The premise of BURN NOTICE when it began read like this: Burned spy Michael Weston wants to find out who got him tossed out of the CIA, and then get back in with the agency. Over the course of four seasons, the show has threatened to reinvent itself on a regular basis by dangling the identity of the burner or appearing to offer Michael a new job. However, every time it looks like the status quo has changed, it just turns out that Michael is even more burned than last time. So, when season five opened with the suggestion that Michael could finally be back with the CIA, I was hopeful – but wary of getting burned again.
The new season picks up six months after last season’s finale, which saw Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) seemingly welcomed back into the CIA by Raines (Dylan Baker), but we learn that Michael is still being treated as an intelligence asset – not an agent – while he hunts down every name on that secret list that was the central McGuffin of last season. Now there’s just one name left – the boss, John Kessler – between Michael and his twin goals: learning why he was burned, and getting his credentials back. Michael has been teamed with the CIA’s top field operative, Max (Grant Show), but in order to take down Kessler, Michael insists on using his regular team of Sam (Bruce Campbell) and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar). And when everything goes pear-shaped for the G-men, Michael has to rely on his improvisational skills to track the baddie. But before Michael can get his hands on Kessler, the mastermind kills himself, leaving Michael with no answers.
Usually the episodes of a series just before the season’s end look cheap because the producers have either run out of money, or are saving up for a blowout finale. But that was certainly not the case with BURN NOTICE, which turned in a visually striking (and, yes, explosive) installment setting up the season-capper.
Director Peter Markle made this one sparkle (sorry). My favorite moment came when Michael (Jeffrey Donovan), posing as yet another lowlife, wanted to have a conversation with crooked cop Pete that would make an impression. So Michael arranged to ignite a ring of fire – made of homemade napalm. The scene was shot at twilight, and the cold lighting contrasted perfectly with the bright heat of the flames.
And that wasn’t the end of the fireworks: Michael barely escaped with his life from a pretty spectacular boat explosion. And can I ask how Sam (Bruce Campbell) managed to miss a fleeing car with a sniper rifle? Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) got in a good line about decking a perp with her handbag, but otherwise I thought was she was underused.
Interesting place for a “breather” episode, following on the heels of a week off for the Thanksgiving holiday and just three episodes before the end of the season, but it nonetheless was a welcome interlude. Anytime Michael’s little brother Nate drops by, hijinks ensue.
Looking at recent events though, it does make sense to give Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) a bit of a breather from the umbrella story to make sure his gunshot wound is healed up properly. Also, the NOC list the gang has been chasing was being prepared for auction, so this was a reasonable place to slow down the pace. But not stop it: Sam (Bruce Campbell) and Jesse (Coby Bell) resolved to steal the list before it could be auctioned after it was stolen from wreckage of John Barrett’s SUV. This week’s BURN NOTICE was structured so that Sam and Jesse had to stake out the area of the auction to assess security, freeing Michael for the case of the week.
This week’s BURN NOTICE put the “case of the week” on the front burner, but did not neglect the season’s umbrella story, keeping it simmering nicely on the back burner, while also giving Sharon Gless a chance to shine as Maddie in maternal mode.
In fact, Maddie sitting down Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) and Jesse (Coby Bell) and forcing the men to reach a kind of détente was the highlight of an episode that was meant to be dominated by a showy appearance by Callie Thorne (Sheila, RESCUE ME) as the returning thief Natalie. Richard Kind was also back as Jesse’s former government handler, Marv, whom Sam (Bruce Campbell) suckered into providing intel on a planned auction of the NOC list derived from Simon’s bible. Sam pulled out his popular “Chuck Finley” alias to do the deed. (Chuck is practically a member of the team now, isn’t he?)
BURN NOTICE has returned to our screens – and not a moment too soon (Thursday at 10 p.m. has become a virtual wasteland, since THE MENTALIST is total crap this season). Welcome back, Michael, Fiona, Sam, Maddie and Jesse!
If you recall, BURN NOTICE left us with a cliff-hanger back in August: Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) had been shot through the chest by Jesse (Coby Bell), who was still smarting from the revelation that Michael burned him back in the season premiere. The season’s purported Big Bad, John Barrett (Robert Patrick) was shockingly killed, and…someone…walked off with the briefcase containing the NOC list that identifies everyone involved in burning Michael.
BURN NOTICE finales are always heavy on game-changing plot developments (consider last summer’s capper), and this one was no different – which was good and bad. Good because it was exciting and fast-paced, with a number of great character bits; but bad because once again the goal posts were moved, making a lot of what Michael accomplished this season moot.
Picking up from last week, Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) arranged to get ostensible big bad John Barrett (Robert Patrick) to Miami, but before he could confront the villain with Simon’s book-code bible, Jesse (Coby Bell) discovered that Michael was responsible for burning him in the season premiere. Michael wanted to continue to pursue Barrett, reasoning that taking out the man behind all the strife in the world might get Jesse back in the good graces of his bosses. Not to mention getting Michael back in the game (officially).
No matter what else went on in this week’s BURN NOTICE – no matter how entertaining it was – the only thing that really mattered was that Jesse Found Out. He knows Michael burned him. Not good. Very, very not good.
The episode began like any other: with Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) and Sam (Bruce Campbell) lying to Jesse (Coby Bell) to get him to do their bidding. Now, granted, their objective also moved Jesse closer to his ultimate goal of stopping the Big Bad, but Jess also has that subsidiary goal of uncovering who burned him. And it was just convenience that pointing Jesse toward John Barrett (Robert Patrick) helped obfuscate Michael’s culpability. Michael and Sam faked up a report citing Barrett as the man behind all the world’s troubles – the man Jesse has been hunting for three years. The trio decided the best approach was a straightforward approach (*snerk*): They called Barrett and offered him the Bible. They knew he would send someone to check it out, so they set up a convincing booby trap using a 55-gallon oil drum, a portable defibrillator and Skype. They caught an errand boy – who turned out to be an active-duty U.S. Army officer. So Barrett was definitely connected!