Burn Notice: Pilot Episode (2007)

Director: Jace Alexander
Starring: Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell, Sharon Gless
Music: John Dickson

About six months ago, Tanner at Double O Section wrote a tantalising review of a new television show called Burn Notice. It sounded like the type of show that was right up my alley, so I arranged to see a couple of the early episodes. And it delivered everything that Tanner said it would. But my big fear was, that like so many good television shows, it wasn’t going to be picked up by the Australian television networks, or if they did, they’d secret it away at 2:00 am in the morning. I am pleased to report that Channel 10 has picked up the show and it will be starting soon on Tuesday nights.

What’s it all about then? The show opens in Warri, Nigeria. In the bustling markets, agent Michael Westen (Jeffery Donovan) is waiting to be picked up. On this occasion he is working for the CIA. Although he admits to being a spy, he claims to not directly work for the CIA. A droll voice-over by Westen informs us that:

‘Being a spy is like sitting in your dentists waiting area. You read lots of magazines and every so often someone tries to kill you.’

The voice overs by actor Donovan are one of the more engaging features of this show. Not only do they explain what is going on, but are often used for comic relief.

Westen’s ride arrives. A bunch of burly goons, armed with machine guns, bundle him into the back of a black Mercedes Benz saloon. Westen is taken to a hotel and to meet Boris. A subtitle informs us that Boris is a ‘Wannabe Warlord’. Westen’s mission is to pay Boris $750,000 to stop blowing up oil refineries. Boris agrees to the Deal. Westen pulls out his mobile phone to organise the transfer of the money. As he relays the account details to the money men, halfway through, a voice at the other end says, ‘It’s off. We’ve got a Burn Notice on you. You’ve been blacklisted. I’m sorry.’ The phone goes dead. Westen has been abandoned by his superiors and doesn’t know why. But that isn’t his immediate problem. First he is trapped in a room with a gang of machine gun toting thugs and an irate warlord. As Westen can no longer deliver the money as promised he is given quite a working over.

As they are about to shoot him, Westen weasels his way out of immediate danger with a few simple lies. He tells Boris that he has the money – that he stole it and was trying to set Boris up. This doesn’t make Boris any happier, but he isn’t willing to kill Westen. He wants the money. Two goons are chosen to go with Westen as he retrieves the money. As the three men pass through the hotel lobby, Westen pretends to be sick, and needs the bathroom. He spits out a little blood to convince the goons that he isn’t faking – after all he has just receives quite a caning from the thugs. The two goons drag him into the men’s room, and it is here that Westen turns the tables and kills his guards (nothing too graphic).

Outside the hotel, he steals a motorbike and races to the airport. He makes it onto a plane, and a flight out of Nigeria. In his seat, he passes out. When we wakes up, he is in Miami, Florida.

Now folks, as action packed and frenetic as that opening scene is, it is not really indicative of the show. That was just the setup. Now the real fun begins. Westen is now trapped in Miami. If he tries to leave FBI agents will swarm all over him. He doesn’t know why. It seems that whoever has set him up wants him stuck in Miami. Further to this, they have frozen all his accounts, so Westen can’t even buy himself out of trouble.

Miami is quite awkward for Westen. It’s his old home town, where he grew up. That brings him into contact with his mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless), who is a needy hypochondriac. Westen wasn’t particularly happy with his home life as a child. In fact, that’s why he became a spy – to get as far away as possible from his family.

But Westen does have a couple of allies in Miami. The first is Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar). She is a ex – IRA killer who used to have a relationship with Westen. She is a lethal beauty. Next we have Sam Axe, played by cult favourite Bruce Campbell. Axe is an ex-CIA agent who now lives the simple life in Miami. He lives off rich divorcees, and spends most of his time drunk in bars.

From the above description Burn Notice may seem like an intense show. It’s not. Sure there’s an underlying mystery – who set up Michael Westen? – but each show is encapsulated and pretty breezy, in an almost feel good kind of way.

Burn Notice is the kind of American television we have been missing for the last ten years. It’s fresh, it’s funny, it’s cheeky, it’s sunny. What more could you ask? Highly recommended.

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