Every time you think you’ve got Burn Notice (USA Network, Thursdays, 9/8C) figured out, its writers throw a curve – like changing Michael’s status from burned to active; like killing off one of the show’s best recurring villains (RIP Larry); like moving away from the case of the week at unexpected times; like changing up the timing on big event cliffhangers and hitting the core characters with unexpected loss; like this week’s highly irregular summer finale.
Last week, Sam (Bruce Campbell) and Jesse (Coby Bell) presented Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) with the initials of the mercenary ghost who killed Nate. This week, Michael turns to his mentor and boss, Tom Card (John C. McGinley) to use CIA resources to learn the idea of the mysterious TG (Kenny Johnson, Saving Grace). Uncharacteristically, Card comes through before the Opening credits – and assigns Michael and his team (off the books) to fly to San Miguelito, Panama, and bring him back.
While they’re off, Maddy (Sharon Gless) storms the CIA bastion and blackmails Card into reading her in on the details of the operation that resulted in Nate’s death. Gless has more than a few moments in this ep and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if she were to get another Emmy nomination as a result.
If the ease with which Card found Tyler Gray, or TG, wasn’t a bit off, then having a desk jockey named Brady Pressman (Chad Coleman, The Wire, Horrible Bosses) run the op might add to that peculiar odor. When the op goes badly sideways, the team has to do what they do best – improvise (think MacGyver, then cube that).
Desperate Times is one of those Burn Notice eps that takes great pains to take all the show’s trademarks – banter, action, explosions and family – and recontextualizes them in unexpected ways. The writing isn’t quite as sharp as usual, though things that should seem wrong to Michael and the team may not register because of his determination to find Nate’s killer. Still, once the ep gets going, it really does zip along.
Neither the screener nor the package it came in gave any information on who wrote and/or directed Desperate Times, but the ep is as technically proficient as the best eps of the series. Besides Gless, McGinley deserves some kudos for a layered performance. His scenes with Gless definitely stand out.
Beyond that, no one is really asked to go too much farther, character-wise than we’re used to – though Campbell gives one of his more nuanced performances (every now and then, the writers like to remind us that he’s not just a one-note actor). Donovan and Anwar are as intense as we’ve ever seen them, but their best moments come in a quiet, wistful scene just before things go pear-shaped.
The biggest real surprise isn’t the cliffhanger (which is totally not what we’re expecting) but the moments immediately preceding it. Explosive doesn’t even really cover that sequence.
Overall, then, while Desperate Measures may not be the best ep of Burn Notice, its twists are definitely good enough to keep viewers hooked and eager for the winter premiere.
Final Grade: B
Photo by Glenn Watson/Courtesy USA Network