Thursday, January 29, 2009

Burn Notice, "Hot Spot": Where's Wallace?

"Burn Notice" spoilers coming up just as soon as I get a few dozen phonebooks...
"There's an element of theater in any offensive campaign. It's not just about bullets and bodies. Killing people usually creates more problems than it solves. It's about undermining your enemy's will to fight -- destroying the morale of his troops. Sending the message that fighting back is useless, because the battle is already lost." -Michael
I'm usually a big fan of Entertainment Weekly's TV coverage, but today's blog entry by lead critic Ken Tucker is the second time in a couple of weeks that someone from that magazine has complained about the current state of "Burn Notice," the gist of which is that they don't like Carla, or the mythology around the burn notice, or Michael and Fi's relationship, and would like the show to get back to focusing more on Michael, Fi and Sam using their international skills at the local level.

Now, I don't know if either of those pieces were written just off of last week's episode (which I clearly liked more than them) or if they had also seen "Hot Spot," but I'm having a hard time seeing the merit of those complaints after this one.

After never really caring one way or the other about the state of the Michael/Fi romance, the sight of a rain-drenched Michael discovering that Fiona was alive and realizing how much he cared for her -- and Fi, upon seeing that look on his face, realizing she felt the same way about him -- I'm fully on board this 'ship. Call it corny or cliche or whatever, but Jeffrey Donovan and, especially, Gabrielle Anwar, sold the hell out of it. "Burn Notice" is about a man who usually denies his own emotions, because it's the only way he can function in his chosen profession. But these moments the last two weeks where Michael has let his feelings show (anger last week, love tonight) have only enhanced the character, in my opinion, rather than taking away his mystique. If you don't occasionally see glimpses of what he's trying to hold inside, you can't appreciate what an effort that is, for both character and actor. And, for the purposes of this show, Michael and Fi are kind of a perfect couple -- they already work together, they share loads of common interests (guns, explosives, wetwork) and aren't really into the mushy stuff -- who won't get in the way of the storytelling most of the time.

(Mo Ryan, who usually can't stand Fiona, e-mailed me after watching the episode with an ode to Fi that included the line, "Who knew I'd end up not only not detesting her, but liking what she adds to the show?")

And while it doesn't feel like the Carla arc has really gone anywhere in a while, even with the introduction of this mysterious third party, I just love watching Donovan and Tricia Helfer circle each other, each one convinced they're the shark and the other one's the chum. There's this wonderful flirtatious vibe to their scenes together, where it's hard to separate what's real (Donovan and Helfer are both attractive physical specimens, Michael and Carla both clearly admire the other one's skills) and what's an attempt to get over on the other. I'm sure in both their heads, they're completely winning this particular mind game, when in fact it's a complete stalemate.

And even with all the arc stuff going on, and the obligatory Super Bowl synergy cameo by Michael Irvin, the episode still managed to tell another entertaining "Burn Notice" case of the week, which was extra cool for pitting Michael B. Jordan (aka Wallace from "The Wire" season one) vs. Sticky Fingaz (aka Kern from "The Shield"). The slo-mo montage of Michael, Sam and Fi suiting up to get into character as rival car thieves filled my heart with Barney Stinson levels of joy, and the guide to bullet-proofing a car was one of the better lessons in hardware store espionage we've gotten in a while.

If there was one thing I found disappointing, it was that Michael's psychological terror campaign got derailed by the arrival of Felix's boss. It provided an easier solution for the problem, but I would have liked to see Michael continue to step it up on Felix, and maybe to also show what happens when the spy mentality (cold, calculating, all business) goes up against the street gangster mentality (where reputation trumps common sense or dollar figures).

But come on: Michael dropped a coffee can full of thermite on top of Felix's engine block. That in and of itself should qualify for my dayeenu rule.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I am noticing that Carla looks scared. I think her threats towards Michael are a lot of hot air. I loved the repeat cell phone dialing. And the one at the end made me very nervous. Does Carla have Fi? I wouldn't mind a little more Madeline. But an abundance of strong characters is a good problem for a show runner to have.

