Recap – Burn Notice 4.12: “Guilty As Charged”

Jesse Porter is pissed. John Barrett is not a very nice guy and he’s brought an army. Vaughn is probably a little cranky too. All of these guys are looking for Michael Westen, and not to give him a hug. What a way to cap the first half of a great fourth season of Burn Notice!

In case you weren’t one of the people (myself included) who were watching USA’s handy marathon of the season to date today, here’s the quick 411: Michael has his hands on Simon’s (Garret Dillahunt) Bible, which decodes…something important. It’s the key to bringing down the very bad people that both Vaughn (Robert Wisdom) and Jesse (Coby Bell) have been looking for over the last few years. These very bad people have come to Miami in the person of John Barrett (Robert Patrick), who wants the Bible to take down Vaughn and ostensibly continue his global reign of mayhem. And did I mention that Jesse discovered it was Michael who burned him, and seems ready to fulfill his early-season vow to make whomever burned him pay, friend or not? Even Michael’s mom, Maddie (Emmy nominee Sharon Gless), is upset with him. It’s probably the worst time to be Michael Westen. We know that he’s going to make it through this alive (unless Jeffrey Donovan decides to retire from acting a la Amanda Bynes), but that doesn’t mean his life can’t be totally wrecked…again.

We ended the last episode with one of the most chilling scenes ever seen on this show, and we pick up not long after. Though Maddie and Fiona are worried about Jesse (Maddie: “Jesse and I were friends. Maybe I’ll stay and try to convince him not to shoot you”), Michael knows he has to focus on Barrett and his incoming army, lest Jesse get burned for nothing and, of course, global mayhem continues. The team has tracked down Barrett’s compound and pops in for a visit. Robert Patrick continues to play something close to his Tom Ryan character from The Unit: a raging jackass in authority, though this time not government authority. Michael sets up a meeting with Barrett, wanting to know what it is the Bible actually decodes before he goes handing it over to anyone.

Vaughn thinks Michael is the coolest thing since sliced bread for this. He’s also heard about Jesse investigating his own burning, and complains about it too. Michael basically tells him that he’s going to do things his own way, which is to take Barrett and not turn him over to Vaughn, but to whomever they need to in order to set things right. In the middle of the gang’s little “what do we do” conversation, a guy working for high-priced defense attorney named Scott (played by Cold Case‘s Danny Pino, who’s about unrecognizable with the beard) comes to see them. Scott’s daughter has been kidnapped, which means Team Burn Notice has a new case at the same time the world is falling in. When it rains, it pours. Scott knows exactly who did it: the brother one of his clients, as leverage to get Scott to win his trial, which is of course impossible to win. Said brother is named Dale, and he is played by Michael Rooker. I’ve never been that impressed by Rooker (and in a bit of trivia, also co-starred with Robert Patrick in a little movie called Rogue Force in 1996), but let’s face it, he’s not the bad guy we’re all worried about this week.

Fiona and Sam are back to arguing with each other in the process of helping Michael when they spot Jesse watching them bicker. He’s obviously not following them, because he’s not even trying to avoid being caught. However, before she can get to Jesse, he’s already taken off. Fiona decides she’s going to try and find Jesse to hopefully keep him from blowing Michael’s head off. This leaves Sam and Michael to come up with a plan, which involves borrowing a sub from drug cartels to try and make a water approach to the bad guy HQ. Well, that’s a new one.

Michael meets with Vaughn again to go over the plan, which of course, Vaughn does not like. However, Michael is able to get Jesse’s location – at a hotel, under a fake name – from Vaughn and decides to go after him before Vaughn’s people do. This is considerate and good of him, but then the show chooses to bring up that Fiona and Jesse kissed last week and continue to annoy me with the lack of a love triangle between the three. Fiona meets with Michael where she tells him what happened, that she cares for Jesse (though not in a romantic way), and feels as if she owes him an apology more than anyone. All of that is great, and perfectly in character, but it isn’t affected at all by the fact that they kissed. She felt that way before that moment, so why bring it up again except to continue referencing an inane and frankly not all that existent subplot? Thankfully, Michael cares about it as little as I do, and agrees that Fiona should go find Jesse while he goes to rescue Scott’s daughter.

However, the plan blows up when Michael gets a gun to the side of the head. Dale had Scott’s ex-wife’s phone tapped and heard the whole thing when Scott told her about it. Michael’s only play is to barter with Dale, saying he can get him his brother back regardless of the guilty verdict. He’s just digging himself a deeper hole. Plan B is to seize Dale’s brother when he’s being moved from jail and complete what is essentially a prisoner exchange.

Fiona and Maddie go to meet Jesse, and when Jesse gives Fiona attitude, Maddie gives it right back. Win. However, Fiona explains why Jesse got burned and that they still need his help to get Barrett. Her one mistake is using the word “friends” in a sentence, which understandably does not sit well with him. She does, however, point out that everyone on this show has lied to everyone else at some point – Fiona met Michael under a cover ID, and Sam used to inform on Michael to the FBI (remember that?). The person who really gets through to Jesse, though, is Maddie. She tells him that all this BS is beneath him. The Jesse-Maddie friendship has always intrigued me, and it’s great to see it come to good use in this episode.

