Thursday, March 05, 2009

Burn Notice, "Lesser Evil": I guess this means we're not going to Disney World

Spoilers for the "Burn Notice" season two finale coming up just as soon as I ask On-Star for the nearest hardware store...
"You have no idea what hell will rain down if we stop watching out for you." -Management
"I'll take my chances." -Michael
And so an outstanding season of "Burn Notice" comes to an appropriately outstanding ending. "Lesser Evil" featured so many fist-pumping moments that I think I pulled a tendon in my forearm (my guess it was Sam and Madeline making explosive ordinance out of Christmas decorations, gunpowder and non-dairy creamer that did it). But it also featured some wonderfully poignant moments that not only didn't undercut the action, but enhanced it. When you see how much Madeline cares for her son, how scorching Michael and Fi's love for each other is, what a tragic figure Victor turns out to be (and, therefore, how much it pains Michael to put him out of his misery), it only makes those moments when our heroes get over on the bad guys feel more satisfying. This is a show that started off as a diversion at best, then became a fun summer lark, and now I consider it essential, terribly engaging viewing. It feels epic in a way that I never would have expected at any point in season one.

The finale takes care of both Carla and Victor, the former in one of those aforementioned "Hell yeah!" scenes (Fi was probably speaking for half the audience when she said, "Finally!" after putting a bullet in her), the latter in a moment that was deliberately the opposite of satisfying. Victor was introduced as Michael's opposite number -- just as competent, but crazy and overheated where Michael is cool and controlled -- and here we find out he's just another poor bastard who got a burn notice at a bad time, and the poor fortune to lose his family in the bargain. This could have been Michael, and he knows that, and that's why he hesitates so long before letting Victor help him pull the trigger. A great moment for Jeffrey Donovan and Michael Shanks.

And with this season's villains out of the way, the final moments introduce a potential season three bad guy in the always-wonderful John Mahoney. Michael's refusal to go along with the request to take Carla's place -- to take the hard, potentially fatal road instead of the easy, well-compensated one -- isn't a decision I think he makes at the start of the series. But "Burn Notice," when it isn't busy teaching us cool counter-surveillance techniques, is about what happens when an amoral, globe-trotting spy is forcibly dumped back into the real world, given a half-surrogate, half-real family, and introduced to the concerns of ordinary people. This Michael has a conscience, and a sense of the concerns of others -- see his refusal to simply kill the surveillance detail on the off-chance they're unwitting tools of Carla -- and he'd rather put his own life at risk then to make himself a cog in the machine that would kill a man's wife and son as an easy way to acquire a new operative.

I just feel incredibly satisfied by this whole season, and I can't wait to see how things play out next season now that Michael's unquestionably a man without a country. Was Mahoney exaggerating about the threat level, or will we see his weekly missions constantly being disrupted by disgruntled former colleagues popping up to take a shot at Michael, Fi and Sam? And how long do we have to wait, anyway.

Bravo, "Burn Notice."

What did everybody else think?


michael said...

Absolute greatness. I'm with you 100%. This show was just a fun way to kill a Thursday night, but now it's cracked my top 5 for essential viewing.

June can't come fast enough!

BigTed said...

I loved this episode too -- it was like a great action movie (or maybe part 3 of a great action-movie series). I was a little sorry to see Carla go -- they could have done a lot more with her character than they did -- and I thought it would have added an extra level of coolness if Michael had actually found a way to save Victor. But the whole thing was totally involving and incredibly cool, and the perfect set-up for the new season this summer.

Matt said...

Great episode. I agree with you 100% and am equally excited to see what's in store for Michael and the crew this summer.

My question is this: Are we supposed to assume John Mahoney's character burned Michael? The way the scene before getting on the boat with Victor played out it seemed to me that Victor was basically confessing to burning Michael because he was so good at his job and Carla wanted him to work for her. Am I crazy reading it that way?

Alyson said...

Fantastic, fantastic episode. I am actually going to miss Victor, poor crazy bastard though he was.

