Burn Notice Series Finale Review “Reckoning”

Burn Notice Season 7 Episode 13 Reckoning (2)

It’s so hard to say goodbye. Especially to a show like Burn Notice. I really don’t even know where to begin. I guess I’ll have to start by saying that the finale was absolute perfection. As someone who has been on this journey since the beginning, I wanted the end to mean something. I wanted all of the sacrifices, wrong turns, and losses to add up to lessons learned and at least some happiness achieved. The finale delivered on all of that and so much more. This is going to be long. You have been warned.

I was trying to explain to someone recently what kind of show Burn Notice is, and it was just then that I realized how difficult that is. It is a thrilling spy story. It is a buddy story. It is an action-packed adventure. It is a comedy. It is a love story. It truly is, simultaneously, all of those things. But ultimately what I realized is that underneath all of that, Burn Notice is a story about family. Family is, above all else, complicated. The same people that you love and would do anything for, hurt you in ways that no one else can. And vise versa. Burn Notice is a story about the time, effort, patience, sacrifice, forgiveness and love being a family requires. It’s not easy and sometimes it ain’t pretty either. But at the end of the day, all you really have is your family. At its core, that’s what Burn Notice is really about; a group of people forging a bond that is stronger and deeper than blood.

When Michael first got dumped in Miami, he didn’t have any connections or bonds to his family. Part of that was practical because of the life he lived. But most of it was personal. Michael didn’t want any of those connections. Some of that probably had to do with his less than happy childhood, but mostly it was just the way that Michael learned to cope with life. He spent his life building up walls to box in his emotions. He wasn’t living. He was surviving. After he got dumped in Miami, though, all of that changed. He couldn’t survive like that anymore, so he had to learn to live. He had to learn to trust. He had to allow himself to feel. He had to allow Fiona, Sam, Jesse and Maddie into his heart. The Michael Westen who landed in Miami 7 years ago is not the same man today. Today he is a man who understands what it means to love someone so completely that you’ll risk death to save them. Today he is a man who understands what it means to have a best friend who will stand by you even when you have no right to ask him to do so. Today he is a man who understands what it means to have a mother who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for him. Michael Westen is human again. Michael has a family again. And that family is everything. That’s why Michael was so reckless and suicidal at the beginning of the episode. He felt so much guilt about betraying his family that he didn’t really know how to process it. He felt he no longer deserved their love or loyalty and that made him want to die.

Let’s just pause here to appreciate Maddie’s sacrifice. I recently finished a series rewatch of Burn Notice in anticipation of the series finale. Maddie is an interesting and, at times frustrating, character. On the one hand, she knows and understands that Michael’s life is dangerous. She has seen first hand the lengths that some people will go to to kill him. So it’s not as if she didn’t understand all of that. But on the other hand, she did things that didn’t make any sense given what she knows about Michael’s life. For instance, people would be coming for Michael, so he would send Sam to get Maddie out of town. Instead of just getting in the car and letting Sam explain later, she refused to budge until he laid out all the details of what was going on. Which naturally allowed the bad guys to catch up to them. In one breath Maddie was helping the Team pry information out of assets. But in the next breath Maddie was spilling all the secrets to the bad guys. It was frustrating and had me yelling at my tv on more than one occasion. At first, I thought it was inconsistent writing. But looking back on it, it was a brilliant display of a civilian trying to fit into a spy’s life.

There is a part of Michael that Maddie will never know or understand. Maddie has never been in the military nor has she worked in covert ops. As such, she will never truly understand that part of Michael. What she does understand is that Michael is her son and she loves him. She wants to connect with him, and since he loves being a spy so much, she tried to connect with him on that level. Or rather, she used that as the door to get back into his life and start to rebuild their relationship. That relationship took a major hit when Nate died. Maddie blamed Michael for it, and I don’t think she ever truly forgave him for that. Until now. I am not ashamed to say that the last conversation between Michael and Maddie brought me to tears. In that moment, both Michael and Maddie forgave each other for all of the past hurts and wrongs. Michael let go of the resentment he felt for Maddie not protecting him and Nate from Frank. Maddie let go of the anger she felt toward Michael for his part in Nate’s death. In that moment, they were the most open and honest that they have ever been with each other. That moment was a true expression of self-sacrificing love. For her part, Maddie got to go out on her own terms. Michael definitely gets his moxie from her. Maddie’s sacrifice reminded Michael that families do awful things to each other, but they let it go and move on. Maddie’s sacrifice also provided the slap to the face that Michael needed to shake loose of his death wish and find the will to live again. Jeffrey Donovan has turned in consistently outstanding performances this season, but that last scene with Sharon Gless was truly phenomenal. Michael being Michael was trying to hold back the tide, but Donovan just let all of the emotions Michael has been bottling up all these years spill over. It packed quite the emotional punch. Gless brought a quiet strength and resolve to Maddie once she decided what needed to be done. Just outstanding. Kudos to Jeffrey Donovan and Sharon Gless for knocking one of the most powerful moments of the episode out of the park.

Another central aspect of Burn Notice is the relationship between Michael and Fiona. To say that their relationship is complicated is a massive understatement. They have one of the most complex, passionate, beautiful and honest relationships of all time. They love each other with the kind of intensity and completeness that we all hope for in this life. Fiona knows there is nothing that Michael wouldn’t do for her, and that is not something she takes lightly. She has been Michael’s conscience and steered him down the right path numerous times, despite the risk to herself. Even more than that; Fiona is Michael’s heart. She is his emotional solid ground and without her he is lost. These two people get each other in a way that no one else ever will. When they have tried to have relationships with other people, it never works out because they’re always holding a part of themselves back. They protect themselves by keeping a part of who they are closed off from everyone else except each other. But Michael and Fiona allow themselves to be vulnerable with each other and open up to each other in ways that they would never do with anyone else. At the same time, they are both so strong-willed that they each want the other to bend. Over the years that has caused a lot of struggle in their relationship, but they always find their way back to each other because they must. Sometimes it is a painful road, but they both realize that they need each other. The way that their love story has unfolded and matured over the seasons has been one of the most interesting and grounding aspects of both their characters.

Since the beginning, Fiona has wanted Michael to put her first in his life. It’s not that she’s unimportant to him. She’s very important to him. But when given the choice, Michael has always chosen the job over Fiona. This time, though, Michael chose to put her first. Perhaps now that Michael no longer has the same kind of blind faith in the CIA that he had before, he is able to see what a fool he’s been all this time. Or perhaps, it’s that this time Fiona didn’t back down when she forced Michael to choose. Whatever the case, Michael finally chose Fiona and his future over his job and his past. That choice opens the door for Michael to truly find happiness and peace.

I loved everything about this finale. I especially loved all the shoutouts to the Pilot. This episode delivered everything that I’ve always loved about Burn Notice and wrapped up the story in the best possible way. So what does it all add up to? I guess you could say it adds up to Michael learning to be human again. More than that, it adds up to a group of people who didn’t really fit anywhere else finding each other and creating a family. A family that is dysfunctional but loves each other fiercely. And in the end, isn’t that all that really matters anyway?