Burn Notice

Season 1 Episode 11

Dead Drop (1)

Aired Thursday 9:00 PM Sep 20, 2007 on USA

Episode Recap

Michael is working out in his apartment when Sam arrives, asking for assistance with a job. Michael declines, he has his hands full worrying about Philip Cowan, who has burned him, sent someone to kill him and now has dropped out of sight. Sam is understanding, assuring Michael it's an easy job, one he can handle alone. Michael gets a cryptic text message specifying a place and time. Philip Cowan has made contact. Sam accompanies him to the meet, but Cowan doesn't show up. Sam wants to leave, but after thinking it over, Michael is sure Cowan wouldn't stand him up. He looks around, and his eyes light on the place he himself would use to get a visual on a target prior to making contact. Arriving on the roof top of a nearby building, he finds only an envelope containing a card and a press clipping regarding the destruction of a weapons depot in Belgrade. Peering down over the side of the building, he sees Philip Cowan standing beside his car. Cowan uses hand signals to let Michael know bringing Sam along was not a good idea; Cowan wants to talk alone.

Spy Note: The first step in dealing with a covert op is establishing a way to communicate privately, a code. It could be a key-encrypted cipher, but really, all you need is a base of knowledge that you share.

At the apartment, accompanied by Sam and Fiona, he looks over the newspaper clipping and the falsified documents from the dossier, Michael realizes that Cowan knows his entire career. "It shouldn't be to difficult for him to figure out a way to talk to me." he comments. "Ah", responds Fiona, "the mating dance of the spy." Sam senses it might be time to go, not wanting to be in the middle of a spat between Michael and Fiona.

Meeting with his client, Gillian Walsh, Sam learns the details of his new job. Gillian is a supervisor at a company that builds planes, satellites and weapon systems, all government contract jobs. She has worked there for ten years. Gillian seems reluctant to talk, then breaks down into tears. Sam reminds her that anything she tells him will be held in confidence. Gillian confesses that her friend from work, Melissa, was having an affair. Melissa's husband Kent is abusive and controlling, so the only time Melissa had to herself was while she was at work. In order to sign in a guest, security clearance was needed, so Gillian had done Melissa the favor of signing in her lover. The boyfriend had then stolen files as well as photographed himself with Melissa inside the building. Now the guy is blackmailing the two women, and Gillian is afraid she will lose her job, perhaps even go to prison. Sam asks what the guy wants, and is told that Gillian has to sign for packages and smuggle them out of the building. The packages arrive from a subsidiary of the company in Turkey. Gillian had opened one, it contained drugs, but she didn't know what kind. Sam surmises that it's likely to be heroin, given where the packages are shipped from. There is another package due to arrive this week, and Gillian wants out. Sam agrees to see what he can do for her.

Sam goes with Gillian to visit Melissa, but Melissa insists she doesn't want Sam's help. She wants to continue the smuggling. She tells Sam that her relationship with Dave was a mistake, but now she only wants to put everything behind her. Melissa says she met Dave at a local bar, but she cannot recall the name of the place. Seeing her husband arriving, Melissa panics, insisting that Sam and Gillian must leave before he sees her talking to them. Sam has to piece things together by questioning Gillian for any details Melissa might have shared with her.

Michael, meanwhile has arrived at his mother's house in response to her hysterical summons. A man had called her house asking for Michael. All he had said was 'Van Buren Avenue', then he'd hung up. Madeline doesn't buy Michael's explanation that the call was from a friend. A noise at the rear of the house causes Michael to shove her behind him and reach for his gun. As Nate's voice can be heard calling out that he had lost his key, Madeline looks at the gun and sarcastically asks Michael if he'd been worried the visitor was his 'friend'. Letting Nate in the back door, Nate wants to know why his mother summoned him away from a big investor. Michael keys on the word 'investor'. Nate explains that a friend of his has created a way to recycle titanium golf clubs. Michael wants to know why Madeline called Nate as well as himself. She says the man on the phone really scared her, explaining to Nate that a man had called for Michael, but that Michael wouldn't give her any information about the guy. Michael protests it would be better for her not to know too much, and the disagreement escalates until Madeline is nearly in tears and leaves the room. Nate wants to know what is going on, and Michael asks him to please hang around to keep an eye on their mom as a precaution. Michael checks to be certain his gun is loaded and ready to fire, and hands it to an astonished Nate. Nate accepts the gun but reminds Michael that he'll be taking time away from work and will need to buy a few supplies. Digging into his wallet, Michael hands over money.

