Burn Notice is a snarky spy-thriller series about Michael Weston, a blacklisted spy trapped in Miami who helps out hapless citizens while he tries to figure out who ruined his life, and why. When the show originally aired, I followed it through the end of season four. I’ve lost my faith that TV series’s will actually have a proper ending, so I’ve taken to quitting them at points where I figure I’ve gotten as close to an actual end as I’ll get. My mom kept watching though, and she told me the series does actually get an ending to the story, so I’ve started watching from the beginning on Netflix. So here’s my thoughts on the series up through the end of season four. I’ll do a second part when I’ve watched the last three seasons.
1—Why Michael Won’t Kill
Of course, there’s the obvious reason—for Michael to stay a Hero, killing isn’t allowed. At least not for a show that isn’t dark as pitch in tone. The Hero has to maintain audience sympathy. But re-watching, I’ve noticed there’s an actual character motive for this too. Especially when it would be safer and easier for all involved to just blow someone’s head off.
Firstly, I want to say that in most episodes killing the bad guys won’t solve the problem. There’s always some complication that makes “just shooting him (or her)” not effective. These complications are almost always plausible, not just “because”, which I respect. I like it when the story justifies problems instead of just tossing them in because otherwise the episode—or book, or whatever—would be too short. There are a few times when it seems the kill ‘em all option would be best though, even if by a slim margin.
It was the episodes with Dead Larry that revealed the most about this part of Michael’s character to me, though. Michael has a dark side that Larry tries hard to bring out. And Michael is aware he has this dark side, that he lives very close to it. And because of that, he goes out of his way to not just shoot his problems away. Someone—I think was Larry—asked Michael once, what the point was in the elaborate scheme when he was getting his target killed anyway. By Michael’s hand or by another—often because of Michael’s schemes—it was still because of Michael. So why? I forget what Michael answered, but it was because Michael is doing his damnedest to avoid becoming a monster. Especially after he meets Simon.
2—Kith and Kin
I love Michael and the actor who plays him, Jeffrey Donovan. He’s a complex, deadpan snarker (and first-person smartass, via narration) with a fake smile always at the ready. But equally, I love the characters who surround him. It’s their interaction that makes the show so fun. I’ll do this in order the characters are introduced in since I can’t pick a favorite.
Fiona—the “trigger-happy ex-girlfriend” who isn’t so ex. She’s deeply in love with Michael and devoted to him, despite the stormy relationship, but she never comes off as a Satellite Love Interest. At least not to me. Fiona has her own personality, and business (gun-running), and past (former IRA). Her opinions or convictions don’t just get wiped away to make things easier for The Hero. And I’ve always had a soft spot for girls with tempers (that’s why Miss Piggy was always my favorite muppet—well, her and Gonzo).
Madeline—Michael’s manipulative mother. Sweet as poison, tough as nails, and not as bad a person as that makes her sound. Madeline kept her family together despite an abusive husband and troubled sons. While she starts off deliberately ignorant of Michael’s activities, the more involved she gets in her son’s life, the more her true character shows through. Madeline would do anything to protect her sons. And despite the lack of combat training or experience, Maddy can be every bit as scary as her son and his friends.
Sam—Bruce Campbell! Awesome as always. Sam is the only buddy of Michael’s to stick by him, despite informing on Mike to the FBI in the first season. (Spies have complicated relationships.) But Sam risks his life for Michael, and his other buddies, time and again. We even get to see some of Sam’s past in his own movie, Burn Notice: the Fall of Sam Axe. Good natured, friendly, and honorable in a practical way. And so much fun.
Jesse—a late-comer to the regular cast, Jesse appears in season four. A loose cannon, headstrong counter-intelligence agent—just what Michael needs in his life. And did I mention that Michael accidentally burned Jesse? So part of the reason Michael tries to help him is guilt. And, you know, also to keep Jesse from finding out the truth. Not just because Jesse would kill him, but because Michael’s “partner”—part of the agency that ruined Michael’s own life and are now emotionally blackmailing him into helping them—will kill Jesse if he does. Of course, the truth never stays buried when it can cause so much harm. When Jesse finds out all his new friends have been lying to him…he takes it less than well.
Nate—a semi-regular and Michael’s brother. I do love the episodes where Nate shows up. He always brings trouble, and it’s always fun to watch him and Michael bicker. Damn, this was a long section. I’ll keep the rest short, I promise.
3—On to the Explosions
Something blows up or gets lit impressively on fire in most episodes. Part of this is Fiona’s influence, I’m sure—that girl loves her C4. But then, who doesn’t love a good explosion or two? All I can say is Burn Notice must’ve had a hefty special effects budget.
God, these are so much fun. Michael puts on a new personality almost every episode. Some of my favorites are the psycho-thief from s1 Broken Rules; the nervous, nerdy chemist from s2 Rough Seas; car thief Johnny from s2 Hot Spot and s4 Brotherly Love; Louis, which might be short for Lucifer, is possibly my all-time favorite of Mike’s alter egos, in s3 Friendly Fire.
Looking through Wikipedia at the lists of episodes, I realize there are a lot of episodes I loved besides those. Either the plot was especially good or fun, or there was a one time character I fell in love with—special mention to Burt Reynolds in s4 Past and Future Tense on that score. Lucy Lawless was in an episode too. There were just a lot of good episodes in this show.
5—Balanced Plot Lines
Burn Notice does a good job balancing the plot of the episode with the plot of the series. The single plot episodes keep things fun and fast, while allowing Michael victories even while he remains embattled with the people who burned him. And the arc plot moves along swiftly. Nothing gets drawn out unnecessarily, and the plot evolves, as does the exact nature of Michael’s predicament, while still keeping him (mostly) trapped in Miami.
Part of this is that the main characters are allowed to evolve too. It’s interesting to see Maddy get more serious and self-aware, and to see Michael become less certain of himself. Sam’s and Fiona’s evolutions are more subtle but still there. Jesse, I’ve only seen one season of, but I’ve still seen many facets of his personality in that time. I’m curious see what happens to him.
So yes, part two of this review will be posted once I finish the series. Shouldn’t be too long.