This week’s Burn Notice fits nicely with my blog post earlier today about “modern inconveniences.” Michael Westen has always excelled at turning technology against the people who rely on it, and even the title of this episode—“Shot In The Dark”—speaks to the way frustration at failing electronics can turn into outright fear, and then panic. When Fiona uses a car’s own electronic safety mechanisms to disable it, and when Michael uses a circuit breaker to switch off a streetlight, the two of them are able to create a situation in which the protective devices embedded in technology lead to a man walking through darkness to a car that won’t start. And with his world suitably shaken, the man becomes much easier to manipulate.
The man in question is Erik “Ted” Luna. (I call him “Ted” for reasons that should be obvious.) Erik’s the plugged-in puppet for his brother Quinn, who masterminds several shady operations in Miami, using Erik’s powerful connections to grease the wheels. The problem is that Erik’s a bit of a bastard in his private life, prone to beat on his wife April and his stepson Joey. So Joey steals a gun from his neighbor, Fiona, intending to shoot Erik—except that Michael and Fiona catch him in the act, hear his story, and decide to help him by running Erik out of town. (Though first, naturally, they park April and Joey with Madeline.)
The helping-a-battered-woman-and-her-kid element of “Shot In The Dark” is a bit maudlin, and the way Michael and company finally get around the much shrewder Quinn and get Erik to flee—by convincing Quinn that Erik’s gone crazy—borders on the ridiculous. But I don’t much care. Although I prefer it when every element of Burn Notice (from the master-plot through the case-of-the-week through the improvised gadgetry and undercover work) all click, I also recognize that sometimes the formula’s just there to provide the proper kick. And “Shot In The Dark” had plenty of kick.
For one thing, I enjoyed the way Michael came up with a cover—as a disgruntled customer for one of Erik’s shady businesses—that allowed him to punch Erik in the stomach at every available opportunity. Never not funny. And I loved the con our gang ran on Erik, convincing him that he and Michael were being hunted, and that Fiona and Sam could take out the hunters, only to fake their own deaths with the help of some exploding blood bags and more slow-motion convulsions than a Sam Peckinpah film.
Eventually, when the fake deaths don’t sway Quinn, Michael has to drag out Plan B, which involves them coming back to life and pretending that Erik only imagined the murders, because he’s cuckoo. That’s where I checked out. But by then, the episode had made its point. For all the meticulous planning, the core of this week’s operation revolved around something Fiona said at the start: “In my experience, if something’s too good to be true, it’s best to shoot it, just in case.” That kind of fear of the unknown can be a useful tool in the hands of a master craftsman like Michael Westen.
-Sam, establishing the basics for a successful operation: “We got firearms, and we got snacks.”
-After my complaints last season about the choppy work of the usually fine director Ernest Dickerson, I was happy to see him more on his game with “Shot In The Dark.” The scene under the bridge, with the characters silhouetted against a graffiti-ed wall and its puddle reflection, was just gorgeous. And in general, there seemed to be either some more novel locations or some new ways of shooting those locations in this episode. Everything just looked fresher to my eyes. (Have we seen Fiona’s place much? If so, it looked totally new this week.) I also enjoyed the sly nod to some of Dickerson’s past music video work with the wall full of images from Public Enemy’s seminal hip-hop album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.
-Fiona doesn’t blink an eye when Michael hangs an abrupt U-Turn. She’s a good woman.
-Nice shot towards the end of the fatherless Joey trying to lean against a car just like Michael.
-Fiona’s “best to shoot it” quote refers to the master-plot, which moved forward apace this week, with the reappearance of both “agent to burned spies” Strickler and “reluctant CIA contact” Diego. Michael determines that Strickler is legit—at least about his ability to get things done—when he runs the name by Diego and then taps Diego’s data stream to see how many encrypted messages start flying back and forth. The answer? A ton. (Michael doesn’t need to know what they say; only that they exist; again he uses technology's failsafes to his benefit.) And so Michael agrees at the end of the episode to do a job for Strickler, which I assume we’ll see next week. Will Strickler be another Carla? Or will he be to Michael what Michael wants to be to Detective Paxson: Someone who’s here to help? Something tells me were about to get some lessons in the limitations of trust.
-And of course we might also see the reappearance of “some guy named… Chuck Finley.”