Burn Notice's Mid-season Premiere: Model Citizen, Zero Discipline
Yo gang, welcome back! Did you have a good end of summer/start of fall? Did you get braces and learn important life lessons from romance? Did your parents divorce? Was it your fault? Sorry if they did or if it was, but maybe the separation's for the best. I don't know, talk with your shrink or Ice Cream Man or something. Dang, it's been a month of Sundays since the last time we got our Burn on, and A LOT has changed in our world: The United States of America has secured a leader via the normal channels of shouting things and virginal sacrifice; a truly terrible weather event displaced loads of decent folk; and thirdly, uh, hmmm. Also there was Halloween. So... there's that. Okay, well, suffice it to say it's great to be back.
[stares blankly for 14 minutes]
Hot on the heels of some tasty Season 7 news (renewed for 13 episodes!), Thursday's mid-season premiere of Burn Notice, "Desperate Measures," found Michael, Fi, Sam, and Jesse working with the killer of Westen's bro to escape Panama. Also on the docket was finding out why his superior Tom Card sent him on a suicide mission. With Burn Notice, we always hope for a combination of spy stuff, laughs, suspense, teamwork, and explosions all metered out in a way that feels fresh and necessary to the overall multi-season story. Additionally, a big part of this season has been the romance of Michael and Fi, and last night's outing offered a healthy dose of all the aforementioned with no one thread overstaying its welcome. The episode hit the ground running, scaring up a nifty mission-of-the-week along the way, while even giving viewers some mild closure on the whole vengeance-for-Nate plot. Emphasis on "mild." Overall, though, it was a damn fine episode.
So after a botched escape plan (Fiona hijacked a pilot who happened to be cousins with a drug lord), Michael and Tyler Gray (Kenny Johnson) found each other captive in a coke lair while Fiona, Sam, and Jesse chilled in the jungle with tons of stolen yayo. Tyler had zero trust for Westen, who came darn near close to killing Gray out of brother rage. Their captor, the drug dealer dude, was the type of person who dresses way nice, and uses kind words, all like "pardon me, sirs," then breaks out electric torture devices and shoots his own henchman at the drop of a hat. So, "unstable." First Tyler was ready to throw Michael under the bus in exchange for his own release, but when that didn't work, and he noticed the lengths Westen was going to to protect his friends (a "drunk," an "ex-con, and a "security guard" HA), Gray had a change of heart. The sniper Diazepam must've wore off. When Michael and Tyler actually got to rapping, it turned out Card had lied to Tyler about Westen's legacy, and the duped assassin helped Michael escape via gunfight. While Westen earned an award for best use of the phrase "I don't speak Spanish!" Gray agreed to use his double-agent status to take down Tom Card. Way to redeem yourself dude, may you live a long and happy life...
While Michael played human lightning rod (was I the only one with my mind in the gutter re: bowels?), Jesse, Fi, and Sam bargained for their buddy's release from the drug lord while also maintaining the secrecy of the downed plane's position. Before everyone was separated we got a little "Fi loves Michael" action as she passionately lobbied for the murder of Tyler Gray. It was as sweet as a call for blood can be, basically the Burn Notice equivalent of a box of chocolates. Sam and Jesse even sneaked in a fun bit while Fi guarded the pilot and his fish-hidden cocaine, wherein the two dudes had to buy an untraceable cellphone from some random Panamanian kid. Jesse was like "$20, wow that's a lot of money. For a phone..." in a half-hearted, adult-trying-to-excite-a-kid voice that made my funny bone ACHE. The prospect of two grown foreigners trying to swindle a child in vain made me laugh probably way more than it should have, but such is the charm of this show. Anyway, they eventually got the kid to take the deal by throwing in a scope (oh kids) and rescued Michael and new bestie Tyler.
Still dealing with the possibility of losing another son, a stateside Maddie connected with Sam's hacker friend in order to clear a flight plan home, while also keeping up appearances with Tom Card and his lying scheming dastardly ways. Wasn't it heartwarming how the security guard was willing to show Maddie every room in that building? I'd have been like, "Sorry ma'am, time for you to take a hike!" Anyway, in the name of protection Michael elected not to tell his mom who Gray really was, which will undoubtedly come back to bite him in the emotional ass. Westen demonstrated great restraint in seeing past Gray's culpability, instead placing the blame squarely on Card—someone he'd focused a lot of anger on for a long time. I'm satisfied with this turn of events, but at a certain point Michael's going to run out of people to chase down. Until then, though, it'll be a lot of fun watching him in pursuit. But anyway, the second half of a cliffhanger usually benefits from an already established momentum, and this one successfully wove in a mission of the week that did double duty as the final obstacle in an all-or-nothing escape. Well played, show!
