The nature of Burn Notice‘s split season can have a bit of a funny effect on the memory. When I’m waiting six months for the new season to start, it feels like it’s taking a long time to arrive. And yet, as I write this post-mortem on the sixth season, it doesn’t feel like it’s been an entire year since I wrote one on the fifth.
This season brought some permanent changes, and as usual a lot of temporary flux to Michael Westen and his cohorts. And it maintained the usual high level of energy. As always, spoilers lie ahead.
The first half of the season continued with the hunt for Anson Fullerton (Jere Burns), the man responsible for burning Michael (Jeffrey Donovan). Only now the stakes were higher, with Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) in prison for a crime that Anson had framed her for. The scenes of Fiona’s life in prison provided an interesting contrast to Michael’s life hunting down Anson with the CIA; Jesse and Sam (Coby Bell and Bruce Campbell) were mostly relegated to the victim-of-the-week, which was kept as a B-plot in most episodes and was gradually diminished. It was starting to feel like a bit of a familiar theme in the previous season, so it was probably time to retire it anyway.
The capture of Anson, however, ended with collateral damage: the death of Michael’s brother Nate (Seth Peterson). The impact that Michael’s activities have had on his family has been a recurring theme of the series, and here it hit home as hard as it could, causing Michael and his mother (Sharon Gless) tremendous grief and greatly straining their relationship. In a way the series has been teasing at something of this magnitude from the beginning; there had to be something to show that the danger posed to Michael’s family wasn’t just idle. It gives the season some emotional weight, and the characters’ reactions are believable. Maddie initially pushes Michael away before trying to reconcile, while Michael goes on a rampage to find the man responsible — only to find it’s his own mentor, who tries to have Michael’s whole team killed while on a covert mission in Panama.
The second half of the season picks up there, with Michael knowing he has to go after Tom Card (John C. McGinley) to avenge his brother. This leads to him having to make difficult choices along the way, including working with the actual trigger man, in order to pin things on Card. Much of the second half of the season seems to focus on the dark path Michael is willing to go down to meet his goals, and the notion that he’ll do whatever it takes — even if it’s ultimately self-destructive. This is highlighted when he finally confronts Card, who tries to make an offer to bring Michael back under his wing — only for Michael to kill him without hesitation. It’s a very dark turn for an already-complex character, and the rest of his team — even trigger-happy Fiona — call him out on it.
This is one of the other themes of the season; that although Michael is headed down a dark path, his team still stands by him. Even though in this case it means they’re all on the run from Agent Olivia Riley (Sonja Sohn), who is in charge of the investigation into Card’s death. They’re all wanted fugitives, and initially it looks like the only way out is out of the country. This section plays like a game of cat-and-mouse, and is interesting to watch, as the plot structures of the “victim-of-the-week” episodes are applied when the team members themselves are the ones needing help. Patton Oswalt guest-stars for a few of these episodes as a smuggler reluctantly roped into helping them. I’ve never seen Oswalt’s work before, but he was funny here while still fitting in with the series.
I will say I have mixed feelings about the resolution of the Westen-on-the-run story arc, largely because of the way Riley was handled. On the one hand, it was definitely interesting to watch and certainly fun. But it seemed like she jumped off the slippery slope awfully fast in the last few episodes, willing to break any number of laws and sell out her own agency just to get Michael Westen. It felt a little bit like the show’s writers were trying to make her an obvious bad guy, so Michael and the crew would be retroactively justified in eluding her. Given the overall dark tone of the season, it would have felt more natural, and may have been more interesting, if the team were actually up against a relentless but unambiguously moral agent.
Another aspect of the finale that I’m happier about, though, is the death of Sam Axe — i.e., the lack thereof. It was hinted subtly at for several episodes, with Sam’s concerns about Elsa and him not being sure if he’d go on the run, and became an imminent possibility with him taking a life-threatening wound in the final two hours of the season. And it was certainly plausible given that Bruce Campbell has taken a supporting role in NBC’s 1600 Penn; it wouldn’t be difficult to picture his character being written out of the show, especially with the possibility that the next season will be the last one. But fortunately, Sam Axe is still around. It’s a good thing, as I feel that killing Sam would kill the spirit of the series; the energy that Bruce Campbell brings as Sam, and the camaraderie of Sam with Michael is as important to the show as Michael himself or his relationship with Fiona. The series would be a shell of itself without that, and as likeable as Jesse may be as a character, he’s not even close to being able to fill Sam’s shoes.
The season ends with Michael brought back into the CIA after exposing Riley as a rogue agent. Fiona is angered over Michael returning to them yet again, and this is believable enough; after all, Fiona has never been in favor of Michael going to back to the CIA. It’ll be interesting to see where the writers are going with this — other than the emotional factors, everything is resolved for once. There are no more currently-known bad guys to chase down, and Michael’s credentials are apparently re-established. Everything’s in position for a happy ending (save Fi being pissed off and everyone else being a little concerned)… but it’s not ending. Not quite yet. The series has been renewed for a seventh season. Rumors point to it being the final season, and thirteen episodes long, but to my knowledge this is not yet confirmed. However long or final it is, the objective for the season is completely hidden, which is something the series hasn’t done for a while.