The series finale of “Burn Notice” will air on Thursday night, and when it ends so will the life of one of the show’s main characters. That’s all USA will say in advance of the highly anticipated episode titled “Reckoning.”
The show follows the dangerous adventures of burned spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) and his rag-tag group of spy friends as they use their super-human detection skills to solve mysteries and crack international cases. At the core of the show is its humanity as Westen negotiates his difficult relationship with his troubled mother Madeline, played by Sharon Gless.
The final episode finds Westen in the toughest position of the series. He has betrayed all of his friends and seemingly turned his back on his own sense of morality as he plunges deep into the heart of a terrorist network.
In its seven years on air, “Burn Notice” has been a smash hit for USA. In 2009 it became the most-watched scripted series ever on basic cable in the coveted 18-49 demographic. It was also nominated for multiple Emmys over the years.
The Times’ caught up with creator Matt Nix and lead actors Donovan and Gless to talk about why the show was so popular with fans over the years and how it feels to say goodbye.
Q: How did it feel shooting the final episode after seven years?
Matt Nix: It’s bizarre. For me it’s been this long series of goodbyes where you sort of wrap the last writer’s room, and then you write the last outline and then the last script. And then there are the nitty gritty details: the last tech scout and the last looping session, but the truth is they’re all emotional. It’s embarrassing how you end up choking yourself up as you work on the script.
Q: What do you think it is about “Burn Notice” that kept fans hooked for seven years?
Jeffrey Donovan: Nudity. The gross nudity that we have on every week.
Sharon Gless: Smart scripts and good actors. And surprises and children learning how to make bombs at home. Something to offer everybody. I said to Matt, 'There are children watching this show and you’re going in for close ups on bomb-making,' and he said, ‘I always leave out one ingredient.' "
MN: In talking to people about the show, the most common comment is that people watch it with their families. And I think the reason for that is because it depicts a family. Look at the way the actors came together and portrayed this odd, interesting family. I think that’s a lot of people’s connection to the show — it feels like a group of friends that cares about each other and has conflicts but that in the end will stand by each other.
JD: Matt I was just gonna say “me.” But there is no “me” in “family.”
MN: People’s real experience of family is that it’s work. Their real experience of relationships and marriage is that it’s work. And it’s interesting because by the final episode pretty much everyone has betrayed everyone on this show. But there is always this opportunity for redemption and moving apart and coming together, and I think that’s people’s real experience of relationships and life.
Q: How did your characters develop over the course of seven years, and did their development affect your own personal development?
SG: I don’t know how it affected me in my real life, except I made wonderful friends. Jeffrey Donovan is my son for life off the set, but Matt is the one who helped me with my character. He helped her to grow. When she was first written, the only description was that she was a chain-smoking hypochondriac who was highly manipulative. So when it was sold, Matt said, ‘The network really loves you Sharon, but what else are you going to do?’ Then he gave me one note: ‘Michael got his moxie from you,’ and it gave me freedom to do everything a little better.
JD: To riff off of what Sharon said, the one note that Matt gave me is that Michael is always the smartest person in the room. So just for the sheer fact of that note, I should’ve won an Emmy every year. Just to pull that off would be amazing. So at the beginning I was unlike Michael in every way. All I had in the beginning was humor and an ability to distance myself in high-stress situations. Over the seven years I didn’t become the smartest person in the room, but Michael has become the one that felt the most in the room. Michael was such a calculated thinker, he was always five, six, seven steps ahead and that was not like me. But the journey for Michael became for him to feel — that’s what I do — I feel.
MN: Jeffrey, I think you’re absolutely right about Michael feeling, and someone made the observation that the show was about Michael’s journey to becoming human. You pressed me and the other writers to embrace that side of the show more, and to be more emotional, which we referred to in the writer’s room as ‘emotionalistic.’ Jeffrey, much to my annoyance, at the beginning of the season was very insistent that the voice-overs have more emotional content. And at first I was like, ‘Jeffrey stay out of my grill,’ but it was one of the biggest influences over the course of the season. So the antagonist of the final season — the person that Michael is really fighting — is himself. This is taking place in Michael’s head and the battlefield is Michael’s moral landscape. The most exciting scenes of the season have that at their core. Can Michael shoot at a car? Sure he can. But is he going to allow someone to be executed for something he did? That’s an exciting scene.
SG: When I read the pilot I was attracted to it because I thought the voice-overs were so funny.