Summer Finale: Burn Notice – “Long Way Back”

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“Long Way Back”

August 6th, 2009

One of the downsides of USA Network’s season structure is that show operate in the form of shortened half-seasons, and that their quintissential summer series Burn Notice only airs half of its season during the summer. As a result, last night’s summer finale of Burn Notice feels slightly bittersweet, like saying goodbye just as the season was really picking up steam (which isn’t to say it really struggled early, but just the nature of momentum).

“Long Way Back” is an episode that is very blatant in its thematic content, picking up where we left off last week as Fiona prepares to head back to Ireland and in the process unlocks a firestorm of pent-up aggression in a certain collection of bloodthirsty hooligans, a new emotion or two for Michael, and a nice collection of events for us as viewers. In the end, the episode goes about where you’d expect it to, but in the vein of previous finales there are more than enough complications present for us to question the stability of the entire series by episode’s end.

This is, of course, an episode about dealing with saying goodbye, something that Michael Westen is too good at. This is someone who, because of his job, has no worldly possessions outside of firearms, an emotional disconnection that may be most recently the result of his time in the CIA but stems back to his father’s influence on his life. When his mother attempts to sell the family home, she presumes that Michael won’t mind: after all, he hated the house and all of the memories that were in it, and it was representative of the life he ran away from when he became a spy. It’s the reason why going to his mother when he returned to Miami was so hard for Michael; it wasn’t that she was annoying (although Madeline rode that line in the very beginning), but rather that family was never a source of comfort for Michael.

However, this episode was all about how Michael has changed, a point which drives him further away from returning to the CIA and back towards Fiona and his life in Miami. Everyone knew that it was coming, let’s make this entirely clear: there was no way Fiona was heading back to Ireland, and there was no way Michael was actually going to join the CIA again. As a result, this episode can really only be judged on how successfully they managed to create a scenario whereby Fiona’s departure would be complicated, and where Michael would have to come to terms with her departure and how it relates to the question of his return to the CIA.

Ultimately, I thought that they achieved this goal with a fair deal of success, although it wasn’t always smooth. I have some issues with how they more or less made Michael’s decision for him with the extremity of Strickler’s behaviour in the episode. Yes, Michael eventually had to make the decision to kill Strickler to be able to save Fiona, therefore giving up any chance of getting back into the CIA, but I think it would have been even more powerful if Strickler hadn’t already been asking Michael to lie about what had actually happened. I understand why Strickler’s micro-managing of the truth was there, so as to make him appear even more shady, but I think that if Strickler’s machinations had remained somewhat more subtle until that final moment it would have made Michael’s decision that much harder, and that much more effective. It’s not as if the decision itself was that controversial, as the audience is bound to dislike Strickler’s cocky attitude, and while the consequences are heavy (as the end of the episode shows) I don’t think they’re so heavy that questions about whether killing Strickler was necessary would compromise too greatly our respect for Michael.

But overall, I thought they really hit the right notes here. Yes, Madeline selling the house was a bit much in terms of reinforcing Michael’s loss of the home he’d built in Miami, but I thought it helped tie everything together to something beyond Fiona, and the actual Fiona side of the storyline was so strong that it was hard not to love. Whether it was Michael being forced to step back into his cover I.D. at a moment’s notice in order to maintain Fiona’s brother’s trust (the Irish are not so much with foreigners, especially those who were posing as Irishmen), or the Fiona’s realization that there were really that many people who wanted her dead or worse back in Ireland, things began to unravel in a way that was predictable but never boring. Learning Strickler’s involvement part way through was a nice twist on things, and there was some strong tension in Sean’s explosiveness coupled with Michael being somewhat distracted by everything else going on around him. When we finally got to the conclusion, as Michael was able to plant the bomb on the boat and rescue Fiona, it felt like a legitimate conclusion to that particular story, and one that in its events really did convince me that Michael would be willing to give up the CIA gig in favour of the woman he loves.

What really works about the finale, though, is that it doesn’t really end at all: Diego’s death at the hands of whoever is coming to replace Strickler and discover what went wrong in Miami is the kind of mystery that Michael admits at episode’s end is most dangerous, and I think that’s really good for this point in the season. Part of what made Detective Paxson so frustrating earlier in the season was that there were no consequences from her departure, and Strickler is by far the more interesting individual to emerge now that Michael isn’t nearly as protected as he used to be in terms of who knows he’s a spy and who doesn’t. And while Sean, who I enjoyed quite a bit for a recurring guest star, insists he’ll keep the Irish off their backs for a while, this doesn’t mean that it will work, which creates another chance for more problems in the future.

I guess the whole point of this finale, then, was to return the show to a place where uncertainty was a bit more certain, and where there is a clearer sense of danger rather than nuisance on the horizon. On that front, I think the finale was a definite success, although waiting until January is going to be a killer.

Cultural Observations

  • Sam didn’t get too much to do here, but it was nice seeing the Buick (which we’ve seen a lot of) get one final moment of glory flying off of that parking structure. Poor Mrs. Reynolds (and, you know, poor Sam). I also enjoyed “Don’t tell her I said that,” after Sam promised to rescue Fiona should something happen to Michael.
  • Bloodthirsty hooligan is definitely a favourite Chyron of mine.
  • I have to wonder how easy it would be to recreate a bombing signature from a pretty simple Interpol report, but if anyone can do it I figure it would be Michael and Fiona.
  • When the show returns, we’re getting Tyne Daly opposite Sharon Gless – it’ll give the show a shot at an Emmy, considering Daly reputation, so there’s that at least to be excited about…plus, you know, the people dying and Michael being in mortal danger thing. That’ll be neat too, I reckon.

2 Comments

Filed under Burn Notice

2 responses to “Summer Finale: Burn Notice – “Long Way Back”

  1. Regarding recreating the bombing signature, I was under the impression the Fiona was familiar with it via her connection with him and her acumen for bomb making.

    Overall a solid episode, but some elements felt forced. Like you said, Madeline selling the house.

  2. Pat

    I found this to be my favorite episode so far.While I agree that Strickler shouldn’t have been shown as shady as he really was, I thought the scene where Michael killed him was one of those most powerful and emotional yet. It showed the complete human side of Michael. He had been, for the most part, so calculated up to this point. It showed a very real side to him. While this might lead to complications for the series down the road, it made for excellent drama.

    Now for my problem. Diego knew who Strickler was. Why didn’t Michael ever ask Diego about Strickler? Diego obviously knew much about him. You’d think a resourceful covert operative like Michael would utilize all of his resources.

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