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

Burn Notice: “Fearless Leader”

Illustration for article titled Burn Notice: “Fearless Leader”

After waxing so complimentary about last week’s Burn Notice—both here and on my Twitter feed—I decided to go back and re-watch “End Run” over the weekend, to see if it held up to my heady claims. In particular I watched with an eye towards my insistence on Twitter that a first-time viewer could jump right in and enjoy. The answer? Sort of.

I still think “End Run” is great TV, at once twisty and funny and clever, but I can imagine a Burn Notice novice not getting what the hoopla’s all about. For one thing, I’m sure some TV fans are turned off by the notion that they can watch the third episode of the third season of a series without having to watch all that came before. (“If it ain’t serialized, it ain’t serious,” has become the prevailing attitude among a lot of TV snobs.) And even those who did sample “End Run” might’ve been put off by all the overt ‘80s-isms: the sunny locale, the big explosions, the propulsive soundtrack, the eccentric supporting characters, the general sense of bonhomie, etc. So if you watched Burn Notice last week on my recommendation and you weren’t into it, I apologize. Shows in which buff heroes trap crooks in meth-labs with the help of super-glue and compressed air just aren’t for everybody.

And now, back to you regulars: Wasn’t it awesome this week when Michael trapped that crook in the meth-lab with the help of super-glue and compressed air?

The crook in question is Rick Matheson (played by Erik Palladino, an actor I hadn’t seen in years until suddenly he started appearing on roughly every show I watch this past spring). Matheson’s been a white whale for Michael's nemesis Detective Paxson for a long time, so Michael figures that he can prove to the stubbornly persistent policewoman that he’s actually a good guy by helping her behind the scenes to take down her prize perp. He does this by focusing on “Aspiring Public Enemy” Tommy (played by Nic Turturro), a low-level cog in Matheson’s machine. After Sam inks a fake prison tat on Michael’s arm, Michael finds Tommy at the dog track and sets himself up as “Milo,” a bumbling criminal from up north who could use a break. Tommy—who sees a little of himself in Milo—agrees to let him into Matheson’s organization.

There were two interesting developments in “Fearless Leader:” one long-term, one-short-term, and one predictable and one not.

The predictable, long-term development is that Michael’s success in bringing down Matheson does in fact get Paxson off his back, for now. This was a change that had to happen eventually, in part because the cop-in-the-way subplots were bound to become tedious after a while (especially with the wooden Mood Bloodgood playing the cop) and in part because this is a classic pulp scenario: the law enforcement officer who’s warily helpful to our hero. I don’t know how long the BN folks are planning to keep Bloodgood on call, but Michael could certainly use his own Commissioner Gordon to trade favors and intel with.


The unexpected, short-term development had to do with Tommy. After all the trouble that Michael goes through to dupe Tommy—blackening his own eye, having Fiona play a hair-twiddling moll, bugging a pack of cigarettes—it turns out that Tommy wants to shut him out of a big job not because he doesn’t trust “Milo,” but because he’s afraid the kid’s going to get himself killed. Tommy’s a big softie. Michael, touched by Tommy’s loyalty, abandons his undercover persona and comes clean, explaining that they’re planning to take down Matheson and would like his help.

I enjoyed “Fearless Leader” quite a bit, though it could’ve used a little more complication, and maybe a smidgen more spycraft. Matheson’s an interesting villain, and I felt he was put away too quickly. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of a recurring rogues gallery for Michael. And now that the cops are laying off Michael’s crew, I think it’s time for Miami’s criminal organizations to apply a little more pressure. Though going undercover is a key component of this show, there’s going to come a point—very soon—where Michael’s ability to snow the Mathesons of the world is going to become credibility-straining. As I wrote last season: How many ganglords can one city have? After a while, wouldn’t they start to spread the word throughout the underworld to be on the lookout for an awesome dude wearing sunglasses and speaking in a funny accent?


Then again, if the crooks do start getting wise, we might lose scenes like this episode’s highlight: the dry-cleaner heist that Michael, Sam and Fi run with Tommy to prove their worth. I love how Michael subtly corrects Tommy’s plan on the fly, suggesting that Fiona could cut the wire to a security camera rather than spray-painting it, and that they could bust a padlock with a motorized chain. I love that Michael’s outside-the-law status allows him to rob ordinary citizens as part of his undercover persona. But most of all, I love the dilemma that a scene like this presents for our hero. How do you stay in character, yet make sure no one gets hurt, and clue in your fellow undercover crew-members about how to play their hand? Watching Michael deploy group strategy on the fly is one reason why I’m devoted to Burn Notice. To keep up the superhero theme, these guys are like The Justice League Of America, trading quips and barking out suggestions to each other while they zoom in to land a haymaker. And man, that’s okay by me.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

-“I have a headache in my eye.”

-Another week of excessive ADR. I’m not sure if they’re just shooting too much footage and having to bring the actors back in to cover edits, or if the location shooting is messing up the audio, but it’s been a little sloppy so far this season. Always in the first 10 minutes or so, too. It’s like the exposition part of the episodes are stymieing the Burn Notice writers and directors.


-Speaking of clumsy exposition, as much as I enjoyed the Sam getting audited subplot—“Something about deducting mojitos,” he explains—I thought the part of the episode where we found out that his persnickety auditor Stacey Connoly was the son of a Sam Axe ex was kind of abrupt. Stacey sees a baseball card and hesitates, and Sam suddenly remembers that he knew the man when he was a boy. Very jarring. But Sam teaching Stacey to drink Fuzzy Navels? Super-cute. I hope we see Stacey some more.

-Funny line when Michael tries to explain to Paxson why Fiona just smashed through a window at the home of “Charmless Sleazebag” Randall: “She may have consumed two alcoholic beverages.”


-Maddy’s cookies? Still not good.

-“TV’s Stacey Keach is a wonderful actor…”