in the second season. Elizabeth, June, and Ellen also took on maternal roles to Neal at different points.
- Peter and Elizabeth's role as Neal's surrogate parents was never more clear than when they were talking to him about how he needed to tell Rebecca the truth about who he was. The scene was so very reminiscent of parents sitting their son down to talk to him about relationships and the importance of honesty. Him going to June for her opinion after that demonstrated how Neal values her advice just as much as Peter and Elizabeth's.
- Mr. Jefferies to Mozzie.
- Peter is more than a little like this to Neal. Lampshaded by Mozzie on more than one occasion, starting in the second season. Elizabeth, June, and Ellen also took on maternal roles to Neal at different points.
- Pass the Popcorn: In 2x15Mozzie: Excellent! Top secret movies! I'll get popcorn!
Neal: Butter, please.
- Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Neal basically lives this trope. It's also heavily present between Burke, Neal, and the perps of the week.
- Pastiche: The movie Mozzie uses to teach Neal the game Pai Gow, Tiles of Fire, appears to be an Affectionate Parody of the Chop Sockey genre, since the film has lots of sequels, a Hong Kong Dub, Mickey Mousing, Kung-Foley, and a Martial Arts Do Not Work That Way moment.Mozzie: Oh, oh, wait! Wait! Shhh, shhh! He just played the death tile.
Neal: There's a death tile?
Mozzie: Well, the movie takes a few liberties.
Neal: Then why are we watching it?
Mozzie: It's a cult classic!
- Pet the Dog
- If Peter is late home from work, the family dog Satchmo will eat at his share, at the table no less. Also the Mob Don in episode 3.
- Also, when they have to take Satchmo to the vet after he eats Burke's handcuff key, Elizabeth forces Burke to apologize to the dog for leaving his key out where Satchmo could reach it.
- Planning with Props: Mozzie outlines a plan to surreptitiously wipe a tape of incriminating evidence that's being sent by courier, using a bunch of toys that are lying around.Mozzie: Now, you go into the office as the courier and pick up the tape. Then you use this. (holds up a refrigerator magnet)
Neal: What's the refrigerator magnet supposed to be?
Mozzie: A refrigerator magnet.
- Poisonous Friend
- Mozzie has become a tame version of this in Season 3, as he constantly prods Neal to break all off his current relationships so they can live new (wealthy) lives after fencing the stolen Nazi treasure, despite Neal's doubts. He only gets vicious in the season finale, and that's after he felt betrayed by Neal-and even then, he's willing to help.
- Kramer believes that Neal is this to Peter, and that he's looking out for Peter by removing Neal to DC.
- Porn Stache: In "Need to Know", it's revealed that Peter once had a mustache. Luckily for Neal (and the audience) there is photographic evidence, which prompts Neal to comment that he was expecting something more Magnum, P.I. and less Mario.
- Product Placement
- A particularly glaring example is found in "Out of the Box", where Peter receives a phone call on his Ford's touchscreen, which we've never seen before. He then asks for a traffic report, notes that there's an accident on Park Avenue... and after the very next cut is walking through the door. Even more glaring in "Payback", where for no apparent reason, Neal and Diana have a conversation about the picture of a tree on Diana's dashboard that shows the fuel efficiency of her hybrid.
- In "The Portrait", Peter's driving is helped out a lot by the proximity alerts: "It's a Taurus, it can take care of itself."
- Everyone has a nice and shiny HP laptop or desktop computer and whenever Neal orders a drink, it's always Ketel One.
- Punny Name
- Before the FBI identified Neal as the bond forger, his nickname was James Bonds.
- "Scott Free" gave us Robin Hoodie: he stole from the rich and wore a hoodie. More accurately, Neal gave the FBI the name and immediately regrets it when everybody else takes to it. The expression of exasperation he has when Elizabeth expresses she likes it is positively epic.
- Put on a Bus: Agent Lauren Cruz and Fowler.
- Quip to Black: The teaser of "Free Fall" involves a potential robbery of a famous diamond, at a modeling agency exhibiting the diamond on a living mannequin in their lobby. After Peter and Neal determine that it was stolen, Neal walks back out to the lobby.Model: What's going on?
Neal: You just became a very beautiful crime scene.
