Hey, we all know it's tough to find a job these days. But just imagine how difficult it'd be for an unemployed spy who can't even come up with a single letter of recommendation.
Ask Michael Westen about how hard it is to find work after years of being a government operative, and he'll likely cry in his yogurt cup. Complicating matters considerably, he didn't quit. He was forced out and "burned," leaving him without assets, a job history or prospects for relocation.
Michael is James Bond in The Fugitive—a venerable, vulnerable über-spy. And he has just one viable thing left to do to fill his spare time and keep cable viewers even mildly interested: track down the folks responsible for his unfair dismissal while taking on (very) odd jobs that can utilize his special skills.
He's helped by Fiona, a former operative who also happens to be his off-and-on girlfriend/lover. Sam, a hard-drinking pseudo-spy, adds color. Jesse Porter, a newer addition to the team, adds muscle. And Madeline, Michael's chain-smoking mother adds guilt.
For half a decade, Burn Notice was a flat-out episodic spy caper—most episodes self-contained with the larger thread only apparent during the obligatory season cliffhangers. But lately, we've see a change: The stakes are higher, the show's serial aspects more obvious.
That more serious tone, frankly, isn't the best of fits here though. Neither the writing nor the characters seem at ease in a 24-style drama. But neither is the content quite as severe. While Burn Notice has a higher content quantity than, say, USA's Psych or the now deceased Monk—it doesn't raise it to envelope-pushing levels. It's happier blowing smoke in rooms already designated for such activities, exuding the vibe of a 1980s throwaway detective thriller … with more skin and swearing.
"All or Nothing"
Michael and Fiona go undercover to blow open a powerful hacking ring known as the Collective. We're told that those who run afoul of the group "wind up facedown in the Everglades," and guns are often pulled and pointed in this episode. Someone's hit in the face with a gun. Fiona's slapped, and blood trickles from her mouth. Cars are vandalized to get someone to talk. We hear about hands being cut off.
Michael and a new, shadowy operative named Sonya sleep together. We see the two kiss and roll and, later, lie still under the sheets. There's a suggestion that Michael may have hooked up with her to further a wider mission: "Sometimes it's hard to understand even your true motives," he says. Fiona flirts with a Collective boss, stroking his thigh. He smacks her rear. She dresses sultrily.
Characters lie, drink beer and hang out in nightclubs. They abuse God's and Jesus' names (God's a half-dozen times, Jesus' three), and they say "a‑‑" (three or four times), "b‑‑ch" (about 10), "h‑‑‑" (another 10) and "d‑‑n" (once).
In an effort to stop Michael from making shady moral compromises to keep her alive and safe, Fiona turns herself into the government for a crime she didn't really commit, allowing Michael to pursue Anson. Sam risks his own life to save another's.
Anson kills a guard. We see his body lying in a pool of blood, and Michael and Sam use that blood to pretend they've been injured too. The psychopathic hit man kills a police officer sent to protect Michael's mother (we see the dead body with a bloody neck still in the squad car); he nearly kills Jesse before Michael's mother shoots him from the attic. Michael steals a semi "for the greater good," firing a bullet to get the understandably perturbed truck owner to stop hitting Sam in the mouth. He then jackknifes the behemoth in traffic, setting it ablaze—while taking great care no other commuters are injured. A building explodes.
As mentioned, Fiona lies to protect Michael. A government agent lies about Michael's fate to get Fiona to stop lying. We hear "h‑‑‑" seven or eight times, along with one or two uses each of "b‑‑ching," "b‑‑tard," "d‑‑n" and "p‑‑ed." God's name is taken in vain a half-dozen times.
After years of subjecting his mind and body to a frightening level of control, Michael may be finally losing it. He's growing ever more obsessed with finding out the cause of his "burn," so much so that he's making mistakes in the field. His brother thinks Michael's addicted—and, as a gambling addict himself, he knows of what he speaks.
But Michael keeps taking cases. And during this hour he's trying to help a yogurt-store owner who's fallen into the hands of unscrupulous loan sharks. Michael and the team decide to make the muscle of the operation look like a police plant … until they learn he actually is. So they're forced to undo the damage they've done.
Punches are thrown (and connect). Guns are pointed. Cars are hit with other cars. We see several skimpy bikinis, hear a smattering of bad language ("b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n," "b‑‑tard" and a misuse of God's name) and play witness to a whole lot of spying subterfuge. Michael and Fiona are shown in the same bed together (clothed), and they briefly make out. Fiona tells him to shred documents from his past so he can "sleep better—unless I keep you up."
Westen and Co. take on Miami mob boss Tony "Mr. Clean" Caro, who's been shaking down a local dock. "Maybe it's time we throw a little dirt on him," Michael says. And so they do—convincing Tony that his own men are out to get him and pushing him to begin a gang war.
Their plan involves lying to, cheating and eventually betraying Tony (who shows a greater degree of selflessness than the good guys when he tries to rescue one of them). Viewers learn later he nearly dies after killing off his main opponent (and perhaps several others). We don't see any actual bloodshed during the shootout—the camera demurely turns away before it begins—but viewers do see Michael beaten by several thugs (they slam his head on a table and later punch him several times in the gut) before he responds in kind. As part of the plan's ruse, Tony is kidnapped and threatened. He's told he'll be cut up into little pieces—and his ear nearly becomes the first casualty.
Nameless beauties parade in bikinis, while familiar characters drink, smoke and say things like "b‑‑ch," "b‑‑tard" and "h‑‑‑."