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

Burn Notice: “Fail Safe”

Illustration for article titled Burn Notice: “Fail Safe”

I’ve come to rarely expect the unexpected from Burn Notice, so this season finale deserves kudos for delivering an ending that took me by surprise, even as it left me somewhat unsatisfied. I fully expected “Fail Safe” to wrap up the Anson arc, perhaps introducing a new threat in its closing minutes, and that’s not what happened at all. I’ll get to my qualms about the episode later, but first let’s take a look at what Burn Notice did right in closing out its fifth season.

How about that glittering all-star guest cast? OK, so maybe it wasn’t the A-list, but a few recognizable faces did show up to add a little luster to the evening. Eric Roberts and his career have seen better days, but his weathered mug and menacing demeanor did lend a little gravitas to the role of Reed, a freelancer who recruits spies to sell secrets to hostile Middle Eastern governments. Michael should have had no problem taking him down with both a Superman and a Terminator on his team; Dean Cain, of course, played the Man of Steel on Lois And Clark, and Kristanna Loken was the T-X Terminatrix in T3: Rise Of The Machines. This concludes the Where Are They Now? segment of this review.

Another mark in the episode’s favor was the way in which the B-plot ended up dovetailing with the main storyline—something that happens all too rarely on this show. Having learned from Vaughn in the last episode that Anson is rebuilding his organization, Michael surprises the evil mastermind in a parking garage. With Fiona in a sniper’s nest across the street, Michael confronts Anson about his plan, but the super-genius gets in Michael’s head by suggesting that he owes everything good in his life, most notably his relationship with Fiona, to Anson for doing the favor of burning him.

Michael still thinks there’s a way to take down Anson without sacrificing Fiona’s freedom, and that opportunity arises when Sam discovers that Anson has purchased a private military facility in Tampa. (Do they advertise those on Craigslist?) Figuring that the facility is probably housing the explosives that Anson plans to use in framing Fiona, Sam and Fi stage a break-in in hopes of swiping the evidence. Once again, however, Anson is three steps ahead of them, and has rigged the place to blow in case this very scenario played out.

While this is going on, Michael is continuing to work his way back to full-time status with the CIA. Pearce assigns him to nab Eric Roberts at a spy convention, and gives him his very own team to operate, including the above-mentioned Superman and Terminatrix. I liked the idea that this group represented a sort of bizarro version of Michael’s usual team, but the episode never got around to making much of this.  My usual annoyance whenever Burn Notice shoehorns a side-mission into a season finale was mitigated by the fact that, as mentioned earlier, the B-plot tied into the main action. The ever-scheming Anson wants Michael to burn his new team, and make it look like Pearce helped them steal money from freelance spy Reed.

To this point, I was fully on board with “Fail Safe,” and looking forward to seeing how Michael and company would wiggle their way out of the box they’d found themselves in. It didn’t really work out that way, which brings us to the negative side of the ledger. It’s not that I particularly minded Fiona turning herself in (a development I expect to be reversed within about 10 minutes of the season six kickoff, unless Gabrielle Anwar has plans to leave the show I’m not aware of), or that Matt Nix and company have apparently decided to keep Anson around a while longer. It’s just that one of the pleasures of Burn Notice when it’s firing on all cylinders is watching our heroes turn the tables in a clever, fun way, and this episode simply didn’t deliver on that score. Yes, Michael did manage to complete his CIA mission, but that’s basically all the resolution we got from “Fail Safe,” and it’s not much.


One thing that’s bugged me throughout this whole Anson arc is that it never really became clear (unless I missed it) how he was going to exercise his leverage over Fiona if, say, Fi shot him in the face. Was there some mechanism in place to deliver the “evidence” to the authorities in the event of Anson’s demise or disappearance? I don’t think this was ever adequately explained, although feel free to correct me if I’ve just whiffed on this one. In any case, the tearful goodbye at the end didn’t feel entirely earned, because it seems like Michael and the gang should have been able to figure a way around it. That’s what they do, after all. Anyway, I suspect all this will be sorted out sooner than later, but for now I’m a bit disappointed that the season finale lacked a certain finality.

Stray observations:

  • What are the chances that Fiona’s arrest is the set-up for a stand-alone movie along the lines of The Fall Of Sam Axe? A Burn Notice take on the women-in-prison genre might be fun.
  • After all the speculation last week about who Anson’s mole might be, those who guessed “someone we’ve never seen before” were correct. Never trust a Terminatrix.
  • Jesse peddling himself at the spy convention and getting only pens and mugs for his trouble was good for a chuckle or two.
  • Sam’s switched beers again. I couldn’t tell what he was drinking, but at least it wasn’t that MGD 64 swill he was chugging last season.