My only quibble is this: all that noise about hurting Michael's family, and NOT ONE mention of Nate?

Jordan said...

This show is just straight up fun. More so than anything on tv. So I've got to thank you Alan, for turning me on to this.

Anthony Foglia said...

Maybe as a gentile I can't ever understand, but how did this not rate dayeenu (or however it's spelled). If only we got a new understanding of Victor... If only we had Madeline acting scared and concerned and ordering Sam to protect Michael... If only we had a fitting ending to Carla delivered by Fi... If only we had a John Mahoney give a credible reason for Michael to work with them... If only we had the threat of Michael facing plenty of old foes looking for revenge next season...

Awesome episode. Honestly, I'm a bit worried what it will be like next season with Michael working against while working for an evil shadow organization. But they've more than earned my viewing next year, and my expectation to be surprised again.

Anonymous said...

My only quibble is this: all that noise about hurting Michael's family, and NOT ONE mention of Nate?

HAH! I thought the exact same thing. But, overall a lot better than I was expecting and it shows that the writers have really elevated this show beyond the gimmicky summer romp it could have been. Completely agree, Alan, that Mahoney's portrayel of a sea of enemies chomping at the bit to get to Michael has the potential to really make the show interesting. It suggests we're likely to start seeing a lot of episodes like last week's (and those with Victor) where Michael matches up against men and women of equal caliber.

R.A. Porter said...

I couldn't agree more. This is one of those rare shows TheWife and I are equally thrilled about and we carve time each Thursday to watch - I mean, we record The Office and 30 Rock so we can watch this in real time instead - but season one and even the first half of season two were just light fun. Ever since Jeffrey Donovan's emotional freakout in the 2.5 opener, it's been so much more.

And tonight...with all that action and all that humor, I can't quite figure out how so much emotion got squeezed in as well. Just like Fi thinks Victor should have given a class on booby traps, I think Matt Nix and Tim Matheson should give a class on crafting a dense hour of television that can float by so effortlessly.

I had to stop myself from writing an essay on leaps of faith on film while writing my review. Michael's jump from the helicopter had it all: the escape, the plunge, and the baptism. He's a new man now, in so many ways.

Justin said...

For me, this show has gone from "half-watching it when I saw it was on" to "not wanting to miss a second of every new episode." Like Jordan said above me, this show is just *fun* to watch, something that is seriously lacking in most television shows these days. I can't wait until June either!!

Anonymous said...

That was an amazing hour!

I'm gonna have to stay up and watch that again.

I am making it my personal mission to turn all my friends and family on to BN in time for the June premiere.

No. 6 said...

To Matt: Victor's point to Michael is that there isn't going to be 'one man' whom he can blame for his burn notice. It's the result of any person or group of people getting too powerful - they end up using pawns like Michael in their quest to gain more power. The 'management' may have burned Michael in this particular case, but even if they hadn't, it would have happened to someone else somewhere eventually.

It would have been nice to see how Victor would have handled a 'case' like Michael does, if only to see how another skilled spy approaches a situation. We're so accustomed to Michael's ways that it would have been nice to see that there are other styles of spy-mastering.

Teev said...

Well that was a fantastic end to a great season. Non-stop awesomeness! I feel like this is USA's Mad Men - not that they are similar in any way, but that nothing had prepared me for a show this terrific to come from this particular network.

I'm sad to see Victor gone. He and Michael had a real John Woo thing going on, especially at the end when Mike was holding the gun to his chest, except that Donovan really sold the poigniancy. We almost never see him kill people so that was exceptionally tough.

I like too how much Michael and Madeline have grown this season. Remember the pilot with Madeline in that stupid wig crying about her illnesses? Everyone has had character development. Except Sam, who was always and will always be perfectly awesome (Bruce Campbell is my dayeenu every time).