- Rank Up: Beginning Season 5, Peter is promoted to ASAC in charge of the New York White Collar Division, while Jones becomes acting Supervisory Special Agent.
- Reality Ensues: In the Season 3 finale, Neal's jump between the passing trams was a truly audacious escape. It also happened in a public place in broad daylight, with lots of witnesses that the Kramer's team could interview for indisputable evidence that Neal broke his parole.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: In season five, Diana is pregnant because Marsha Thomason was at the time of filming.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Hughes, Bancroft in "Prisoner's Dilemma".
- Hughes especially in the season 4 premiere. When a hot shot agent comes in hunting Neal, Hughes sides with Peter as openly as his position will allow. And when Hughes finds out that Peter has been hunting Neal (with his team) at home (after said hot shot gets a warrant to search Peter's home), Hughes outright asks Peter if he knows where Neal is. Peter says he may have just a strong lead as of last night and asks if the hot shot is on his way there. Hughes says yes and then tells Peter that he's been told to put Peter on leave in order to get perspective on what's important. He then adds: "If that means Neal... I understand." Let's put this in perceptive then. Hughes basically just learned that not only was Peter not following regulations, he was also very likely withholding evidence and obstructing the pursue of a fugitive. So Hughes gives Peter (and by extension, Neal) information that hot shot is en route and basically gives his blessing to use the forced vacation time for Peter to go after Neal, if he wishes. Later, he protects the other members of the team while Peter is on the speakerphone with him from Neal's hideout and Neal is listening but hasn't said anything out loud, Hughes agrees to set up a means of getting Neal back to his old deal, no new jailtime, and ends with all but admitting he knows Neal is right there when he tells Peter to not put him on speakerphone again. Later still, he did as much as he could to shield Peter from the fallout of his actions but couldn't stop him from being transferred and is genuinely sorry for this failure. Most. Benevolent. Boss. Ever.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Burke in Season 4, Episode 3: he's sent to the evidence locker, a.k.a. "the Cave" pending review of his actions in getting Neal back.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: In-Universe example. In "Hard Sell" Peter, while undercover as a Corrupt Corporate Executive, plays as if to expose Neal who is also undercover. He tells the corrupt Wall Street brokerage group that they've infiltrated that Neal's bugged pen is too high end for the FBI to afford and that he's actually a corporate spy. In reality, the pen was given to Neal by the FBI.
- Recruiting the Criminal
- Redundant Rescue: Diana at the end of "Need to Know".Diana: Awww. You were worried.
Peter: Well, not about you. I was worried what you'd do to him.
- Refuge in Audacity: Neal pulls this off a lot.
- In the first season finale, Neal manages to infiltrate a party at the Italian consulate. He straight up tells everybody that he's an international art thief out to rob them, but it's all part of the plan.
- In "Point Blank", Neal slices a banner off a railing to swing from a balcony through the window into a locked room in the middle of a museum gala. Errol Flynn much?
- There's also "Taking Account," in which Neal and Sara use a suspected criminal's multimillion-dollar account to go on a huge shopping spree. Of course, this is all part of a plan to draw the suspect out, but he bought FOUR HELICOPTERS with the loot.
- The way he swaps the Degas in "Countdown". Neal sneaks up to a penthouse, swaps the painting for a forgery and jumps off the roof with a parachute. When Neal tells Peter in the season 3 finale, Peter just exasperatedly replies "Fine, don't tell me."
- Hopping from the top of one tram to another with the possibility of falling hundreds of feet into the river below and killing himself. Even Peter couldn't resist a small "Wow."
- Renaissance Man: Neal speaks multiple languages, knows all about art from most cultures, can forge almost anything, is skilled with firearms, is good at chess, and is an exceptional thief. The trailer for next season also has him sword fighting with someone.
- Retirony: Ellen gets shot just a few days shy of going back into Witness Protection. No one saw that coming.
- Rock Beats Laser: In "Uncontrolled Variables", Mozzie sneaks into a secure vault with a flash drive in order to steal some valuable data. Unfortunately for him, the data is stored on a 1970s era computer system which is impossible to hack and totally incompatible with modern computers.
- Running Gag: There's a few:
Mozzie: I brought a lightsaber to a knife fight.Mozzie: I brought a corkscrew to a gun fight.
