I've never wanted to be stuck on an island. I've seen Lost (and before that, Gilligan's Island). However, if I had to be stranded on one, I'd want to be there with Michael Westen and Jesse Porter. At least then I might actually survive, or at least it would be interesting.
That's the premise of this week's Burn Notice. Agent Pearce (Lauren Stamile) has a new task for Michael: locating Steve Cahill (24's Henri Lubatti), a bad guy having a big meeting in the Caribbean. Pearce, Michael and Jesse set off to kidnap Cahill, whose dance partner is a "sadistic mercenary" named Miles Vanderwaal. Though they capture him easily enough, the arrival of Miles' band of not so merry men makes it impossible for them to get off the island safely. To stay alive and recover the government files Cahill gave to Miles, our trio pretends to be on the same side, driving Miles to a new high when it comes to paranoia. Tricking him into thinking he's on his way up in the world, they out themselves as CIA, recover the files, and deliver him into custody. It's not as fun as "Besieged" (no explosions this week) but there's still some good action to be had out in the wilderness.
Meanwhile, Fiona reaches out to a contact for help - not telling Michael that it happens to be her ex-associate Armand (Gavin Rossdale). He's happy to give her the name of whomever made the bomb that everyone wants to know about, if she retrieves a truck full of ammunition that he's very interested in. Sam is not enthused ("Can't you do some other favor for the guy, like mow his lawn?") but agrees to the job as long as Michael picks up his mojito tab for the next month. Needless to say, it turns out to be more complicated than expected. While Armand needles Fiona about his past with Michael - and reveals that she's also helped get one of his enemies dismembered - he does hold up his end of the deal. Burn Notice has always put its characters before plot, though, and I was impressed that rather than show us whatever he gave Fiona, the last few minutes were focused on Fiona herself. As a fan, I'm more concerned about the character I've come to embrace than a fact that can be revealed next week without any harm done.
The acting in "Hard Out" is pretty entertaining. I'm not a fan of stunt casting, especially if it's someone who is clearly not an actor. However, Bush/Institute lead singer-guitarist Gavin Rossdale escapes my criticism, because he actually is an actor. Rossdale previously appeared in an episode of Criminal Minds, as well as films including Zoolander and Little Black Book. He's able to portray slimy without going into "totally repulsive" territory. Through him, we also learn a little bit more about Fiona's backstory; I love that the sins of her past aren't sugarcoated just because she's a hero now. (I'm also amused that the promos for this episode made a point of noting that Armand was Fiona's ex-boyfriend, when it doesn't even come up in the episode until the last minutes. Sometimes there's a difference between what a network chooses to emphasize and what actually exists in the show.)
It's always fun to watch Jeffrey Donovan when Michael gets to be particularly belligerent. I'm biased but still pleased to see a bigger role for Coby Bell in this episode, and it's obvious that he has fun with it. And when you have reliable actors like Bruce Campbell and Sharon Gless in your troupe, can you really ever go wrong?
The one thing that gives me pause with this episode is something I've hinted at before, and something that is unfortunately just a byproduct of episodic television. The last few episodes have settled into a formula - an entertaining if not particularly memorable case and the next small piece in the "who framed Michael?" mystery. Obviously, the show must stretch the latter out until at least the midseason finale, so I can't fault them for underplaying their hand. Yet I miss the palpable tension of season four, where there was always the threat of the big reveal running through every episode, and a considerable personal undercurrent that went with it. That's not a knock against season five, but an example of the fact that what might be the most interesting creatively isn't always what's best for a series. As a writer myself, I'm hoping that when fans critique episodes of their favorite shows, they take a moment to realize that there are a lot of factors that go into the mix each week.
We've got ten episodes left in season five, so there's still plenty of time to amp up the story and throw a few more twists in the mix. I'm willing to patiently wait and see what happens next, because after five years, I'm confident that Matt Nix and Co. will make it all pay off in the end.