Monday, November 12, 2012

Burn Notice gets desperate

USA's Burn Notice returned this week with two hours of new episodes. The first, "Desperate Measures," is a follow up to the summer finale, "Desperate Times," centering on the team trapped in a foreign land. The second mostly moved on to another story, but kept some of the serial elements surrounding Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) this season as he seeks to get justice for his brother's death.

"Desperate Measures" is an exciting, action-packed episode as the team attempts to get out of Panama. Having captured Tyler Gray (Kenny Johnson), the man who actually shot Nate, it is soon clear to both Michael and Tyler, after some inconveniences that delay a return home, that their beef isn't with each other. Tyler has been lied to by Card (John C. McGinley) about the threat that Michael poses, and Tyler was simply following Card's orders when the tragedy occurred.

Donovan really handles the emotion swelling within Michael well in this episode. As a mostly collected guy, it's rare that we see Michael really loose it. His brother's death sparked some heavy grief, and because of that, Michael is definitely a danger to Tyler and himself. But, in the end, Michael's hero goodness wins out, and he spares Tyler, knowing that they are both somewhat in the same boat.

But then, in the second hour, "Means & Ends," Michael gets to confront Card, and he gets dangerous again. Michael has kept it together when dealing with people who don't deserve his rage, and he has above average abilities to empathize with others, and to try to help them. However, when he finally gets in a room with Card, his friends not around to even try to calm him down, it ends with Michael putting a bullet in Card's head.

I can't recall ever seeing Michael quite like this. It's clear that a line has been crossed for him. We know that Michael is a spy, and has probably killed people before. But after watching six seasons of him go out of his way to avoid getting lethal, it's chilling to see the lead character murder someone like Card, especially when Card is not posing an immediate threat. In this one instance, Michael moves beyond justice and goes for revenge. Sam (Bruce Campbell) or Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), or even, to a lesser extent, Jesse (Coby Bell), might have been able to talk him out of it, but without his moral compasses in the room, Michael takes that big, irreversible step.

How will this change Michael, going forward? Will this mean that he's going to be colder, with a sharper edge? Fi and Sam are still around, so there will be influences to draw him back to the light, if he can let himself be happy with them. But will that be enough? What does it do to one's soul to commit such an act? I hope that Burn Notices gives Michael the time to fully explore the ramifications of his actions.

One thing does seem certain, and that's that Michael's mother, Maddie (Sharon Gless), will not be around to help. Unable to forgive Michael for letting Nate get killed, and disgusted with her living son's inability to be honest with her, no matter how good his intentions might be, she decides to leave town. Will this be the end of Maddie on the series? Let's hope not. Her sorrow is completely understandable, as are her negative feelings about Michael. But he is her son, the family she has left, and hopefully that will be enough to let her move past it.

There are other things going on, too. In "Means & Ends," Fiona's old prison friend needs the team's help. But at this point, these side missions take a backseat to the main arc, which is finally being given the attention it deserves. Burn Notice will probably continue to deliver some case of the week type stories, but the more it shifts focus to the big stuff, the better it becomes.

Burn Notice airs 9 p.m. on Thursdays on USA.

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