Robert Patrick is one of those guys I'll watch in pretty much anything. When he turns up - inevitably playing some gruff bad-ass who nonetheless commands the respect of his underlings - I'm riveted. There's something about the guy that makes him instantly compelling, and he's one of my favorite frequent TV guest stars. Because he was in Terminator 2 so long ago, he'll often get billed in the "next week on" promos as a special guest star, and that's just what Burn Notice did last week. To say that I was pretty excited for this episode would be a bit of an understatement. If anyone would fit into the Burn Notice world as a bad guy who could kick Michael's ass and take names, all the while wearing an expensive suit, it was Robert Patrick. Yeah, this was gonna be epic.
Then the guy was barely in the episode! To be fair, this was mostly a setup for next week's hour, when he will inevitably show up to reveal the entirety of the conspiracy behind the burning of Jesse, but I was still a little disappointed that most of what he did was in last week's "next week on" preview. Still, it was hard to hold that against the episode, which ended up having a lot of fun with the standalone story, particularly because it so prominently featured Bruce Campbell as Sam. Michael Westen is such an important character to Burn Notice that Jeffrey Donovan can go some weeks being in every single scene for one reason or another. To that end, episodes like this, episodes where he sits out much of the action to let the supporting players take some of the weight, become necessary. And if you're going to toss to one of the supporting players, tossing to Sam is the best choice you can make.
Saying that Sam is my favorite Burn Notice character feels like a very Internet-y thing to say. Of course he's my favorite character! He's Bruce Campbell! But I also like the way the show has used him over the years. He's a Michael who doesn't care as much. To be fair, Sam cares. Sam cares a lot. All that the show really needs to do is have Sam care less than Michael most weeks for the weeks when he ends up having to care, it feels like a major step for the character. But, really, on most other shows, this guy would be a saint. In the Robin Hood world of Burn Notice, though, he's the cocksure Little John, the right-hand man who's often more interested in getting the job over with so he can get back to not caring. This is, obviously, a bit dismissive of all that Campbell brings to the role, but, primarily, Sam is there to be the wisecrackin' guy who gets mixed up in all of this because he's loyal to his friends and doesn't really have anything better to do. And in the often hyper-earnest world of Burn Notice, that absolutely works.
This episode is an interesting case study because the scheme that Sam gets roped into doesn't even really involve him in the first place. He just ends up going on the job with Fiona because Michael and Jesse are busy laying the trap for Robert Patrick, Guest Star for Hire and Telecommunications Superman. But it quickly becomes his scheme, as he gets in so deep with the guy who rips off rich women who no longer have husbands in the picture that he has to keep pushing the level of his cover. He's never in any real danger (it IS Burn Notice, where the stakes seem low even when they're high, after all), but the number of things he has to do to maintain his cover is pretty high, and it's just fun to watch Sam - and, by extension - Campbell go through these paces. It helps that he often ends up the one calling the shots, and he has to call in everybody else in the team at one time or another to keep up the lie that he's Chuck Finley, a conman who's trying to bilk wealthy divorcee Alexis (played by Fiona, of course) of her millions but having to use the bank accounts of the conman who's his target - ALSO named Charles - to do so. It's an intricate plan, and it's just fun to watch Sam call the shots.
It's here that we have to talk about the acting limitations of Jeffrey Donovan. I don't mind Donovan's monotone delivery of pretty much everything he's given, since I think it fits the character. I'd daresay it's a part of how he built Michael Westen as things went along. But I do think that he strains a little too much every time Michael's supposed to be angry, and that scene where he was yelling at Sam and his new conman friend was the one awkward scene in the episode. Michael's better when he's unflappably cool, and when he's supposed to be Captain Angry - even if he's acting - it often comes off as Donovan trying just a little too hard. Actors on light basic cable shows are often hired less to be acting powerhouses and more to be mere presences, and I'd say that latter description fits Donovan for the most part. It's when the show asks him to do too much more that it has problems.
At the same time, even as I didn't get enough Robert Patrick out of the episode, what I did get left me excited for whatever the show has cooked up for him next week. Jesse and Michael laid several traps in place to ensure that they'll have a good sense of just what's going down, but all of that's been placed in jeopardy by a very simple thing: Jesse found out that Michael was the one who accidentally burned him. I've enjoyed Coby Bell's performance so far this season, but he took it up to another level in the final scene, as he pulled his gun on Fiona and really seemed like he was going to put a bullet through her. Obviously, I knew he wasn't going to, but Bell sold this moment, and having Jesse out there as - effectively - a wild card in the summer finale is going to be an interesting development.
Coming into the summer finale, it's probably time to look at just where Burn Notice stands in its fourth year. I think the series has rebounded in quite a significant way from the lows of season three, even as it's not up to the level it set in season two (particularly early season two). The show has tightened up its serialized storyline (aside from the fact that it keeps introducing new levels to the conspiracy, which is irritating), but it's also come up with a bunch of fun little standalone stories that have kept things humming along. Furthermore, USA just announced that the show will be back in November, not January, as was typical before, which should help the show give that sense that it's been off the air for a while when it returns next summer. All in all, I'd say Burn Notice is in a terrific position, and I hope it can capitalize on that next week.
- I genuinely do not know if I will be covering the finale. I'll be on vacation, but if Zack is unable to step in for the week, you'll probably have to put up with me again. I know how disappointed many of you are.
- I still have no idea what that oil drum was supposed to do, but it was a cool moment to watch Jesse and Michael build it.
- In terms of the big Jesse kissing Fiona scene, I'm not buying the chemistry between them, show.
- After a couple of episodes where the show had fun with the character of Maddy, she was back to her irritating self here, kicking Michael out to play canasta. I like Sharon Gless in this part, but the show often has no idea what to do with her.