Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Burn Notice: “Down & Out”

Illustration for article titled Burn Notice: “Down & Out”

The Patton Oswalt primetime invasion begins tonight. In the coming months, Oswalt will be doing multi-episode guest stints on Justified and The Newsroom, and for all I know, an arc as Lena Dunham’s new boyfriend on Girls. But for tonight, he’s the one man who can help Michael and company, now fugitives and enemies of the state, flee the country. (To anywhere but Antigua, which is bad news according to Jesse.)

It’s a bit of stunt casting that works, mainly because the episode would be pretty generic with a no-name actor plugged into the role. The action picks up with our heroes holed up at the marina until Fiona arrives with fake passports. Alas, their cover is already blown, and it takes a narrow escape to evade the clutches of CIA Agent Kima Gre… er, Olivia Riley. Sam calls in a favor from his hacker pal Dixon, which is where Oswalt comes in as ace smuggler Schmidt. Of course, Schmidt needs a favor first, which means, in spite of all the dark, game-changing drama of recent episodes, we’ve got another case of the week on our hands.

The case involves Jabbar Hamady, a Syrian gun-runner whose wife Schmidt had helped escape from his abusive clutches. For the first time in a while, Michael does some role-playing, although there’s no crazy accent involved in his characterization as Schmidt’s former head of security. Instead, he merely has to put up with a few curling iron burns from Fiona in order to convincingly claim he’s been tortured by Schmidt when Hamady and his goons show up at Schmidt’s Costco-for-criminals warehouse.

The usual twists and turns and handmade gadgetry are largely absent this week, as this plays out as one of the Burn Notice team’s most straightforward gigs. When Schmidt foolishly goes back to his warehouse in hopes of salvaging his investment, Hamady’s men are waiting to grab him and torture him for the information they want. (And what is with all the torture lately? At this rate, I’m expecting the season finale to consist of 60 minutes worth of Bruce Campbell getting whacked in the nuts with a golf club.) Michael improvises, calling Sam in to give Schmidt a shot of what is supposedly a truth serum, but is actually a drug that simulates death (for a few minutes anyway, until it starts to cause actual death).

While this is going on, Sharon Gless is mercifully freed from mopey Maddie mode long enough to remind us how much more fun it is when she’s called into action. Watching her lose a tail with some fancy driving at a train crossing or tricking Olivia’s team into picking up Hamady when they think they’re on the way to grabbing Michael sure beats watching her hate-smoke and speak exclusively in holier-than-thou platitudes.

Still, “Down & Out” would be entirely unmemorable if not for Oswalt bringing a different energy to the proceedings. He isn’t used purely as comic relief, but it was undeniably amusing to watch him interact with this particular cast. (He looked particularly Hobbit-like in comparison to relatively towering figures like Coby Bell and Bruce Campbell.) Otherwise, this is an episode that takes us from Point B to Point B. Nothing is accomplished in terms of the overall arc, unless you shed a tear at Sam having to say goodbye to the lady friend who has been mostly invisible until now. Last week’s Burn Notice set up some of the highest stakes of the series to date, but you’d never know it from watching this lightweight, mildly amusing, but ultimately forgettable episode.


Stray observations:

  • The original plan was obviously doomed to failure since Sam’s fake passport was issued in the name of Randy Weems. Surely Fiona should have known to insist on Chuck Finley.
  • Oswalt live-tweeted tonight’s episode, so in case you were wondering whether “Sinead O’Handsome” was an improvisation on his part… it was.
  • “When you’re a fugitive…”