If there's one trick Burn Notice can execute well, it's the surprise character death. Six-and-a-half seasons in, the show still does a great job of raising eyebrows when someone gets killed off in the Westenverse. After all, Michael and his crew are good guys, so murder on their part's not only a big deal, it's also an important moral boundary that Burn Notice's dramatic stakes rely on. If Fiona exploded someone to bits every episode or Michael plugged anyone who looked at him crooked, then we'd be watching a set of deranged psychopaths with no emotional depth and we'd feel terrible for cheering on such ruthless monsters. At the same time, we'd like to think our hero has the cajones to throw down mortal justice on whoever messes with him too much, while still being able to access normal human emotions, so time and time again Westen's got to spill a little blood just to show he still can. The lopsided second episode of the premiere, "Means & Ends," saw two deaths—one of which came at the hands of Michael himself and kicked into gear an extremely welcome "oh now he's screwed again" moment. However, this came a little late in the episode, so the majority of the time was spent focusing on a mission involving Fiona's jail-buddy Ayn (Anything You Need). It was fun, but felt like it belonged a few episodes later in the season. Basically I was so revved up from "Desperate Measures" that I wanted "Means & Ends" to be all about Card, but Jesse turned in a charming undercover performance and Ayn is always a good time, so this is only half a complaint.
As planned, Michael used Tyler to meet with Tom Card in hopes of discovering the special agent's master plan. Unfortunately, this meant torching the loft, snow globe collection and all. No!!! So many plans hatched there, so many yogurts enjoyed under that tin roof! R.I.P. LOFT. If your walls could talk, they could probably do a spot-on impression of Michael yelling while upending furniture. The majority of tension in this storyline came from Michael getting increasingly pissed that Gray wasn't pushing hard enough and feared the double-agent might have been playing him too. The whole time Sam was like "cool it Mike," but eventually Westen stormed a meeting with Tyler and Card, suspecting his former trainer was about to pin all kinds of secret crimes on Gray. Something far worse happened, and Gray wound up more lead-filled than when he first entered the office flat (a.k.a. R.I.P. Tyler Gray... or not?). The real stunner, though, came from Westen's own hand, as Card offered a renewed partnership, explained why he needed Anson taken care of (he knew about some shady missions around the world), and then quickly ended up with a red dot between his eyes. Man, for a guy who just made peace with the death of his own brother, having to kill a formerly trustworthy superior/father figure is going to screw Westen up for years to come. Or at least for a few episodes.
The mission of the episode found Jesse, Fiona, and Sam helping Ayn retaliate against dirty cop/Matt LeBlanc stuntman Detective Garza, who threatened to slap the ex-con right back into jail for personal reasons. At first Sam didn't want to help, but then Ayn's son melted his heart like a snow globe in Westen's loft fire (no!!!). In order to dupe the dirty cop, Jesse went undercover as a gang member (J-Train), but even he wasn't sold on Ayn's innocence ("She killed a guy, so as a person I give her about a C, C-plus, tops"). Jesse's at his best when he gets to lay on the swag, and this affair was no exception. Sucks he got his ass beat like he did, though. My favorite part of this story came when Garza had a change of heart, and showed up in police formalwear ready for an all-out standoff with the gangbanger who'd killed his partner. Man, nobility is the the greatest scheme-obstacle ever! Thankfully at the last minute Michael helped the team rescue Garza via car explosions and he laid off Ayn for good.
In a crazy emotional scene, Maddie met with Tyler to understand where his head was at when he killed Nate, despite Michael's warning that she wouldn't be satisfied. Gray conducted himself like a perfect gentleman, relaying that he was sorry about the whole misunderstanding. Seriously, how do you reconcile with the death of a son? I really loved Gray's turn from "nameless assassin" to "pretty good former Marine." Maddie attempted to honor Nate's memory by citing details about her late son: "He liked cars, action movies, and graphic design." (Sounds like a chill bro). Anyway, Maddie was so sick and tired of worrying about Michael and this spy game that she decided to uproot herself and go live with her sister. Michael's response didn't exactly demonstrate an understanding of her reasons, as he interpreted her decision as something that would help sell his fake death. I hope this doesn't mean we'll be seeing less of Sharon Gless, she adds a humanizing aspect to the dangerous world of super spies that I'd hate to see removed. Three cheers for Maddie!
Just like that, Burn Notice came back the only way it knows how: full force and chockablock with a blueprint for future intrigue. Thankfully, when Westen pulled that trigger on his superior he chose the life of his that's the most enjoyable to watch: one under the gun, and under the radar. The odds are not stacked against him, they are stacked on top of him and loaded with dynamite. Luckily, his fake dead crew has to fly low too, and they stand a better chance of ending this whole fiasco together. I hear The Wire's Sonja Sohn is coming in for Episode 13 as a CIA official who sounds like someone above Tom Card, and Patton Oswalt'll be around as a smuggler, so this holiday season's going to be pretty rad so long as Westen and his crew are secretly patrolling the streets.
1. Did Michael forgive Tyler a little too easy?
2. Will everyone be pissed at having to play dead?
3. What will be the repercussions of Tom Card's death?
4. Did Tyler Gray have a "good" death?
5. Is Tyler Gray even dead?
6. Will these missions in Yemen, Pakistan, and China come into play?
7. Is Maddie really moving?
8. Like Maddie, have you ever watched someone turn his or her "soul inside out?"
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