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Burn Notice: Tropes A to H

See also Tropes I to P and Tropes Q to Z.


  • A-Team Firing: Michael usually prefers it this way (although manipulating the bad guys into shooting each other is fair game). Fiona is more reluctant.
  • A-Team Montage: With some helpful tips on how and why the MacGyvering is being done.
  • Abnormal Ammo: Several Truth in Television versions show up - quadrangle rounds (for disabling car engines), breaching rounds (for breaking down doors), disruptor rounds (filled with water to disable electronics without causing a fire), beanbag rounds (for nonlethal combat), incendiary rounds (for making Stuff Blow Up)...
  • Abusive Parents: While there was some family love, Michael's father was not a good guy at all (a little scar next to Michael's eye is his biggest memory of him). It's mentioned that Frank Westen was the main reason Michael left for the army at 17, and why he rarely came home to visit before he got burned. While Michael loves his Mom, Madeline was also abused (while insisting they still had a decent household). These are some of the primary reasons behind all of their present day issues with each other.
    • Madeline may have made things worse for Michael mentally. While she does say she loves him and is proud of him. Over the course of the show she has blamed Michael for anything that goes wrong, blamed Michael for leaving, justified and defended Frank's behavior as a father, openly compared Michael to Frank on multiple occasions, and blamed him for having problems connecting with/trusting people caused by all the abuse in the first place.
    • Brought to the fore (sort of) in the season 6 summer finale. Maddie outright blames Michael (and herself to an extent) for Nate's death. After 6 seasons of the two of them starting to open up and talk about the truth of the matter, the very pointed accusation very clearly hits Michael hard.
      • By the latest two seasons she moves on to physical abuse. It can be hard to watch Mike's reaction to her actions, while it seems lost on her that she's acting like Frank.
  • Actor Allusion: Season 6, Episode 6, Barry to Sam, in reference to an improvised mortar:
    "I don't know how this boomstick of yours is supposed to help.
    • In an earlier episode, Mike is covered in blood, and Sam says he looks like "the walking dead".
    • One episode has Bruce Campbell break out a bulletproof vest for a client they're protecting. Client comments that the vest smells like Old Spice.
    • Mike's mentor Tom uses a very familiar whistle when scolding him for not obeying his orders.
    • Fiona finally got to tango in season 5.
    • At one stage, Maddie had to get records from a woman at the County Records Office, who she ends up befriending. Said woman was played by Tyne Daly. She and Sharon Gless (who plays Maddie) were the two lead actresses in Cagney & Lacey.
    • Part of James Kendrick's final plan was to have Michael turn him over to the CIA and leave his organization to Michael, allowing him to run it while being viewed as hero by the U.S. Government. While not exactly the same, this is similar to what Stanton Parrish had in mind for Rosen at the end of that series.
  • The Adventure Continues: At the end of the series finale. Sam and Jesse go off to Carlito's to help some desperate soul, and Michael and Fiona are raising Charlie in a cottage in Ireland. And it turns out that Narrator!Michael was/will-be telling his story to future!Charlie.
  • Affably Evil: Pretty much all of Michael's long-term enemies mockingly act like this. Michael himself comes off as this towards any civilians and security guards who get in his way - he often compliments or critiques their fighting techniques as he knocks them out. Other times, he just seems exasperated and simply tells them to stop fighting/resisting... while he's choking them unconscious.
    • Larry, a former spy who used to work with Michael and Sam and considers them both friends:
    Larry: Well it's nice to see you too, Michael, and Sam! I also see you... seriously, pal, we do twenty missions on three continents and this is how you greet me?
    Michael: Well, that was before you faked your own death and came back without a soul.
    • A played straight example would probably be Tom Strickler, so-called "Agent to the Spies". Envision the Mayor, switch his core professional competency towards intelligence/espionage, have him speak using solely noninflammatory and semantically-accurate vernacular, and you have a fairly accurate depiction of Strickler. But whatever you do, do not piss him off. He greatly prefers to not have one of your deadliest rivals "coincidentally" find you and turn you into a gooey pool of viscera.
    • Gilroy lives this trope, what with being a mild mannered English black ops sociopath who comes off like he wants to be Michael's gay lover half the time.
    • Anson takes the cake as no matter what the situation, he always acts like a father addressing a child - calm, even, patient, and insightful. Even when he gets upset, his attitude feels like a parent's - "Why didn't you pay attention to me? Why did you do exactly what I told you not to do and now I have to punish you?"
  • Affectionate Pickpocket: Nate, to Michael.
  • Agents Dating: Fiona loves Michael, Michael can't commit to Fiona... until they get into serious danger. Then they have happy-to-be-alive sex, but sooner or later, Michael has to choose between his burn notice and Fiona and doesn't choose her. She's less than happy. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Mocked. Michael points out that air vents are a poor method of escape because most are far too small for adults to fit in. Only people with very small and slender frames (like Fiona in the season 4 premiere), can use them effectively.
    • Invoked in 1x10 when Sam and Mike kick out an air conditioner to make an escape.
    • Inverted with the season 5 premiere: Michael shows how they can also be an effective means of exit with a little help from some grenades.
    • And in the season 5 summer finale, when in the only type of building that really would have vents big enough.
  • Almost Dead Guy: After Michael discovers him, Max manages to say a few things, but in a slight aversion, he just talked about his wife. No big important message. Also, kind of a subversion in that it was an exactingly timed frame job and he had just been shot.
  • Always Save the Girl: Michael spends a fair amount of fifth season doing Anson's dirty work to keep Fiona from going to jail for murder. He makes it explicit in "Fail Safe":
    Michael: (to Fiona) There is no line when it comes to you!
  • Ambiguously Gay: Barry the money-launderer has a decidedly metro look to him, and his P.O.V. shots show his gaze to spend at least as much time on hunks as it does on babes.
