Burn Notice is now more than half-way into its fourth season on the USA Network. It is one of my favorite TV shows.
The premise is that spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) has been burned by the government agency that employed him. He has been dumped in his home town Miami, placed under surveillance, and told not to leave. His accounts have been frozen. He has no job history, no references, nothing but his formidable skills, his friends, and his family. His friends include Sam Axe, a hard-drinking ex-Seal played by Bruce Campbell, and Fiona Glenanne, an ex-girlfriend and ex-terrorist played by Gabrielle Anwar. His family consists of his widowed chain-smoking hypochondriac mother Madeline, played by Sharon Gless, and his ne’r do well brother Nate, played by Seth Peterson.
The story arc of the series is Michael’s quest to find out who burned him. But along the way, he helps out people in need, which provides the core story of each individual episode.
I like Burn Notice for a number of reasons.
First, the character of Michael Westen is genuinely heroic. He is intelligent, honorable, masculine, courageous, resourceful, and highly skilled in spycraft. He is what John Robb would call an “open source ” warrior. In practically every episode he MacGyver’s up a listening device out of a cheap cell phone, creates explosives from household chemicals, disables cars in interesting ways, creates booby traps, out-cons conmen, out bad-asses bad guys, etc. And when things get physical, he can out-drive, out-shoot, and beat the hell out of practically anyone. A hundred men with Michael Westen’s skills could bring the American system to a halt. (Lucky for us, Michael Westen is a patriotic American . . .)
Westen is also fluent in half a dozen languages, a master of countless accents, and a chameleon in dressing up and down. He’s not just tough, he’s smart and sophisticated.
Played by the handsome, charismatic, and versatile Jeffrey Donovan, Westen has the sex appeal to be a skirt-chasing playboy, but he is too manly for that. He exemplifies what Julius Evola describes as “Uranian” masculinity: Powerful, self-contained, focused on higher aims, he does not chase after ordinary women. “They bore me,” he says. But the best type of women chase after him, hence his relationship with Fiona, who is a true equal and soul-mate.
Second, Burn Notice is always highly entertaining, effortlessly mixing light comedy with engaging plots and bursts of intense suspense and dramatic conflict. The first two seasons are consistently good, but relied heavily on the show’s formula. The third season, however, was extraordinary, some of the best television drama I have seen in years, with remarkable scripts and powerful acting from Donovan. The fourth season is disappointing so far. The first eight episodes have been pretty much routine. Episode nine, however, had some of the smoldering intensity of the best of season three.
Third, Burn Notice is not overly politically correct. The main characters are highly appealing white people, and I think that this is one of the keys to its success. It appeals to what Kevin MacDonald calls “implicit whiteness.” Yes, the show is set in Miami, and there are plenty of good non-whites among Michael’s clients. However, many of the non-whites are rather realistically portrayed villains. In one episode, the villains were an ex-Mossad agent and his two thuggish sons.
Unfortunately, I think Burn Notice was regarded as “too white” by someone at the USA Network, because from the first episode of season four, the cast got darker, with the addition of a recurring black villain, Vaughan, and a black hero, Jesse Porter (played by Coby Bell), who now seems to be a full-fledged member of the team.
This has distorted the whole dynamic of the show, particularly by crowding out Sam Axe (played by Bruce Campbell, one of my favorite actors). Bell is the weakest actor in the bunch, and he drags the show down. Also, the characters aren’t acting like themselves anymore. They are acting “nice” for the “nice black man,” in a way that communicates their discomfort to the audience. The best episode of the season, number nine, was also the one in which Jesse played the smallest role.
Jesse Porter is widely and intensely disliked by every Burn Notice fan I know, and not just the evil “racists.” Frankly, I am hoping he will be killed off before season’s end. Name a holiday or a boulevard for him, but for God’s sake, something has to be done or this series has jumped the shark.
But even if you never watch season four, you should not miss the first three seasons of this extraordinary series. If more young white men decided to grown up like Michael Westen, our race’s future would be secure.