September 13, 2013



BURN NOTICE went heavy on action for its final hour, attempting to look like a more expensive show than it actually ever was.  Burn was never a well-respected series (it was memorably ridiculed in an SNL skit as a hit no one knew anything about), with inch-deep plots and characterizations that hardly budged in the 7 seasons it was on the air, and it went out pretty much as it had been all along, a bland but populist success.

Its final season provided Burn with a slightly more ambitious structure than previous years, with a relative minimum of caper-of-the-week episodes and an extended story arc that had Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) undercover for the CIA with a terrorist group headed by James Kendrick (John Pyper-Ferguson). Although Michael originally did so in order to protect his merry band of Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), Sam (Bruce Campbell), Jesse (Coby Bell) and mom Maddy (Sharon Gless), the big twist of the story was supposed to be Michael’s going to the dark side and seriously considering abandoning the Agency and his friends to join the baddies.  None of this had much impact, partly because it’s the same twist that just about every undercover cop story ends up purveying, but even more because you could never really figure out just what Kendrick and his group were up to–they were the least ideological band of terrorists in TV history.

Having dispensed with that cliffhanger at the end of the penultimate episode, which was ludicrously meant to make us wonder if Michael had killed love-of-his-life Fiona instead of terrorist Sonya (Alona Tal), the last hour, written and directed by series creator Matt Nix, was all about Michael doing the right thing (and not so incidentally setting up a potential spinoff series for Bruce Campbell and Coby Bell).  There was one casualty–Maddy, who at least went out with a cigarette in her hand–and lots of things blew up, as everything ended the way it had to, with Kendrick dead and Michael and Fiona, having outrun a dozen fireballs, seemingly so but actually curled up before the fire with Michael’s nephew, who apparently was only brought into existence so that it could turn out that the Spycraft For Dummies narration Michael’s been doing all series (“If you’re trying to sneak into a building, you usually shouldn’t use the front door”) has been addressed to his little Padewan.

It’s an achievement for any series to notch 7 years on the air, let alone to go out under its own steam when it finally departs, so Burn Notice deserves some respect.  Donovan, Anwar, Campbell, Gless and Bell were all appealing leads, able to keep fans interested even after a hundred episodes of roughly the same story, and Burn consistently achieved what it intended to do.  (Graceland, which has been renewed for a second season, is a slightly trickier but less satisfying successor.)  Not every TV thriller needs to be Breaking Bad or The Bridge, and Burn Notice certainly wasn’t.  On its own terms, though, it rarely failed to deliver.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."