Sam is forced to ask for Fiona's assistance on his new job. He needs backup, and Michael is busy. Fiona agrees to help - for $500.00 up front, expenses, plus an hourly rate. Sam is shocked, she never charges Michael, but Fiona makes it clear that she expects something other than money from Michael when she helps him. Left with no choice, Sam has to agree to Fiona's terms. He has figured out a way to find the bar where Melissa met Dave. He has an approximate date, and has a friend is looking at her credit card statements for a charge made at a bar during that time period. He needs Fiona to act as his wing man.

Spy Note: The truly paranoid don't go to meetings themselves, they use a cut out, someone unrelated to them, hired to show a prearranged sign and deliver a message. The sign is something innocuous, but hard to miss. My favorite is the tour guide for Madison, Wisconsin. No one will look at it twice, but unless I'm in the Midwest, I know they are waiting for Michael Westen.

As Michael is walking slowly down Van Buren Avenue, he receives a triumphant call from Fiona, expressing her delight at being hired by Sam. She cannot believe that Cowan still hasn't made contact with Michael, but he explains about the message delivered to Madeline. Seeing a man browsing the tour guide for Madison, Wisconsin, Michael ends his call with Fiona. This man has been sent by Cowan. Walking casually up to the guy, he is handed another envelope. This card is marked with another day and time to meet and stresses that he should be alone. It contains another press clipping. The headline reads: Terrorist Killed In Budapest.

Sam and Fiona enter the bar, and to their astonishment, Fiona is the only female in the place. Though it seems odd that Melissa could have met her lover in a gay bar, they know she paid for drinks there. Fiona tells Sam he is going to have to take the lead, she will clearly be of little use to him. Grumbling about paying Fi to do nothing, Sam reluctantly moves into the bar. After a bit of conversation, he returns to Fiona with a name. The man known to Melissa as 'Dave' is actually Ray Wagoner, a hustler known to break hearts and steal a few wallets along the way. Fiona muses that the guy has now moved up to blackmail and dealing heroin. Sam has obtained Ray's address, and endures Fiona's teasing about his moves amongst the bar's clientèle. In his own defense, Sam points out that a free drink is a free drink.

Sam and Fiona go to the address they have for Ray Wagoner. No one answers their knock, but music can be heard coming from inside. Fiona keeps lookout on the porch while Sam walks around the house. He is distracted by a nice looking motorcycle, and is lucky enough to see Ray's reflection in the chrome, sneaking up on him with a baseball bat. Sam avoids the bat and hits Ray as Fiona arrives. They order Ray to find another way to smuggle in his heroin and leave Melissa alone, but Ray has no idea what they are talking about. Sam shows Ray the photo of him with Melissa, but he insists that he never messed with her. In fact, she had picked him up, and all he had ever done was go out with her a couple of times. Ray swears that all she had wanted to do was take photos of him inside some building. She had even paid him a hundred dollars per photo. Sam asks again if it was Melissa taking the pictures. Ray tells them that her husband paid and took the photos. He thought it was weird, but hadn't asked any questions. Realizing that Melissa has lied to them, Sam thinks they need to talk to Michael.

Sam and Fiona have lunch with Gillian to tell her that her 'friend' is the person who set her up. Gillian cannot understand why Melissa went to the trouble to take the photographs, but Sam explains that it was the only way to keep Gillian from knowing that Melissa herself was in on the scam to smuggle in the heroin. Sam suggests they need to get close to Melissa's husband, Kent. If they can get evidence linking him to the smuggling, they would then be able to fight fire with fire. Gillian points out that Melissa knows she hired Sam, but Sam assures her they will call in more help, along with pretending the investigation has stalled.

