In my review of the ostensibly game-changing season finale of Burn Notice last December, I posed the question: “Is there a dramatic format change ahead, or will everything be pretty much business as usual 10 minutes into the next season premiere?” As someone who has watched this show before, I was fairly confident the status quo would be restored before the first commercial break—and while that’s pretty much the case, showrunner Matt Nix has sprinkled a few new ingredients into the Burn Notice formula that may (or may not) add a little spice to the show’s fifth season.
As you may recall, “Last Stand” ended with Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) being welcomed back into the official spy business by Dylan Baker, playing a character we had not seen before. As we learn in tonight’s season premiere “Company Man,” this is Raines, the man who recruited Michael in the first place. Six months have passed since the events of “Last Stand,” and Michael has been busy, although he has not quite managed to get officially reinstated with the Company—nor get his burn notice officially rescinded. Teamed with CIA officer Max (Grant Show, formerly of Melrose Place, version 1.0), Michael is now a civilian intelligence asset who has spent most of his time since last we saw him working his way through the MacGuffin list from last season, taking down the people who burned him.
Now one big name remains: John Kessler, head honcho of the “unauthorized quasi-governmental agency” that spent several seasons pulling Michael’s strings. Michael barely has time for a pit stop in Miami and a sex attack by Fiona (still described as “a trigger-happy ex-girlfriend” in the opening, although it looks like we can drop the “ex,” at least for the moment) before Max calls him into action again. It seems Kessler is holed up in one of those impregnable supervillain fortresses in Caracas, Venezuela, and it’s time to smoke him out. Fiona and Sam aren’t happy about being left out, so Michael somehow convinces his handler to let them tag along.
At this point, “Company Man” starts spinning some Burn Notice golden oldies, as: 1) Fiona and Sam pose as a tourist couple with car trouble so Michael can slip past a security checkpoint; 2) Michael adopts a shaky Russian accent to convince a Cuban-trained guard to help him take down Kessler; 3) Michael talks his way out of trouble with the aid of information fed to him through a hidden earpiece; and 4) a big shootout ensues at the impregnable supervillain fortress. It’s not quite a standard-issue Burn Notice episode, in that there’s no client or side-case, and there is some added tension between Michael and his Miami pals now that he’s presumably back in the fold, but it’s close enough for government work.
In the end, Kessler offs himself (or so it seems) before Michael can get the answers he’s looking for…although honestly, I’m not sure what answers he’s still looking for at this point. It seems clear that the rogue government agency was burning spies so they’d have operatives to do their dirty work, and there may be no special reason they chose Michael other than the fact that he was good at his job. (Sharon Gless has a nice scene in which she gently suggests that he let it go already.) In any case, it’s probably safe to assume that Kessler wasn’t the Final Boss after all—and since I don’t think you hire Dylan Baker and his bad beard to play a character if he’s just a harmless bureaucrat with no dark side, well, I have some suspicions there. That’s for later, though. For now, what we have here is a season premiere that tinkers ever so slightly with the Burn Notice paradigm, while still delivering a reasonably satisfying (albeit more than a little familiar) dose of that USA Network brand of summer fun. “To new beginnings,” Max toasts near the end, but I’m not so sure about that.
- So Jesse (Coby Bell) is still around, having decided he can’t do the government thing anymore. (I’m sure Michael was thrilled to hear this, after all the guilt-tripping that came with accidentally getting Jesse burned in the first place.) He’s working private security in Miami now, but he wasn’t invited along for the fun in Caracas. He does seem a little superfluous at this point. Anyone have strong feelings one way or the other about his continued presence on the show?
- Hey, Sam’s back to his fighting weight! He owes it all to Bruce Campbell for shedding a few pounds to play a younger Sam in the recent prequel movie, The Fall of Sam Axe.
- The unveiling of the Charger at the very end of the episode happened very quickly, and even pausing my DVR, I couldn’t tell exactly what we were supposed to be seeing there. Was it magically restored to pristine condition? I’m sure there was some metaphorical significance here, but I wish they’d given us a better look at it.