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