I haven’t checked in with Burn Notice since the summer break for a few reasons. One, Thursdays are ridiculously busy, both for television and my schedule in general. Secondly, I haven’t had much to say about Burn Notice. The summer episodes were generally dreadful (if you take a look at some of my reviews during that period, I wasn’t too positive) and though most of the fall eps have been a level or so above that, it’s still Burn Notice, which means there isn’t a whole lot to talk about on a week-to-week basis.
Thus, I fully expected tonight’s double feature to be a tremendous letdown. The midseason finale was probably the most frustrating episode in the series’ history and extending that rage back further, most of season three was a drag too. Burn Notice hasn’t really been bringing it since the end of season two, and although “Out of the Fire” and “Last Stand” are just two episodes that fit into the traditional USA formula of EVERYTHING IMPORTANT IS HAPPENING NOW BECAUSE IT’S A FINALE, they actually feel like really great episodes of the series.
Everyone’s justified complaints with the last two seasons come down to the lack of coherent narrative in terms of Michael’s journey. It kind of figured out who was involved in burning him, but then didn’t, then had people coming after him, then had these dealings with random baddies and it just felt frustratingly stalled and frankly, dumb. And it all lacked any heft. We always know that Michael is going to find one clue or angle, get stalled and then try to find another clue. We get it. This season has been a bit better than season three and the fall run has been even better than the summer run, but things still didn’t really hold together until the end of “Dead or Alive” last week.
Those emotional stakes carried over to both of these episodes, and when combined with the returns of the series two best villains in “Out of the Fire,” the series kind of felt like its old self again. Michael actually had some moral conflicts, Fiona spoke her mind, and it seemed as if there was actually something going to happen. And shockingly, it did. I’ll get to that in a moment.
In any event, “Out of the Fire” is probably the stronger of the two in terms of full episode narratives, but that’s what happens when Dead Larry and Brennan both return and actually join forces for a moment to wreck Michael’s life. Moreover, after passing around the various McGuffins in the first part of the season, the list of names that burned Michael has actually provided an interesting conversation for the series’ lead character, something he desperately needed.
I literally have no idea what Michael was doing or trying to accomplish in season three. By the time this double feature started, it actually felt like Michael was grappling with some heavy s***. Of course he would to take down all the people who burned him, but at the same time, he is kind of a changed dude with a nice set-up down in Miami with friends and family who really care about him. The series doesn’t explore the tension between Michael past and present as much as it should because it’s obvious he’s a much different person now than he was in season one (I blame that on the USA storytelling approach more than anything), but in these last few episodes, Matt Nix and company dove right in to the issue. Even if Michael is a changed man who won’t just kill at-will anymore, having the prospect of getting back the one thing he’s wanted for years presents Mr. Westen with an interesting dilemma, one I thought these last two (and really, three or four) episodes have explored nicely.
Of course bringing back Larry, the one guy who wants to push Michael back towards his past, is another way to make those tensions obvious, but it didn’t just stop there. Michael had a number of interesting and complicated conversations with Fiona and to a lesser extent, his mom in these last few episodes and the series needs more of that. I am probably just drinking the Burn Notice/USA finale Kool-Aid, but it’s nice to have the series be kind of great again and actually suggest that the narrative and the characters are developing in a complex way.
Larry and Brennan’s returns raised the stakes and put Michael on alert, and for the most part, “Last Stand” did a nice job of keeping the levels of intensity up high. Vaughn ended up being a more well-drawn character than he originally seemed after the fall run sketched out his motives more clearly, and anytime the characters all get held up in a trap and Michael’s mom is put in real danger, things are probably going to feel more heightened and exciting.
And as far as endings go, I’m not sure the series could do any better than where it leaves Michael in season four. Sure, it starts with him being transferred to a secret location by some goons, which is only like the 942nd time that has happened in 60 episodes and we’re introduced to another ominous character (at least he’s played by the always great Dylan Baker!), but hey, Michael’s in Washington D.C.! Progress! Again, the series could totally back away from the progress it made with these last few episodes and have Michael return right back to Miami in episode two of season five, but for now, I’m really excited to have a good Burn Notice around. The change of scenery could inject some more well-needed life into the series and this season has been hinting at widening the scope to include some political elements that could be intriguing as well. Of course, it could all be an awful 24 rip-off, but for the first time in two years, I actually feel as if Burn Notice has direction and that’s a good feeling.