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Burn Notice: “Desperate Measures”/“Means & Ends”

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If its nearly three-month absence left you hungry for some Burn Notice, you may have been loosening your belt by the end of tonight’s two-hour fall première. It was perhaps a little too much Burn Notice, but between “Desperate Measures” and “Means & Ends,” there was something to satisfy fans of every stripe.

The summer finale ended with our heroes stranded in Panama along with Nate’s killer, Tyler Gray (Kenny Johnson), after rogue CIA agent Card (John C. McGinley) ordered an airstrike on them. In my review of that episode, I wondered how long Matt Nix and company would run with the idea of Michael and company being believed to be dead. My guess was that the Card arc would take up the remainder of season six, but the end of tonight’s two-episode block certainly shot a hole in that theory.

But let’s back up. For those who prefer their Burn Notice in hard-action mode, “Desperate Measures” delivers. In fact, anyone who still misses 24 could get a fix from this episode, which is heavy on the torture, violent action, and multiple split-screens. Michael is in grim avenger mode from the beginning as Sam has to talk him down from immediately killing Gray, thus cutting off their only connection to Card’s operation. The trick now is to get out of Panama undetected, which requires Fiona to use her feminine wiles to get aboard a drug-running plane bound for the States. Back on the home front, Maddie plays the jilted lover in order to sneak a hacker into the FAA control room in order to erase any trace of the flight.

Once Gray foils the plan by jumping out of the plane and he and Michael are captured by drug dealer Ramiro Vasquez, the heavy-duty 24 parallels kick in—in the form of electric shocks of up to 15,000 volts, administered not once but many times. I’ll hand it to the Foley team: They made this episode especially brutal with a louder-than-usual array of zapping, bone-crushing, and flesh-pounding noises. Michael having no choice but to persuade the man who killed his brother to work with him is a dark turn as well, and a rather apt (even if unintentional) metaphor for the CIA’s brand of “enemy of my enemy” alliance-making. Burn Notice doesn’t always do this harder-edged stuff well, but “Desperate Measures” is a solid example of the show in gritty mode.

Tonight’s second episode, “Means & Ends,” demonstrates that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Even as the show blows up the status quo (or, more accurately, burns down Michael’s loft), the client-of-the-week format survives. This time it’s Ayn, Fiona’s prison pal, who happens to show up just as the team is trying to play dead. Give the writers a little credit here: There aren’t many ways to justify the team taking on a case given the circumstances, but since Ayn helped Fiona survive prison, it’s just barely plausible. (Burn Notice’s version of plausible, that is.)

Ayn went to jail in the first place for killing her wife-beating brother-in-law, who was a confidential informant for a shady cop named Garza. Garza is trying to get the goods on the gangster who killed his partner, so he’s not pleased about losing his CI, and decides to take out his displeasure on Ayn by framing her for possession. The team (minus Michael, who’s sitting this one out, at least at first) decides to give Garza a new informant, and since Jesse is the only one who fits the racial profile, he’s soon wearing a T-shirt and backward baseball cap and calling himself “J-Train.” Coby Bell is amusing enough (I’m certainly glad Jeffrey Donovan didn’t attempt to pull this off), and the twist—that Garza isn’t so dirty after all—is a refreshing change of pace. But this case still feels like a needless sideshow at this stage of the game.


Still, I’ll take it over pretty much any Maddie scene. The show has really put her character in a box following Nate’s death, and it’s not Sharon Gless’ fault that she’s forced to play every scene as a self-righteous, lip-quivering scold, but… it’s just no fun to watch. It comes as a great relief when she reveals her plans to leave town, even though there’s no way of knowing how long that will last. With any luck, it will be long enough for the creative team to come up with a fresh perspective on the character.

The end of the episode leaves us with one big question: Where do we go from here? Michael has just shot a CIA agent in the head, and even if we can safely assume he doesn’t get caught, it’s hard to see him going right back to work for the Agency. Surely another villain will arise soon enough, but the deaths of Gray and Card both seemed rather abrupt. (At the very least, Michael probably regrets burning down the loft now, as he really didn’t gain much from that action at all.) Still, the fact that Burn Notice can still keep us guessing, even in its sixth season, has to be a good thing.


Stray observations:

  • Michael doesn’t speak Spanish? I’m almost certain this isn’t true.
  • Between the two episodes, we got a lot of good MacGuyver tricks, a couple of which seem easy enough to try at home. I’m not sure which I’ll do first: build a homemade landmine with a coffee can, a bullet, and some metal scraps, or use my washing machine’s agitator to rip one of my apartment walls down.
  • The sad music as the loft burned and Fi’s snowglobes melted? Maybe a little much.