Thursday, August 06, 2009

Burn Notice, "Long Way Back": You can't go home again

Spoilers for the "Burn Notice" summer finale coming up just as soon as I steal all your screws...
"You're still the same person." -Michael
"No, I'm not. Who I am now is so much to do with what I've done here." -Fiona
As we've come to the end of the first half (give or take) of "Burn Notice" season three, I think we should take stock on the season as a whole as much as "Long Way Back," which on its own lived up to the show's standard for tense, emotional, action-packed finales.

By taking away Michael's "protection" at the same time that Michael gained the ability to try to reclaim his job, I wonder if Matt Nix has bitten off more than he can chew in one season. There have been a lot of great individual episodes (like this one), but it feels like the overall story arc is trying to do too much at once, and is therefore not doing anything quite as well as it should. When Michael tells Fi in this episode that one of the reasons he wants to get back in is to make his friends and family safer, it reminded me that we've only seen a couple of examples of Michael's old enemies coming after him. We spent a while on the idea of the police suddenly gaining awareness of his activities, but that was hampered by the casting of Moon Bloodgood (and/or poor writing for the character of Paxson), and then we moved more actively into Michael trying to get back into the CIA.

In hindsight, I think we might have been better off with this entire first half of the season devoted to the headaches that came with Management's exit, leading up to a moment in this episode where Michael decides it's time to get his old job back already. And at that point, we could have met Strickler, Diego, etc., and focused entirely on that in the season's second half.

That said, they've been doing some good things in these last few episodes, particularly with Michael's estrangement with Fi. Other than the one exchange quoted above, I don't think "Long Way Back" was too overt in spelling out the parallels between Fi's situation and Michael's, but it was there if you wanted to see it amidst all the shoot-outs and explosions and fake brogues. (Note the brief return of Fiona's accent from the pilot when she was yelling at Michael and her brother.) Great work from both Donovan and Anwar tonight, and even in the midst of the comedy about Miss Reynolds' car, Bruce Campbell got the nice moment where Sam admitted that he'd lay down his life for Fi if he had to.

And seeing Michael cold-bloodedly blow away Strickler -- trading his potential ticket back for a chance to save Fiona -- was very satisfying, and moreso because Nix for the most part tries to avoid having Michael kill the bad guys to solve his problems.

So while I haven't been thrilled by everything so far this season, there's still enough uniquely "Burn Notice"-y goodness that I'm going to just look at it as a case of being a little too ambitious, and I'm eager to see the remaining episodes when the show comes back in early 2010.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

What has always irked me about this show is the great lengths it takes to ensure that its protagonists always have the moral high ground. Michael and Sam and Fi are trained spies; they have killed in the field and lied and cheated and done God knows what in the service of their agenda. But now that they run a mom and pop detective agency, they abandon that? Here, Michael was enraged at what happened to fee, but he would rather frame the bad guy than simply off him in the fusillade or blow up the boat with the bomb? He kills Strickler only because he is forced to by the circumstances, not because he wants to? He is a bad-ass spy, but he can't leave Miami? It looks like the show is back to the status quo now save for the fact that we will have a new mystery bad guy replacing the old mystery bad guys. I would have liked to see some arcs that take the characters somewhere; it appears that we'll get back to the mystery of the week and the slow building arc to determine who the bad guy is next season and what Michael can do in a season to replace the next season's bad guy with whoever it will be after that.

WWWeaves said...

This is officially my favorite show. Now that Reese and Crews have retired. Thank goodness no cliffhanger. Mike and Fi are still themselves. Maddie is just the bomb. I love that they have let her character grow. Michael takes killing people seriously. I appreciate that about him. I'm bumbed about Diego. He didn't deserve it, and it leaves us all out in the cold next season. I think hell may be about to rain down.
This was a seriously good episode.

Otto Man said...

Here, Michael was enraged at what happened to fee, but he would rather frame the bad guy

I took it that he'd killed Strickler in the heat of it, and now needed to frame someone for his murder.

WWWeaves said...

No, no, no. Strickler sold out the woman Michael isn't good at talking to, and tried to make him complicit in it. Strickler claimed to be helping Michael by sending Fi to her death. He had to go DOWN. O'Neil was their standard issue job. Frame/manipulate the bad guy into the hands of law enforcement for the punishement they have already earned.

Mapeel said...

I agree that the larger story arc is off. Just the fact that John Mahoney didn't make an appearance again as the Management is wrong.

But the character development of the 3 friends is so good that it doesn't matter. I love that they brought in Fi's past, which is equally deep and complicated as Michael's. Another reason they are so beautifully suited to each other.

