It took until at least the third commercial break before I realized why I was enjoying tonight's Burn Notice season finale so much more than the last few episodes ... but then it hit me. There was no contrived case shoehorned into the proceedings, no wince-worthy Westen cover identity to deal with (aside from a brief turn as a frazzled lawyer), no distraction at all from the conclusion of the NOC list arc, playing itself out in fine, entertaining fashion.
Matt Nix and company unleashed half the Burn Notice rogues gallery on Michael and friends tonight. We'd already been teased with the return of Jay Karnes as Tyler Brennen, responsible for gunning down Marv and seizing the flash-drive containing the list. As tonight's first hour, "Out of the Fire" begins, Jesse is back in dark avenger mode, although the gang is able to calm him down pretty quickly, as usual. While Jesse is throwing the authorities off the trail with a cover story about Marv's recent activities, Michael meets up with Brennen, who is treating the NOC list like the Glengarry leads. He figures everybody on the list has somebody who wants him or her dead, and is willing to pay to make it happen. Brennen will act as middleman and Michael will do the killing, or else his pal Vaughn (Robert Wisdom) gets an email alerting him that Michael has been talking about his covert operation to the feds.
Enter our second special guest villain, Michael's old frenemy Larry (Tim Matheson), still trying to get Michael to reclaim his bad old self. I mentioned in an earlier entry that the quality of a Burn Notice episode often directly correlates with the quality of Michael's competition, and that proves to be the case here. Having to deal with two guys who have many of his skills but not a shred of his conscience proves more difficult than Michael bargains for, particularly since they all have the same agenda: to end up in possession of the list. Fortunately, however, Larry reduces the odds significantly by killing Brennen in order to use his cold, dead hand to open the biometric safe that houses the flash-drive. I'm sure I'm not the only one who'll miss Jay Karnes' special brand of smarm, but Brennen's death raises the stakes a notch, as now there's nothing to stop his automated e-mail from reaching Vaughn.
The second hour of the finale, "Last Stand," is a particularly action-heavy climax to the season, as Michael, Fiona, and Jesse hole up in an abandoned hotel while Vaughn and his forces close in. Plenty of pyrotechnics ensue, along with a slick, Die Hard-style stunt in which Michael rappels down the side of the hotel using one of Vaughn's soldiers as a counterweight. The odds don't look good for the team's survival, which is always a sign that Fiona is going to make with the relationship talk, and boy, does she ever. I could have lived with about half as much of that, but at least Jesse finally seems to convince her that the reason she loves Michael is because he does all this crazy shit, not in spite of it.
With an assist from Maddie, Sam convinces John Doman's Congressman Cowley to call in the cavalry for a last-minute save. The happy ending doesn't last long, however, as Michael is once again led away by guys in suits before he can celebrate the victory. But this time, there's a twist. Michael is dropped off on a street corner that doesn't appear to be in Miami, judging from the snow on the ground and the godawful CGI breath effects in the air. A creepy Dylan Baker character shakes his hand and welcomes him back. Pan up to reveal we're in Washington, DC, and ... scene. And season.
So is Michael really back in? Is there a dramatic format change ahead, or will everything be pretty much business as usual 10 minutes into the next season premiere? I have my suspicions, but I'll file those away for another time. For now, I'll tip my cap to Burn Notice, which pulled off a most enjoyable final act, just when I was expecting it least.
- We've never seen the Dylan Baker character before, have we? Michael's "You!" made me think we must have, but I don't specifically remember him, and his IMDb page doesn't list any prior Burn Notice appearance. Dude does a lot of TV, though.
- I had a fleeting thought that Jesse would go down in a hail of bullets, but it looks like Coby Bell may be on board for the long haul, however long that is.
- "I was just trying to kill you with my mind."
- Handy tip: If you're going to frame a terrorist group for a bombing, be sure to shop at the same explosives store that supplies their C4.
- I guess that's it. It was a weirdly short and uneven half-season, but all's well that ends well. Or perhaps you disagree?