BURN NOTICE 5.11 ‘Better Halves’

Michael and Fiona go undercover as a couple while Agent Pearce gets closer to the truth behind Max's murder.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Better Halves"

Writer: Lisa Joy

Director: Michael Smith

Previously on "Burn Notice":

Weeks ago, Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) was expertly framed for the murder of his CIA contact Max (Grant Show). In order to save himself from the frame job, Michael was forced to cover the real killer's tracks. With the help of his girlfriend, Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) as well as his long time allies, Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) and Jesse Porter (Coby Bell), Michael found a war criminal named Lucien Dobos (Patrick Bauchau); who was closely tied to the real killer.

However, the ties weren't enough to keep the killer from taking out Lucien to prevent Michael from learning what he knew. With his last breath, Lucien told Michael where he could find the killer, but the elusive assassin escaped him once again. Meanwhile, Michael's new CIA contact,  Agent Pearce (Lauren Stamile) demanded his files from the unofficial investigation of Max's death. Michael complied with the order even though he knew that Pearce would inevitably find the planted evidence that would lead back to Michael instead of the real killer.

Story:

Using the recovered data from the killer's burned hard drives, Jesse and Sam discover that he has ties to Stigler, a money broker for the Eastern European criminal underground. At first, Stigler isn't interested in helping them, but he seems upset over the news that Lucien was killed by his client, Tavian. Stigler angrily promises Sam that he will look into it and he threatens his life if Sam's story turns out to be a lie. Elsewhere, Michael is called in by Pearce to travel to Venezuela to forcibly extract a Russian asset code named "Cheshire" who specializes in chemical warfare. And because "Cheshire" is hiding out with his wife at a couples retreat, Michael is asked to bring Fiona.

Fiona is initially annoyed at being sent away with Michael for work instead of pleasure, but Michael convinces her to come by handing over the entire discretionary fund for the trip so she can go shopping. Meanwhile, Stigler meets with Sam and Jesse before telling them that he confirmed their story. He gives them details on Tavian's weekly money drop to allow them to capture him the next time he comes. In Venezuela, Michael and Fiona subtly spy on their potential candidates for Cheshire and his wife while dancing on the ballroom floor. They finally identify Cheshire as Kevin Skylar, who is accompanied by his disgruntled wife, Nicki (Charisma Carpenter).

Unfortunately, the Skylars are also being shadowed by male and female Russian bodyguards and their support team, who closely control the couple's movements. Michael and Fiona manage to sneak into the Skylars' hotel room, but they are forced to destroy Fiona's $2,000 dress to rappel down the ledge before the bodyguards discover them. From the surveillance bug, Michael and Fiona learn that Nikki wants to enjoy more of the good life and she is very dissatisfied with being under the thumb of both Kevin and the Russian guards. Using that info, Fiona befriends Nikki the next day at the pool.

Later, Michael introduces himself as Fiona's husband and he tries to trick Nikki and Kevin into going on a helicopter tour with them. When Kevin ultimately turns them down (at the behest of his bodyguards), Michael presents himself as an operative who can double what the Russians are paying and get him out of his current situation. Nikki urges Kevin to say yes moments before the suspicious Russian bodyguards bear down on them. Reluctantly, Kevin agrees moments before the group bursts out into fake laughter to fool the bodyguards. Back in Miami, Sam and Jesse set a trap for Tavian. But Tavian is not only ready for it, he kills Stigler and takes Sam hostage.

However, Tavian soon releases Sam after requesting a meeting with Michael the next day. Back in Venezuela, Michael subdues the male guard assigned to Kevin, but Fiona and Nikki have more trouble eluding the gun wielding female bodyguard, who quickly has reinforcements chasing them. Fiona and Nikki are soon chased to a Warehouse. When Michael and Kevin arrive at the extraction point first, he realizes that something must have gone wrong. Kevin wants to leave without the women, but Michael refuses. By herself, Fiona takes out most of her attackers, but Michael arrives just in time to take out the third.

Michael and Fiona then bond over back-to-back gun fight with the second wave of attackers before returning to the extraction site with Kevin and Nikki. Upon seeing the armed soldiers with the helicopter, Kevin realizes that it was a trap and he attempts to threaten Michael at gunpoint. But Michael convinces him to give up to them rather than face death at the Russians' hands. Nikki is urged to make a deal to protect herself and incriminate her husband, which she quickly accepts. Back in the states, Sam and Jesse buy time for Michael by locking down the area where Tavian is supposed to meet him.

But back at his loft, Michael finds Agent Pearce waiting for him. She shows him some newly discovered footage from the day Max was killed that depicts himself and Fiona speeding away from the scene. Michael tries to explain himself, but Pearce angrily arrests him for the murder of Max and orders him to bind himself with plastic handcuffs; which he reluctantly does.

Breakdown:

"Burn Notice" certainly likes to stay with its familiar playbook. The storyline with Max's killer and Agent Pearce's discovery of Michael's involvement is playing out almost exactly the way that Jesse uncovered the fact that Michael burned him last season. Both of those major revelations came in the eleventh episodes of their respective seasons, right before the mid-season finale. And if history is any indication, Michael will improbably have an entirely separate case to solve next week while eluding his CIA bosses.

The way the traffic footage was pulled was a clever way to finally tie Michael to Max's murder, but I was hoping for something more surprising along the way. It's an entertaining storyline, but it doesn't appear to have any twists in it that can elevate it beyond a by-the-numbers plot. It was inevitable that the CIA would suspect Michael of Max's death, the only real questions are whether Pearce is as truly righteous as she presents herself or if she is in league with the people who killed Max. I think we all know that at some point, Michael will prove his innocence and he will likely team up with the CIA again in the near future.

Without the CIA being used as a story device, "Burn Notice" would quickly go back to the "A-Team of the week" stories and it seems like the writers are having too much fun with the CIA driven stories. Michael and Fiona's mission in this episode was enjoyable and a good chance to get back to basics with Michael and Fiona as both a couple and a team. I've grown to like Jesse, but his introduction last year upset the balance between Michael, Fiona and Sam that used to exist. We don't always get reminders of how well Michael and Fiona click both professionally and personally. This was the kind of story that "Undercovers" spectacularly failed to achieve last fall on NBC.  

It's always fun to see Charisma Carpenter show up on TV, especially in various states of undress. But both Nikki and her onscreen husband could have used a lot more development. Kevin was particularly underserved. The only glimmers of personality that he showed were when he boasted to Michael about his latest chemical warfare creation and his desire to leave his wife behind at the extraction point. So, we understand that he's a huge jerk, but we never got a deeper understanding of why he decided to create weapons for the Russians. Likewise,  we see that Nikki is chaffing in the confines of her life, but it's never clear how she let herself be sucked into in the first place.

Back in Miami, Sam and Jesse made a good team with each other. And thankfully, the writers didn't invent an excuse to shoehorn Michael's mom, Madeline in there as well. I'm not quite as sold on Tavian as a foil for Michael. It seems a little too easy for him to request a truce and a meeting while offering up vague answers for questions Michael supposedly "doesn't even have yet." Tavian's best trait as a villain was his ability to remain out of Michael's reach. If Tavian is just going to be another Simon Escher-like rival to Michael, then we've already seen that story before.

Crave Online Rating: 7.5 out of 10.