BURN NOTICE, while never in a slump, is actually experiencing a bit of a creative renaissance in its fourth season with the introduction of Jesse Porter, a counterintelligence officer who was burned by Michael. It’s a brilliant inversion of the series premise that has refreshed the case-of-the-week format.
Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) accidentally burned Jesse (played by Colby Bell, whom some will remember as Officer Tyrone Davis on THIRD WATCH) at the end of the season premiere, when Michael used Jesse’s credentials to access secret files. Jesse is actually a lot like Michael used to be back when the series began: confused about what happened to him, but determined to get to the root of the problem, no matter where it takes him. The fun for the audience is, we know exactly where that quest will take him. Jesse has vowed to kill the man who burned him, so a reckoning is coming.
Wracked with guilt – and, let’s face it, stunned that Jesse managed to track him down so quickly last week (albeit merely for some help figuring out what happened to him), Michael has decided to take Jesse under his wing. Michael was lucky enough to have Sam (Bruce Campbell) and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) in his corner when he was burned, however Jesse appears to be friendless. Much like Michael, Jesse is the kind of guy who can’t watch somebody smack his girl around in a bar. That sort of do-gooder compulsion is what made Jesse a desk jockey; he could not resist going after all the bad guys, rather than just the ones he was assigned. But Jesse is really impulsive, and more than a little thick-skulled in his methods. He actually returned to his home for a St. Christopher’s medal and got nicked! Jesse has that same instinct to help the downtrodden, but without Michael’s discipline; Jesse relies on his considerable skills with a gun and fighting prowess to get him by when he doesn’t have a plan (which is usually).
Michael was thinking about practicality when he agreed last week to help Jesse fend off the evil Khan – thinking Khan could lead them to the Big Bad that Michael and Vaughn are hunting – but this week Jesse dragged Michael and pals into the case of the week by getting involved with Hank the security guard. Michael once again justified it by figuring Hank could provide intel about illegal activity on the docks, but let’s face it: This is exactly the sort of case Michael would have taken in the first season. And, hey, thanks to this case, we all now know how to penetrate an electric fence (with spray-on insulation and bolt-cutters), and assemble a mercenary army before lunchtime. (I should remind everyone not to try this stuff at home, as the-powers-that-be always leave out a step or two to frustrate would-be amateur spies.)
I loved that Sam grumbled about Jesse being cheap: He took them out for a $100 thank-you dinner, which didn’t sit well with the former S.E.A.L., who is always thinking about his stomach. Jesse also has an affinity for baloney and spray cheese, so he and Sam are on a collision-course there. And, despite some initial foot-stomping, Fi could not be happier that Jesse is on the team. She expressed almost dreamy admiration for the way Jesse rushed to the aid of waterfront guard Hank (Max Perlich) when he was being menaced by thugs. Jesse also has a problem with punctuality and a knack for florid codenames (Cobra? Really?). Still, he also charmed Michael’s mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless), who welcomed him into her rental room and gave her some of Michael’s old stuff. A chat with Madeline this week gave us some insight into Jesse – who ingratiated himself even further by lovingly carrying a photo of his late mother in his wallet. His backstory about mom being killed during a robbery while no one tried to help provided clues about his motivation to chase bad guys. The encounter prompted Madeline to confront Michael about pretending to be Jesse’s friend. Michael’s relationship with Madeline is one of the best mother/son pairs on all of TV, and no doubt Donovan loves getting to emote in these sequences, as when he insisted that he really is trying to help Jesse. For Madeline, that does not justify lying, and, she pointed out, “lies get out.” She must watch a lot of soap operas!
I, myself, and a little suspicious of this set-up, because Jesse is shaping up to be almost too good to be true. I like Jesse a lot, and hope he’s on the level, but something about him just doesn’t ring true. It was oh, so convenient that Madeline spotted his beloved mommy photo, wasn’t it? And being an overzealous, careless crusader would be just the right cover for somebody trying to lure in co-conspirators including a compassionate lady bomber, right? And wouldn’t a fellow burned spy be the perfect bait to attract Michael? But for what? And, last but not least, Jesse is a counterintelligence officer, meaning he hunts spies. I fear Michael may be too distracted by his own guilt to see the warning signs. But don’t worry, Michael, I’m watching your back on this one…