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Burn Notice keeps on running and changing

Burn Notice poster

Written by : published Sunday 23rd December 2012

Burn Notice - "You Can Run"
Grade: 85%

USA's Burn Notice is an interesting story. It started out as an intriguing mystery series about a spy who has been burned by the agency he works for, quickly became a procedural, and then lost steam in the middle seasons as the original premise grew thin. Each time Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) got a step closer to learning who was behind his bad luck, that person would be taken out, and another layer peeled back, only to reveal more layers.

Season six has been an interesting reinvention, though. There have been a few cases of the week, but by and large the writers have committed to a large arc, wherein Michael, back in the government's good graces, uncovers his former mentor's misdeeds, kills him, and then goes on the run with his friends, hunted ruthlessly these last few episodes by an Ahab-esque agent named Riley (Sonja Sohn, The Wire, Body of Proof), who will stop at nothing to catch her man.

This week, the year came to a close with the two part "You Can Run" and "Game Change."Riley gets more and more dangerous, capturing Jesse (Coby Bell), her men wounding Sam (Bruce Campbell), and then partnering with a drug cartel who almost kills everyone. It's a high-adrenaline stunt, raising the stakes higher than they've ever been, making the situations more dangerous, and finally seeing Michael somehow find a way out, as he always does, saving the day for everyone he loves.

The first impression I have when watching "You Can Run" and "Game Change" are that they are great episodes. After all, my blood is pumping, I'm thrilled to not have to deal with some random person who needs assistance from the team, and I get to see some characters I love at their best. Add to that some surprise returning guest stars, like Campbell (Gary Weeks) and Bly (Alex Carter), and it seems like a culmination of years of good story.

The problems arise when one begins analyzing the elements of the two hours, though. Once more, we are given one dimensional villains who poorly represent the body they work for, and make the whole CIA seem inept (Riley), a would-be savior who can clear the situation, but is quickly killed before he has an real impact (Bly), and even the cameos by past characters fail to give us any real insight into them.

Burn Notice does a pretty fair job defining its main characters. From Michael to Sam to Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) to Madeline (Sharon Gless), and even Jesse, who hasn't been around as long, we get to see what makes them tick, and what thoughts go into their decisions. But for virtually everyone else, especially CIA types, who should be at the top of their games, the show rarely keeps them around long enough for them to matter, and even when they stick, they don't get past stereotypes and surface images.

The exception to this rule is Lauren Stamile's Agent Pearce, who I dearly miss.

The result is a very fake world, that a few interesting people just happen to inhabit. Keep your eye on the focus, like in a magic trick, and you can be impressed. Start to examine things too closely, and it all falls apart. I like Burn Notice, but the best elements tend to be shafted in favor of flash, and the show continually plays against its strengths.

I think the disappointment with "You Can Run" and "Game Change" stings a bit more than in past instances. That's because season six showed us that Burn Notice can be better, and can deliver something bigger and more complex than is routinely presented. For most of this year, the flaws started to fade, and there is noticeable story improvement. But a cheat of an ending, as happens when Michael re-enlists in the CIA, seemingly as a boss now, after turning himself in in a way that made little sense, considering his running earlier, and the lack of changed circumstances (he could easily kill Riley in this episode and reset the status quo, rather than do the right thing), takes away a lot of that accomplishment.

The good thing is, Burn Notice isn't going anywhere, and still has time to continue to improve. If it learns the right lessons from this year, season seven could be the best yet. Or it could revert to an earlier quality level, and jump the shark. Either way, we'll find out this summer.

Burn Notice will return in mid-2013 to USA.

Want to read some of my fiction? It's on my website, JeromeWetzel.com! Also, for the latest updates and article links, as well as commentary on episodes I don't fully review, please follow me on Twitter!

About the author JeromeWetzelTV

JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome Wetzel is a huge fan of stories, in both books and television. He writes TV reviews and fiction. He currently posts articles for TheTVKing, Seat42F, and BlogCritics, as well as his own personal blog, as well as writing fiction. His website is www.jeromewetzel.com Follow him on twitter @JeromeWetzelTV

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