‘Burn Notice’ Recap and Review: ‘Reckoning’

Burn Notice

Burn Notice - Season 7

After seven seasons and more than 100 episodes, Burn Notice is finally drawing to a close. It’s not only a sad event but an incredibly difficult moment. How do you send off a long-running show with a passionate fan base? By checking off every single box on its proverbial list, from big explosions to one really sad death.

“Reckoning” picks up immediately where “Sea Change” left off, and we discover that a shell-shocked Michael made the decision to shoot Sonya (recurring guest star Alona Tal) rather than Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar). This makes a watching Kendrick (John Pyper-Ferguson) turn on him immediately, and Michael and Fiona are besieged by a lot of people who want to shoot them, before Sam and Jesse ride to the rescue. Afterward, Michael thinks everyone else should get out of Dodge, but Sam tells him that they’re not going anywhere. Instead, they’re getting ready for one last stand.

While Fiona hotwires a car at a local gas station, Sam and Jesse stock up on supplies (including prepaid cell phones and beer) and find themselves facing the business end of a shotgun because their faces have already made the national news. Michael’s solution to this problem is to ram the newly stolen car into the building, which gets him hurt but does the job. He then calls his old handler Strong (recurring guest star Jack Coleman), but Strong isn’t happy to hear from him since Michael failed his mission to bring Kendrick in. There’s the obligatory threat before the call ends ominously.

As the national news (and look, it’s series creator Matt Nix as a reporter!) continues to plaster their faces all over the place, the decision is made to bring Kendrick down on their own terms. After Michael breaks the news to his very worried mother, he asks Jesse to look out for her and his brother’s son Charlie, before setting his sights on a communications expert named Max Lister (Alan Ruck), who set up Kendrick’s network. Lister’s armored car stands up to Sam’s attempts to immobilize it, so Michael is crazy enough to jump onto the hood of the moving vehicle just to place a small brick of C4. After his car flips, a terrified Lister spills the beans about a building downtown that serves as Kendrick’s comm center. Just before they decide to break into the building, Sam and Fiona confront Michael about having a “death wish,” but he brushes their concern off.

Back at the safe house, Jesse is left to try and reassure Madeline, who’s used to her son getting into all sorts of trouble by now. She asks him if he’s ever wanted to bail on everything, and he replies by saying that “Until I met you guys, I never had a family. And now I’ve got one.” It’s a sweet moment between two characters who’ve formed an unlikely bond over the past few seasons.

Yet that’s not going to last. Once James discovers Team Westen sneaking into his building, he calls Michael and informs him that he and his people are right outside the control room – plus, he traced the other two prepaid phones to the safe house, and sent some thugs over there, too. He wants Michael dead and he’s willing to go through everyone else, including Maddie and Charlie, to make him that way.

Michael is permitted to make one last call to his mother, and his heart stops when she tells him she’s found a way to buy Jesse and Charlie some time to escape. “You have protected me enough,” she tells him, “and now you need my help. If saving you means I don’t get out of here, it’s fine with me.” Our hero tears up as Maddie explains that she’s got explosives without a remote detonator, and sends him off with some final words and a heartbreaking “I love you.” After she hangs up on Michael, Maddie says goodbye to Charlie and shares an emotional hug with Jesse.

His mother’s impending sacrifice further emboldens Michael to stick it to Kendrick and everyone else. He and Fiona walk out of the control room and use their last few bullets to start a firefight with Kendrick and his team, while Sam bails. When Kendrick orders his thugs to kill Maddie and Charlie, they walk in to find her calmly smoking a cigarette. “This one’s for my boys,” she says, before she blows out the whole living room, allowing Jesse and Charlie to make their escape.

Out of ammunition, Fiona and Michael have to come up with a new plan. Michael suggests that he attack Kendrick directly so that Fiona can take out the remaining thugs, and reassures her that he does, in fact, want to live. His plan works perfectly, and when Fiona tosses him her gun, he’s able to shoot Kendrick. Just as Michael is preparing to kill him, Kendrick produces a dead man’s switch that sets off even more explosives. Sam watches in horror as the whole building becomes a really big fireball.

Cut to CIA headquarters, where Strong is meeting with a very despondent-looking Sam and Jesse, who have apparently been in custody for awhile. He explains that they’ve tracked down more than a hundred operatives working for Kendrick’s terrorist network, and says that they’re free to go. Strong adds that Michael will get a star on the CIA’s Walk of Fame, too.

But is he really dead? While their funeral proceeds, we see in flashback that Michael and Fiona did just narrowly survive the building explosion. “Where do you think they are?” Jesse asks. “Hard to say,” Sam replies, adding that he’s later headed to meet a friend of his girlfriend’s who is in need of some help. He asks if Jesse wants to come with.