Small point, I'm waiting for the matching daggers that Seymour gave them to come into play.

greentara said...

Loved it. It's rare that I just sit back and forget to criticize something. I'm in for this ride. Mrs. Reynold's car was by far the most brutal thing Michael did this season, that far outstrips the Strickler shooting.

Holly Martins said...

I liked this episode, but I think "Burn Notice" is at its best when Michael has a worthy opponent, and so I wish they'd made Strickler a little smarter. What has Michael EVER done to suggest that he'd just wait around for an hour while his girlfriend was murdered? I wish Strickler, this supposedly very bright well-connected guy who knows how to play very tough people, had had a better and more interesting plan.

Not trying to rag on the show, though - it's always a good fun ride and I'll miss it while it's gone. I nitpick because I care...

dez said...

Every time I saw Paul Blackthorne, I kept thinking, "It's Sahhhnders!" Ah, the good ol' days of "24"!

I loved this ep and while I'm bummed we won't get a bit more Diego and Strickler, I like the direction it's going. Should have known Stickler wasn't connected in a way that was truly beneficial to Michael. Makes me wonder what the connection to the Somali warlord is, too.

LOVED the freeze-frame of Sam's kick after Michael apologized about the Buick. And I always knew Sam had a soft spot for Fi :-)

When does this show come back? I hate waiting for my "Burn Notice"! (I also hate that even when you're on the West Coast, you still got to see this before I did, hee hee!)

Dan W. said...

Diego's arc (now that it is over) left something to be desired. I was looking forward to more from him in season 3 part 2 as the episode came to close, but splat.

Is Brennan officially the only smart adversary Westen's had?

LyddieGal said...

I enjoyed this mid finally a lot, it had many elements to echo past finales, Michael destroying Sam's lady friend's car, Michael killing someone, and the bad guy being very satisfyingly taken out.

I love Fiona for her willingness to leave Michale. whether he was listening or not, all season she made it very clear to him that she was only interested in this Michael and not spy Michael. and i'd been angry with him as well, for bending to Strickers slime ball promises.

It was cute how upset Michael was getting over the idea of his mother moving.

Loved Fiona stating that she was not a client, to then be declared 'the client'

I say, let the new secret bad guys come. let them a mystery until the last episode. i dont care - bad guys aren't what make Burn Notice great, it's Michale, Fi, Sam, and Maddie, being clever, badass, and hilarious.

Matt said...

Between Harlan, Brennan, and Paxson, I think they gave us enough permutations of the various people that would be after somebody like Michael if he was out in the open. I wouldn't want to watch nine episodes of Michael being hunted by somebody he crossed in Bolivia/Turkmenistan/Argentina/etc.Not only because it would be repetitive, but because the show is at its best when it's able to keep a balance between dark and light.

And even though this episode was 85% dark, I thought it was really fantastic - they've spent the whole year (or arguably the series) on getting Michael to the point where he's comfortable with his set-up and the people in his life (including his estranged Mother), and then made him realize how much he needed them.

I really liked Ben Shenkman, so it was sad to see Strickler get it (and especially sad that it was in a particular quick and easy fashion), but the ending left me feeling the same way I felt at the Season 2 finale: they've opened up a completely new chapter, as well as the foundation for new episodes/stories, that's makes me not wait till the next story block.

Anonymous said...

I wish some things were played out a little longer.
sad to see the diego character die because i would have really like to develop his relationship with michael, and also get more insight on the "getting back in" hierarchy.

wish we saw michael and sam struggle without fi for a few episodes.

but the strickler death was satisfying!!!

Anonymous said...

Remind me: Is Fiona former IRA? I find that hard to reconcile with her purported disdain for all these other bad guys and terrorists.

Alyson said...

When does this show come back? I hate waiting for my "Burn Notice"! (I also hate that even when you're on the West Coast, you still got to see this before I did, hee hee!)
January - USA did the same thing last year, but the season started later and overlapped with the US Open, so the break is going to be longer this season.

Sarah said...

I almost never comment, but after last night's episode I had to.

Although I agree that it seems as if the season on a whole struggled to find an arc, this last ep made up for it entirely.

When Michael shot Strickler, I actually shrieked - BN has always gone to such pains to show that Michael wins by smarts that when he resorts to killing, you know it's emotional. And Jeffrey Donovan blew me away with his portrayl of desperation after Fi was kidnapped. For a character who tends to show little emotion, this was an amazing glimpse into what is really rolling around inside Michael Westen.

As far as Strickler being stupid to kidnap Fi, I think it was less stupidity and more arrogance. He believed he could do whatever he wanted to/with Michael because Michael was so desperate to be back in the game. And maybe in Season 1 that would have been true, but this last (half) season especially, we've seen Michael slowly put roots down in Miami to the point that he would kill Strickler and lose his chance to get back in the game rather than lose Fi.

