‘Burn Notice’ – ‘Company Man’: Back in from the cold?

“Burn Notice” is back for its fifth season, and I have a review of the premiere coming up just as soon as I have some tactical goals and a rough approach…

After being disenchanted with most of “Burn Notice” season 4, I thought the finale was terrific in its own right, but also in the way it set things up for this season: Michael now has the list of people who burned him, and he’s back in the CIA’s good graces, and where do we go from here?

I had no idea exactly what the new status quo would be, and it turns out that we still don’t know by the end of “Company Man.” The episode itself has a temporary new status quo, with Michael working as a CIA consultant while Sam and Fi are annoyed to be left behind. In a way, I think there probably could have been several episodes along those lines, rather than just having Michael and Grant Show’s Max take out most of the evil organization(*) in one long montage. The sequence towards the end where Michael had to improvise the assault on Kessler’s compound, startling Max all the way, suggests a kind of mini-arc where the CIA has to get used to the methods Michael has learned during his time in Miami – and/or where Michael has to unlearn some of that behavior now that he’s back in the big leagues.

(*) John Mahoney doesn’t work cheap, and therefore it wouldn’t have made financial sense for “Burn Notice” to bring him back just for that montage. Still, I was curious about what role Management played in this whole cabal, given that Kessler was sold as a big boss type. I asked Matt Nix exactly where Management ranked in the hierarchy, and he replied (I’m paraphrasing here) that it’s not an official group, but rather a loosely-structured bunch of like-minded people who are mostly moonlighting from official jobs throughout the military and intelligence communities. (Nix compared it to the people involved in Iran-Contra, for instance.) Management would have worked more on the political side of things, Vaughn more on military matters, etc. And Nix also said he wouldn’t rule out bringing Management back if they came up with the right story for him.

The problem with going that way, of course, is that it would have really marginalized Sam and Fi for a while. What makes the show work is the interplay between Donovan, Campbell and Anwar, and while you can tweak the formula a bit(**), you can’t go too long without them working together, Michael trying on a silly accent, Fi blowing something up, etc.

(**) I’m always happy, for instance, when premieres and/or finales like this one dispense with the case of the week. It’s the show’s bread and butter most weeks, but sometimes they’re just in the way.

Eventually the show’s going to resort back to that framework – maybe even as soon as next week – but the key is going to be in making these last few episodes matter in the long-term. I’m sure Michael is eventually going to wind up back running his unofficial PI agency out of the warehouse, but things are different now. He’s still friendly with Max and Dylan Baker’s Raines, and even if they either can’t get him back into the Agency or he decides he doesn’t want it anymore, this is no longer the story of a disgraced spy trying to clear his name. The show spent four years on that – and arguably one more than it should have – and now it’s time to move on to something else. We don’t know exactly what that is yet – and I suppose I’m glad the show didn’t try to stuff too much story into a single episode – but hopefully it’s something good.

Finally, I had stopped doing regular reviews of the show towards the end of season 4, in part because I wasn’t enjoying the show as much, but also because I had come to realize that even when I’m really digging “Burn Notice,” there’s only so much to say on a week-to-week basis. It’s a USA show; it ain’t deep. So I’m going to play it by ear this season: still watching every week, but only writing when I have something new to say, good or bad.

What did everybody else think of the premiere?