Episode Title: "Desperate Times"
Writer: Craig O'Neill
Director: Renny Harlin
Previously on "Burn Notice"
After hitting a wall in their search for Tyler Gray (Kenneth Johnson), Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) shares his intel with the CIA in the hopes of getting a new lead... over the objections of his girlfriend, Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar). However, Michael’s former mentor, Tom Card (John C. McGinley) locates Gray in Panama and he assigns Brady Pressman (Chad L. Coleman), a CIA agent out of Langley to assist Michael in the attempt to catch Gray. However, Card can’t officially sanction the mission or give Michael a tactical team.
Before he leaves for the mission, Michael attempts to make peace with his mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless) over the death of his brother, Nate. But Sharon angrily blames Michael for letting Nate get killed and she also blames herself for not protecting Nate from Michael. When Michael tries to embrace her, she pulls away from him. Dejected, Michael leaves Card’s information with her in case he doesn’t return from the mission.
In Panama, Michael and company catch up with Brady, although Fiona gives Brady a particularly cold reception. But Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) and Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) seem to like Brady, especially since he brought several advanced CIA guns and scopes for them to use. As they make plans to take down Gray, Fiona abruptly leaves the room and turns in for the night.
But the next morning, Gray has apparently found them as a merc team storms their safe house. Michael and company narrowly make it out with some of their equipment. Michael even manages to take a shot at Gray before they retreat. Back in Miami, Madeline comes into Card’s office and threatens to begin shouting about his off-the-books CIA mission unless he shares everything he knows about Nate’s death. Impressed by her boldness, Card allows Madeline private access to the file on Nate’s murder.
Back in Panama, Team Westen tries to plan an assault on Gray’s hiding place and his well armed mercs. As they improvise weapons and explosives, Michael and Fiona take a moment to reflect and he says that he is ready to walk away from it all once his brother’s killer has been dealt with. Back at the CIA office, Madeline is still dissatisfied after pouring over Nate’s file and she asks Card how her two sons turned out so differently. Card shares his insight into Michael and says that he was driven to protect people like Madeline and Nate.
Moved by Card’s words, Madeline asks for some time to compose herself. Back in Panama, Brady bonds with Michael and explains that helping him find his brother’s murderer helps fill the void of not being able to avenge his own father’s death years earlier. At the appointed time, Team Weston sets their plan into motion and takes out most of Gray’s convoy. However, Gray manages to force his driver to keep going before he executes him and takes a sniper position in a nearby building.
Down below, Team Weston comes under fire and Brady is hit by Gray’s fire. But Michael manages to crash Gray’s position and forcefully take him down. Through his bloody mouth, Gray laughs at Michael and says that this was supposed to be a suicide mission for him set up by Card. Calling Gray’s bluff, Michael calls Card and says that he lost Gray. To Michael’s horror, Card tells him to stay put and that a CIA team is on the way as backup... as they supposedly track Gray’s movements.
With barely moments to spare, Michael and his extended team flee in a stolen vehicle before a F-18 bombs the building that Michael was in. They also take Gray with them as their captive. Back in the CIA office, Card tells Madeline that Michael is like family and she says that she is glad that Michael has someone like him in his life. Back in Panama, the jet comes around for another pass, so Team Westen gets out of the vehicle.
However, Brady exchanges glances with Michael as he stays in the vehicle and starts to speed off as a decoy... before the F-18 incinerates the vehicle. Back in the states, Card gets confirmation that Michael and his friends are dead. And in Panama, Michael and company are shell-shocked as they try to figure out their next move.
“Burn Notice” has had some problems as of late, but "Desperate Times" was at least a step in the right direction.
I had theorized that perhaps Management was behind the murder of Michael’s brother, but apparently Tom Card is going to be the main villain for the remainder of the season. Of course, that makes John C. McGinley the second veteran of an NBC comedy to be the “Burn Notice” big bad, after John Mahoney.
There’s a reason why Anson Fullerton never fully came together as the ultimate adversary for Michael. Simply put, Anson appeared out of nowhere and he was suddenly presented as the man who burned Michael... and by the way, he killed Michael’s dad too... not to mention Madeline’s boyfriend too... “Muahahaha!!”
That’s a slight exaggeration, but Anson’s list of crimes was pretty over-the-top. It’s too soon to call if Card can really step up and be a top notch adversary. But Card already has something that Anson lacked: an established emotional connection with Michael. By bringing Card into the series before his eventual turn, it allowed the audience to see Michael’s relationship to Card and even Card’s affection towards Michael... unless that speech that Card gave Fiona (a few episodes ago) was just BS.
I’m not a huge fan of “spy mom,” but this was one of Sharon Gless’ better turns as Madeline. The anger Madeline felt towards Michael was earned, even if she conveniently forgot her own role in raising Nate to be a f***up and the way that she often emotionally blackmailed Michael into helping his brother out of jams. Nate was far from a bad guy, but catching Anson (however briefly) was one of the few things that he ever got right. If Michael is shouldering the blame for Nate’s screwed up life, then Madeline deserves her share of the blame as well.
Card’s dynamic with Madeline was well played and his explanation for Michael’s mindset seemed plausible, even if Card wasn’t as sincere as he initially appeared. If Michael and company remain on the run through the rest of the season, then Madeline will probably end up on Card’s radar again... and probably not in a good way.
It was good casting to bring in Kenneth Johnson as Tyler Gray, even if Gray never seemed quite as imposing once we saw him in person. That’s kind of a “Burn Notice” tradition. Chad L. Coleman was likable enough as Brady Pressman and his death was memorable. But imagine the power that scene would have had if it was Sam or Jesse looking at Michael before driving off to their deaths. A couple of episodes ago, Agent Pierce got an exit that was extremely undignified. If she had been the one driving the doomed vehicle in this episode, that would have been an epic way for her character to go out.
Brady’s death didn’t rise to that level of resonance because he was only around to be the eventual sacrifice. And that’s pretty lazy writing for an otherwise solid episode. For the first time since the beginning of this season, I want to see what’s next for Michael and company. So as a midseason finale, "Desperate Times" accomplished most of what it set out to do.