Overall, the best of BN on display - humor, excitment, suspense, drama... can't wait til next winter!!

Steph said...

Have to disagree about the overall story arc. They can't throw everything at us too fast, especially with this show destined to go another four or five seasons. I definitely think they're moving at the right pace for the time being.

I love that as the episode closed, Michael's only two connections back into the spy game were gone --one at his doing and the other because of who/what this is all connected to. Burn Notice is one of the only shows on TV right now that keeps me guessing. It's not predictable, and that's what I love about it.

Best line ever -- "Fiona is not my past." That Strickler died taking two from Fi's gun while it was wrapped in Michael's hand was some awesome poetic justice. (Jeffrey Donovan and Ben Shenkman were terrific as they squared off, too. I don't think I've ever seen Michael Westen give someone such a look of blind hatred before)

Hatfield said...

Other than the relative misfire with Paxson (which still gave us quality episodes like the one where Erik Palladino was bizarro Omar Little), I actually think this first part of Season 3 has been extremely strong. The Strickler story might have been a little rushed, but from the beginning it was clear that he was underestimating Michael. And to use another Wire reference, not since Slim Charles used his gun in anger in the series finale have I cheered so much at someone taking a bullet (or in this case, two). Rot in hell, Strickler.

The bad guys have been strong across the board, and if Michael has defeated them a little too easily at times...well, he's our hero! Besides, Brennan and Callie Thorne's character are still out there, presumably eager for revenge. As far as this episode goes, it was a treat to see my favorite 24 villain ever pop up, and Paul Blackthorne did a great job. It's kind of a shame they didn't hire him to play whoever killed Diego; we know he's aces at menacing phone calls and brutality. Although, since Diego is CIA (right?), wouldn't killing him be more trouble than it's worth?

Frankly, I'd be fine with the body count going up on the show, especially as Michael's quest to get back in gets more desperate. Not sure what it says about me, but if he had offed O'Neill or the Russian or a few of the others, I'd have been fine with it, and probably believed it more than the constant "Oh,I set it up to look like so-and-so crossed what's-his-name, we won't have to worry about him/her anymore."

Did anyone else feel like Fi overreacted a bit? I know she has tiny arms, so getting shot there must be worse than it would be for Sam or somebody, but c'mon, her brother got it way worse and was ornery as ever from that couch.

evie said...

I love this show. It's so good so consistently, it makes me sad more people don't know about it or watch it. I'm happy it's a success "for cable," but it should be a success "for television!"

Agree with the person who said it's a disgrace, though, that they didn't bring Mahoney back even once yet. Hopefully, they won't make the same mistake in part II.

Also agree with the person who said the best line was "Fi is not my past." Brilliant, and I'm not especially enamored with the two of them. Fun show. Oddly, the person I don't think I could do without is Sam.

Anonymous said...

Diego was a very interesting character. The first scene was terrific. I did not like his final scene as it did not feel like how an agent would respond to danger. And killing him left the show bereft of a character that was just beginning to develop.

Halli said...

The primary comment I have about this episode is that it was a tad too film-school self-consciously directed; consistently we had characters facing away from each other and to the camera (particularly the first scene with Michael and Fiona). It reminds me of an old episode of Columbo I saw once that was directed by Stephen Spielberg. That initial scene was a little off for me, but once the action got going, I totally bought into Michael's facing up to his own emotional responses. Well, and extra-gorgeous close-ups of Jeffrey Donovan are never unwelcome, frankly, even if Sam's in deep-focus in the background.

And MASH-nurse Maddy! She's having way too much fun.

I'll miss the Buick, though :(.

Jim said...

I'd like to see John Mahoney come back again next season, too.

"Remind me: Is Fiona former IRA? I find that hard to reconcile with her purported disdain for all these other bad guys and terrorists."

I always thought she was, but she said last night that when she was drunk and threatening to hunt down the guy who killed her little sister, O'Neill thought she was as radical as he was. Don't know enough about the structure of the IRA or its splinter groups to know where Fi or O'Neill would fit in

Taleena said...

As one of the few people in America who has never seen '24' Paul Blackthorne is entrenched in my mind as Harry Dresden, Wizard PI, of the Dresden Files. Would that SciFi had done as much with that show, or given it the chances it has other shows, given the success with True Blood and other, ahem, wizard and supernatural franchises.

Hatfield said...

Taleena, I've seen bits of that before, and because I thought he was so good in 24 I considered checking it out from the beginning. I take it you're recommending it?