So... there is a shadow organization who's recruitment method is to burn the best CIA agents and then force the agents to work for them. And the CIA has never noticed this? Or perhaps it is not coincidence that the FBI stopped following Michael around when he started meeting with Carla? Decoder rings and Cobra bases or no, seems like Homeland Security would at the very least be interested in dudes who fly around in helicopters full of SWAT teams in a major port city. Not to mention, exactly how many foreign spies can get into the country to kill Michael and why on earth would they know his real name?

As always, I only nitpick the shows I love, and I really love this show.

M.A.Peel said...

I echo all the above. A thrilling hour of television. I'm not usually a fan of action explosions, but Fi blowing up the parked cars was awesome.

I wondered if this episode was going to move their relationship along in any way. It didn't, which leaves more room for expansion next season. I realized in "Seek and Destroy" that one of the appeals for me is that Michael and Fi are the updated, modern spirits of John Steed and Emma Peel, something that I've posted about.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Maybe as a gentile I can't ever understand, but how did this not rate dayeenu (or however it's spelled)

Oh, this is a dayeenu episode if ever there was one, but I also don't want to overuse that particular gimmick, and I just invoked it last week.

(And it's a word in Hebrew, so any English spelling is approximate at best.)

marenamoo said...

Wow a back-to-back dayeenu show - Burn Notice Awesomeness!

Danny said...

I never thought USA would be a go to place for TV (syndication excluding). Burn Notice brought me in, but I also discovered Psych and Monk. Psych might be my new favorite show. Its interesting that cable is putting out better television then the networks are.

Anonymous said...

I think it was a great move to get away from the Karla / "who burned me" angle; it opens up a lot of opportunities for next season. I was eagerly anticipating the finale in part because it was filmed in a park/marina down the block from my house. They put flyers on everyone's door explaining that filming was going on and to expect gunshots or explosions throughout the day; asking please do not to call the police.

pdf said...

I guess I'm the only one whose big shock last night was "Hey! I thought John Mahoney was dead!"

Seriously, an awesome episode, awesome finale, and seconding everything everyone's said about how much this show has evolved and improved over time.

Jordan said...

Michael really has grown over the last two seasons. Season one Michael, being cold and calm would have wasted Victor and waltzed outside. It was a nice role reversal that had the hothead giving the logical, inevitable advice.

ksquard said...

I wanted the next season to start right away, I was that jazzed by this episode and the big, freaking potential the ending opened up.

So many things were good in this ep and so much of it has been mentioned already. I think the heart of this show is the characters and watching Sam refuse a beer and the importance of that bring home to Madeline the high level of threat was so dead on for these two characters. Then there was Fi's complete reversal of opinion on Victor as soon as she heard about his son, that blind spot she has for children popping up and softening her gun crazy side; good, good stuff.

This episode didn't stop for one second. Victor and Michael were such good foils for each other and the whip fast dialogue beautifully showcased that chemistry. Victor's death was heartbreaking and engaging, a more "there but for the grace of God go I" we couldn't have imagine. Michael's emotional cost has risen exponentially from where he was at the start and we're only the better for it. Excellent work from these guys.

Come quickly summer season!

Anonymous said...

Fi is my number one evidence for the old adage that the female is always the more dangerous of the species whenever the mate, home, or young ones are in danger.

Nancy said...

Just when I thought I couldn't love this show anymore...Michael jumps out of that helicopter.


I thought Tricia Helfer was underused in the character, but I cheered wildly when Fiona shot her. Finally, indeed. John Mahoney was just right as the big bad - hope we see more of him next season. Also need to give a shout out to Tim Mathieson (sp?)...his direction, in this particular one, was absolutely fantastic.

But hands down - Momma Weston and Sam with the X-mas tree light bombs, is as the kids say, made of WIN!

Plus, the cars on this show make me drool. Seriously, I get weak in the knees.

Anonymous said...

As cool as this episode was, I have to quibble about a few minor points:

It has already been mentioned that with all the talk about going after Michael's family, no one even brought up his brother. I really hope they find a way to get Sharon Gless more involved in the A-plots. That said, I loved the moment when she realized how serious the situation was because Sam turned down her offer of a beer.

