When it began, the “burn notice” that wrongfully blacklisted Uncle Sam Secret Agent Man Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) formed the basis of creator Matt Nix’s eponymous TV series and set our main character in motion as well. Yet while on the surface the goal remains the same in the sexy USA Network sun-drenched hit, after four years on the air, the ex-spy's mission to learn the truth about the burn has manifested into a Hitchcockian MacGuffin.
And although new information along with new players inevitably come to light at the start and close of every season – elevating the original A-plotline back from its weekly B-story status – aside from bookended “notice” hijinks, the back-story of the burn usually takes a backseat to whatever explosive MacGyver style antics will befall the soon-to-be clients of Michael and Co.
Obviously, it’s a bit disappointing to those of us that have been actively following along Michael’s sunny scavenger hunt for answers to see the series replace sophistication with staggering stunts.
However, by the time we get to the mid-season surprise, we realize that after years of screen-written improvisation to keep the fires of the notice’s origin burning, there have been so many convoluted double-crosses and triple-fake-outs involving two-faced players and quadruple betrayals that the mystery no longer makes sense as anything other than a MacGuffin device taking us from one clue to the next.
Then again, luckily logic is nothing if not relative in this fictional world of yogurt-eating tongue-in-cheek ex-spy narrator Michael, his ex-IRA explosives expert ex-girlfriend turned on-again/off-again/taken for granted gal Friday, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), the laid-back, beer drinking ex-G-man informant, ex-Navy Seal Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), and his chain-smoking mama Maddie (Sharon Gless).
Considering the fact that Michael and Maddie have never moved in four seasons and the characters consistently use their real names as well as the same two cars for stakeouts or chases while repeatedly getting involved in heavy shoot-outs and explosions without any repercussions from either side of the law, it’s not like we’re talking about a sudden breach in storytelling sense.
Nonetheless, for mindless action movie fans, the emphasis on sheer standalone episode escapism as opposed to a complicated 24 style arc is undoubtedly a good thing.
Despite a couple of clunkers that push even Burn Notice level of suspension-of-disbelief off a cliff involving a dubious prison break-in and break-out and a few too many lukewarm bodyguard/security plots including one aimed right at SAMCRO enthusiasts, Burn delivers eighteen 42 minute ‘80s good-guys take all minus the consequences (or ‘90s cerebral gray area) popcorn pictures in Season Four.
The ‘80s vibe can be a curse however when actors Campbell and Donovan throw caution to the wind, relishing in their undercover fake identity scenes with over-the-top swagger (Campbell) or awful accents (Donovan) that come dangerously close to bordering on A-Team style camp as if they’re tired of the confines of Sam and Michael.
Fortunately Season Four rebounds from a déjà vu formulaic slow start by picking up the pace with a pulse-quickening succession of interrelated stories in the final half of the four-disc set that rival some of the earlier multi-arc plotlines from Burn’s vastly superior second and third installments.
Even though we can’t make heads or tails of the overall back-story of the “burn” with one too many double-backs and double-crosses involving agents new and old – once the writers weave the original threads of the show’s first mystery into each smackdown-of-the-week standalone plot, Burn finally pays off on the promise of its newest cast member, Coby Bell.
As Jesse -- a counter-intelligence operative that Michael gets tricked into burning at the start of the season -- Bell adds an air of reason and questioning into the cool as hell yet admittedly smugly overconfident trio of Miami ass-kickers.
With Michael moodier than ever and taking Fiona for granted, the subtle threat of a love triangle (amazingly observed by everyone except Michael) adds a little more heat to the show not to mention injecting Burn with an (albeit tiny) credibility bonus lesson that sometimes it takes more than three people plus a scrappy, cunning senior citizen to take on “the man” – both good and bad.
A welcome addition to the team – even if his passion for yogurt hasn’t quite been established yet – Bell’s scenes with the two women in particular help level out the higher testosterone content as finally after seasons of cigarettes and tacky costumes, Gless is brought in on the job to help sell some of the group’s more outlandish justice-for-the-little-guy cons.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.