"Acceptable Loss" is the next-to-last episode of Burn Notice season five. It's not a whiz-bang episode, but it is one that will tug fiercely at your heartstrings before next week's finale.
Michael and Fiona leave Miami behind for a Washington, D.C. law firm that has ties to Anson. In its file room, Fiona digs up paperwork on last season's "big bad," Vaughn Anderson (Robert Wisdom). Nothing to complicate things like two major villains connected to one another. Michael convinces Pearce (Lauren Stamile) to bring Vaughn to Tampa, but Vaughn wants full immunity before he'll be of any help.
Michael counters by threatening to bring some of Vaughn's old friends, including Simon Escher, to visit. That makes Vaughn spill: "Anson isn't retiring. He's rebuilding. The organization that burned you, he's bringing that back online."
Meanwhile, Jesse's friend Ian (Gregg Henry) thinks an Indian diplomat named Yash (Ravi Kapoor) "needs an ass-kicking," being that he's a diamond smuggler on very bad behavior. Ian wants to retire with a clear conscience, leading Team Westen to rob Yash's buyer in broad daylight and present Jesse as a replacement.
With about a day's advance notice, this is one of the show's most on-the-fly jobs, and it shows as there are difficulties at every turn. Jesse's beloved Porsche ends up being sacrificed as Plan A falls through.
Then Ian reveals that he has pancreatic cancer, and comes up with the wild idea of getting Yash for his murder as a way of holding him accountable for something. Although it doesn't initially sit well with him, Jesse agrees to help his old friend, and Team Westen ends up watching as Yash, quickly convinced of Ian's betrayal, guns the man down. He's quickly arrested for the crime, but that's no comfort to Jesse, or to Michael either.
"Acceptable Loss" suffers a bit from how well-woven last week's "Depth Perception" was; it ends up paling a little in comparison. I like it as a reminder of the fact that while our heroes may be very good, they are still prone to stumbles along the way. Episodes like this keep Burn Notice feeling relatively realistic. The episode takes awhile to build its tension, but the fourth act is riveting.
That's because of some impeccable acting, particularly from Coby Bell and even moreso from guest star Gregg Henry. Plots that involve self-sacrifice can often get schmaltzy, but Henry does a great job of making us really feel Ian's desire for redemption and also his resignation to his fate. When he says "I spent most of my life as a coward, but I'm going to die a man, right?" you want to believe he will. His death scene is saddening to watch, even though the audience knows that it's coming.
And that last moment, when Vaughn and the audience realize that Michael is ruthlessly leaving Vaughn to his probable demise, is chilling - a reminder that our favorite spy does still have a dark side.
As far as next-to-last episodes go, there have been those with more action, more suspense, and more revelations, but that doesn't make "Acceptable Loss" a poor episode. In a season that's dug deep into Michael's past and his character, it's a character-driven story that fits perfectly into the picture. In the stark light of next week's finale, this is the kind of episode we'll look back on and understand even more about it.
Burn Notice doesn't need to surprise us for it to be the solid show it has always been - it's a show about characters in which we have become invested, and it's episodes like this that remind us why, on the verge of an ending that might or might not change the series as we know it.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.