In the beginning of the car chase, Michael pulls out brake fluid, duct tape and a salt shaker (or something like that) and suddenly it is a massive bomb. I realize that adding too much voice over would have slowed the scene down significantly, but without his explanations of some of this stuff, it feels a little miraculous and less grounded in reality. I think a lot of the stuff Michael pulls off would seem really far fetched on another show that doesn't have the narration. I think Michael even referred to the items he was adding to the brake fluid as "other stuff." It felt very "A-Team."

What happened to the spike strip? The SUV went over it, opening a hole in the line, but then when MIchael and Victor come bombing out in the sports car, it is gone.

I know those were minor points in an otherwise great episode, but I feel like someone on the internet needs to find something to complain about...

Also great to see Sam doing the same kind of McGyver stuff we usually only see MIchael do. It is easy to forget sometimes that he is well trained and experienced, too.

Jordan said...

Anonymous-as to your second point, before he even drove out I was like "The Corvette! Of course!" The stock tires on a vette can go 50 miles at 50mph with no air in them. While he probably should have explained this, it worked.

Jumada said...

Your comments are spot on, Alan. I really enjoyed the 1st season, but this season definitely elevated the awesome. It's better than most action movies I've seen, and that can't be easy to pull off.

Thanks for your recaps. This show doesn't seem to get as much attention on the internets as others and it's nice to see it getting some love here.

Hatfield said...

Man, I love this show, and this episode was bitchin, and I'll be sad until June. I really wish they could have kept Victor, who was interesting both as foil and comrade to Michael, but his death felt appropriate. Much like everyone else, I am excited about this new, potentially more dangerous world that Michael will have to face.

Alan, I know Mo Ryan did it last summer, but have you put any thought to interviewing Matt Nix now that he has a second season under his belt?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, I know Mo Ryan did it last summer, but have you put any thought to interviewing Matt Nix now that he has a second season under his belt?

Mo was pretty thorough, but maybe I'll give it a shot before next season begins.

Anonymous said...

Also a minor quibble in an excellent ep, but I did spend a couple seconds wondering where everyone else was. Was there no one else using the garage at that moment, or Madeline's street? If I start seeing guys with guns like that, I'm calling the cops pronto.

(I fan-wanked it as Fulcrum -- as I've decided the organization must be -- had set up police-esque roadblocks on the nearby streets, which probably would have deterred folks.)

My only other quibble -- I was really expecting something else snarky from the "type-over" after "Victor, client."

R.A. Porter said...

Re: people not calling the cops over the men with guns, maybe the bad guys just put up flyers saying they were going to be filming an action show in the area. ;)

Denis said...

Maybe it's my Maritime heritage, but I got a boot out of Michael Shanks pronunciation of organ-eye-zation. I expected him to follow it up with how he's going to try and improve his plus/minus.

Karen said...

That was 44 solid minutes of awesome. I didn't ever want it to end.

The Christmas light bombs were pretty freakin' amazing, but the moments that got me were Michael's pride in Fiona shining out when Victor exclaimed "Where did you meet HER?" after those fabulous car bombs; Michael and Fi's farewell, ending with a kiss and a slap; Madeline's determination to protect Michael and use her own skills to blend in; the shots of Michael rising up out of the sea, combined with some particularly well-written voiceover; and, most especially, Michael's final scene with Victor. It was beautifully played by them both, but Donovan's face afterwards was Emmy-worthy.

This show has truly risen from srength to strength; its actors have gotten stronger and stronger, and it has become absolute appointment television.

Alan, if you do end up having a conversation with Matt Nix, I hope you'll pass along to him our gratitude for his producing such a great show.

Rob Rogers said...

Loved the episode. I do wonder just what Michael is successfully doing for the "machine" that makes all the firepower and manpower worthwhile, but I guess we're not supposed to think about that too much. Great writing and acting, great emotional moments. Nice job overall.

