The first episode of Burn Notice’s second season opened with Michael Westen captured by a spookily resourceful operative named Carla, who was looking to recruit him—or more accurately, impress him—into her shadowy organization. It also began with one super-cool car chase, during which Michael explained to us how to exploit the safety features in cars to get the bad guys off your back. Tonight’s final Season Two episode, “Lesser Evil,” offered a resolution of sorts to the Carla storyline, but it also offered a car chase to rival the season premiere, with Michael explaining how to mess up the people chasing you by firing bullets off the pavement so that they ricochet up through the undercarriage. Because here are some places armor plating doesn’t help—on cars and on people.
If you’re a Burn Notice fan (and if you’re not, I’m not sure why you’re reading this), I think you had to be pretty satisfied with “Lesser Evil.” It advanced the show’s master-plot to an interesting new point—which I’ll get to in a moment—but it didn’t skimp on the awesome how-tos. Michael told us how to break through a line of cars by using misdirection instead of brute force (just like in a football game), and how to use real service personnel to distract agents looking for spies dressed as service personnel, and how to make a homemade pepper-grenade, and how to hide important documents in a telephone pole utility box. Even Sam got into the act, turning Christmas lights, gunpowder and non-dairy creamer into one mother of an incendiary device.
In fact, this was a good episode for the supporting players. In addition to Sam’s bit of MacGyvering, he also kept Madeline’s house safe with some targeted shooting, and worked with Fiona to help Michael get out from one Carla’s traps. As for Fiona—in her “recommended for mature audiences” T-shirt, and with her desire to hide out in Cuba and take her pick of “sexy unemployed men”—she was at her arms-dealing, day-saving best. And though I’ve expressed some lack of interest in subplots involving Michael’s mom throughout this half-season, I have to say that I was moved my Madeline’s plight tonight (and Sharon Gless’ performance), as she refused Sam’s help and decided to fend for herself, sighing, “The one thing a woman my age can do in Miami is blend in.”
We finally got some long-awaited Burn Notice answers from “Lesser Evil” too. We learned that Carla too was a burned agent, and that she arranged to gave Victor’s family killed so that he’d be forced to join her organization. We learned that Carla’s been under a lot of pressure because the organization is considering shutting their Miami branch down—largely due to the relentless sabotage of Victor. And we learned from Victor that Michael’s efforts to discover who burned him don’t really matter. These decisions are all institutional, not necessarily made by one person that Michael can hold responsible.
What I personally liked about “Lesser Evil”—aside from all the usual bad-assery—was how it continued to develop Michael’s sense of himself, his conscience, and his place in the world. When he hesitates to kill the agents staking out Victor’s safe house, lest they be there for reasons unrelated to their mission, Victor says, “No one’s completely innocent.” And Michael replies, “Is that what you told yourself when you tried to kill me?”
In the end, Michael’s left with a choice. Penned in by Carla, with her organization’s “management” ‘coptering in, he’s given an opportunity to escape a certain death by giving up Victor. And Michael, not wanting to be the guy who does the morally expedient thing anymore, hesitates. (Then Victor essentially kills himself and Sam and Fiona take out Carla, so Michael’s pretty much off the hook there.) Then when he meets “management” (played by John Mahoney), he’s given another choice, between taking over Carla’s job or being left without all the covert protection that the organization has—according to the boss—been providing him for the past year.
And Michael, thinking about the person he wants to be, and the amazing support team he’s put together, and all the crap the organization has put him through since the start of Season One, makes a decision that’s bound to affect the future of this series. Before he leaps from a helicopter into the Atlantic, he grins at his tormenter and says, “I’ll take my chances.”
-So what does this mean for the future of the show? Do we believe Martin Crane, and expect Michael to spend the next season—which starts in June, by the way—solving cases while ducking old enemies? Or will be ducking “Management?”
-Victor lived on Spam and Cap’n Crunch. No wonder he was so mean.
-Victor becomes one of the desperate people to whom Michael loans his razor-sharp mind and fists of fury.
-Did Michael destroy his iPhone? Man, that’s harsh. I wonder what apps were on it? (Perhaps he could describe them to us: “When you’re playing Trism, the important thing to remember is that chains score more the biggest points…”)
-“If someone’s doing something off the books, they don’t hand out decoder rings and retreat to their mountain fortress.”
-I like how there’s always a cigarette haze in Madeline’s house.
-My buddy Tim Matheson directed this episode. He’s always good with the chase scenes.