So what the hell was that?
Season finales are tricky business; they've got to resolve major plot points while teasing new ones, be consistent with everything we've seen before while at the same time heightening the drama and the risk, and make sure an audience is just unsatisfied enough that they can't wait to see what happens when the next season comes around. It's even more difficult when you're trying to put a cohesive finish to a season as scatter-shot and frustrating as the third season of Burn Notice. I'm not sure I'd say the show has become flat out bad. The characters are still likable by and large, the dialog is clever, and the action sequences are well-shot and sufficiently exciting. But the main storyline, that had Michael running around trying to dance on the edge of the dark side, never really clicked. Bad guys would show up, make a minor impression, and then get dispatched without much impact, simply to make way to whatever was behind Door #2. At the end of "Good Intentions" last week, the malevolently effete Gilroy got hisself blowed up good, so at the start of "Devil You Know," the question was, who the hell is Simon? And why should we care?
The answer to the first part is easy enough. Simon is Garret Dillahunt, a talented character actor who shot Wild Bill Hickok on Deadwood, chased John Connor on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and traded jokes with Tommy Lee Jones in the delight cinematic romp, No Country For Old Men. Simon is also the man who's crimes were pinned on Michael to facilitate Michael's burn notice. Now that he's out of jail, Simon is looking for a little payback on the man who put him behind bars, and wouldn't you know it, that man is an old buddy of Michaels: John Mahoney, aka Management, aka the guy who showed in last year's season finale, so I guess that's becoming a thing.
I'm not really sure how to take any of this. Management was exciting enough when he was first introduced, but I still have no idea what's going on with his organization, and having him show up now for a few obscurely threatening dialogs isn't terribly exciting. Dillahunt is fine as Simon, but it's just the same damn psycho we've seen time and again on the show, someone who has a lot of the same skills as Michael, but doesn't have Michael's conscience to keep those skills in check. There's a threat with a hotel bomb that ends up mostly as an excuse to keep Fiona and Sam occupied, and once they defuse the problem, what little tension remained in the episode just drained away. Much of this season has been devoted to Michael getting involved with questionable people in order to save lives down the line, but this has always been more of a writer's contrivance than a real moral quandry; I've never entirely believed Michael's motivations were much deeper than "I'm the good guy, and I can't shoot anybody in cold blood," and "Devil" did nothing to change my mind.
The scenes with Maddy and the FBI were as painful as Maddy scenes often are, albeit in a different manner than usual. Burn Notice periodically tries to get serious, and sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. Here, it didn't, because the whole discussion came out of left field. The FBI guy waves a bunch of pictures in Maddy's face, screaming about how Michael's killed and will kill again, but the conflict is nonsensical. We know the pictures aren't really Michael's fault—it's all Simon's crimes—and we're pretty sure Maddy won't give up her son. Shockingly, she doesn't, so she gets arrested. Is this supposed to be a dramatic reminder of the cost of Michael's work? Because it seems like flailing to me.
Speaking of flailing, that last twist… I dunno. I didn't buy Management's insistence that Michael not shoot Simon, and Simon's "He owns you now, boy" when Michael doesn't pull the trigger. And now Michael has been arrested and transferred out of FBI custody (I guess if you ask real nice, they'll let you take whomever you want), and the last we see of him, he's sitting in a nice study. Apparently, in June we're going to learn more about his burn notice, which is really not something I care about at this point in the show; we've had a rough explanation of what happened, and as a mystery, it never gets mentioned anymore. I'm okay not having every little detail.
I'm grading this a little higher than maybe I should on the off chance it will look better in context of the rest of the season. The action was solid (the helicopter pad attack was great, riiiiight up until the point Simon decided to break Tuco's First Law of Gunplay), and the narration had some interesting comments about the relationship between spies and law-enforcement that I wish had paid off better. I'm hoping there's more thematic depth here that I'm missing, that somehow when viewed as a whole, Burn Notice's third season deals with the personal compromises a good man makes to try and do good deeds. But right now, it just looks like a show that's running out of ideas fast.
- Michael Westen on the nature of spying: "When you get right down to it, you're a criminal fighting for a good cause." The show is sort of about this, but in a half-assed way.
- I initially thought that Simon wanted to get back in touch with Management so he could take the job Management had offered Michael. I didn't realize my mistake until Michael called Management; did this happen to anyone else?
- Sam: "It's funny, you never really know a car until you drive it through a wall."
- And hey, here's a point to Maddy for this exchange: "Do you really want to pay for your son's mistakes?" "He paid for mine."
- What did you guys think? What am I missing here?