Did anyone recognize the song they played at the end? I liked what I heard, but couldn't spot anything in the credits (and my TiVo didn't catch all the credits).

Jennifer said...

Hey Anon, they specifically do not tell *every* detail of how Michael does his MacGyvering, so the audience at home won't be able to effectively do it themselves.

Anyway, great episode all around!

Mo Ryan said...

Now begins the inevitable downfall of Burn Notice, because DAMN, I don't know how they can top that.

I kid. But I know have crazy expectations for next season, given how great this batch of episodes were.

What everyone else said. Fantastic stuff. Action, great plotting, great pacing, wonderful interplay between regular cast and guest players. And then on top of all of that, the tears in Michael's eyes after he shoots Victor. When Michael does show emotion -- as with Fi -- it's just so powerful.

AND Sam refused a beer! Dayeenu.

Mark said...

Great episode, and a fine finish to a really great 2nd season. They wrapped up the "who burned Michael" thread in a dramatically satisfying manner (and at about the right time in the show's progression; there was potential for this to become tiresome if they had continued to drag out the mystery for much longer).

The action sequences in this show are really well done. Although, the car chases do suffer from one of my personal pet peeves about "Hollywood car chases": the fact that the bad guys are always able to keep right on the tail of the good guys, no matter the disparity in the relative performance of the vehicles they are driving. In reality, an expert driver like Michael operating a high-performance vehicle like a Corvette should have been able to leave those Crown Victorias (or whatever pedestrian four-door sedans Carla's flunkies were driving) in the dust in fairly short order. (Another recent example of this phenomenon was in the film "Wanted", where Angelina Jolie's character, driving a Dodge Viper maniacally through downtown Chicago, was somehow unable to shake some baddies pursuing her in a stepvan. A *stepvan*, for chrissakes! There's just no freakin' way...)

The scene where Michael puts Victor down was one of the more emotional moments in the series, and was very really played by Donovan. As an aside, I think this marks the first time Michael has killed his own "client", doesn't it?

Gen said...

After hearing some online buzz about Burn Notice I decided to finally check it out. I think I've seen three episodes now, partly because of a marathon on USA.

I'm a fan of adventure, intrigue and capers on television, and the MacGyver-ish/A-Team elements of the show are a lot of fun, too (I wish more TV was like that!). What's keeping me from really getting into the show is Michael. I get that maybe he's supposed to be cold, that a spy wouldn't be in the habit of showing emotion, but still I'd like to catch glimpses of the human being that's in there, so I'd have some way of connecting with the character. During the finale, I ended up much more interested in Victor. The guy was alive, he was active, he reacted. Michael, hardly at all, except for that very unexpected moment at the end where he shed a couple tears for Victor's death.

In fairness, I haven't seen much of the show, and I know my opinions are based on a limited sample. But for right now, I'm on the fence. I might watch next season just for the story itself. Maybe the lead character will grow on me along the way.

Rob Rogers said...

And how long do we have to wait, anyway

Official site says June. Not too bad.

I finally dug up the origin of the song: "Time Bomb" by Jessy Greene.

marenamoo said...

To Mark,

On another site someone posted that after driving over spikes that a Corvettes tires are able to go 50 miles at 50mph without any air in them. That was not explained and maybe it just was one of those dramatic licenses anyway.

To Gen,

I think for most of us who are fans of the show that Michael's composure is part training, part childhood (which makes him effective anyway). The breaks in the composure are that much more moving.

In general, I have to say what a fine job Matt Nix has done with the development of the show. It is kind of like Chuck in that it progresses beyond the original premise in a very organic, natural way. Michael is slowly allowing a more human side to emerge - you can see it in his relationship with Fi and his mom. The idea of the Burn Notice has evolved from who to what now. And it has done it without cliches like Fi or his dad being the burn person. Well done and should be an example for other shows.

But what did the sunglasses mean?

