This episode may have marked Michael’s first official mission back on the Company payroll, but the story belonged to Madeline, and Emmy-winner Sharon Gless made the most of her chance to shine. Gless showcased her range as she made Maddie tough yet vulnerable, determined but unsure, as she bulled her way into Michael’s case of the week – and lived to regret it.
Michael’s (Jeffrey Donovan) first CIA mission is babysitting British scientist Carson Huxley (Daniel Gerroll), an eccentric with a roving eye. Of course Jesse (Coby Bell) picked that moment to ask Michael to help with a moonlighting job: Helping a woman rescue her cousin from human traffickers. Sam (Bruce Campbell), Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and Jesse capture Takeda (Brian Tee), but he is badly injured, so Sam convinces Michael to let Maddie play nurse. She bonds with the prisoner, who takes her into her confidence when Michael mistreats her. Eventually, Maddie tricks Takeda into leading Michael and crew to the place where the slaves are stashed. Michael enlisted Fi to charm Huxley, but instead she played barracuda and scared him into running back to his wife.
Maddie was a driving force in this caper, right from her insistence on playing the nurse role. Michael never wants his mother endangered, but he especially wasn’t keen on being rough with her like gambit called for. But she insisted she could handle him yelling at her. Still, when it came time for Michael to scream at his mother, the scene was shocking and heartbreaking — because it obviously reminded Maddie of being abused in the past. After the brief interlude, she was left literally shaking. And Donovan played Michael as devastated, as well. Things only got worse when they realized the next encounter with Takeda would be harder to sell. Michael wanted to just be verbal again, but Maddie morosely insisted, “A punch will sell it better.” When he tried to give her advice about rolling with a punch, she scoffed, “It’s not like I’ve never been hit before.” She was so vulnerable during the violence, and put the exclamation point on her performance when the scam was over and Maddie turned from sympathetic co-conspirator to collaborator. Sitting next to Takeda in the car, she casually lit a cigarette and dismissed the slave-trader with disgust. Wow. Such effective writing and line delivery by Gless!
BURN NOTICE has made it clear that Michael’s father, Frank, was an abusive monster who beat his son and used him as a prop in scams, but references to the domestic violence were mostly anecdotal (except in connection with the Charger, because that car is Michael’s link to Frank). Here, it became an actual plot point as we were forced to watch Maddie relive her memories of being beaten. Her horror reached its zenith when she snapped at Michael, “You can play your father in there, but not out here!” Until that point, neither one of them had acknowledged that Michael was channeling his father; the trauma was unspoken, but obvious from body language. And it was clear that Michael was stunned by how easily he slipped into the role.
One has to wonder how this adventure will affect the future of Michael’s relationship with Fiona. At the end of the episode he asked her move in with him – a surprising acknowledgment of his building dependence on her. In fact, he bluntly said, “I need you.” But somewhere – way in the back of his brain – he’s got to be worried about turning into his father and hurting Fi. Is Frank lurking there, in the dark shadows of Michael’s lizard brain, waiting for Fiona to say the wrong thing and trigger a screaming fit, or worse, a punch?
I would hate to see Michael get violent with Fi, because while it might make a dramatic and conflict-filled story point, it would really go a long way toward ruining the Michael Westen character in my book. I don’t care that Fiona would certainly turn around and punch him right back (harder); Michael is a hero, and heroes don’t hit the women they love. Michael had to play-act at doing it this week, and it really took a toll on both of them.