The last two minutes of Burn Notice show us that Michael, Fi and Charlie have ended up somewhere snowy but very peaceful. Michael asks Fiona what he’s supposed to tell Charlie when he gets older. “Tell him the truth,” she tells him, going on to suggest that he start with the exact words we’ve heard at the beginning of every episode for seven seasons: “My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy…”

As a series finale, “Reckoning” carries with it a certain amount of disappointment, based on the fact that a perfect series finale is about as impossible as finding a unicorn. Given the strong attachments that fans form to their favorite shows, a very high expectation is created that most last episodes don’t meet. (In more than two decades, this writer can think of exactly one series finale that felt like it was perfect.) This one has its issues; for the first half-hour, it feels more like the second half of a two-part episode than a series finale.

However, the second half delivers a whole lot of closure for Burn Notice fans, whether it’s characters repeating some of their earliest and most well-known lines or the big explosions we’ve come to expect. It even manages to perfectly split the ending – on one hand, we have Sam and Jesse very clearly setting up to continue helping folks in need, so we can entertain the idea that the story goes on forever, while on the other hand, Michael and Fiona finally get their happy ending and a definitive end, so we also feel comfortable saying goodbye to them. This naturally will prompt Burn Notice fans to start chatter about that rumored spin-off show or another TV-movie, but where the show ends up is really the best place it could have. It’s time for Michael and Fiona to get a break, don’t you think?

If there’s one thing that honestly sticks in the proverbial craw here, it’s the death of Madeline Westen. So many series finales seem to have to involve a character death, and while we understand the point the writers were trying to make – that in this high-stakes world they set up, there will undoubtedly be sacrifices – it’s still disheartening. This is in part since it was easy to peg Maddie as the unlucky soul, since she is the most expendable of the characters, but mostly because Sharon Gless created such a memorable character (remember, she’s the only cast member to have earned an Emmy nomination), that it’s so sad to see her go. But that’s one down note in a finale that, for the most part, sends this show off about as well as possible.

Kudos to the cast and crew of Burn Notice for seven seasons of entertainment, and thanks for all your years of hard work bringing us one of TV’s great original series.

If you missed it earlier, click here to check out my interview with Coby Bell on saying goodbye to Burn Notice.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

The BFTV Interview: Coby Bell

Burn Notice

Burn Notice - Season 7

There are a lot of reasons we’re sad to say goodbye to Burn Notice, but one of the biggest is that we won’t be able to spend every Tuesday night watching Coby Bell, who plays former spy Jesse Porter. Coby, who’s been a BFTV fixture during his four seasons on the show, graciously visited us one more time to help send off the series ahead of tonight’s finale.

“It’s all so intense at the end. We were all kind of firing on all cylinders,” he told us. And although he can’t give us any major spoilers – including about that reported character death – he did mention something ahead that he’s particularly proud of, adding, “I had some really good scenes with Sharon [Gless], which, I can’t wait to see those.”

Since he came aboard Burn Notice at the beginning of season four, Coby has had three seasons less with Jesse than fellow regulars Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell and Gless have had in their roles. Yet he feels satisfied with how much of the character he was able to explore. “The way Burn Notice is set up, I think we pretty much covered it as much as we could,” he said. “Burn Notice, you don’t really go too deep into the actual personal lives. You don’t go home with these guys and see what they’re eating for breakfast and what they’re doing for their hobbies.”

The show is significant for Coby in another way, in that it represents half of a major surge in his career. Simultaneously with his casting on Burn Notice, his previous series The Game was resurrected by BET more than a year after it had been cancelled by The CW, and the double duty has given the versatile actor the extra attention he deserves. “There’s definitely been a boost in my career from the popularity of both of these shows,” he said, “getting into Burn Notice right in the same year when The Game went to BET.”

Yet that schedule has also been trying, too, as he’s had to commute between Burn Notice‘s home in Miami, The Game‘s shoots in Atlanta, and his home in California. If there’s one good thing coming from the end of Burn Notice, it’s that he’ll have more time with his family. “I’m definitely relieved right now,” he admitted. “As much as I’m going to miss working on Burn Notice, It’s going to be nice to watch my schedule slow down a little bit. That was four years of doing two shows.”

(The rumored spinoff series featuring Coby and Bruce Campbell reprising their characters of Jesse and Sam respectively? Right now, just a rumor, according to Campbell, who addressed reporters on a conference call last week.)

We’ll still be able to catch Coby on The Game, where he’s played Jason Pitts for six seasons. Given that seven seasons is a long time for any series, has he started to wonder how long that show has left in it? “At this point it’s just all gravy,” he remarked. “Especially when it was a year and a half off the air, or even two years off the air. We started that show in 2006, and that was a long time ago. At this point, it’s a job that I love and I’ll be there as long as it’s on.”