    • Gilroy has plenty of this in his dealings with Michael.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Sam and Jesse continue what they did with Mike after the finale. Possibly doubles as a Sequel Hook
  • Arc Welding: Anson's introduction into the show.
  • Arms Dealer: Several, in varying alignments; good...ish (Fiona), neutral (Seymour), and villainous (Brennen).
  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: Granted, they deal mostly with Miami's seamy underside. Carla drives a motorcycle, and Mike "borrows" a motorcycle at least twice, so in the end it's averted.
  • Analogy Backfire: Jesse tries to get Maddie excited about helping on a job (robbing a bank).
    Jesse: What do you say, Mrs. Westen? Feel like playing Bonnie and Clyde?
    Maddie: Bonnie and Clyde got shot.
    • Veers into CMOF when Jesse takes the look in stride and again tries to get her excited again in typical guy fashion (including an attempt at a fist bump). Maddie ends up shaking his fist while Jesse comments to Michael that she's his partner in crime with a goofy smile on his face.
    • Brought up in one episode, while Michael, Fi, and Jessie are trapped in a building with Vaughn's forces coming down on them:
    Michael: (in voiceover) Some of history's greatest battles were sieges in which small armies took on much larger forces. Unfortunately, sieges don't make great stories because the smaller force won. They make the history books because the little guys fought well before they died.
  • Anti-Climax: Most season finales end on a Cliffhanger, which resolves into... the new season's plot driver, and 90% of the episode devoted to Mike helping some poor random guy, like usual. They seem to have gotten better about this, but still; one expects at least a few episodes of Mike on the run or something.
  • Anyone Can Die: A lot of potential allies are killed off shortly after appearing. Among them are Victor, Diego, and Max. As well, most bad guys related to the Myth Arc don't last too long either. Agent Pierce is surprisingly long-lived though it probably helps that she's more of a Reasonable Authority Figure rather than an out-and-out ally. Nate and Anson fall victim to this trope just a few episodes into season 6. Maddie falls victim to this trope in the series finale
  • Armor-Piercing Question: In Season 1, Episode 11. Michael's mom asks him to trust her and Nate and tell them exactly what's going on.
    Madeleine: I'm asking that you trust us.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: This was a full-on punch, actually. Sam and Michael had a major difference of opinion about how to go on with a mission that got rather personal to Michael. Sam stood in his way and exchanged a few hits with him in an effort to calm him down.
    • Made especially poignant by that “Dammit Mikey, I don’t want to have to do this” look on Sam’s face when he has to punch Mike. Damn good acting on Bruce Campbell's part.
    • Played straight when Maddie slaps him for not telling her that her boyfriend and therapist were both plants to spy on him. Considering how frequently he shrugs off fairly serious beatings, his look of shock and pain really hits home.
    • An Armor Piercing Speech variety comes from Agent Pearce when she points out that in Michael's relentless pursue of Anson, he just drew a gun on Sam who is unarmed.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • A lot of Michael's voice overs during the episodes tend to be like this
    • In the narration every episode, Michael explains that once you are Burned you have to rely on anyone you can. In a list involving a Psycho Ex-Girlfriend and The Informant!, he says Family as the one when you got really desperate.
    • Mike at a dinner with Fiona in episode 2:
    "There's a few things I'm good at. Tactical analysis, hand to hand combat, I'm a decent cook."
    • And in the pilot:
    Mike: Southern Nigeria isn't my favorite place in the world. It's unstable, it's corrupt, and the people there eat a lot of terrible-smelling preserved fish.
    • And in the season 1 finale:
    Mike: (on being a spy) You sign up for the lifestyle, or the chance to serve your country, or the millions of frequent-flyer miles.
    • In the season 5 pilot, a rare non-RuleOFThree example:
    Agent: How was the flight?
    Fiona: It would have been better if we hadn't been routed through Turkey...
    Sam: And Spain. And Costa Rica. And if they'd had peanuts.
  • The Artifact: The opening narration refers to Fiona as "a trigger-happy ex-girlfriend." She hasn't been "ex" for a long time now.
    • Odd when you consider that Sam went from "friend who's informing on you" to "friend who used to inform on you" in the middle of the first season.
    • And as of the 6th season premiere, the ex part has finally been dropped and added Jessie as "...and a down and out spy you met along the way."
  • Artifact Title: Mike is not under a "Burn Notice" as of the end of season 4 and start of season 5, being given official CIA missions and eventually more responsibility. And according to Agent Pearce, the CIA is interested in having Michael around so they can give him a cover story... as a burned spy. Although in truth while Michael's burn notice is sorted out the show is still about his struggles against the organization that collects their agents by burning them.
  • Ascended Extra: The show likes to get its mileage out of its actors/characters, often bringing back characters from many episodes, or even seasons, before hand for what amounts to follow up stories. In season three, Sugar, a minor villain from the pilot episode, was the client of the week. He then reappeared as an ally in season four. Then making a brief cameo again in season five, this time with an even more fanboy-ish nature towards Michael.
  • Aside Glance: Michael has done this on at least two occasions. No, not at the audience—at God.
  • Asshole Victim: The crew ends up blackmailing a Cayman Island banker to retrieve an obscene amount of money under threat of alerting some of his dangerous clients regarding some shady banking behavior. It escalates to the point where the guy has to use their help to fake his death and go on the run. If they didn't make it clear the guy was sleazy to begin with it would be a HUGE Moral Dissonance.
    • Pretty much all of the villains are this. Michael's tactics are sometimes downright cruel, to the point where they have to be Asshole Victims in order to keep the protagonists sympathetic.
    • Hell, half the fun of the series is watching professional spies utterly ruin the sleaziest and most assholish criminal scum in Miami.
