As USA’s final season of BURN NOTICE begins this week with “New Deal,” Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) hasn’t been heard from by his loved ones for nine months. He’s deep undercover in the Dominic Republic, and all they know is that they were released from federal custody without a trial and haven’t seen Michael.

It isn’t hard to do the math that Michael has made a deal to protect those closest to him, and they are smart enough to realize this. Which might be why they don’t hate him, and when a creeper comes to town and questions them on Michael’s current status, they do what they can to not give the guy any information.

The bad guy does manage to get the drop on Michael’s friends, as, like him, they work best in a united team, and their team is missing one of its number. The slip up is regrettable, but understandable, and certainly not done to hurt Michael. Yet, it happens all the same. This is evidence that the gang must be put back together.

BURN NOTICE has moved from procedural to serial as it ages, ramping up the stakes and excitement. Uncovering who burned Michael may no longer be the primary premise of the show, but Michael is not free and clear, and every new story development only pulls him deeper into the muck. In this last run of episodes, it’s certain that Michael will once and for all try to get away from his past, which should make for some serious action and a few nasty explosions, just what the fans want.

But in order to clear his name, Michael is going to need some help. No man is an island, and while Michael likes to try to go it alone sometimes, in the name of being a protector, he is strongest when he has Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), Sam (Bruce Campbell), Jesse (Coby Bell), and even his mother, Maddie (Sharon Glass), around him. What that tells viewers is that we should not expect Michael to remain isolated in a foreign nation forever. He will eventually make it home.

Not that coming back will be entirely easy. Sam seems to have settled into a sort of easy retirement, while Jesse runs a security company. Both would probably either give those things up for Michael, or at least make some time for him on the side, as they do, without his knowledge, in “New Deal,” but they aren’t just hanging around, waiting. And while Maddie is fighting to get custody of her grandson, who has no capable parents left, she probably wouldn’t be opposed to assisting her son, as long as it didn’t endanger the child.

Fiona remains the sticking point. Fiona was once closer to Michael than anyone, having lived with and loved him. His departure, along with other actions, feels like a betrayal to her. Fiona being Fiona, she hasn’t just rolled over and cried; she’s too tough for that. She has moved on both professionally and romantically, and while she’s fine with supporting Maddie, has no intention of helping Michael anymore.

Can Michael win her back? He does what he does with good reason. But, in the past, she hasn’t excused good reason when it means lying and abandoning people. Fiona has a fiery temper and cannot be messed with. Michael should know her well enough to realize this by now. I predict their reconciliation will happen (because the fans really want it to), but it won’t come quick or smoothly.

Michael is a bit busy, too, getting close to a former “friend” (Adrian Pasdar, Heroes). This is the spy side of the episode, and it’s pretty enjoyable, especially because it isn’t a typical mission. We know that Michael has been deep undercover in the [ast, but “New Deal” is the first time BURN NOTICE explores this scenario, usually operating in limited-run missions. I would like the series to let this play out for a while, if for no other reason than it gives us a glimpse of a component the spy life that has been unexplored up until now. Even with the end of this installment, which points to a break from this arc, I think this is possible.

“New Deal” continues the improved BURN NOTICE delivered the last couple of years, a step above what the show once was. It also sets up some juicy conflict and potentially rocky run-ins. It’s a great way to begin the season.

BURN NOTICE airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on USA.