We’ve arrived at the Burn Notice summer finale, which usually means bigger explosions and some form of a cliffhanger to be resolved when the show returns in November. “Desperate Times” ticks off every box that fans of the show are used to, which is both a good thing in that it gives the audience what it expects, and a bad one in that there’s not much to it beyond that.
The episode opens with Fiona upset at Michael for involving the CIA in their hunt for Tyler Gray, the man who killed Anson and Nate. “Every time we involve them, everything gets more complicated,” she tells him angrily, which she would know. He retorts that Card (John C. McGinley) just called him and they’re meeting in an hour. Cut to said meeting, where Card explains some “low-level gremlins” caught Gray (former Saving Grace star Kenny Johnson) on tape in Panama. Card then tells Michael that the only people he can actually send to Panama are Michael, Jesse, Fiona, Sam and one other random guy, Brady Pressman (Chad Coleman).
Michael visits Maddie to inform her about the latest development in the situation. She’s still somewhat cold-shouldering him, and admits that she blames not just him, but “everyone” for the death of his younger brother. “Every mistake Nate ever made was because he wanted to be like you,” she snaps at Michael, before going into a rant about how she “was his mother; my job was to protect him from you.” Clearly, this relationship is going to stay broken for awhile.
The team arrives in San Miguelito, Panama, where they meet Brady and go immediately to a condemned building to set up their operation. Brady briefs them on Gray’s last known location, the equipment they have available and the plan he’s put together to extract Gray. They’re set to swing into action the following day. However, that morning Michael’s suspicions are aroused by an electrical truck that shouldn’t be outside. It happens to be full of bad guys, forcing our heroes to make a very quick escape via the roof to the next building over.
Brady wants to abandon the mission, but Sam and Fiona convince him they can still make things work with what little they salvaged in their escape. While preparing, Michael promises Fiona that once Gray is captured, he’ll leave the CIA…and so, there’s a cut to the CIA office, where Maddie is impatiently waiting for Card. She’s not leaving until he tells her everything about the mission that got Nate killed, blackmailing him with the information Michael gave her earlier. Card leaves her alone with a classified file, the contents of which are not immediately revealed to the audience.
Back in Panama, Brady has asked around and located the mercenaries who were hired to attack the team. Several of them are heavily armed and lurking around Gray’s hideout; Jesse decides to pick off the lone guy at one exit by pretending to be a clueless American tourist. (Because there’s always the one bad guy who is left all by his lonesome, because either his bosses brought an uneven number of henchmen or no one likes him.) Once that thug is disabled and disarmed, that gives Team Westen Plus One their way in.
While Maddie reviews Nate’s autopsy report, she asks Card how Michael could have turned out so “strong and capable” while Nate didn’t. Card does his best to console her, in a scene that makes his character surprisingly likeable and is the best of John C. McGinley’s guest arc. In that moment, the audience starts to see what Michael must have seen in Card while working beside him all those years ago.
In Panama, Michael gives Brady the option to walk away from the impending fight, which he declines. He tells Michael the story of how his father was an Army Ranger killed in action and the killer was never found. That’s a little more background information than we normally get for one-episode guest characters, so that doesn’t bode well for Brady. But before we can ponder that, Jesse calls to say that Gray is on his way back, and the team’s plan swings into motion. It doesn’t work as well as planned, however, and they’re left to pursue Gray’s Hummer before finding it abandoned with the driver dead at the wheel. A sudden shot strikes Brady in the thigh, while everyone else is thrown back on their heels.
Card wants Michael to wait for backup, which we all know he won’t do. The team makes their move, which gets Jesse nicked and a nearby barrel of gasoline punctured, so that we can have a nice explosion at some point. Michael literally crashes into the room where Gray is holed up, and knocks him around a bit before arresting him. “Card isn’t sending an extraction team for you,” Gray warns him, revealing that Card sent him out there and the whole thing was supposed to be a “suicide mission” for Michael and his team. He dares Michael to tell Card that Gray’s escaped, and Card’s insistence that they not pursue him confirms for Michael that Card has, indeed, betrayed him.
That leads to yet another last-minute plot twist: Michael explaining the situation to everyone else while they run for their lives from Card’s reinforcements, who promptly blow up the building Michael was just in. Just to confirm the situation for the audience, this is intercut with Card telling Madeline things about “truth,” doing what he needed to do, and Michael being like a son to him. Brady decides to sacrifice himself to draw the pursuit team away from Michael, Sam, Jesse and Fiona, who are left to stand and stare at the fireball he leaves behind.
Burn Notice hasn’t necessarily lost its luster this season, but season six is missing something compared to the different feel of seasons four and five. There’s nothing specifically wrong with any episode, yet it’s not quite appointment TV anymore. What’s changed? Part of that may have to do with it serving as the lead-in to Suits, a series that’s firing on all cylinders this summer. Comparison is thus inevitable and unfortunate; it’s like driving a car that you’ve had for years and love very much, and then seeing the breathtaking new model at the dealership. It doesn’t change how you feel about your car, but you can’t help but be interested in what’s newer and less familiar.
The other factor at play, at least for me, is that after being a loyal viewer for six seasons, things start to feel a little too familiar – which is just part of the life cycle of television. When you’ve seen so many episodes, inevitably something is going to repeat itself or close to it. Burn Notice is starting to get that feel about it. Things like Card and Rebecca’s betrayal(s), Fiona’s return to the team, and even Brady’s fate in this episode have been too easy to see coming, which somewhat lessens their impact. The show is still entertaining to watch, but it’s not as surprising as it used to be.
“Desperate Times” is an entertaining summer finale that isn’t necessarily lacking, but still comes out feeling like it could have been better. Let’s see if the second half of season six steps up the game, because Burn Notice still has the cast and panache to make it so much more than your usual spy thriller.
For more from Brittany Frederick, follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.