Monday, June 2, 2014

Burn Notice Season 1, Episode 1

I first started rewatching TV series that I enjoyed first time around early this year with Veronica Mars. I chose that show for a few reasons.

1) I really enjoyed it and always wanted to rewatch it.
2) I wanted to do a complete rewatch it before the film came out.
3) I like following Mark Oshiro's Mark Watches site and he did Veronica Mars so I wanted to go along with him on that.

After I finished Veronica Mars I did all 5 seasons of Eureka. I still wanted to keep doing it, and Burn Notice recently aired it's final episode (yeah, we're a bit behind down here), so I picked it.

Unlike Veronica Mars, which I began watching when it first screened here, and Eureka the first season of which I actually saw on DVD from an import copy a friend had before it was shown down here, I was not an early adopter with Burn Notice.

There was something about the way it was advertised that just didn't appeal to me, it more than likely also clashed with something else I was watching. It wasn't until it started being shown from the beginning on one of the cable networks that I tuned in to it.

Once I started watching, I kicked myself for not picking it up earlier.

The premise is simple, but effective and I can't remember having seen it done quite this way before.
The title of the show refers to the practice in the espionage industry of black listing or 'burning' personnel. This is generally done when someone has crossed a line or considered to have become unreliable. It leaves the 'burned' operative with no cash or influence, according to the show's voice over they have no work history, no money, no support network, they are in essence a 'non person'. That this happens to the show's main character Michael Westen, when he's about to offer a Nigerian based Russian warlord/terrorist $750,000 to stop blowing up American oil refineries in the region makes things rather difficult for him.

The opening of the show is in Southern Nigeria and it's rather reminiscent of the pre credit sequence in Casino Royale. Given that the film came out in 2006 and the show in 2007, it's possible that this was borrowed to an extent.

Once he's been burned Michael finds himself back at his town of origin, Miami, and his only friend is his ex girlfriend Fiona Glenanne. Both her accent and name indicate that she's Irish, although she and Michael were once a couple they aren't anymore, although he had her listed as his emergency contact and she's still willing to run point for him to allow him to slip his FBI tail.

While Michael has lost his job and his back up he does still have a very specific skill set and is not without allies in Miami, they consist of ex spy Lucy, who I don't think we ever saw after the first episode and former Navy SEAL Sam Axe, who is sponging off any 'sugar Mommy' he can find and drinking heavily, while informing on Michael to the FBI in order to keep his Navy pension

There is also his mother; Madeline, but at this stage of the series she's more of a hindrance than a help and does provide some comedy relief as well as some background for Michael about an abusive childhood at the hands of his now deceased father and a deadbeat younger brother.

Looking at the show seven seasons later you can see changes, not just physical, within the cast. Michael doesn't change a lot, although he was sleazier at the start and became more comfortable with the role as he continued in it. Fiona lost her accent after the first episode, although Gabrielle Anwar does a passable Irish accent, it did kind of grate on me, and possibly the people behind the show thought so too, she also developed a somewhat maternal instinct. If you want Fiona to go after someone then just hint that they are either wife beaters or child abusers. It wasn't mentioned that Fiona was an ex IRA operative, but her familiarity with explosives and guns coupled with her background and the accent kind of hinted at that anyway without spelling it out. Sam was far more bitter and on the very edge of alcoholism. Maddie herself was less sympathetic than she later became and far less savvy.

In the show's first episode Michael's various allies didn't interact much and were barely aware of each other. The original meeting between Sam and Fiona was quite amusing as they struck sparks off each other and snarked all the time. Fiona and Sam did actually know each other before, but that wasn't made clear in the opening episode. Fiona and Maddie know about each other as they have spoken on the phone, but they had never met in person.

A lot of the show is narrated by Michael as he explains the ins and outs of the spy business, talks about some old cases and things like how you can rig explosive devices from cheap and easily obtainable objects.

Michael's motivation is finding out who burned him so he can get out of Miami and back in the saddle. While I was watching it I became aware of a couple of things. He hates Miami, he doesn't even like the region, that's why he preferred working in places like Eastern Europe. It's probably got a lot to do with despite being intelligent enough to master a number of languages and living in a community that have Spanish as a second language, he never learned it.

In the meantime he has to make ends meet so he rents a warehouse apartment next to a nightclub owned by a former Georgian politician and has a drug dealer as his downstairs neighbour. It's cheap and the Georgian is well aware of Michael's reputation amongst the intelligence communities of Eastern Europe, he is a dangerous man. He also takes on PI jobs, things that other people won't do. n doing this he and his team become white knights of a sort, it's rather reminiscent of Angel Investigations in the Joss Whedon Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin off Angel.

I wondered why I liked Burn Notice as much as I did and it hit me part way through watching the opening episode. It's largely about capers, heists and cons and I love that sort of stuff. There are definite similarities in many ways between Michael and his team and what they do to one of my all time favourite books, Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora.

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