It's gotten to the point where I can no longer tell whether I liked an episode of Burn Notice or not. I realize that this sounds desperately wishy-washy, as though I'm trying to make it seem like I both like and hate an episode, but at this point, the things that make any given episode work are so close to the things that make any given episode fall apart that I often come away from an episode thinking it enjoyable but still hating a lot of the things that go into it. Take "Breach of Faith." I liked almost all of the things going on in the main plot (outside of a few quibbles), but the serialized storyline that came up at episode's beginning and episode's end was such an afterthought that I couldn't leave thinking the episode as a whole was a complete success. It was fun, but it could have been better.
"Breach" brings in a character that probably shouldn't work nearly as well as he does, yet a character that works pretty much every time the show turns to him: Earnest Sam. Sam started out the show as the wiseass around the edges of the formula, the guy who was there to tweak the show and its conventions and have us laugh along with him. For the most part, the character sticks to that role, and Bruce Campbell does a bang-up job of playing that part. But every so often, the writers give him a chance to play something a little more emotional, a guy who really wants to help out a particular client, and tonight's episode, where he really wants to get Josh's money back, fits quite nicely into that template. Sam actually feels something for Josh, and he seems to want Josh to get his charity's cash back from Nick quite a bit, and that makes the core of the episode mostly work.
In general, this felt like a "bottle episode," even as it didn't quite match the parameters of one (since we kept cutting to whatever Fiona and Jesse were doing throughout the hour, thereby taking us out of the enclosed location). In some ways, this was a bit of a tired rehash of season two's exemplary "Bad Breaks," another episode set in a tightly confined location with a hostage situation (and maybe the best episode the show's ever done). In other ways, it was a clever twist on the traditional "hostage" story formula. Every show of this type has done a hostage episode or two. This is one of the few I can think of where the protagonists actually become the hostage takers and have to find a way out of the situation. That the show mostly came up with a way for this to happen that didn't brutally insult the audience's intelligence was a bonus.
Notice I said "mostly." It's hard to imagine that the cops would just entirely go along with the story that Sam, Michael, Josh, and the woman whose name I've already forgotten (because she was just that much of a nothing character, despite a fairly major plot point being built around her) told them. There's a nice nod to this when the cop asks Michael just why Nick would blow up his own safe, and Michael says, "Maybe he forgot the combination," but the story is a little implausible on its face. For the most part, though, I was willing to go with it, and that saved a potentially alienating conclusion from dragging the rest of the episode down with it.
But never mind the ending. The fun of the hour was in everything that preceded it. Sam and Michael making a thing designed to blow that floor safe out of the floor out of a toaster and some bullets was one of the most fun "when you're a spy ..." moments in recent series memory. I loved the way the storyline twisted and turned around as Sam and Michael had to race to prove that Nick was a bad guy before the police burst in the door, and their attempts to figure out how to get the information they needed out of the woman. Every time it seemed like the two were on a wild goose chase that could only end with them in prison, the episode took off. Burn Notice works best when it seems like Michael keeps getting outsmarted, and when, say, the police knew that he was inside the building or when he had to scramble to find a line out so he could call Fiona, the episode was at its best. There was a lot of fun stuff in this middle section, and I liked the way the episode got Michael and Sam way in over their heads with a minimum of fuss. There was just some expert construction going on throughout the run of this plotline.
I was less enthused about Fiona and Jesse continuing to follow up on the gun runner. I liked the way that special guest star Navi Rawat (who was far too big of a name to be anything other than the latest hot chick antagonist for the show) outsmarted the two when they were pretending to be census employees, but the rest of the plotline fell so far beneath everything else that was going on - and Fiona and Jesse were such afterthoughts in the midst of the hostage plot - that I almost wished the whole thing had been set aside for the week to make the hostage scenario just the slightest bit more plausible. It's been a while since we've had an episode that focused almost entirely on the relationship between Sam and Michael, and this episode could have done even more of that.
That said, when the episode finally returned to trying to find out what Cassar was up to, it returned in a big way. When Michael and Jesse went to the apartment to try to figure out what was going on and broke in, then tried to get more information from Rawat, it was a nice little throwback to the earlier moment about "little details." Watching Michael and Jesse have the same realization at the same moment as they raced back to Rawat's door to try to grab her was fantastic, as was Rawat pounding a hole in the wall to get out her gun, a second before Michael and Jesse burst in. I think the serialized aspects of Burn Notice have gotten a little tired, but the series still knows how to mostly send out an episode on a high note, and it often relies on little cliffhangers like this.
- I am never going to stop being amused by the ways that the show uses those little introductory titles to reflect exactly what Michael or his clients just happen to say. I have no idea why they amuse me so, but they do.
- A nice moment of letting the audience remember something for themselves: Recalling that the gun Michael had handed Nick had no bullets in it.
- A terrible moment of letting the audience think for themselves: I loved the way Michael's narration about the things spies are taught to do when pointing a gun at someone worked at cross-purposes with him holding that gun on Nick. That is, I liked it until he said, "unless you WANT the gun taken from you" (or something similar). Thanks, Mike. I already got that.
- Despite how much I enjoyed this episode, it was no "Bad Breaks," and that ultimately makes it suffer JUST a bit in comparison. Still, the show does "enclosed space" drama particularly well. It should do more of it.