Speaking of rumors, we asked him if the repeated references to Jason’s ex-wife Kelly in season six of The Game – there was even an episode entitled “I’m Not Kelly Pitts” – mean that we could see Kelly back on the show after her disappearance partway through season four. All Coby could tell us was that we’ll have to wait and see!

From Third Watch to The Game to Burn Notice, Coby has made his name on television, and lucky for us, that’s where he’s content to stay. “I’ll go wherever the road takes me ,but I love doing TV, and it’s been so great to me and I’ve done a lot of it,” he said. “If there’s something I know how to do, it’s being on a TV show. TV is so cool because if you can get on a show that’s on and stays on, you form a family and you form these great relationships. I’d love to keep doing TV.”

And he’ll be walking away from the role of Jesse with something else to be proud of: after a frosty reception when he first appeared, he told us he thinks the Burn Notice fans have finally come to accept him as part of the team. “I think so,” he said, adding that the initial resistance was “to be expected. And to be honest, it took about a season for me to figure out the character, for the writers to figure out the character, to figure out where this character fit in the life of the show.”

“The Burn Notice fans, I appreciate them so much. They’re such devoted fans,” he enthused, “and I’m reading on Twitter [that] a lot of them are so sad that the show’s over. I’d just say don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened. It’s seven years, you can’t complain about that.”

We certainly appreciate that the show introduced us to Coby, and that he and everyone at Burn Notice have given us years of hard work and awesome entertainment.

The Burn Notice series finale airs tonight at 9 PM ET/PT on USA; The Game returns to BET in 2014. You can also keep up with Coby by following him on Twitter (@imcobybell).

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

‘Burn Notice’ Recap and Review: ‘Psychological Warfare’

Burn Notice

Burn Notice - Season 7

Since it’s the final season of Burn Notice, it’s time to pull out all the stops (or all the skeletons in the closet). This week’s episode sees the return of “Crazy Larry” Sizemore, perfectly played by Tim Matheson. What does he have to do with anything? A lot, as it turns out, even though he’s dead.

Having convinced Sonya (Alona Tal) he’s in for good – by sleeping with her – Michael has a lot of thinking to do. He’s asked Fiona for an “urgent” meeting so that he can tell her that he’s gotten into bed with the enemy. Understandably, this doesn’t go over well with her, either from a personal or professional standpoint, and she leaves just as quickly as she arrived. This leaves Michael preparing for his “job interview” with Sonya’s bosses. As if on cue, his psuedo-girlfriend walks in all smiles – just before she tazes him. Clearly, she’s not that enamored with him either.

Michael (who knew his middle name was Alan, by the way?) is then greeted by Sonya’s boss (John Pyper-Ferguson, looking a lot like Billy Campbell in The 4400), who proceeds to interrogate him about his entire life, subject him to disorientation techniques, interrogate him some more, and disorient him again.

Back in Miami, Jesse pays a visit to Madeline and Charlie, but it’s not a social call.  He’s looking for Michael. Jesse’s terrible poker face doesn’t do him any favors, and Jesse is forced to admit to Maddie that Michael’s been missing for days. Elsewhere, Sam and Fiona are watching Sonya and a friend of hers ransack Michael’s loft. Everything adds up to something bad happening. Fiona convinces Sam that the best next move is to tail Sonya.

The Boss decides that he’s not satisfied with what Michael’s told him so far, and decides that the next phase of the inquisition should involve drugs. Michael’s wide-eyed, defeated expression pretty much says all the audience needs to know before he starts hallucinating Fiona. He tearfully tells her “I can’t do this anymore,” but fake-Fiona reminds him “Yours isn’t the only life on the line.” Furthermore, she tells him that he doesn’t need her. Michael disagrees.

The next time he’s talking to The Boss, he’s pretty much a wreck. The Boss wants to know how he suddenly “evolved” into the Michael Westen we know and love today. Michael’s hallucinations promptly put him in the middle of a forest, where he’s chatting with Crazy Larry, who wants to take all the credit. It’s Tim Matheson at his smarmy best. “You are who I made you, and that’s all I ever wanted, Michael. For you to accept who you are,” Larry tells Michael, who eventually spits out his name to The Boss, albeit while calling him “a special kind of monster.”

Fiona and Sam have tracked Sonya to a facility where it appears she plans on burning all the stuff she took from Michael’s loft. While she’s inside, Fiona decides to tamper with the other woman’s car, and very narrowly escapes. Fiona and Sam aggressively pursue Sonya, following her to the entrance of a private island. Sam decides to see if he can borrow his girlfriend’s speedboat to get them a vantage point from the water.

The Boss probes Michael’s relationship with Larry, wanting to know why their partnership ended. He asks Michael to discuss their last operation together, which our hero describes as a “recon mission” where he made a “tactical mistake.” The Boss points out that mistakes happen all the time, so what made this one instance so severe that it split them up?

