Burn Notice "Nature of the Beast" Review: Draw Grandma a Cigarette

By Ryan Sandoval

Aug 02, 2013

Burn Notice S07E08: "Nature of the Beast"

James the Mysterious. James the Friendly. James the Dimpled. James the Guy Who Sends War Buddies to the Looney Bin. In "Nature of the Beast," we learned James’ real name (I was wrong to guess McGillicutty Esq.), and with it, some disturbing details concerning his past. A tidy drug-smuggler side-mission and a twist involving a special-ops mental patient suggested that vigilante justice is all in the eye of the beholder (of guns). While the episode did a good job of balancing two story threads, strangely enough it was Jesse and Fi who operated as the more engaging subjects, even as Michael Westen’s way "out" had him heading even deeper into danger. 

So Fi and Jesse, acting off a tip from Strong, flew on down to Biloxi, Mississippi (home of Kel Mitchell AND Jimmy Buffett) to check out a mental patient connected to James with about "fifty different names" but referred to on this particular day as John Doe. Hopefully there are some earlier script drafts lying around at the USA offices where Strong’s all, "He’s had about fifty names, and here is every one of them: Charlie Sopsich, Bruno Jenkinson, Todd Glaser, Ariel Rabinovich, Wesley VonFonda, Garrison Nuemuer..." But yeah, it was irresponsible for Jesse to suggest faking an anthrax scare just to nab this guy. Isn’t that a huge thing? Especially in this current political climate? The CDC has to file paperwork I bet, and then some poor janitor is probably texting his family whom he can barely support on custodial wages just like "<3 KIDS. BYE?"  

Even though he tried to blow up Jesse with medical supplies, it turned out that John Doe WASN’T really crazy, but rather the victim of James and his wily, far-reaching ways. Lest we forget, James can do anything he wants at any time. He will probably give Charlie drugs by season's end. But anyhow, a long time ago James stuffed John Doe away in the system after a Delta Force Op gone wrong, way back when in Mogadishu. The mission was a career-defining one for James, who defied orders to slaughter a whole village of harmless woman and children by instead slitting the throats of his whole unit. A real slippery moral slope. Back then, John Doe was known as Peter Mallard, buddy to James "Kendrick," who "would’ve followed him anywhere" but instead got led "straight to Hell." Thus was Westen’s warning to tread lightly on his path to enlightenment and question any sympathies he might have for this self-appointed decider of fates.  

Despite the two clear paths being presented for Michael Westen, only one seems remotely plausible. Either he actually joins forces with Papa Kumbaya James and his fight for justice, or he finishes this one last gig for the CIA, then chills with Fi, taking day trips to the Epcot Center with Charlie and ignoring calls from drunk-ass Ruth. There’s not really much suspense going on with where his heart is—we know he had intimate settings with Sonya just to get closer to James, and he already reached out to Sam for help in keeping his head straight. For this reason, Sam and Westen’s mission to nab Marco Cabral (played by Peter Mensah, most recently of Spartacus: War of the Damned and True Blood) oddly felt like the lesser of the two adventures, even though it starred our protagonist. This endeavor was meant to illuminate the kind of murky, secret stuff James and his organization are into, but just ended up being basically a regular type spy-affair Westen could pull off in his sleep.  

Even Sam didn’t seem like his fun self, saddled this whole season—and even further back—with expressing a near matronly concern for Mikey. The result is honest, but not that exciting. So yes they tricked the evil Cabral into ditching the MI-6 offer of a life of scones and free Tube passes; and yes, they overcame the trouble of getting him in the limousine; and yes, they even took out some military heavies with minimal resources. But this late in the game there should be zero missions that feel like the show isn’t going to end forever in just five more episodes. This one felt like it didn’t get the memo, that every storyline from this point forward needs to be as intense and daring as last week’s "Psychological Warfare." But hey, it was fun to see Westen in a spring suit, like he was going to boogie board later on. 

For all my problems with the episode, "Nature of the Beast" pretty much got a free pass when Maddie uttered these magic words: "Draw Grandma a cigarette." What a phrase! Beyond deliciously trashy literary combinations, Burn Notice’s main hurdle lies in how effectively it has painted Michael Westen as superhuman. He’s so good at what he does that it's hard to believe he can actually falter.   


– Do you believe that Michael is suffering a crisis of conscience?

– What is Michael's main struggle?

– What is the name of the official name of James’ organization? Does he change it every second?

– Does Carlos deserve Fi?

– Is James doing the right thing?

– What will happen to James?

– Will Michael walk away from acting as judge, jury, and executioner for a quiet life?

– What would be a happy ending for every member of the Burn crew?

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  • andreweather Aug 04, 2013

    Someone needs to tell the writers that soldiers following orders because "orders are orders" went out at Nuremberg.

