'Burn Notice': Brennen returns for a family feud

Jeffreydonovan_burnnotice_s3_290 Michael attracts his share of smiling sociopaths on " Burn Notice", doesn't he? Snarky, deadly arms dealer Brennen is back in Mike's life, and he's got a way to make our superspy behave.

Hey, look, it's Nate! Michael's baby bro is back in Miami talking to an investor about his limo business. But before he can get to his meetings, he's interrupted by an early-morning wakeup visit from Paxson. Nate declines to flip on Michael, but it's only a matter of time before SOMEONE does...

Fortunately, Sam and Fi handle this little annoyance, because Michael soon has  a bigger problem. That would be Brennen, who the captions helpfully remind us is an arms dealer with grudge. But after Brennen reveals that he is Nate's "investor" -- and that Nate is hanging  out his Sicilian associate, "The Butcher," -- the cowed captions label Brennen "Michael's new boss." Eep!

First, Michael has to break into an office building and steal a hardware key -- accomplished by disguising himself as a janitor, smashing a window, cutting himself, gargling with booze and spinning a sob story. Then, Michael needs to get a voice key from a gun nut -- his name and the numbers 0 through 9. That takes some doing. Finally, he needs to break into a weapons manufacturer's R&D facility to steal... a box. Of something. And here, Michael flatly refuses until Brennen tells him what's in the box (which will always make me think of Se7en), gambling that Brennen wouldn't shoot the only hold he had over Michael until he got what he wanted. He's right -- Brennen tells him it's a biometric lock for  infantry weapons.

But Brennen isn't as helpless as Michael thinks. His partner brings Nate to the weapons lab to discourage Michael from doing anything desperate and stupid. For emphasis, Brennen shoots Nate in the arm. Gah!  Not to worry, he used a "soft" bullet, so Nate probably won't die -- yet. But Michael better get moving, or the next bullet will be lead.

So Michael's stuck, right? Not so fast. He managed to hack into Brennen's phone, and info there, combined with some close observation, equals leverage. He bluffs that he's cleaned out Brennen's bank accounts (Barry plays the part of a British bank clerk to confirm the "transfer"), then tells Brennen that he knows about Belle Anna -- or should he say  Annabelle? That's right, it's not a company, it's  Brennen's daughter. Brennen panics and calls home. The little girl is fine, but Michael says that he's got assassins ready to take her out. Brennen lets the Westen boys go -- but vows that he'll be back.

Cat and Mouse with Detective Paxson
To discourage Paxson's investigations, Sam comes up with a plan to make it look like Michael's in bed with someone with clout. Fi steals banking info from a mayor's aide, and Barry sets up a joint account between her and Michael. Lopez, Paxson's silent partner, interrogates the aide for a good three hours, and the mayor is not amused. He gets Lopez fired. But instead of treating that as a cautionary tale, Paxson takes the "Oh, it's ON" route. Good luck with that, Paxson...

Highlights, thoughts and odds and ends

  • Sam and Fi speculate on who Paxson could tempt into turning on Michael: "A gunrunner named Seymour," Fi says. "Or a money launderer named Barry," Sam adds. "Or a washed-up Navy SEAL named Sam," Fi shoots back. "Or how about an unstable, jealous..." Michael ends that line of conversation before Sam can finish the thought.
  • Maddy seems dubious about Barry ("So who's the guy with the purse?"), until they realize they have almost the exact same haircut. "He's coming over later with some new, eucalyptus-infused hair gel," she tells an incredulous Michael. "We're going to have a product party!"
  • Barry has in intern. And they say there are no opportunities for kids to get work experience these days...
  • Michael is surprised by Brennen's final destination: "You're forcing me to break into a weapons manufacturer?" "Forcing is such an ugly word, " Brennen smarms. "Encouraging. Incentivizing!... No, you're right, let's go with forcing."
  • Michael tells Sam and Fi to get Brennen's attention -- by blowing up his Miami abode. "How big do we want this?" Fi asks, placing the C4. "Well, enough to make a point .... " Sam says. Fi looks gleeful. "But NOT kill the neighbors," Sam adds. Fi is disappointed.
  • OK, Brennen is a bad, bad (if exceedingly entertaining) man who allows kids in the Third World to blow themselves to bits. But I felt for him a little when he made that panicked call to his daughter.
Spy tips from Michael
  • Be prepared for unexpected visitors! Make sure you can easily hide evidence of wrongdoing, and keep your alibis and whereabouts memorized. If you're in a particularly helpful mood, prepare a folder containing your schedule and movements -- it drives your tormentors crazy.
  • Want to hack into a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone at a distance and send the data to a compatriot? Gather a few metal washers, a bent coat hanger and a Pringles can. Add pencils for legs, and voila! The Cantenna!
  • You may have to suffer for your safety: If you want to elicit sympathy, give yourself a flesh wound. "Nothing sells innocence like injury -- people naturally sympathize with someone who's bleeding." Gargling whiskey and spinning a sob story about child support helps, too.
  • The tire iron: It's the duct tape of spydom! You can use it to change tires (duh) but you can also use it to break a car's window, pry open the steering column to expose ignition wires, jimmy open a trunk to set off an alarm that will draw your enemies, and jam the same car trunk closed when you shove your enemy inside. Handy!
  • Steal a purse, expect screaming. Steal a credit card number -- by posing as a waitress -- and you'll probably get a thank you.
  • You CAN play chicken with blackmailers! "The problem with blackmail is that it's like a gun with one bullet. You can't waste that bullet on every little problem." Note: It really didn't seem difficult for Brennen to actually pull the trigger after Michael played that card. Oops.
  • Parking garages: Lots of cover, easy to control visibility (by shorting out the lights) and full of potential traps for opponents. Boy, I'm glad I no longer have a car.
  • Your most important spy tip: Don't go up against Michael Weston. "You're not this good," Brennen says when Michael brings up his daughter. "NOBODY'S this good." "Yes, I am," Michael replies. Dont' we know it!