- Peter being a crap liar when it comes to women.
- Peter's kryptonite — women crying.
- Neal not expecting Peter to know the details of his past crimes, and Peter revealing he knows almost everything.
- Regarding said crimes, Neal keeps referring to certain crimes as allegedly being done by him. Nobody bats an eye anymore.
- Bancroft using the two-fingered, "You! Here. Now." gesture, and Peter picking up on its use.
- In a later episode, Neal ends up having to impersonate Peter to keep a witness from turning tail. He utilizes the two-fingered-summon the moment he's able to. Peter remarks that Neal doesn't even need the guy he's calling; he's just doing it because he can.
- Mozzie calling Peter "the suit", Elizabeth "Mrs. Suit" and Diana "Lady Suit".
- And even further... In Deadline, Mozzie refers Diana's girlfriend Christie as "Ms. Lady Suit," and is promptly corrected to "Dr. Lady Suit" by Neal.
- When Peter's promoted to Hughes' former position, he continues using the two-fingered point.
- Neal gets a new handler in Season 5 as Peter is being promoted. His new handler is promptly christened by Mozzie as "Suit the Sequel" and "Suit 2.0".
- Mozzie bringing blank to a blank fight.
- From early in the series: "I'll be fine, as long as I don't get the Death Tile." "There's a death tile?"
- Mozzie's paranoia, especially the "Mockingbird in the park" code that he makes everyone go through in order to 'secretly' meet with him. Diana, Peter and Alex are all put through his convoluted use of absurd secret codes. He even gets called out on using a voice changer, at one point. All of their reactions to being asked to play along with him are variations of, "I can't believe I'm doing this".
- Save the Villain: in Company Man, Peter and the murder suspect have been poisoned, and a barely-conscious Peter insists that Neal get the suspect to the medics as well, stating it's not "[Peter's] call who lives or dies".
- Scenery Porn: Not only are there a lot of establishing shots of the city, but we get to see a lot of very nice houses. In "Stealing Home", they made mad passionate love to Yankee Stadium.
- Schmuck Bait: In "The Dentist of Detroit", Mozzie flat out tells the mobster the con was an FBI set up. He still takes the suitcase of money and tries to shoot him.
- Self-Destructing Security: The beginning of the pilot episode features this. Peter and his team are attempting to crack open a safe that has a counterfeiter's information in it. If they can get into the safe, they'll have enough evidence to arrest the counterfeiter. Unfortunately, as soon as they crack the safe, an explosive charge destroys everything inside, showering Peter and his men with confetti.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Neal can find himself nice clothes on his first day out of prison, after spending five minutes in a thrift store. The clothes did not come from the thrift store.
- She Is Not My Girlfriend: Neal and Sara spend the episode after their near sexual encounter insisting this about one another. Everyone else disagrees.
- Sherlock Scan: Peter pulls this on Neal's post-coital apartment in "Scott Free".
- Shipper on Deck: As of "Scott Free", Peter seems to be this for Neal and Sara. He singsongs "romance is in the air..." and then comes this exchange:Peter: I like the two of you together. She's a good influence on you.
Neal: You think so?
Peter: Yeah. Don't be a bad influence on her.
Neal: I'll do my best.
- Shirtless Scene: Visitors to Neal's apartment seem to have about a 50/50 chance of catching him shirtless. Viewers approve.
- Shout-Out:Neal: I think I just saw the Ark of the Covenant back there...
Peter: If my face melts, let me know.
Neal: I swept the leg, he went down.
- Amusingly enough, the Ark actually shows up in the warehouse full of Nazi treasure in the last minutes of the Season 2 finale.
- In "All In", to an old Chinese man: "Don't get him wet, don't feed him after midnight, right?"
- The password to the secret poker game? Sunnydale. Now if only they were playing for kittens...
- In "As You Were", Peter Burke states that he got a warrant by buying a good deal of the U.S. Attorney's daughter's "damn chocolate bars" to support their school. (Jeff Eastin acknowledged on his Twitter that this is a shout out co-writer to Jane Espenson.)
- Peter calls Mozzie "Ironside" in "Burke's Seven".
- Speaking of which..."Burke's Seven"?
