This post contains spoilers through the Aug. 25 episode of Burn Notice.
One of the things I find most interesting about a season of Burn Notice in which my interest is fading is the role of Madeline, his mother, in Michael’s life and in his operations. Particularly after he and Jesse get her involved in an operation where they dramatically underestimate the intensity of the crime being planned and the willingness of the people committing it to employ fairly extreme violence.
Maybe my favorite episode was the one, earlier this summer, in which Michael enlists her in an operation where she has to pretend to be a nurse treating a Yakuza agent Michael’s captured. As the situation escalates, Michael and Madeline act out the abusive dynamic between Madeline and Michael’s father. She’s both necessary to the operation, and the operation provides a setting where she and Michael can work out some deeper-seated psychological issues. It was a nice little bidirectional bit of plotting.
It’s interesting that an older woman without preexisting criminal tendencies would not only turn a blind eye to the activities of her son and his associates, but actively enlist in them for things like simple photographic surveillance, when it could risk her spending her retirement years in prison. Certainly Michael, for all of his extralegal activities, is the more functional of her two sons, and it makes sense that she would want to be close to Michael, even to understand better the son who left her at 17 by involving herself in his work. In this case, it seems like she might have taken an assignment from Jesse, her surrogate son, because it makes her feel valued by someone other than her preoccupied boy. And there’s no denying that by comforting hostages or duping criminals, she gets a kind of power and influence that would be otherwise unavailable to women in her life situation.
But it can be risky to have her there, as when she blows his cover trying to convince the hostages that Michael is credible and has a plan for their escape so they shouldn’t surrender. At some point, he’s going to get her in enough danger that he will have to make a choice and compromise an operation, or one of his other cohorts — or the show risks getting incredibly boring. Right now, Fiona can outrun cops chasing a guy under house arrest. Jesse can walk into a federal facility and impersonate an FBI official. Even vicious criminals never pull the trigger before getting taken out themselves. Burn Notice’s lawless Miami-Dade County is increasingly uncomplicated, and as a result, uninteresting. It’s time for the characters to face some real costs, and I don’t mean murdered semi-anonymous CIA contacts.