The penultimate season of Burn Notice, season six, has been released on DVD to coincide with the start of the final set of shows that are airing on the USA Network. A big fan of the spy show from the beginning, I was looking forward to this season, but it left me cold. With too much angst, not enough humor, and some huge plot holes that make it hard to suspend your disbelief, ending the show after the current season feels like the right move.
As with every season, the fifth one ended in a cliffhanger. A nogoodnick, Anson, had been blackmailing Michael into take more and more dangerous assignments because of the evidence he had on Mike's girlfriend, Fiona. To remove Anson's leverage, Fiona turned herself in and confessed to blowing up a building and killing some guards (a crime for which she's innocent, of course).
As this season starts, Michael turns into a rage monster. With Fiona in jail, almost certainly for life, and Anson on the loose, he can't control himself. He wants to get Anson, and will stop at nothing to accomplish his goal. He's also trying to pull strings to get his girlfriend out, but the CIA, FBI, and just about every other agency wants her locked up.
Fiona has her own problems too. There's someone in jail who is trying to kill her. She's not sure who or even why. She's being held without visitation rights, so she can't even tell Michael what's going on. With no friends and fewer resources, things look dire for the Irish waif.
It's no surprise that Michael starts looking for Anson. He teams up with a CIA manager, Card, who was the agent that trained Michael and taught him everything he knows. Even working with Card for every step forward he takes there's a step back too. And, as desperate as things look, they get worse, much worse, quickly. The closer Mike and his group get to Anson and the figure behind him, the higher the stakes and the more people who start going after them.
The show was always best when Mike, Fiona, Sam, and later Jesse were on a mission to help some innocent person who couldn't help themselves. They get away from that almost totally this season. It's all about the big picture this time around, and that has always been the weakest aspect of the show by far. If you take a couple of steps back and think about the show, it doesn't make much sense: there's an evil organization that burned a spy so they could hire him and when he bring them down there's another group that was really running the first one, and then another running the second one. Yeah, right. It was okay when the show only devoted a couple of minutes in each show to that story line. It's easy to suspend your disbelief for that long. But when the whole season is focusing on the story, it's gets a bit too much to take. There were times that my family literally laughed out loud at some of the plot twists that were supposed to be suspenseful and surprising.
The show also lost a lot of its humor. There were some great characters in past seasons that were funny because they were flamboyant oddballs, like Barry the underworld accountant. He makes an appearance in this season, but instead of being amusing he's whiny and pretty pathetic. The CIA agents that the group has to work with in one episode are supposed to be comic relief characters, but they're not funny, just terribly incompetent, which is odd because every other CIA field agent in the show is an efficient, calculating killer. It was just painful to watch the pair when they were on screen.
Michael, who was never the most fleshed out character, becomes a one-dimensional caricature of his former self. He's basically filled with rage the whole season and goes around throwing fits when he's not glowering. This season he's basically shows two emotions: mad and angry.
That's not to say the show is all bad. There were some pretty good episodes, but just not that many. The show where Jesse has to pull a con by himself with Mike and Card as backup was enjoyable. It was nice to see that character take center stage, if only for a short while. Some of the sequences with Fiona in prison worked well too. They were suspenseful and not too outrageous. It's just too bad that so much of the rest of season was so terribly mediocre.
Oh yeah, and I can't review Burn Notice without mentioning Bruce Campbell (who plays Mike's friend Sam Axe). He's still the best thing in the show and whenever he's on camera the program is entertaining. After the program wraps at the end of season seven, I hope he gets tagged for another series quickly. I'll sure tune in.
The 16 episodes that make up season three arrive on 4 DVDs that are housed in a space saving single-width keepcase.
The show's DD 5.1 soundtrack fits it well, though with a little tweaking the show could have a more engulfing feel. The whole soundstage is used to good effect in the action sequences with exploding buildings and crashes filling the room with noise. Unfortunately when these are over, the audio collapses for the most part into a stereo mix. When the main characters are sitting at a table in a bar, boosting the ambient sound effects going to the rears just a bit would have improved things a lot. Aside from that the show sounds good with strong dialog and a full dynamic range.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image reproduces the show very well, but the look of the show may cause some viewers to think the disc was poorly mastered. This isn't the case. The show itself is soft and grainy, and some scenes are overblown with washed out colors and white that overpower fine details (these are usually exterior shots during the day, to simulate the bright Miami sun). That was the look the creators were going for, and while it's not my favorite style, it does manage to create an atmosphere.
They included a single commentary track on this set (to the episode Shock Wave) which is nice. There's also a fun short, Matt Nix Gets Burned, which has the show's creator getting his budget slashed and having to cobble together an episode with no money. The set is rounded off with a slightly amusing gag reel and a series of deleted scenes.
Michael goes for mad to irate to angry and back again in this season of Burn Notice. With the star becoming one dimensional (and a bit boring) and with the plot getting more and more absurd, it's hard to suspend your disbelief while watching it. Still, there are some good moments and fans should check it out. Just make it a rental.