Anonymous said...

I agree, in that Carla is looking scared. Great episode overall. The three of them, Michael, Sam and Fi, work so well together, as characters and as actors. Love the Sam Ax promos!

Anonymous said...

This show is like the anti-Lost. I can turn it on and turn my brain off.

I loved the Resevoir Dogs hat tip(s) in this one.

Anonymous said...

Yay Wallace!!!

I'll agree that I'm not really into the Carla storyline, but I think that has more to do with how the show is developing. For the first season Michael kept meeting new people connected to his burn notice, so the story seemed fresh even though Michael wasn't necessarily getting closer to figuring things out. Now things seem to be stuck on Carla. I'm sure they're trying to build this up to something (as evidenced by everyone noting Carla looked scared tonight), but it's hard to really see the big payoff right now.

Oh, and I agree that I've flipped on Fi, too, and actually like her this season and thought the two of them getting together tonight made sense.

Anonymous said...

wait a second. EW wasn't writing or profiling "Twilight"??

R.A. Porter said...

I loved this one, and agree with the other commenters that Carla's scared. She knows if she doesn't clean up the mess with the Mad Midnight Bomber What Bombs at Midnight, her bosses are going to hold her accountable. It might be even worse, because I suspect she let slip a little truth to Michael about how they feel he's too much trouble. I think in effect she's *vouched* for Michael. That can't end well for Carla.

I was really happy to see Homer make a return as the security tech in the opening, but I *loved* seeing all three members of the team work an op head-on and together on screen. I don't believe they've ever done that before.

As for the 'shipping, I've always liked Fi and like the tension between her and Michael. Together or teasing at being together, I think Donovan and Anwar have great chemistry.

But the biggest emotional moment for me was much smaller than the rain-soaked kiss. It was Madeline with the kids. For two years, we've seen Madeline go to a lot of effort to pretend Michael and Nate had a happy, normal childhood. She knows the truth but has trouble admitting it, and never admits it to strangers. But she did tonight to show Corey and Tanya that theirs isn't the only dysfunctional family. She also got to show her maternal pride in her son, standing up for his little brother like that.

More of my thoughts in my review here.

Mapeel said...

The New York winter gets colder and colder as this show gets hotter and hotter. What a treat. Fi shows Michael how to connect to the cases they take, instead of it all being so sterile. Their feelings for each other are entirely believable.

Seeing where the Carla thing goes is so secondary for me to the COTW.

Unknown said...

I was really happy to see the way they handled the admission of Michael and Fi getting back together. There was this sense that it was happening and all the ways i was thinking of it happening would have drawn a sigh because they all felt so cliche. But, this wasn't telegraphed much (her bravado did seem a little more than usual before she went in the house)and it just played out real, because as much as you KNOW she isn't off the show they kept some good suspense. I expected her to be in his car as he drove away. Then the city montage just kept the "what happened?" hanging just enough.

Anonymous said...

Michael B. Jordan (aka Wallace from "The Wire" season one)

a.k.a. Reggie from "All My Children" :-)

@R.A. Porter--love The Tick ref!

Add me to the list of viewers who thought Carla was looking scared. I wonder when and how Michael will use that to his advantage.

Th sadness in Michael's body language when he came home soaking wet almost had me doubting my conviction that Fi survived the fire--Donovan really sold that moment.

Lurved when Sam said something like, "Did I forget to mention that it would hurt like hell?" when talking about the bean bag bullets. Bruce Campbell continues to rock as Sam. Can't believe EW doesn't get this show.

Duncan Carson said...

99% of the comments on Mr. Tucker's blog entry disagree with his assessment as well.

How could Burn Notice lose its mojo? As long as there's a case, quirky subtitles, wisecracks, and Jeffrey Donavan's assured instructions on how to be a spy I'm all set.

The necessary drawn-out nature to the larger story was a little aggravating (mostly in that they pulled a classic shot-just-before-sharing-vital-info move with the great Richard Schiff), but if it ends, the show ends- it is called "Burn Notice" after all. So I'm happy if each season Michael just moves up one level in the hierarchy each season and gets a new nemesis.

