Episode Title: “You Can Run”
Writer: Craig O'Neill
Director Nick Gomez
Episode Title: “Game Change”
Writer: Matt Nix
Director Matt Nix
Previously on "Burn Notice":
Unlike the fifth season finale of “Burn Notice,” this year’s wrap up episodes don’t leave us with a lot of loose ends to deal with. Whether it’s a satisfying ending is debatable…
Full spoilers are ahead for “You Can Run” and “Game Change.” If you haven’t seen the sixth season finale of “Burn Notice,” skip this review or Sam will make the same speech over and over again while dying.
Putting Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) and his team on the run from the CIA initially gave “Burn Notice” a much needed jolt to get the show out of its comfort zone. Unfortunately, the subsequent episodes seemed to be stalling for time as Team Westen kept running into obstacles that kept them from escaping Miami and the country.
And then there was Olivia Riley (Sonja Sohn), who was not only the worst “Burn Notice” villain in recent memory, but also the second most annoying and insufferable character on TV after Maria LaGuerta from “Dexter.” Sohn’s performance on this show was lackluster, but the writing didn’t do her any favors.
Even in the finale, the writers seemed to waver between the illusion of a super competent Riley who was a legitimate threat to Team Westen and the fairly easily intimidated Riley whom Michael ultimately gets the better of in the last few minutes of the season. Because there was seemingly no other direction to go in without the main characters fleeing the country, Riley is revealed to be secretly in league with a drug cartel; which instantly gives Michael and company the moral high ground again. Not to mention a potential way of getting cleared by the CIA and resuming their normal lives.
That smacks of lazy writing and it felt like a cheat to suddenly bring back the cartel from earlier this season without any buildup or reminders that they were also after Michael. When Riley was introduced, it seemed plausible that she was either working with Tom Card or trying to cover up his illegal activities. Either of those would have been more believable turns for Riley to make. The cartel angle just seemed to come out of nowhere.
“You Can Run” was the better of the two episodes, as Riley sets a trap for Team Westen at the port, where Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) is captured and Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) is shot. For the first time in ages, we finally got a chance to better understand Jesse and why he’s still hanging around with Michael.
It’s family. Jesse considers Michael, Sam, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and even Madeline (Sharon Gless) to be his family. I can buy that. For the sake of that makeshift family, Jesse withstands a ferocious beating and the chance to finally discover who killed his mother and why. And Jesse doesn’t break at all.
One of Coby Bell’s best moments of the season came when he finally got his hands on Riley’s file and he discovered that she had been lying to him. The fury on his face was a side of Jesse that we should see more of in the future. Now that we know some of Jesse’s backstory, it may come into play next season.
Meanwhile, Michael and Fiona brought in her paramedic ex-boyfriend, Campbell (Gary Weeks) to treat Sam while Michael tried to interrogate their captive, Dean Hunter (Patrick Kilpatrick) and find a way to get Jesse back. Kilpatrick actually seemed physically imposing and possibly sympathetic to Michael when he spoke about Nate. But he was ultimately a throw-away character once Michael tricked him into contacting Riley to track down her location.
Besides Bell, Campbell also stood out among the regular cast for delivering some dramatic moments as Sam was bleeding out. However, some of his speeches to Michael started to get repetitive. The mission to rescue Jesse was fun, but the episode appeared to gloss over how Michael and Fiona got on the roof of the CIA safe house without alerting anyone inside.
As noted above, the second hour, “Game Change” wasn’t quite as solid as the first hour. The highlight came early in the episode when Michael staged a sustained chase on a motorcycle in and around a hospital. Never let it be said that the “Burn Notice” creative team can’t pull off some exciting sequences when they want to.
Usually, Matt Nix’s scripts are the best episodes of the season. But “Game Change” stumbled when it came to the conclusion of the Riley storyline. And just when Jason Bly (Alex Carter) was getting interesting, he gets killed because he can’t unbuckle his safety belt and avoid a grenade in his lap.
I was initially dismayed when it was revealed that the person who left a message for Michael at Nate’s grave turned out to be Bly. But making Michael and Bly into potential allies was actually fun… right up until it ended abruptly.
So, faced with the loss of all evidence of Riley’s connection to the drug cartel or her role in sending a cartel hit squad after the team, Michael makes up a plan on the fly and he takes the Drug Kingpin’s yacht out to sea with both Riley and the Kingpin trapped on the boat with him.
When the Coast Guard initially showed up, it looked like we were going to a rare action sequence in open water. But instead, the resolution of Riley’s threat to Michael and the team was solved way too easily as he threatened to let the Coast Guard blow up the ship if she didn’t confess her crimes.
Up to that point, “Burn Notice” had gone out of its way to make us believe that Riley was relentless and nearly unstoppable. Supposedly, Riley was out of control and targeting all of Michael’s loosely affiliated associates like Sugar. But come on, “Burn Notice” writers. Are we really supposed to care that Sugar is locked up indefinitely? Because we don’t.
In fact, let's start a new twitter fan campaign: #LetSugarRot! #BurnNotice
Thankfully, the Riley plotline won’t be carrying over to the seventh (and possibly final?) season of “Burn Notice.” But as far as cliffhangers go, this one was without punch. Apparently, Michael cut a deal with the CIA to win the release of his mother and his friends. Judging from Michael’s suit and the way he ordered the other agents around, it seems like he’s now in a position of power at the agency. I doubt the agents would have deferred to him if Michael was simply a witness or a prisoner.
Fiona’s reaction to Michael’s deal was over-the-top anger and she even recoils from Michael when he tries to comfort her. And that’s the cliffhanger?!
I was certainly hoping for something more gripping than that. “Burn Notice” has had a lot of great stories during its run. But this finale was definitely not the show’s finest hour..
“You Can Run” earns the following grade:
While “Game Change” will have to settle for less.