And so the Strickler plot begins in earnest! Sort of.
As I’ve said many times in these Burn Notice write-ups, I’m not overly invested in the show’s ongoing story. If the master-plot weaves into the case-of-the-week well, and ratchets up the tension, and allows Michael to work a little master-spy mojo, I’m cool with it. But I’m more about the dime novel poses and ‘80s TV explosions than I am about the mythology with this show.
That said, sometimes it can be frustrating when an episode sets off in one direction and then retreats into the standard Burn Notice formula. I think especially about the Season Two episode “Do No Harm,” in which Michael escapes Carla’s people in a tense chase and then literally, seconds later, spots his next client in the middle of the street, trying to kill himself. Along those same lines, the set-up for this week’s episode “Friends Like These” was so sloppy—with so many familiar elements—that it times it almost felt like fanfic.
No sooner has Michael gotten the lowdown from Strickler about his first on-his-way-to-having-his-burn-notice-reconsidered job—which involves taking pictures of an arms deal, with said weapons having been stolen from a CIA safe house—then he gets a call from Barry warning that a ledger has been stolen and that Barry’s life and livelihood are in serious danger. Michael quickly tracks the theft back to Barry’s girlfriend (played by Debi Mazar, who’s way too familiar a face to be stuck in a one-scene part), and then to a condo being used by a rough-hewn Russian and his apparently meek moll (played by the terrific Callie Thorne). Both of whom Michael and Sam promptly abduct.
Everything about the first 15 minutes of “Friends Like These”—from the return of the comically hapless Barry, to Michael putting Sam’s new relationship at risk by borrowing his honey’s villa, to Michael’s little speech about what to do when your first sweep of a place yields nothing, to Michael’s little speech about how torture yields nothing—felt like it could’ve been scripted by a Burn Notice scenario generator. Even Madeleine’s complaints about her leaky roof were warmed over.
But you know what? As routine as the set-up was, the knock-down was still awfully sweet. The episode’s big twist—that Callie Thorne’s ultimately unnamed character was the bad guy all along—was one that I guessed early, but the writers played with that expectation a little, by sticking the villainess with Fiona, who was trying to string her along and instead got played herself. For all her natural skepticism, Fiona’s got a romantic streak that can get her into trouble at times. In “Friends Like These,” it almost got her killed.
I also appreciated that in addition to some nifty spy bits (like the scene where Michael and Fiona find a “burn safe” and freeze its contents, and the scene where they put a triangulation tail on Thorne’s character) and some cool surprises (as in the scene where Michael and Sam try to pass themselves off as part of a criminal organization and promptly get shot at), the episode did eventually tie the Barry’s ledger plot and the Strickler’s gig plot together in a way that was really effective, thematically. In order to dupe the bad guys, Michael has to rush in and rough up Fiona a little without her knowing about it. Fiona takes this partly as an example of Michael “changing” since he took the job with Strickler (yeah yeah, whatever), though it’s also clear that she’s hurt in large part because she hates feeling left out of the plan, and taken for granted.
And so… payback. Fiona refuses to help Michael on the Strickler job, and he gets a taste of what it’s going to be like back in the field on his own, without Fiona or Sam to help. He also gets a taste—like Fiona—of what it’s going to be like not to be in the know during a mission. Unlike his own operations, which he runs with full command of all the details, the job he does for Strickler has a lot of behind-the-scenes intel that he’s never going to be privy to. It takes some grinding for “Friends Like These” to get going, but once it does, it heads somewhere. It drives Michael closer to the moment when he may have to decide that his personal quest isn’t going to bring him the satisfaction he thinks it will.
-I could really go for a Miller Genuine 64 right now… how about you?
-Another beautifully shot episode, by the way, with multiple split-screens, a scene in the rain (a rarity on this show), and a clever bit with Barry on the phone at Maddy’s house, framed behind the drips coming from the leaky roof. There were one too many soft-focus shots of Fiona, but still… for the first 15 minutes I was tuning out the script and just drinking in the visuals, and the show was still enjoyable.
-Oh, that Marmaduke. He will never learn.
-“Property Of Barry?” Really?
-If you make a noise after we shoot, we’re going to have to shoot you for real.
-Apologies for the lateness of this review. Had to wait until Donna finished covering SYTYCD.