  • The Atoner: A client in season five, Ian, was a Government Agent assigned to work with an Indian ambassador who used Diplomatic Impunity to smuggle diamonds and he just went along with it for years. Soon to retire, taking notice of international murders, about to die of pancreatic cancer and fed up with standing by he wanted to take the guy down at any cost.
  • At the Crossroads: Sort of a common theme with anybody trying to convince Michael to make a particular choice. "You're at a crossroads, Michael...", "Mike, you're at a crossroads", "Michael, you've got two paths before you..." etc.
  • Awesome but Impractical: Largely averted with Lampshade Hanging. Behind the scenes reveals that many of the devices that Michael builds from spare parts were thoroughly researched and could realistically be done, assuming someone had the time, money and expertise to do it. Things like the trunk X-Ray device Michael used are possible, but it is also likely to kill you with radiation poisoning, even before lining the trunk with lead aprons.
    • Many of the things he recommends in the web-based "Ask A Spy" segments fall into this category. For example, he recommends keeping your valuables stored in the walls, because robbers and thieves don't have the time to look there. Unfortunately, it means that getting to your stuff means breaking down the walls.
    • The problem with hiding things in walls is even mentioned in a later voice over that the harder it is for your enemy to access your hiding place, the harder it is for you, especially when you need to do it quickly.
      • In fact, the hiding in the wall part ends up getting used in season four by Kendra.
      • And thoroughly explained even earlier when talking about hiding spots in general, mentioning that every hiding spot offers some trade off between security and accessibility such as how hiding something in a wall makes it pretty secure, but good luck getting it in a hurry.
    • The show got the honor of having the phone book bulletproof car tested on Mythbusters. The verdict was that it needed one additional layer of phonebooks (making it a total of two layers) to make it genuinely bulletproof against anything short of armor piercing rounds. note 
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Part of the Character Development between Sam and Fiona, who did not get along well at first. Michael had to break them apart when they first met up in the second episode - Fi still blamed Sam for an arms deal going awry. After a while they evolved into Vitriolic Best Buds, throwing insults while still trusting one another, but it's not until late in season four that we actually see them caring about each other.
    Sam: "You be careful, Chuck Finley is too young to be a widower."
    • Lampshaded again in 5x06, where Fi's ready to go in guns blazing and bombs asploding to rescue Sam.
    • Comes to a head in the season 5 finale when Fi, handcuffed to prevent her from turning herself in, uses their friendship to gain access to lockpicks... and get Sam close enough to clock him so she can escape. And as the season 6 premiere turns out, it might not exactly have been exactly that so much as Sam and Fi trying to delay Mike for his benefit.
  • Ax-Crazy: Larry, one of Michael's old spy partners, is a complete psychopath who won't hesitate to kill anybody in his way.
    • Michael himself has had to portray an Ax-Crazy person a few times to do his spy-thing. One time he even did it in imitation of Larry.
      When choosing a cover ID, I prefer to be a rich businessman or a bored playboy. But sometimes "crazed psycho" works just as well.
      • One time he got a bunch of Hispanic mobsters to think he was Lucifer.
      • Though, surprisingly, Sam is the master of this. Anytime he acts crazy makes Michael's act look tame. Of course, he IS named Sam Axe and played by Bruce Campbell.
    • Simon makes Larry look sane.
    • Fiona can pull off the axe crazy pretty well - just point her at the bad guys (or government types).
      "Shall we shoot them?"
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Inverted (Front To Front Badasses) then played straight in "Better Halves". Twice in "Better Halves" if you count the dance scene for an atypical varient.
  • Badass: The main trio are all pretty badass. Maddie has her moments, too.
    Madeline (being interrogated): "If my son wanted to kill you, you'd be dead.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: It's a spy thriller.
    • Michael, Sam, and Fiona once took on a black suit, white shirt, no tie uniform in one episode. They wanted to give a strong impression of organization and teamwork; looking good in the process was a fantastic bonus.
      • Michael and Nate revisit that cover in "Brotherly Love".
    • Season 3.5's villain, Gilroy, lampshades Michael's frequent use of this sort of disguise. When Michael attempts to con his way into Gilroy's hotel room, the receptionist instead hands him a note from Gilroy. Upon being asked how she knew Michael was Michael, she replies that one of the things she should look for is someone "...exquisitely dressed..."
    • Michael also tried to squeeze an escaped criminal out of the local gang's control with little more than a black suit with a blood-red shirt and tie, and carefully-prepared fingersnaps (with Fi on the other end with a well-timed bomb).
    • Sam's friend in the Everglades lampshading Mike's impractical dress sense;
      Aren't you a little hot in that suit?
    • Whenever Sam uses his "Chuck Finley" alias (usually as Mafia, CIA, or another suitably high-class occupation), he ditches the Hawaiian shirts and cleans up rather well.
      • Fiona gets in on the action in "Where There's Smoke," posing as "Charlotte Finley," "Chuck's" wife, in a formal gown, with Sam in a tux.
    • In the pilot, Mike's landlord Oleg tells him that he's a story Russian intelligence tells to scare people.
      • Returned to in 4x07 when Michael tries to scare a Russian spy with a little story and his drivers license.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Anson is a master of this, which infuriates Michael to no end.
  • Banana in the Tailpipe: In "Official Business", Fiona stuffs a folded woven belt (clearly shown as porous and not something that could cause a complete blockage) into the exhaust pipe of an SUV. It doesn't cause the car to blow up or even keep it from being driven, but causes sufficient damage that the bad guys have to limp to the nearest service station... which was the point of the exercise, as the good guys needed to hide tools in the SUV for the next step of their plan.
  • Bash Brothers: Michael and Jesse exhibit traits of this, as they have the same skill set but go about things in different ways. Specifically, Jesse admitted that he tends to go after any bad guy he comes across, while Michael will maintain a cover no matter what. Likewise, Jesse tends to be much more hot-headed and impulsive compared to Michael's cool collected composure.
  • Battle in the Rain: Sam's fight with Michael in "Sea Change" to try and force him from crossing the Moral Event Horizon. Impeccable as the timing of the rain may seem, Florida weather really is like that (and it did in fact start raining during the shoot).
  • Batman Gambit: Explicitly stated as a method of choice for spies. Michael falls for a few himself. Michael himself is remarkably proficient: he's responsible, by proxy, for the majority of the Karmic Deaths on the show. Word of God talks about why this works so well for the team. In short, most of the time, Team Westen usually needs the villains (or whomever) to want to do something they don't want to do (show them their defenses, reveal the money, etc). So they manufacture a story and situation where the only logical choice is to do what they don't want to do.
    • And in a case of life mirroring art, Jeffrey Donovan (Michael) has established an acting school in Miami. He outright said in an interview that the show wants good actors but can have trouble finding some... so he started the school so that, hopefully, the show can find some upcoming talent.
    • Michael said that the process to turn an asset (antagonize their friends, separate them from other voices, make them desperate, give them the logical choice) works so well that even people who should know better can fall for it. Including himself.
    • Michael and Sam pull an excellent one in "Breach of Faith". They're on the wrong side of a hostage situation - um, they accidentally became the hostage-takers - and a whole slew of police and SWAT are outside. They need to make a clean getaway without actually going to prison while making sure the real bad guy, Nick Madison, is punished. They pull a successful version of an urban legend about a bank robbery in Lima, where the robbers got away by pretending to be the hostages. Michael gets a gun into Nick's hands and has him ready to shoot Michael, Sam, and the client just as the SWAT team bursts in.
    • Anson in "Dead to Rights" pulled quite possibly the greatest long term master plan in history. He was responsible for not only the events of the entire episode, but of the entire show. He built the organization Michael was in from scratch, survived Michael's crusade against it, released Larry from prison and got Larry to kidnap him to use as leverage against Michael. He then had Fi blow up a British consulate and used that as leverage against Michael. HE BURNED MICHAEL TO USE HIM AS A TOOL! The best part? No one knew he was responsible for any of this until he told Michael.
    • Larry (yes, dead Larry) pulls one on Michael. He forces Mike to isolate himself from his friends, reveals dark secrets about Michael to Fi, and otherwise pushes Michael to the point where Michael is willing to kill an innocent and place himself under Larry's protection. Only the unexpected presence of brother Nate foils the plan.
      • Maybe "innocent" is pushing it, but he hardly deserved the death that Larry had planned for him.
  • Battle Couple: According to Seymour, Michael and Fi are 'a smoking hot action couple'. Of course, Michael and Fiona say otherwise, but they might be protesting too much.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Michael and Co. do this all the time.
    • In "Friends Like These", he tries to bluff his way past one of the bad guy's minions. Unfortunately for him, the Genre Savvy bad guy told the mook to kill anyone who walks in.
    • Mr. Slippery in 4x06 uses one on Michael and team.
    • Michael and Larry turn one into Ham-to-Ham Combat in "Out of the Fire".
    • Mike bluffs his way into the sensitive areas of the Pakistani consulate by pretending to be a reporter for the Miami Herald; he makes a lot of very loud threats and demands. Sam is off to the side doing his entertaining ugly American shtick.
  • Bears Are Bad News: In one "Ask A Spy", one illustration used to explain why patience is the most important skill a spy can have involves a spy opening the wrong hotel door and being confronted with a bear.
  • Beard of Sorrow: In "Good Soldier", Michael adopts the persona of an alcoholic and stops shaving.
  • Beauty, Brains and Brawn: Michael is normally the brain, with Fiona and Sam as beauty of the "She Cleans Up Nicely" and "The Casanova" school, respectively. All of them have their moments of muscle.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Madeline did not like Michael's secrecy and vague explanations why she needed to leave town in the first two seasons and by the third season Michael started being more open to her. As Madeline is better informed on the situation, as well as participating in the missions herself on occasion, she is learning that Michael was trying to protect her from knowing the hard decisions he sometimes has to make.
  • Becoming the Mask: Michael notes that this is a very real danger with long term undercover missions. If you have to pretend to be an alcoholic ex-spy long enough, you end up becoming an alcoholic ex-spy.
    • Hits in full force in Season 7 when he goes into a long term undercover mission to bring down a terrorist network, but begins losing track of his motivations. He then pulls a Face-Heel Turn and joins James' organization.
    Sam:You're not just helping them, you're one of them!
    Michael:After today, I won't have to follow orders anymore.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: In "Better Halves", Fi gets angry with Michael when he rips the skirt of her expensive new gown and uses it (along with his tuxedo jacket) to create a ladder to get them off a hotel balcony.
  • Bench Breaker: When Fiona gets abducted, she breaks the arms of the chair she's handcuffed to so that she can move around the room freely.
  • Berserk Button: Michael frequently talks about the need to stay emotionally detached, but frequently he takes clients solely because kids are involved. It's a sore spot for him. It's happened no less than 8 times.
    Madeline: For two little kids getting smacked around by their father? Michael would take on the entire Chinese army.
    • He's also got one in Fiona. When Fiona is kidnapped by O'Neill in "Long Way Back", Michael goes nuclear, going so far as to shoot a man who may have been able to get him back in at the CIA.
    • Sam and Fiona also have berserk buttons when kids are involved. Generally, it's a bad plan to threaten children around Team Westen.
      Sam: "He's smacking his wife and kids around. I'll plant a nine-iron in his skull if it helps."
    • Fiona lampshades another one of hers in "Hot Property" (although it was hinted earlier, in "Hot Spot"):
      "I've got a thing for lost little sisters."
    • To an extent, Sam also has a thing about serious betrayals of friendship or messing with his friends. He will stand by and help his friends even if it means getting into trouble himself. For him, a friend in need is his highest priority and he'll try very hard not to screw over his friends. There are many examples, subtle and otherwise, but it's a large part of "Breach of Faith" and "Dead or Alive".
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: "Evelyn" (Lucy Lawless)
    • This trope is played with in case of Victor. He prefers Michael to do the deed instead of letting The Management's goons get to him.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Michael is easily the most level-headed of the group, but aside from having a sore spot for abused children, the only time he has been willing to kill someone is when Sam, Fiona, Madeline or Nate are in trouble.
    Michael: "Fiona is not my past!"
    • Also, one would not want to mess with Madeline Westen when either of her sons are in trouble.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: While Madeline may love her sons and put up with the trouble they get into, she is a horrible mother and person in general. Early on she tries to justify Frank smacking Mike around and openly blames Mike for leaving an abusive home. Rubbing salt in the wound she openly compares Mike to his abusive father. Yet blames him whenever he's forced to make a hard decision. And of course she is more than willing to manipulate Mike into doing what she wants. All while trying to portray herself as the strong woman who kept the family together.
    • Then of course there's last season where she dumped 99% of the blame for death of Mike's brother on him. And then Season 7 where she decided to rant about how Nate was always such a terrible son and person, going directly against Nate's actual characterization and how she treated him up until his death. It's easy to empathize with her these days.
    • Considering that she's just as much a victim of Frank's abuse and is often in denial about it, a lot of this behavior can be justified. She tries to atone for it by taking care of Nate's son, making sure she doesn't make the same mistakes raising him like she did with Michael and Nate.
  • Big Bad: One a season.
    • In season one, Michael thinks it's Cowan. It's not. It's actually Carla.
    • In season two, Victor (well, until he teams up with Michael) and Carla.
    • In season three, Simon.
    • In the first half of season four, John Barrett.
    • In the season four finale, Brennen. Oops, sorry, kid. It's actually Larry and Vaughn.
    • In season five it's Anson, furthermore we learn that he was the man who burnt Michael which arguably makes him the Big Bad of the entire series
    • In season six it's Tom Card
      • Now it's Olivia Riley
    • James Kendrick in Season Seven.
  • Big Damn Heroes: All throughout the series, but possibly the most prominent one is in the season 4 finale. Mike, Fiona, and Jesse have been cornered by Vaughn and his goons, Jesse has an injured leg and Mike and Fi are about to make the ultimate sacrifice, the audience is left wondering how the hell they're gonna get out of this one. Then suddenly Sam arrives with the military, and punches Vaughn in the face!
  • Big Guy Rodeo: Michael does this to a Russian Giant Mook.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • The season five midseason finale, "Dead to Rights," ends with a major one. Let's just say that what should be a satisfying moment in-universe and out (Larry's death) goes terribly wrong, killing two security guards, due to a massive, extremely clever Plan
    • Season five has another in "Depth Perception", in which (Michael saves the client, and Anson shows something resembling a human side in helping him do so, even if it's in something of a sadistic way. However Anson reveals that saving the girl was just a Batman Gambit to frame Sam as a Russian Spy. The day is saved... but Anson has still won.)
      • The same episode gives a series-long arc about Michael's Father something of a bittersweet ending (When Anson reveals that he'd spoken extensively with Michael's father, and that the man felt remorse for what he'd done, and wanted to apologize. He was never given a chance, after he was cut down by a heart attack. Sad. Oh, and Anson "arranged" the heart attack)
    • The Season Six opening premier has has Anson get away—again, but Michael gets to land several punches and kicks him. It's incredibly satisfying.
    • Just a few episodes into Season 6, Anson is apprehended with the help of Nate, and Fiona is released from prison, but both Nate and Anson are gunned down by am unknown shooter, hitting Michael and friends twice as hard. Anson doesn't get brought to justice, and Michael lost his brother both at the same time.
    • The season 6 finale goes all out with the bittersweetness. They manage to clear the air over Tom Card's death, once and for all, but in the process, Jason Bly was killed by a cartel grenade when Riley met with the cartel, and Michael had to take a deal with law enforcement.
    • The series finale manages to one up all of them. In it Michael kills Kendrick, and brings down his organization with no one on Team Westen going to jail. However, Maddie sacrifices herself to save her grandson and give Michael a fighting chance, Michael is presumed dead and will never be a spy again.
  • Blinded by the Light: Team Westen has done this twice, first with a flashbang grenade and once with a car's highbeams. Michael says it best during the second one:
    Michael: Hiding doesn't always involve staying in the shadows. If your enemies eyes are adjusted to the darkness, then the best hiding place is behind the brightest light you can find.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Played straight with Gilroy, Nate.
  • Bond One-Liner: Sam gets one ("Honey, I'm home.") to Fi after taking out a guy hard enough to break a hole into one side of a wall during a minor Big Damn Heroes moment.
    • "This one's for my boys...." Maddie in the series finale, before blowing up the house with her and a bunch of bad guys inside.
  • The Book Cipher: Used repeatedly, especially in the fourth season, where it becomes part of the season-long plot when Michael Westen steals a Bible from a safe deposit box that is the code book of Simon.
  • Book Ends: A variety of phrases and resources from the first episode (and opening) are uttered once more in the series finale. Amongst them:
    • Fiona: "Should we shoot them?"
    • Sam: "Y'know spies, buncha bitchy little girls.
    • "My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy, until..." Fiona suggests that once Charlie is old enough, Michael should tell him everything about his life, starting with these words.
    • Sam uses duct tape to draw an enemy's fire away from him.
