Thursday, June 11, 2009

Burn Notice, "Question and Answer": Nightmare on Michael's street

Spoilers for tonight's "Burn Notice" coming up just as soon as I snort lactose...
"Loving Michael is always trench warfare." -Madeline
"Question and Answer" continues to get good mileage out of Michael being a man without a country, or a protector, by introducing Moon Bloodgood as Detective Paxson, aka "Michael's worst nightmare." She's very much in the mold of Carla from last year -- gorgeous actress, knowing more about Michael than he wants her to know, and frequently getting in the way of his jobs -- and while I don't think Bloodgood's nearly as good an actress as Tricia Helfer, I like the way they're using the character so far. We've talked so much in the past about why the cops never seem interested in this guy who's been blowing up half of Miami -- now, thanks to Management cutting its strings, we have a cop all up in Michael's business.

Still, the heart of "Burn Notice" is and should be the episodic missions, and we got a very good one here. The kidnapping case gave all the characters some nice moments -- I was particularly amused by Fi helping the mom meditate by feeding her a fantasy about killing the kidnappers ("You're taking a rock from the stream...") -- and Michael and Sam's reverse interrogation scam was a great two-hander by Jeffrey Donovan and Bruce Campbell. The junkie snitch ID was one of Donovan's better cover performances to date, and Campbell had fun playing dirty cop. And, as Matt Nix said in our interview, "there probably aren't other TV shows where the two main characters are beating the crap out of each other for the benefit of the bad guy." It does end, once again, with the bad guys being tricked into killing each other, which Nix said he was going to try to do less of this year, but it felt less like a solution to the problem (Michael had already grabbed the kid by then) than a public service, so I was okay with it.

I also continue to love what they're doing with Madeline. By making Sam her temporary roommate (which also gives us the delightful image of Sam talking to his borrowed car) on the heels of him blowing up her sun room at the end of last season, the writers have knocked down most of the remaining barriers between Michael's mom and his work life, and it's fun to watch a Madeline who knows pretty much everything.

Good stuff all around, and this wasn't even the best of the three episodes USA sent out for review. (That would be next week.)

What did everybody else think?


Jordan said...

Bruce Campbell was all kinds of awesome in that episode. Also, did I catch a Shemp in there?

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to next week's ep. There were small highlights throughout and it's nice to see Moon Bloodgood on tv again, but I was kind of bored by the kidnapper plot this time. I did enjoy watching the first two seasons throughout last week and finally catching up with the show.

Alyson said...

I have little use for Moon Bloodgood (I think Jennifer Esposito would have been far more interesting in this part, as they originally intended) so I am glad that her presence was minimal.

Bruce Campbell just seems to be having so much damned fun doing this show, it's hard not to have a good time watching him.

Mapeel said...

Never underestimate the tactical importance of tv in urban warfare. Words to live by.

Unknown said...

Great recap, Alan. You did such a good job whetting my appetite for next week's ep (Seriously?! Better than this one?) that I'm currently waiting out the rebroadcast because TiVo cut off the original before the trailer. My only quibble is that I believe Sam is actually rooming with Madeline's neighbor, the owner of said borrowed car. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Anyway, off to snort some lactose while trolling E-Bay for WWI bayonets. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer Esposito? really? ooo...she would have been good...(girl crush on her since Spin City).

I loved tonight's episode because it validated all the claims i made to friends who watched it with me tonight.

Steve Ely said...

You know, Alan, given that you're the actual TV critic, I sincerely believe your judgment of acting ability is better than mine, but I still can't help thinking Moon Bloodgood isn't such a drop-off from Tricia Helfer. I really liked her work in Day Break, and she wasn't all that bad in Journeyman either. (It's no good bringing up Terminator Salvation; Christian Bale needs to redeem himself after that, too.)

