I love Burn Notice. I love the style of it, with Michael’s dry narration, often over a frozen snapshot of the action scene, making us his confidant. I love Sharon Gless playing a real piece-of-work mother in deep denial about the abuse Michael’s father put him and his brother through. I love Bruce Campbell as the drunken sidekick.
Did I mention I love Fiona? I wasn’t sure about her midway through last season, but the more I see, the more I like. In this week’s episode, she was tasked with nabbing a man so Michael could interrogate him about some crimes he’s involved in. The man sees her reaching for the taser and knocks it out of her hand before she can stun him. They fight for a bit until they reach an impasse in which she’s standing with the taser and he’s kneeling before her, holding onto her leg. At this point, the film freezes and Michael’s narration explains the problem with tasers: if the person you want to taser is touching you, you’ll get zapped too.
The film starts back up. Fiona looks at the man. The man laughs at her. Fiona sees that Sam (Bruce Campbell) is coming, and she zaps the guy. By the time Sam arrives, they’re both unconscious on the pavement. Sam’s very in-character comment: “Fiona, you are one crazy chick.”
She’s trigger-happy, tenacious and clever. She prefers the direct approach, backed up by her ability to turn myriad ordinary household products into explosives, but she’s equally savvy with more strategic approaches. She’s also a good team player.
As Michael’s off and on “not girlfriend, she’s the designated love interest. Despite this, she has relationships of her own with other people. It’s something we only see here and there, but considering most shows don’t even bother, it’s great. For example, there was a male bounty hunter last season she was competing with for a catch, and they developed a rather personal, bitter rivalry that had nothing to do with Michael and very little to do with the overall storyline. Fiona and Sam can barely stand each other but are both too professional to let that stand in the way of a job, so when they work together sans Michael, it tends to be hilarious. She also plays poker with Michael’s mother and her pals, but so far we’ve been given no reason to think they really talk about anything but Michael. This show does not pass the Bechdel test with flying colors, and yet Fiona:
- Has a life outside of Michael, complete with relationships
- Is professional and competent
- Has a personality
- Cares about Michael and even makes compromises in hopes of renewing their relationship, but never comes across as pining or being in the grips of the stuff of teenage romantic angst
We don’t know much about Fiona’s past, but I’m not sure we need to. We’re given enough glimpses of her motivation that I feel like I know her.
It’s rare to get a female character who’s got an implied and sometimes demonstrated life of her own. It’s even more rare to get one who comes across as a whole, complex person when she’s got feelings for the star. The fact that it can be done should serve as a lesson to TV and filmmakers who assume that because the lead is a man, there’s no need to make the lead female interesting on her own.