“Oh…so suddenly you’re an expert on how to run my business, Sinead O’Handsome?”
Season Six is immensely fast-paced, almost brutally so. The adrenaline is high and the downtime between highly charged scenes is barely there, making it not only appointment viewing but ideal for marathoning.
“This time it’s personal.” While not the show’s tagline, it might be its mantra as Burn Notice: Season Six finds Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, Touching Evil) going from one personal crisis to the next. Picking up from Season Five’s finale, Michael and friends struggle with adapting to life while Fionna Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar, The Family Tree) is in prison — but plans divert into unexpected events which put Michael on a path of revenge. The season is intricately woven and demands attention.
Longtime fans of the show know its formula well: Michael has an overlying objective, yet everything takes a backseat in order to help someone. Using his spy craft to help people whose plights mean traditional avenues are unavailable is the show’s bread-and-butter. So imagine my surprise when the idea gets pushed. It’s not to the wayside entirely, yet there’s an undeniable shift during Season Six, which sees the arc of the season become:
How far will Michael Westen go?
I will not spoil you, but these episodes see Jeffrey Donovan stretch the role of Michael Westen as never before. He’s always cool and collected and able to come up with a plan. This season, he’s more emotional than just about anyone else with a darkness which is perversely entertaining to watch. He steps close to losing our sympathy, and I am captivated every moment.
The problem is I want him to be even closer to the edge. This season’s “big bad” (sort of) is Agent Olivia Riley, (Sonja Sohn, Body of Proof), who interferes with Michael’s plans to leave Miami behind and start over somewhere new. However, Riley is a bit overwritten, making it easier than it should be to root for Michael. It’s a more interesting and compelling choice to search for reasons to stay in Michael’s corner rather than simply have a ruthless predator cross the line.
When we open the season, it’s to realize just because Fiona turned herself in doesn’t mean Anson Fullerton (Jere Burns, Dear John) is out of the picture. In fact, Fullerton drives the first third of the season as Michael must find a way to bring the fugitive to justice in order to bargain for Fiona’s freedom.
Just when the Fullerton front is handled, tragedy strikes and the season takes a new turn. Michael works with his former mentor Tom Card (John C. McGinley, Scrubs) and learns Fullerton had an enemy who consequently interrupts Michael’s plans for justice. McGinley is exactly the kind of nuanced actor the role of Michael’s father-figure needs. The Tom Card storyline drives the remaining episodes of the season.
I enjoy Sam Axe’s (Bruce Campbell, The Evil Dead) transition this season to conscience. I appreciate him as comic relief and occasional badass, but he grounds Michael’s humanity in a way no other character does. He always steals the scene, yet these episodes find him more grounded and mature in a way he usually isn’t. Like Donovan, Campbell impresses with his portrayal this season.
As far as the other characters go, Jesse Porter (Coby Bell, The Game) finally feels like a true member of the team while Madeline Westen (Sharon Gless, Queer as Folk) occasionally frustrates me. She’s been involved with law enforcement before, yet she makes more than one decision this season which should have farther reaching consequences than they do. Nate Westen (Seth Peterson, Providence) finally manages to rise above screw-up and provide some genuine help, though it has unforeseen repercussions. Lastly, Fiona is a good foil to Sam this season as she reverts more to her trigger-happy days, providing a nice push-and-pull for Michael’s intentions.
Burn Notice: Season Six is more of a tapestry than any previous season. The people who Michael helps are tied to the team in some way, enhancing those relationships and providing greater depth to what would otherwise be standalone episodes. There’s a genuine tension alongside the overreaching arcs of the season, and these episodes cannot be watched out of order without missing something. At the same time, there are still explosions, gunfights, and narrated MacGyver-esque montages a plenty to provide the hallmarks of what we expect from Burn Notice, and they are always effective. It’s the most satisfying season, outside of possibly Season One.
In terms of video, the 1.78:1 anamorphic benefits from the sunny Miami palette yet sometimes there isn’t as much detail as you want. Though by now that’s also typical for the show and nothing new. Another issue (which may admittedly only be noticed if you go looking for it) is the occasional obvious CGI.
The sound falters a bit this season. While still relying on Dolby 5.1 I was dismayed to hear a lack of proper mixing at times. Sure the foundation is there and the explosions rock and the bullets zing like they’re supposed to, but I occasionally found myself missing a word of dialogue here or there beneath the music, causing me to rewind. Worse than that is the appearance of my pet peeve — obvious ADR. During what is supposed to be an immensely emotional scene, to hear the dialogue sitting on its own track with nary an echo or other fullness to indicate inclusion in the space undercuts the scene entirely.
These issues are ones I freely admit as pet peeves and are hardly so prevalent as to cause me to pass on recommending the set overall. What may bother more people are the special features. Burn Notice has slackened somewhat on this front over the past few seasons and sadly this one keeps to the trend instead of bucking it. There’re a sprinkling of deleted scenes, a “Matt Nix Gets Burned” featurette akin to the mini-mockumentary they did on Jeffrey Donovan for Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe, and a lone commentary track. However, the commentary (provided by creator Matt Nix, episode director Renny Harlin, Jeffrey Donovan, and Bruce Campbell) is surprisingly balanced in terms of entertainment and education and I enjoy what they relate.
Burn Notice: Season Six is the most cohesive season yet, consistently strong on all fronts: acting, writing, direction, and special effects. The choices to have the show fortify its underlying mythology while pushing the characters in new ways are successful experiments. Any issues I have are minor quibbles which in no way prompt me to suggest a pass. On the contrary, I say go ahead and snatch it up. Though this is the penultimate season, I don’t think there’s a Blu-ray box set looming on the horizon anytime soon. The studio seems to have abandoned all desire to put these sets out in that format.