And I don't dislike Jennifer Esposito, Alyson, but she definitely doesn't seem to me a better actress than Moon Bloodgood. Especially not as a character with whom we can sympathize even while we sympathizing with her adversary, our beloved protagonist. I hope Paxson takes a backseat to the episodic missions 80% of the time, but I find her much better for creating the interesting tension of two sympathetic adversaries than Jennifer Esposito would be.

I need for any story to set up Esposito as being on the side of the protagonist. You pit Esposito against our guy, and I'd just want to see her defeated. Within one or two episodes would be fine.

So I'm pretty happy with the casting as is. Speaking of which, Jeffery Donovan is really a genius.

And I'm really having a hard time imagining how the third episode could be better than tonight's. My expectations are really elevated.

fgmerchant said...

I love Moon Bloodgood's name. It's just made up of three words, moon, blood, and good!

I'm not sure I like that they make the bad guys kill each other off all the time, but I guess that is the best route if they don't want these guys to retaliate in later episodes.

I love that little tidbit about snorting lactose! Is that a common substitute that is used in TV and movies for cocaine?

Sara Ann said...

Count me in the "disappointed with Bloodgood" camp; her performance was all flirt, no menace. She was a lot tougher in Terminator 4, so let's hope she grows into this role.

Come to think of it, I wasn't really feeling the menace from the kidnapper, either. Act 1, he's all smart and cagey; by Act 3, there's nothing he won't swallow. It was a nice wrap-up, though.

R.A. Porter said...

I too was disappointed when Esposito dropped out and Bloodgood took over the role of Paxson, but I've been pleasantly surprised by her here. I've seen her in both this week's and next week's episodes (Alan is *so* right about next week rocking hard) and I think she's doing some interesting things.

@Sara Ann, maybe it's just me, but the *way* Bloodgood is flirting is menacing. She strikes me like a preying mantis, just toying with Michael until he finally succumbs to her charms.

Oddly enough, the way she behaves reminds me of Pixley on Sports Night - her second appearance, not her first.

More of my thoughts here.

bsangs said...

As much as I enjoy BN, in the future, spare us the political commentary and proselytizing about torture. Please? I can't be the only one that that thought those 10 seconds were uncomfortably shoehorned into the script. Talk about a sore thumb.

Firstly, Mike and Sam have tortured before - with positive results. So we don't need Michael telling us it doesn't work.

More importantly it's BN, not West Wing or some other social commentary vehicle. Stick to what Michael, Sam and Fi do best -- corral the bad guys, exchange witty banter and blow stuff up.

Otherwise, a lot of fun. Though that Bloodgood woman doesn't have a very good track record when it comes to serialized TV does she? Or movies for that matter. Hope she doesn't pull a Ted McGinley here.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Several points on the torture question:

1)Michael's position on this has been fairly consistent throughout the series, and when he "tortures" someone, it's usually a bit of psi-ops (pretending to drop one guy out a window to get his partner to talk) rather than inflicting physical violence on his target.

2)Him having this position, regardless of your political beliefs or beliefs in the efficacy of torture, helps set him apart from other TV action types like Jack Bauer or Sipowicz, who have no problem using physical force or worse to get the info they need.

3)Is a throwaway line or three early in an episode really more preachy than an entire season of 24 devoted to justifying Jack's own penchant for torture?

Grunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grunt said...

My problem with Moon Bloodgood wasn't her acting (for that part it was fine...just fine) but the writing for her was so bad. I mean, I'm serious, "I'm your worst nightmare." Really? Because I'm pretty sure his worst nightmare has something to do with Madeline and Fi getting together and planning a secret wedding which he can not, for some reason, get out of. And then they would live with Madeline. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's where the night terrors would come from.

It's just such a trite and overused phrase. One of the nice things about Tricia Helfer's character is that there was a little nuance written in that character. Now I think it helps that Ms. Helfer is an excellent actress, but seriously..."I'm your worst nightmare..." really? I don't even think she could have pulled off that.

Normally I love this show but that just seemed lazy writing to me.

Jordan said...

