I gave up my Burn Notice TV Club responsibilities this half-season for two reasons: I’m usually occupied with Fringe on Thursday nights, and I was starting to run out of ways to say, “Not much going on thematically, but still a cool episode.” Well, with Fringe on hiatus and Zack needing a night off, I agreed to step back into my old gig as your Burn Notice host. And I picked a good episode to return to, even if, as always, there wasn’t much going on thematically. (Well… actually that’s not entirely true. More in a moment.)
First off, I’m always happy to see my old pal Tim Matheson, either behind the camera or playing the role of “Larry, Undead Spy.” In “Enemies Closer,” Larry shows up unexpectedly in Michael’s loft with an inconvenient corpse. Seems Larry’s been using Michael’s name on jobs, and in the course of one of those jobs he stole two million bucks from the Colombian mob, setting said mob on a Michael-hunt. (It’s one of those hunters that our man finds lying dead on his floor.) Now Larry wants to leverage the trouble he’s gotten Michael into and get what he’s long wanted: Michael as a partner again. Only he can’t be called “Michael” anymore. He’ll need a new identity when they flee Miami with their trunk full of stolen drug money.
Michael, who has no intention of becoming a permanent part of Larry’s life, comes up with a different plan: he’ll convince mob boss Carlos that the man Larry just killed is the real thief. And he’ll need Larry to give back the money he stole.
If I have one major qualm about this episode, it’s that in typical Burn Notice fashion, the bad guy is a little too easily placated. Larry does throw a curve at Michael when he supplies Carlos with counterfeit money instead of the real two mil, but otherwise Carlos buys Michael’s version of what went down way too easily, and they part at the end of their adventure on far too friendly terms.
But Larry, on the other hand, remains a compelling villain, up there with Brennan as the Mirror Master-level threats in Michael’s Rogues Gallery. (If you’ll pardon my geekery.) Through a little manipulation of Michael’s cell phone, Larry’s able to convince Mr. Westen that his friends have abandoned him, and that he might just have to change names and hit the road after all. But Michael’s visiting brother Nate shakes some sense into him, and by the end of the episode Michael has come up with a plan to get Larry gone—mainly by threatening to burn Larry’s very lucrative secret identity. So Larry bricks it, but not before promising a reckoning. (I look forward to the rematch. Perhaps he and Brennan can team up.)
In addition to the return of one of my favorite villains, “Enemies Closer” had an ample helping of Cool Spy Tricks, even if Michael didn’t provide much of his usual play-by-play. We learned how to vacuum-pack and ice down a dead body. We learned that security cameras are useless if you don’t trim the camera-blocking foliage. We learned that before you jump from a hotel window into a pool, you should toss a mattress down first, to prevent you from plunging to the bottom of the shallow end and breaking your fool ankle. We learned that you can convince people that a dead guy is still alive by hiring an impersonator and having him buy a round of drinks at a bar. We learned that you can get a mob boss’s attention by yanking a spark plug from his car, causing it to falter at ignition and thus convince him that it’s about to explode. And we learned that it’s easier to stitch a corpse into his clothes than to try and dress him in a conventional way.
Which brings us to the other half of the story.
Over the past couple of weeks, watching Burn Notice strictly as a fan and not an evaluator, I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed it more. Or maybe I’m just responding to the current master-plot, which is one of the best the show’s had since the heyday of Carla and Victor. I liked poor, dead Tom Strickler earlier this season (mainly because I like Ben Shenkman as an actor), but he never struck me as a grave threat the way “Black Ops Sociopath” Gilroy does. We still don’t know for sure whether Gilroy can do anything he’s promising to do for Michael vis-a-vis his burn notice, or whether he’s just another ruthless bastard with the means to manipulate.
Anyway, I’ve been enjoying watching Michael try to get a read on Gilroy in their brief times together, much of which involves Michael being a happy-go-lucky, faux-sycophantic smart-ass around him. (When Gilroy says tonight that he’s decided not to kill Michael, our hero tosses off one of the episode’s best throwaway lines: “Thanks?”) And even though Burn Notice may have gone to this well a few too many times over the years, I thought “Enemies Closer” did a good job of reestablishing what Michael’s association with guys like Gilroy and Larry does to his relationship with Sam and Fiona.
When Gilroy wants Michael to steal all the available data on flights coming in and out of Miami, he asks Sam to help by seeing if his ex-Navy buddies can get him a temporary job with the Coast Guard. Sam hates the idea of “pimpin’ my Seal ink.” (“The thing about buddies is that they’re your buddies,” he says. “You don’t make them unwitting accomplices.”) And he hates it even more when he figures out very plainly what flight Gilroy really needs data on. He refuses to give Michael the rest of the information Gilroy needs, lest Mr. Black Ops Sociopath decide to sell the superfluous data to someone equally unscrupulous. So after some grumpy give-and-take, Michael acquiesces and hands over one sheet to Gilroy—“Is this your card?”—and forces Gilroy to tell him that the flight in question will be carrying a weaponized plague. (Only Gilroy hesitates just long enough before spilling that Michael knows he’s probably lying.)
Meanwhile, Fiona’s pissed at Michael when she finds out just how much he worked with Larry in the past. (In Sam’s words, “That guy sucks.”) And Madeline’s mad because Michael seems to be taking the side of Nate and his awful new bride Ruth, who want her to move to Las Vegas. You’d think that these kinds of headaches would encourage Michael to take Larry’s advice and lam it, but if there’s a theme to this episode, it’s there in the missing half of its title. Keep your enemies closer, yes, but only do that if you’re keeping your friends close. Michael needs the people who ground him, and keep him honest. Unlike Larry, he needs his identity.
-Sam, sussing out Gilroy: “The guy’s a scheming psychopath. Keeping their cards close to their vests is what they do.”
-I know it’s just a matter of taste, but there’s never going to be anything all that exciting to me about Gabrielle Anwar in her underwear.
-Michael does not speak Spanish.
-The kind of line you’ll only hear on Burn Notice: “I need you to help me make a very special bomb.”
-Finally, I hope you all caught this SNL skit last Saturday. I like Burn Notice, but I still thought this was funny: