Is it possible to face your past and still manage to live a normal life? That's part of the premise behind the final season of USA's long running "Burn Notice," which followed one man's quest to complete one final mission before he can live life on his terms. Even though the show was starting to falter, the final season managed to build the perfect balance of suspense and sadness at the same time.
"Burn Notice" followed Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) who was blackmailed by the CIA into doing an extended undercover mission and had to give up everything in order to complete the task. He truly regretted sacrificing his relationship with Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) because he lied about the nature of his assignment in order to prevent his loved ones from going to prison. Fiona forced herself to move on after Michael disappeared for nearly a year to help convince people that he was a damaged former spy. Michael's friends Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) and Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) were still willing to help Michael after he reappeared back into their lives. Unfortunately, Michael's worried mother Madeline (Sharon Gless) wasn't so forgiving of her son's extended absence. In an effort to keep her family going, Madeline was working hard to adopting her grandson Charlie after his mother hit a major stroke of bad luck. Michael was eager for his last assignment to be over, but his handler Agent Strong (Jack Coleman) was desperate to do on his terms. Strong even blackmailed Michael's family and friends into helping various periods during the mission. Sadly, Michael wasn't prepared to grow an attachment for one of his targets Sonya (Alona Tal) who managed to get under his skin, but it was her employer James Kendrick (John Pyper-Ferguson) that made him really question his beliefs. Will Michael be able to stop himself before he went too far to either catch his man or work alongside him?
In terms of questions, the biggest one was whether Michael was going to get out his latest mission alive or die trying. Luckily, the show's final episode managed to meet many of the viewers' expectations because it resolved a lot of the past stories while putting Donovan's Michael through the emotional and physical wringer. The show's strongest storyline involved Donovan's character struggling with keeping his cover identity and his true identity from mixing together. There were a couple of episodes where viewers wondered if Michael truly switched sides or would the wrong woman to be with. Even though Michael and Fiona were meant to be together, Donovan and Tal had a decent chemistry that brought some moments of levity when things got to be too dark. Together, Tal and Ferguson made quite a memorable pairs of villains who looked like regular people on the surface, until they were cornered into revealing their true natures. Michael's darkest storyline allowed the rest of the cast a chance to interact with Donovan's character in ways that they haven't before. Campbell's Sam was usually a pretty easygoing character, but he was written to go off the rails a little bit in an effort to save his friend. Campbell and Donovan had a major confrontation that turned into a nearly brutal fight that literally sent both men over the edge. It was a shocking scene that left viewers wondering what would happen next, but the biggest moment was Gless' finale exit that was packed with a bang on so many levels. The scene was heartbreaking to watch and helped to drive the last 15 minutes of the series finale episode. Hopefully, the show will be rewarded next year during awards season for all of its hard work. If not, the memories will have to be enough.
As for breakout performances, Donovan and Gless led the pack as they gave their most intense performances on the show, which helped to give the show the strongest impact yet. For this season, Donovan embodied Michael as a man who changed so much. Everything about him this time around described him as defeated from his eyes all the way down to the beard that he was growing. Once the character cleaned up his appearance, the damage became an internal struggle as he fought to stay sane. Donovan's most memorable episode came when he was forced to confront some of his past demons as Pyper-Ferguson's James interrogated Michael by any means necessary that included drugs. He made Michael's hallucinations brutal for him and the viewers who root for the character. Sure, Donovan excelled at presenting Michael's charming rogue persona, but he was even better at presenting Michael's dark side that he often fought against. In the finale, Donovan was simply heartbreaking when he had to say goodbye to his beloved mother for the last time. He tried to remain stoic as the tears rolled down his face, which made viewers start to miss the character even more. Gless, on the other hand, was foolishly sidelined for far too long in the past. For the final season, she was given a chance to explore Madeline's maternal instincts as she fought to protect her grandson and Michael at the same time. She portrayed Madeline with the right balance of fear, anger and acceptance of her fate. Gless' strongest scenes were her last ones when Madeline had her final phone conversation with Michael and basically explained to him that her plan to sacrifice herself made the most sense in the long run. She expressed her character's strength and pain that she would have to leave her family, but on her own terms. Gless' send-off was well written and will be remembered for years to come. Well, only time will tell if that's truly the case.
"Burn Notice" aired it series finale on September 12th at 9:00 PM on USA. Check your local listing for future airings.
Verdict: Despite a disappointing sixth season, the show made up for lost time and gave viewers a strong conclusion that they'll never forget.
TV Score: 4 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)