Burn Notice Finale Postmortem: Creator on the Big Death, That Final Scene and a Spin-Off
by Kate Stanhope
[Spoiler alert: The following story reveals major plot points from Thursday's series finale of Burn Notice. Read at your own risk, or prepare to be burned.]
“It’s this feeling that Michael has that he’s failed everyone,” creator and executive producer Matt Nix tells TVGuide.com. “That’s much harder for Michael Westen than facing any sort of adversary — him dealing with the idea that he has failed people and betrayed them, that he’s disappointed himself and all the people that depend on him.”
There were plenty of car chases, fist fights and explosions, natch, but there were also a few tears on Thursday’s series finale. After picking Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) over Sonya (Alona Tal) and scaring off James (John Pyper-Ferguson), Michael seemed to find himself between a rock and a hard place. James felt betrayed, and the CIA had no way of getting the information they needed about James’ terrorist organization.
A desperate Michael turned to desperate measures to find James, but James threatened to kill Jesse (Coby Bell), Madeline (Sharon Gless) and her grandson Charlie if Michael didn’t do as he demanded. Knowing Michael had only so many options, Madeline made the ultimate sacrifice for her son and blew herself up in her house when it was raided by James’ men. “We’ve been laying the seeds and the groundwork for that for quite some time,” Nix says of Madeline’s tragic end.
After fans endured weeks of teases about a big death in the finale, why was Madeline the one to go? Nix points to several factors: “This theme of Michael’s skills having come from Madeline. Madeline’s feelings of failure around both of her sons. The concern that’s been building over seven years in her mind of was she a coward when her children were young and what’s the consequence of that? Her growing in strength over the course of the series,” Nix says. “Madeline is the emotional core of the series.”
Fortunately, viewers didn’t have to keep the Kleenex handy for too long. After Madeline went out in a blaze of glory — literally — Jesse was able to get away safely with Charlie, and Sam (Bruce Campbell) was able to recover the drives containing information about James’ network and bring it to the CIA. “In a series that has often been about Michael coming in and saving the day, I also thought it was important to have the finale really be about everybody has to come together and save Michael in a way,” Nix says.
At first, it looked like Michael and Fiona were goners too following a huge explosion. Sam and Jesse even attended Michael’s funeral. But the episode’s final moments revealed that, in true Burn Notice fashion, the lovebirds faked their deaths and ran away to live a quiet life raising Charlie as their own. “It was really important to me that Michael and Fiona ended up together,” Nix says. “By the end of the series, that is really what you’re looking for. You really want to see them come together. That’s as satisfying as it can possibly be.”
Burn Notice’s last hour featured many fond references back to the show’s history, such as Sam calling spies “a bunch of b—-y little girls.” But it was in the final moments of the episode, when Charlie was asleep in Michael’s lap, that Michael’s famous introduction, “My name is Michael Westen. I’m a spy” resurfaced as something much more meaningful. “The idea that the voiceovers were essentially Michael talking eventually to his nephew that he was raising … really emerged at the beginning of this year as we were thinking about the actual last scene,” Nix says. “I think I blurted it out in the middle of a writer’s room meeting: ‘OK, it’s this!’”
In the wake of Madeline’s demise, and Michael and Fiona’s great escape, the finale left every character in a much different place than where they started. “I thought it was important that it not feel like, ‘Well, and now everyone can just go back to doing what they did before. That felt, to me, somehow inconsequential — that it didn’t really honor the story that we had been telling for this length of time,” Nix says. “I have enormous respect for the end of The Sopranos, but that’s not Burn Notice at all. That’s not what we do, and I think that would be hugely unsatisfying for the fans.”
Looking back, Nix hesitates when asked if the finale ultimately proved satisfying to fans. “The only guideline that I can have for myself is: How do I feel?” Nix says. “When I think about the big thematic questions of the series: Does Michael reconcile the conflict within him between his work and his family? Yes, he does. Does Michael finally come together with the love of his life? Yes, he does. Does Michael find a family of his own? Yes, he does. Does Michael find some closure in his relationship with Madeline? Uh-huh.”
Even the show’s other beloved duo got a happy ending. “Although Michael and Fiona have gone off alone, Jesse and Sam have this beautiful friendship together,” Nix says. “There’s the sense that they are going to continue to do things in Miami. Will Miami be protected? Yeah, it will.”
So does that mean there’s hope for a Burn Notice spin-off following Sam and Jesse’s various adventures around Miami? “It is something that has come up in a vague way,” Nix says. “I’d love to do something with those characters, certainly with those actors at some point in the future. If there were an opportunity to do that with USA, I’d love that. But fans should certainly not hold their breath. Nobody’s in talks.”
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