Burn Notice – Season 1 Review

There I am again, I haven’t done much writing in the last months, so this is my way of apologizing. It is just far to easy not to write and to do other things, than to sit down and and actually start writing.

Let’s start with the characters:

Michael Western: He’s a very cool, controlled and handsome guy (for the ones out there really interested in the looks of guys in tv-shows, this might be important – for your average heterosexual male, such as myself, not so much!). He can handle himself in a fight and is rather used to carrying a gun, never the less, he only fights when really necessary. He rather thinks of a nice plan, mostly involving building some kind of surveillance equipement or weapons out of stuff you can buy in your average supermarket, walmart, or hardware store. (He seems to especially like cell phones and uses at least 5 every episode. ;)) In short: He’s a MacGyver with a better haircut.
He also likes to dress up nicely, change his accent and persona and fool with some of these organized crime dudes.
And the best: He’s an ex-spy, he’s cynical, not very talkative, and has a lot of advice to offer any would-be spy watching the show. (He’s the narrator.)

Fiona: She’s the girl, trigger-happy, madly in love with Michael (and very determined) and hot.
It’s fun to have her, but it would not hurt if she had a little more depth. She basically just is the hot, trigger-happy ex-girlfriend of Michael’s. What makes me wonder sometimes, why she always walks around in these not very functional high-heels, plateau-shoes, or mini-skirts and -dresses, but who really cares.

Sam: An aged, easy-going ex-special forces guy, if I recall correctly. He’s Michaels ties to Miami, he knows people and can gather intelligence if necessary. He’s cool, funny and more importantly he’s Ash from “The Army of Darkness”. I don’t really know what to say about him, he doesn’t stand out that much, but he is really necessary. Without him the show would be too dry and serious. And I really like his character.

Michaels family: There’s his mum, which is, I have to agree with midmull there, a whiny old woman, but luckily doesn’t have that much apearances and then there is his brother, always having trouble with money and gambling. They both aren’t in the least as much fun as the main characters, but they never the leyy seem to be necessary, because Michael needs a weakness, and that’s what they are, because he has to worry about their safety and as opposed to Fiona and Sam, they can’t defend themselves that well.

The bad guys: It’s a little downside of the show: The bad guys are not that interesting, I mean they are bad and cool and all, and it’s enjoyable when Michael kicks their asses, but they all lack depth, but then again, the eposides are just around 43 minutes, it isn’t that important really.

The enemy: The evil force, the unknown enemy that issued the burn notice on Michael. This is a person (or collective) which is throughout the entire season present, but only represented by mostly neutral persons, FBI Agents, a CSS Agent, some assasins. The always seem out of reach, which in my opinion is a good thing, it’s not like the Goa’uld, Replicators, Wraith, Cylons, SD-6, The Covenant or any other enemy, which can just be located and destroyed. You don’t really know anyone to hate for Michael beeing burnt.

The setting: Miami works great for this show. Fiona can always walk around in her cute, short dresses, Sam can wear his Hawaiian shirts, the can drink cocktails all the time and it is perfectly natural the producers showing us hot girls walking on the beach every once in a while.

The style: What is there to say. Cool cars, weapons, hot women, Michael almost always wears a suit. Then there is the narrator which is pretty cool (I just can’t get enough of cynical comments), the little texts under each new person and the camera work, which I find supports the whol show very well and adds to a fantastic and comprehensive style.

The plot: The main plot is Michael trying to find out who burnt him and to get reinstated as a spy (independent contractor?) for the U.S. government. And there are the subplots, one each episode, which basically is, receiving a job and executing it. They’re all very nicely written and they work great, but I would have wanted the main plot to progress a little faster.

All in all its a fantastic show, and it’s refreshing to see that there still are some out there.

4/5

Rewatching Burn Notice: Identity

Most fun I’ve had in Miami.

Agreed. It was a fun episode – hot chicks abound, Fiona loses the accent (even though it’s a bloody cute one!) and Michael gets one instead. A car gets blown up and the general story moves forward quite a bit even though not as much as it usually does.

