Ep. 602 “Mixed Messages”
There’s something very different this season, something very rough around the edges and I like it! In seasons past, Burn Notice would make a large splash in its season premiere that furthered Michael’s progress up the burn list, and then retreat back to safety like Sam Axe reclining in a South Beach cabana with a mojito in hand. After an explosive Season Premiere, creator and showrunner Matt Nix and star/producer (and director of this episode), Jeffrey Donovan kept pedal floored.
Viewers had to know that Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) would not be safe going to prison and her “Dear Michael” letter set the tone for the episode.
“They don’t just take away your freedom. They take away your dignity, your hope. So you give up and do as you’re told and you know how good I am at doing what I’m told.”
We were introduced to the big prison baddie, “The Queen of the Cell Block,” D.B. and like every prison bully, she tries to show she’s in charge. After some patent quick thinking, Fiona created a makeshift lighter with some batteries and wires and two Billy clubs out of soaking rolled-up magazines in salt water. I think Fiona’s going to fit in juuuuuuust fine in prison.
Fiona couldn’t do this all by herself and is befriended by another inmate (Taryn Manning, Sons of Anarchy’s Rita ‘Cherry’), who helps keep Fi safe and reassigned to kitchen duty, where she tries to murder Fi. So now we have a new mystery, who blackmailed this inmate to kill Fiona? Was it Anson, or someone else Fiona’s pissed off? Let’s not forget that Fiona has burned her share of bridges over the years, but I like that someone is actively trying to end Fiona as opposed to Burn Notice turning into some female prison b-movie.
So that’s why Michael doing everything he can to get Fiona out of prison, including working with his old protégé, Tom Card (John C. McGinley) who has a dangerous operation in Miami trying to smoke out a traitorous DEA Agent who has been assisting drug cartels. This two-man operation with Jesse (Coby Bell) goes south when Michael realizes that he could blow their cover after he recognizes one of cartel members. Jesse insists he can run the operation while Michael goes back and helps Sam and Card in surveillance. Jesse has to execute his cover with quick thinking because he has to work with Rafael Montero (Anthony Ruivivar) a known psychopath who likes to make corpses out of people and say, “puta” a lot.
“Mixed Messages” like last week’s “Scorched Earth” really toned down the humor, giving both episodes some much-needed weight given the precarious positions our characters find themselves in each week. I thought we would have had more fun interaction with Card and Sam in the surveillance van, but once Michael joined them keeping Jesse safe became priority #1 and Card and Michael constantly butted heads.
We know from last season that Michael is more than willing to put his friends in danger to get what he wants and yes, Jesse took on the responsibility but the scene with Montero in the car was very extreme. Burn Notice has a tone to it where it’s hard to take it straight; it’s a fun spy show, but put yourself in Jesse’s place in Montero’s car, with a semi-automatic pistol shoved to your face. Keeping cool and coming up with a plausible escape was one of the more intense situations we’ve seen Jesse in. Like Montero said, the man’s a good salesman. Just once though, I’d like to see Michael treat Jesse or Sam with some kind of heart-felt gesture to show his appreciation for what they do for him, but that will have to wait until Fi is freed.
Michael’s reward for all this is a face-to-face visit with Fiona in prison. I still like the dynamic of Fiona in prison, especially if she can keep coming up with clever ways to stay alive. Taryn Manning’s character will probably give us a lead, and give additional purpose to separating the group. I’d like to see Fiona come away from her prison experience changed, for better or worse, and make this separation mean something. So keep her in there, and let’s see what she learns inside that will affect her and Michael going forward. The one big weak spot for me was Card, and I don’t know if I could take him on a regular basis. He’s not the most endearing CIA connection Michael’s had, and is in complete denial of that bad hairpiece. I like Lauren Stamile’s Agent Pearce much better as Michael’s “legal” handler, and I’m ready to welcome her back after one episode with Card because at least you could see she had conviction and passion for her work even if her hands were tied. They make Michael look so much wiser and so much better of a field agent than Card, and yet this was the guy who was Michael’s instructor in the CIA. Either way it looks like Michael’s going to have to use both Pearce and Card to earn him favors and thus he’ll have his two handlers once again.
• USA has always been friendly with their stars who have aspirations behind the camera but you have to give Jeffrey Donovan a lot of credit for this episode in his direction, especially during Fiona’s big prison fight.
• Why are high-ranking cartel bosses always have some affliction?
• Card’s best line came at the end, “Come back to the office with me and get some yogurt.” Showed that this square did know Michael pretty well, or got him hooked on the dairy treat to begin with.
• Nate’s (Seth Peterson) back in town, “Hey, Michael! It’s me. Still with the gun?“ and Ruth left with the baby. (Tell me you didn’t see that coming.) I had wondered if they’d bring him back to help get the Burn Notice gang in pairs with Fiona gone. I’d expect to see him in the mix next week.
We’ll see if Burn Notice can maintain this pace and this severity in the next episode, especially if Nate’s involved Thursday on USA at 9pm ET/PT.