This is the Burn Notice series finale… but to which Burn Notice series? Really, there have been two distinct eras in the show's history: the first few seasons of lighthearted "blue sky" adventure and the last couple of years, which have turned increasingly dark and dreary. Early on, the show was only mildly serialized, a decision that probably owed more to the USA Network suits than to creator Matt Nix and company. It was basically a caper-of-the-week show, with a few scenes each week tying the episode to a season-long arc. But it's been a long time since we've heard Michael Westen do a silly accent; the days when he'd pretend to be the devil to scare a local drug dealer are a distant memory.
Instead, Michael Westen became an increasingly brooding dark avenger, with the point of seemingly no return coming when he shot one of his many CIA betrayers in the head. And the fun leached out of Burn Notice almost entirely. This final season has been a particularly grim slog, with the focus tightening on Michael's journey through darkness to the point where the character shed pretty much any trace of likability he may have once possessed. It's a valid creative choice for a show about a spy and the treacherous world of shady morality he inhabits, but it's not something Burn Notice was ever particularly good at doing. Never the sunniest presence anyway, Jeffrey Donovan got so much self-indulgent screen time, I was sometimes reminded of the later years of M*A*S*H, when Alan Alda's ego ran wild, and entire episodes were given over to Hawkeye's stream-of-consciousness monologues.
So would this final episode be a fitting capper for this later incarnation, or would it somehow call back to the more carefree days of mojitos and yogurt? A little of both, actually. For the most part, "Reckoning" could have passed for a run-of-the-mill mid-season finale. Michael, having flirted with switching sides to the terrorist network (but, you know, well-meaning terrorist network) run by James Kendrick (John Pyper-Ferguson), remains loyal to his friends and shoots Sonya (Alona Tal) before she can kill Fiona. Alerted that he really shouldn't have trusted Michael after all (always the mark of a brilliant terrorist), James sets his sights on revenge while Michael still plans to take down Kendrick's network, even though the CIA has put out an APB on the Burn Notice team.
In other words, business as usual for a season finale. Kendrick is far from the most memorable Big Bad that Michael and company have come up against, especially considering he should be the Biggest Bad of all. (I could never figure out if his accent was supposed to be Southern or German or something else entirely.) The stakes finally do get raised in the last 15 minutes or so, with a team of Kendrick's men closing in on the safe house where Jesse is guarding Maddy and grandson Charlie. I figured Jesse was a goner here, what with his speech about having found a family (and the fact that he has the shortest tenure of the main cast), but instead, Maddy made the sacrifice, blowing herself up along with the strike team and allowing Jesse and Charlie to escape. Yes, part of me wishes this had happened at least two years ago, but it was an affecting moment nonetheless.
In the end, we get one more big explosion (maybe the biggest 'splosion of all, CGI though most of it was), with Michael prevailing at taking down Kendrick and his network, presumably at the cost of his and Fiona's lives. But of course, it's basically the Dark Knight Rises ending: a mock funeral for Michael (thanks for coming, Barry!), followed by the revelation that he and Fi (and Charlie) are living happily ever after in Ireland. (So why doesn't her Irish accent come back?)
I don't know if this is the ending Michael Westen deserves. By the finale, all of his friends seemed more like enablers to his psychosis, willing to sacrifice anything for the great Michael Westen because… why, exactly? A more appropriate ending for the last couple of seasons might have been Sam kicking his ass (as almost happened in the penultimate episode) and the rest of the team telling Michael to pound sand. But if we ignore "Dark Notice" and pretend this is the ending of that first incarnation of the show, it's fine. Hardly transcendent, but serviceable enough.
- I did enjoy the callbacks to the "saga sell" that continued to open every episode, despite the fact that it no longer had anything to do with what the show had become. "Should we shoot them?" "You know spies. Buncha bitchy little girls." And of course, full circle to "My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy."
- Fiona: "All I have in my purse is some C4." Consistent to the end.
- Did anyone think we might get one last silly Westen accent for the road? I guess it would have been tough to fit that in.
- Will anyone be surprised by Burn Notice TV-movies somewhere down the line? I give it three years.