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USA (ended 2013)

Burn Notice S07E07: "Psychological Warfare"

No, what you just saw was NOT Michael Westen being audited by the Church of Scientology. It was also NOT the super spy of seven seasons interviewing for a high-paying job at Google with insurance benefits. What you saw, dear viewer, was a twisted journey into the psyche of a Legend. A trip deep beyond Michael Westen’s Heart of Darkness, through his looking glass of perception, past his mind’s eye, to a location miles away from the mojitos of Miami: to the place where it all began. Basically, "Psychological Warfare" was like getting shrunk down and injected into Michael Westen's spy genes at the very moment they came into existence. It was witnessing his Big Bang of espionage, watching the wind and chaos of his unformed spy-soul explode into glorious spy-being. In short, we went on a vision quest with Michael Westen and saw not only what makes him tick, but the clock, the gears, and the Old Ancient Man Hands that crafted them all. Penetrating the true nature of someone so expertly given to alias was not easy, and doing so required a thorough dismantling of mental and emotional defenses. The breaking down of Michael Westen happened in three distinct stages:    

In order to convince Sonya's boss of his identity, Michael Westen had to come up with an entire backstory and commit the whole thing to paper. Yellow paper. Yes, I think we can safely assume the first sentence began, "My name is Michael Westen, I used to be a spy..." As if penning memoirs wasn’t hard enough, he then had to repeatedly remember and confirm it all—with no notecards and nada sleep. Nope, not a single wink to his name. Leading this cerebral surge was the mysterious head of Sonya and Burke’s organization, a folksy enigma with a New Age mind for words and a Charles Manson-by-way-of-teen-guidance-counselor-vibe. 

We’d later learn this stringy-haired ex-Trader Joe’s manager interrogator's name was "James" (played by John-Pyper Ferguson from Alphas and Deception), who gave Michael the brain equivalent of a vicious, robust enema. Eighty percent of what came out of this shamanic man's mouth sounded like lines a flirtatious yogi feeds his students when he's trying to get laid. Vaguely spiritual phrases like "set our sights on new horizons" and "the what is less important than the why" were uttered, harsh sirens were sounded, and bright lights were cranked up to "Give Prisoners TOO Sexy a Tan" levels. Essentially Westen was a True Blood vampire under incarceration by the LAVTF. But this extreme fact-checking session was only the beginning...

A cocktail of "benzodiazepine mixed with a synthetic hallucinogen" (a.k.a. Mountain Dew: KickStart) coursed its way through Michael Westen’s bloodstream, sending him on an all-expenses-paid vacation to the Shores of Oblivion. Dude was straight up tripping balls like a freshman at UC Santa Cruz with something to prove. By the time he thought he was near a fire, but also that it was snowing—both indoors—it was safe to say he could NOT handle his truth-shrooms. Too bad Sam wasn’t around to slap on some peaceful World Music and shove an orange slice in his mouth ("Here Mikey, this citrus will mellow you out"). 

Mind-ghost Fiona visited Westen in a slinky red number and living memory/phantom bully "Dead" Larry Sizemore shouted at him in freshly washed snow camouflage about a mission that went especially wrong, morally. Apparently while trying to track down a rogue asset this one time, Westen had let his emotions get the better of him. In so doing, he exploded a factory packed wall-to-wall with innocent villagers. Needless to say, the blown-up townsfolk were not happy because they could no longer earn five cents an hour manufacturing acid-wash Bugle Boy jean shorts overalls, and were dead. 

But Larry loved this part about Michael Westen. Always had. While Westen ping-ponged back and forth between our reality and his untamed past, James nodded along with two index fingers in a steeple on his lips. "Ah yes, interesting. Continue..." We learned that ever since that encounter, Westen’s been haunted by the screams of these commoners, and didn't want that kind of thing to ever happen again. It's why he always gets the job done without collateral damage. That, and because a bunch of kids probably watch this show. But mainly because of this horrible, scarring act. James knew better than to stop here, however. Things were just getting good, and he had all day...

Everyone knows that at the heart of every great screwed-up person is an even more screwed-up parent. Michael Westen’s upbringing at the hands of a drunken father has been mentioned in the past, but this time we were treated to a real-time flashback that had adult Michael Westen swapping places with Lil’ Mikey Westen: Boy Spy, in a delicious acting exercise that Jeffrey Donovan must’ve eaten up like fresh yogurt. Trust me, I used to work at a prominent national playhouse and there’s nothing actors love more than flexing their chops as a child character. They all think they're excellent at it too, but usually it's just awkward. Weird, but whatever. 

With a youthful slouch, naively wide eyes, and fidgety hands, Westen fought his father as a grown-ass man but with the strength of a non-grown-ass son. He was like the opposite of a superhero. In a way, we all have an abusive guy in a garage slapping us around willy-nilly, attempting to make us feel guilty for past transgressions. Personally, my garage-guy looks like one of those marionette puppets from Sidney Lumet's The Wiz. Ultimately, Michael’s mega-regrets emanated from the worry that he’d left home, lost Fiona, and got Nate killed all for the sake of the CIA. With a final smack from Papa Westen, it seemed as though these demons might have won for good, putting all his friends' lives at risk, realizing Michael's greatest fear of all...

Just when it looked like James would next don a virtual reality helmet and Quantum Leap himself into Michael’s very skin, Sonya rescued Westen from the back room of an Apple Store holding cell, with armed soldiers in hot pursuit. But something wasn’t quite right, and a last-minute chat with his boy-self confirmed just what Westen suspected: that this was James’ final test. I was kind of hoping that at the very end of the episode, James would be like, "Guess what that was just sugar water I gave you." It wasn't: Our dude is just that good. Even with all the physical discomfort, all the drugs, all the mind-ghosts, Michael Westen—both the kid, and the killer—was still too strong to give up his friends. In the end, isn’t that all that matters? (Cue Randy Newman’s "You’ve Got a Friend in Me.")   


– Did you enjoy how this episode addressed Michael’s past?

– How will Michael respond to Sonya’s trickery in this episode?

– What does it mean that James demolished the interrogation home?

– How will Michael be different following this vision quest?

– Did you enjoy the B-story of Sam, Fi, and Jesse racing around town?

– Would you watch a series called Burn Notice Jr.?

– Have you ever had a vision quest like this? What did you discover about yourself?


"Seeing him wasn’t the hard part, ma. It was realizing he was the only reason I survived."

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 9/12/2013

Season 7 : Episode 13

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