BURN NOTICE 5.18 ‘Fail Safe’

Michael and Fiona run out of options as Anson asks Michael to do the unthinkable.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Fail Safe"

Writer: Matt Nix

Director: Renny Harlin

Previously on "Burn Notice":

Episode 5.17: "Acceptable Loss"


After last week's episode, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) now knows the endgame of Anson Fullerton (Jere Burns): he's rebuilding the organization that burned Michael and countless other spies. And Michael is just not having it. Rather than let Anson pickup where he left off, Michael confronts Anson in his civilian cover identity while Michael's girlfriend, Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) watches through a sniper riffle crosshairs. Anson is momentarily caught off guard that Michael is willing to kill him, but he gets Michael to back off by reminding him that if he dies then Fiona goes to prison and Michael's life in Miami is destroyed.

Fiona tries to shoot Anson anyway, but Michael pulls his nemesis out of the line of fire and allows him  to leave. Later, Michael and Fiona compare notes with Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), who has tracked down some of Anson's recovered money to payments for a storage facility in Tampa; where he believes Anson is holding his weapons. At the same time, Michael is called into the CIA by his contact, Agent Pierce (Lauren Stamile). Pierce places Michael in charge of a team of CIA agents, including Ryan Pewterbaugh (Dean Cain) and Rebecca Anderson (Kristanna Loken). Their target is Reed Perkins (Eric Roberts), a man who looks for assets who are willing to sell U.S. secrets to foreign powers.

Told that success in this operation means big things for his standing within the CIA, Michael sets up a plan to grab Reed as he travels from the airport to a security conference. However, the snatch  and grab is ruined by a civilian car that pulls in front of Ryan's car, causing a spectacular crash which was completely implausible for Ryan to escape without injury. Regardless, Ryan is okay, but the operation is a bust. However, Michael suggests a new plan: using his friend Jesse Porter (Coby Bell)  as bait to draw out Reed and convince him to fly Jesse out of the country… and then arrest Reed at the airport.

Meanwhile, Sam and Fiona figure out that there is someone living in Anson's seemingly abandoned warehouse. Improvising a door with a pickup truck, they break in and discover Jake ( Luke Albright), a hapless man whom Anson hired to watch his weapons stash. Realizing that the explosive materials there might be enough to prove that Fiona wasn't responsible for the British Consulate bombing, they forcibly convince Jake to leave with them. But as they wheel the evidence out of the warehouse, Sam and Fiona realize that Anson had the explosives rigged to go off if they were moved. They try to warn Jake, but he and the warehouse are incinerated in a massive explosion.

At his meeting with Anson, Michael realizes that he has no leverage now that the warehouse is gone. Anson taunts Michael about the warehouse explosion and he says he needs better operatives than Jake. He wants Michael to plant a microchip on Pierce's computer that will implicate her and the rest of Michael's team as crooked spies, burning them in the process and allowing Anson access to a new set of recruits. Fiona and Sam urge Michael not to do it, but he asks them for more time to figure out another way around Anson's demands. At the security conference, Jesse goes to potential employers under his real name and projects an air of desperation.

Reed eventually picks up on Jesse and offers him a rich deal to betray his country… once he's safely off of American soil. Michael and his team break into Reed's private hanger and plant a gun for Jesse to use later. They then set up for an hours long wait for Jesse and Reed to show up. At the local P.D., Sam and Fiona aren't able to convince Sam's friend on the force to go out of his jurisdiction to Tampa and examine the remains of the warehouse. Out of frustration, Fiona jumps in her car and leaves Sam behind. Sam calls Michael and he frantically informs him of what happened. Michael makes a very poor excuse and he runs out of the live operation, leaving Pierce pissed off.

Michael catches up to Fiona at the loft and finds that she's ready to turn herself into the FBI rather than let Michael remain under Anson's thumb. Michael tells Fiona that he will do anything for her and he handcuffs her in place to return to the CIA operation over her screaming objections. On site, Pierce chews Michael out for leaving, but she seems to buy his B.S. excuse about his sick mother. Michael then distracts Pierce and plants the microchip on her laptop while silently promising to undo the harm at a later date. Michael also notices Rebecca behaving strangely and he goes to check on her in person.

