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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

BURN NOTICE Gets Its "Reckoning"

Article first published as BURN NOTICE Gets Its "Reckoning" on TheTVKing.

*WARNING: If you have not yet watched this episode, there are major spoilers within this review.

USA's Burn Notice came to an end after seven season this week with "Reckoning." The original premise, former spy Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) looks for those who burned him so he can try to get his life back, is long gone. In the final year, Weston discovers the CIA a cold, unforgiving place, and emotionally messed up, considers leaving the agency on his own terms. This comes to a head in the series finale.

Because of the plot arcs going into the year, Burn Notice chooses to mainly end the recent tale told, rather than culminate the entire show's run. I guess the writers feel like they've already tied up most of that, and there's no sense in revisiting it. This is a bit of a let down, since Burn Notice has such larger swings in earlier years, and the ending just comes across as a little anti-climatic.

And, for some reason, the great Alan Ruck shows up in a small role in this episode, a guest part that comes out of nowhere and seems wasted.

A central theme of Burn Notice has always been relying on one's friends. Michael has never been alone, much as he frequently tries to be, with Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), his mother, Maddie (Sharon Gless), and, in later seasons, Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) helping him out. In the end, it's these people that save him and stand with him against the Big Bad, James Kendrick (John Pyper-Ferguson).

Early on, the story sets up a major turning point. Michael chooses to hang onto his love for Fiona, burning his bridge with Kendrick. Because Kendrick is now mad at Michael, Michael can't finish his mission to bring Kendick in, infuriating his CIA boss,  Andrew Strong (Jack Coleman), so everyone is against Michael and crew. Sort of just how it should be, since no organization has ever really embraced them, brave rebels on the frontier.

I was disappointed when Jesse splits off to protect Maddie and her orphaned grandson, Charlie (Wilson Pennell). After all, Maddie is frequently on the outside, but Jesse is not. We get some great Jesse / Sam moments early and late in the episode, but for awhile, it's just the original trio fighting the bad guys, which has a poetic justice, but doesn't quite serve Jesse's character, making him unjustly feel he has not earned him place with them.

Story-wise, Jesse must be with Charlie and Maddie because that leaves Maddie to sacrifice herself. It's a triumphant moment for Gless, even if it is a frustrating one for the viewers, not feeling right to lose Maddie. It would be much easier to accept one of the gang going down than the mostly-innocent mother of Michael. Jesse gets a touching moment with Maddie, Michael has a teary goodbye call, and Maddie herself gets to go down in a very cool way. Yet, one cant help but feel that there weren't that many soldiers nearby, and Maddie and Jesse could have dispatched them easily enough without having to kill off the beloved matriarch of the series.

Meanwhile, Michael, Sam, and Fiona have a confrontation with Kendrick. For some reason, Sam escapes, leaving Michael and Fiona alone. This is sets up the ending of the episode fine, but again, feels false and doesn't quite fit with the bond between the three. Why doesn't Sam stick by Michael the way Fiona does? It doesn't seem like he really has a vital purpose to get away to.

"Reckoning" seems to kill off Michael, Fiona, and Kendrick, but this triple death never felt real to me. Even as the story proceeded as if Michael and Fiona were dead, I knew it had to be a trick. In this, the show failed to build the appropriate tension and grief. Sure enough, a few minutes later, they are revealed to have escaped. Ick.

Months later, we first get Sam and Jesse's ending. I love that the two pals end up together, doing what they do. Sam gets a cheesy, fan-pleasing line, and they get to honor Michael's sacrifice. It's not clear if they know Mike and Fiona made it out alive, but they better have. Otherwise, Michael is a total douche. But for them, this finale is right.

Lastly, we glimpse Michael and Fiona, snug in a cabin with Charlie. Look, I know this is the emotional conclusion everyone wants, and the dialogue calls back the opening sequence in a satisfying way, but it just doesn't make sense. I can't imagine Michael and Fiona would ever settle down, under any circumstances, maybe being together comfortably, but not getting out of all dangerous games. And where does everyone think Charlie is? Surely, the CIA would have kept tabs and noticed the orphan, who was presumably in foster care, gone missing? Maybe it was a reward by the CIA to give them this set up, but then, why would they also honor Michael's "heroic death"? It doesn't gel.

At the end of the too-quick hour, one is left with a disappointing, hollow feeling. Burn Notice has never been high-quality entertainment, frequently falling short of its potential, too neatly resolving stories, stretching out others too long, forcing case-of-the-weeks for years, and introducing great characters, only to kill them off long before they should have been. The last couple of years have shown improvement, but apparently not enough. In a way, it is fitting the series finale should echo flaws of the previous years. But on the other hand, Burn Notice could have redeemed itself in this final hour, something I held out enough hope for to stick around all those times I considered giving up on it. It did not. It was somewhat entertaining popcorn action, but not much else, lacking the true depth and consistency many discerning viewers wish for. Burn Notice died how it lived.

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