  • Borrowed Biometric Bypass: in the season 4 finale, Brennan mistakenly assumes his biometrically-locked safe will keep his associates from turning on him. Dead Larry proves him wrong, relying on this trope to get the safe's contents.
    Larry: It's a shame we gotta drag this guy around with us when all we need is his hand. What I wouldn't give for a bonesaw right now...
  • Bound and Gagged: Fiona, almost exclusively.
    • Sam in the season one finale.
    • Michael himself in one of the last few episodes of the series, though this is done as a ploy to infiltrate the place where Fiona's boyfriend Carlos is being held.
    • It also happens to several recurring and minor characters throughout the course of the series.
  • Boxing Lesson: In the pilot.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: Michael often does this when he knows he is being bugged.
  • Bluff the Impostor
  • Break-In Threat: In an early episode, someone sneaks into Michael's apartment and leaves surveillance photos all over his floor...and each one is of Michael, at various points when he was on a job or pulling some scheme. Along with all that is a card that says "Welcome to Miami" and a handwritten note that says something to the effect of "We'll be watching you".
  • Break the Cutie: In "Devil You Know", the FBI homes in on Madeline, showing her pictures of murders and acts of terrorism Michael has supposedly carried out. She never once gives Michael up, but at the end of the episode, Madeline believes that Michael's been either put in jail or killed.
    • And again in "Made Man", when Jesse lets slip to Madeline that he's a burned spy himself. Madeline puts two and two together, realizes that Michael burned Jesse and has been lying to him the entire time, and reams Michael out for what he's done.
    • Maddie also mentions during the above that she figured things out with Jesse because he had the same look of betrayal, anger, pain and what have you as Nate did when Michael left for the military... and subsequently left Nate and Maddie with their abusive father. Which likely counts as a BTC moment for Nate.
    • Maddie repeats this though this time it's about Nate. She reveals to Michael that Nate used to get beat up at school when Michael wasn't around to protect him from the bullies. Said story is also when Nate seemed to Take a Level in Badass.
  • Briar Patching: Sometimes used to further the Batman Gambit, especially in "Rough Seas".
  • Brick Joke: Michael tries to convince Libyan operative Anwar to get the attention of Philip Cowan; one of his suggestions was having the head of the Libyan Secret Police send him a fruit basket. Fast forward to the end of the episode and we find out that's exactly what Anwar did.
    • Another starts in episode 1 and takes 50 episodes to pop back up. In the pilot, Michael's Russian landlord comments that he thought the name Michael Westen was just a code name, a story told to spook their special forces. ("Nope, just me.") Episode 51 has, you guessed it, a team of Russian special forces tangling with Michael. When they learn his name, it has a... lingering effect on them for the rest of the episode.
    "He's Michael Westen! There are only four of us!"
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Michael does this on the fly when he needs to. One notable example has him talking to Fiona about the Irish cover ID he had when they met, dropping the accent when he mentions the need to put past cover IDs behind him.
    • Fiona also does this when talking to Michael when he had infiltrated a prison. They were discussing his escape plans in the visitor lobby and when a guard approached them she immediately went into a very thick southern accent "Excuse me! This conversation does NOT concern you!"
    • Michael and Sam both mock the mark of the week's British accent in "Blind Spot".
  • Bruce Wayne Held Hostage: Played straight and then in season 4, inverted - Michael and Sam end up being the hostage takers.
    • When kidnappers show up at a party, Fiona plays out being wealthy socialite "Charlotte Finley" alongside the primary kidnapping victim. She worked to undermine their plans from the inside with a healthy dose of Obfuscating Stupidity.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Used by Michael in "Game Change."
  • Bullet Sparks: Usually averted though sometimes invoked when scaring off bad guys.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Barry.
    • Seymour, who despite being unstable and eccentric is apparently a very successful arms dealer.
    • Spencer, who despite his constant paranoid conspiracy babble about "aliens" (really spies), is a brilliant mathematician, genius cryptographer, and has an uncanny knack for pattern analysis.
  • Blasting It out of Their Hands: Fiona does this to a drug dealer in "Neighborhood Watch"(4x05), injuring his hand in the process.
    • Done earlier with Larry, when he's trying to kill a gagged Jack Yablonski. His hand gets injured as well.
  • Butt Monkey: Everyone loves the Charger, in and out of the show, but it really does go through hell. The main trio only gets dinged up every so often, but the Charger really gets pounded. Perhaps the worst is when it gets totaled at the end of the fourth season.
  • California Doubling: Michael's adventures sometimes take him to the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and other points in Florida other than Miami (where the series is filmed), like Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee. While the producers inevitably show a travel montage that includes landmarks, or a shot of (for example) the Tallahassee skyline, the actual action in these episodes is inevitably still filmed in Miami. In some cases, it takes a Florida native to see the differences.
  • Call Back:
    • In reference to "Friendly Fire", where Michael convinces some street runners that he's the devil by blowing stuff up whenever he snaps his fingers.
    David: "So what? You just snap your fingers and the dealers disappear?"
    Michael: "It's worked before."
    • Special Agent Ned Gordon, the FBI agent Sam located for Michael to impersonate in 4x03 ('Made Man'), makes a return appearance in 4x04 ('Breach of Faith') when Michael uses the same badge and ID in order to question Kendra.
    • Fiona kicks Michael awake in his hospital bed in "Eyes Open" and they have a very familiar exchange:
    Michael: Where am I?
    Fiona: Miami.
    • In 5x05, Jesse finds it funny that the bad guy of the week is calling the guy that tried to kill him (client of the week) for help.
    • In the opening to the pilot, Michael tells the Nigerians taking him to the meeting that BMW makes an SUV now, very roomy. In the opening episode of the third season, he gets into a rolling meeting with a bad guy and says, "I like the SUV; it's roomy."