Rebecca catches Michael just as he realizes that she works for Anson and that the plan was to burn the agents and destroy the plane with Reed and Jesse on board to further tarnish the agents. However, Michael has the detonator and he won't relinquish it. Rebecca flees and Michael warns his team and a disbelieving Pierce that Rebecca was trying to sabotage the assignment. When Reed and Jesse arrive, Michael blows up the plane rather than let Jesse get on the plane and die. In the ensuing shootout between the CIA agents and Reed's men, Michael pulls up behind them while posing as airport security and offers Reed and Jesse a way out. And once they're safely away, Michael punches out Reed.

Michael gets on the phone with Anson and tells him that it is over for good. But when Michael arrives back at the loft, he finds that Fiona has freed herself and chained Sam in her place. Michael races to the FBI building to keep her from surrendering, while Anson makes a few calls and meets up with Rebecca. Michael arrives at the FBI just in time to get Fiona's attention before she enters the building. Unfortunately, the FBI was warned by Anson that she was coming and they swarm upon Fiona and arrest her as Michael looks on helplessly.


"Burn Notice" has made a habit of ending its seasons strongly and wrapping up most of its storylines in a satisfying manner. Unfortunately, this was the year that bucked the trend.

Fiona turning herself into the FBI just didn't resonate in the way that previous cliffhangers had. Season three's finale had Michael arrested and whisked away to an unknown location while season four's finale had Michael's reintroduction to the world of the CIA. The show attempted to build up Fiona's fate as something momentous and game changing, but it seems pretty tame compared  to everything that came before it. If the writers of "Burn Notice" wanted the audience to guess about the fate of their characters, then one of the regulars should have been on that plane when it blew up… or Jesse could have been trapped on the plane as it headed towards a foreign country and his likely death. Almost anything would be better than what we got.

In the quest to build Anson up into the ultimate "Burn Notice" supervillain, it seems like Michael and the rest of Team Westen were continually made to act as if they had suddenly became idiots. Sam and Fiona nearly got themselves blown up at Anson's warehouse because they didn't bother to check if Anson had a way to remotely detonate the explosives. Fortunately, we never see the scene where Sam got close enough to Fiona so that she could knock him out and chain him in her place, but even the aftermath made Sam come off like a gullible sap. Also, if Anson really is this supersmart adversary, then why are most of the people he hires complete morons like Jake and Michael's quasi-body double from earlier in the season? Even Rebecca was dumb enough to blow her cover before achieving her objective.  

Speaking of Rebecca, there is no cheaper way of running a traitor storyline than by having one of the new characters be secretly on the bad guy's side. The reason that never works is that audiences need time to get invested in characters. A couple of scenes of Rebecca awkwardly trying to get close to Michael just isn't going to cut it. Kristanna Loken seems likely to recur next season alongside Anson, but this plotline has more than worn out its welcome. Because if Anson is being kept around for season six, then it probably means we won't get a real conclusion to this story until the season six finale. Are you ready for another season of this tiresome crap? Well, you're going to get it… unless Matt Nix and company try to drag it out for a seventh season as well.

Regarding Michael and Fiona, I like both of those characters and I like them together. Therefore, it was surprising that their scenes together where Michael proclaimed that he would do anything for Fiona didn't ring true. I can believe that Michael would go to extremes for Fiona and vice versa, but their dialog was especially clunky and on the nose. I expect better from Matt Nix, who (aside from being the creator of this series) is usually the best writer on the show.

If there's one thing "Burn Notice" almost always does well, it's the action. Film director, Renny Harlin gave the episode a cinematic look, especially during the spectacular car crash and plane explosion. On a side note, the resolution of the Reed story had another villain inexplicably trusting Michael and company. It's as if Eric Robert's character said "Hey! I don't know who is shooting at me, but I'll gladly get in the car of this person I've never met before." It's far from the first time that this has happened on the show.

Looking back on season five as a whole, the opening story arc about Max's murder was a lot of fun and more in tune with what we've come to expect from "Burn Notice." It wasn't until the Anson storyline kicked off that things started going downhill. But there comes a point in the life of every TV series where it seems like the writers are out of ideas and things are running on automatic.

Maybe "Burn Notice" has finally reached that plateau.

Crave Online Rating: 6 out of 10.