Burn Notice "Brothers in Arms" Review: Cuban Mission Crisis

By Ryan Sandoval

Jun 28, 2013

Burn Notice S07E04: "Brothers in Arms"

Before becoming human confetti late in this episode, righteous soldier Randall Burke hinted at Burn Notice’s pervading theme, declaring, "The people that work with me, the people that fight alongside me: That’s my family." It’s a sentiment that Michael, Fi, Sam, Jesse, and Maddie have operated on all along, and what’s largely set the Burn crew apart as the good guys in opposition to the approximately 600,000-member rogue’s gallery of terrorists, government agents, assassins, drug kingpins, arms dealers, mercenaries, mobsters, hackers, thieves, smugglers, pirates, insurance frauds, pickpockets, grifters, loan sharks, flim-flam artists, quack doctors, poachers, jaywalkers, litterbugs, ne’er-do-wells, gadabouts, and others who generally lack loyalty in the character department, lo these many seasons. Where other groups may not hesitate to shed a teammate for the advancement of a cause, Westen and company insist on leaving no man behind. Compassion is what’s made them unique in an uncaring world. With a final selfless act, however, current mission target Randall "Big Heart" Burke turned that world upside down, showing that even bad guys can do good things, as "Brothers in Arms" wisely combined emotional revelation with explosive sacrifice, both of which further illuminated Westen’s path to the end.

SO: Fresh off of capturing Raphael Serrano—and receiving nada (a.k.a. zip, zero, zilch) in terms of intel via the normal torture methods of tickling their captive’s big toe with a pink feather—Burke and Westen stepped up the pressure game by forcing him to watch footage of his sleeping child with a gun pointed at her head. It’s important for me to remember that this was a very ruthless move on Burke’s part, because by the end of the episode I was pro-him, but also he was psychopath who might've made Michael kill a slumbering child to get what he wanted. THAT'S WRONG. Anyway, like he’d done it a thousand times, Burke very casually, in his Casey Kasem-meets-Marty McFly voice, got Serrano to suicide himself after spilling info as to the whereabouts of one Sonya Russian Last Name (played by Alona Tal from Cult and Supernatural). Then it was off to sunny, zesty, Cuba to rescue this mystery woman from the stranglehold of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye, or as the dumb-tongued like myself would say, "GRU." 

I always like the Burn Notice plots where the A-story and the B-story ultimately function toward the same goal (not like that cartoonish wiseguy hassling Maddie last week), and thankfully Fi and Maddie’s mission back in Miami to help create a fake mole brought this week's tales together. Fi pretended that she didn’t want Carlos to know about all this Cuba/CIA business, but we all know she was just covering for him while he spent the day using a nearly expired birthday gift certificate to SkyZone Indoor Trampoline Park, probably.

It’s always slightly annoying when Maddie pulls some bonehead matronly move like giving Ivan (JB BlancBreaking Bad’s Dr. Barry Goodman) water that caused a minor hiccup, but it is in keeping with her character and does serve to add extra conflict, so I can’t penalize her too much for doing what she does. Side note, though: How come no one in that Miami traffic so much as batted an eye when a bound man went tearing across the highway, then got hit by a van and re-kidnapped at gunpoint? Is this just normal fare out in Florida? Are there road signs that are all, "CAUTION: FLEEING KIDNAP VICTIM ZONE"? Nah just kidding, my wife tells me Florida is gorgeous and wonderful AND I BELIEVE HER.

Anyway, via technology and pass codes, Fi was able to make it look like Ivan was funding a double-agent out in Cuba, even though chubs gave some sob story about his girlfriend missing out on nursing school. I was happy the two speaking Russians in this episode had way Russian-y names, the other of course being Vlad. Throw in a "Boris," and we’d really be priogotovleniya pishchi!

Ultimately this personal information affected Maddie and Fi enough to whip up EVERYTHING necessary for the two to start a new life in Iowa, including brochures for nursing schools. I’m no spy over here (though sometimes I DO listen to my neighbor shout at his golf shows), but shouldn’t it take longer than that to create passports? And also... eh, whatever. 

To instigate all this, Michael found himself spy-dialing his ex, which led to a brief emotional exchange during I THINK a romantic dinner(?) where the promise-breaker owned up to his misdeeds and Fi got a look on her face like, "That’s all I wanted to hear...." I mean, we all know they’re getting back together, but I appreciate that Burn Notice is making them work for it. Besides, Westen didn’t have much time for love, as he was busy convincing Speaking Russian #2/Vlad (a solid Ravil Isyanov, in too many past, one-off TV roles to name) that the CIA was closing in on his Cuban hideout. Things hit a snag when the spooked Ruski wanted to take the whole operation to a submarine just chilling off the coast of Cuba (like they do), and that’s when Burke decided to take matters into his own laptop.

