Review: 'Burn Notice' - 'Dead to Rights': Head games

Larry returns for the mid-season finale, but is he the real threat?

<p>Jere Burns and Bruce Campbell in the &quot;Burn Notice&quot;&nbsp;mid-season finale.</p>

Jere Burns and Bruce Campbell in the "Burn Notice" mid-season finale.

Credit: USA

A quick review of the "Burn Notice" mid-season finale coming up just as soon as I show you my body mic...

Well, that was something.

For most of this season, it seemed as if Matt Nix and company had become very satisfied with the new status quo, in which half the cast would help the CIA each week, the other half would help out a client, and the arc involving Max's murder acted like a relic of the days when the show felt compelled to be serialized. And for the most part, that worked very well. The whole CIA freelance consultant idea gave the show a bigger scope, and excuses to do episodes like last week's Michael/Fi fun romantic getaway that wouldn't have made sense under the old set-up. It was light, it was fun, and it worked.

Now, though, the fun seems to be very much on hold thanks to a dark, gripping summer finale that brought back the show's best recurring nemesis - and may(*) have killed him off - introduced some genuine carnage involving the deaths of innocent civilians (one of them showing off pictures of his kids in an earlier scene), and left Michael and Fi's future in the hands of an all-seeing, all-knowing, manipulative as hell survivor of the old burn notice conspiracy in Jere Burns.

(*) I say "may" only because the newspaper story only talked about 2 people dying in the explosion. It'd be pretty ludicrous to have Larry survive Fi's bomb, but this is not a show that's always concerned itself with realism, especially if it costs them the possibility of future Tim Matheson appearances.

I had a feeling Burns wasn't quite what he seemed in the early going. His work on "Justified" and "Breaking Bad" the last couple of years have been a reminder of just what a good dramatic actor he is, and he doesn't seem the type the show would waste as the hapless client, especially since they all but skipped over the part where he was pretending to grieve for his wife. So it wasn't shocking to have him revealed as the man pulling not only Larry's strings, but everyone's. And yet it worked, because Burns was so good, and because, frankly, I felt as unsatisfied as Michael did in the season premiere at the end of the hunt for conspirators. While the series' larger arc hasn't always worked, the notion that that was all there was - especially absent an appearance by John Mahoney as Management - rang a little hollow. So I'm good with the show returning there, especially with someone like Burns as the Mahoney stand-in. And the prospect of Michael having to work for the bad guys just as he's finally been accepted back into the CIA's good graces should create some good tension moving forward.

On the other hand, I wonder if some of you would prefer that the light-hearted A-story/B-story structure they've been using this season simply continue, without the show getting into darker territory where Fi has innocent blood on her hands, Michael resents and distrusts his mother, they have to lie to Sam and Jesse, etc., etc. It's a USA show, after all, and certain expectations come with that.

What did everybody else think? Are you more excited about the show's November return, or less?

Alan-sepinwall-sm
Alan Sepinwall
Sr. Editor, What's Alan Watching
Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "The Revolution Was Televised," about the last 15 years of TV drama, is for sale at Amazon. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com
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