Further hallucinations show us that Michael and Larry found the contact who betrayed them, and when they determined it was too risky to breach his hiding place and extract said contact, Michael blew up the building – killing innocent people that Michael admits he “didn’t care” were inside. “I never wanted that to happen again,” he continues. The Boss is seemingly sympathetic to his guilt, but reiterates his desire to know all of Michael’s demons, “whatever it takes to dig them out.”

He goes on to say that he has to be sure Michael has let go off all his old loyalties. This generates a conversation between Michael and his dead, abusive father, who accuses him of not caring about his family. “You dedicated your entire life to that agency,” snarls the senior Westen. The argument soon turns physical, but ends abruptly. Then a freaked-out Sonya comes rushing into Michael’s holding cell, insisting with wide eyes that he said something bad before he passed out. She tells Michael that “he knows you betrayed us [and] he’s going to kill you,” and hurries to help him from the room. What is she playing at?

Sonya tells Michael that she’s helping him because she owes him for getting her out of the prison, and “I pay my debts.” While Sam is watching from the speedboat, he spots Sonya helping Michael across the island – but it’s not going well. Michael collapses, then starts rambling about how he has to go back. Shocking everyone including Sonya, he turns around and gives himself up to The Boss’s pursuing troops, who take both him and Sonya back into custody. The Boss isn’t happy about the attempted escape, but decides not to shoot Michael. Sonya’s satisfied about that – seems this was the plan all along. The Boss introduces himself as James, and welcomes Michael to “the family.”

But wait for the last beat: while Fiona, Sam and Jesse wonder what Michael’s gotten himself into, Maddie greets Michael, who’s sleeping on her couch and looking worse than she’s ever seen her. “What did they do to you?” she asks, and he tells her. He admits that he saw his father and realized “he was the only reason I survived.”

“Psychological Warfare” boils down to essentially a two-hander. Everything and everyone else is pretty much supplemental to the scenes that take place between Michael and The Boss in that one room. You could even argue that The Boss exists merely to prompt the internal dialogue that goes on in Michael’s head. The episode is pretty much an accounting of all the things that make Michael who he is, whether it’s something he’s done or that’s been done to him – sort of the character development equivalent of a recap show, cleverly wrapped in the concept of an interrogation.

Does it work? Yes, fundamentally because Jeffrey Donovan is such a facially expressive actor. We can see exactly what emotions are being dredged up in Michael, and we believe that he really is being broken down and built back up again. From a writer’s standpoint, too, this is the point in time to do an episode like this. For one, it’s somewhat of a refresher for casual viewers or those who might not remember all the years of story as to who this character is and what he’s been through. And since this is the last season, it’s worth a pause to note his growth, and the entirety of his journey – not just what we’ve seen on the show. We should feel like Michael Westen has come a very long way; after all, we’ve invested years into him.

While some things aren’t really that great (you can see Sonya’s fake escape setup a mile away, especially since it’s completely unconvincing beforehand that she has any real affection for Michael), those little things don’t really matter. This isn’t an episode about surprise or even really suspense. This is an installment about what makes this character tick, and on that level, it unequivocally succeeds.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

‘Burn Notice’ Recap and Review: ‘Brothers in Arms’

Burn Notice

Burn Notice - Season 7

Burn Notice didn’t have a great episode last week. Thankfully, it rebounds this week with an episode that’s more plausible and heavier on the real spy action.

Michael is hiding in the plants somewhere and not too happy about it, while Burke (Adrian Pasdar) is interrogating their “guest” Serrano (Ricardo Chavira) about an arms deal he did in Haiti. Serrano’s not talking until he sees via laptop that Michael, albeit very reluctantly, is in his daughter’s bedroom with a gun pointed at her head. He understandably cracks, so Burke calls off Michael, while giving Serrano a gun with a single bullet in case he wants to check out before his Russian friends find out he talked. Serrano calmly smokes a cigarette before shooting himself. It’s one of the darker openings in Burn Notice history.

After that, our hero calls Strong (Jack Coleman), all upset. “Make them understand I can’t do this,” he insists, adding that Burke has now asked for Sam and Jesse to be brought in for a job in Cuba. Strong really doesn’t care how Michael feels, so Michael breaks a glass instead. The next morning he’s reunited with Sam and Jesse, telling them that their task is to break out a woman named Sonya (Alona Tal, Supernatural) being held by the aforementioned Russians in a secret prison. Michael’s plan is to pretend he’s a double agent, convince the Russians to evacuate the prison and grab Sonya when they do. Jesse suggests having someone in Miami grab an old Russian contact of his to help sell the story. That someone, of course, is Fiona, and she brings Madeline along.

