June 25th, 2009
While a strong second season and great episodes like “End Run” last week have created raised expectations for Burn Notice, the show remains a formulaic procedural at some level. The show is not formulaic in a negative way, necessarily, but it has its patterns and uses them to varying degrees of effectiveness. As it happens, the past season or so has been particularly strong, but the show is by no means blowing our collective mind week in and week out. So, when I say that “Fearless Leader” was a pretty typical episode of Burn Notice, this is to say both that it was enjoyable but also that it did nothing to really make me stand up and take notice.
The problem, however, is that to some degree it should have been one of those episodes, at least the way it was situated within the season-opening storyline with Moon Bloodgood’s Detective Paxson. Presented as a new obstacle for Michael now that law enforcement is no longer being kept off his back by the people who burned him, the police interest in him has seemed a legitimate threat even if there have been times where Bloodgood popping up at the beginning and end of each episode has felt shallow. It left me waiting for the episode where Michael’s mission would intersect directly with our newly arrived detective, thinking that would justify her presence as more than just a symbolic sign of Michael’s newly precarious position.
It’s ultimately this expectation, not some notion of every episode being like “End Run,” that makes me disappointed in this one, as Paxson remained a pretty uninteresting character and, more importantly, the story that ends up closing this chapter in the show’s run was not particularly connected to her or elevated in any way by her presence. The result is that it makes the show seem lazier and simpler than it really is, and it makes an otherwise solid episode into a bit of a letdown: as Michael says, you always need to have a plan, and it seems like the show’s plan was a little shortsighted.
June 18th, 2009
It seems like every time I’m writing about Burn Notice, like in a quick catchup piece I put together ahead of the season premiere for Geeks of Doom, I’m talking about the progression of the show from its first season to where it stands today. Watching “End Run,” it’s clear that the writers are a fan of evoking this particular discourse, for this episode presents itself as a high stakes, no holds barred, greatest hits of what the first season used to do on a small scale, and what now feels more suspenseful, more entertaining, and simply more effective.
By bringing absent Nate (Michael’s brother) back into the picture, the show reminds us that there was a time when “annoyingly ignorant family members” was actually a trope that the show was relying on for some of its drama. Now, meanwhile, the show finds drama from a no hold barred arms dealer holding Michael hostage in order to utilize his skillset for an upcoming job, and from a police threat that shows no signs of going away anytime soon. There was a time when Michael was fighting against the people around him, whether it was Sam reporting to the FBI or his mother knowing nothing about his job and annoying him, but now everyone is banding together in an effort to assist Michael in keeping his friends and family safe, and staying out of jail in the process.
For now, the result is an episode that simultaneously contributes to ongoing storylines, connects with numerous satellites within the show’s universe, and gives us perhaps the best showcase yet for Michael’s unique skillset, all without feeling the least bit contrived or put together.
“Question and Answer”
June 11th, 2009
Moving into its second episode of the season, Burn Notice is no longer a show that needs to prove itself – the second season did more than enough to convince me that the show understand that works and what doesn’t, so the introduction of a new antagonist for Michael Westen isn’t something that raises any sort of alarm bells.
This isn’t the case with all shows, of course. House, in particular, is a show that insists on introducing short term rivals for its lead character, only to have them absolutely take over the show to the point of both distraction and devolution. I don’t think I can quite explain why Burn Notice does this so much better, but it’s an impressive feat: while House slows to a crawl during those sections, Burn Notice manages to pull off both tension and humour with the arrival of Moon Bloodgood’s Detective Paxson, someone who has drawn a line from Michael’s arrival in Miami with a sharp increase in explosions and the like.
(And based on the twitter responses, including one from Alan Sepinwall who discusses Bloodgood’s arrival in his own review, the humour might be a major part of how these characters work, as they fit into Michael’s world of calculated yet quippy and therefore don’t seem as contrived).
As a result, “Question and Answer” doesn’t let this new arrival slow things down, as the thing that works so well about Burn Notice is that not every episode needs to be about explosions, and that there are more than enough tricks up their sleeve to keep the show one of the most entertaining on television.