Dan Jameson said...

My typical morning routine at work is breakfast, ESPN, then What's Alan Watching. Today I had to swap ESPN and this blog b/c I wanted to see if I was right about "Where's Wallace?" being in the headline.

Mission accomplished. Well done, Alan. I love this show and I think it's in the perfect time slot. 10pm Thursday night when you are unwinding from a long week and Friday is finally upon us.

The Michael/Fi scene was great; no words needed.

Anonymous said...

Alan, have the writers ever explained where they get their "spy" info? I can't imagine they have former spies acting as consultants to the show, then again, I can't believe they'd just make stuff up from their own imaginations. There has to be some technical advise for all their cellphone gadgets and uses of telephone books, right? Or am I just too gullible and none of this stuff comes close to working in the real world?

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed this episode. Plenty of humor as always. Someone mentioned Sam's "Did I mention it would hurt like hell?" line. I was more partial to Fi's "Put this on and hop in the trunk". And remember, "Bulletproof glass is not something you skimp on".

I'm curious why Fi has become more passionate about the COTW these last 2 episodes. Is it a soft spot for kids or something more going on? And I like seeing Madeline showing her maternal side as the de facto safe house.

I don't know what EW's complaining about. I'm enjoying the show as much as ever. Can't wait 'til next week.

R.A. Porter said...

@anon 9:15am - Read this interview with Matt Nix where he talks quite a bit about consulting producer Michael Wilson who apparently does have a background in covert intelligence/security.

Mrglass said...

wait a second. EW wasn't writing or profiling "Twilight"??

Heh. Or another puff piece about the "hit" Gossip Girl.

Anyway, I agree with everything Alan said. This show makes me feel like I'm watching Magnum, PI (as a kid, not today, it was my favorite show). It is just a gift for viewers, every week.

Boricua in Texas said...

It is just a gift for viewers,
very week.

I agree. I always, always look forward to this show. It is fun, smart, well-acted and does not take itself too seriously. I like the way the story is going and don't think it's stale at all.

Hatfield said...

I will go ahead and 17th the sentiments posted above--that EW guy is nuts!

I've really enjoyed the slightly darker tone to these past two because it's added depth to the characters and allowed them all some emotions that they usually conceal under their badass outer images. While there was no way Fi was dead, that whole last part was still tense and emotional, and made the payoff even better.

One quibble with your review, though: the italicized lines should have been,

"You'll have a lot of trouble if you stay here. Plus, your place is on fire."

I mean, how awesome was that??

Anonymous said...

Thermite is surprisingly easy to make. And this video invokes Alan's dayeenu rule.

If the guys in the video had only melted thermite through the engine block, dayeenu. If the guys in the video had only melted thermite through the engine block and then blew up a French car by melting thermite through the gas tank, dayeenu.

I hope I got that dayeenu thing right, as a recovering Irish-Catholic this concept is pretty new to me.

Anonymous said...

Could someone please explain the dayeenu rule? I read that link that Alan gave to when he created the rule, but I didn't really follow what was going on. Laymans terms anyone?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Could someone please explain the dayeenu rule?

As simply as possible, it means that if the episode had contained nothing but the thermite coffee can gag, it would have been enough to make me happy. That it contained that and so many other things invokes the rule and suggests something jam-packed with things that would all be awesome on their own.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious why Fi has become more passionate about the COTW these last 2 episodes. Is it a soft spot for kids or something more going on?

I think we're finally seeing something pointing to Fi's distant past. Her reaction to Tanya's attack makes me think perhaps Fi was attacked when she was young, or otherwise abused (or someone close to her suffered and she took it very personally). I hope we're not going to find out she was raped, but that's what I thought had happened to her, given her violent reaction to Tanya's attack.

Anonymous said...

Holy shit that was Wallace??

justjoan123 said...

Not to tout the competition, Alan, but here's a link to a dandy piece on Fi from the NY Times: