It's the last day of shooting on the penultimate episode of USA's long-running spy hit Burn Notice, but if you had bet that the cast would be coasting to the finish line, you would get burned. At Burger King's former Miami headquarters — abandoned after they were damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 — secret agent men Jeffrey Donovan and Bruce Campbell are lowering themselves into a man-made bay that runs alongside the industrial complex. (For Burn's purposes, it has been converted into a shady hacker's satellite-communications center.) Oh, and a real-life crocodile has made a surprise appearance, ominously swimming around in the water and, at one point, devouring a turtle.
"Is this far enough out?" Campbell inquires of the episode's director, Stephen Surjik (Psych, Wayne's World 2).
"Back a bit more!" says Surjik.
"Closer to the croc?" Campbell asks incredulously. "That's interesting. Famous last words: 'Back a bit more!'"
After Campbell and Donovan emerge from their watery confrontation unscathed, costar Coby Bell — who joined the show in Season 4 as Jesse Porter, a fellow ex-CIA operative — questions their sanity: "Explain to me how the producers made this seem OK."
"They told me there was just one big bastard out there," says Campbell, "and they could keep him away with sticks." (In fact, three stuntmen — among them a former Navy SEAL — did just that.)
As Burn Notice approaches its September 12 series finale, wrapping up the serpentine tale of formerly disowned CIA agent Michael Westen (Donovan), nobody on the set — including creator Matt Nix, who is writing and directing the send-off — is playing it safe. "The finale is not entirely happy," says the boyishly enthusiastic 41-year-old, who, in his Green Lantern logo T-shirt and cargo shorts, could easily be mistaken for a twentysomething production assistant. "But it was important to me that everyone gets a heroic moment, and they do."
An atypically loose-lipped Donovan lets a few more details spill. "There's a huge tragedy for one of the principal characters, but it's for all the right reasons," he says. "And it's mirrored by a beautiful family moment that fans are going to love and that will resolve this journey of seven seasons."
Campbell shares his enthusiasm. "People are going to be blown away in more ways than one," he predicts. "We've got a few more tears to shed, but some will be happy ones."
Those words will come as a relief to viewers who have grown concerned that Michael has seemingly turned to the dark side this season (yet Burn Notice's ratings have remained strong, as the show averages 5.7 million viewers a week). His CIA handlers have sent him undercover in an ostensibly nefarious group, and he's literally been sleeping with the enemy. Should we be concerned for the fate of Michael's soul? Nah. "It has to get darkest before the dawn," says Nix.
"Michael's going down a dark path, but he's surrounded by good people," notes Campbell, aka booze-swilling serial widow chaser Sam Axe. "It takes a village to raise a spy."
And it would take a village idiot to write a series finale that doesn't bring the Burn band back together for one last chance to light it up. "There would be a lot of pissed-off fans if we ended up as enemies," says Bell.
Burn Notice fans' tempers would flare even hotter if Michael doesn't ride off into the sunset with his currently off-again girlfriend, fiery IRA veteran Fiona Glenanne (Scent of a Woman's Gabrielle Anwar). Declares Donovan, "There would be a national revolution if Fi and Michael didn't get together."
While Anwar concurs that the couple should reunite ("It's such a romantic idea — that would be my favorite," she says), she expresses mixed feelings about her hair-trigger character's bloody legacy. "I haven't enjoyed the massacres I've been involved in," says the single mother of three, including a 19-year-old boy. "The older my son gets, the more difficult it is for me to stomach the fact that I have lent a glimmer of glamour to the use of weaponry."
Nix doesn't negate her concerns. "Gabrielle and I have talked about it, and I share some of her perspectives," he says. "She isn't someone who's going to hold her tongue, and that's something I really admire about her."
Anwar is equally outspoken about the lack of female writers on the show. "It's been a struggle for me as the 'chick' to remind the gentlemen that women actually watch this show and will take offense to certain things if they're not modified," she says. "I started out with a little whisper; then I ended up with a bit of a scream."
For more with the cast of Burn Notice, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, August 8!