    Most developed nations spend a crap ton of time teaching soldiers how to identify illegal orders and what to do when confronted with them...

    Here's a hint, being ordered to kill an entire village? ILLEGAL, what do you do? SAY NO AND CALL THE PRESS.

  • JT_Kirk Aug 04, 2013

    Just watched the episode. Definitely agree that Fi and Jesse's story was more engaging, and Jesse - while once again being the gullible punching bag - actually brought a new level of intensity to some of his part.

    Kel Mitchell, he could have stopped Kenan Thompson before SNL was ruined by him, but only history can truly judge the man for that sin.

    Jesse's plan wasn't irresponsible, irresponsible is not checking the people laying on tables in the morgue, irresponsible is letting a crazy murder-man run loose to do who-knows-what. Anthrax scares are easy to shrug off, 3 dead nuns less so. Plus, that janitor obviously was beating his kids with his wife (wives make great blunt instruments, if TV is to be believed, and it's not).

    John Doe's situation made me wonder why they didn't go that route with Michael Westen, that would have been a more interesting way to pick up this season, start when we're past this and James has locked Michael away, the CIA has clamped down on the friends and family, etc., and only an ex-spy who talks to himself with oddly-specific advice in the looney bin can save the day. It was an interesting parallel and hopefully they don't let it drop next episode. It certainly would have made a compelling next season.

    Sam Axe was pretty great again in the field, kind of disappointing that they didn't have a longer spy mission to play out over several episodes and give Mike and Sam more time to get deeper into a more compelling mission.

    I almost bought that Mike could be buying into James' game, but the heavy-handedness of this mission made it obvious James isn't really being a good guy despite his claims, he's just another flavor of evil and that's disappointing.

    Michael's main struggle is the "Dark Passenger" voice that he has been hearing throughout the series, obviously, that guy who keeps coming up with straight-shooter advice about "when you're a spy..." and Westen is such a tough badass that he barely winces when he hears that voice speak up during every adventure.

    James' organization is "Impossibly Funded, ltd." obviously.

    Carlos doesn't exist, he's a figment of Fi's imagination.

    James is a throat-slitting murderer at the end of the day, he uses "doing the right thing" as an excuse to be a sociopathic killer.

    James will get caught and arrested and end up running a CIA op in exchange for his freedom and the freedom of his friends, and Mike will be angry because that was his gig.

    Michael Westen will become a mechanic and brood nightly over all the opportunities in life that he's missed, then raise Charlie as his own when grandma loses custody after one too many demands for the kid to get her cigarettes, and Michael will end up turning into his own father without realizing it until it's too late.

    Jesse gets a new Porsche, Fi gets to run guns from Miami to Ireland to the Middle East, Sam gets a lifetime supply of beer and hookers, Maddie gets ECT to forget all the horrors she's seen, and Michael fakes a heroic death only to be entirely forgotten and live in Los Angeles as a pornstar.

  • JT_Kirk Aug 04, 2013

    Oh, I forgot, Fi also has a side job of selling Hyundai Genesis Coupes.

  • slayme3 Aug 02, 2013

    I had a LOT of problems with this week's ep as well. Did anyone else feel like the dialogue for the whole first half was completely off? It was as if the writer was writing generic lines that could have been said by anyone and it truly did not feel like things Sam or Michael might actually say. The plot was fine but the writing on this ep was the worst of the season IMO.

  • ltcomstella Aug 02, 2013

    suddenly carlos rings maddy about fi... he's gotta be a mole for james or strong...and he hasn't been seen for a few episodes

  • CrazyAsian1080 Aug 02, 2013

    was just thinking Carlos is so going to betray Michael to get Fi. Fi finds out and ends it with Carlos. It seems the easiest way to tie that story up. Though I don't really care if Michael and Fi end up together.

  • DresserBoys Aug 02, 2013

    So in other words, Carlos took the photo that was on the cellphone of Michael, Maddie and Charlie, Yes?

  • ltcomstella Aug 02, 2013


  • Mate Aug 02, 2013

    Meh. Wasn't good, wasn't bad. Far too little Alona Tal. It just kind of seemed that we have done this before. Mostly because we have.


    Do I believe it? No. Is that what they are trying to convey? Yes. Are they succeeding? Not really. I think Michael is most happy when he is pushing the envelope. He has always had some perverse joy out of all of this.

    - Swimming. Kind of slow at it, even with flippers. Oh and I have seen enough Mythbusters to know that that explosion would have killed him. Or at the very least blow his eardrums, fracture his feet, give him a Traumatic Brain Injury.

    - I am pretty sure it doesn't have a name. It seems like he is rebelling against the norm. The norm is to have names.

    - I think you are asking the wrong question. It should be does Fiona deserve Carlos. The Paramedic was right in season 2 or 3 I believe. These guys are just guys that Fiona hooks up with from time to time. Michael is her boyfriend. Now we could get into the psychology of that. But I don't have that kind of time.

