Burn Notice Prepares to Say Goodbye: "I'm Really Proud of This Season," Creator Says
For many Burn Notice fans, it might be hard to put the show's entire run into perspective after seven seasons and 111 episodes. Creator and executive producer Matt Nix, on the other hand, is all too familiar with just how long the long-running USA series has been around.
"My youngest son was born during the shooting of the pilot and he's now old enough to read some of the scripts," he tells TVGuide.com with a laugh. "It's very weird."
Sadly, it seems Nix's offspring will have to find some new reading material. Burn Notice ends its run with an emotional and action-packed — would we have it any other way? — series finale airing Thursday at 9/8c on USA.
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When we left Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) at the end of the last episode, he was being forced to choose between his new allegiance to James' terrorist organization and his (former?) true love, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) just as James' plan against the CIA was kicking into action. "I had always had the idea that from very early in the show that, at some point, Michael would be confronting, essentially, the opportunity to become a version of the people that destroyed him, that burned him," Nix says. "In thinking about how did Michael Westen get burned, I had always had the idea: Well, organizations don't start thinking, 'Let's do evil things.' That's not why actual human beings found organizations. They have some aspiration to do good."
For a good chunk of Season 7, Michael has been drinking James' Kool-Aid and subsequently turned his back on those he loved, and the CIA. "In the last season, I didn't want it to be about: Now Michael is going up against a really, really, really bad guy who is really, really, really clever. Will he defeat him? Uh, yeah, he probably will." Nix says. "His adversary is someone he likes and believes. His allies are people he doesn't like and doesn't believe in so there isn't really a clear adversary. So what Michael is dealing with are his own demons and how does he battle his own ambitions. How does he reconcile family and career and what he wants to do in the world and the people that he cares about?"
Watch an exclusive clip from the last episode:
Although Nix's plans for a more sympathetic Big Bad had been gestating for some time, many other parts of Burn Notice's final episode, and final season, have deviated from Nix's original playbook. Michael's undercover work for the CIA, which later evolved into his work for James, has been part of a season-long arc that has steered far from the series' procedural origins. "When you're working on a show, there's a sort of comfort in doing a version of the thing that you've always done," Nix says. "There came a point for me where I realized I really can't do that. If I'm just doing that then I'm just making money by making a television show and I'm not interested in that."
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Therefore in later seasons, the series moved away from Michael's day job as a burned spy-turned-private investigator and more into Michael's battles with recurring villains such as Anson (Jere Burns), his old training officer-turned-enemy Card (John C. McGinley) and James (John Pyper Ferguson). "Part of the additional serialization was just finding a way to challenge myself and do something new. Change it up and really make the show hard to write again. Suddenly, we've thrown out all the rules about how you write a Burn Notice," Nix says. "For me and the actors and everybody, it's been about finding new things to be excited about."
Diving deeper into the show's mythology and moving away from the case-of-the-week format has also helped the show keep up with the evolution of television thanks to more original programming on cable TV and streaming services like Netflix, as well as DVR and on-demand. "It's like all of the flavors on television have gotten more intense, and I think the highly serialized storytelling is key," he says. "Once upon a time, if you were some fan's fifth favorite show, they were still watching you when you aired. Now if you're a fan's fifth favorite show, they're watching you maybe a month after you've aired and that's bad for ratings."
Although Nix sympathizes with those longtime fans who miss the Burn Notice of yesteryear, he's certainly not looking back. "There's a part of me that misses the breezier, more self-contained storytelling from when it was a more procedural show, and there's a part of me that's very excited and engaged by doing this very cliffh-anger-y, very driven, very intense storytelling that we've been doing for the past year," he says.
"I have to say I'm really proud of the season. I feel like we did something unusual and exciting in experimenting with the show and doing new things up until the end."
The series finale of Burn Notice airs Thursday at 9/8c on USA. How do you think the series will end?