Monday, August 27, 2012

"Desperate Times" for Burn Notice

USA's Burn Notice has had a heck of a summer. Finally dropping a mandatory case-of-the-week in each episode format, the show commits to an arc and sticks with it, allowing much more movement in the story of Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) than the first several seasons combined. This is gratifying, even when the onion, which we thought done, peels yet another layer into the conspiracy.

In "Desperate Times," the CIA finds Nate's (Seth Peterson) killer. Tom Card (John C. McGinley) agrees to let Michael take his team down to Panama to hunt the shooter, but only sends them with one agent as back up. Things go awry, of course, and it isn't long before Michael discovers that Card has set them all up to die. The only thing to do is let Card believe he succeeded, leaving the effort of taking down their latest foe for the next run of episodes, beginning in November.

It seems like the agent sent with Michael and company to Panama is only there so someone can be killed off. He gets a bit of development, which is nice, before biting the big one. But that doesn't mean we care about him all that much. This sort of low stakes game is why Burn Notice still ranks a little lower than other summer shows. However, with the recent loss of Nate, perhaps it is too soon to kill another important character. I just wish it hadn't been set up so obviously.

Other than that complaint, "Desperate Times" is fairly great. McGinley makes a terrific villain, even if viewers are growing weary of the deeper and deeper plots against Michael, wanting him to finally catch a lasting break. Maddie (Sharon Gless) gets to let out some of that raw emotion she does so well talking to Card about Nate, even as we know Card is playing her. And Jesse (Coby Bell) having to run around with no shoes is very amusing.

The action is good, too. Lately, Burn Notice has been splitting up the team, which does lend itself to more story and a larger world. But it's great to see the ensemble working together again, because they really do have an entertaining chemistry. Michael, Jesse, Fi (Gabrielle Anwar), and Sam (Bruce Campbell) have such different personalities, and when separated, sometimes that can be forgotten. Seeing them slip back into their familiar roles is comfortable.

Comfortable is what works for Burn Notice. Yes, we want some change and movement from week to week. However, the show is not going to abandon its roots and alienate those viewers who prefer the older style of predictable storytelling. Balancing this with the superior way things are being handled keeps the show from truly soaring, but it does allow improvement, and it was never bad to begin with. Burn Notice is fun entertainment, especially in the summer. And what's wrong with that?

Will Burn Notice continue the new trend of larger arc this winter? Will Michael stop Card, only to find another man behind him? Will something bad happen to Maddie before she can realize that Michael and his friends are still alive? And will Jesse get some new footwear? All of these questions are on hold for now. But I can't wait to find out!

Burn Notice returns in November to USA.

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