When USA Network announced last year that its hit spy series Burn Notice would see its last season this year, it really seemed like the right decision. The ramifications of Jeffrey Donovan’s Michael Westen getting a burn notice, blacklisting him and leaving him with nothing: no cash, no credit, no job history, stuck in Miami doing whatever came his way for six years with his trigger happy girlfriend/ex-girlfriend/girlfriend again (Gabrielle Anwar), his old friend that used to inform on him to the FBI (Bruce Campbell), his mom (Sharon Gless) and another spy who he burnt along the way (Coby Bell)–it all seemed like there was not much left for the series to show us that hadn’t been done.
But as happens with writers and creators of many TV series who know they are working on their swan song, it’s like someone gave them some java juice, and they delivered the best of their past three seasons.
Much credit goes to some superb casting this year. Heroes’ Jack Coleman, featured throughout the year as Michael’s CIA handler Andrew Strong, was the best featured character to come along since Coby Bell signed on as Jesse Porter in Season 4. Coleman was believable and likeable, in contrast with the misery the series put us through with Jere Burns’ black hat villain Anson Fullerton last season. Veronica Mars and CW’s Cult lead actress Alona Tal was also a welcome and interesting addition this year as Russian spy Sonya.
Thursday night’s series finale even featured a small role for genre favorite Alan Ruck as a scientist working for this season’s villain James Kendrick, played by John Pyper-Ferguson. If there was one storyline this season that almost turned us off it was leaving viewers to figure out what were the motivations of Kendrick, although Pyper-Ferguson managed to give us the best layered villain of the past several seasons. Was Kendrick ultimately “doing good” or was he a villain? Would Michael be justified in a continued support of Kendrick’s causes, or would the other villains–the CIA–win out in the end? Who would Michael eventually side with? With the penultimate episode and the finale last night, all of the questions posed over the past year, and even over the entire series, were laid to rest.
Thankfully the writers kept this season fresh without a lot of ending season gimmicks. We were given a surprise visit in the 11th episode of the season, “Tipping Point,” from a character we liked, the ruthless Simon Escher (Garret Dillahunt), instead of some cliché like bringing Michael’s father back to life. We also loved seeing Heroes’ Adrian Pasdar as Kendrick’s minion Burke in three episodes this season.
In the end, the finale did what it needed to do. The writers’ decisions surprised us and cut deep into our love for these characters and their friendships over the past seven years. Yet they didn’t do something, as finales for other series have done, that would have made it hard to watch the series in syndication. And there are many reasons to watch the entire series again, including simply to see all the great genre actors that appeared from time to time, like Tricia Helfer, John McGinley, Tim Matheson, Kristanna Loken, Patton Oswalt, Robert Patrick, and Silas Weir Mitchell.
Each of Donovan, Anwar, Campbell, Gless, and Bell got some key scenes, including one surprise performance that elevated a character to a place we wouldn’t have expected, and we even got to see Campbell restate our favorite line of the series: “You know spies, a bunch of bitchy little girls.” Now if only they’d give Campbell his own spin-off series…