Back in Cuba there’s some “sufficiently gross” work to hide a transmitter on Michael before he goes to make contact with the Russians, who do not give him a warm welcome (because the Russians vs. USA thing is one of the oldest plot points in the book). He’s handcuffed to a chair before he meets Vladimir (because there’s always a Russian guy named Vladimir). Meanwhile, Fiona makes the boneheaded decision to leave Jesse’s acquaintance Ivan alone with Maddie, so he promptly escapes. You’d think an experienced soldier like Fiona would know better than to leave a prisoner alone with a civilian, especially a retiree. Thankfully, the escape is short-lived, so our team is ultimately able to sell their story.

It doesn’t work like they planned, though. Rather than flee, Vladimir decides to stay put and up security at the secret prison, which of course is counter-productive to Michael’s ultimate goal. Elsewhere, Burke dispatches Sam and Jesse to kidnap a random Russian agent – out of the bunch that just nearly captured them – so that person can be framed as another traitor. That abduction goes pretty easy, especially when compared to how much of an annoyance Fiona and Maddie’s new friend has turned out to be. He wants them to write a letter to his girlfriend before he’ll capitulate. He starts talking about how he didn’t want to be a spy and was trying to pay for his girlfriend’s nursing school, which strikes a chord with Fiona, who says she’ll put most of the money she’s about to move in another account for said girlfriend.

Vladimir tells Michael that his henchmen have identified the traitor in their team, and he’s come around to the idea of leaving the prison with Sonya. “As long as she’s safe,” he says, “you will be well rewarded.” Yet just as they’re about to leave, Vladimir changes his mind again, saying he’s just gotten a great phone call from Moscow: there’s a Russian submarine diverting their way. This means Michael is trapped in a room with an unconscious, locked-up Sonya, while Burke, Sam and Jesse are armed, waiting and confused outside.

A twitchy Burke decides to employ two pounds of high explosives, while posing as Michael’s CIA contact. “I’ve never left anyone behind,” he insists. “The people who fight alongside me, that’s my family. I’m not going to leave Michael behind, or Sonya.” Yes, Virginia, the mercenary has a heart. Burke walks right through the front door of the secret prison, plays his bit with Vladimir, and gets taken to see Michael. He tells Michael to believe in Sonya and the two share a handshake. Then Burke sacrifices himself to save them.

With a still-unconscious Sonya in tow, Team Westen speeds away from the remains of the secret prison. One thinks that Strong is not going to be happy when he hears about this.

And as for Fiona, she liberates her kidnap victim, and hands him some fake ID’s and some brochures for nursing schools. His girlfriend is in the nearby bus station waiting for him. “Let’s just say we like the idea of a spy getting a chance to start over,” Maddie half-explains while sad piano music plays.

But there’s a ‘but’ coming. Jesse gets knocked unconscious by Sonya, who makes a quick escape, setting up a manhunt (or is that womanhunt?) in two weeks.

“Brothers In Arms” is a major step up from “Down Range,” because most of this episode makes logical sense (aside from Madeline being left alone on prisoner watch). It also injects some seriousness back into the Burn Notice formula. The show has always mixed comedy and drama, but hasn’t really had a truly gripping episode this season until now. Michael watching Serrano’s daughter sleep while he can hear her father committing suicide via earpiece? That’s some heavy stuff for a show that airs on a network with a “blue sky” philosophy. And it works – because Burn Notice is still a spy show and in reality, spycraft gets messy.

Of course, there are a few things here that are tired; pretty much everything about the Russians is a cliche, and then there’s how Fiona’s kidnapping vehicle of choice happens to be a black van. It’s really obvious that the ‘B’ story with Fiona and Jesse’s contact is supposed to make her think about her relationship (or lack thereof) with Michael. And one has to question giving Alona Tal top guest-star billing when she doesn’t even have a line of dialogue.

But the good vastly outweighs the iffy, particularly in the case of Adrian Pasdar, who finally gets to start doing more with the Burke character than just bluster. In this episode, we can finally start to buy Burke as the capable soldier he was presented to us as, and see that there’s more to him than your usual double agent. Unfortunately, it’s the same episode in which he dies. (Making this the second USA Network show Pasdar has been killed off of, after Political Animals last summer.) At least Pasdar left the show doing his best work. The question is who’s going to fill the void he just left – and how the show is going to build on his memorable exit.

Burn Notice is off next week for the Fourth of July, but returns in two weeks.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

‘Burn Notice’ Recap and Review: ‘Down Range’

Burn Notice

Burn Notice - Season 7

Things still aren’t going very well for Michael Westen on Burn Notice. Realizing that his old life is very much in the past, Michael burns a photo of Fiona just as he realizes that he’s made the news. But there’s no time for him to dwell on either issue. Burke (Adrian Pasdar) tells Michael that his next assignment is to steal a truck, and when his original choice for help gets on his bad side, Burke decides that he wants to call in Michael’s “guys in Miami.”

