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

Burn Notice: "Where There's Smoke"

Illustration for article titled Burn Notice: "Where There's Smoke"

It's time to make a confession: I don't terribly like Fiona. I don't think she's an awful character, and having her around doesn't damage my enjoyment of this show or anything, but I do think that of the central three on the show, she's easily my least favorite. Indeed, I might even place her behind Jesse at this point in the show's history. Again, I think she's fine, but whenever I see an episode centered on her, my eyes tend to glaze over. I think some of it has to do with Gabrielle Anwar's performance, which I find kind of bland, and the writing for the character, which is often inconsistent. On the flip side of this, a Fiona-centric episode has a much lower bar to clear for me. Others might find it a pretty weak episode of Burn Notice, but I'll be impressed with the fact that I was drawn into a story with a character I don't always enjoy.

So tonight's episode, while not as good as the last two episodes, both of which were among the better ones in this series' run, was quite a bit of fun for a Fiona episode. The bulk of the action involved her and a rich wife (Sarah) getting kidnapped by some guys on the verge of the debut of Sarah's husband's new battery, the LIBBY. Sarah's husband (Christian, played by the ever reliable Steven Culp) wants to just give in to the kidnappers' demands and hand over the money they're demanding, but Michael, Sam, and Jesse are hot on their trail (of course) and are skeptical that the kidnappers will ever release the two women at all. Fiona strikes up a fake friendship with one of the kidnappers, and in the end, all is (mostly) well. It's a strong episode because Fiona can't gun her way out of the situation she's gotten herself into and she has to use her smarts. On the other hand, it still relies a lot on Anwar holding the screen, and she's less instantly compelling than Jeffrey Donovan or Bruce Campbell.

The best thing about this episode are the moments when Michael uses his voiceover to tell us about the rules of saving someone from a kidnap situation, mostly by telling us what a kidnapper might be thinking, particularly if they're wearing masks or not wearing masks. I complained a few weeks ago that the voiceovers on the show have left the realm of the practical and gotten more into the sorts of things that would be of use to only those involved in the world of international espionage. Then, the show reeled off a couple of episodes where it either winked at the audience using the voiceover (the Burt Reynolds episode) or genuinely offered up interesting new ideas for household items and stuff. Now, there wasn't much of the immediately practical stuff in tonight's episode either, but when Michael is able to get into the psychology of the bad guys, that's always compelling. I doubt I'll ever have to rescue someone from a kidnapper (I hope I don't, at least), but Michael's voiceovers here fill a useful role in neatly sketching in just what the bad guys were up to without laying it on too thickly.

Maddy was more involved in the plot this evening than she has been in most episodes this season. She hung around with Jesse and Christian and talked Jesse out of being too upset. She even went along to the drop-off point when Christian was all, "I'm going to pay this ransom!" In addition, she was vital to the team's efforts to rob the bank (which I honestly thought were going to take up more of the hour than they did; who know robbing a bank was that easy?), as her cigarette smoke was needed to compromise the security systems. I also really liked the last scene where Maddy talked with Jesse about his feelings for Fiona, even if it feels like one of those things the writers have thrown in there to give Jesse something to do. (And I'll say this for Coby Bell: He played Jesse's frustration at being unable to get Fi back really well.)

But the majority of the main plotline was taken up with Fiona hanging out with the kidnappers, trying to figure out a way out of the situation for both her and Sarah. I liked some of these scenes - having Fiona be the one who effected her own escape (with a little help from Sam) was great and well-choreographed as well - but others of them dragged quite a bit, like that long conversation between her and the kidnapper over vodka. I also found the whole plan by the kidnappers (to say nothing of Christian's plan) pretty stupid and ill thought out. I suppose that's part of the storyline and all, but the show works better when Michael has really smart dudes to battle against. But even as I wasn't digging this section of the plot all the way through, I was into the others' efforts to rescue Fiona (especially Sam's patter about how she was his fake wife), and the moment when Michael sees Fiona again was poignant.

Meanwhile, back in serialized plot land, the gang finally pulled off their bank heist at episode's end (with more helpful hints from Michael about how the hard part of any bank job is getting into the vault and once you're there, getting the safety deposit box open is easy). What was inside the box? Well, a Bible of course. But a Bible with various words blacked out for the benefit of whomever found it. Thus, a Bible that was a cipher. And who should be the owner of the Bible but Simon. (I assume this is the Garret Dillahunt Simon, even though I don't remember if we ever got a last name for him, since Michael seems so concerned and, indeed, lies to Jesse about what he's found.) This is another nice little piece in the full picture of just what Michael and his friends are up against, but I can't help but feel that this storyline could be moving just the slightest bit more quickly.


Burn Notice is on a real roll at this point. I don't know if it's time yet to say that it's at the level it was at in season two, but it's damn close, and it's been fun to watch the show recapture some of the verve that made it so fun back then. The highest praise I can pray to it was that this was  a Fiona episode with quite a few scenes that I just didn't dig, but I still enjoyed the storyline and got pretty involved in where everything was going. The best TV shows are able to just motor past the rough spots, and Burn Notice has once again reached a point where I'm willing to just say, "I don't care that that didn't work because the rest of it was really cool."

Stray observations:

  • Thanks to Zack for filling in last week, even though I'm technically filling in for him at this point. By the finale, we'll both be battling for control of the organization, only to be taken away to a secretive location and informed by a man sitting in a chair facing away from us that we've both been found wanting. And then the chair will swivel around, and it will reveal … NOEL MURRAY. Cliffhanger!
  • I'm really starting to like Jesse both as a character and as an addition to the team. At this point, I could see him making for a fun character for a spinoff or something.
  • Robbing a bank: So easy an old lady can do it.
  • "We try not to talk about our upcoming felonies."