‘Burn Notice’ Open Thread: Leadership Styles And Nasty Hackers

A programming note: the Louie thread will be up later this afternoon. I had some scheduling complications last night.

I doubt that Michael’s actually over his obsession with the people who burned him, even after Max promises him, “We broke them into people. We ground them into dust. It’s over.” But it’s interesting this week to see Michael take his dilemma, his halfway home status with the CIA, and his ongoing attraction to working with Sam and Fiona, and to solve that problem, at least this time, by luring Max into working with him. When Michael gets asked to look into the antics of a singularly nasty hacker, Michael calls on Max to help him get into her phone lines. “If I get busted using NSA resources to help a burned spy with an unproven mission, I’ll get shipped off to Siberia,” Max complains. “And my wife hates the snow.” But he does it anyway — and pays a high and unexpected price.

Michael isn’t a typical charismatic leader — he can be tense, obsessive, and focused on his own problems to the exclusion of other people’s desires. But his being burned, and the needs that resulted out of that, created circumstances in which other people could pursue their own goals and interests. It’s a different kind of leadership. If that function ever comes to an end, it remains to be seen if Sam and Fiona can stay in Michael’s life in the same way, or if Jesse or someone else will supplant Michael in their lives and in Miami. But now, with Max dead and Michael framed, it looks like we’re back to the same old game, which is too bad. Burn Notice needs to make a transition, and if they’re going to back away from that, it’s unfortunate.

Beyond those larger questions, one thing I think is a bit odd about this episode is the stock evil hackeress villain. The whole hackers are “all about using their brains to dominate and control” thing strikes me as partially true. And maybe that resonates with folks who are freaked out by the antics of Anonymous, or who are annoyed by the Sony shutdown but otherwise don’t know much about hacker culture, or whatever. There are, of course, hackers who do really bad, malevolent things. But treating them as criminals who happen to have a lot of technological skills, missing the clever, playful sides of hacking strikes me as a weirdly old-school characterization. As does portraying them as folks who do IRL things like kidnapping petty criminals with aspirations, which is a really easy way to get yourself traced and treated to the full wrath of law enforcement. In a world with things like the Sony hack or Adrian Lamo’s role in Wikileaks, this storyline feels like it’s an inverse of over-the-top action storylines: it’s actually thinking too small.