You know how I’ve complained in the past that Burn Notice loses its way whenever it moves away from the essential triangle of Jeffrey Donovan’s Michael, Gabrielle Anwar’s Fiona, and Bruce Campbell’s Sam? Well, forget what I used to say. The fourth season gets off to a great start…and much of it has to do with setting Michael Westen in a fresh context.
When we last saw Michael, he’d gotten rid of his spy doppelgänger, the wily Simon (Garret Dillahunt), only to be kidnapped. The opening scene of the new season picks up right where we left off. Michael has been snatched up by Vaughn (Robert Wisdom), a CIA man who wants to persuade our hero to work with him in a reinstated spook role to help the very agency that ”burned” Michael.
Of course, Michael can’t last long without his support group. While warily agreeing to see what working with Vaughn will get him, he reteams with his pals Fiona and Sam in continuing to help the mostly hapless civilian clients who give Burn an added element of fun and danger. But now Michael’s possible reentry into his old profession — canceling the ”burn notice” that gave the series its reason for being — seems within his grasp. The result of all this? A changed Michael, a man who actually cries with his mom (Sharon Gless) over his past, and who, in something of a shocker in the first episode, ends up burning an agent himself.
It takes an adroit actor to handle all these shifting emotions and allegiances, and Donovan has proved to be up to the challenge. He’s done an interesting thing: As the seasons have gone by, Michael’s cocky smirk has altered gradually. He now flashes a warmer smile when he has the rare occasion to be happy. But there’s also just as often a new, determined grimness to Michael’s face; it’s the actor’s way of letting you know what the scripts are implying — that Michael has grown weary of the cat-and-mouse game of spying, but knows that it’s what will ultimately bring him satisfaction and peace, if he plays the game right.
The rest of the season sounds very promising, with Tim Matheson returning as the pesky Larry (he’s also an occasional Burn director) and Burt Reynolds scheduled to appear as an aging spy who’ll probably teach Michael a thing or two. Old-school action combined with new-school archness is what Burn Notice is all about, and I’m happily surprised that the series has managed to keep that contrast fresh into a fourth season. B+