By now it’s got to be common Westen knowledge that nearly every client brings with him/her a surprise liability that usually pops up at the most inopportune time during any given mission. Rather than fit every Burn Notice episode with a narration along the lines of "About three quarters into any adventure, the person you’re helping is going to screw things up somehow," it’s best to just assume this is the case and look surprised when the inevitable plan-wrench gets thrown. With "Odd Man Out," an embittered colleague of Calvin Schmidt’s named James Vanek (Kevin McNally) made it super hard for the crew to do anything but be trapped in a random warehouse, all because of some bad smuggler blood. Meanwhile Jesse landed himself on Maddie duty as everyone continued to wrap up preparations for new identities (ugh, and I thought getting a legal passport took a long time). No longer depending as much on Schmidt/Patton Oswalt to liven up the usual motions, the episode maintained a steady, assured pace, and while the action was primarily restricted to a single location, "Odd Man Out" demonstrated how less can be more. Think of this outing as an hour-long version of The Poseidon Adventure (the Rutger Hauer/Steve Guttenberg one) but on dry land, and instead of capsizing, the threat was a jaunty Brit with a bevy of bullets.
Emotionally speaking, we got three instances of those dumb inside-itchy things known as "feelings": First, in the opening scene with Maddie expressing shock at how ultimately cut-off she’ll be from Nate’s child, and every current contact in her address book, which is definitely something an old lady would be concerned about. Unfortunately there were no surprises here, or new angles on going undercover, but I appreciated this as a moment of acknowledgement, and also how casually Fi, Michael and Maddie chatted around the sink fire like flames in that part of the kitchen weren’t even a thing.
The second emotional moment came a little later, when Jesse had to keep Maddie from heading out to Nate’s grave one last time, which was a downright painful scenario to imagine: not only dealing with the death of a son, but knowing that in the immediate future, his grave will be that much lonelier. Using Maddie’s experience as she's been introduced to the world Michael's been living in for most of his adult life is a great angle for her character development going forward and I wouldn’t mind seeing her pushed to the limits of life off the grid. But not, like, waterboarded. So maybe pushed nearly to her limit. Ultimately though, Mama Westen is the source of Michael’s boldness-gene, and she found her way to Nate’s grave (emotional moment #3). Whenever Westen’s mom does something ill-advised like this, Michael is always careful to give Maddie her space, but this kind of nonsense is going to have to stop if the team is going to sneak out of the country at some point (P.S. we all know they’ll definitely never make it out of the country).
As an outspoken Oswalt fan, even I have to admit his character’s whining finally started to get on my nerves this episode, but thankfully his enemy, played masterfully by McNally, was around as a possible solution (however violent) to Schmidt's grating acts of wimpitude. We didn't necessarily want to see Calvin get poked and zapped or what have you, but it was nice to have the equivalent of a threateningly raised hand to say "Pipe down, mate." Despite his unpleasantness, the puny smuggler still managed to break out fun asides, like "Maybe he broke his hand on your unnaturally large jaw..." This was one example of a healthy balance present throughout the entirety of the episode, with Michael doing just the right amount of leading and Fi, Sam, and Calvin pairing up in varying combinations. Plus, even the Jesse/Maddie storyline satisfied in its brevity. (Favorite quote came from Sam: "This torch here's kind of a flaming dead-man switch. You take us out, we're all going to be extra crispy.") Another nice touch was this guy, who seemed straight out of The Dukes of Hazzard:
Much like Michael Westen, the strength of Burn Notice is its ability to shift personas while still delivering an array of familiarity. Which is to say, there are different types of episodes—client-centric, escape-heavy, undercover-focused, etc.—so it's hard to settle on a "best kind" of plot. Rather, you have to treat them all like a team, and judge whether or not the most effective type of story was used at the right part of the season. Heading into the finale, I approve of the smaller, realistic adventure in "Odd Man Out," even though it amounted to people being stuck in an unfamiliar building, because it'll make the usual conclusive fireworks pop that much more. The only moments that stood out as minor implausible nuisances were when the gang just happened upon the diethyl ether barrels, but didn't think to use the fluid as an advantage until a little later, and then how Jesse and Maddie swindled possession of a dump truck without the foreman's authorization, which seemed a little convenient at the time. However, more complications in this thread would mean more Jesse and Maddie, and they were used just enough this week, so I can't fault this detail too much.
Marching Schmidt out at gun point, Michael displayed the same eerie tendency to go against the team that long ago landed a bullet in Card's frontal lobe. "All anyone needs to know is that I didn't want you to die, and you didn't die," explained Westen to Schmidt, with an atonal sureness that hinted at the side of Westen that isn't afraid to put others in danger. Going forward, this does not bode well for the team who'll need to be cohesive as hell if they expect to sneak over the border undetected (which the preview for next week confirms will never happen). As we come to another close, I'd like to see Burn Notice take a real chance, and have Westen's creepy self systematically drive away Fi, Jesse, Sam, and Maddie as he realizes it's too late to change the kind of person he has become, and then disappear into Bangkok as an animal fighter or something. But this isn't really that kind of show, so I'll be happy with cool explosions and a sizable cliffhanger.
– What is your favorite "type" of Burn Notice episode?
– Did you miss Riley at all this episode?
– How was Jesse this episode? Sam? Fi? Michael? Maddie? Dixon?
– Does it bother you that the show ends with cliffhangers that are immediately answered in the forthcoming episode's preview?
– How do you want the season to end? How do you think it will end?
– How will Maddie improve or damage the team?
– Would you be in favor of Dukes of Hazzard-style freeze-frames in Burn Notice?