Episode Title: "Odd Man Out"
Writers: Ryan Johnson & Peter Lalayanis
Director: Marc Roskin
This week’s “Burn Notice” had something noticeably missing during the client storylines this year: someone we actually cared about.
Calvin Schmidt isn’t going to win any smuggler-of-the-year awards or points for loyalty to Team Westen, but Patton Oswalt’s performance has been engaging and the character is fun to watch.
Sonja Sohn, take notes!
Sohn isn’t solely responsible for the horrendously characterized Olivia Riley (the writers have to carry their share of the blame too), but this episode was automatically better by her absence.
For most of “Odd Man Out,” it really felt like Schmidt could have died and that could have left some lasting repercussions behind for Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) and company. Because Schmidt wasn’t just some random client of the week, this story had some built-in tension it wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Full spoilers lie ahead for “Odd Man Out.” Don’t read this review if you aren’t caught up on “Burn Notice” or else Michael is going to send you out first.
Last week, Schmidt angrily told Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) and Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) that he considers Team Westen to be his enemies for being such a disruptive presence in his life. Schmidt had a point, but Michael and his friends did all of that damage with the goal of saving Schmidt’s life so he could get them out of the country before the CIA catches up to them.
Problem # 1: Sam and Jesse need to get specialized microchips for each of their new passports from a ruthless smuggler named James Vanek (Kevin R. McNally). Problem # 2: Vanek hates Schmidt with a passion and he even punches Sam in the face to illustrate his distaste for Schmidt even after getting paid well above the original asking price.
Schmidt manages to compound the problem by ratting Vanek out to the FBI, forcing Michael, Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), Sam and Jesse to take him to a conveniently abandoned factory when Schmidt crashes their meeting with several of his well armed employees.
It was somewhat predictable that Fiona would advocate giving up Schmidt while Sam refused to send anyone to his own demise or leave anyone behind. The thing that was different this time is that Michael seemed like he might finally be at the place where he’d be willing to actually go through with it.
Sure, Michael made a pretty significant effort to protect Schmidt and his friends, but the tipping point seemed to be the revelation that Vanek can track the microchips in their passports, possibly rendering them useless. Rather than share that information with Sam or Fiona, Michael sends them away on a ruse and he marches a wounded Schmidt outside to hand him over.
As it has so many times before on this series, the climax hinged upon a villain being too uncharacteristically trusting after having our heroes on the ropes. In this case, there was an electrical transformer that made a big explosion after shooting it a few times, right after Michael tricked Vanek and his men into backing towards it.
That was all very conventional for this show. What made it work was the follow-up confrontation between Michael and Schmidt in which the smuggler called Michael out for putting his life on the line... and he also pointed out that there was no way for Michael to have known the transformer was there before he brought Schmidt outside. The implication is that Michael may have changed his mind about what to do when the opportunity presented itself.
Michael doesn’t exactly deny the accusation, but he does forcefully tell Schmidt that all anyone needs to know is that he didn’t want Schmidt to die and he found a way to prevent it. As much as I enjoyed Oswalt on this show, I think I would have preferred Michael not saving his life just to see a further darkening of his character. It seems like the writers have been pulling back on Michael’s ruthless streak since he gunned down Tom Card. That’s the wrong direction to go.
Madeline (Sharon Gless) finally had some good material this week when she had to deal with giving up her connection to her lifelong friends by burning her address book and in the final scene by Nate’s grave with Michael. I kept expecting that to be a trap set by the Mary Sue villain, Olivia Riley... especially when a suspiciously fresh set of flowers appeared on Nate’s grave.
Instead of a trap or a listening device, the flowers contained a card offering Michael the phone number of a potential ally. That was a good hook for the end of the episode, but I went looking around on USA’s website and discovered who left the note for Michael. It is someone we’ve seen before, but I’m definitely less interested now that I know it’s not someone else whom I’d rather see make a long awaited comeback.
“Odd Man Out” may not have advanced the overall storyline by very much, but Oswalt’s presence made it worthwhile. Next week’s episodes might be the last season finale of “Burn Notice” if the series doesn’t get an eighth season. But while I’m expecting a cliffhanger, I’d much rather see the current storyline wrap up neatly.