Now, there’s not much to be said in terms of character development. It is, in fact, a rather weak episode in that area. Sure, the Michael-Mum relationship gets closer to where it’s supposed to be (but still not there yet) – unfortunately, she’s still just an annoying, whiny bitch. We already know that Michael’s a good guy at heart but seriously – he gets her back all her money and 500$’s too much to ask for?

The “I have some kind of illness” running gag doesn’t work (and I don’t really pay attention – IIRC they lose it somewhere, though). Fiona, OTOH, seems worse than she was in episode one. Totally not COOL, totally not RELAXED. Just like a teenager who’s madly in love with Michael (in the relevant scenes). It’s not what she’s supposed to do. When acting like this, she leaves Michael alone and there’s no partner to back him up.

Sam, finally, gets closer to where he’s supposed to be. The underpants joke is obviously cringeworthy and that’s why it works. He’s far closer to his joyful, overconfident self than he was in the Pilot.

Enough about character development though. Let’s talk about the narrative – and that’s what’s really in the foreground here. Michael’s a really cool guy and this episode drives home that point – in addition to showing that he really, really, really is capable of doing evil things, if necessary. Obviously, that old lady truly needs to check herself into some place that her kids approve of – buying into that whole scam business is just so 20th-century (I’d say even then there was no excuse for it).

Luckily though, it offers the opportunity of showing real cool stuff. I’ll just name a few of the things that really entertained me (and why they weren’t necessarily perfect):

  • Fiona and Sam getting caught – that scene really worked, their infighting didn’t
  • Michael figuring out that Paco didn’t drink – even though his retelling just a moment later kinda ruined the scene as it no longer seemed terribly witty
  • Michael shooting the police car’s tyres – plain fun
  • Michael ripping off blondie – it truly is the most fun we’ve had so far

As you can see from that list, it’s a Michael-centric episode. Not necessarily in terms of character development (which is why he doesn’t figure all that prominently above) but certainly in terms of showing the audience what he’s capable of, driving home the point of his vulnerability and the reach of his abilities. Plus, the beginning of the awesome team that Sam, Fiona and Michael form.

As you can see from the length of this post, it wasn’t a terribly deep episode. And I’m glad we’ll start moving ahead a little faster in future episodes – because just one tidbit of information at the end of each episode just isn’t going to cut it in the long run.

The bottom line: even though the review sounds quite negative, it’s a great episode again. Not as brilliant as the pilot but considering it’s the second episode (which usually appears to be quite a bit weaker) there’s nothing much to complain about. It’s fun watching stuff being blown up, it’s fun watching the good guys beating the bad guys at their own game. In short: I love it when a plan comes together. 😉

4/5

Rereading favourites: Robert Ludlum’s ‘The Icarus Agenda’

Off we go with the first post.

Seeing how I’m now past 20, I felt it was about time I started rereading some old favourites. What to expect then? There’ll certainly be Tolkien, there’ll be Ludlum (beginning: here) and there’ll be Clancy. Obviously, I’ll write about Atlas Shrugged (but then I consider that an ongoing process rather than rereading) and there’ll be others (maybe even Harry Potter!). Let’s begin with The Icarus Agenda, though.

About three years ago (summer of ’05) I bought a couple of Ludlum’s novels. I had read the Bourne trilogy the summer before (2004) and liked it, so when it was time to do some reading in English for exam purposes, I decided to go with Ludlum. I’ll talk about some of the others later but The Icarus Agenda was my favourite.

About a week ago, I received my new copy of the book (the old one had fallen apart) and went through it rather quickly (finished Sunday morning at 1:40 a.m.). I still like it, I certainly got more out of it than I did last time and I also saw more of its flaws than I did last time.

Let’s begin with the good stuff. According to Wikipedia, it was written in 1988 (seems plausible) and is the sequel to The Chancellor Manuscript (obviously, considering how Inver Brass plays a major role). The plot is summed up rather quickly: American congressman goes to Oman to singlehandedly solve a hostage crisis, comes back successful, is secretly put into the spotlight of the political arena and hunted by enemies. In the end, he wins, gets the girl and loses some friends.