It’s an unexpected development that doesn’t please Michael’s handler Strong (Jack Coleman), but Michael eventually persuades him that Sam and Jesse are the right men for the job. Strong also informs Michael that Burke is then going to sell said truck to another unsavory type named Serrano (that’s Ricardo Chavira from Desperate Housewives), so now they’ve got to bring down not one but two terrorists. Sounds like any other Thursday for Team Westen.

While that sinks in, back in Miami, Madeline is approached by Al Sapienza, and not the fantastic actor. This Al Sapienza (played by Paul Hipp) is Nate’s bookie, and he wants to collect on an outstanding debt, even if it means threatening Nate’s son Charlie. This leads Maddie to phone Fiona, who insists that where there’s one shark from the past, there will be others. She declares that “someone’s going to get hurt, and it won’t be Charlie.”

From the moment Sam and Jesse arrive in the Dominican Republic, there are problems. They’re forced to blow up the plane they arrived in to keep the police from immediately arresting them. Once that’s behind them, Burke takes the crew to where the truck he wants is located, and is pleased with their plan. Sam and Jesse aren’t pleased at Burke’s order for Sam to shoot Michael should he fail, but they shut up about that when Michael finally reveals the terms of his CIA deal to them afterward: either he takes down Burke, or they all go back to that CIA holding facility they spent some time in last season.

Sam reluctantly keeps Michael in his crosshairs as Michael steals the truck, and is clearly unsettled by having to shoot another man in the back to save his best friend’s life. Strong really doesn’t care how anyone feels. He plans to take Burke and Serrano out, then ship Sam and Jesse back to Miami. Sam replies that they’re staying, whether Strong likes it or not.

Fiona has Maddie set up a second meeting with Al so that they can slip him a tracking device. This leads them to his place of operations, and Maddie volunteers to help Fiona set up her explosives, because she’s awesome like that. Fiona even lets her push the big red button that detonates them.

Back in foreign territory, Sam thinks that Strong’s plan has some pretty serious flaws in it, but his warnings fall on predictably deaf ears. Burke meets with Serrano and reveals that he doesn’t want the other man’s money – he’s only interested in him, and information he has that’s valuable to the people Burke works for. Listening in, Strong is baffled, because he thought Burke was his own boss.

He’s further wound up when a random helicopter flies in, spotting the CIA’s team as it does. When the pilot tells Burke about the operatives, Burke turns on Michael. To sell Michael’s story that the snipers aren’t on his side, Sam is forced to shoot at Michael. Michael then shoves Serrano in front of the window so that he can pretend to call the snipers off, which Strong reluctantly does. He watches helplessly as Burke, Michael and Serrano board the chopper, leaving behind a truck that promptly explodes.

And Maddie sticks it to Al, having recovered his client list and a whole lot more from his safe after blowing a hole in his place. She’s smiling the entire time.

On the chopper, Michael demands to know who Burke’s boss is, and what’s really going on. Burke says that “all will be revealed in time,” because that’s what bad guys say in situations like this.

There are a few things about “Down Range” that don’t ring true on various levels. It’s pretty easy to see the plot twist in the fourth act coming if you’re paying attention through the episode, not to mention the tropes that surround it – yet again, the CIA doesn’t listen to Team Westen and gets egg on their face because of it. Burke having a boss is also not a shocker, because Burn Notice veterans know that the bad guys in this show always have organizations – the guy you meet in the season opener is almost certainly not the one pulling the strings. And so it is again.

Then there’s the whole subplot, which while seeing Sharon Gless putting someone in their place is always entertaining, feels like old material. We’ve been over all the various trouble Nate got himself into, and this isn’t the first time someone in the Westen family has had to deal with it. The whole thing comes across as more of a way to give Fiona and Madeline something to do, rather than something that actually adds to the episode.

Another minor tic: USA putting the preview of next week’s Burn Notice not at the end of the hour, but in the middle of Graceland. It’s obviously a move to coerce Burn Notice fans into watching Graceland, and it’s not great. Yes, it’s just a preview, but there are fans who love those little sneak peeks, and they shouldn’t have to sit through part of another show to see them.

Having said that, there are glimmers here of what makes this show great, namely in the person of Bruce Campbell. Sam Axe might be primarily known for his comic relief, but Campbell reminds us again that Sam is a lot more than that. He plays everything so well. It’s when Sam, Jesse and Michael are working together again, and we can enjoy the great chemistry between Campbell, Coby Bell and Jeffrey Donovan, that “Down Range” is at its best. Let’s hope that the rest of the plotting reaches that same level of quality next week.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

DVD Spotlight: ‘Burn Notice’ Season 6

Burn Notice

Burn Notice

With Burn Notice‘s final season airing on USA, Fox Home Entertainment has sent the penultimate season out on DVD. Burn Notice: Season Six is not unlike Michael Westen himself – it’s not flashy or whiz-bang, just a solid set that delivers all the things you’d expect a TV on DVD release to have.

