Burn Notice: Friends and Family (season premiere)
by Allison Waldman, posted Jun 5th 2009 10:27AM
(S03E01) You knew from last season's finale that Michael taking the plunge into the Atlantic from a helicopter, thus turning down an offer to work with Management in some organized ops position, he was taking a big chance. The leap was a metaphor and the danger for Michael Westen was about to increase exponentially.
Well, in this opening episode, it's clear that creator Matt Nix has upped the volume for Burn Notice. In Spinal Tap terms, we're at eleven, and that's more than ten. For Michael, a five-mile ocean swim in suit pants was just the kind of discomfort trained operatives have to learn to endure. When he landed on Miami Beach, one of the busy, bikini-clad girls and kids making sand castle types, he was all in. But no rest for the weary. In short order, Michael was on the run and in a world of trouble.
Management has it in for Michael, taking the place of Carla and Victor, last season's nemeses. For the first time in the show, Michael now has to duck law enforcement. Getting trapped in a South Beach hotel, Michael quickly figured an escape plan as he broke into a utility room, made an untraceable call and gathered supplies, but as Fiona explained this wasn't the time for blasting out of the building. Michael decided it was "easier to dodge questions than bullets" so he turned himself into Miami P.D.
Getting sprung by Harlan, an old buddy who'd worked with Michael in the past, sent off warning notices to him and anyone who's been watching the show. Harlan was working an angle and the only person who was conned by his old buddy routine was Madeline. How funny was it that she warned Michael not to get Harlan killed. The thing is that while Madeline clearly worries about Michael, she recognizes her son is very good at his job and -- so far -- too smart to get himself killed. Of course, later on, when Madeline is freaking out over Michael's cuts and bruises -- "You need stitches" -- it's Mom that states the obvious: Fi, Michael and Sam have to stick together for all their sakes, especially Michael.
The episode had a couple of great set pieces, the garbage truck used like a tank to ram Cortez' car and give Michael the opening to use his 007 rigged attache case (see From Russia with Love) to stick a knife on El Jefe's neck and snatch the Venezuelan bad guy. But as impressive as that was, it didn't prepare me for the jaw-dropping moment when Harlan shot Cortez point-blank and turned the gun on Michael, saying that he was the real target.
The hand-to-hand battle between Michael and Harlan was okay, although in the darkness you couldn't really see how much was Jeffrey Donovan or his stunt double. But when he got away by jumping out the window -- did he know that they were on the water, because I didn't -- I loved the voiceover work. Michael explained that when you're underwater, fire is your friend. Who knew? He also tells us that spies aren't trained to fight fair; spies are trained to win. The staccato, tight use of the voiceovers on Burn Notice really work. Unlike the narration on other shows, they're information packed and move the story. Michael rarely gets poetic or philosophical. It's meat-and-potatoes data and that's just right for the character.
Michael could have killed Harlan. He had the gun at his throat. Instead, Michael used his head and arranged turned in Harlan to Cortez's men to get them off his trail. Okay, that's one set of evil-doers disposed of...for now.
Harlan was just the first of former "friends" who will be after Michael. As Sam said, "This is bad." Michael is now not only burned, he's exposed. In fact, Management wants Michael so badly that they're likely to offer a bounty on his head. That's one more reason Michael must stick close to people he trusts -- Fiona, Sam and Mom. By the way, where's Nate? Little brother should be on the trust list, too.
Other points of interest (and fun):
-- Sam got to keep the hot red vintage Buick convertible (since he's romancing Mrs. Reynold's 39-year-old daughter). Anyone know the make and model?
-- Fi and Sam had another wonderful chat while making explosives. Fi didn't like hearing the hard truth, that given the chance, Michael would want to get back in the spy game for the CIA, NSA or some other government agency. Fiona's background is as an IRA terrorist. Sam tried to make her understand that Michael got into the spy game to serve his country. He still wants to serve. Fiona gets that on a person to person case basis. She doesn't want or approve of him rejoining a U.S. agency. To her, America has burned him and cannot be trusted.
-- Jeffrey Donovan is now an executive producer which accounts for his bump in salary. I think his commitment to the show, though, goes beyond money. Part of his new title will be to keep the quality of the show high. Mission accomplished with this opener.
-- Sam's new favorite libation is a mango mojito.
-- I predict a spiffy new sun room for Madeline by the end of the season. Michael will improve upon his father's slipshod construction job.