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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Burn Notice: “Over The Line”

Illustration for article titled Burn Notice: “Over The Line”
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The 24-ization of Burn Notice continues this week, with an hour of nearly real-time continuous action picking up immediately after the end of the last episode’s shock ending. Having just shot a high-ranking CIA official in the head, Michael somehow has to evade capture and get out of the building. And the show, having had its main character murder someone in cold blood, somehow has to get him out of the corner into which he’s been painted.

This isn’t like last season, when Fiona went to jail on trumped-up charges of blowing up innocent people. Card certainly wasn’t innocent, but Michael really did shoot him in the head, and it wasn’t self-defense. He could have backed away and hatched a plan later with Sam, Fiona, and Jesse, but Matt Nix and company seem determined to push the show into darker territory, perhaps with an endgame in sight. (Rumors are swirling that next season will be the last.) Turning Michael into such a grim, Jack Bauer-esque avenger doesn’t really fit with the whole USA Network sun-and-fun ethos, but the show has performed well enough for long enough that Nix has earned the right to take this turn.

As an hour of action TV, “Over The Line” certainly delivers. It hits the ground running and keeps up the pace at a level that’s almost unprecedented for this show. The only real downtime comes when it turns out I’d celebrated prematurely last week—Maddie hasn’t actually left town yet. By the end of the episode, in an unfortunate bait-and-switch, she decides not to leave at all. To be clear, it’s not that I hate the character—it’s just that I’ve grown disenchanted with her role as the show’s guilty conscience in the wake of Nate’s death. If she’s ready to get over that and get back to being a useful wild card for the team, I guess I can live with that.

Burn Notice certainly has its faults, but at least you can always count on it to provide work for former stars of The Wire. This time it’s Sonja Sohn, the artist formerly known as Kima Greggs, signing on as CIA counterintelligence expert Olivia Riley. The show is usually as its best when Michael has an adversary who is at least as smart as him (as opposed to the usual parade of criminal masterminds who fall for his Jedi mind tricks), so for the moment at least, Riley looks like a promising addition. It’s refreshing to see the team set up one of their patented “everything goes boom” traps, only to have Riley foil it by recognizing Sam’s bullshit for what it was.

My biggest problem with “Over The Line” is not so much the episode itself as what it portends for the rest of the season (and, potentially, the series). It really does seem to live up to its title, in that Michael has crossed a line it will be difficult to walk him back across. The upside of this development is that he and the team are back to being outcasts, which is more in tune with the show’s roots than more recent episodes, where Michael is part of the CIA fold. But it’s hard to see how Burn Notice can credibly recapture the frothy tone it does best after Michael’s latest actions. It’s under no obligation to get back to that tone, of course, but since Patton Oswalt is about to begin a guest-starring run, that would seem to be the plan.

Despite these qualms, I’m willing to give Burn Notice the benefit of the doubt for the moment. In these reviews, I’ve often advocated for the show to shake up its formula, so it would be hypocritical not to give this latest permutation a chance to play out. There’s definitely potential in the concept of Michael and company as “enemies of the United States of America.” Here’s hoping Burn Notice doesn’t cop out along the way.


Stray observations:

  • A little Googling reveals that Michael’s ex-neighbor Sugar has been in at least five episodes, yet I have almost no memory of him at all. Then again, I can barely remember my own neighbors.
  • No episode next week due to Thanksgiving. Happy Turkey Day, everyone.