We've all seen Michael Westen (played by Jeffrey Donovan) get himself out of some tough jams on USA's hit series "Burn Notice" but, as we move into tonight's fifth season finale, being under the controlling and manipulative thumb of Anson (Jere Burns) may finally be his undoing. Michael's fate is not the only one in question as his Girl Friday/soulmate Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), who is being blackmailed by Anson, takes matters into her own hands and the always trustworthy Sam (Bruce Campbell) does his best to be of aide.
Our Jim Halterman rang up "Burn Notice" creator Matt Nix to talk about not painting himself into a corner with the big happenings in tonight's finale as well as the future of more Sam Axe movies and whether Michael can ever really be happy.
Jim Halterman: I didn't know Renny Harlin directed the episode until after watching it but once I realized it it just made total sense.
Matt Nix: It was a great coming together of a particular kind of threat and Renny-fucking-Harlin, man! It was actually really great. He blew up a plane in 'Die Hard 2' and he blew up a plane for us! I was up there producing it with him and we just worked together really well and it was just easier for me to ask him for stuff and for him to ask me for stuff. It one of the most fun times I've ever had. And the actors really brought it to that level. It was like 'I'm really going to blow the shit out of this phone call!' They're not usually as excited to be on the other side of a phone call but in this episode it really worked.
JH: How did you approach the finale in general?
MN: This season we really just decided very much to treat this season as two seasons. This might be too insider but it's kind of like you can think of the split season as one big season with two parts, which is maybe how we did it in the past but this time we realized that most of our viewers don't really see it that way. As far as viewers are concerned there's a summer season and then a whole new season in the winter so we just decided to just break it up. One of the things that I think comes up with any show that has self-contained episodes is that at some point people start being experts on the show and I think the viewers can see the formula now but I think what viewers don't realize is that at the same time the writers are like 'Oh, wait, now the formula is in my brain.' So all the writers decide to look to do something really different and 'Let's do something that really changes up the game.' These [winter episodes] are a really different six episodes.
JH: How much are you thinking about the next season when you come up with the season finale? You definitely have a nice cliffhanger in this one.
MN: This time we were a little more conscious of that. Do you know that old Seinfeld routine about 'Tomorrow Guy?' He talks about going to bed late and saying 'Oh, Tomorrow Guy doesn't need sleep! He doesn't mind if I stay up late.' Then, Tomorrow Guy goes 'Yesterday Guy! I hate you!' You do that to yourself and I did it the first season when I was like 'And then he drives into a truck!' Then, later I was like 'How do I get him out of the truck!?' Then, five years in, you do think about it and set yourself up for the next season.
JH: Also, in the finale you meet some new characters like the only played by Dean Cain. Are these characters that we'll see in season six?
MN: Actually, now it is. [Laughs.] I mean, again, this is a little insider but when you're casting the finale and [we ask] who can we get and Dean is somebody we've been interested in having on the show but it didn't work out [before] but he had some free time. Then you have someone on the show and you say 'Oh, this is someone who gets the rhythms of the show.' It was one of those cases where it all worked out. It's odd. Again, sometimes you have these [guest] characters and you go 'That was fun' and somebody did a nice job and you don't really think outside the episode but then there are those people you realize there's dimension or depth to their character and regardless of how much screen time they have... I start wishing I had more scenes for them in an episode.
JH: You have had some great villains on the show but does that ever put you in the position of knowing you may not want to kill the villain off because you're going to want him or her to come back later?
MN: Actually, yes, that definitely happens. A lot of times we think of characters or the villain characters in terms of how they will relate to Michael. Like, what is this villain and what is his relationship with Michael. Larry (Tim Matheson) kind of loved Michael [and] Larry was somebody who understood the darkness of Michael. There was kind of a father/son relationship. Last year, Vaughn (Robert Wisdom) was a reasonable guy. Even though you don't like him and he's technically your enemy he's made a really reasonable argument as to why they might work together. But with Anson (Jere Burns) we really wanted to step it up in having someone who actually does know Michael better than he knows himself. Anson is, in a way, well suited to help Michael and under other circumstances he could be the best thing to ever happen to Michael.
JH: Any other Sam Axe movies in the works? It was so fun to have Bruce be front and center for the TV movie.
MN: I really enjoyed doing it and I'd do it again but it was an odd beast for the network because is it a new episode of the show? Is it a movie in and of itself? Does it get it's own commercial budget? The funny thing is that there's not really... TV movies aren't really a thing at the network just because we made one. One of the reasons that the TV movie market died is that it doesn't cost that much more to promote a series. If you do a TV movie that is part of a series, they don't need too much in terms of their budget because they can be promoted by the series.
JH: In the beginning of the series, Michael was burned by the CIA and now he's back with them but either way life is not all nice and rosy. Can Michael ever truly be happy?
MN: I think it's really interesting to think that the CIA doesn't need Michael to be happy. Michael's clients don't need him to be happy. The world doesn't need Michael to be happy. So, the question is, and that's such a big part of the end of this season, is, okay, well, what does Michael care about more? Michael's thing is always 'Can I have both?' Still, a lot of the pleasure of a regular episode is that he's going to find a way to do both and give everyone what they need but sometimes that's not how it works and sometimes you have to choose. Sometimes, and this is really over the course of shooting the episode, what it was really about was that it's not always morally right but you're not always doing a good thing when you decide, 'Oh I'm going to try to be all things to all people.' Well, maybe that helps nobody. Really, part of it is about what choices are Michael going to make and where does he come down on what sacrifices he has to make. That's ultimately what the series is about so one of the things I know is that the end of the series is based on that, too.
The "Burn Notice" season finale airs tonight at 10:00/9:00c on USA.