And so we meet the second new major character of the season. Before Burn Notice Season Three began, I read that in addition to Moon Bloodgood’s turn as Detective Paxson, we’d also soon be meeting Tom Strickler (played by Ben Shenkman), an “agent for spies.” Tonight, Strickler finally showed up, bearing a gift basket—“Wow, that’s like two days worth of yogurt!”—an offer to hook Michael up with some well-paying operations, and a warning that there’s a Ukrainian with a grudge bearing down hard on our hero.
Michael, not yet ready to recast himself as a mercenary, shrugs Strickler’s overtures off, though he does take the warning seriously, and attempts to meet with one of Fiona’s occasional contacts: a man named John Beck (played by Keith Diamond), who deals regularly with Eastern Europeans and would know if there were any new war criminals in town. But before Michael can say two sentences to Beck, a band of heavily armed thugs bursts in to the restaurant where the two men are chatting, toss a flashbang grenade, and drag Michael and Beck out. Michael, knowing that a flashbang grenade can disorient a crowd and make using a gun inadvisable, instead snaps a quick photo of the bad guys with his cell phone, then ditches the phone along with his trademark sunglasses in a nearby planter for Fiona to find. Fiona quickly calls Sam, they reconnoiter with Strickler, and the race to find Michael is on, while Michael and Beck—who’ve managed to escape from the thugs—fight to stay alive in a Florida swamp.
“The Hunter” reminded me a lot of the Season Two standout episode “Bad Breaks,” in that it was pretty much nonstop action, rendered cleanly (at times even beautifully) by director Bryan Spicer. “The Hunter” features a little less in the way of spy secrets—though what’s there is choice—and it’s much less light-hearted. But again we have Michael yoked to another man of action, and trapped in an impossible situation. This was a good week for people who like to see Michael kicking ass—as in the scene where he grabs onto a vine to get the advantage on a thug who’s holding his kicking-leg—and blowing things up.
“The Hunter” also has a good villain in Michael’s angry Ukrainian, Chechik, who handily proves a lot of the points that Michael tries to make to the panicked Beck—as well as to those of us watching at home. Michael says at one point that in a hostage situation, if you have something of value to offer, you’ll last longer. If not, you’re toast. He also insists that he doesn’t need to kill everyone who’s chasing him, because if he takes down Chechik, his men will disperse, knowing that they’ve just lost their payday. Sure enough, while hiding in the brush Beck and Michael see Chechik gun down one of his own men, just because they guy has a bum leg and will be a burden to the mission. There’s no loyalty for Michael to exploit here—only self-interest to prey on.
Which raises the only real qualm I have with this episode: What’s Michael’s loyalty to Beck, really? I understand that Michael’s a good guy, and that the show wants us to be sympathetic to him at all times, but during “The Hunter” Michael’s heroic nature defies logic at times. When Beck shouts over to Chechik that he knows where Michael is—and gets shot up for his trouble—there’s absolutely no reason for Michael to drag Beck through the wilderness, aside from his guilt for getting Beck into trouble in the first place.
Still, I get what Burn Notice is up to here. Michael tells Strickler at the top of the episode that he’s not a killer-for-hire, and “The Hunter” is partly about reminding the audience that Michael has his moral standards. (Unless the government’s telling him to kill, and then he asks, “How dead?”) It’s also partly about showing how a good hunter operates, as we watch Michael wait for his captors to shed their vests when they get hot, lose their aim when their guns get heavy, and start to crash after the rush of their kidnapping fades. And yet when Strickler shows up again at the end of the episode, making promises to Michael that he just might be able to keep, I started to wonder who “the hunter” of “The Hunter” really is.
-I know we haven’t seen the last of Strickler, which is good, because I think he’s a much more potentially fruitful character than Paxson was—and not just because Shenkman’s a better actor than Bloodgood. As I implied above, this season is shaping up to be about the true nature of what Michael does for a living and why he does it, and the presence of another potential employer might help clarify the differences between the kind of work Michael’s doing now and what he’d really like to be doing.
-I also don’t think we’ve seen the last of Beck, so well-played by Diamond. I thought he and Michael pinged off each other well, especially in two exchanges:
Beck, wielding pistol: “Maybe it’s time we listen to the guy with the gun for a while!”
Michael, seizing pistol: “Fine.”
Michael: “What would your men do if they found you dead?”
Beck, indignant: “They’d shoot the bastards who did it!”
Michael, casting a shaming glance: “Really?”
-Ever soaked a wound in water? I winced thinking about how much Beck’s gunshot wounds must’ve stung when he was swimming to safety.
-I can’t say I was too thrilled to have Madeline back to being an impediment to Michael’s operations, by holding up Sam and Fiona until they tell her what’s going on with her son. But I guess the writers have to give Sharon Gless something to do; she hasn’t been used much this season. Anyway, I liked the payoff of her boosted presence in this episode, as she uses subtle psychological torture to get Sam and Fiona’s imprisoned sleazebag to give up the info they’re looking for. “I know his type,” Maddy grunts. “They’re only brave when people are yellin’ at ‘em.”
-I imagine that Maddy’s house smells like ashtrays and air conditioning.
-In other news, Fi’s still pissed at Michael, and taking it out on him by surreptitiously kicking him in the face. But they had their tender moments this week too. She gave him his shades back at the end of the episode. And earlier the two of them traded yogurts back and forth. Now that’s love.