USA’s Burn Notice summer finale, “Dead to Rights,” finds Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) clearing his name in the murder of Max (Grant Show). But that’s just the beginning of the episode. Then the real murderer (Andrew Howard) jumps to his death, and criminally insane Larry (Tim Matheson) returns to wreck havoc once more. Before the smoke clears, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) makes a tragic mistake, and Michael is under the thumb of Anson Fullerton (Jere Burns, Justified, Breaking Bad), one of the men behind the company that burned him.
This season of Burn Notice is a satisfyingly slow investigation into who kills Max. Clues come together bit by bit as Michael looks into who is framing him, and tries to stay a step ahead of his new work buddy, Agent Pearce (Lauren Stamile, Community, Grey’s Anatomy). Things end perfectly in the penultimate episode, as Michael is arrested by Pearce, who doesn’t believe his frame claim. But that plot is dispatched with in the first few minutes of “Dead to Rights,” instead of making it the tense, exciting installement that it should be. As far as long plot arcs go, this one fizzles out at the end and highly disappoints. Not the first time Burn Notice does this, but still incredibly upsetting, given the high quality of much of this season.
That being said, a Larry episode is always welcome, especially with a powerful Fiona bend. If there hadn’t been such a big let down, there would be nothing to be upset about with “Dead to Rights.” Not only does Larry’s return challenge Michael, it also puts Fiona in a very tough spot. Michael wants her to stay away from the situation, but she distracts their friends and takes out Larry herself. Probably. With Burn Notice, one is never quite sure if a character is dead, even though it doesn’t appear as if Larry has any chance at all of surviving the explosion. But the point is, Fiona proves how much she still loves Michael, despite how tough the transition to living together seems to be.
Now it’s not Larry’s fault that Fiona kills two civilians in the process. No, the new big bad, Anson, is behind that. It’s a tragic turn that wrecks Fiona emotionally. While Fiona is one tough cookie, and she wouldn’t blink twice at taking out those who deserve it, she also just doesn’t kill for fun. She has compassion for others. Knowing that she is responsible for taking innocent lives, even if not directly, hurts her badly. Will she blame Michael, too, since rescuing him is the reason she acts? What kind of lingering effects might her guilt have? This remains to be seen.
Besides Fiona, “Dead to Rights” also gives Sam (Bruce Campbell) and Jesse (Coby Bell) a chance to prove their loyalty to Mike. After Mike is arrested by Pearce, they decide to ram the CIA convoy in order to get her attention. It’s the only way they think she will listen to them about how Michael did not kill Max, and they may be right. But they risk serious trouble themselves. There is no fleeing from their stunt. They are committing a crime and turning themselves in for it in the hope that it will give Michael a chance. That shows some real affection.
Unfortunately, after the brief, desperate act, Jesse all but disappears from the episode. Madeline (Sharon Gless) is barely in the hour, too. This is a crying shame. While both have interesting stories this year, they are also not as involved as Fiona and Sam in Michael’s activities. Considering the strongest episodes often feature all five working together, it is always sad when one or more of them are left out. Sure, there really isn’t anything for them to do with the way that the plot unfolds, but surely that could have been changed.
Pearce is a really interesting player. Like most of Michael’s contacts, it is easy to assume that Pearce will disappear when her limited arc ends. Yet, even though Max’s murder case is closed, Pearce says she is staying in Miami, and continuing to work with Michael. This is a wonderful move, keeping a fine actress on the series, as well as setting up a whole new dynamic, now that she no longer trusts Michael. How long Burn Notice will keep the new arrangement is circumspect, as the series usually ditches its great recurring characters. But Pearce has already lasted longer than most, so here’s hoping.
Anson is a whole new mystery. The surprise of his evil reveal is only half unexpected, because of huge telegraphing, but still works out, since the stakes are so high. Not only is he one of the two founders of the company that ruin Michael’s life, but he also has connections, the extent of which are currently unknown, to Michael’s father. Dad has come up many times over the years, but mostly in vague terms. Having Anson mention him in “Dead to Rights” seems to indicate that the mysteries of Michael’s other parent may soon be explored. For an aging show that must constantly keep things moving, it’s a predictable move, but not one that sucks. In fact, such a plot should give Madeline continued deeper involvement in future episodes, a good thing.
And what does Anson want? With Michael under his control, and a promise that he will use Michael, anything is possible. Anson’s motivations are still very murky, but it could very well be that he wants Michael to help rebuild the company Michael so recently destroys. Does that mean Michael will have to take it down all over again? Should be easier, with insider knowledge. As squirm inducing as it is that Michael will have to continue to betray and keep secrets from Pearce, the Anson factor is interesting, and Burns is a good choice to pull it off. Assuming Burn Notice lets Burns do more than a few episodes.
Burn Notice will return next winter to USA.