When was the last time we saw a man come home from work to have dinner with a cheerful wife? Which television wives resist the temptation to nag their husbands for going back to work (again) after dinner and instead see him out the door with a hug and kiss goodbye? What man escapes the ever-present war between wife and work? What woman understands that she cannot always come first, and is able to be loving and affectionate anyway?
For one: Elizabeth Burke in White Collar.
Elizabeth is married to FBI Special Agent Peter Burke who has his hands full chasing criminals and keeping track of one he already caught—Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer). This ex-con holds Leading Man status for his own set of reasons: bravado, charm, intelligence, style. But it is Peter who stole my heart from the very first episode and whose character has carried the show, especially in the latest season. But how can this be?
I mean, Matt Bomer is basically a god. In fact, I am pretty sure that phrase is his contract: Matt Bomer (henceforth Mr. Bomer) shall play Neal Caffrey, and Mr. Bomer‘s previously mentioned status as basically a god will feature heavily in his wardrobe, makeup, dialogue, action scenes, non-action scenes, and scenes in which he is not present, if any should occur. N.B. They should not.
Sure, Peter is handsome. But how dare I hold him up to Neal? How dare I suggest that he might be (gasp) better?
I’ll tell you why.
1. He is humble. (CB says: “He is hot without being flashy.”)
Peter knows that he is a damn fine FBI agent, but aside from that he is a regular guy. He likes beer. He takes his dog for walks. He learns about things that interest him, like astronomy. He married a woman he loved and still loves her. He doesn’t assume that all women will be attracted to him (which may or may not be another clause in Matt Bomer’s contract).
He goes undercover like a boss.
Elizabeth: You’re playing Piece of Meat #2. You’re going to flirt—
Peter: Talk. I’m going to talk to them.
Elizabeth: and then you’re going to walk across the stage while these women are bidding on you.
Peter: Elle, my chances of being picked are slim to none between Neal and—
Elizabeth: Wait. Hold on. Your chances are not slim. Honey, look at you.
Peter: I’m holding poop.
Elizabeth: And you look damn sexy doing it. You know what?
Elizabeth: You’re going to win this thing.
2. He loves his woman. (CB says: “I could see myself coming home to someone like him.”)
Aside from work and his bromance with Neal (it had to be said), the focus and jewel of Peter’s life is the beautiful event-planning Elizabeth. He enjoys being with her and would prefer to never leave, but he honors his obligations. And she understands.
When he agrees to go undercover at a bachelor auction, his first thought is Ellie. “Are you scared to tell Elizabeth?” Neal asks.
But she takes it in stride, and even helps with prep. (When asked what he does? “That’s boring. Let’s talk about you.” When asked why he is still single? “I haven’t met the right woman.”)
Elizabeth: And who might this “right woman” be?
Peter: Oh, well, she’s about five-foot-five, brunette, most beautiful blue eyes I’ve ever seen, smart as a whip and gorgeous as hell.
3. He wins when it counts. (CB says: “He doesn’t have to constantly do amazing cool and hot things.”)
He goes into the auction telling himself to maintain eye contact, and remember it’s a conversation, not an interrogation.
Surprisingly, this does not work well.
Peter: Where were you before New York?
Peter: Fascinating. Tell me more about… Cleveland.
Bachelorette: It’s in Ohio?
He makes the rounds in similarly awkward fashion, until he comes to the woman under investigation: a drop-dead gorgeous chick whose last six husbands have mysteriously died shortly after the honeymoon. And then he nails it.
But… also literally.
Seleena (i.e. potential murderess): So why are you here, Peter?
Peter: To find someone special.
(The potential murderess is not impressed.)
Peter: But most of these women are only interested in small talk, so…
Seleena: Well, what are you interested in?
Peter: Being caught off guard. Having a conversation that goes beyond the what-do-you-do and where-are-you-from. Seleena, there are a lot of nice guys here. I truly hope you find the one you’re waiting for.
She bids $15,000 right off the bat.
4. He can tango. (CB says: “But sometimes he does amazingly cool and hot things.”)
“Peter! There are certain things you cannot recover from!” Neal warns from his perch in the surveillance van.
“I can handle this,” Peter growls.
The music starts.
“I don’t hear any screaming?” Neal is dumbfounded.
“Remind me to thank Elle for the dance lessons.”
5. He brings Ellie in on cases. (CB says: “He wants her at home and on the job.”)
She helped Peter figure out a treasure map will. She threw a life-or-death last-minute birthday party. She taught him how to flirt. And now she’s planning his wedding.
Elizabeth: Look at you two! Peter, you didn’t tell me she was so beautiful.
Seleena: Thank you.
Elizabeth: You’re so welcome.
In a nutshell, he loves his woman and he shares his life with her. What more could we ask?
6. Oh. That he’s a hopeless romantic.
At the end of all of this fake flirting (on the part of Peter) and real jealousy (on the part of Ellie), Peter does a bit of fenagling to rearrange the wedding Ellie planned for him and the Black Widow into a re-wedding ceremony for himself and his beautiful wife. What a testament to his till-death-do-us-part love, and what better reassurance for a woman who just had to watch her husband be with another lady?
“I’m sorry for what you went through on this one,” he says. “So, to make it up to you, I’m giving you the wedding you always wanted. Small. Simple. Just us.”
He gets down on one knee.
“Will you marry me—again?”
And she says, “Yes. As many times as you ask.”
THIS, people. THIS is why Peter Burke is a Leading Man. He’s a good husband, and he’s a good man. And that’s what we want to come home to.
Even if it is just on our TV screens.