Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Burned By Burn Notice

I watched the show Burn Notice from its beginning. I viewed it as a perfect example of how a man could use his unusual talents to help out people while asking for a minimal fee in return (if at all). In essence, it demonstrated what a society with little to no police force would look like.

This year, it ended. The show had a long run and it wasn't surprising to see it end. But the ending was mediocre and ended with a more Statist stance on the CIA which I found disappointing.

The back story of the show is fairly straight forward. Michael Weston is a spy who gets a burn notice and abandoned by the CIA in Miami. Michael is forced to work under the table and apply his talents to help out locals who run afoul of gangs, terrorists, and other assorted bad guys all the while figuring why he was burned. His primary motivation was to get his reputation back and start working for the CIA again.

As the series progressed, we find out more and more about why Michael was burned, the organization that burned him, and ultimately we do see him undo the damage done. Unfortunately, he is never completely brought back into the CIA as he eventually finds out that his own CIA trainer and handler was in with the organization who burned him and had his brother killed. In response to this, Michael murders him and barely manages to call of the CIA dogs who are sent after him.

And this is where we end up with the last season. We see Michael having to go deep undercover as penance for what he did in the previous season while his friends and family basically move on with their lives. This season was an interesting one and it really could have brought to light a large number of issues that that we now face as Americans.

You see, while deep undercover, Michael uncovers an organization whose sophistication and resources seem to rival that of the CIA itself. Except it is a stateless organization whose clandestine activities are all about taking down the bad guys in our world. As Michael gets deeper and deeper into the organization, he has trouble not agreeing with their principles, as he believes them to align with his own, though he despises some of their methods.

To be frank, I found myself agreeing with this organization, led by a man named James, more so than with the CIA. While the CIA coerced Michael into infiltrating this group by threatening to imprison his friends, they seemed to be more open and less underhanded in their interaction with each other. The CIA also employed psychopaths to run their extraction teams, which is ultimately what leads Michael to side with James.

It was in the last two episodes that they could have really brought home the main issue with the CIA and other related government agencies. The main problem with them is that they are willing to behave downright evil and do evil things for the sake of whatever administration is in power or based on the whims of the top officials who have operated the agency for decades. To me, siding with James was the logical choice as the CIA had done nothing to help Michael since his burn notice was issued. Instead, they tried to assassinate him, ignored his pleas of innocence, and ultimately betrayed him even when he was able to prove the injustice of his burn notice. To top that off, he lost his father and brother to them (and ultimately his mother) all because they wanted to manipulate him into following orders.

James only offered a chance to really make a difference and depose the wicked individuals who Michael thought he would be taking care of when he first joined the CIA as a spy.

Of course, the show had to keep the status quo and portray the CIA as the good guys in the end, despite all the evil they did throughout the show. So when his best friend confronted him about joining up with James, he claimed that the CIA was accountable while James was not. Except that it was a statement which was completely false.

The CIA and many other large agencies in the United State Federal government is unaccountable both to Congress and to the people. They are allowed to act with impunity and without much interference. The NSA director has been caught lying to Congressional committees and he was not charged with contempt of Congress. Many of these agencies have huge amounts of tax dollars allocated to them which are essentially spent with no oversight. Hell, the CIA has been caught smuggling cocaine.

My point is that in the end, the CIA was never exposed or referred to as the evil agency it clearly was in the show. Instead, Michael "comes to his sense" and works against James' organization. And while he doesn't return to the CIA after this, it is clear that he holds no ill will toward them despite all the harm they brought upon him.

Ultimately, it was a disappointing ending, but not entirely unexpected. Most mainstream entertainment cannot feature the United States or any of its tentacle agencies as bad guys. That would be treason after all.