- Both "Burke's Seven" and "Withdrawal" have Neal and Peter calling each other "Butch" and "Sundance".
- And Peter describing Keller as "more Ratso Rizzo than Cary Grant".
- Upon seeing a photo of Peter with a mustache:
"I walk in the classroom and the girls were all glassy-eyed, like they saw that kid from those vampire movies.
- In "Copycat Caffrey", Alex refers to the group of college students hanging out at a bar with their professor as the Dead Poets Society.
- When forging an FBI case file, they come across a page mentioning a County Commissioner named Gordon. Cue Mozzie humming dana-nana-nana-nana.... And Jones humming the same tune when he reads over the file.
- At least a couple times Mozzie is referred to as Rainman.
- In "Upper West Side Story", when Manhattan Prep student Evan shows up to ask for help with correct legal terminology, Peter quips "10 Points to Gryffindor"
- From the same episode, Neal poses as a substitute teacher teaching romantic poetry and all the girls in the class fall for him. As Peter tells Elizabeth later,
- Shrouded in Myth: "The Dentist of Detroit". (It's Mozzie.)
- Sixth Ranger: Sara Ellis.
- Smart People Play Chess: Neal, Mozzie, and Keller all play chess.
- Smart People Wear Glasses: When Neal and Peter get a case at the prestigious Manhattan Prep school, Neal shows up wearing glasses, though he has never before been seen needing corrective eyewear, though he may wear contacts that the viewers never see. In another episode, Peter questions him for wearing glasses and points out that Neal has twenty twenty vision.
- Smug Snake: Quite a few of the villains qualify. Most notably Matthew Keller, Edward Walker, Van Horn, and Agent Colins
- Spiritual Successor: This is basically what happened during those bits in Catch Me If You Can when Frank was working for the FBI. Also has pretty much the exact premise of It Takes a Thief.
- In the finale, Neal actually dresses up as a pilot, much like Abagnale famously once did.
- Spies in a Van: Mostly Jones sits in it, but sometimes Peter takes the shift. Neal hates being stuck in it, perhaps because it reminds him of prison.
- Alternately, Neal's hatred of the van might be related to his request for an air freshener.
- Status Quo Is God: Subverted in the Season 3 finale. Neal was perhaps just moments away from being free of his anklet and working for the FBI as an actual consultant but Kramer comes along to arrest him, prompting Neal to flee the country. He's back to being a criminal, and Peter is back to chasing him — though he was the one who hinted for him to run. This effectively returns to the status quo of the start of the series and before Neal ever went to jail.
- Steal the Surroundings: The episode "Neighbourhood Watch" involved the crooks stealing a vault from a hotel.
- Stealth Pun: In "Free Fall", Neal sets up a bakery named "The Greatest Cake" as part of a scheme to escape police custody. The joke is never brought up.
- In "Shoot the Moon," Peter and his wife are kidnapped by a thieving couple. The girl tells how the boyfriend went to jail for stealing auto parts. He served hard time for assault for accidentally dropping a car battery on a cop's foot. This would make it an Assault WITH a battery.
- Stockholm Syndrome: Mozzie suggests that Neal has a case of this for Peter.
- Straight Man: Essentially Peter, who is your everyday, by-the-book FBI agent. He has trouble adjusting to Neal's carefree and freestyle nature. Kramer later accuses Peter of changing, what's with him covering for Neal and obstructing justice and all.Kramer: Are you handling him? Or becoming him?!
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Lauren Cruz replaced Diana Berrigan as Peter's assistant after the first season pilot and Diana came back to replace Lauren during Season Two. Lauren was never mentioned after Diana's return late in Season 1.
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Neal's political strategy in "Need to Know".
- Swapped Roles: Peter and Neal do this in "Power Play".
- Symbolic Blood: The tomato sauce on the floor after Elizabeth is kidnapped.
- Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Peter was this to Neal in the Backstory, except he was actually successful in catching Neal.
- Teacher/Student Romance: Chloe in "Upper West Side Story" is hot for Neal, who is pretending to be a substitute teacher at a swanky prep school. Her and every other female student.
- Tell Me About My Father: Neal thinks this knowledge will help him realize his own identity.
- That's What I Would Do: As a white collar criminal hired to catch white collar criminals, Neal makes good use of this trope. He frequently deduces how criminals must have hidden their tracks by thinking over how he'd do it.