    - Probably. If his origin story is true. Most of these "bad guys" can go either way depending on your perspective. For many seasons, Michael was fighting people that were fighting the organization that burned him. They weren't necessarily bad guys. They were heading up against the actual bad guys. James' rebellion against the bureaucrat that wanted them to slaughter a town seems like the right thing to do. ( who wants to bet that Strong was that bureaucrat?) Personally I would like to see James convince Michael to truly join him.

    - Depends on how they want to end the series. If it is the happy ending. James dies, Strong dies. Fiona and Michael escape off to raise his brothers kid. But a good ending is that Michael realizes James is correct. Kills Strong and tells Fiona that she makes him weak and he can't be around her and he joins James and Sonja in dismantling real enemies.

    How many people has he actually killed? Generally he goes all John Reese on them and shoots them in a way that if they keep pressure on it they can survive and the show cuts away before we find out what happens. Or he goes all Batman on them and leaves them in situations where they likely die or are killed by their comrades. If he was judge, jury and executioner this would be a way different show.

    A real Happy Ending for everyone would be for Michael to disappear. Michael goes back to being alone, something that he seems to relish a bit. Jesse goes to his magic job where he gets paid a lot to not do much and gets lots of time off. Sam goes back to living off of the hotel owner and his Mojitos and beer. Fiona, goes back to outsmarting people that skip out on bail, likely has a guy that cares for her and isn't all emo about it. Maddie raises Charlie better than she raised her own sons. Likely because she wouldn't have the father to abuse them and such.

  • dref22 Aug 07, 2013

    I'm sorry but why does Strong have to die for a happy ending? :P

  • Mate Aug 07, 2013

    Well if he is the bureaucrat that made James and his group slaughter a whole town then I am pretty sure him dying would be a good thing. But we still don't really know who Strong is. If he is like per usual with Burn Notice and is some type of bd guy then his death for snowing Mike is pretty much a given. But this is entirely speculation.

  • safibwana Aug 02, 2013

    – Do you believe that Michael is suffering a crisis of conscience?

    No, I don't really believe Michael has a conscience, just a code. He's more Dexter than Dexter, basically.

    – What is Michael's main struggle?


    – What is the name of the official name of James’ organization? Does he change it every second?

    Real criminal organizations don't have names. Consider the mafia.

    – Does Carlos deserve Fi?

    Carlos? Is that the fake Canadian boyfriend's name? Has he had screen time? I didn't even notice.

    – Is James doing the right thing?

    No? I dunno, which thing? I zone out this season.

    – What will happen to James?

    Entropy, eventually.

    – Will Michael walk away from acting as judge, jury, and executioner for a quiet life?

    No, they will drag this thing on for decades in TV movies.

    – What would be a happy ending for every member of the Burn crew?

    There can be no such thing. Michael is incapable of being happy, and everyone else's happiness is dependent on his for... some reason. Except Jesse, whose continued association with these people is a mystery, unless he is still in love with Fi, who is hung up on the person she wants Michael to be.

    Thus, for everyone to have a happy ending Jesse gets Fi pregnant, giving the adults someone new to focus on. Mike fakes his death to continue his life as a danger junky never missing the rest of them for a moment, but allowing the rest of them to move on with their new unhealthy relationships.

  • KateSullivan Aug 02, 2013

    I feel like I have something to confess, while I have loved Burn Notice from the beginning, I find myself like checking to see if my lives have renewed in Candy Crush....

  • ltcomstella Aug 02, 2013

    nail'd it

  • JoeLevengood Aug 02, 2013

    I just hope that Michael touches Jame's piece just once before the series ends....because you know "nobody touches his piece!"

  • DavidJackson8 Aug 02, 2013

    The only thing I found myself not liking about the episode was the final 5 minutes, with John Doe hyping up the badness of James. It seems like EVERY season there's a couple episodes and scenes of victims or fellow bad guys giving an exposition about how "baddest of the bad" the season's bad guy is. It's getting tedious. We get it. Michael's not going to face off against stupid nice guys.

    Sam's complaining made me roll my eyes again, but that's par for the course, I guess. Oh, and the way Jesse got hostage'd was a bit too easy... they could have edited that scene better rather than having Jesse turn the obviously wrong way (he clearly saw the CIA guy falling down to his right; it seems obvious to me that he should check left first) only to be blindsided. But that's a very small detail, so who cares.

    All in all, the episode was pretty enjoyable. Nothing amazing or really fun, but nothing too bad either.

  • dref22 Aug 02, 2013

    I enjoyed watching Jack Coleman waving his big gun around.

    Jesse and Sam getting their spin off while Fi and Michael uniting. That would be the happy ending for the BN crew. And oh, plz don't kill Strong.

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