Fail Safe the film (either of them) was fantastic and chilling. ‘Fail Safe’ the Burn Notice finale is not going to keep me up at night, but it certainly capped off the fifth season with a lot to talk about.
Anson has “an instant recipe for mayhem,” and Michael’s committed to “doing whatever it takes” to stop him from bringing back the very illegal organization that started it all. The episode starts with the moment most might have saved to the end – Michael having a face-to-face confrontation with the man who’s been running his life all season, debating how much of a life Michael has or had to begin with. It’s a beautifully acted scene by Jeffrey Donovan, followed by an equally impressive moment for Gabrielle Anwar thereafter. Both of them are on their best game in this episode. After some arguing, Fiona and Sam track down Anson’s secret warehouse, getting it and its caretaker blown to bits.
Simultaneously, Agent Pearce (Lauren Stamile) hands Michael his own official CIA team, asking him to grab “spy recruiter” Reed Perkins (Eric Roberts). His new buddies include Rebecca (Kristanna Loken, whom you might remember from Terminator 3 but who’s now stuck in my mind as the shrieking victim she played in the forgettable S.W.A.T.: Firefight) and Ryan (ex-Superman Dean Cain). Trivia fact: Loken is the third Terminator to guest star on the show, following Garret Dillahunt (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day). After the initial grab goes wrong, Michael recruits Jesse to get Reed’s attention. This would be a good plan, except that a now-cranky Anson expects Michael to burn Pearce and the CIA team. We know from last season that Michael particularly loathes subjecting anyone else to his fate.
It’s no surprise that Rebecca is Anson’s mole. In her first real scene with Michael, she’s so twitchy and awkward that it’s painfully obvious there’s something off about her. It’s easy to see why Loken played the Terminatrix in T3, because every scene after that has her bordering on robotic, which only makes her look more like she doesn’t belong amongst the good guys.
The final ten minutes could be called anticlimatic in one sense and incredibly climactic in another. Aside from an exploding plane (it wouldn’t be Burn Notice if something didn’t blow up, right?) there’s a lot that doesn’t get sorted. We don’t see what happens to Anson and therefore there’s not much resolved when it comes to the show’s mythology, which is somewhat forgiveable since they’ll probably need some of that for future seasons – yet considering all the hype, I also wouldn’t blame you if you felt somewhat disappointed.
Fiona’s decision to surrender herself to force Michael to “do the right thing” is genuinely interesting though. It’s not a shocker; it’s hinted at early in the episode and there’s never really any doubt (although Sam getting duped by Fiona is a facepalm moment if there ever was one). What’s neat about it is thinking about all the things that the writers will do with the plot twist. Obviously, Gabrielle Anwar is and will be a major part of season six, so they’re going to have to find a way to keep Fiona in the picture. That doesn’t mean they can’t put her through the wringer before that – this is a show that isn’t afraid to have a lot happen off-camera between seasons. Michael and Fiona’s relationship, which is a significant part of the show, should go through a major change, and I’m curious to see what that will do for season six.
“Fail Safe” is directed by the feature helmer Renny Harlin, and it shows. The show has always looked good, but this finale particularly has the feel of a small film. Considering the importance of the episode, that’s a nice touch. So is allowing Gabrielle Anwar to do the first voiceover on the show by a character other than Michael. It’s little things like that which raise a production from good to great.
Now that season five is over, it’s time to look back at it as a whole. Was it as good as season four? Not quite, but season four was the show’s best, upending the entire series. There was no way that could be done over again. What season five did was build on that success in a number of ways, whether it was shading in Michael’s backstory, further developing Jesse’s character, or continuing to bring Madeline into the fold. Maybe it wasn’t always the most exciting, but look at all we got out of it: we saw old friends come back, learned a lot more about Michael’s father, and were treated to the show’s usual array of interesting guest stars, like Matt Lauria (“Square One”), Gavin Rossdale (“Hard Out”), and Lauren Stamile.
My one quibble: another cliffhanger? There have been so many of them, especially on USA Network. Burn Notice, Suits and White Collar all had them either this season or last. It’s getting to the point where we should just expect a show to end on a cliffhanger, which then takes away the real purpose of having one.
On the whole, though, Burn Notice had an interesting year, and “Fail Safe” leaves us in a suspenseful place for season six next summer. I’m not wanting for anything. Is there something you still want? What did you think? Sound off below.