Michael: Seems the people who burned me want me for a job. For now, that’s all I got.
Sam: A job? Does it pay?
Michael: More of a “we’ll kill you if you don’t do it” type of thing.
Sam: Ah. Never liked those.
— Burn Notice
Burn Notice’s second season finds Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) still burned by his agency and continuing his search for answers. His blacklisting from the spy world is the larger mystery of the series, yet the inclusion of smaller, often unrelated cases to Michael’s already full plate adds another dimension to the story that goes beyond the standard spy tale. Add that to the new focus of Michael’s work and his new “bosses” and the series has stepped things up.
In fact, while last season saw Michael, along with partners-in-crime, Sam (Bruce Campbell) and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), reluctantly helping others this season does away with the team’s unwillingness to help those in need. In turn, the series is able to devote more time to delving further into Michael’s investment in the lives of the people he helps.
Burn Notice also benefits from its exploration of Michael and Fiona’s relationship. The second season examines their history a bit more and their relationship is the better for it. Just as Michael no longer makes a pretense of wanting to help others, he and Fiona are willing to acknowledge the depth of feelings that they have for one another without straying from the larger premise or becoming the focus of the show.
Similarly, the series has also fleshed out many of the recurring secondary characters such as Barry, a money launderer and Nate, Michael’s younger brother. Moreover, Michael’s mother Madeline (Sharon Gless) has become a much more nuanced character who has evolved beyond the frequently shrill and overbearing qualities that marked her in the first season. Her relationship with Michael is still complex and fraught with many bad memories from Michael’s childhood. However, she has become much more involved with Sam and Fiona in ways that move her closer to the danger in Michael’s life while also giving her insight into his professional past and the risks he regularly takes.
The introduction of Carla (Tricia Helfer) as Michael’s mysterious handler adds another layer to the complexity of season two. Unlike the first season, at this point the series is developing a mythology filled with mysterious agencies, rivals, and characters that often don’t reveal their true intentions right away. Once the season reaches the end of its final episode, the series is clearly on a path of fully exploring the many facets of Michael’s burn.
Burn Notice’s strengths come from its reworking of a classic premise: a spy putting his skills to use against the bad guys while helping the good guys. For instance, the series shies away from the protagonists directly killing their adversaries. Instead the show creates clever scenarios wherein the villains are pitted against each other to do the real dirty work, while never really making an issue of the team’s preferred method of dealing with an opponent. Campbell goes on to say as much in one of the commentaries when he refers to this tactic of dealing with enemies as “a higher moral ground than taking a live wire and just sticking it in their ear for half an hour”.
In addition, Burn Notice continues to make excellent use of its location in Miami as well as the use of stylistic storytelling techniques such as freeze frames and split screens to create a unique atmosphere. In one of the DVD extras, creator Matt Nix mentions the thoroughly modern touches such as the stylish montages that serve to explain the ways in which Michael, Sam, and Fiona prepare tactically for their missions. Co-existing with these contemporary techniques are also moments that call to mind more classic action and drama practices, such as the limited use of CGI in preference of real stunts and action sequences.
It should also be mentioned that the series is not only an entertaining blend of action and drama, but also contains a wonderful sense of humor. Campbell is the obvious choice when thinking of comic relief, but the writing lends itself to much more than just the inherently funny character on the show. While Campbell’s line deliveries are almost always done with a wink to the audience, there is a dry humor throughout much of the series that makes Michael and Fiona’s seriousness work on both levels.
Bonus features include deleted scenes, commentaries on select episodes, a featurette focusing on Matt Nix working on the episode “Do No Harm” titled “NIXin’ It Up”, and a gag reel. While the set only contains three commentary tracks (and Donovan, Anwar, and Gless are absent from all), they are especially enjoyable in highlighting plenty of the usual behind-the-scenes tricks, as well as in offering a fun glimpse into the often lighthearted rapport between cast and crew. Overall, the extras provide further quality material to supplement a strong season.