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Time for the “Final Burn”

His name is Michael Westen, and he used to be a spy…

It’s not the thrilling drama of “Breaking Bad,” but one of my favorite series of the past decade says good-bye.  “Burn Notice,” the action-packed, explosion-filled saga of Michael Westen and his rag-tag bunch of ex-covert operatives in and around Miami wraps up seven seasons tonight on the USA Network.

I’ve been a fan of the series when it first aired in and was living in a modified dining room in a rundown part of Arlington, VA back in 2007.  In fact, after the series’ first season was available on DVD, I passed around my copy to about a half-dozen friends just to get them caught up and in love with the show as I was.

What made the show alluring were a few things. For starters, the premise was great — “What if James Bond got fired and forced to go home?”  Secondly, the cast was impressive, talented and fired on all cylinders; none more in my opinion than former “Cagney and Lacey” star Sharon Gless as Michael’s over-bearing, needy, chain-smoking mother Madeline.  She was the heart of the series, not just giving the main cast sound wisdom and advice, but showing her own strength as a woman who not just survived an abusive marriage, but helped the audience see where the lead character got much of his own desire to do what’s right.

Also, she had one of the best intros the show had to offer in the pilot when in voice-over, Michael said ‘that my mother would have made one excellent NSA Communications Operative” for her tenacity at trying to get a hold of him while “in the field.”

Finally, the show had what fans called “MacGuyver Moments,” scenes where Michael would give narrative dialogue explaining the tactics of spies and how with access to a RadioShack, a soldering iron, the right equipment and about 20 steps not shown on air for national security reasons, you too could be a spy.

Burn Notice, one of only three USA series to surpass 100 episodes (Monk and Psych are the others), has evolved into a study of Michael’s character and relationships with those closest to him: Ex-girlfriend and former IRA operative Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar); cocktail-swilling ex-Navy SEAL Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell); another disavowed spy, Jesse Porter (Coby Bell); and Westen’s needy but loving mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless).

“We’re the 21st-century family. You have a band of misfits who, though it’s probably difficult for them all to say they love each other, love each other like they’re like blood,” Donovan says. “It’s an amazing testament to the writing that people accepted that these two burned spies, this former IRA terrorist, this disgraced Navy SEAL and this crazy mom are all in it to win it every week.”

Viewers captivated by the Michael-Fiona dynamic will learn whether they get back together,Donovan says.

Burn Notice began with Michael being wrongly “burned,” or cut loose from the spy agency, and left to his own devices (literally) in Miami, using his skills as a covert operative to help clients and make ends meet.

As the curtain opens on the finale, Michael is no longer burned and back with the CIA, but with conditions.

Events in the 5th and 6th seasons led to him mistrusting the very agency he spent years trying to get back into, as well as cost him the life of his younger brother.  Now, as a last resort, he’s cut a deal with the CIA to go deep-cover and infiltrate a terrorist organization in exchange for keeping himself, his friends and his family out of jail for the rest of their lives.

Over the course of the season, as Westen was getting deeper into the organization, his own loyalties were tested, culminating in Michael turning against the CIA, his family and his friends in last week’s penultimate episode with the promises of not just joining the organization he was sent to infiltrate, but take over as its next leader.

I don’t envy television writers as they try to create a finale which will satisfy fans as a show closes its run.  All we can do is sit back, crack open a beer or two and enjoy the ride.  In the case of “Burn Notice,” have a little blueberry yogurt for a snack might be more than fitting.

The “final burn” starts at 9 / 8 PM CT.

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