After that, Fiona kidnaps a guy she ran into outside a nightclub earlier in order for them to switch him out with Dale’s brother. The team hunts down the real prisoner transport van, with Michael and Dale trailing. This sequence teaches us today’s thing we can learn on Burn Notice: emergency vehicles can manipulate traffic lights with a light that strobes at the same frequency. Once the team rolls the van, Sam and Fiona swoop in to liberate Dale’s brother and take off with him. At least, that’s what Dale thinks. He turns Scott’s daughter over to them, and finds out too late that he’s been had. A lot of shooting ensues, but nobody hits anything (do they ever on TV?). The only problem is that now Dale is ticked off, so Michael warns Scott that he and his family probably need to flee the country. That’s not a great ending, but at least the guy got his kid back, and Michael picks up a free sub to boot.

Surprisingly, Jesse meets Michael, albeit after he has a debate with himself over whether or not to shoot him. Michael knows nothing he can say or do will make Jesse feel better, so he just appeals to Jesse’s sense of duty in asking for his help to eliminate Barrett. He knows that Jesse’s been working on this same case for years and no one will know Barrett better than Jesse will. Jesse at least agrees not to shoot him for the time being, which isn’t too bad considering the events of “Blind Spot” probably went down only a few days before, if that. Michael isn’t able to convince him to come along for the ride, however, which leaves the team one important man down.

Michael goes to meet with Barrett on his own (technically, as Fiona and Sam are covering his back), playing along as if he’s going to join the Axis of Evil. He actually hands over the Bible, and Barrett explains that the Bible is actually able to decipher a list of and information about the people who burned both Michael and Simon. However, he then gets a phone call, saying there’s a team of people coming to kick his ass. These people, of course, belong to Vaughn and very quickly start a shootout. However, when one of Barrett’s goons tries to grab Michael, someone makes a gutsy and life-saving move: shooting through Michael to disable the thug. That person is none other than Jesse Porter, and allow me to take a shallow moment to say that Coby Bell looks great holding a big firearm and wreaking havoc.

However, Barrett grabs Michael and shoves him into a car. Michael, however, is not a fan of this ride and wants off. He grabs the wheel, causing the SUV to roll with both of them inside. Still bleeding profusely, Michael struggles from the wreckage. Barrett is not so lucky, and on top of that, someone we don’t know grabs the suitcase now containing Simon’s Bible and walks off with it. In other words, the entire fracas is pretty much a loss: the Bible is gone, Barrett is dead, and Vaughn’s people have just screwed up everything. At least Jesse is back, though we still don’t know what’s going on in his head. Of course, then there’s the big fact that our hero is bleeding on the pavement. It really isn’t a good time to be Michael Westen. At least, not until the show comes back in November…

I find myself having mixed feelings toward this episode. Truthfully, it was never going to resolve everything set up in the first half of the season, or there would be no need for a second half. Yet especially on the heels of last week’s excellent episode, it didn’t deliver quite the same punch that I was hoping for. At least we did finally find out what the Bible decodes (I can only assume that the second half of the season will involve trying to recover it and find out the names on this alleged list), but not much else. Yes, there was a showdown of sorts between Michael, Barrett and Vaughn’s people…but not much of one. It was more a lot of shooting than anything else. Robert Patrick really wasn’t given all that much to do, which seems a bit of a waste.

Likewise, we didn’t get the explosive confrontation between Jesse and Michael that would have been fascinating to watch. As my colleague Jordan Cramer pointed out in his review, we didn’t even get that much of Coby Bell at all, which is a waste of character potential and acting talent. I’m glad that at least Jesse is willing to come back and help Michael, though I doubt everything is going to be suddenly copacetic between them; still, one brief scene between them arguing wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. Jesse was primed to explode last week, and apparently we missed all the exploding off-screen. It was a treat to see it being Maddie and Fiona, especially Maddie, confront him on his behavior, though, and do so using the entire history of the show to prove their point. The Burn Notice writers actually use their entire canon rather than write it and forget it.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked this episode, and it’s an interesting ending to the first half of the season, but it just didn’t do it for me completely. I would’ve liked to see it be more character and less action-driven. The characters certainly had enough to carry the story. The show set up a great final confrontation between Michael, Vaughn and Barrett, and another between Jesse and Michael (or at least Jesse and Fiona), but those storylines could have been so much more. I wonder if the episode would have been better had it left out a “case of the week” element (this one wasn’t one of my favorites, honestly) and just concentrated the entire forty-four minutes on its major climax. I’m still excited to see what happens in two months, but I also find myself thinking about what might have been. This episode did what it needed to do from a technical standpoint – break the season and leave it in an interesting place – but that’s all it did. It wasn’t the big blockbuster episode that we were teased, that fans were hoping for, or that it absolutely could have been with all the talent both in front of and behind the camera.

That said: who else is still incredibly excited for part two? In that respect, Burn Notice delivered.

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