Between Serrano sacrificing himself for his daughter, Fi protecting Carlos from these secret operations, Ivan looking out for Eva, Sam and Jesse having Michael’s back, Michael doing this whole CIA job to save his crew, and Burke exploding himself for the sake of Sonya, the idea of self-sacrifice presented itself as the glue that bonds a trustworthy team together. Though it was refreshing to see a leader throw himself into the line of fire, the fact that we still don’t know the nature of Burke’s ultimate cause calls into question whether or not his act was noble, or just insane. Like if the "thing" to be revealed is a child slavery ring, then the guy’s a nut, but if Sonya was going to out every corrupt CIA agent in exchange for clean water and free medicine, or he CARRIES THE CURE, then good on him. What do you think?


– How is Sonya "the key" to Michael’s future?

– Where were Strong and the CIA during all this? 

– Will Michael give up his own life here on Earth to save his friends?

– Does Burke deserve sympathy or was he an evil psychopath who would make his men kill children? 

– What the hell is Carlos even up to?

– Did you see this takedown of Burn Notice/USA Network from The Onion?

What'd you think of "Brothers in Arms"?

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  • jojodice Jul 07, 2013


  • jojodice Jul 07, 2013

    Great recap Ryan. By the way, any relation to Hope? Man, I love that woman's voice... Fade Into You...

    Burn Notice is still great after all these years.

  • RyanSandoval Jul 08, 2013

    haha I wish, Mazzy Star's good ear-times

  • Hideous_tick Jul 01, 2013

    All I want is to see the unstoppable couple Michael and Fi back together

  • RyanSandoval Jul 08, 2013

    ooh, I like that title: The Unstoppable Couple

  • CardMagnet Jun 29, 2013

    Burke was slowly growing on me, and fully endeared himself to me with his mini speech about leaving a man behind, where you could see into his heart at the type of man he really was. Perhaps he was ruthless sending Mike into a child's room with a gun or putting a bullet into somebody's head in the blink of an eye, but you see he has the ultimate loyalty and dedication to his own people. I have no doubt he felt the ends justify the means to his "sinister" acts.

    Between giving his life to spring Sonya and the way he came down hard on Mike about the operative who just died being a hero (mind is blanking on a name; the guy who had his contact dig into Mike working for the CIA), you could see Burke not only cared deeply for his team, but also has some kind of set of standards and sense of what is right.

    Straight bad guys don't normally give their lives for a cause or to complete a mission, nor do they throw around the word "hero" about their underlings. They also don't destroy millions of dollars worth of high tech equipment just because it "served its purpose" of luring another bad guy to bring in for interrogation. He is not concerned with money or power, which are usually the two main driving points behind a villain.

    He is out for a cause that he really believes in. I can respect that. As more is revealed, I may even admire him for it. For all we know, he could be the "good" guy, or at least the lesser of two evils. The CIA doesn't exactly have a great track record of being a friendly neighborhood government agency. Even now, they are holding Mike's friends and families at ransom to pull the strings and make their puppet dance.

    As the saying goes, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Burke. We don't know what ultimate goals Burke was working to achieve, but we do know it was something he believed in. Pending what side of that cause you are on, Burke could be one of the good guys. Perhaps he traveled a dirty road, but his end destination might be the greater good.

    We might even find out that the fleece was pulled over Burke's eyes by those above him into thinking he was working for a good cause. Much like Mike in the past, Burke could just be a pawn pumped full of false dreams and lies.

    Burke talk aside, I'm not liking Maddie getting involved with Fi on missions. She should be at home raising her grandchild that she was oh so distraught to gain custody of. I'm okay with Maddie coming along to blow a hole in a wall so that she can have a sense of purpose in life, but she should not be there for the big things like abducting a Russian operative, even if he is just a "pencil pusher".

    It's also hard to believe Fi was dumb enough to let Maddie watch their prisoner in the car instead of sending her to dump the duffel bag in the trashcan at the pier. I also couldn't believe that Fi was dumb enough to take down a message for the Russian to pass to his girlfriend. Sure, it all worked out in the end, but if Burn Notice has taught me anything, it's that spies always have code words and phrases, and everyone in that cast knows it. A red flag should have went up with Fi, who just a week earlier was saved by Michael using a phrase save her life, that the Russian could have been alerting another operative to his danger.