On torture, there was also the episode early on with patchy from lost, where they didn't torture him, but faked it up so it looked like sam was torturing mike. That's actually what I've really liked about this show, that mike prefers the idea of violence to violence itself, that a spy doesn't get very far blasting and shooting and torturing.

dez said...

(It's no good bringing up Terminator Salvation; Christian Bale needs to redeem himself after that, too.)

As that's my only exposure to Ms. Bloodgood, that's where my opinion formed, and she and her shiny teeth do nothing for me. Bale was fine, I thought--John Connor should be an intense mo-fo at that point.

Anyway, I don't like her as Michael's latest adversary--the sexual tension seems forced because she can't pull it off. If they try to do a triangle with her, Michael and Fi, I will plotz.

The torture line cracked me up. God knows I love it when Jack Bauer goes all nuts on a suspect, but I prefer Michael to keep his cool Michael spy approach. Leave the torture to Bauer.

@Jordan, I think Mike's junkie name was Shep. I kept hoping for a Fake Shemp, too :-) Although since Sam didn't put Bruce in "Drag Me to Hell" (not that I saw, anyway), he probably doesn't deserve the shout-out ;-p

I enjoyed this ep thoroughly and can't hardly wait until the next one!

olucy said...

I've never seen Bloodgood in anything, so I have no frame of reference. Which made it harder to put my finger on why she kinda bugged. But I think Grunt put it best -- it's the writing, specifically "I'm your worst nightmare." Because she's pretty low key for someone's worst nightmare. I can buy her as a nemesis in that she's just not going to leave Michael alone, but they need to really avoid weak lines for her.

Somehow, the fact that Sam is Maddie's temp roommate escaped me. Why would he be living with her? Because her safety is compromised due to the hole in her house and he's responsible for that? Guess I'll have to go back and watch ep. 1. I didn't think he was living with her neighbor, though, only "dating" her.

Henry said...

I don't remember much about the episode (which doesn't mean I didn't like it; it was just a late night), but I think my favorite moment this time was after Sam shoots the gun into the ground. He stands there and marvels at how the bad guys kill each other. Oh, and it was smart of the director not to show the scene with the bad guys and stay with Sam. Sam's face there was just hilarious to me! And I agree that Mike's snitch cover was very good. I thought for a moment he was gonna get sliced and diced and shot by the bad guy and I loved how Sam kept having to save him.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Somehow, the fact that Sam is Maddie's temp roommate escaped me. Why would he be living with her?

He's stuck there until the place is fixed, because she blames him for blowing it up in the first place.

Brandy said...

I have no beef with Moon Bloodgood but it's largely because she gives me the opportunity to type the name Moon Bloodgood. It's the simple pleasures.

I have a theory that most people's favorite letter is the first letter of their first name... but I'm guessing it's o for her.

I liked but didn't love this episode... but snorting lactose and the bayonet birthday gift were classic.

And I love Sharon Gless on this show. I love Madeline. I think she is such a great character but everytime (er... both?) times she's cooked all I can think is "ummm... it's so.... Ashy!".

Otto Man said...

I thought the torture comment was fine -- especially since it jibes with what interrogation experts tell us, and thus is another example that Michael knows what he's talking about.

The best moment was Sam breaking the stalemated Mexican standoff at the end by firing his gun like a starter's pistol.

Alyson said...

Count me in the "disappointed with Bloodgood" camp; her performance was all flirt, no menace. She was a lot tougher in Terminator 4, so let's hope she grows into this role.

Ding ding ding! She doesn't project seriousness, or all that much intelligence, either. Part of the problem is that clearly the character is being yanked around by the mysterious "Management" - you know all this info on Mike's activities dropped in her lap. (as an aside, I didn't particularly like her in Terminator either, but that's because I disliked the entire Marcus plot. ahem.)

