Season four of Burn Notice was not up to snuff but the last two episodes were very, very good. More importantly, after four years of moving the chains and delaying any resolution, the series finally pulled the trigger on bringing Michael in from the cold. Because of this (as I tweeted today), I’m very optimistic for season five of the series and perhaps more excited for what’s come than I have been since the middle of season two.
Tonight’s premiere episode “Company Man” did not totally sell me on the new season and Michael’s new circumstances, but it also didn’t sink my hopes for a great season of Burn Notice. More than anything else, this episode felt like a moment of transition for the series and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that approach for a premiere, it does make it difficult to truly judge what this means for the current season and the series as a whole. “Man” is a solidly entertaining episode and it doesn’t feature any massive cop-outs like I feared were coming in the back of my mind, so there are definitely reasons to celebrate the events of this effort.
In any event, it seems like the Burn Notice team had two obvious options with its storyline direction this year. On one hand, they could jump head-first into Michael’s return to the CIA and the final steps of finding out exactly who burned him and why. This would be an important step for the series’ mythology and definitely expand the Burn Notice world. Unfortunately, it would also mean less Fi, Sam, Madeline and I guess Jesse as well. The supporting characters on this series are so wonderful and beloved that fans might riot if this came to pass. On the other hand, the series could quickly back away from Michael in D.C. or really Michael anywhere else not Miami. Maybe throw a monkey wrench in the un-burning, which may or may not provide the opportunity to crystallize who was hands-on involved in the process in the first place. This would keep everyone else involved, but quickly backing away also feels like a smack in the face to those invested in the burning mythology.
Neither obvious option is that appealing and that’s why Matt Nix smartly split the difference, at least for “Company Man.” Michael is working as a consultant for the CIA and building up his relationship with the man who brought him back in, Raines (Dylan Baker!), and also establishing a working rapport with his handler, Max (Grant Snow). But because he’s not a full-time agent, he can still shoot back to Miami for some quality time with Fiona and the rest of his inner circle. And of course, he also has enough sway with Raines that he can bring Fi and Sam on the missions, which makes it feel like a traditional Burn Notice episode with a slightly different objective.
For an initial episode, this feels like the best way to go. The opening segment of the episode does a solid, albeit rapid job of explaining how Michael and Max have been working up the food-chain to figure out who in the heck is behind this evil organization that screws with agents like Michael and all the Miami-bound scenes have a refreshed vibe to them because of Mr. Westen’s prolonged absence. This episode does a solid job of balancing exposition (about both of Michael’s situations, really) with quality action sequences, including a very entertaining and prolonged shoot-out towards the end.
However, this episode is not without its problems. Because the episode has to split the time between the “CIA world” and “Miami world” and then eventually combine them together once Fi and Sam join the mission, the new characters get a bit of a short-shift. Dylan Baker is good enough to make the bossman Raines seem lively enough, but the same cannot be said for Grant Snow and Max. Snow is more of a low-key performer and I’m not entirely sure that fits into the frenetic, sometimes larger-than-life world of Burn Notice.
Moreover, despite the possibility for long-term change, there’s still a bit of USA arc-itis in this episode. The whole episode is about catching the integral member of the evil organization, but the baddie kills himself in the end, leaving Michael without the ability to totally regain his status as an agent and perhaps more importantly, nowhere to look for answers. Although the final scene with Michael and Maddie almost made it worth it, we can clearly tell that the journey back in from the cold isn’t going to be particularly easy. Perhaps I should just pick my poison. Either the baddie doesn’t die and Michael spends weeks chasing him or he dies and now Michael has to find a new way to prove himself. The delaying of the inevitable is still going to be there and it’s okay to deal with in just one episode, but I’m hoping it doesn’t continue through too many more.
Again, this doesn’t mean I didn’t like this episode, because I did. It was a nice, solid start to the season. I’m ultimately satisfied that the premiere didn’t pick one of the obvious answers to this season’s storyline quandaries. There are parts of Burn Notice that are never really going to change so I can’t necessarily blame “Company Man” for that. I’m still excited for this season and to see more of Michael working with the CIA, even if that means a few less minutes of screentime for the beloved Fi and Sam. The story needs it.
- This is an odd comment, but what the hell is going on with Michael’s hair? I’m hoping the longer look is supposed to reflect his busy schedule or some CIA directive, but the shorter cropped look definitely suits Jeffrey Donovan better. Just sayin’.
- It was nice to see Coby Bell back as Jesse, if only for a scene. Season four had its faults, but Bell and Jesse had very little to do with them. I’ll be intrigued to see exactly how and how often the series uses Jesse in the coming episodes.
- “How do you stay alive?” “I do eat a lot of yogurt.”