For about two or three months now I’ve been trying to work out how, exactly, White Collar fans got the idea that (a) Peter legitimately wanted the DC job and (b) that him moving to DC would somehow be a fitting ending (for some reason other than just not wanting to see his character anymore).
Let me lay out some things:
- As early as 1x03, we hear that Peter has, more than once, even annually, turned down a promotion to Organized Crime, a rung up the ladder from White Collar.
- 2x08 is built around the idea that Peter is completely happy where he is. Neal sees the ritzy hotel room and says it “looks like [Peter] picked the wrong universe.” Peter’s response is an immediate “nope.”
- Peter probably couldn’t care less about an increased salary and other perks of the job. The thought of an expensive mani/pedi and shave in 4x12 appalls him. He was shown to like the new car (though I’m going to attribute that to BMW being a mandated product placement than to any reflection on his character), and the Yankees game perks, but that was it; there was no mention of him wanting the job because of the higher salary (even with his crack about not being able to afford a dinosaur memorabilia collection in 5x08) or the better position in the FBI. Again, this is a man who repeatedly turned down a promotion.
- Peter was offered ASAC without even being told beforehand he was in consideration, and with no option to turn it or the pending promotion to Section Chief down. This is a job he specifically said in 4x15 he didn’t want, but he wasn’t really given a choice in it in 5x01. The Section Chief offer was legitimately thrust upon him with that DC brochure in the folder. It was impressed upon him it would be career suicide to say no. I have to fault the writers on one thing—the complete lack of an explanation of what happened to Calloway or if Hughes was ever reoffered the job after his ousting was just stupid—but on the other hand, Peter being the ASAC immediately following Hughes’ ousting and Calloway’s abusing the position made sense. He hates corruption more than anything and probably just wanted to fix what was broken.
- ASAC was clearly physically draining (see him falling asleep immediately upon getting home in 5x02) and tediously boring (the repeated mentions of paperwork being substituted for stakeouts and field work). Peter never, ever showed any inclination to be anything but a field agent; a desk job explicitly was not and never would be him. For God’s sake, he’s an ex-athlete. Any job that requires him to be sedentary is not a good fit.
- As I said above, Peter was never offered any choice about being ASAC, and he wasn’t offered a choice about being a candidate for Section Chief, either. The higher ups expressed doubt about his candidacy and Bruce pretty much admitted to baldly forcing Peter into the running despite their misgivings. Peter didn’t ask to be put into the race. He didn’t say no, granted, but he never truly said he wanted to be Section Chief, either.
- This is the one thing I cannot express enough, and the thing I was extremely glad was stressed in 5x13. Peter is not the heartless bureaucrat the agents in DC are portrayed as. Regardless of how fandom perceives him and his treatment of Neal, there is a marked difference between him and other, superior (position-wise) agents who have been shown. Rice (1x13), Kramer (S3 arc), Collins (4x01/2), and Calloway (S4 arc) all did not see Neal as a person. Rice was perfectly fine with exploiting Neal to solve a kidnapping case. Collins didn’t care if he got Neal back alive or dead. Kramer only wanted Neal in DC because he was so successful in helping Peter close cases, and to Calloway Neal (and Peter) were just pawns in a game of dirty politics. This is the same sort of attitude the higher ups in DC displayed when they turned down the request for Neal’s sentence to be dropped. To them, Neal is a means to an end, the end being solving as many cases as possible (see the mention of his and Peter’s high case closure rate in 4x10). The thing is, despite what Neal accuses him of (supposedly just treating Mozzie like a resource in 5x13) and what Peter says of himself (5x12), Peter does not look at Neal like that. Look at how angry he is that Neal won’t be getting his freedom. He sees Neal as a person, not a resource. As Kramer called him out on (3x10), Neal is his friend, no matter how strained the relationship became. Peter would never be able to look at people that way, and as such he was never going to fit in at DC.
If this doesn’t convince you that Peter didn’t belong in DC, and that he didn’t truly want to be both ASAC or Section Chief, I don’t know what will. (And I didn’t even begin to touch on his feeling that his being ASAC made him culpable for Siegel’s death.) Peter going to Washington would not have been and will never be a fitting end for his character. And if you think it is, you need to have another long, hard look at him.
I admit that I haven’t seen this particular reaction — around my corners of fandom it hasn’t been “Peter should have taken the DC job”, but rather “Why are the writers having Peter be such an idiot that he took an entire season to figure out that he doesn’t want a desk job” (paraphrasing).
But … I think that’s kind of answered here too, because it was really sprung on him out of nowhere, at a time in his life when he wasn’t exactly in a position to make fully informed decisions — and once he was in, I think Peter is a person who wouldn’t walk away unless he’d been pushed to the point where it was impossible for him not to.
The thing about Peter is that I think a lot of the fandom takes his general self-deprecating and uncomplaining nature at face value. And in some ways I can see why, because Peter does complain, he complains a lot … about things like the coffee or the traffic. But he very rarely complains about the big stuff, even when it’s really hurting him. And when he’s given a task to do, even if he hates it, his inclination is to buckle down and do it to the best of his ability.
The way he reacted to being assigned to The Cave in season four is probably the best example of that in the whole series. He obviously hated it, but he also tried as hard as he could to do everything he was assigned to do, not just because getting his White Collar job back was contingent on doing well, but also because it was what he’d been assigned to do. I mean, that was made abundantly clear at the end of 4x03, because Peter could have taken the “win” on the jewelry case and probably gotten back into White Collar — but he had a particular job to do, and he’d said he’d been there at 9 a.m., so he was going to do it even if it meant he couldn’t get back to the job he really wanted. Because that’s the kind of guy he is.
(Putting the rest under a cut, because there’s lots of text here.)