- The Thing That Goes "Doink!": Mozzie has one in one of his safe houses.
- Title Drop:Neal: Welcome to White Collar!
- Token Evil Teammate
- Let's face it: Neal is a world-class criminal who is something of a legend. However, it subverts this trope for the most part. Season three however starts off with Neal making plans to escape from the FBI with stolen Nazi plunder. With no hesitation at doing so. The only reason he doesn't get away successfully is because 1) Jones was in danger and 2) the timing was off. And he does not hesitate in figuring his next attempt. So for however likeable Neal is, he's still very capable of deceiving friends and allies if it suits him. And then subverted twice over in, once he thinks about it, he decides he wants to stay legit, only really conflicted because Mozzie doesn't see the point in staying.
- Mozzie, however, seems to be a perfectly straight version, except that he wasn't exactly able to make a clean break, and comes right back as soon as he learns Elizabeth is in trouble. The same thing happens to Mozzie again in Season 5 when he's faced with a choice of getting away even though Diana unveiled his identity, or staying and helping Diana give birth to her baby. He stays.
- Neal is now on his way to playing the trope straight as he's finally admitted he doesn't feel guilt when he's committing his heists, and he wants to go back to that life again. Once he admitted that to himself, he has absolutely no qualms about stealing the money the Criminal of the Week stole. The previous Neal might have let the FBI confiscate it and return it to the bank, but not this time.
- Trailers Always Spoil: The commercials for the back half of Season Two let us know that Mozzie survived his shooting and Sara and Neal end up hooking up.
- The previews for the Season Four summer finale all but outright stated that Sam is actually Neal's father.
- Tricked Into Signing: In the "Vested Interest" episode, Neal needs to fool Peter into signing a form authorising FBI surveillance but Peter carefully reads anything before he signs it and counts the forms he has signed to check that one hasn't been slipped in. Neal secretly releases Mozzie's pet rat into the office so that everyone is distracted with the rat, Neal can swap out one of the forms Diana gave Peter for his.
- 21-Gun Salute: A fourth season episode featured a criminal who disappeared following conviction and the forfeiture of illegally gained assets and was presumed dead. His will required a 21-gun salute at his funeral.
- Twofer Token Minority: Cruz was Hispanic and female. Diana is black, female, and homosexual.
- Unnecessarily Creepy Robot: Mozzie gets some car rental records using a fake baby with a removable hand with a USB drive hidden inside. When he pops the hand off, Neal squicks. It also has a drill hidden in its neck.
- Urban Legend Love Life: Neal. He flirts with everything that moves, but never even seems to try to hook up with anyone. Peter seems to assume that Neal's bedroom has a revolving door, but we see no evidence on the show that this is true. Probably due to the missing Kate being his One True Love, but even that relationship was not clearly explained as nowhere near "platonic" until "Forging Bonds". For all we know, she's his platonic soulmate. Though the writers are using Alex to Joss this.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Season two finale, Alex.
- Visual Pun: In "Forging Bonds" we see how Neal and Peter met for the first time. Peter was investigating some of Neal's forgeries. When Neal overhears a conversation between Peter and a bank manager he approaches Peter fooling him into thinking that he was a concerned citizen and has a brief conversation with him. Before walking off, Neal hands Peter a sucker.
- Vitriolic Best Buds
- Neal and Peter, natch.Elizabeth: I think it's cute.
Neal: I think it's adorable.
Peter: I'm putting you back in prison...
- Peter and Mozzie.
- Peter and Mozzie's relationship has greatly evolved, however. Before, Peter refused to leave his wife alone with Mozzie and had Jones come over when he couldn't be there. A season later, and Peter sends Mozzie over to hang out with Elizabeth while Peter is handling a delicate situation. And in "Payback", Mozzie is genuinely shocked and concerned when Peter is kidnapped. To the point of bring a bag of hammers when Neal asks for just one and going to keep Elizabeth company at home turning the ordeal on his own volition despite the FBI security detail on the house. And planting a bug on the FBI security so that Elizabeth can hear how the rescue is going. He also immediately comes back to New York in "Checkmate" and is willing to give up the Nazi treasure when he finds out Elizabeth was kidnapped.