Heather said...

It was pretty shocking to see Michael get enraged. I had to think about it and realize that he truly was enraged and not faking it. Therefore the killing of Strickler was all the more shocking in that sense.

When Management said "hell will rain down" I think that hell will finally come in the second half of this series. I agree that they kinda flitted about with the overall story arc but at least now with the death of Diego, Management's words are coming into light.

Lastly, Paul Blackthorne! Loved him both as Sahhhnders and Dresden so this is a nice and welcome appearance from him.

dez said...

Oddly, the person I don't think I could do without is Sam.

Every show needs some Bruce Campbell in it.

Old Darth said...

First episode of the season to profit from the no protection theme in an otherwise humdrum season.

Easily the best episode of S3 too.

Chip said...

Good point about us rarely seeing how many headaches and threats "Managements" exit from Michael's life caused. This ep was a great reminder of why I love Fiona, good to see her gun-toting ready for war side (and that she has an equally bloodthirsty brother). So I didn't quite understand, Michael wanted to tell the CIA bosses all about Carla and management and Strickler wanted him to lie about some Somolians? Would that have even helped his case more?

Chip said...

Also Mike shooting Strickler was slightly hampered by the Fiona isn't my past line. The line itself wasn't corny, but the delivery and timing made it so. Just saying

Karen said...

For me, the crucial moment in this episode was Michael's reaction to Strickler's Somali warlord story. Donovan was very effective at letting us see both how revolting the idea was to Michael and how it made him, perhaps, finally see Fi's view of Strickler and what he and Michael were heading towards.

That was a turning point for Michael, and learning that Strickler had set up the return of Fi to Ireland (and her inevitable death) was only the next step in the inexorable deterioration of THAT relationship. I gotta say I didn't expect the two swift bullets to the chest, but boy did I cheer! That was so beautifully, uh, executed. And, yeah, Donovan conveyed Michael's apoplectic rage quite effectively--turning colors and popping veins but completely believably.

The parallel scenes with Fi packing up her guns and Maddie packing up Michael's youthful past were very moving. For me, it helped keep "Fiona is not my past!" from being as cheezy as others have thought.

The relationship between Sam and Fi and Michael has grown so intense and strong, and the character of Maddie has become so much more of an individual with strong tied to each of the central three, that I confess I don't think much about the larger season-long arcs. I do, from time to time, think about how Michael and Sam and Fi seem to operate in Miami, with guns and car chases and bombs, with total impunity, and with the withdrawal of Management protection that seems even more implausible now. But the stories of the individual episodes have been so compelling I just dont think about the larger arc that often.

Taleena said...


Dresden Files is worth a look because it's fun and the last few episodes in the series, esp. "What about Bob?" were pretty good. The books though are so much better than the TV series it makes you want to cry.

Author Jim Butcher, said that Paul Blackthorne *owned* the role of Dresden so much it's who he pictures when writing the novels now though.
Terrance Mann is excellent as Bob and Daniel Kash as Justin Morningway is well done also.

This is not a sparkly vampire, teen angst series, but Urban Fantasy which SciFi weenied out of the grittiness needed to make it real good. It needed HBO or Showtime or hell, Fox.

timb said...

I enjoyed the arc, although it did feel uneven. Is anyone else old enough to get an A-team vibe from this show? A ton of gunplay or least a lot of guns being flashed around, and yet, rarely, do we see what happens in real life when people pull guns.

mj said...

Have only ever watched this show on hulu (on which "Long Way Back" has finally turned up on) and only because Alan recommended it. The unpredictability is just addictive. And while I still think that Jeffrey Donovan doesn't hold a candle to Kyle Chandler or Jon Hamm (in that order) for making powerful statements without uttering a word, this episode was a nice showcase of his continued excellent work. A moment I particularly liked was the ever so slight smile after Fiona is captioned as "the client".

Irish Thug #1 is listed in the credits as "Michael McBride". Presumably this character name ties back to Season 1 so it would be a shocking coincidence to find an actor of the same name for this episode. I'm not able to find any confirming evidence of such an actor so I'm calling BS on that one. The three other Irish thugs listed in the credits seem to be genuine actors.

Rena said...

To the person who mentioned Fi overacting- I totally agreed, but on watching a second time I noticed when they're still in the shed, there's a brief glimpse where someone's bending over/grabbing her arm... it looks like she's being injected with something from a syringe, perhaps? If she was drugged (Which makes sense, you want to keep captives calm after all) that might explain why a graze and a dip in the water made her so out of it.

Rob S. said...

Just wondering: Why isn't there a link to Burn Notice in the sidebar?

Loved the ep, especially the way Strickler went out!