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Saturday, 17 of April of 2021

Burn Notice – “Friends and Enemies”

This whole business needs a little Michael Westen.”

I didn’t watch season 3 of Burn Notice too closely. I watched the summer portion with a fair amount of dedication, but the winter portion somehow slipped by me. When I tuned in for episodes, I wondered where Detective Paxson went and why Gilroy really mattered that much (he felt like a stall). It made the season a bit of a mess for me, but the finale won me back with its oddly disturbing final shot and an eagerness to see if the arc for the season would be a little clearer.

“Friends and Enemies” is a decent season premiere. It essentially lays the groundwork for the coming season with the standard Client of the Week plot as the primary focus. It’s a structure the show has used for most of its run, but one I’m hoping the show, with its set-up this season, will eventually begin to integrate better.

One of the reasons I move in and out of Burn Notice so easily is that it is structured to allow for this kind of viewing habit. The show is pretty episodic at its core, with the seasonal (or half-seasonal) arc only addressed in brief scenes during the episode, and almost always at the end. The arc normally only hits a strong stride toward the end of the season (or mid-season point), which has always been a quibble of mine: it’s hard for me to invest in the seasonal arc when it’s strung out, with minimal movement (Carla being the prime example of this during season 2).

This is a hypocritical thing to say as someone who has was perfectly happy to sit through six seasons of fairly glacial development on Lost and then complain about slow arc movement on another show. I think my position stems more from the interchangeability of the Client of the Week stories (you could put them in any order and it would make no difference) than anything else. These stories are never as exciting as the seasonal arc seems to be, and some are better than others (this week’s is a nice change of pace as its a biker gang), which makes for an uneven viewing experience.

Now, there’s a way to make this rewarding. I read that Justified balances the demands of serial and episodic narrative very well (haven’t watched it myself though), so perhaps someone can weigh in on that in the comments, or do their own post about it. I am, however, optimistic about this season breaking that mold a bit, though with Management being okay with Michael playing Robin Hood to the troubled of Miami I don’t think it’ll break down completely.

My reason for being optimistic is that, in the service of the seasonal arc, Michael ends up causing another spy to be burned, and that spy ends up turning to Michael for assistance in finding out who burned him. Hopefully this creates a tension that runs for much of the season, adding a new dimension to Michael’s existence, another ball to juggle. It’ll interfere with the Client of the Week stories, complicate the seasonal arc of finding out who released Simon last season, and also provide a potential new antagonist for Michael. Like Chuck, I’ve always felt that Burn Notice would be served with a solid, clear antagonist for Michael to struggle against. Carla as just middle Management, Gilroy was dull, and Simon was too crazy. A burned spy like Michael could up the ante in exciting ways.

The bright spot in the episode was Michael’s sit-down with Madeline near the end of the episode. Very rarely do we get to see Michael scared, let alone shaken, and in the privacy of his childhood home with his mom, he’s able to show how rattled he was by Simon’s claim that he would soon be an owned man by Management, looking for a way out from their grasp.¬†Donovan¬†does a nice job of not overplaying this, instead allowing fear to kind of creep into his eyes and a slight tremor hit his voice.

It’s a rewarding character beat, one that the episode needed as Michael was clearly looking to Fiona or Sam to listen to him say this, but they were too involved the Client of the Week plot to give Michael that chance. While I totally buy that Sam and Fiona did everything short of put Michael’s face on milk cartons, their reunion felt a little too flat, overshadowed by the Client plot, which in a show with characters as strong and connected as these are, felt like a bit of a missed chance.

Or perhaps I just wanted them all working together to find out what Vaughn, Michael’s new Management contact, is all about.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Michael pouting? Pretty great stuff.
  • I guess with Jack Bauer retired, shadowy intelligence agencies now officially have no one else to turn to but Michael Westen. Thankfully, he’s far more interesting than Jack.
  • When Chuck was on the bubble last year, I suggested that it be paired with Burn Notice on USA. I still think this would work if Chuck, for some reason, earns itself a fifth season (though, like Nick, I don’t think this is likely or would be necessarily worthwhile).

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