You probably won't believe this, but I largely enjoyed tonight's episode of Burn Notice. The two plots dovetailed and wound their ways around each other in interesting and entertaining fashion. The action sequences were pulse-pounding without being over-the-top. The characterizations of the guest characters were all sharp and fun. And even Navi Rawat didn't drag things down too much, somehow turning out to be a much better actress when she's strapped to a chair than when she has full command of her limbs. I'm sure that I could (and probably will) quibble about a few of the episode's developments, but this was a pretty top-flight hour of the show. Along with the hostage episode from two weeks ago, it suggests the series has come back strong from a weak third season. Plus, Burt Reynolds is on next week, and Burt Reynolds is NEVER in anything that's worthless, right?
Tonight's main plot stems from a client calling Michael and Fiona in to help him catch an art thief (well, our client, Buddy, doesn't know this at the time, but that's where we end up). Said art thief, Mr. Slippery, has been so good at evading authorities that basically no good information exists about him. There's no picture of him, and, as you may have noticed, no one has a name for him either. He's just Mr. Slippery, and to catch him, Michael and Fiona are going to have to start at square one, pretty much. That means going to the local museum, where TV's Alan Dale has to be convinced that his priceless ancient sword is in danger of being replaced with a fake and stolen. Naturally, this means Michael and Fiona have to go through a series of elaborate ruses to get him to agree, then have to uncover Mr. Slippery's plot, then have to catch Mr. Slippery.
Honestly, this storyline is a little more twisty and turny than Burn Notice usually is. There's every chance it could get lost in the woods between all of the characters it ties in, as well as building up the potential evidence that any single one of them could be Mr. Slippery. Honestly, the final reveal that Mr. Slippery is museum employee Selena was something I'd guessed pretty early on, but the show did a nice job of misdirecting, to the point where I thought it was going to be BUDDY who was the thief, and I was going to rant about how it didn't make any sense. Fortunately, the show played fair, as Selena was the suspect who made the most sense, and the final reveal, while predictable, was handled with a minimum of fuss (though I probably didn't need Fiona saying she didn't see that one coming).
But the final reveal isn't what's fun about this plot. It's the fact that every step along the way is also fun. I love heist movies, and this was basically a heist movie in reverse, with Michael trying to outguess Mr. Slippery and almost falling short. Is it the most original structure ever? No. It's a structure the show has turned to, more or less, one or two times before, also. But there's something about it that just works, and the snappily written script has some good lines for just about everybody, even Fiona, who's not known for being the show's comic highlight. It certainly doesn't hurt that in Dale, the show has found a character actor who pretty much always plays the rich, gruff tycoon but always does that well, and that in Buddy, the show has gone to a type - asexual, probably gay, shoe salesman - that can be easy to make offensive or just stupid, then mostly avoids those pitfalls.
Plus, honestly, the explosions are big, the spy tips are solid, and the action is a lot of fun. Fiona making a 20 minute voyage in 12 minutes and then shooting Buddy in the arm to keep him from blowing up? Excellent stuff. Michael infiltrating the scene of an explosion by impersonating a fireman from county and then bluffing his way out? The sort of thing the show does often, but the sort of thing the show does well. Buddy really wanting to get involved, and Michael and Fiona having to walk him back from it? Again, handled with a lot of fun. Sam gets tied in here and there, the gang at the museum are all sketched in handily and quickly, and there are very few moments when the voiceover underlines a plot point that we could have figured out visually. (A good example: When Buddy appraises the sword and the camera simply cuts to a close-up of the part he looks at to verify its authenticity.)
The other plotline is also mostly good. I still have some quibbles with Rawat's line delivery in places (she has a tendency to make crazy sound really, really boring), and there's at least one moment when Michael's voiceover ruins what could be a nicely tense moment. But for the most part, the story of Michael, Jesse, and Sam trying to break Kendra is well handled. They get the assassin in the back room and tie her to a chair (as mentioned). Then, they spend the hour dealing with a woman who has literally nothing left to lose. She tries to bash her own head in. She tries to flip Jesse. She finally gives up just enough information for them to find a way to get her to give up even more. And when the hour is over, Jesse's had his first big success, and the guys are drinking toward having a new plan. Kendra was sent to kill Cassar because he was part of a team robbing a bank, sent to get a certain safety deposit box. When they didn't, the man who wanted them to (whom Kendra doesn't know, of course) decided to clean up the mess. Presumably from here, Michael and the gang are going to have to find the rest of the robbers and figure out what was in that box. Simple, but the serialized stuff works better when the guys have concrete goals.
One small quibble here: We don't yet know Jesse so well that the show couldn't play, say, Kendra's offer of $300,000 to him for a bit more suspense. Logically, we know that he's not going to take her deal because his name is in the main credits and he's one of the good guys. But by throwing a Michael voiceover atop the scene, any suspense over whether his interest is genuine is immediately crushed. It's a minor quibble since there's not a lot of suspense to begin with, but I do think not having the voiceover there could have made for a better way to examine who Jesse fundamentally is. But that's, again, a pretty minor note in an episode that was high-caliber fun.
- Some nice stunt work this week, with Buddy taking the fall and the various explosions throwing people around. I realize the stunts are almost always good on this show, but you rarely see them getting singled out.
- I'm sure plenty of people will be irritated by Buddy, but I enjoyed the character, and I hope he comes back. It's always fun to see people SERIOUSLY out of their depth try to do what Michael does.
- "He needs your booming baritone rattling the walls."