Judge Jim Thomas has never been burned, but he has suffered some nasty paper cuts.
Our reviews of Burn Notice: Season One (published June 25th, 2008), Burn Notice: Season Two (Blu-Ray) (published July 13th, 2009), Burn Notice: Season Four (published June 9th, 2011), Burn Notice: Season Five (published June 27th, 2012), and Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe (Blu-ray) (published August 18th, 2011) are also available.
Burn, Baby, Burn.
Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, Changeling) was a top CIA agent until he was "burned"—blacklisted, with all of his accounts frozen. "Stranded" in Miami, he helps out people with the help of ex-girlfriend and ex-IRA terrorist Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar, Scent of a Woman), best bud and ex-Seal Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead), and, occasionally, his mother (Sharon Gless, Cagney and Lacey). At the end of Season 2, Michael finally discovered who burned him—a shadow organization that recruits black ops specialists by burning them, leaving them with little alternative but to sign up. The group's representative, Management (John Mahoney, Frasier), warns Michael that his organization has been keeping Michael off the radar—that's why his old enemies haven't been tracking him down, and it's why the police haven't been able to connect Michael with all those explosions. Without the agency's protection, Michael will start popping up on various radars—on both sides of the law.
Michael, of course, tells management to take a flying leap, and then takes a flying leap of his own—jumping out of a helicopter several miles off the Miami coast. That decision sets the stage for Burn Notice: Season 3.
Facts of the Case
Being thrust into the spotlight is a covert agent's worst nightmare. Your ability to maneuver is hamstrung, and even your identity, the thing that is your stock in trade, is compromised. With the mystery of his burn notice solved, Michael is determined to clear his name and return to the CIA, but several obstacles stand in his way: A Miami detective determined to get to the bottom of the chaos that follows Michael, an overly enthusiastic covert ops recruiter, and a mysterious psychopath who enlists Michael's aid for an unspecified project.
You get all sixteen episodes on four discs:
• "Friends and Family": Having turned his back on the people who burned him, Michael finds himself arrested as soon as he swims back to shore. An old colleague frees Michael from prison and asks for help in capturing a man stealing land from Venezuelan farmers, but is that his real mission?
• "Question and Answer": It's Michael's birthday, but he and Sam are busy performing a dangerous "reverse interrogation" to find the location of a kidnapped boy. Making matters worse, Miami Detective Paxson (Moon Bloodgood, Terminator Salvation) has decided to find out who Michael is and why things tend to blow up when he's around. A fair question, actually.
• "End Run": Arms dealer Brennen (Jay Karnes, The Shield) returns and threatens to kill Michael's brother Nate if Michael does not perform a mission for him.
• "Fearless Leader": Michael, Fi, and Sam hatch a plan to bring down a crime boss in order to Detective Paxson off Michael's case. Meanwhile, Sam is audited by the IRS.
• "Signals and Codes": Michael's quest to get a new CIA connection is interrupted when a mentally disturbed man comes to him with credible evidence that someone is sending encrypted messages containing the names of covert operatives.
• "The Hunter": Michael is on the run in The Everglades from an old Ukrainian nemesis, and his only ally is an angry gunrunner whom Michael inadvertently dragged into the situation.
• "Shots in the Dark": While gathering intel on Tom Strickler (Ben Shenkman, Must Love Dogs), an "agent to the spies" offering to clear Michael's name, Michael comes to the aid of a teenage boy with a violent and abusive stepfather who is trying to take custody away from his mother.
• "Friends Like These": Michael takes a job from Strickler despite Fi's reservations; Barry the money launderer asks Michael to retrieve a stolen ledger with all of his clients' information.
• "Long Way Back": Michael is on the verge of getting his name cleared, but Fi is leaving him to return to Ireland. Both plans are interrupted by the arrival of Fi's brother, who informs them that an IRA bomber (Paul Blackthorne, The Dresden Files) is in Miami to kill Fi.
• "A Dark Road": Michael helps a widow take on a network of insurance scammers. However, the job could be jeopardized when Madeline befriends an "asset" (Tyne Daly, Cagney and Lacey).
• "Friendly Fire": Michael tracks down a child predator for one of Sam's old friends, and winds up igniting a war between two rival gangs. Meanwhile, Michael makes contact with someone who has in interest in his services.
• "Noble Causes": An old drug-dealing acquaintance asks Michael to help his mentally challenged cousin, who is unknowingly involved in a heist. Meanwhile, Gilroy (Chris Vance, Prison Break) gives Michael a mission, but he is forced to work with a dangerous partner.
