Since it’s the final season of Burn Notice, it’s time to pull out all the stops (or all the skeletons in the closet). This week’s episode sees the return of “Crazy Larry” Sizemore, perfectly played by Tim Matheson. What does he have to do with anything? A lot, as it turns out, even though he’s dead.
Having convinced Sonya (Alona Tal) he’s in for good – by sleeping with her – Michael has a lot of thinking to do. He’s asked Fiona for an “urgent” meeting so that he can tell her that he’s gotten into bed with the enemy. Understandably, this doesn’t go over well with her, either from a personal or professional standpoint, and she leaves just as quickly as she arrived. This leaves Michael preparing for his “job interview” with Sonya’s bosses. As if on cue, his psuedo-girlfriend walks in all smiles – just before she tazes him. Clearly, she’s not that enamored with him either.
Michael (who knew his middle name was Alan, by the way?) is then greeted by Sonya’s boss (John Pyper-Ferguson, looking a lot like Billy Campbell in The 4400), who proceeds to interrogate him about his entire life, subject him to disorientation techniques, interrogate him some more, and disorient him again.
Back in Miami, Jesse pays a visit to Madeline and Charlie, but it’s not a social call. He’s looking for Michael. Jesse’s terrible poker face doesn’t do him any favors, and Jesse is forced to admit to Maddie that Michael’s been missing for days. Elsewhere, Sam and Fiona are watching Sonya and a friend of hers ransack Michael’s loft. Everything adds up to something bad happening. Fiona convinces Sam that the best next move is to tail Sonya.
The Boss decides that he’s not satisfied with what Michael’s told him so far, and decides that the next phase of the inquisition should involve drugs. Michael’s wide-eyed, defeated expression pretty much says all the audience needs to know before he starts hallucinating Fiona. He tearfully tells her “I can’t do this anymore,” but fake-Fiona reminds him “Yours isn’t the only life on the line.” Furthermore, she tells him that he doesn’t need her. Michael disagrees.
The next time he’s talking to The Boss, he’s pretty much a wreck. The Boss wants to know how he suddenly “evolved” into the Michael Westen we know and love today. Michael’s hallucinations promptly put him in the middle of a forest, where he’s chatting with Crazy Larry, who wants to take all the credit. It’s Tim Matheson at his smarmy best. “You are who I made you, and that’s all I ever wanted, Michael. For you to accept who you are,” Larry tells Michael, who eventually spits out his name to The Boss, albeit while calling him “a special kind of monster.”
Fiona and Sam have tracked Sonya to a facility where it appears she plans on burning all the stuff she took from Michael’s loft. While she’s inside, Fiona decides to tamper with the other woman’s car, and very narrowly escapes. Fiona and Sam aggressively pursue Sonya, following her to the entrance of a private island. Sam decides to see if he can borrow his girlfriend’s speedboat to get them a vantage point from the water.
The Boss probes Michael’s relationship with Larry, wanting to know why their partnership ended. He asks Michael to discuss their last operation together, which our hero describes as a “recon mission” where he made a “tactical mistake.” The Boss points out that mistakes happen all the time, so what made this one instance so severe that it split them up?
Further hallucinations show us that Michael and Larry found the contact who betrayed them, and when they determined it was too risky to breach his hiding place and extract said contact, Michael blew up the building – killing innocent people that Michael admits he “didn’t care” were inside. “I never wanted that to happen again,” he continues. The Boss is seemingly sympathetic to his guilt, but reiterates his desire to know all of Michael’s demons, “whatever it takes to dig them out.”
He goes on to say that he has to be sure Michael has let go off all his old loyalties. This generates a conversation between Michael and his dead, abusive father, who accuses him of not caring about his family. “You dedicated your entire life to that agency,” snarls the senior Westen. The argument soon turns physical, but ends abruptly. Then a freaked-out Sonya comes rushing into Michael’s holding cell, insisting with wide eyes that he said something bad before he passed out. She tells Michael that “he knows you betrayed us [and] he’s going to kill you,” and hurries to help him from the room. What is she playing at?
Sonya tells Michael that she’s helping him because she owes him for getting her out of the prison, and “I pay my debts.” While Sam is watching from the speedboat, he spots Sonya helping Michael across the island – but it’s not going well. Michael collapses, then starts rambling about how he has to go back.
Shocking everyone including Sonya, he turns around and gives himself up to The Boss’s pursuing troops, who take both him and Sonya back into custody. The Boss isn’t happy about the attempted escape, but decides not to shoot Michael. Sonya’s satisfied about that – seems this was the plan all along. The Boss introduces himself as James, and welcomes Michael to “the family.”
But wait for the last beat: while Fiona, Sam and Jesse wonder what Michael’s gotten himself into, Maddie greets Michael, who’s sleeping on her couch and looking worse than she’s ever seen her. “What did they do to you?” she asks, and he tells her. He admits that he saw his father and realized “he was the only reason I survived.”
“Psychological Warfare” boils down to essentially a two-hander. Everything and everyone else is pretty much supplemental to the scenes that take place between Michael and The Boss in that one room. You could even argue that The Boss exists merely to prompt the internal dialogue that goes on in Michael’s head. The episode is pretty much an accounting of all the things that make Michael who he is, whether it’s something he’s done or that’s been done to him – sort of the character development equivalent of a recap show, cleverly wrapped in the concept of an interrogation.
Does it work? Yes, fundamentally because Jeffrey Donovan is such a facially expressive actor. We can see exactly what emotions are being dredged up in Michael, and we believe that he really is being broken down and built back up again. From a writer’s standpoint, too, this is the point in time to do an episode like this. For one, it’s somewhat of a refresher for casual viewers or those who might not remember all the years of story as to who this character is and what he’s been through. And since this is the last season, it’s worth a pause to note his growth, and the entirety of his journey – not just what we’ve seen on the show. We should feel like Michael Westen has come a very long way; after all, we’ve invested years into him.
While some things aren’t really that great (you can see Sonya’s fake escape setup a mile away, especially since it’s completely unconvincing beforehand that she has any real affection for Michael), those little things don’t really matter. This isn’t an episode about surprise or even really suspense. This is an installment about what makes this character tick, and on that level, it unequivocally succeeds.
(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.