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

Burn Notice: "Neighborhood Watch"

Illustration for article titled Burn Notice: "Neighborhood Watch"

The garden variety episodes of Burn Notice are often exactly as good as the guest star they have playing Michael's main client, and the show has found a great one in Shield veteran Benito Martinez, turning up this week as a doctor who has been harassed by drug dealers. His clinic has been bombarded by them, and he's worried he'll have to close up shop. Naturally, his girlfriend goes to Maddie, and Maddie gets in touch with Michael, and we're on our way to good times. Along the way, Michael will kinda sorta seem to flirt with a drug dealer, Navi Rawat will turn up to say things in an affectless tone of voice, and Martinez's character (David) will pretend to be a badass, because that's just how Michael Westen does business. Also, a little kid will fly a homemade spy plane better than either Michael or Sam can. I think we've all learned something.

Actually, scratch that. One of the most entertaining things about Burn Notice used to be that you actually kind of COULD learn something by watching the show, usually about making some sort of weapon out of a bottle of aspirin or something, but something that might come in handy nonetheless. It's doubtful that many people ever went out of their way to try these things, so maybe they were all fakes (though I think there's a Web site designed toward trying every one of them out). But the important thing was that they all felt vaguely realistic if you were only sort of paying attention. Now, the show seems to be drifting over into some pretty hardcore spy action more often than not. Tracing RFID tags? Homemade drone planes? Michael letting us know what to do if someone's coming right at us with a particular brand of Japanese knife and we just happen to be carrying a steel-reinforced briefcase?

I'm not exactly complaining about these things. Eventually, the show was going to have to go bugnuts with this kind of stuff, and I'm surprised they made it as long as they did with the whole "here are some crazy gadgets you can cook up with supplies from Home Depot" gambit. But, increasingly, the lengths Michael and Fiona and company go to to track down the bad guys feel like they're out of the worst nightmares of 95% of the callers on the Coast to Coast AM wild card line. It's like Burn Notice takes place in the horrific dystopia of the Book of Revelation, and no one's bothered to tell us that. (Or, better, that we're already living there and no one bothered to tell us that. Cue fervent Antichrist speculation in comments.) Granted, the show has always gone to the well of having Michael scare bad guys off by tricking them into thinking they're facing off against overwhelming odds when they're usually just facing off against Fiona and a rocket launcher or something - but there's a growing disconnect from reality that I'm not sure the show is using to its advantage or is, indeed, even aware of.

But this was another fairly solid episode of Burn Notice. I didn't like it as well as last week's (which I underrated quite a bit based solely on the ending), but I had a good time, and I liked the way that the Kendra plotline was sprinkled throughout the main plotline, which kept it more in mind throughout, leading to a nice closer for the episode. I wouldn't say the serialized elements and the standalone elements are working as well this season as they were in season two, but they're working a damn sight better than season three, and that's an accomplishment. I would like a little more of a sense of where Management's position is in all of this, other than one or two throwaway lines every few episodes, but that's ultimately a minor quibble.

The best thing about the main plotline is Martinez's work as David: a friendly, helpful neighborhood doctor who finds himself in kind of a nightmare but is seemingly too proud to ask for help from a bunch of former spies. He's dragged into the thing reluctantly, and Martinez really makes you feel the frustration David must feel at, say, having to be cooped up in Maddie's house when he'd really rather be at work, no matter how dangerous. And it's worth it all for the final scene, when Michael sets David up to appear to be a man with some serious connections to mercenaries who are helping him out. He walks up to the dealers with a bit of swagger, tells them they don't know who they're messing with, then unleashes the hounds of Hell on them. It's great fun to watch, and Martinez plays the look of a regular guy who's just realized he's scared some very powerful people just right. The show has gone to this well more than a few times before, but when it's an actor as good as Martinez, he can really sell the fantasy of getting to tell off the people who are making your life awful.

I was less certain about all of the stuff involving Michael's investigation into the drug dealers, involving him going to a club and trying to sell them drugs from a vet, then gradually upping the stakes on them. It was all weirdly by the numbers (aside from the kind of hilarious initial scene at the club, where it almost seemed like Michael was hitting on the dealer), and it dragged down much of the midsection of the episode, as though the writers couldn't wait to get to more scenes with Martinez or wanted to get back to the Kendra plotline. It wasn't bad stuff, just fairly average, and there were no unexpected twists or turns. Burn Notice isn't exactly a show about really unexpected moments coming, but it usually executes this meat-and-potatoes stuff in a way that feels a little more exciting than it did here.


That said, I'd like the Kendra plotline a lot more if it didn't feature Navi Rawat. Rawat's one of those actresses who tends to deliver her lines in a monotone, and she's just not bringing the life to the character that this professional assassin needs. I don't really feel like Michael's in any real danger from her, especially as the show keeps trying to make me feel that, and that's dangerous for such an important character in the storyline. On the other hand, Michael gradually being backed into a corner he has to improvise his way out of is always fun, and I'm interested to see where the story goes in two weeks' time, now that they have her tied up and in the trunk of Michael's car. "Neighborhood Watch" is a solid episode in a solid season, but Burn Notice used to push for a little more than that, and it just hasn't been doing that yet this year.

Stray observations:

  • I'm taking over the show for Zack for the time being, while he figures out how to balance Futurama with everything else. He'll be back eventually, though, so do not fear!
  • It seems to me like Maddie's been in this season barely at all. That could just be me misremembering, since it's not like she's the show's most major character, but she sat out last week and was only in a couple of scenes this week.
  • No, seriously, I want to know more about what's up with Management.
  • Lauren was kind of a thankless part. You could probably eliminate her entirely, for the most part, and get more of what worked in the main plotline with a minimum of fuss.
  • For example, you could have gotten more about how David really didn't want all that much to do with Michael at all with that extra time. That was an intriguing beat that might have been fun to see play out more.
  • "This is just a harmless game of cat and mouse between me and a professional killer!"