    Fi is slipping. I also don't like her new boyfriend.

  • sithlord992 Jun 29, 2013

    Fi never sent the message to the girlfriend though so I suspect you was aware of that fact and didn't bring the gf in on what was happening until after Michael was safe.

  • Muderboy Jun 29, 2013

    Pretty comprehensive list there, Ryan--but you forgot slackers...

  • RyanSandoval Jul 08, 2013

    ha! fair enough. Maybe "illegal pole-sitting" should be in there too.

  • Muderboy Jul 09, 2013

    That was not a criticism, btw. Just sayin'...

  • RyanSandoval Jul 10, 2013

    I gotcha.

  • Muderboy Jul 08, 2013

    Y not, lol...

  • shocker713 Jun 29, 2013

    When they hinted in the promos that someone would die, I thought it would be someone that mattered. This is Burn Notice; the villains, even the Big Bads, die on a fairly regular basis.

  • jkingslp Jun 29, 2013

    I wonder how much Alona Tal got paid to lay there and say/do nothing? I want that gig!

  • DavidJackson8 Jun 28, 2013

    Most of the episode was as predictable or lame as usual (specific scenes have been pointed out by a few of the commenters already [specifically, Maddie's involvement]) -- but I was surprised at Burke's death... and any surprise is a pleasant one with BN. I really didn't see that one coming; figured he'd be around for most of the season.

    I didn't know that Sonya was Alona Tal -- cool, I like her. Hopefully her character isn't lame.

    I notice it every once in a while and noticed it in this one: Sam complains a lot. I know he eventually quit/retired to relax but how was he ever a Navy SEAL covert op? I guess maybe age and relaxation makes everything a chore. I realize his complaints and questions are mainly there for Michael to explain to the audience about what's going on and how things work, but it gets tiring in some episodes and it was tiring in this one.

  • dref22 Jul 01, 2013

    The casting notice said Pasdar would be around for 3-4 episodes so I totally knew he'd die in the first episodes. XD

  • JT_Kirk Jun 28, 2013

    Glad I didn't click this article at 8pm when I first saw it go up last night, what with the opening sentence being a huge spoiler. Guess Westen's attitude about his friends isn't really that unique, and it's a shame we had to lose Burke to figure out that he can be as loyal to a cause and a group as Michael.

    Way to take a stand against killing sleeping children in their beds, that's a bold editorial choice.

    Nothing about Maddie's kidnapping scene made sense, why would Maddie be the person Fi goes to? She used to know all sorts of folks who could be more useful than a retired nurse. And then what is so friggin' difficult about putting papers in a trash can that Fiona couldn't send Maddie to do that job while Fi watches the spy? And then the spy guy just calmly accepts his fate and writes a letter to his girl that turns out NOT to be a bit of spycraft to his handlers?

    That leads me to 2 matching scenes in this episode that didn't work right but got away with it due to weak plotting, both the Miami Russian spy's mad dash through traffic and Sam & Jesse's kidnapping the GRU agent in Cuba were very public, so how did word not get out about either of these kidnappings when the GRU began investigating?

    "When you're a spy, creating a fake passport can be a quick and dirty job or it can be an expensive process. The key is knowing how bulletproof you really need your cover to be, too careful and the forgery takes too long; too quick and something can slip through the cracks to get you caught" - is how I imagined that passport scene would have played out in Westen's narration.

    I would assume it was a romantic dinner with all that makeup and vaseline-lens effect.

    Anyway, this was an ok episode but the ending with Sonya cracking Jesse upside the head leading into a chase next week felt too much like a plotline handoff, it wasn't organic.

    That Onion clip was pretty funny stuff.

  • Muderboy Jun 29, 2013

    Good one JT, but too much typing for this show. Liked your narration...

  • JT_Kirk Jun 30, 2013

    Thanks, it's more narration of my reading the site's review. X-D (yeah, I use smilies, what of it, internet?)

  • Muderboy Jun 30, 2013

    Screw the Internet. Wait, what?

  • Goqklf56 Jun 28, 2013

    I don't think he was a bad guy, more like a grey area man who has done shit like Michael than tried to redeem himself one way or another.

    Sonya aspect is interesting, we have no idea who she is but considering she knocked out Jesse makes me believe she's an operative and the fact that Moscow kept her imprisonment secret with chemicals she might even be important internentionally. Whatever it is I find this the setup a lot better than season 6 Tom Card scenario, the show took such a low hit after they killed off Anson and it was all foreshadowed by the oh-so boring death of Michael's brother.

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