This post contains spoilers through the Sept. 8 episode of Burn Notice.
As someone who gets prickly and discontented about the fact that it would be really extraordinary difficult to do what Michael, Fiona, and Sam do, I was glad to see the half-season finale of Burn Notice actually address that trying to pull off running a sophisticated covert network without the backing of an agency is something that would be difficult to the point of being impossible.
As it turns out, when you don’t have the infrastructure of an agency behind you, the following things can happen. A deeply twisted shrink can a) fake his own wife’s death, b) infiltrate your mother’s therapy to learn about your vulnerabilities, c) present himself as your client because you have no mechanism to do a background check and figure out that he’s a fraud, and d) set you up to kill several people, putting you in his debt so you have to work for him. Being independent makes you as vulnerable as it makes you free.
A couple threads back, someone said that rather than have Fiona do something out of line, they’d prefer to see Michael cross over, testing a reformed Fiona’s limits, rather than seeing her relapse into her old IRA ways. And I actually thought the show, which has been somewhat slack this season, did a nice job with that idea tonight. When Fiona accidentally kills two innocent bystanders in an operation that’s been tweaked by said twisted shrink, she’s genuinely shocked and traumatized. And the episode plays with the idea that Michael’s actually the bad guy, who has gotten everyone he’s working with way in over their heads. “I know someone that no one else knows. You deserved to be burned,” Larry, who has rematerialized to cause trouble, tells Michael. “You stood there. You watched it happen. You killed those people. And then you helped me cover it up. Because that was the job.”
The show has acted all season as if the unit Michael’s built around himself is sacrosanct and at risk if he returns to the CIA. “You had no friends, you lived by yourself, but that isn’t true anymore. you have roots here now,” Michael’s mother tells him. “Anything happens, it affects all of us.” But it seems that unit, the fact that Michael has people, is precisely what’s made him vulnerable. His greatest enemy has attacked him through his mother, a profound if accidental betrayal. Michael’s concern for Fiona means that he feels a responsibility to her when she is framed. If he was genuinely part of an agency, he’d have resources, he would be protected. But when your agency is your family, you don’t have a layer of backup to protect them from you.