The trick to replacing a beloved reviewer is to find a clever way to introduce yourself. People like what they know, and they won't embrace change unless you can give them something to make that change seem like part of a plan. So using a familiar narrative device from the show you're writing about is a good way to prove that you're familiar with the topic, that you've got a sense of humor, and that you just might be clever enough to take up where the last guy left off. Continuity isn't just a word for comic book geeks.
Hey, gang. Noel is stepping away from covering the second half of Burn Notice's third season, and I'm stepping in—mainly because I love the show, and hell, I had all this sleeping I was going to do, and who wants that, really? Anyway, let's get down to it.
One of things that's been on my mind ever since Michael jumped out of that helicopter last year is, how much does Burn Notice need its larger story arc? That may sound like a leading question, but it's not; I'm honestly unsure. By this point in the series, we've established the "control" structure for most episodes (somebody needs protection or justice that the police can't really provide, Michael, Fiona, and Sam step in, much quipping and cool spy gimmickry ensues, and then we get a happy ending), and for some shows, that's enough. Larger stories are a way to encourage an audience to keep coming back, by rewarding them for their viewing with an intensified emotional investment, and by promising greater revelations with each passing week. But, if they aren't expertly constructed, they can get repetitive or unbelievable, and turn into a liability. I don't really want to bring up The X-Files, because it's become almost a cliche to complain about it's overworked and ill-considered mythos, but—The X-Files.
Burn Notice is nowhere near that convoluted, but while I enjoyed much of the first half of this season, I wasn't hugely invested in Michael's relationship with the over-reaching Strickler. The danger never seemed there, like it had with Carla, and the possibility that Michael's need to get his old job back might force him to compromise his principles was too easy to dismiss. I mean, yes, he's done some questionable things, but he is essentially a hero. This isn't a character on a quest for redemption, or an anti-hero whose occasional moments of decency surprise us in the midst of all his crimes—this is an honest to god good guy. Desperate as he might be, he wasn't going to do anything that incriminating to get unburned.
That he shot Strickler was, I'll admit, kind of shock, but I was mostly just glad to have that plotline done with. And now we've got a new thing running with the mysterious and lethal Mason Gilroy. Michael's faced down difficult opponents before, but the extreme measures Gilroy takes in "A Dark Road"—torching a hotel room, sniper shooting—are Batman villain-level ornate, so maybe this could get interesting. I think Burn Notice's template is so familiar that the series benefits from reaching for something more, but that something more needs to be written with a better understanding of what makes the show's leading man so exciting to watch. Michael Westen works best when he has to improvise in the worst possible conditions. Carla was good for the show because she managed to be a step or two ahead of him nearly up to the end. Hopefully Gilroy can provide the same threat level.
Oh! And there was "Road"'s main plot, with Michael helping Fi with a woman who's husband had been killed by insurance scammers. In order to get some medical records, Michael had to resort to asking his mother to befriend a clerk, played by Tyne Daly. (It's a Cagney & Lacey reunion, but since I barely remember Cagney & Lacey, all I can give you is, the ladies worked well together.) Maddy takes "befriending" a little far, and starts hanging out with Daly, which makes it difficult when Michael has to ask her to blackmail her friend for even more information. I'm not generally a fan of Maddy. She's either an obstacle or comic relief, but her moral outrage tonight was surprisingly compelling, and led to a nice scene between her and Michael at the end. I do question why blackmail was the first choice—Daly's character was nice enough, why not explain the situation and ask for her help? Or, better yet, if Michael is able to break in and go through the records later on to save Daly's job, why not do that in the first place? Maybe she knew the system better, I guess.
Really, though, it was a nicely realized subplot that showed once again that there is a dark side to Michael's job, even when he's operating with the best of intentions. His obsessive need to help everybody would be a liability if he wasn't so damn good at his job. If this were a grimmer series, I'd say it's likely to get him killed one day. As it is, though, it's the only motivation we've ever really gotten for why he does what he does, and the only one we're ever going to need.
—Not much to say about the insurance plot; the car action sequences were exciting, and Michael's cover identity, "Alex," was sufficiently sleazy. We also learned a valuable less about acetylene.
—Two 24 alums this week—Ryan was played by Clayne Crawford, who's currently annoying the hell out of Katee Sackhoff on the show's current season, and his dad, Connor, is Jude Ciccolella, who worked as Chief of Staff for President Palmer.
—Nice how Michael's first two spy speeches were undercut by someone getting the drop on him.
—"Use your Sam magic."
—"The day that the cell phone call log was invented should be celebrated as a national holiday for spies."
—"What's wrong, Sam? I've never seen you drink a beer this slowly."
—"People need me. So I have to."