No spoilers here for those who haven’t caught up, but this season of the spy drama is where it begins to show its age just a little bit. Particularly when considering the season’s major villain, it becomes obvious that Burn Notice has stretched its original mythology about as far as it possibly can. There’s also something that doesn’t click about all the antagonists in this season; whether it’s the actors or the writing they were given, every one of them feels over the top, to varying degrees.

That’s not to say that there’s not anything worth watching here, though. Lauren Stamile returns as CIA agent Dani Pearce, and there’s a little Third Watch reunion as Anthony Ruivivar plays the villain of the week in the second episode. That’s before we get into the Burn Notice regular cast, who would still be entertaining if they were reading from the phone book. Even when the material isn’t at its best, the chemistry between Jeffrey Donovan, Bruce Campbell, Gabrielle Anwar, Coby Bell and Sharon Gless is first-rate, and it’s really the heart of the show.

As far as the DVD set itself goes, Burn Notice seasons have never been loaded with bonuses, and this one follows that tradition. The actual transfer of episodes is good, with eighteen episodes on six discs and including closed captioning for the hard of hearing. It’s not as sharp as the show was on Blu-Ray or even in the HD broadcasts, but it’s more than good enough. (And since some readers will inevitably ask: there is no Blu-Ray release of this season planned. For all the folks who clamor about TV on Blu-Ray, apparently they’re not buying the BD releases, because there’s been no Burn Notice on Blu outside of season two, and its fellow USA show White Collar hasn’t been on BD after season one.)

The special features include the standard deleted scenes and gag reel, plus a cute little featurette called “Matt Nix Gets Burned,” which pretends that the show creator gets his own “burn notice” while shooting the finale. (You can see a preview of that video here.) There’s also one commentary, on the episode “Shock Wave,” and featuring Matt Nix, Jeffrey Donovan, Bruce Campbell and episode director Renny Harlin. As is the case with many things, the presence of Campbell is the best thing about the track, but it’s worth a listen for all Burners who want to know a little more about what makes the show tick.

Is it worth adding to your collection? Yes, if only for the episodes alone. Completists will want it to for their collection, newer fans should check it out to see the events which led up to this season’s happenings, and really new fans…probably wouldn’t be starting with season six anyway. As awesome as it would be to have a TV on DVD set  that has commentaries on every episode, and all sorts of crazy special features, that’s not really the norm in the market anymore (if it ever was). Releases like Burn Notice give a nice added incentive beyond what you’ve seen on TV, and they preserve the episodes well. That’s what’s important, and in those two categories, Burn Notice: Season 6 hits the mark.

Fox Home Entertainment has also given BFTV two copies of Burn Notice: Season Six for our readers! Use the form below to enter my Burn Notice giveaway. All you have to do is leave your name, email, and make your best argument as to why you should be one of the two to take home the prizes. Contest closes at 5 PM PST on Thursday, June 20, 2013. Limit one entry per person/email address. Contest is open to residents of the US and Canada only. Good luck!

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.

‘Burn Notice’ Recap and Review: ‘New Deal’

Burn Notice

Burn Notice - Season 7

Burn Notice is back for the final time, and returns with a season premiere that while not the most exciting episode on its own, certainly generates plenty of excitement for what should be an ambitious swan song.

After making his mysterious deal with the CIA at the end of season six, Michael Westen is now operating solo in the Dominican Republic, and looking a lot worse for wear. He’s drinking, has grown an unflattering beard, and is brawling in an underground fight club. His bad luck’s been around for awhile: nine months earlier, we see why Michael made that deal in the first place, as a suit (that’s Jack Coleman from Castle) tells Michael that every intelligence organization hates him and his friends. The suit says there’s a terrorist leader based in the Dominican, and Michael’s their new man on the inside, since he used to work with the bad guy, whose name is Randall Burke. Adrian Pasdar has gone from playing the President of the United States on Political Animals to a terrorist on Burn Notice. Does that qualify as a downgrade?

Michael then tells us via voice-over how difficult deep cover work is, just before he comes face-to-face with Burke for the first time in about a decade. His “old friend” is skeptical about Michael’s competency, and elects to break into his apartment later that night. He then tells Michael he’s offering him a “new life” with “no second chances.”

