Episode Title: "Hard Out"
Writer: Rashad Raisani
Director: Craig Siebels
Previously on "Burn Notice":
Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) was masterfully framed for the murder of his CIA contact Max (Grant Show). And in order to keep the CIA from locking him away, Michael was forced to cover the killer's tracks. Michael quickly befriended Kim Pearce (Lauren Stamile), the agent in charge of investigating Max's murder and he attempted to earn her trust by illegally obtaining surveillance footage that could have led to the killer. Unfortunately, the footage showed Jacob, a man who looked unnervingly like Michael himself. With the help of his girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) and long time ally, Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell); Michael found Jacob hiding in fear for his life.
After spiriting Jacob away from danger, Michael and his team convinced him to contact his mysterious employer in order draw him out. Michael even impersonated Jacob for the proposed meeting, but he found that a bomb had been rigged to explode and silence Jacob forever. Michael had enough time to photograph the bomb in the hopes of learning where it came from and who set it. He then allowed the bomb to explode to make it appear as if Jacob had been killed in the blast.
Michael brings the photos of the bomb to Fiona, who is able to deduce that parts of the device originated in the Soviet Union. With the trail cold from there, Fiona reluctantly suggests bringing the info they have on the bomb to Armand (Gavin Rossdale), a dangerous individual whom Fiona knew in the past. After making contact with Armand, he sends out armed motorcyclists to surround Michael and Fiona's car as a show of force. The riders escort Fiona to an air base where Armand agrees to help her… if she will steal advanced armor-piercing ammo from a local munitions company.
Meanwhile, Agent Pierce is back from Cairo and she has a new assignment for Michael: the forcible extraction of a man named Steve Cahill from a Caribbean island. The catch is that they need a third person for the job who has security clearance. Michael volunteers Jesse Porter (Coby Bell), who is upset that this is how his vacation time will be spent. But he goes with them anyway. Back in Miami, Sam helps Fiona stakeout the heavily guarded munitions compound and they eventually rope Michael's mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless) into sneaking a smoke bomb into the building.
In the Caribbean, Michael, Jesse and Pierce witness Cahill hand over a briefcase full of NSA secrets to Miles Vanderwall, a mercenary leader with a heavily armed team. Michael and his partners successfully capture Cahill, but they soon find that their exit is blocked by Vanderwall's men… who are more numerous than they expected. Michael improvises a plan and forces Cahill to cooperate. They learn that Vanderwall is working for The Pyramid Group and that the information he sold them will allow them to kill U.S. operatives around the globe.
Realizing that they would have no chance in a head on battle, Michael and Pierce march into camp and present themselves as internal security for Pyramid. They accuse Cahill of disabling the communications on the island and they demand to see the secrets he sold Pyramid. Although Vanderwall is highly suspicious, Michael is able to sell the con through sheer force of personality. He convinces Vanderwall to bring them to the secure location where the stolen intelligence is being held, but they are stunned to find that Vanderwall's superior, Commander Jackson (Richard Haylor) has already moved them from the island.
As Vanderwall prepares to execute Michael, Pierce and Jesse, Michael sells him an even bigger lie: that Jackson has betrayed Pyramid and set Vanderwall up as a fall guy. Back in Miami, Sam and Fiona pull off the heist and escape with the munitions. And in the Caribbean, Michael gets Vanderwall to vouch for his entrance into Jackson's compound before convincing him once again that Jackson betrayed him. Vanderwall then kills Jackson and demands that Michael bring him to the heads of the Pyramid group. Michael agrees, but he also convinces Vanderwall and his team to surrender their weapons right before the CIA arrests them.
In Miami, Fiona meets with Armand as he hands over the info he was able to glean from the bomb. He notes that Fiona's theft was bloodless, but he tells her that the munitions have already cost innocent lives, just to rattle her. When she meets Michael for dinner later that night, she is noticeably distant and angry when Michael asks her to admit that she and Armand had been together romantically. Michael and Fiona hide the tension between them as Madeline arrives with her boyfriend, but she seems to glare at Michael when he offers a toast to "supportive partners."
One of the biggest thrills that "Burn Notice" has to offer is the chance to see Michael Westen do something that should be impossible. Convincing an entire mercenary squad that they worked for him has to rank up there as one of Michael's best cons to date. Later in the episode, Michael actually points out the unlikely success of his story by asking Vanderwall if it was more believable that Jackson had betrayed him or if he had been fooled by some kind of "super genius." Not Michael's most humble moment, but I applaud his nerve.
There was a particularly great moment when Michael's cover was blown and he was on his knees next to Jesse and Pierce while Vanderwall was about to execute them. I initially thought that was too big of a corner for the writer to convincingly get the team out from. And yet Michael's lie was so audacious that it seemed credible that Vanderwall could fall for it again. Part of it has to be from Michael's swagger. He acts like he believes what he's saying and that sucks everyone in.
It was also very amusing to see Jesse boss Vanderwall's men around like common soldiers. Coby Bell hasn't been used particularly well this season, possibly because he's splitting time between "Burn Notice" and "The Game." Removing Jesse from the team dynamic with his new security gig hasn't done much to develop his character either. Most of his appearances this season were practically cameos. For example, Jesse would literally help out on his lunch break and then disappear again.
But this episode actually made a point to address why Jesse is still hanging around Michael long after learning that he burned him. And it's because Jesse still believes in what Michael, Sam and Fiona are doing. Having Pierce ask those questions made sense within the story and she seemed to be legitimately interested in Jesse. As for Pierce herself, I'm still not entirely sure what to make of her. If she suspects Michael of Max's murder, she's hiding it very well and relying on him way too much. And if she's secretly working for the other side then it's not clear what her real agenda is.
The third option is that Pierce is exactly who and what she appears to be and her reactions are genuine. Now, if Pierce doesn't eventually become convinced that Michael killed Max then I'll be really surprised. (And given the history of "Burn Notice," I predict that will happen in three episodes and bleed into the midseason finale) But given that she's seen Michael in action first hand, how is she going to reconcile that with the idea that he would murder Max? That's going to be a hard sell.
For a new adversary, The Pyramid Group seems to have some intriguing potential and the leaked NSA information suggests that there's another related storyline that could be picked up again later. I'm less enthused about Armand, who was almost comically over the top as a villainous character. Sending an armed escort for Fiona is one thing, but Batman-ing his way into Michael's loft?! Really? And wouldn't Michael have some kind of security system for his home? I mean, it's not like Michael is a spy… Oh wait…
The hiccups for this episode were minor and the majority of it was very enjoyable. This is traditionally the time of the season that "Burn Notice" starts kicking into high gear. And that's a tradition that I want to see continue.
Crave Online Rating: 8.5 out of 10.