Now for the long winded version of my thoughts....
First, an amusing sidenote! I jokingly tweeted shortly before the episode aired, as a courtesy to those on the West Coast, I wouldn't announce if Neal or Peter were killed. Who knew I should be worried about Mozzie?!
I did not see Mozzie getting shot coming. That was a surprise. Nice job writers! However, I can't say it was much of a cliffhanger. Willie Garson is one of the stars of the show. He loves working on the show. Jeff Eastin loves having him on the show. The chances of Mozzie NOT pulling through? Zero.
Only one aspect of the episode didn't work for me - the Alex fake out. I have and will continue to believe Alex is a friend, ally and, hopefully, someday, more to Neal. So trying to make me buy she's one of the bad guys isn't going to work. At most, I can accept the possibility she'll do something self-serving, with unintentional consequences for Neal and others, but not that she'd actively plot against them or do harm to them.
I did, however, love that she gave Neal her number. It wasn't only because she's now (supposedly) safe from whoever was searching for the music box, but it felt as if she and Neal were entering a new phase in their relationship. Neal needed the music box for his plan to work, but there was also a genuine desire to get Alex out of the mess she was creating for herself and prevent her from being arrested.
I adored the continuity and references to previous episodes, going all the way back to the pilot. They remembered Neal agreed to walk the dog as needed in exchange for living at June's! And, yes, it is a small price to pay.
Alex had the music box and key in her possession for a day. Many of us questioned at the time whether she had discovered something about it or took something out of it, and assumed she returned it because she found nothing.
When it was revealed Fowler's wife was murdered I felt it had to be an important plot point, otherwise, why throw the detail out there? Considering the parallel drawn between Neal and Fowler (Both men had to deal with the murder of the women they loved. Both sought revenge instead of justice.), I'm now suspicious that whoever the Big Bad is, he (or she?) has a pattern of manipulating people to do their dirty work for them. Perhaps the man who murdered Fowler's wife was another patsy? And Fowler, in a way, murdered an innocent man?
We also learned the Mentor program was real and it seemed to be focused on Neal. It just wasn't the music box our bad guy was after. Neal was a target and likely not just for what everyone thought he had, but for who he is and his skill set.
Now let me gush for awhile about Neal Caffrey and Matt Bomer. This was Matt's finest work to date on the series. I'm SO HAPPY Jeff Eastin gave him some meatier material and layers to play with. It was a nuanced performance by Matt and we were able to know what Neal was thinking and feeling without him saying a word.
And, oh, how Neal broke me at times in this episode. Neal has declared, “I'm fine”, numerous times this season which means he's very much NOT fine. They all know it, but he's been completely unwilling to share with anyone what he's been feeling. Peter even calls him on it, “You won't admit. You won't show it. But I know how difficult the last few months have been.” Is Neal simply an extremely private person who doesn't wish to share his grief or burdens with others? Or is there some other trauma from his past that has caused him to put the “I'm fine” wall up every time someone reaches out to him? I'm dying to have Neal's backstory revealed.
Neal did some stupid, selfish things in the episode, but it's the Neal we know and I love. None of his actions were out of character and while Peter may have been furious (rightfully so) and disappointed, deep down he knew Neal could, once again, disappoint him. Not because Neal wants to or plans to, but because Neal can't stop himself. Kate remains Neal's one weakness and her murder continues to cause him to act before thinking things through.
It was interesting that, early in the episode, we are introduced to Hale, a long time acquaintance of Neal, Alex, and Mozzie. He makes a comment about all children growing up, accept one, and looks right at Neal. Neal laughs, acknowledging the truth of the statement. That's why I can't get angry with Neal, for reasons we have not yet learned, his emotional maturity did not develop at the same pace as his age and intellect. But I do think he is starting to grow up. He may have thought killing Fowler would make things better, make the pain and anger stop, but as soon he was faced with pulling the trigger we could see his hesitation. I'm not even sure Peter needed to be there to talk him out of his plan; Neal's own conscience was already telling him he wasn't a killer. (ETA: I found it interesting that as Neal was preparing to kill Fowler/talking to Bugsy it was as if it was a normal part of his day. He seemed to be in denial as to what he was about to undertake. Again, living in the moment and not really comprehending the extent of his planned actions.)
Neal conning the FBI was wrong, but I also though it was pretty darn cool. And I have to admit I was a little proud of him for actually pulling it off.
Even cooler was Neal's swashbuckling (and for anyone at a certain Stargate panel at Dragon*Con, that term now has a whole new meaning! ;). It was a wonderfully staged and edited sequence, made even more impressive by the fact that was really Matt doing it all. The music even worked well. Too often shows use music to manipulate emotion, but I didn't feel that way in this instance.
As much as I loved Neal's chase and confrontation of Fowler, the scene in the van may well be my favorite. Again, I must say Matt did a fabulous job conveying Neal's roller-coaster ride of emotions. But Peter/Tim's response to discovering Neal had manipulated him was just as fabulous. Peter wanted to believe they had made progress. Neal had trusted him with what he knew about the music box. They were working together to track down Fowler. And only moments after Neal said, “Of course” (and it's the first time I saw Neal deeply conflicted by the knowledge of what he was really doing), Peter learns Neal was having the box stolen. Neal quickly slips into his not-quite-lying routine, but it's a pointless ruse. Neal has, again, betrayed Peter's trust and it's painful to both men.
Other things I loved....
Neal saying, “our clerk, Janice”. Our? He really is feeling more and more a part of the FBI, isn't he?
Hughes has his assistant forge his name. Hee!
Not only is Neal allowed to take files home and help select cases, so is Elizabeth!
“Girlfriend? That must kill you.” Oh, Alex, you know Neal SO well and I love you for it.
I know it was a serious moment, but when Peter tells Neal, “I can do whatever I want with you”, I imagined fandom's hive mind going to unintended places.
My favorite exchange:
Peter: “What do you know about stolen Spanish silver?”
Neal: “Do you have to ask?”
Peter: “Just once I wish I did.”
And did anyone else notice the girl at the door of the museum checking invitations checking out Neal as he walked in? Nice touch. ;)