- "Power Play" has Peter teasing Mozzie and then having a casual (if quirky) conversation as they walk home together.
- Neal and Peter, natch.
- Waking Non Sequitur: Once Mozzie woke up saying, "Let me see your warrant!"
- An even funnier example comes in the next episode, when Mozzie's first question after being woken by Neal is, "Did you draw on my face?"
- Wanting Is Better Than Having: One of the main aesops of the series.
- We Named the Monkey "Jack": Turns out Mozzie takes his name from his mispronunciation of his teddy bear's name "Mozart".
- Wham Episode: Every mid-season and season finale so far has concluded with a surprise reveal or cliffhanger.
- The season 3 finale "Judgement Day". To avoid Neal being taken into the US Marshals' custody and dragged off to D.C. to work for Kramer while still on a tracking anklet, Peter hints for Neal to run, and he successfully leaves with Mozzie blowing all chances of a successful commutation.
- Although quite a few fans saw the "stunning revelation" at the end of the Season Four summer finale coming a mile away. Some were hoping against it, however, because they thought it too cliched.
- The season 4 finale has Peter getting arrested for a murder he didn't commit.
- In "One Last Stakeout," Neal walks into a solemn office and starts thinking that they might have found out what he was up to in the last few episodes. This isn't helped by the previous scene, where Siegel caught Neal interacting with Hagen and passing him a suspicious bag. What actually happened was that Siegel was found dead at Neal and Hagen's meeting place. We Hardly Knew Ye...
- "Live Feed," Hagen dies in front of Neal and Peter before he can reveal vital information, a series of clues leads the two to an apartment filled with files on Neal, Peter and their associates, and it seems the person behind all the events surrounding the Mosconi Codex is Rebecca.
- What the Hell, Hero?: In "Taking Account", Burke chews Sara out for going along with Neal's plan of smoking out a bank robber by stealing his stolen money and spending it in a no hold barred shopping spree. Later in the same episode, Sara calls Neal out for his intention to burn all his bridges for one last score.
- What Would X Do?: In "Vital Signs", Neal puts himself as X when Mozzie needs advice on how to play a part. Hilarity Ensues.
- When You Snatch the Pebble: Referenced by Mozzie when he trains Peter on how to plant a bug in someone's pocket and take it back.
- White Collar Crime: A minor theme of the show, sometimes, on occasion.
- White Collar Worker: Often seen working in the offices where the crimes take place.
- Whole Plot Reference: Diana's subplot in "Deadline" is basically just The Devil Wears Prada.
- Wicked Cultured: Both Neal and Mozzie play with this trope. Neither is really evil (per se), but they both work outside the law, and not as Robin Hoods. But both appreciate fine wines and art.
- Will Not Tell a Lie: Early on, Neal tells Peter that he's never lied to him. As someone who lies for a living, you'd think that statement to be improbable... except that it's true. Neal's committed quite a few lies of omission, and has skirted around telling the entire truth to Peter on several occasions, but he's rarely, if ever, fed the FBI agent a bald-faced lie.
- Not rarely. According to Jeff Eastin, Neal does NOT actually lie to Peter. Which makes his "creative truth-telling" a challenge to write.
- In season 4, Elizabeth asks Neal to lie to Peter about one of Neal and Peter's investigations, in order to protect Peter who has just ended up in the hospital due to a related FBI case. Peter knows that it's a bald-faced lie and immediately realizes something is wrong, because he knows Neal never outright lies to him. In fact, in contrast to his reactions to Neal's usual misdirection, Peter assumes that Neal is lying for a good reason and does his best to help Neal without revealing that he's involved.
- Window Love: When Kate goes to visit Neal in prison, he tries to do this but she'll have none of it. Later, when he watches the security footage, he realizes she's tapping her leg in Morse code to send him a secret message instead.
- Wine Is Classy: Neal loves this trope. Working stiff FBI agent Peter Burke is a beer man. This comes to a head in an episode when Peter needs to pose as a wealthy wine connoisseur and Neal, horrified that they'll be exposed, tries to step in. Peter rallies, Magnificent Bastard style and completely snows everyone.
- Zany Scheme: Many of Neal's capers and Peter's operations fall into this category.