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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Burn Notice: “Under The Gun”

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Sam Axe fans have been waiting patiently for the big lug to get a little more screen time this season, and in that regard at least, “Under The Gun” delivered. That’s not to say tonight’s hour put Bruce Campbell’s talents to their best possible use. The set-up: Michael, Jesse and Sam head out to the Everglades to investigate the tip Fiona slipped Michael at the end of the last episode. The prison guard who wants her dead, presumably under orders from Anson, turns up dead himself once the trio reach their destination. The killer: Rebecca (Kristanna Loken), who you may recall as one of the ex-CIA agents on Anson’s payroll in last season’s finale. Rebecca snatches Sam at gunpoint and takes him on a road trip as her hostage.

What follows is basically an hour-long chase scene, featuring plenty of yammering time for our man Sam, but few opportunities for him to showcase the very particular set of skills he acquired over a very long career. Part of this is simply a function of the plot, which mostly finds him following orders at gunpoint, but even in a subservient role, Sam should have better wisecracks at his disposal than he’s been supplied with here. A scene in which a state trooper pulls over the truck he and Rebecca have stolen and Sam talks his way out of trouble should have been a high point, but instead it’s just sort of perfunctory.

The same can be said for most of the episode. When Michael and Jesse take a short cut and manage to arrive first at the helicopter tour site, there’s an awful lot of set-up leading to Rebecca and Sam approaching the chopper where Michael is waiting, disguised as the pilot. Surely the show is going to do something exciting with this helicopter, right? Instead, nothing really happens here, aside from our weekly shot of people running from a big explosion in slow motion.

Back at the prison storyline, the Sisters are still trying to shiv Fiona, and Ayn is still calling her “Criminal,” which is sort of cool. In order to convince Ayn to arrange for a shakedown that will get the Sisters thrown in the hole for possession of contraband, Fiona has to call on Maddie to retrieve a package from Ayn’s ex-husband. This turns out to be the set-up for another lackluster subplot, as Maddie shows up at the guy’s door only to get roughed up and sent on her way. Instead of figuring out some clever way for Maddie to get her hands on the package, the writers settle for having Michael show up at the end to break the guy’s arm for being mean to his mother. I guess we need to be reminded at least once a season that Michael really loves his Ma, but this struck me as a squandered opportunity to have Maddie do something besides whine about how nobody ever tells her anything.

In the end, Michael’s ever-expanding team gets a little bigger, as it turns out Rebecca is only following Anson’s orders to keep her brother alive. (She certainly seemed to be enjoying herself in last season’s finale, but we’ll let that slide for now.) To give credit where credit is due, I like the way this season is shaking up the Burn Notice formula ever so slightly. Instead of the case-of-the-week, there’s a sort of videogame structure here where the completion of each mission provides a clue that leads directly into the next week’s episode, revealing one more piece of the overall puzzle in the process. I just wish this particular piece had more to offer.

Stray observations:

  • What exactly was Rebecca’s plan in this episode, anyway? Just to somehow lure Michael into a swamp where she could blow him up? The whole thing just seemed fuzzy to me.
  • Was having Rebecca and Sam stumble upon an RV meth lab meant as a shout-out to the return of Breaking Bad? Nah, probably just a coincidence.
  • You Terminator fans remember Kristanna Loken as the T-X Terminatrix from T3: Rise of the Machines. And if you are a Terminator fan, have I got a book recommendation for you!
  • Okay, so Sam did get a least one pretty good line. “Thank God she didn’t hit my chin.”