Sam approaches Michael, who is trying to finish the repairs on the Charger. Inquiring how things are going with Cowan, Michael tells him that he thinks the article about Budapest is a signal. Michael met a contact on that job under the steps of city hall, so assuming Cowan knows this, Michael believes that is the chosen place for his meet with Cowan, since the latest card did not specify a place. Sam has shamelessly brought Gillian with him to visit Michael, knowing he won't refuse to help him if he sees a woman in need. Sam wants Michael to worm his way into Kent's good graces by pretending to be a former Green Beret offering the former Marine Kent a chance to expand his network, so Sam can then burn him with his bosses.

Michael approaches Kent, and after some initial resistance, manages to convince him to consider a proposal from a stranger who can offer him a way to expand his business, yet keep his bosses from knowing what he is up to. Kent accepts Michael's business card and promises to think the offer over.

Sam and Fiona watch for Kent to leave home on his morning run. As soon as they see him leave the house, Sam keeps Melissa occupied at the front door by pretending to beg her for more information about Dave, thereby assuring her the investigation has hit a dead end, while Fiona picks the lock on the back door and enters the house.

Spy Note: If you want to bug a cell phone wirelessly, you'll need a lot of specialized scanning equipment and a computer to deal with the encryption. I prefer a hands-on approach. You just bug a duplicate phone, and swap out the SIM card so the duplicate phone has the same number. Your target will talk all day, certain that no one could possibly be listening.

Fiona switches the phones and exchanges the SIM card without incident. At the apartment, Michael hears Melissa assure Kent that Sam is an incompetent PI that has found nothing that would hurt their little scam. He also learns that Kent is interested in going into business with his Green Beret alter-ego. Michael calls Sam with the good news, noting that Kent is terrified of his supplier, adding that he doesn't think Kent even knows the name of his boss. Sam agrees to be Michael's back up for the meet with Kent. As Michael is teasing Sam about how much his rates are for the job, the door slams open. His mother has arrived, Nate trailing behind. Madeline is demanding to know why he gave Nate a gun. As the argument escalates into a three way screaming match, Madeline shuts her boys up and quietly asks for a private talk with Michael. She demands to know what is happening, and he quietly asks her what it is she thinks he does for a living. She thinks he should trust them with the information since they are family. He asks her where is supposed to have learned how to trust people, obviously referring to his childhood. Madeline replies that he had been gone for a long time, and it was he who had left them. Michael asks in a soft whisper, "I left you?" Madeline looks ashamed. Quickly, he masks the hurt look on his face with the trademark Michael Westen smile, asking if they can wrap up the conversation so he can get to his meeting. Knowing he isn't going to share any information with her, Madeline takes Nate and leaves the apartment.

With Sam covering him, Kent arrives for the meeting. The 'Green Beret' asks Kent is he is ready to get rich, and Kent wants to discuss things further. He leads Michael out of Sam's line of sight, saying that he needs to know exactly who had told Michael about his operation, adding that he could get killed if his boss found out he was running product for someone else. Sam has no clear shot, and as Kent turns around, the gun in his waistband is fully visible. As Michael tries to convince Kent that names aren't important, Kent pulls the gun and points it at Michael's head.

Spy Note: Having a gun to your head is all about timing, finding the right moment to make your move. Best to snap the trigger finger first, after that, it's mostly downhill.

Michael grabs for, and gets, Kent's gun, tossing it out of reach. The former Marine and the former spy engage briefly in a bit of hand-to-hand combat, but both quickly see the futility in this. Michael heads toward the Charger, as Kent quickly picks up his gun. Sam is able to lay down enough covering fire to allow his friend to reach the car and escape with only a single bullet hole in the windshield.

At the apartment, Michael, Sam, Fiona and Gillian listen in as Kent calls his wife. Gillian realizes that Kent means to kill both her and Michael. Fiona points out that they don't have enough evidence on Kent yet to extricate Gillian from her predicament. Michael tells Gillian she could run and try to stay one step ahead of Kent while looking over her shoulder for years. Sam speaks up to convince her if she will agree to smuggle the expected package out of the building, they could then use it to bring Kent down. Looking around, she sees Fiona nod in agreement, as well as the reassuring look on Michael's face, and agrees to get the package out.

