Back when the mid-season finale of White Collar was about to air, I lucked out and got a chance to email interview Joe Henderson, the show’s executive story editor. The Q&A was fairy well-received, so when I realized that the show’s midseason (aka Season 2.5) premiere was set to air this Tuesday, January 18 (at its new time of 10 PM EST on USA Network), Henderson and I found time to exchange info again. While last time we delved a smidge into comics, this interview is completely about White Collar. What makes this interview even more pertinent, the midseason premiere episode (Burke’s Seven) is written by Henderson.
Tim O’Shea: How long have you been itching to write an episode with the great homage-tinged title of Burke’s Seven?
Joe Henderson: This is something we’ve been wanting to do for awhile—the entire team working together in a con. But it was also something we really wanted to earn. Let the audience get to know the characters, build up an anticipation to see them all together, then find that moment where the stakes were high enough to justify it. With Mozzie getting shot, it became the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together.
O’Shea: In terms of the characters to work with, how enjoyable is it to have Tiffani Thiessen back from maternity leave?
Henderson: It’s so great. As you’ll see in the second half of season 2, we had a lot of fun being able to throw Tiffani back into the mix—she was dearly missed. We get more of Elizabeth and Mozzie, which has become one of the more fun duos on the show. Also more Elizabeth and Neal, especially in the episode where Neal and Peter switch roles.
O’Shea: With Mozzie being shot, Neal is without one of his major supporters in the midseason opener, how does that weigh on him in the season opener?
Henderson: Heavily—it’s what drives the entire episode. First Kate, now Mozzie—Neal needs to figure out who is behind all the pain in his life before he loses anyone else. And what’s great is that Mozzie is normally Neal’s go-to guy. Now, he needs to turn to others, which lets us really open up the rest of the cast and have them engage in activities they wouldn’t normally.
O’Shea: Were you surprised at how invested and concerned fans are about the fate of Mozzie?
Henderson: It’s funny, one of the reasons Mozzie got shot is because of how much we writers got invested in Mozzie. We were having so much fun writing Mozzie and felt that in season 2 in particular he’d really hit a chord with the audience. Channing Powell (one of our writers) suggested that because of that, we should shoot him. What’s more tragic than this character we’ve all grown to love sitting on a park bench, alone in a crowd of people and getting shot? So if you’re mad about it, blame her—she’s @aliceandjeff on twitter. 🙂
We were so excited to write the scene, and then when the dailies of the scene came back we were all silent. There was a big ‘oh god, what have we done?’ moment. It’s one thing to write something like that and another to see it executed, and executed so well. The fan reaction after it aired was everything we hoped for—anger, excitement, fear, worry. It meant Mozzie HAD struck the chord with audiences we’d hoped he had. The name Mozzie trended on twitter, which is kind of insane. Then it kept trending because people started asking ‘what’s a Mozzie?’.
O’Shea: Can you talk about who is involved in this episode to help make up Burke’s Seven? I hope Special Agent Clinton Jones (played by Sharif Atkins) is one of the seven, as it seems that the show’s writers have enjoyed getting to allow that character’s role to grow.
Henderson: On White Collar we’re blessed with an amazing supporting cast, and it’s always a challenge to feature them while not taking away from the core Peter/Neal dynamic that’s the heart of the show. I think I can safely say that Jones is one of the seven without spoiling much, and it’s so much fun to see him taking a bigger role. Sharif’s a great actor—we’ll be seeing more of him this season and in the season(s?) to come. As for the rest…let’s just say that a lot of our cast gets a chances to shine.
O’Shea: With each episode, the dynamics between Peter and Neal have shifted (sometimes evolving, sometimes regressing) in some way to a certain extent. Can you hint to how you approached writing their dynamics in this episode?
Henderson: Jeff Eastin (the show creator and showrunner) came up with a great fundamental dynamic for the two characters. No matter what happens, Peter and Neal will always respect each other. However, their level of trust will always be malleable, and it lets you constantly shift their relationship in interesting ways. This season, for example, we had Peter lying to Neal about the search for Kate’s killer and Neal finding out. It was done to protect Neal, but that loss of trust allowed us to take a new angle on their dynamic for a couple episodes.
In the midseason finale, Neal went off the reservation. He went rogue, embraced his dark side so to speak. Now in the midseason premiere, Neal turns to Peter—I did things my way, and terrible things happened. Now we do it your way. What they’ll ultimately realize is that they work best when they do it BOTH their ways, which is what makes them such a great team.
As for upcoming dynamics, it’s very much about Neal deciding if he can live this new life of his—if he can be the lawman. It brings him closer to Peter and, as such, shifts their dynamic slightly in a way that gives us some new fun things to play with.
O’Shea: If it’s possible to mention, can you tell folks your favorite scene to write from the midseason opener?
Henderson: My favorite is an early scene—Neal rallies all the forgers that know Mozzie to work together and take his shooter down. Honor among thieves and all that—you attack one of us, you attack us all. I’m a sucker for scenes where unlikely people rally for a common cause, and I got chills writing it. Go ahead and mock me now. You can actually see the scene in script form here (Jeff Eastin always tweets script sneak peeks the week before an episode from his @jeffeastin account): http://twitpic.com/3nknm7
Also, writing the scene where our entire main cast is in a room together for the first time was an honor. At first it was terrifying—that’s a lot of characters to juggle—but in the end the biggest problem was that I wanted the scene to keep going forever. I’d write those characters sitting in a living room chatting for 60 pages if I could. Sadly Eastin won’t let me.
O’Shea: What else is ahead in season 2.5?
Henderson: I’d just like to say that in the remaining episodes of season 2, you’ll see a lot of mysteries wrapped up. Jeff Eastin didn’t want to drag anything out too long or keep any mysteries dangling to a point of frustration. He was determined to give the audience a whole lot of answers—who killed Kate, what’s in the music box, all that. We’re all insanely proud of our finale—it’s completely different from anything we’ve done before and opens up an amazing amount of story in season 3.
And please watch Tuesday’s episode! I promise a shotgun marriage, Tim DeKay on horseback, and that the key to everything is…bendy straws.
O’Shea: In some of your answers, you make it plain that season 2 will delve into who killed Kate, but I have always thought in the back of my mind: Is Kate dead?
Henderson: Kate is alive…in next week’s flashback episode. In current day she’s really, truly dead.
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