I’ve been contemplating the best way to cover Burn Notice, since it’s not the kind of show that demands a lot of thematic unpacking, like Mad Men, nor is it the kind of show with a dense mythology to navigate, like Lost. Last week I mostly wrote a general appreciation of what Burn Notice does well, but I can’t really fall back on that with every episode. Nevertheless, there are a few points I failed to cover, so I can use that tactic once more—at least a little bit.
For example, I forgot to mention the running gag of labeling the players in each Burn Notice episode, including the moment of truth when the poor soul telling Michael his or her sob story becomes “The Client.” (I rank that in the same tier as It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s title cards when it comes to TV moments that never fail to kill.) And this week we got the added joke of the bad guy getting tagged as “Gangster,” before Fiona complained that he’s really more of a pervert. Right on cue, “Gangster” slides off the screen, and “Pervert” slides on. Golden.
I also haven’t really talked about Michael’s mom, Madeline (played by the crafty Sharon Gless). To be honest, early in the first season I thought the mother was Burn Notice’s weak link, part of the show only to add one more annoyance to Michael’s day. But ever since the two have essentially reconciled their differences, she’s become a nice bit of comic relief, as well a narrative convenience. Michael has gotten so reliant on using his mom’s house as a place to stash clients that tonight she even cracked a joke about it: “If you didn’t bring people over, I’d never see you.”
In “Hot Spot,” the clients hanging with Madeline—and eating all her old, stale food—are Corey Jensen and sister Tanya, who are being hassled by local car thief Felix Cole. It seems Corey punched out Felix after he tried to abduct Tanya, and in order to save face with his crew, Felix is determined to kill Corey. Fortunately for Corey, he has a protector in his football coach (played by Michael Irvin!), who’s buddies with Sam.
It doesn’t take much for Sam to convince Michael to take the case—which involves frightening Felix into fleeing Miami—even though Michael, as always, has other business to attend to. Carla is insisting that Michael step up his investigation into the people who firebombed his apartment, and she’s using the agency’s resources to provide him with a list of names to investigate (drawn from a piece of hardware that Michael boosts). Michael subcontracts some of the legwork to Fiona, setting up a subtle rivalry between his ex-girlfriend and his new boss. I’m starting to think that Carla just enjoys binding and blindfolding Michael, regardless of what she needs him for. At the least, she’s decidedly irritated when she learns at the end of “Hot Spot” that Michael and Fiona are back together.
As to how Mike and Fi end up back in the sack, it all starts with her reminiscing about their days on the job in Dublin, and how she fell in love with his cover before she ever really got to know the man behind it. And then the rekindled flame turns into an all-out blaze when Fiona steps into a booby-trapped house and sets off a four-alarmer—thereby literalizing the metaphor of passion reignited. The scene where Michael stands outside the burning house, begging for information about whether a woman was seen entering or leaving, provided a strong emotional beat to this episode. And then when he finds Fi safe back his place, that hoary old visual cue of a rain-dampened face standing in for tears worked more than it had a right to. The writers set up that moment beautifully.
Unfortunately, the advancement of the Michael-Fiona-Carla business meant that the main case this week never really got resolved. At the least, there was no wrap-up moment where Michael accepts the client’s undying thanks and tells him he has nothing more to fear. I guess we can assume that all happened off-camera.
But even though the case petered out, it was still one of Burn Notice’s strongest, because it helped underscore what it is Michael and his crew really do. The danger to Corey is all due to Felix’s pride: his inability to back away from a fight, lest he be seen as weak and lose power. But what Michael does, week after week, is find ways to make the bad guy’s pride unprofitable. (Or as he calls the strategy: “Undermining your enemy’s will to fight.”) In “Hot Spot,” Michael and his cohorts make believe they’re some international car-boosting operation, and show enough fake muscle to Felix a good excuse to hit the bricks. As it happens, Felix is too dumb to scare easily, so Michael has to adapt his plan and get Felix’s boss to get rid of him (presumably). But the principle’s still the same. Anyway, I enjoyed the contrast between the street-level criminal organization and Michael’s pretend super-mob. It’s amazing how often Mike can put one over on a creep just by offering said creep a glimpse at the kind of global-level power any crook would kill to be a part of. It’s all about leverage with Michael.
Because Burn Notice is so fundamentally light, I’ll resist the temptation to ask how Michael and company can keep operating in Miami after all the undercover scams they’ve pulled. (How many mob bosses can there be in this town anyway?) Instead I’ll close by saying that more than anything, I thought “Hot Spot” was a top-drawer Burn Notice because it was so jam-packed with how-tos, which to me are the show’s real elevating gimmick. This week we found out how-to jack information from a company undergoing a technology upgrade, and how to get away with running from a crime by pretending to be legitimately in a hurry, and how to melt through the engine block of a car with a coffee can full of chemicals, and how to get into an impregnable fortress through the fire exit, and how to make a vehicle bullet-resistant with phone books and foam sealant and plexiglass. I don’t know about you, but every time Michael starts explaining stuff, I get a silly grin on my face.
So how will I cover Burn Notice each week? I’m thinking I’m mostly going to hang out here every week and cite the awesomeness. I hope that’s cool with y’all.
-When Fiona pretends the fortune cookie message reads “The one who burned you is closer than you think” in order to get Michael’s attention, I had to wonder: Is that a clue? Certainly Carla’s a little suspicious of our Fi.
-I’m also starting to think that Gabrielle Anwar’s American accent is getting shakier as the actress gets skinnier.