Summer finale review: 'Burn Notice' - 'Desperate Times': Shoeless in Panama

Mike and the team get very close to Nate's killer

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

Bruce Campbell and Jeffrey Donovan in the "Burn Notice" mid-season finale.

Credit: USA

A review of the "Burn Notice" mid-season finale coming up just as soon as I use sparkplugs as a substitute for diamonds...

I hear all the time from fans of "White Collar" and "Suits" that one of those shows has now taken up the banner as USA's best. That may well be true, but I didn't love either one at the start and stopped watching for a while; when I've attempted to pick them back up later, the connection's simply not there. Of course, I felt much the same way about "Burn Notice" at first, but for whatever reason, I stuck it out with that one over the early rough spots and could fully appreciate the transformation into something good. One of the other USA series could well be the standard-bearer at this point, but "Burn Notice" is "my" USA show, if you know what I mean.

And because it's the one I'm attached to, I was even able to get away with skipping several episodes in the middle of the season (during my adventures in California) without feeling too lost. I don't mean plot-wise — the USA shows are all designed for people to be able to drop in and out of as needed, and to never be too taxing if you've missed several (or are tuning in for the first time several seasons in) — but in terms of my level of interest in the characters. I saw what I needed to see — Nate's death episode, for instance — and the previouslies and Michael's narration filled me in on the rest, and that was enough.

The success and ongoing life of the show has given Matt Nix the problem of having to keep inventing excuses for Michael to stay connected to the spy life. First it was taking out Management, then Vaughn, then Anson, etc., etc., etc., and now Michael has the actual CIA going against him. On the one hand, I'm happy to have an excuse for John C. McGinley to stick around, as he so ably demonstrated his value in the scene where Card tries to make Maddie feel better about the son she still has. On the other, Michael's promises to Fi that this is the time he's getting out of the game, for real, no foolin', are starting to feel like all those episodes of "The Killing" where Linden kept insisting she was going to fly to Sonoma any minute now. But it's what the show is, and Michael having to go up against the CIA itself (or, at least, one rogue agent) rather than some shadow company adjacent to the real thing at least has potential to not be exactly like what's come before.

Still, "Burn Notice" tends to work best on the micro level rather than the macro these days. Put a problem in front of Michael and friends, and see them solve it — in this case with the team (plus Chad L. Coleman from "The Wire," who conveniently sacrificed his life on behalf of four relative strangers who can now fake their own deaths for a while) having to go up against Tyler Grey (Kenny Johnson from "The Shield") and his army with minimal supplies, no ground support, and a John McClane shoe situation for Jesse. That stuff was fun, even as I was rolling my eyes a bit at the notion that there's another mastermind that Michael has to take down.

What did everybody else think? Did you like this latest turn in the larger story arc? As we've talked about a few times previously, do you think the show could survive without the arcs at this point and just do Client of the Week stories? Are you hoping that Johnson sticks around for a while?

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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