Season 4 of the USA Networks cable TV series "Burn Notice" is this coming Thursday night, and it looks like if you missed the series up to this point, and didn't want to jump in in the middle because you were afraid you'd be lost, this is a good time to jump in: season 4, episode 1 starts a whole new storyline. Here's everything you would want to know:
Michael Westin (Jeffrey Donovan) is a guy rapidly approaching 40 who's spent his entire adult life doing anti-terrorism covert ops work for the US government in one form or another. As far as he's concerned, he's perfect for the job. He grew up being beaten half to death by his occasionally-absent and chronically-unemployed father, which taught how to survive a beating, how to lie convincingly with a straight face, and how to escape from almost any trap. He grew up forced to steal cars, food, and other necessities for the mother who was determined to keep the family together, happy or not, at any cost, and that taught him to improvise any tool and to bypass any lock, door, or alarm. At age 17 he ran way to join the Army, and stuck with it long enough to serve one full term as a Ranger, by which time he'd had all the taking of orders he could stand. So when the CIA offered him a job, he turned them down. They upped the ante: you never ever have to go home to Miami again, and you can be your own boss. They made him a one-man security consulting company for the CIA, an independent contractor in the War on Terror.
He loved that job like he has never loved any one or any thing. He discovered that he had a knack for inventing whole new personalities and histories for himself in an instant, and all of them were more interesting, happier, and more fun than his usual silent, serious, vaguely morose self. He discovered he had a knack for languages, and the War on Terror gave the chance to perfect many of them. He discovered that he even liked most of the people who lived in the world's hellholes, and even got along better with some of the bad guys than he did with his own family. And most of all, he felt useful, and important: one by one, he and the people he worked for were shutting down the worst people in the world.
We don't know a lot about his particular operations, but we do know quite a bit about one of them. During the 1980s (in real life, as well), the Irish Republican Army was getting a lot of its weapons from Libya, and the Reagan administration wanted to know if they were buying them from criminals, or being supplied them for free or cheap by the Libyan secret police as a covert attack on NATO. In "Burn Notice" it was Michael Westin who went undercover in the IRA (as "Michael McBride") while his original CIA mentor, Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell) worked the Libyan side, as one of the last operations before his own retirement. Axe learned that the IRA was paying for the weapons fair and square, but hating terrorists anyway he found a way to screw them out of at least one very expensive shipment, to the vast annoyance of the woman who arranged the deal from the IRA side, Westin's by-then girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar).
For Fiona, the northern Ireland rebellion wasn't about politics, it was personal; a British soldier killed her little sister, and she chose to retaliate by killing every British soldier in Belfast if she could manage it, which brought her to the attention of the IRA, who put her to work first as a bomb-maker, and then as a gun runner. But with the Good Friday Accords, she's been unemployed, so to make ends meet she's been traveling the world smuggling weapons for hire. Michael had run out on her long ago. Unknown to her, Michael had realized that higher ups in the IRA were starting to figure out that Michael was CIA, and beginning to doubt Fiona's loyalty; he fled in the dark of night in hopes of saving her life, without ever saying goodbye or explaining why he left. Michael is the one great love of her life; there have been other men, but as she drunkenly told Michael, he spoiled her: none of them "knew how many exits there were from a building. [They] had no situational awareness." And none of them had Michael McBride's fondness for gunfire and explosions; poor Fiona is still, decades later, only starting to realize that the real Michael Westin doesn't love violence the way she does, even if he is almost as good at it as she. So imagine Fiona's surprise when years later she got a phone call from total strangers at a number she thought nobody had: Michael Westin was dying in a Miami hotel room, and he had her phone number in his wallet (still) as an emergency contact.
You see, Michael Westin got burned.
A shadowy organization with no name that has agents inside the NSA bureau that monitors security consultants and tracks our spies for signs of disloyalty has developed a certain unique modus operandi. When they need an operation done, that needs certain expertise, they find American spies with the skills they need, and then forge evidence that they've turned coat and turned traitor. Then, once the ex-spy has nobody to turn to, they recruit him. They wanted Michael's help, as part of the technical team backing up a sniper who was intended to perform an assassination in Miami; they thought, based on lies told to their scouts by Michael's mom (Sharon Gless) that Michael was naturally docile, obedient, and would be enthused to come back to Miami to be with his family. So they burned him in mid-operation, and arranged to have his half-dead body be found by a close friend and his location relayed immediately thereafter to his family, and figured that by the time he recovered, and discovered that the CIA was no longer taking his phone calls, and that the NSA had wiped out all trace of his identity, leaving him no way to work, he'd be excited to work for them.
Instead, he (and Fiona, and Sam) spent season one finding out who issued the "burn," forcing his intended handler to step in before she was ready; helped another agent on her team (who also, like Michael, figured out that she was behind his own burn) stop the assassination, and killed her. That brought Michael a very brief, very angry confrontation with her boss, whom Michael knows only as "Management." Management offered Michael her job, but wouldn't say what the job was or who he was working for, so Michael turned him down cold. Management retaliated by cutting Michael loose: they were the only reason that Michael wasn't dead or in jail, and he wasn't being properly grateful. Management told him that once they withdrew their protection, it was only a matter of time before Michael begged for them to come back and give him another chance.
They were right. Every enemy agent Michael ever screwed with has figured out that he's stranded, broke, burned, and in Miami, the Casablanca of the Caribbean. Worse luck, Michael has been making ends meet, despite having no legal identity and no assets, by working as an unlicensed freelance private investigator, taking on jobs that the cops won't touch and that no sane PI would touch, either. And not only is it illegal to work as an unlicensed PI, well, Michael's only backup, half the time, is a murderous explosives-happy retired terrorist with a low boredom threshold; it's amazing he's managed to keep her body count as low as he has, and there's no way, not by any stretch of the imagination, that the methods he's used to help each episode's "The Client" (as they're all labeled on screen) have been legal. Dealing with the Miami PD, even after having the bad luck of having one of the only honest cops in Miami take on his case, was only a modest problem. The bigger problem came when Michael, still trying to get the CIA to at least debrief him, to at least hear his side of the story, came to the attention of an actual rogue agent, the guy who committed the crimes the NSA framed Michael for, who was determined to destroy Michael, and a good chunk of Miami with him. In desperation, completely outmaneuvered, Michael did, in fact, call Management for help with that psycho. And he still got arrested for what he had to do to stop him.
And at the end of season three, Michael was taken out of a police cell by the Department of Homeland Security, and taken forcibly to meet ... Management's boss, maybe? Welcome to "Burn Notice" season four, starting this Thursday night on USA.