Episode Title: "Scorched Earth"
Writer: Matt Nix
Director: Stephen Surjik
Previously on "Burn Notice":
In the FBI building, Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) is escorted by a ridiculously large number of armed agents as she is processed and later handcuffed in an interview room. At the same time, her lover, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) is freaking out over Fiona's apparent sacrifice and he openly challenges Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) about how she could have overpowered him. Sam sheepishly admits that story was kind of BS, but he says that they had to stop Michael from letting Anson Fullerton (Jere Burns) blackmail him into betraying the CIA and the US government. As they speed across Miami, Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) calls and tells them that Anson has slightly changed his appearance and he is driving towards Cutler Bay.
Michael and Sam get there first, allowing them to steal a big rig truck from its owner. In custody, Fiona is confronted by Agent Bly (Alex Carter), a man she and Michael went up against years ago. Fiona admits to setting one explosive charge that killed Larry Sizemore, but she says that Anson framed her for the bombs that killed the guards in the lobby at the British consulate. But Bly doesn't seem to be interested in listening and he pressures her to implicate Michael as well. Meanwhile, Sam and Michael use the stolen big rig to stage an explosive road block in order to prevent Anson from slipping through.
Anson calls Michael and says that he immediately knew the non-fatal accident was his work. Anson also tells Michael to back off by warning him that he sent a crazed former Army ranger named Darrell Jordan to the home of Michael's mother, Madeline Westen (Sharon Gless). Unable to reach Madeline, Michael calls Jesse to save his mother. At her home, Madeline sees the news report about Fiona's surrender when she realizes that the phones have gone dead before spotting a strange man approaching her house. Madeline manages to hide before Jordan breaks in while holding a huge assault rifle. At the same time, Michael tries to convince Agent Pierce (Lauren Stamile) to send backup to bring in Anson.
Michael and Sam approach a chemical plant where Anson may have hidden himself. They find a dead security guard at the front gate and hear Anson warn the other guards through the radio that Sam and Michael killed their colleague. Michael and Sam manage to lure the two guards close enough to overtake them before they try to convince them that they aren't terrorists. One of the guards agrees to help Michael evacuate the building by sounding the alarm for a massive chemical spill. Back at Madeline's house, Jesse arrives and finds a dead police officer in his car outside. Inside the house, Jordan gets the drop on Jesse and demands that he tell him where Michael is.
At the last second, Madeline shoots Jordan through the floor from the attic above them, allowing Jesse to knock him out. Jesse chides Madeline for taking so long to shoot Jordan before admitting that Fiona's situation is even worse than it appears on TV. At the FBI building, Bly reenters the interrogation room and tells Fiona about Michael's stunt with the big rig explosion on the freeway. But Bly also tries to convince Fiona that Michael was killed in the accident in order to get more information out of her and she seems to believe his story. Meanwhile, Michael trades uniforms with one of the security guards, but he doesn't see Anson emerge from the building.
Fortunately, Pierce finally shows up with a handful of agents to back Michael up despite being unconvinced that Anson is much of a threat. Anson calls Michael and warns him against trying to hunt him down, but this only angers Michael even further. Believing that Anson is hiding in a specific room, Michael attempts to charge after him and he becomes so agitated that he even pulls a gun on Sam when he tries to stop Michael. Pierce makes Michael stand down and watch the security cameras for any sign of Anson as Sam, Pierce and the other agents cut through the hinges of a locked door.
In his heightened state of paranoia, Michael leaves his post to investigate strange movements by the gate and he finds Anson attempting to cut his way out of the compound. Michael beats the crap out of Anson until Anson pulls out a detonator and says that Sam, Pierce and the other agents will all be killed by an explosion via his dead man's switch if Michael doesn't let Anson walk away. Michael agonizes over his choice before letting Anson go. Michael then warns Sam and the agents to get out of the building, but Sam remains behind to free the plant employee whom Anson left chained.
When the chemical plant blows up, Michael is initially worried that Sam didn't survive. But Sam eventually surfaces with the formerly trapped plant employee, freeing Michael to pursue Anson. But by then, it's too late and Anson's getaway boat is far out of range of Michael's gun. Pierce tells Michael that Anson is now on the top of the CIA's most wanted list, but even if they catch Anson it wouldn't simply let Fiona walk free from her criminal charges. Michael and Sam also reconcile and recommit to helping Fiona. Meanwhile, Fiona has apparently fallen for Bly's lies and she is ready to sign her new statement when she asks to see the accident pictures again.
With a second look at the photos, Fiona is able to tear apart Bly's version of the events and she asserts that Michael is still alive. After refusing to sign her statement, Fiona sits impassively as Bly tells her that she may die for Michael because she refused to implicate him.
Near the end of the fifth season of "Burn Notice," the Anson Fullerton storyline felt played out with ridiculous twists on top of twists. For example, Anson wasn't only the man who burned Michael, he also killed Michael's father and Madeline's boyfriend. "Mwahahahaahhaha!!!" Now that Anson doesn't have a mustache, what will he twirl?
Even the idea that Fiona overpowered Sam seemed highly dubious and it was notably walked back early in this episode through Sam's dialogue.
But "Scorched Earth" hit the ground running with an exciting story that only let up in a few places. It was particularly nice to see that Matt Nix didn't try to force in a "client of the week" plot for Michael and his friends. Without that distraction, the episode felt a lot more focused than some of the previous season openers. The action is generally terrific on "Burn Notice" and this episode was no exception.
However, it was the tension between Sam and Michael that really made "Scorched Earth" pop. If anything was going to create a rift in their friendship, it was this. For the most part, Sam was exactly right and Michael was spiraling out of control. The only moments that really felt false were when Michael pulled a gun on Sam and again when Sam later forgave him for it way too quickly. It was also tough to believe that Fiona would buy into Bly's story about Michael's death in the big rig accident, especially when she knew that Bly would say almost anything to get more information out of her. The ending was apparently meant as an affirmation of Fiona's faith in Michael, but her doubts actually weakened Fiona's character more than anything else.
There were also some good moments as Madeline tried to hide from Jordan when she was alone in the house. That worked out really well. Although I could have done without Madeline jobbing out Jesse by saving him from Jordan. Look, I get that Nix and the other writers love "Spy Mom," but that does that mean she can upstage the actual stars of the show?
It was cathartic to see Michael wailing on Anson, but once again, Anson pulled off an improbable getaway. There are only so many times that "Burn Notice" can play the "Anson always has a backup plan" card before the audience gets wise to the game. The only way this one is going to work is if Anson has finally fled the country; which would force Michael and company to actually go somewhere new to track him down.
While "Scorched Earth" didn't solve all of the problems of this series, it did solve a lot of them. Nix has recently said that "Burn Notice" no longer has to hit the reset button and that new-found freedom was very evident in this episode. If the rest of the season is this good, I'll be very happy.