    • In the season six finale, the suit Michael wears when the rest of the team is released is the same suit he wore in the pilot.
  • Calling the Cops on the FBI
    • In the pilot Michael at one point loses his FBI tail by paying a couple kids to tell a Miami-Dade PD bicycle cop that the FBI agents asked him to get into the car with them, and then leaving while they try to sort it out.
      Michael: For fifteen [bucks] I wanna see some tears, okay?
    • In The Teaser of "Hard Bargain" Michael calls the police on a guy from the Central Security Services (part of the NSA) he's supposed to meet with. In this case he's actually just trying to get a read on the man to make sure he isn't an assassin sent to kill him.
      Michael (voice-over): Calling the cops on someone can teach you a lot: a foreign agent will run. So might an armed assassin. A bureaucrat's gonna ... act like a bureaucrat.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Clients often hunt Michael down and recruit him.
  • Car Fu: Often.
    • Sam does a particularly awesome bit of it in the season 4 opener.
    • Perhaps the most painful is when Michael throws a beautiful vintage Buick off the roof of a parking garage in the third season half-finale.
  • The Cavalry : Done epically at the end of " Last Stand" Vaughn's troops are closing in on Michael, Fiona, and Jesse, and have Madeline hostage. It appears the only way anyone will leave alive is if Michael sacrifices himself by going into a nearby shed and detonating an explosive. Fiona decides to join him so he won't die alone. Right before they get the chance to detonate it, Vaughn's forces are hit with tear gas from Sam and a good platoon of soldiers, who easily subdue Vaughn and his men
  • Captain Obvious: The subtitles stray into this trope at points.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: In "Split Decision" as Michael is being threatened by an arms dealer whom he has just given to the police.
    Michael: "Dead, dead, dead, dead; yeah I know."
  • Catch Phrase: "I'll see what I can do."
    • Hijacked by Madeline in "Neighborhood Watch": "He'll see what he can do."
    • "Welcome to Miami," to a lesser extent.
    • Also "better than he deserves". Usually when Michael's Batman Gambit ends up with the Villain of the Week detained instead of killed.
    • "I want my life back."
      • In an ironic twist in the Season 3 finale, Simon - the man who actually committed all the crimes that were pinned on Michael to form the basis of his burn notice - uses this same phrase to express his dissatisfaction that Michael has been given the credit for his deeds.
    • Larry has "Some people live, some people die." As well as "kiddo".
    • Not really a "phrase", per se, but Michael often does his signature low whistle when he sees a really impressive office/gun collection for the first time.
    • Fiona seems to be getting there with "I'll get my C-4."
    • Jesse has one he tends to use in various covers where someone will say "It's not (denial/anger/etc)." and he'll just make a 'Oh really?' look and respond "It sounds like (denial/anger/etc) to me."
    • Many of Michael's inner monologues begin with "As a spy..."
  • Cerebus Syndrome: As time has gone on, the series has become darker, and this has become much more apparent in season 5, what with major recurring villains dying, allies nearly dying, and Bittersweet Endings becoming much more common.
  • Chance Meeting Between Antagonists: Michael is infiltrating a bomb-maker's apartment. The bomb-maker had rigged a booby-trap to the door: a claymore, pointing at the door, tied to a rope. If the door opens, the rope slackens, which will set off the claymore. Michael, luckily, notices the trap and pulls on the rope to keep it taut. At that exact moment, though, the bomb-maker happens to walk in the back door. Though surprised, he quickly takes advantage of the situation, since Michael is standing directly in the path of the claymore and can't let go of the rope.
  • Character Development: In a season five episode, Fi actually decides against placing C4 on a building, as she would risk blowing the whole thing up instead of just blasting a small doorway. Contrast that with the Fiona of early seasons, who gleefully risked massive destruction at the slightest provocation.
  • Characterization Marches On: Fiona had a very thick Irish accent in the first episode. This was handwaved away when she said she was trying to blend in better in Miami. The reasons were... let's just say Gabrielle Anwar can better fake an American Accent. Her brother notices when he visits, and there's some Lampshade Hanging.
    • In a few episodes, her accent rears its head again, mainly when she's extremely concerned about Michael. Presumably, Fiona is distracted and forgetting her American accent.
  • The Charmer: Sam, all the way. In Blind Spot, he manages to charm a professional con artist even after pissing him off when they first meet.
  • The Chessmaster: Par for the course of the average episode. Although the season 5 bad guy Anson takes it to extremes that leave our own crew dumbfounded.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Jeffrey Donovan acts his ass off with the ever-so-subtle (and occasionally, giant and sweeping) changes with every persona that he creates. Not to mention he and Bruce Campbell have really good timing with each other.
    • Part of it is perhaps the method that Matt Nix and Jeffrey Donovan use for all these covers. As Jeffrey mentioned in one interview, "They don't tell me what I'll be playing and I don't tell them how I'll play it." In other words, rather than trying to make Jeffrey remember a character, they allow him to act out the cover as fits the scene/his interpretation.
    • And usually, the cover is some flavor of insane, hence the scenery-heavy diet.
    • One of the best examples of this trope, though, comes when Michael is being himself, not a cover identity, in "Do No Harm."
    Michael: (to Carla) I WANT MY BROTHER OUT OF JAIL! I WANT ANSWERS!!! I want my LIFE BACK!
  • Chekhov's Gun: Many guns, on many walls:
    • The "car-shopping" Sam keeps talking about doing in season one. The car in question turns out to be useful in the season one finale. The writers even make sure to use the OnStar in a surprisingly creepy fashion.
    • As well as the Saab Michael gets at the start of season two. The switch-controlled anti-lock brakes, again, are helpful.
    • And then there's the more literal Fiona's gun in the season three summer finale. Michael uses it to kill Strickler.