Back in Miami, life has moved on for the rest of the team. Sam is hanging out by the pool, only to have his quiet evening interrupted by a French intelligence operative asking about his old partner-in-crime. He says his agency has been working in the Dominican Republic, they’ve spotted Michael, and they want to know what he’s doing there. Sam realizes quickly that this guy is not French intelligence, which is confirmed when the visitor pulls a knife on him just before leaving.

This sends Sam running right to Jesse, who’s having a bad day even before Sam breaks the news. The same guy paid a visit to Jesse with a different cover ID, leading Sam to declare that “It’s time to circle the wagons.” That means calling Fiona, who’s working with a new guy that she’s also making out with. “If I’d known this was about Michael, I wouldn’t have come,” she declares when she meets the guys at Carlito’s. Obviously Michael’s departure put their relationship very, very much on ice. Sam and Jesse agree to go it alone, but convince her to keep an eye on Madeline (and her grandson Charlie) while they do.

Their first stop is what they believe to be the residence of their mystery man, which they decide to invite themselves into. Unfortunately, there’s a Claymore mine on the other side of the door, and Sam trying to open the door activates the device. He narrowly escapes being blown up. As if that’s not bad enough, the bastard they’re looking for is now posing as the supervisor meeting with Madeline when she goes to pursue custody of her grandson. When he puts the squeeze on her, she says too much, including revealing that Michael made a deal with the CIA. By the time Sam, Jesse and Fiona figure this out, it’s too late: the mystery man is gone, and much more well-informed.

Burke puts Michael to the test by sending him with one of his men to plant charges inside a target building, although he’s tight-lipped as to why it needs to explode. The two don’t play well together, although they manage to get the job done (barely). As they head for the rendezvous point, Michael begins to suspect that his cover has been blown, and he confirms it when his new partner pulls a gun on him. The two end up blowing through a security checkpoint and rolling their car in the resulting shootout. Michael is the sole survivor of the crash, and takes the opportunity to escape. He keeps the meeting with Burke and sells him a different story, but doesn’t get any more information on what the other man is planning.

All of this does not make Suit happy, and he admits that when it comes to Michael’s cover, they have a “serious problem” in the form of their mystery man. Suit has decided it’s time for them both to go back to Miami, but obviously, doesn’t want either of them being seen by Michael’s old friends while they’re chasing the spook. “I understand it’s him or me,” Michael says, and ominous music plays over the end credits in case you weren’t sure that he’s serious.

“New Deal” plays a lot like a part one, rather than a full-fledged premiere. It accomplishes the basic season-opening goals of bringing the team back together (mostly), introducing the new important players for the season, and raising a few questions that we need to answer. Adrian Pasdar and Jack Coleman are interesting additions, so far better than some of the characters we met last season (with the exception of Lauren Stamile’s Dani Pearce, who would be lovely to see back even if that probably won’t happen). And our enigmatic villain is just creepy enough for us to want him gone, which is the point.

Like ABC’s Rookie Blue, the show uses its time-jump to hook one of its leads up with a new love interest other than the person we know they’re meant to be with. The idea doesn’t work as well here as it did on Rookie Blue, for a variety of reasons, like that we don’t really have a clue who the “third wheel” is or what entirely contributed to the downfall of the old relationship. Considering all the things Fiona and Michael have endured, it seems like there should be a bit more of an explanation than her just being upset over his decision to get back into the CIA. Yet as their romance is a huge part of the show, it’s safe to expect we’ll get that answer and some resolution, too. It would be shocking if the show ended without Michael and Fiona back together.

The only two things that are disappointing about the premiere are that it lacks the usual Burn Notice humor (this might be the first episode in the show’s history without a witty title somewhere), which for this series is like having half a show, and that we don’t get a lot of information as to where all this is going. There’s a difference between maintaining suspense and being too tight-lipped, and “New Deal” tilts a bit toward the latter. The show doesn’t need to give away Burke’s entire game plan in the premiere, but not having the faintest clue what he wants makes it hard for us to legitimately be concerned, or even afraid of him. The only reputation he has is being an ex-colleague of Michael’s. It’s not the best introduction to a villain Burn Notice has ever had. But the important thing is that it all pays off in the end.

Speaking of the end, it’s not that surprising that this is Burn Notice‘s last season. USA has been launching more and more original series over the last few years, and we saw last season how there just isn’t room for all of them (rest in peace, Fairly Legal and Political Animals). From a business standpoint, networks tend to axe older shows when things get crowded. That aside, the series has also been on the air about five seasons longer than most TV programs, and next week it hits the one hundred episode milestone that’s crucial for syndication, so it doesn’t have much left to prove, either. Add that to the fact the show’s stretched its mythology about as far as it can, and all signs have been pointing to the end. The good thing is at least we know the finish line is coming, and can brace ourselves. Here’s hoping there’s a strong ending to a show that’s been good to its fans, its network and TV for a long time.

(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.