Spy Note: Whether you're protecting a client, monitoring electronic surveillance, or meeting the man who burned you, you've gotta be patient. In the real world, covert ops doesn't involve many car chases or gun fights. Mostly, it's just hurry up and wait. Not too exciting, but you wait and you watch, and you stay alert, because at any minute, the job can get way too exciting.

Sam is watching as Gillian retrieves the package of heroin for Kent. He realizes that his cell phone signal is blocked, likely by the very company where she works. Michael is waiting at City Hall for Cowan to show, as Fiona reclines in the apartment as she listens to Kent's cell phone conversations. The first call is to his wife and tells her little she didn't already know. The second call seems to be to Kent's boss, and the comment about wiring Gillian's car gets Fiona's immediate attention. The boss also tells Kent to watch and be sure the car explodes. Unable to reach Sam, she is forced to call Michael. He is reluctant to leave, having missed Cowan once already, but understands that Gillian is in trouble and he has no choice but to abandon his wait for Cowan.

Spy Note: It's always tough to reschedule a covert meeting. You can't exactly leave a note, so you have to leave behind just enough to get them where you want them to go.

Scratching 'John 3:16' on the sidewalk, Michael leaves a clue he hopes Cowan will follow and leaves. Sam watches as a white panel van arrives and is waved in through the guarded gate just as Melissa is coming out of the building with the heroin. He sees her give the guard an explanation about the package, then place the package in the side door of the van before climbing into the passenger seat. Kent is driving. Concerned about Gillian's whereabouts, Sam is further confused when the van pulls into an employee parking lot and stops. He is trying to figure out what is going on when the Charger pulls up and Fiona and Michael jump in his car. As he listens to Fiona explain that Gillian's car is wired to blow, he and Fiona argue about whether or not to warn Gillian while Kent is watching. Michael stops the fussing by asking which car is Gillian's. He asks the two to keep the guard busy and borrows Sam's floor mat. Sam and Fiona pull up to the guard gate and pretend they believe they are at a restaurant, which distracts the guard long enough for Michael to climb over the fence, using Sam's mat to shield him from the barbed wire on top, and reach Gillian's car.

Spy Note: There are two basic ways to blow up a car: Use the gasoline in the tank, or provide your own explosive. They're two techniques that use opposite ends of the car, and are disarmed differently. Some people prefer the gas tank - tends to look more like an accident, but is less reliable. Others prefer plastic explosive on the battery, wired to the ignition.

Michael rolls under Gillian's car and feels for the plastic explosive. There is no way for Sam and Fiona to warn him that Gillian has left the building and is headed for her car. He has to stretch to reach the plastic, and is barely able to pull the device loose as the unsuspecting Gillian inserts the key and cranks her car. She pulls away, oblivious, a relieved and sweating Michael on the pavement, and an angry Kent watching from the van.

At the apartment, Gillian cannot believe that Kent and Melissa have tried to kill her, but Michael assures her the car bomb is real enough. She asks what she should do. Sam tells her that the attempt on her life is good news, it shows Kent is afraid of her and what she knows. Michael adds that Kent has a few problems. He failed to kill Gillian, plus he has a big box of heroin to get rid of. Sam suggests she take a vacation while he, Michael and Fiona document Kent's sale of the heroin and use the pictures to blackmail Kent into closing his operation, leaving Gillian in the clear. As Gillian leaves to begin her 'vacation', the trio says nothing, but as soon as the door is closed, Michael starts in on Sam, pointing out that the timing of this job couldn't be worse. Sam assures him that he and Fiona can handle taking a few pictures, it is Michael who needs backup. Michael insists he is going to handle Cowan alone. Reassured, Sam leaves. Fiona is anything but reassured. She tells Michael she can't even figure out why Michael wants back into the spy game. He wants to clear his name, wants to know who did this to him. "I spent my entire career doing something I believed in, Fi, something important." But Fiona isn't convinced. She tells him he is doing important things in Miami too, and asks him to think about that the next time he is risking his life to meet with Cowan.

At the place Kent has designated for his meet to sell the heroin, Sam and Fiona split up. Both watch as Kent and Melissa arrive. Sam snaps a couple of photos as Fiona listens in with an extended range sound amplifier.