• "Enemies Closer": Michael's old spy partner Larry (Tim Matheson, Fletch) gets Michael in trouble with a drug cartel. Meanwhile, Michael needs Sam's help for Gilroy's latest black op assignment, and Nate is back in town with a wife and a proposition for Madeline.
• "Partners in Crime": A socialite fashion designer who hired Sam and Michael to find out who's stealing from her turns up dead. Meanwhile, Michael needs Fi's help to find out more information about the flight that Gilroy's interested in.
• "Good Intentions": Michael's job for Gilroy approaches its conclusion, but he is temporarily sidetracked to help Fi, who may be in over her head after she takes a job for a violent kidnapper.
• "Devil You Know": After Gilroy's plan goes horribly wrong, the FBI is on the lookout for Michael, and they try to use Madeline to get to him. Meanwhile, Simon (Garret Dillahunt, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), the man Michael and Gilroy helped to escape, blackmails Michael to arrange a "meeting" with Management.
The first two seasons of Burn Notice were a rollicking rollercoaster of fun. Season Three has its moments, but is much more uneven, primarily due to a hideously uneven season arc. The idea of Michael suddenly losing his stealth profile looks good on paper, but it's developed in fits and starts, never reaching its full potential. A couple of episodes with the cops dogging his every step play out perfunctorily, and Detective Paxson is never heard from again. We get a couple of old enemies, and that's about it. The writers miss a golden opportunity by not having everyone pile on Michael; he never has to dodge both the police and an old enemy while trying to help out a client.
Once the "Michael on the radar" plot runs out of gas, it is replaced with the "Michael working for Stickler and Gilroy" plot that occupies the latter half of the season. The Stickler part of the plot works, mainly because it forces Michael to decide just what lines he's will to cross to get his old job back. Once Gilroy shows up, though, things take a major nosedive. The real problem isn't the stories, but rather the simple fact that Gilroy lacks any real presence or menace. Michael informs us (repeatedly) that Gilroy is a psychopath, and that if he is in Miami he must be up to no good, so Michael has to find what he's up to and put a stop to it. Seriously, he uses almost those exact words. That's telling, not showing, and it's sloppy writing, particularly since nothing about Gilroy supports the claim. Gilroy's accent and vaguely effeminate manner in no way screams "Danger, Will Robinson." However, you do get the sense that he can give you sterling advice on hair care product. In sharp contrast, you can tell that Simon's bad news the second he appears on screen.
A more compelling arc is the rekindling of the romance between Michael and Fi. It dovetails nicely with other arcs, as she fears that by choosing to try and return to the CIA, Michael is effectively choosing the CIA over her; the growing strain plays out well. Donovan and Anwar have great chemistry, even though their relationship is far from normal.
Acting is solid across the board. Jeffrey Donovan plays Michael very low key, which allows the supporting players to go over the top. The dynamics between the principals are warm and engaging—there's a warped family vibe that reminiscent of NCIS. The guest stars are effective and memorable, with the marked exception of Chris Vance. "A Dark Road" features a reunion of Cagney and Lacey castmates Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly; their easy rapport is evident. Video is clear and crisp, with slightly oversaturated colors that accentuate the Miami setting. Explosions are real purty, too. Sound is also good, with good use of the surround channels. Extras, though are weak, particularly compared to the previous seasons. "Smash Crash, Boom" is a ten-minute look at the stunt team, focusing on a key car stunt from the season finale. It's a great look at how the stunt is pulled off, and it's edited like an episode, complete with Michael's voiceovers. There's also a 10-minute clip from a Burn Notice panel at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con International convention, featuring creator Matt Nix, Bruce Campbell, and several supporting players. It's great fun, particularly watching Campbell play the audience like a rock star. That's it. Some commentary tracks would have been nice; a track or two with Tim Matheson would be particularly entertaining and informative, given his dual role as guest star and director.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the season arc doesn't quite work, the episodes are fine individually. Two episodes in particular stand out: "Friendly Fire," in which Michael pulls off a devilish psy op. It also features a nice turn by Danny Trejo (Planet Terror) as a gang leader; in a nice little inside joke, someone else wields the machete. "Enemies Closer" guest stars Tim Matheson—who's also a frequent director on the series—as an utterly amoral former partner/mentor. He is Michael's equal in cunning, and it's a nice change for Michael to face an adversary who can outwit him.
Even though Burn Notice: Season 3 is a step down from previous seasons, it's still fun, adrenaline-fueled ride.
Note: A Q&A session with creator/executive producer Matt Nix will be up on TV Verdict in a few days.
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