By John Keegan and Edmund Boys
When the death of a major character is teased in a show’s trailer, it’s often a desperate attempt to raise flagging interest. This time, “Burn Notice” decides to put Sam Axe “Under the Gun,” and it doesn’t really have the desired effect. While giving Bruce Campbell the spotlight is always good value, the result is a generic episode that nudges the plot forward in fits and starts, much like the Charger through most of this.
When the show left for a mini, two-week hiatus, Michael had just been gotten the name of the corrupt prison guard who was setting up Fiona. All signs pointed to a take-down and the latest Westen master class in interrogation techniques to extract who hired him. So it is a little disappointing when the guard turns out to be a ruse to reintroduce Rebecca, the CIA agent turned by Anson last season. In the hoariest of TV cliches, the boys arrive in that magic window after she’s killed him, but before she has time to flee.
My disappointment stemmed from how much I was hoping someone other than Anson was after Fiona. Especially since I don’t see how killing her helps him (unless it’s just out of spite, which contradicts his supposed criminal genius tag...again). Having her inside and accused means there’s still a chance of using her against Michael. Perhaps even trading help in breaking her out, if their efforts continue to fail, for Michael’s cooperation. Kill her, and Michael turns into an avenging angel of death, pursuing him with a ferocity rivaling a Terminator. (I couldn’t let Kristanna Loken come back without, at least, one reference!)
So, just to set up our life-threatening scenario, Rebecca takes Sam hostage and drags him into the Everglades, after perforating the Charger’s radiator. The perforation is crucial to maintaining the dramatic tension as they catch up, then fall back multiple times. Of course, with Sam as the abductee, you knew he’d be fine in the preliminary stages. Talking his way past the trooper was pure, unadulterated Bruce Campbell, and you always have to honor the Chin.
What annoyed me during their ride together was the revelation that Rebecca was doing this because Anson was holding her brother. After setting her up as the rare opponent who has comparable skills and training to Michael, it was, again, disappointing to introduce such an obvious opening to turn her. Given Anson’s diminished position, why not play on her genre cred and give him a relentless, efficient accomplice? (I never said I’d keep it to one reference.)
Introducing that weak link leached the final confrontation of all suspense. A Terminator version of Rebecca would have blown up Sam along with the meth cookers and taken off in the airboat long before the boys got there. But "Burn Notice" would never go that dark. Instead, she re-emerges, and the only suspense is how long it’s going to take Michael to talk her around.
Meanwhile, Fi behind bars is also spinning its wheels a bit. The Hit Squad’s still after her, escalating to switchblades, so it’s time to make another deal with Ayn. Ayn’s terms involve getting a package from her ex, which turns into the most menacing part of the episode.
With the boys running around with the swamp people, it falls to Maddie to try and retrieve it. She’s already piqued by Michael failing to mention his meeting with Fiona, and is bravery personified as she tries to stand up to a truly loathsome boor. Her life is the one you truly fear for, and it’s catharsis personified when Michael returns just in time for some bone-snapping payback. Between the quality of Sharon Gless’ performance and the intensity of Michael’s response, this was easily the most compelling part of the episode.
“Burn Notice” showed a little more of its soft underbelly with Ayn’s embrace of trust. I hope that Hallmark moment is setup for the revelation that Ayn can’t be trusted at all. The show could really use a jolt like that. They’ve deliberately dispensed with clients-of-the-week to focus on the characters and the main story. Now, they need to expand that story, so it feels capable of filling entire episodes.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Edmund Boys is Critical Myth's reviewer for Burn Notice.