Spy Note: When you're communicating in code, sometimes you just have to hope that whoever you're talking to is smart enough to figure out what you're saying. Use a code that's too simple, and it will get broken. Use a code that's too complex, and you're just talking to yourself.

Arriving outside a church, Michael is relieved to hear the nearby pay phone ring. Cowan tells him that 'Saint John's at 3:16' was clever. The catch is that Cowan wants to meet at the location where he'd left the first card for Michael, and in ten minutes. Michael protests that is over a mile away, and Cowan unsympathetically suggests that he run. Michael does.

Kent and Melissa are now twenty minutes into their wait. Fiona listens in as Melissa is horrified to hear that Kent has told his boss that he thinks their operation may have been compromised. They argue, and Kent tries to call the buyer once more, then orders Melissa back into the car. He's not waiting any longer. Both Sam and Fiona are caught off guard when the car explodes, courtesy of a hand-held rocket launcher fired from a nearby boat. There's a knock on Sam's window at the same moment, and he is dragged from his car. Fiona looks around to see two men rapidly approaching her place on the overpass, and she takes off running in the opposite direction, only to encounter a third man. All three are heavily armed. She has little choice other than to jump off the overpass into the water below.

Michael is still running, but now he has reached the building where Cowan wants to meet. Arriving at the top, out of breath, he checks his watch to be certain he's made it in time. He hears Cowan's voice call out to him. At last, his prized face to face meeting with the mysterious Philip Cowan is imminent. The two spies show they are both unarmed. Cowan jokingly tells Michael that he always finds his own hand shakes after such a run, but Michael promises he is not there to kill Cowan, he only wants to know why Cowan burned him. Cowan is surprised, asking if Michael believes Cowan was the one who burned him simply because he'd read it on a file. Michael scans the perimeter as they talk. Cowan continues: "You think this is about me? One man watched you, targeted you, burned you, froze your accounts, cut off your travel? One guy did all that, and then he decided to come to Miami and explain himself?" Michael isn't convinced, "You tried to have me killed." he replies, and has to smile when Cowan tells him it was "nothing personal". Cowan assures him that whatever is going on, it is much, much bigger than Cowan. "People I work for, they have plans for you." Cowan tells him. Michael wants to know who these people might be. "Powerful, dangerous people, and man, are they upset with me. I misread you, Michael. Didn't expect you to buck quite so much. You're making everyone nervous." Before Michael can get his head around what Cowan is saying, a shot rings out and Cowan drops onto the rooftop. Ducking down out of reflex, Michael takes time to check Cowan's pulse, hoping for more answers, but there can be no more answers, at least not from Cowan. As he hears police sirens, Michael walks to look over the edge of the building. The police are pulling into the building's parking lot. They have arrived too fast to be coincidence. Ducking around a corner, Philip Cowan's blood spattered over his face and clothing, Michael pulls out his cell phone. As Nate answers, he asks his brother to get into his truck and meet him. Nate wants to know what is going on, but Michael is telling the truth when he says he has no idea.

As Nate and Michael pull up at the apartment, Nate asks Michael if Cowan told him anything. Michael can only reply that he had been about to as he died. Nate wonders aloud if that is why Cowan had been killed, for talking to Michael. Michael still doesn't know, but he does know he had been set up, the cops had to have been called before the shot had been fired, based on how fast they arrived. Wiping Cowan's blood off his face, Michael idly watches the road construction crew as he asks Nate to take their mom and get out of town for a while. Nate is shocked, but he can tell by the look on his brother's face that Michael is serious. He is even more surprised when Michael thanks him for coming to pick him up. As Michael goes to exit the truck, something on the construction workers faces gives him pause; they are all looking at him. Looking behind the truck, he sees a stopped car, hood raised. The guy working on the car is looking at them as well. The spy in Michael is cautious, he closes the door and tells Nate he thinks he will just go with him to Madeline's. His cell phone rings, it's Fiona. Asking if he can call her later, Michael can barely understand her panicked voice as she tells him that Kent and Melissa's deal went bad and that Sam has been kidnapped. Calmly, Michael asks where she is. Fiona says she can't talk, she hears them coming after her. Taking long enough to tell him she is in the warehouse district near the First Street Bridge, she drops the phone receiver and runs.
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