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Burn Notice: “Mixed Messages”

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When an episode begins with Michael reading a love letter from Fiona, then flipping a table like one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, there’s cause for trepidation. Fortunately, “Mixed Messages” soon finds Burn Notice getting its groove back after last week’s venture into dark ‘n’ gritty territory. Given Michael’s current state of mind, keeping him on the periphery of the action ends up working in the episode’s favor.

In hopes of getting visitation rights to Fiona, Michael seeks out a job with his former training officer, Tom Cord (John C. McGinley). Cord has been working with a joint CIA-DEA task force targeting a Mexican drug cartel that is now attempting to establish a foothold in Miami. There’s a two-ton shipment of cocaine on the way, and the plan is to infiltrate the cartel and convince its security expert/psychopath Montero to redirect the shipment to a cove where a DEA team will be waiting to intercept it. In order to execute the plan, Michael and Jesse pose as DEA agents gone rogue. (The twist, which doesn’t exactly come as a complete surprise but works well enough nonetheless, is that Montero already has a rogue DEA agent working for him.)

This is usually the set-up for one of those episodes where Michael uses his Jedi mind tricks to get gun-wielding psychos to do his bidding, rather than shooting him in the head, as would be in their best interests. Instead, Michael is forced to bail on the mission because he’s already met the cartel’s drug lawyer on another job. (Burn Notice is really reaching back into the archives for these character reprises: Steve DuMouchel’s Bruce Gellman previously appeared in the third episode of the first season.) That means Jesse is forced to do the “You don’t really want to do that, man, you want to do this!” routine all by his lonesome, and he’s actually more convincing than Michael usually is. Of course, it helps that he’s wired for sound and has a team of agents at the ready to pose as an extraction team if needed.

In fact, it’s almost as if Michael’s mojo has been sucked out of him and divided among his team members; while Jesse has inherited the mind-control bit, Fiona has absorbed his special MacGyver abilities. (I assume Sam got the funny voices, but he never had the chance to use them.) Indeed, Fiona’s adventures in prison pan out just as I’d hoped, as the newbie finds herself pitted against the massive D.B. and her Switchblade Sisters. With the help of a fellow convict (Taryn Manning of Sons of Anarchy), Fiona gets the upper hand, while we get some helpful tips on turning batteries into lighters and magazines soaked in salt water into billy clubs.

My suspension of disbelief finally deserted me in the closing minutes, when Montero failed to shoot Jesse in the head immediately after finding out he’d been set up. But we’ve been down this road many times before, so it’s probably best just to pretend that Burn Notice takes place in a parallel universe where violent psychopaths can always be talked out of murdering the regular cast members.

It’s worth noting, I guess, that “Mixed Messages” also features the return of Seth Peterson as Michael’s brother, Nate, in one of his more pointless appearances (and that’s saying something). It seems Nate’s wife has left him, taking their daughter with her, and… do we care about this? Is this a set-up for Nate seeing more action with the team, just as Maddie has done of late? And if so, will that take even more screentime away from Bruce Campbell, who has been under-utilized in these first two episodes? Stay tuned.

Stray observations:

  • Jeffrey Donovan directed this episode, which is probably the real reason Michael was largely sidelined this week.
  • My DVR cut off with about 30 seconds left in the show. Did anything earth-shattering happen after Fiona’s new friend tried to kill her, then confessed that someone on a cell phone had threatened to kill her sister?