@Steve - I didn't say Jennifer Esposito is a better actress, just that she would have been more interesting. Also, I don't particularly want to sympathize with Detective Paxson - again, she's being yanked around by forces she is (as far as we know, at least) completely oblivious to, and even though she's a cop, she's still Mike, Fi and Sam's adversary. She doesn't even come across as someone who is truly up to the challenge of taking on our intrepid threesome.

Steve Ely said...

A couple people have suggested Paxson is being jerked around by John Mahoney's Management outfit. I don't see it. The police were sort of being jerked around by them before by way of Michael being hidden from the cops. It looks more to me like an example now of an alert detective connecting the dots now that no one's preventing that. After all, Michael and company are connected in one way or another to a whole lot of crimes and/or apparent crimes.

I agree the "worst nightmare" line was cheesy and didn't help.

Whether Paxson is a worthy adversary has yet to be shown, but if she is, I still think it's more interesting that she also be likable and with motives we can respect than be someone unlikable. Based on other shows, I find Bloodgood better-suited to my tastes for that purpose than Esposito, but others' tastes will vary, of course.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Grunt and others. Lines like "I'm your worst nightmare" - not good. Also, Mike is smart, his enemies are smart in their own way. If I'm a cop and Mike pops up on the radar, I'm not going to literally drive up to his front door and announce my presence. That's not smart. I put that down to the writing.

But I like the fact that she's right. Mike's broken a lot of laws. Blowing up cars on the street is not a good thing. It's illegal for a reason and having an honest cop doing the right thing puts Mike and company into a difficult situation. He can't blow up cop cars, or assault cops for moral and practical reasons.

But writing her character as dumb, yet showing her doing her due diligence by checking all the storage outfits is contradictory. Her announcement tipped Mike off, which allowed him to act. If she kept her mouth shut, she could have caught him.

As for the actress, I have no problem with her. She didn't pop off the screen, but she didn't make me question the producers. I always give actors who are fine the benefit of the doubt.

Karl Ruben said...

#Bloodgood/bad: Watching the episode, I didn't have any qualms about her performance, and I agree with the commenters laying (some of) the blame for any shortcomings on the writing - the part on the page seems one-dimensional and stereotypical. However, I do think another actress could have done more with the scraps given; for instance, imagine the character played bored and annoyed instead of aggressive and flirtatious. I do understand the desire to introduce a character to create a potential love triangle with Fiona and Michael, but I wish they would have gone another route with this.

That said, those complaints aside, the police plot added tension to an episode already brimming with it. If next week's show is going to be even better than this, my head's going to explode. Burn Notice has definitely transitioned from disposable entertainment to essential viewing over the last season and a half.

David said...

Paxon/Bloodgood reminds me of the detective in the first season on "Angel" played by Elizabeth Röhm. Just totally flat delivery. And, like many, that "worst nightmare" line was simply awful, but still....

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'll forgive "I'm your worst nightmare" only because it immediately led to another chyron joke.

vicksterz said...

Fi is one of very few women who can make wearing a shorts jumpsuit and "fanny pack" look way cool. Gabrielle Anwar rocks!

Unknown said...

Not to pile on, but... I was really unhappy with the casting of Moon Bloodgood. I couldn't think anything but "LA actress" during all her scenes. It was distracting. Exactly the same problem as I had with Dina Meyer last season as Michael's ex-fiancee.

Greg said...

This has nothing to do with politics, just a question about the shows view on torture:

If beating someone up can lead to bad info as the victim is liable to say anything, shouldn't the same be true about making them think you're about to throw them out a window?

Unknown said...

I actually like Moon Bloodgood (not just for her name), but she sure didn't get much to do in this one, and she certainly didn't live up to "worst nightmare", chyron joke or no. If someone tells me they're Michael's worst nightmare (and as someone else said, that's probably getting married and moving in with Mom!), I want to see them be able to outsmart him at every turn like some others have occasionally done. THAT would be bad enough to justify the horror. Well, I hope that improves in the next episode.

Otherwise, pretty good. Adored Fi's meditation moment.