This episode contains spoilers through the July 21 episode of Burn Notice.
The core action on last night’s episode of Burn Notice was an interesting look at what Michael might have been like when he was starting out at the CIA. But I have to admit, I was more intrigued by the things happening around the edges of the core case. Burn Notice is such a slick, hilarious presentation of certain kinds of masculinity that it doesn’t often present a lot of fodder for serious gender analysis (though the episode this season where Michael and his mother acted out an old abusive family situation was right in that wheelhouse). But last night, we got two very different looks at tough women.
In the wake of Max’s death, the woman investigating his death (and thus, inclined to believe Michael killed Max) is also Michael’s new CIA contact. Agent Pearce is sort of exhausting in her efforts to warn Michael that if he’s guilty, she will bring him down in the most painful way possible. “I’d offer my condolences, but I’m much better at catching bad guys than shedding tears,” she tells him when they first meet. And when Michael tells her, in all honesty, that he wants to catch Max’s killer as much as she does, she warns him “I have a pitbull at home and I learned how to run an investigation from her….she is a very, very determined bitch when she wants something.” It’s a mannered performance (by the character, not the actress), one that’s meant to demonstrate her conformance to stereotypes of very tough women, that she’s unfeeling, that she doesn’t feel wounded by sexual slurs, etc. I’m intrigued to see Michael spar with a woman at the agency, but I hope there’s more to Pearce than simply asserting that she’s a badass.
By contrast, there’s a lot of more traditional femininity everywhere in the episode tonight. Michael’s client hires him because a con man had his sister beaten into a coma. “She was so beautiful,” he sighs at her bedside, before getting all inconveniently noble on Michael and company. Jesse’s tweaking Michael about the extent to which Fiona’s taken over Michael’s apartment. “I knew Fee was going to shake things up in here…but you got a bread basket,” he editorializes. “Is that potpourri I’m smelling? You’re killing me, man.” It’s funny, especially since that frippery aside, Fiona is firmly on Jesse’s side in telling Michael that he’s got to be much more hard-nosed about the CIA’s investigation into Max’s death. And Michael’s mother is vexed about her soap operas.
These days, I find myself a lot more interested in Fiona than in Michael. As Michael told his client at the end of the night, “I don’t know how to be anything else.” And now that he’s had a setback in building his relationship with the CIA, I wonder if he might continue to be the same rigidly professional operative. Fiona, on the other hand, keeps choosing Michael, even as he tries to rebuild a life that doesn’t line up with hers. Her redefinition of her apartment may be silly and feminine. But unlike Michael, she knows enough about who she is to have a sense of how she wants to live.