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Has BURN NOTICE become too dark? No.
on September 9, 2012
Most people that love BURN NOTICE like I do, love it because it has a certain formula that's proven was working for four seasons. Breezy, smart, well-acted and fun. That was the status quo.
Then Season Five came along, and things started to get shaken up a little as showrunner Matt Nix decided it was time for a new status quo. A new, decidedly more devilish villain, Anson (the fantastically wormy Jere Burns) had come along, framed Fiona for murder and set Michael up to do his dastardly bidding in order to keep Fi out of prison. Last season ended up with Fi turning herself into the authorities, putting Anson on the run, and leaving Michael alone and desperate to do whatever he had to do in order to get Fi out of prison.
This particular side of Michael hadn't really been exposed before because we're not really used to seeing him this desperate to catch the bad guy, but even more so, we see his greatest vulnerability: The people he loves, and as this season proves, it's not always possible to save all of them.
The season begins with Michael and the CIA, primarily represented by Agent Pearce, reprised by Lauren Stamile, in breathless pursuit of Anson and anyone or anything that might lead to his capture, and Fiona doing her best to survive in prison. As it turns out, someone on the outside wants Fiona dead and this again leads back to another seemingly ancillary character from last season, Rebecca (the formidable Kristanna Loken), and Michael, Sam and Jesse (becoming a more centralized player in this season) follow up on anything that might lead to her capture. In the midst of all of this, Michael's original training officer, Tom Card (the terrific John C. McGinley) comes back into Michael's life and so does Michael's ne'er-do-well younger brother Nate (Seth Peterson), who returns back home to Mom (Can Sharon Gless get a darn Emmy nod, just once, for her extraordinary work on this show, please?) after his marriage falls apart and looks to help Michael in whatever way he can to free Fiona.
As the season goes on, things return to form for the trio on the outside and enemies become potential allies. The mad pursuit of Anson comes to a climax that ends with not one but two extremely shocking deaths and, even though one of these deaths ends up freeing Fiona, the other one wounds all of our main characters to their core, and this time, Michael, Fi, Sam and Jesse are all out for blood. When the discovery is made as to who is directly and indirectly responsible for this death, we start heading in a different direction again, as Michael does something that he knows he can never fully walk away from, and the show's direction gets darker still as CIA Agent Olivia Riley (THE WIRE's Kima Greggs herself, Sonja Sohn) vows to hunt Michael and all of his cohorts down for the crime he has committed. However, when the show threatens to get too dark, we get a bright light with the character of Calvin Schmidt (the hilariously funny and immensely likable Patton Oswalt), a master forger who can get everything they need for the team to get out of the country... but it comes at a price.
Although once we get to the season finale, the audience seems to get shafted a bit, as Riley seems to turn on a dime, because there's no clear villain left for the season. It really feels inorganic as far as her character is concerned, and even worse, it feels like Nix and the other writers just plain ran out of room for this season by packing it with too many ideas and not enough time to wrap everything up. It's certainly not the season finale I was hoping for, but at least the feeling of the cliffhanger this series is known for at its finales is ambiguous enough to let us guess as to where the show will go next.
Certainly, Season Six is a strange turn-around for the show, particularly since the previous season had a darker direction already going on, but this is the darkest the show has ever been, and it sets a new standard that no one, not even our leads, are safe. Rather than chalking it up to lazy writing or, as some would put it, "jumping the shark", Nix and crew have let the show evolve into something that is no longer as simply fun and formulaic, but rather something that allows for more serious stories to be told, as well as greater danger abounding for all of our characters.
There is still much fun to be had with this show, and a lot of it is in the episodes with Oswalt, whose glib one-liners and whiny faux tough-guy attitude gives the show a lot of lightheartedness.