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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