As the previous episode of Burn Notice ended, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) managed to track down his brother’s killer but also learned that his mentor Tom Card (John McGinley) had a plan of his own. With such a generic setup, the latest episode should have been utterly unlikable and, unfortunately, it was. Strong performances by some supporting cast members propel a story otherwise marred by excessive displays of dullness, unsatisfying plot points and poorly developed characters.
The episode’s biggest failure is its inability to ratchet up the intensity. When his brother’s killer in a foreign drug war zone confronts our protagonist, you would imagine that there would be some tension. Yet, Michael is easily convinced to not kill the guy and even fails to convey any latent hatred or anger. During a confrontation with a drug lord, even electrocution fails to bring any serious pain or emotion to our characters’ faces. In what could have been a moment of lamentation and contemplation of all that has been lost, Michael and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) instead play out a cheesy, forced flirtation.
Even a mother’s tension is downplayed by Madeline (Sharon Gless) and Ayn, both of whom lose their children in different ways yet barely act with any rage or pain. And, perhaps most criminally, the action scenes involves a lot of slow running, bullets that fails to cause destruction and explosions that fizzle out, all of which means that at no point does the episode cause any kind of adrenaline rush.
Of course, the dull pacing could have been forgiven had the plot not been so unsatisfying and unbelievable. All the infiltration sequences, except for the one where Fiona breaks into a drug lord’s base, are done incredibly simplistically with no imagination, the biggest crime being the hilariously pathetic scene involving Madeline breaking into an airport records office. Without giving anything away, let it be said that such a place would not be so poorly guarded.
The narrations are nice, but ultimately work only in the factual parts. Anytime they drift into spy lore, it simply reminds us how badly written this episode is in comparison to good spy movies. After decades of James Bond and Jason Bourne, no intelligent human being thinks that bullets are the best way to break into something, yet the show informs the viewer of that generic tidbit as if they would unaware.
Also, no one prefers a vicious foreign drug lord to a vigilante who wishes to keep his victim alive, and absolutely no one walks openly into his mother’s house through the front door when he is pretending to be dead. That is simply poor writing.
And even this could have been overlooked had the show worked as a character drama, but the characters are poorly developed. The trained killer Gray immediately has a change of heart within five minutes of an impassioned speech, as does the dirty cop Garza after his friend’s killer is caught. So, according to the writers, the only thing stopping these men from being good, upstanding citizens was one quick act of questionable morality. Some depth. Ayn is supposed to be a good friend to Fiona, yet the latter never quite seems to care for her, making her immediate offer for help seem somewhat fabricated.
The performances are a bit of a mixed bag. Donovan wears the same expression throughout the episode, Anwar is more melodramatic than necessary (which still doesn’t cure the dullness, strangely enough), Bruce Campbell doesn’t get much screen time, and McGinley does well enough in a role that is fairly one note.
However, if there was any hope for this episode, it was in the characters Sam, Velasquez and Garza. Sam (Coby Bell) is a real scene-stealer here and works as both a genuinely funny tough guy and a wannabe gangster. The Velasquez character is immediately vicious, although the actor’s choice to play him without an accent when speaking English, a foreign language, seems strange. Garza, the dirty cop, is also acted incredibly well. His final scene, where he essentially embraces death with a prayer on his lips and tears in his eyes, is rather beautiful.
Ultimately, Burn Notice just wasn’t good this week. Be it the monotony, implausibility or simplistic character development, this will not feature as a strong episode in the minds of fans. Individuals performances can allow viewers to sit through an episode but without a solid plot, they can’t bring them back.
Season premieres sometimes aren’t indicative of overall quality, so fans can give this some time but, when a spy show is less credible than even parodies of the genre such as Archer or Chuck, then it may just be safe to stay away.