This post contains spoilers through the August 4 episode of Burn Notice.
If Burn Notice were a more self-aware show, it might use the occasion of Michael, Sam and Fiona bringing down an anti-government militia as an excuse to consider the position, moral and otherwise, of their nifty little paramilitary operation.
I actually would have liked a bit of reflection if the episode wasn’t going to substantially move forward Michael’s investigation into his burning. That half of the story mostly involves finding the man who impersonated Michael, Sam handing him over to Fiona, who he describes, accurately and hilariously as “a tiny little woman in a Hyundai who’s going to protect you.” Instead, things heat up when Michael, who’s agreed to look into a child custody dispute involving another former veteran, finds out that the man has been behaving erratically because he’s a member of a what Michael describes as “a fringe militia with some very anti-government views.”
What’s funny is that, except for the fact that their operation is smaller, and that Michael, Sam, and Fiona’s views about government are more complex than just being anti-, the two organizations that square off against each other are relatively similar. They have a well-developed internal culture, access to a lot of weaponry, and they’re able to operate with essential impunity in the unincorporated areas in Dade County. And there are two potential analogues for Michael within it—the fellow veteran gone down the wrong path (who of course ultimately redeems himself through love of his son), and the militia’s leader. The episode doesn’t spend much time with the veteran, since disempowered, deluded men tend to be less interesting than messianic wildmen to television programmers. But it would be interesting to see what pressures lead him into the militia, to see how he and Michael went in different directions.
The miltia’s leader may be a heavy, sweaty slob with crazy views, but when he and Michael square off over the question of whether you’re validated by government service or not, given Michael’s experience since he’s been burned, the guy has a point. Michael questions the leader’s patriotism, telling him “Correct me if I’m wrong, you never served in the U.S. military. I didn’t think so. A real veteran…I didn’t run around in the woods acting like a soldier with my beer buddies.” It doesn’t shame the man like Michael expects it will. “You think having served somehow makes you a man?” he tells Michael. “Well it does not. You are not a man. A man questions what he is told. A man does not willingly accept the lies that are shoved down his throat by government. You are of the blind, the ignorant.” It’s a perfect summation of this entire season, of Michael’s single-minded pursuit of reinstatement at the CIA no matter how the agency’s treated him and his friends, and no matter how little-suited he might be for the organization he once so revered.
When the militia leader declares “I am the hand of god. I am his righteous soldier,” he sounds ridiculous. But that’s essentially the thing that Michael believes about himself. There is apparently no functional child services system or SWAT teams or government agencies of any sort in Miami who could possibly get productively involved when a child custody situation leads investigators to a militia—and in the logic of the show, why would you want bureaucrats involved when you could have Michael, Sam, and Fiona instead? Michael may not be convinced of his infallibility, but he does seem relatively sure of his inability to commit moral error, to pick the wrong side. The militia leaders on his bad side may have taken that sentiment to a whole different level, but it’s a question of degrees rather than of alternative worldviews.