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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Burn Notice: “Under The Gun”

Illustration for article titled Burn Notice: “Under The Gun”

I'm guessing most bad guys aren't entirely bad. I'm not saying everyone's redeemable deep down, necessarily; I'm an optimist, but even I think it's probably possible to blacken your soul so thoroughly it can never be washed clean. (Like, say, by killing a whole room full of kids with your lightsaber.) It's not really a matter of redemption, though. It's about human nature. Viewed from the right distance, a person's actions tend to follow a basic trend, but the closer you get, the more you notice certain discrepancies. That's what makes people so interesting to pay attention. If you're smart enough, can predict maybe ninety percent of behavior. But that remaining ten percent can really screw you if you're not careful.

Burn Notice is at its best when it undercuts Michael Weston's near superhuman spy skills with this kind of uncertainty, and "Made Man" is a great example. I wouldn't rate it as high as my favorite episodes, because none of the leads are ever in any real danger and I have certain problems with the ending, but it's definitely very cool. The addition of Jesse to the main crew has done wonders for the character dynamic, with Jesse's bravado and disregard for subterfuge setting both Sam and Michael's teeth on edge. (Fi seems pretty into it, unsurprisingly.) What's really nice is that Jesse isn't an idiot because of these things. The steps he takes early in the episode to confront some thieves, steps that Michael directly orders him not to take, give the team a new case, but even more importantly, get them further along on the master plot of investigating, um…

Okay, can I be honest? I took some notes about the Cobra situation, and I know in broad strokes how it relates to Michael and Jesse and everyone, but so far, the details are the least interesting part of the current season for me. They don't drag down the action (yet), but, as is often the case with BN, it's mostly just a case of going through the motions to keep up the illusion of a season-long storyline. I've made my peace that this is an inherent part of the series, and I think it's generally a decent idea. After all, Jesse really wouldn't be around if Michael hadn't been trying to defeat the Dark Side, and the tenuous nature of their relationship is the kind of slow (ahem) burn that really helps tighten the screws even in innocuous moments. I just don't really care much for the Carmen Sandiego style of storytelling, where each week we get clues that lead us to a new site that leads us to more clues that leads us to hey, what's the capital of Ohio, again?

I'll put it up with it, though, because the emotional angle is getting interesting. Maddy's getting something to do again that actually makes her more competent and appealing. She basically beats down Jesse's defenses with kindness and instinct, until he finally explains (near the end of the episode) that he's a former operative. It's impressive that Maddy would figure out who was responsible, and I can believe she could put the pieces together, but I'm not completely sold on her big confrontation with Michael in the final scene. It was too forced, too histrionic. Michael's actions, while irresponsible, weren't that awful, and the fact that he's obviously working with Jesse to try and get him his life back means he doesn't exactly need a lecture about the horrors of his work. (Besides, Jesse doesn't really seem like he's hurting that much, right? If Michael had somehow gotten him injured or put his family in danger, I'd buy Maddy's freak-out. As is, it's more that the writers still want to position her as the moral center of a universe that, quite frankly, already seems moral enough.)

Still, it was interesting, and her point about how lies have a way of coming out show come up again soon enough. Really, though, Sam was the heart of this one. He gets the episode's best scenes, and his actions make the Thug of the Week, a mobster named Tony Caro (character actor Nester Serrano) more compelling. After Michael's initial attempts to get to Caro fall through (leading to a cool fight scene), Sam drugs Caro, handcuffs him to a hotel bed, and threatens him with a butcher knife in order to push him over the edge. I love moments like this, because it's just a hair away from going over the top, and Campbell sells it with just the right level of casual disinterest.

Then there's Sam's speech about his buddy in El Salvador. Jesse forces him into it, which means we get some great pay-off to the tension between them. (Sam, generally a very laid back guy, is really not happy to have to reveal personal information while on a job.) Even better, Tony is so wowed by the speech that he gets a dude crush on Sam, refusing to abandon him during a crime (and royally screwing up the team's original plans), and then expecting Sam to help him basically rule the Mafia afterwards. It's a little goofy, but it's such a weird, unexpected turn that it mostly works. Generally the villains on Burn Notice are through and through despicable. Tony isn't what I'd call an exception, but it's good to have a reminder that even bad guys sometimes act like good ones.


Like I said, I wasn't huge on the ending. The team's occasionally passive aggressive attempts to get their targets killed are always a little odd (especially since Fiona could've easily murdered Tony earlier in the episode with the car bomb), and to basically put him in a situation where he was almost certain to get a bullet in the face after all that effort to put him behind bars made for a weird compromise. (Even then, I would've been okay if Tony actually had died. That last line about him being in the hospital is really ridiculous.) I'm happy with this one, though. This season is shaping up well, and while I'll be leaving coverage starting next week, I'm going to keep watching.

Stray Observations:

  • Sam's right. Cobra is a stupid code name.
  • Jeffrey Donovan does a great "Arrrgh, fine" face.
  • My Favorite Spy Tip Of the Week: hiding a bug in a wad of gum and lint so nobody wants to touch it.
  • Brief as it was, I thought Michael's cover ID wasn't bad this week. Also, I got real excited at, "Holding someone's arms behind their back is a good technique for a bully on the playground, but it leaves you very exposed."
  • "Sometimes the most hardened criminal can decide to be noble at the most inconvenient time."
  • "Okay, I am now officially the closest friend of a total psychopath."
  • No spoilers, but judging by the preview, next week's episode looks terrific.