M.A.Peel said...

marenamoo, I wondered the same thing. They made such a point of Michael taking off his glasses, and then holding on the shot after he jumped. Maybe Big Bad Burn Guy uses them to convince Fi that Michael is dead . . . THis show is SO much fun.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The sunglasses are the symbols of Michael's life as a spy. He's leaving them, and it, behind.

R.A. Porter said...

@Mark, I share your irritation with car chases where the class of car being driven doesn't matter, but in this case those were most likely Crown Vic interceptors which would be able to keep up with the 'Vette pretty well. Especially if, as some people have theorized, the 'Vette was on its runflats.

Personally, I thought the spike strip had been yanked out of the way by the SUV, letting Michael and Victor get out without tire damage to the 'Vette. Had they really been on blown runflats, they wouldn't have had much maneuverability.

dez said...

My question is this: Are we supposed to assume John Mahoney's character burned Michael?

The promos for this ep said Michael comes face to face with the person who burned him, so I'm assuming it was Mahoney, but as Victor said, it doesn't matter who burned him at this point.

I loved it when the caption identified Victor as The Client, and then I was so bummed when he died. Never would have thought I'd feel like that when the character was first introduced. I love the way this show upends my expectations! And like others hear, June can't come fast enough!

dez said...

^ Others "here," even, sheesh.

Mark said...

R.A.: yeah, it didn't look to me like the 'Vette had taken any tire damage either. And while Crown Vic interceptors might do a tad better, they'd still be no real match for a competently-driven Corvette, which has more than double the horsepower/torque, and an enormous advantage in handling/cornering/maneuverability. All it would take is for Michael to do a few unexpected/abrupt high-speed turns onto crossing streets and he'd lose those clumsy cop cars pretty quick.

The funny thing about this particular Hollywood car chase niggle is, if you want the sequence to be both believable and exciting, why bother to put your hero in such a vastly superior high-performance vehicle to begin with? Wouldn't the chase have been a lot more credible and suspenseful if the only vehicle Michael could get his hands on had been some crappy old pickup truck or something? Of course, I know the answer, a Corvette or a Viper is much sexier-looking on screen. Also, there are more than likely product placement monies to consider. Though, if you ask me, GM isn't doing the Corvette any favors by having it featured in a scene where it can't outrun a bunch of crappy-ass Ford sedans. :-)

Speaking of product placement, did anyone else find the little OnStar™ plug in this episode to be a bit jarring?

R.A. Porter said...

@Mark, I was struck by it for a second, until I realized it also closely echoed the season 1 finale when OnStar in Sam's Caddy was pre-loaded with the directions for Michael to follow to the truck on the causeway. I'm sure it was product placement, but it also felt more organic for having been used before. Sort of like all those dinners at Applebee's on FNL.

Mrglass said...


"We're not worthy!!!"

This is possibly the best hour of TV I've ever watched, only possibly matched by 'Three Stories' of 'House'.

That is all.

Boli-Nica said...

I aree it was a great ending. Nice to see Sharon Gless get thrown full into the mix.

Ultimately what really worked was the resolution of the storyline that has been built up these two seasons..."who burned Michael Weston?": It is an off-the-books government operation that "recruits" the best intelligence operatives by first of all "burning" them and then bringing them into the fold on a limited knowledge basis. So there is a paper trail that says they were kicked out of the CIA or whatever, making everything deniable. And they are indebted to the shadow agency thinking it saved them. And it is easy to go rogue. Really good shows like Heroes and Lost can get muddled and complicated - with spy stuff it can get out of hand. The writers of Burn Notice were really smart in making the solution to the Burn Notice question fairly simple. Of course it was diabolically hard to figure out. And it keeps the story human and dependent on the characters. Elegant and not entirely implausible.

Anonymous said...

To all the previous posters about the tire strip. I just rewatched the episode, and as one commenter said, the tire strip gets pulled out of the way by the suv. It wasn't nailed down to the street - just loose. The corvette has a clear exit.

That said, a truly excellent episode and cliff hanger. I really enjoy the show, and following up here afterwards for review and commentary.