Hello again fellow media critics,
I’m back with another blog assignment, but this one will be a bit different. In my last blog, I discussed media criticism and its importance in understanding and identifying media texts. With this blog I’m going to do something a bit different. Today I will be taking one of my favorite TV programs, Burn Notice, and apply one of the concepts I have learned to critically examine this particular text.
Burn Notice is an American TV program that portrays a spy named Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan), who has been “burned”, and now uses his unique skills to help those in need. The show covers multi genres as it can be categorized as action, crime, drama, mystery, or thriller.
Some of the other characters that assist Michael Westen in his adventures include his ex girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), close friend Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), and mother Madeline Westen (Sharon Gless). All of these characters’ lives become intertwined as they work together to solve the mystery of how Michael became burned, and any other situations that come up along the way.
The setting for the show takes place in the American city of Miami, FL, which is portrayed as a hotbed for drug/gun trafficking, kidnaping, money laundering and all types of illegal activity. The main storyline of the show has Michael taking jobs for people who are desperate for help, while dealing with his own demons from a rough childhood and spy career.
The program is geared toward those who enjoy a good action/crime show with a bit of drama and mystery. Burn Notice comes with plenty twists and turns that will have viewers wondering what will happen next, while having plenty of gun fights, car chases and explosions to satisfy those who love action.
Michael’s relationship with each character is very unique and plays a large role in how the show progresses. His love for Fiona puts him in situations that he usually does not want to be in as seen here.
Sam Axe is one of Michael’s closest friends, and he trusts him with his life. He is always the first person Michael calls upon for help with any situation.
The relationship between Michael and his mother is very sketchy. They were both abused by his father, and she is afraid of his safety on every job he takes. After Michael lost his brother on a mission, their relationship has gotten worse. She blames him for not protecting his brother or being there for her.
Now that we know the main characters on the show, I’ll now go into the critical explanation of the program using narrative criticism. Narrative analysis is the study of texts and how they are structured into a chain of events that achieve certain effects. These effects come about because of the arrangement of the story in a beginning, middle, and end format.
Vladimir Propp was a Russian theorist who examined narrative analysis through folk tales and came to the conclusion that they all shared the same elements of 31 “functions” and 8 “character types”. Using narrative analysis will allow you to understand these sequence of events and character functions/types to help show potential meanings in certain texts.
I will be doing my narrative criticism of Burn Notice, by using Propp’s analysis of the 8 broad character types/roles in a TV program. I will place the characters in a particular role based on their actions within the show.
The episode I will be analyzing is the season six finale entitled “Desperate Times”. Michael is still searching for his brother’s killer, and he turns to his old mentor Tom Card (John C. McGinley), for help but finds that he has more enemies than he thought.
The hero in the episode is of course Michael Westen, who is searching for his brother’s killer and will do anything to catch him. He places himself and his team in the city of Panama, to hunt down that man who he thought was responsible.
The villain is a man by the name of Tyler Grey (Kenny Johnson),who is revealed to Michael as the man responsible for his brother’s death. Michael’s mentor, Tom Card, informs him that he found some information on a arms theft and that Grey could be the man he is looking for.
The donor is Michael’s mentor and former boss Tom Card. He gives Michael the information and sends him to Panama to capture his brother’s killer.
The (magical) helper(s) are the people Michael depend on most on his missions. Fiona, Sam, and a new-comer to the team Jesse Porter (Coby Bell). They help Michael successfully complete his missions, and will always put his needs above their own. They follow Michael to Panama and risk their lives to help him find Tyler Grey.
The Princess is not represented in this particular episode, but in past episodes Fiona has played this role in the episode “Split Decision”. In this episode, Michael puts his life and career on the line to get Fiona out of prison.
Her father does not have a represented role in this episode.
The dispatcher role is played by Tom Card. He is the person who sends Michael to Panama in search of Tyler Grey.
The false hero/anti hero is played yet again by Tom Card. At the end of the episode, it is revealed that he set up Michael and his team to be killed while in Panama.
This narrative analysis on Burn Notice, confirms Propp’s theory that all the characters in a TV program can be resolved into 8 broad character types that help us to follow and understand a story. All characters will fill at least one role and some will fill multiple. Narrative criticism gives the viewers an opportunity to be critical of the texts we are presented with and its effects. It makes it easier to follow and understand the story the way the producer of the text wanted us to.
Many of the texts we see on TV programs, carry over into our culture and become “second nature”. The ability to understand these concepts are critical in examining texts and their influence on our culture. Without narrative criticism we would just accept the stories as we see them, and not have tales of our own.