There, tons of spoilers but that’s not the point (it’ll get much worse, trust me!). I like the main character – Evan Kendrick – a lot. Not entirely sure whether he’s still appropriate today but I’m quite confident that he is. A bit more thoughtfulness towards the Middle East wouldn’t hurt and even though it mostly stays at the surface, the book’s rather refreshing insofar as it isn’t explicitly anti-Arab (it’s rather quite pro-Arab, in fact). I enjoy that. Obviously, there’s probably not too many Ahmats left (a pro-American, young sultan) but on the other hand Bin Laden isn’t so different from the religious nutjobs in the book.

Khalela is an acceptable character as well. Ignoring that she was raped as a student (seems to be a thing with Ludlum, having his main heroine raped, if I remember another one correctly (probably the next one I’ll reread – The Sigma Protocol)) and that comes across as a rather cheap ploy to make her character seem more complex, she still offers great insights. It’s probably mostly the hopeless romantic in me (usually plays a rather small role next to the cynic) but I find the relationship between her and Kendrick very exciting and extremely, well, pleasant. A strong woman and a strong man – eventually, I guess, it represents what I consider a proper relationship. It’s exothermic – I came up with another example when thinking about it (Tucker Max says there’s three kinds of people: those that take from the table, those that come out about even and those that add to the table – in a relationship you’d want the last kind of person as your partner) but this one’s better. They go out and come back exhausted and being together doesn’t take additional energy but rather gives back to both of them. A non-zero-sum game, a win-win situation. A fortress against an unpleasant world.

Manny, of course, is just plain delightful. Very interesting, very funny. There’s quite a few more interesting characters throughout the book (it’s actually filled with them) – MJ, the Inver Brass crew, Ahmat, Bobbie – the list goes on and even though the book has more than 800 pages (at least my version does), you know there’s much more that could’ve been said about them.

Now, after a lots of praise, let’s get to the parts that I didn’t like too much. Characters: The evil guys don’t get enough depth. Their motivation basically boils down to “money”. That’s about as unexciting and simplistic as you can get – I guess Ludlum used all his powder on the Arab terrorists (who, consequently, come out much more multi-layered). The worst offense in terms of character, though, is two-fold: first, Evan Kendrick’s conversion to willing pawn needs more work, and secondly – more importantly, for me personally, Gerald Bryce is an absolutely shitty character. He plays one of the major, albeit very silent, roles in the book and gets basically zero motivation. Nada. It hurts and it shows. Why would he do what he does? An additional offender in this regard is Milos – why not give us his background? Which country, what happened, how’d he get out? IIRC, there’s some link to The Chancellor Manuscript but I can’t exactly remember it and it wasn’t that deep (his father played the same role, I think). Not enough – the basic problem is lack of convincing motivation.

Finally, let’s get to the ugly stuff. It’s mostly in “Book Three”. Why the hell would there be a new Mahdi? There’s no point and it acts entirely counter to the other development – arms dealers being killed and less arms being delievered. One’s supposed to be hopeful, the other’s supposed to highlight how fucked up the situation still is. If you wanted to get that done, you’d have to do it the exact opposite way around – let the plan against the arms dealer not work out and show some “rational” Arab kill the new Mahdi.

The whole arms dealer part is extremely stupid anyway. It feels kinda like the air raid on Tokyo in Pearl Harbor – the story works fairly well without it (very well, actually) and there’re plenty of possibilities to bring the story to a satisfying end. Have Khalela and Kendrick get married, have a baby, Kendrick being elected Vice President and getting some hopeful deal with Ahmat and an Israeli. Something like that. This just doesn’t work and feels terribly forced. One more thing: the whole scene on the island – yeah, that could’ve used some work.

The bottom line: I still very much enjoyed this book. It makes for an exciting read and especially the first part feels very well thought out and finely executed. Leave the Inver Brass stuff out and it makes for a great book on its own. The second part isn’t quite as strong and rests mainly on the shoulders of the Evan-Khalela relationship (as far as I’m concerned, that is) plus some other good characters (Manny, MJ etc). The third part is just plain ugly (then again it’s only 40+ pages). All in all well worth the time (and you’d better be prepared to spend a couple of hours unable to put the book down once you’ve proceeded halfway through it).

4/5