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.