Once a burned spy, always a burned spy? That’s the question Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) will be facing when USA Network’s Burn Notice returns for its fifth season Thursday at 9/8c. Michael’s life will only get more complicated now that he’s found the people who burned him and reunited with the CIA. And his ragtag team of friends and family will find themselves questioning where they fit into Michael’s new life, series creator Matt Nix tells TVLine. The boss man also offers up some intel about a major turning point in Michael and Fiona’s (Gabrielle Anwar) relationship and discusses the possibility of another Burn Notice movie — this one focused on Fiona.
TVLINE | How will the events of last season’s finale change Michael’s life this season?
The point we’ve made many times is that getting unburned is not a switch you flip. His reputation has been ruined and that fact has been broadcast to everybody. So it’s sort of a process getting him back in. And now he is reengaged with the intelligence community, [which] raises a lot of questions. The main question being, Is Michael still the same person that he was when he got burned? Does he still want the same things? What does it mean for him to be working with the intelligence community? Now that Michael is on his way to getting back in, what does that mean for the people that he has been working with for four years [like Sam and Fiona]? He has these personal relationships. He has professional relationships. The question is, how do those carry over? Then, of course, the other side of it is it’s not as if he is reengaging with the accounting department at IBM. He is reengaging with the CIA, which has its own set of complications and problems and intrigue.
TVLINE | What is his relationship with the CIA like? Are they on the same page?
He has his people that are on his side and the people that know him personally. And he has his detractors. A lot of people know him only as someone who got burned. The short answer is, his relationship with the CIA is complex. And the other thing is Michael is not a guy who worked directly for the CIA and was a CIA officer. He worked with them. He was always somebody who did the more exotic jobs. So one of the tensions that also comes up right from the get-go this season is the most useful thing, in some ways, for the CIA is if he’s still burned. If he is doing things for them, and he officially has no relationship with them whatsoever, well, that’s great for them. The big question becomes, well, wait a second, even if I’m not burned, I’m burned? They are really in no hurry over the course of the season to fix his problem – the problem that he has been looking to get fixed for four years.
TVLINE | Michael reentering the world of the CIA suggests that we’re going to see a lot of new faces this season. Can you talk about some of the new people we will be meeting?
Grant Show plays a character named Max, who works directly with Michael [as] Michael’s handler within the CIA. When Michael does jobs with the CIA, he is doing them with Max. He is a recurring character, so he is around for multiple episodes. One of the things you see this year is Michael and Max actually doing intelligence jobs. Just straight up intelligence jobs. We also meet a character later in the season named Pearce, played by Lauren Stamile, who is another operative within the CIA.
TVLINE | Can you say whether Lauren’s character is a foil, an ally or a love interest?
Not a love interest. Lets call her a very complicated ally.
TVLINE | Jeffrey Donovan mentioned in an interview that there’s a murder twist in the CIA.
I guess the simplest thing to say is it’s not like everything just goes well for [Michael]. There’s an ongoing mystery for him to deal with within the intelligence community.
TVLINE | Does that sort of become the mythology now that he’s learned who burned him? Is that the drive later in the season?
With the emphasis on sort of, yes. [Laughs]. He has to investigate some things, but it’s very complex – which is not to say complicated. [Laughs] I’m trying to express this without giving everything away. For fans of the mythology of the show, it’s definitely different in the sense that it’s not him hunting down the people who burned him or dealing with them in that way. But it is a similar level of intrigue and challenge for Michael.
TVLINE | How are Fiona and Sam (Bruce Campbell) going to fit in? Is there even a place for them in Michael’s new life?
That’s the big question. One of the things that is really fun this year is that we really get into the relationship between Michael and Fiona. In some ways, Fiona has gotten everything she wanted. There’s a point early in the season where you actually see Michael and Fiona on a very Michael and Fiona-ish version of a vacation. She wanted a life with Michael that was free of the people that burned him, so that’s kind of what she gets. But Michael is still Michael, and having engaged with him for this long, it’s not something easily given up or let go. So their relationship, in a lot of ways, is closer and more intense this year than it has ever been. One thing I will give away is, this season they move in together. But it’s not like moving in with Fiona is necessarily an easy thing to do. It’s not like she just moves in and they settle down and they’re happy. [Laughs] It turns out to be tough for a lot reasons.
TVLINE | Do they decide to move in together or is it forced on them by circumstances, like her apartment blew up or something?
One of the jokes for us working on the show is that we’re one of the only shows on television that has essentially two homeless characters. [Laughs] [Fiona is] in and out of apartments, and Sam almost never has a place to stay. But no, it’s not simply a matter of circumstance. But it does have to do with the questions that are raised by Michael’s new situation.
TVLINE | What can we expect for Jesse and unofficial team member Maddie (Sharon Gless)?
[Jesse] addresses a similar question [as] Michael, which is, Am I the same person that I was when I got burned? He comes up with a pretty straightforward answer, which is, no, he doesn’t want that anymore. He takes a job in Miami working for a private security firm. Sometimes he is very central to things and very much an active team member. Other times, he is not. As for Madeline, a lot of what Michael is comes from Madeline, and she gets the chance this year to participate much more actively in the stuff that they’re doing. This year, we see the first Madeline-centric case, which is not to say that it’s all her, all the time, but she is the one with the real relationship with the bad guy in the episode. That was really interesting for us. It’s someone she comes to know over the course of the episode.
TVLINE | One of my favorite things about the show is Michael’s cover identities, his accents. Are there any particularly fun or memorable ones coming up this season?
Early in the season, you get to see Michael really playing the role of the classic spy – wearing the tux and looking great. One of my favorite ones this season is Michael playing a fast-talking loan shark from Las Vegas, who is very flashy. He is actually pretending to be his brother, and it’s very funny. We invented this thing that the character does where he kind of gets sayings wrong. You know, like, there is more than one way to take the skin of that cat and stuff. Jeffrey just ran with it. We have a gag reel, which is Jeffrey massacring like 20 different sayings. He [deliver] the one that we wrote for him, and then he would just make them up. We ended up using ones that he made up because they were just so funny.
TVLINE | You had a bit of success with the Sam Axe movie. Is there talk of exploring other characters in prequel films?
If the opportunity came along to do another movie, that might be fun. It was a lot of fun for us to do. To some extent, it’s a cast question. How do they want to spend their vacation? But hey, I love doing it, so if there’s another opportunity, I’d jump at it.
TVLINE | I really want to see Fiona in Ireland kicking ass.
The truth is, a lot of people have asked about that. People often want to see Fiona in Ireland kicking ass. I’m interested to see Fiona in Ireland kicking ass.