White Collar White Collar

What a difference eight years makes. Back then, White Collar's con-man extraordinaire Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) was a little more blue collar, FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) was itching to collar him, and street swindler Mozzie (Willie Garson) wore a piece. And we don't mean a gun.

"I remember walking past the hair and makeup room and seeing Willie in a different toupee every time and just dying laughing," says Bomer. "My favorite was the 'Shaggy' look from Scooby Doo."

But tonight's White Collar episode — which flashes back to 2003 — explores deeper roots than Mozzie's. Over a six-pack and a bottle of red wine, Peter and Neal discuss their most pressing case: catching Vincent Adler (Andrew McCarthy), the man behind Kate's death, the music-box mystery and Mozzie's shooting. He also happens to be the man who gave Neal his start — and sense of style.

"Vincent was influential in so many aspects of Neal's life — culturally, socially," says Bomer. "He was sort of the guy who taught him to be the modern gentleman that he is. Or criminal gentleman that he is."

Creator Jeff Eastin says he spent a lot of time working on the characters' backstories, and originally wanted to explore the material in Season 1. "But USA smartly said, 'Let's wait another season to let people really get to know the characters before we do this,'" says Eastin. More flashback episodes could be in the cards, and Bomer and DeKay would be keen to do them. "Having it in my imagination for such a long period of time made me feel like summing it up in one episode was kind of short shrift," Bomer says. Adds DeKay, "It doesn't answer all the questions about the past. It leaves room for a lot more digging."

We do find out how Neal met sidekick/savant Mozzie, grifter Alex (Gloria Votsis) and Kate (Alexandra Daddario), his girlfriend who was murdered in Season 1. The episode also reveals FBI agents Jones' (Sharif Atkins) and Diana's (Marsha Thomason) early days on the job. And of course, we see how Neal and Peter first crossed paths before an ankle monitor became part of the equation. Explains Bomer: "From the get-go there was this mutual game of cat and mouse."

While Neal lies for a living, he tries to only bend the truth around Peter. "When I conceived of Neal, he was a guy who in his heart wants to be good, but he was born bad," Eastin says. "What he really wants in his heart is that white picket fence — Peter's life — but life has thrown him some curves."

Even though he sees the positive impact he's had on peoples' lives by providing his criminal expertise to the FBI, Neal's not about to start walking the straight and narrow. Says Bomer, "He's not the kind of guy who's just going to jump the fence" and be one of the good guys.

But he's happy to jump into the sack. In flashbacks Neal has love scenes with both Alex and Kate. "It was like, 'Who am I naked with today?'" Bomer says. "It was cool to get to see that part of the character and get a little bit saucier."

Even insurance company investigator Sara (Hilarie Burton) succumbs to Neal's charms. "I can tell you that later this season we get it on in a library," says Bomer. But he hopes Neal won't be a "serial monogamist" and will "put it out there, sow his oats a little bit before he settles back down."

The constant woman in his life is his landlady, June (Diahann Carroll). The two sing a duet in an upcoming episode, accompanied on the piano by Billy Dee Williams guest starring as a retired con man "who becomes a cautionary tale for Neal moving forward," says Eastin.

Neal can't leave the past behind until he chases down Adler. But Bomer hints that even if Neal's nemesis finally faces the music, "the last scene of the season is definitely going to have a lot of heads spinning." Consider us collared.

White Collar airs Tuesday at 10/9c on USA Network.

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