    • The survival knives Sam gives to Michael and Fiona in "Devil You Know". Michael uses his to stab Simon in the leg and save both himself and Management.
    • The FBI Agent Gordon ID in the season four premiere comes up in 4x03 as a quick cover ID.
    • Simon's bible, which is really a list of everyone involved in Barrett's organization and with the burning of Michael, Simon, and Jesse.
    • And then again in the Season Four finale when Michael mentions he still has the explosive Fi made and yes, sticks it on the Charger.
    • One is significant in that it FAILS to fire. Max's message to his wife is just that...a message to his wife. Michael never even delivers it.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Jesse, who promised to "put a bullet through the guy who burned [him]". He does — as part of a Batman Gambit to take out the guy with the gun to Michael's head.
    • In "Out of the Fire", one expects Larry to advocate the Kill 'em All philosophy. One does not expect him to carry it out on his partner, Brennen.
    • The congressman Maddie blackmailed in "Past and Future Tense".
  • Choke Holds: Michael Westen is adept at the blood choke. His victims rarely cry out, but they rarely have time. It's almost his signature move for taking out people who don't deserve injury.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Michael tries not to be the random White Knight. It doesn't quite work. Jesse has this really, really bad when he joins Team Westen. He can't walk away from someone getting hassled.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: Started alluding to this in the later half of Season 6 with Tom Card and Olivia Riley, but is shaping up to be this in Season 7, especially with Strong's actions. For the other half of this trope, the two FBI agents in the earlier part of the series were not bad at all and were Michael's allies(albeit temporarily) when they showed up after their departure during Season 1.
  • City of Adventure: On some level the writers seem committed to populating Miami with the kind of villains who would show up in... well, Miami. And yet sometimes the city can seem more like Beirut in the 80's.
  • City of Spies
  • Clear My Name: The new plot since Michael's Burn Notice was lifted.
  • Cliffhanger: The focus is on the Myth Arc, with only one two-part Villain of the Week episode.
    • The Season One finale: Michael drives the Cadillac into the back of a semi trailer, ready to meet the people who burned him.
    • The Season Two mid-season finale: Michael is almost killed by a bomb linked to his door, placed there by one of Carla's operatives.
    • The Season Two finale: Fiona kills Carla ("Finally!"), and Michael turns down the offer of protection from "Management", which basically leaves him out in the open for anyone to find.
    • The Season Three mid-season finale: Michael's agency contact, Diego, is killed by the people who worked for Strickler.
    • The Season Three finale: Michael is captured by Management and taken to a secret location, which appears to be a well-furnished home. Madeline thinks he's dead/in jail.
    • The Season Four mid-season finale: Michael's hit on Barrett goes south when Vaughn sends a team in, Jesse shoots Michael in the shoulder while taking out one of Barrett's men, and Michael crashes Barrett's car in a last-ditch effort to escape.
    • The Season Four finale: Team Westen survives a hit by Vaughn's forces. Michael is then taken for a ride by several mysterious types, then given a coat. He exits the limousine in Washington DC, where his former handler greets him by saying "welcome back" and taking him into what seems to be CIA headquarters.
    • The Season Five mid-season finale: After a operation involving Larry goes bad, Michael and Fiona unwittingly give the man who runs the organization which burned Michael — the same organization Michael's spent the past four-plus seasons ripping apart — enough evidence to destroy Fiona's future. Now Michael and Fiona have to give him exactly what he wants. "It's a long list."
    • The Season Five finale: Fiona turns herself in after blowing up the consulate in the mid-finale, Anson drives away with his new agent, and nobody is sure if Jesse made it in time to tell Agent Pearce to destroy the laptop Michael planted false evidence on.
    • The Season Six mid-season finale: After a job in Panama turns out to be a scheme on the part of Tom Card (the man who trained Michael to be a spy) to get them killed, Michael, Fiona, Sam, Jesse, and a captured enemy are stranded there with few options and fewer resources.
    • The Season Six finale: Having spent the last several episodes as fugitives due to Michael killing Tom Card, the group turn themselves in to await an uncertain fate. The others are allowed to go free in turn for Michael agreeing to an as-yet unspecified job with the CIA — which does not sit well with Fiona.
  • Clipboard of Authority: Oh, how Michael loves this trope. He's used it to get stuff from a burnt out building, gather security footage, etc.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Several examples:
  • Cloak & Dagger
  • Cold Cash: One of the ancillary webcasts explains why this is a bad idea.
    • And lampshaded when Michael takes jewels from a fence's fridge, to use as leverage.
  • Cold War: "Past and Future Tense" has Paul Anderson (played by Burt Reynolds), former Cold War spy, who needs the gang's help to escape from a Russian spec ops team sent to kill him.
  • Cold Sniper / Friendly Sniper: All three are capable of either variant, but it usually ends up being Sam.
    • Put to Crowning Moment of Awesome / Big Damn Heroes use in "Out of the Fire" when just as Larry's going to kill Michael, a red dot appears on his chest and Sam calls Michael's cell begging to shoot the guy.
    • As of "Over The Line", Jesse joins in the sniper role.
    • Played with in "Down Range"; Sam takes up the role as part of a cover but has to shoot an innocent man in order to protect Mike. Up to and past the point of no return, Sam is pleading with the man to turn around.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    Fiona: I wish our phone conversations were as flirty.
    Michael: She threatened to kill me.
    Fiona: I can do that.
  • Companion Cube: In the S3 summer finale, anyone else feel a stab of fear when Mike asks Sam for the keys to the Buick?
  • Confusion Fu: Frequently used by Michael to get that split second advantage when someone has a gun on him or is otherwise threatening someone. Telling someone the safety is still on, that his (not-)girlfriend is pregnant or starting to talk about cat magazines are good ways to temporarily sow confusion.
  • Con Men Hate Guns: Sometimes played straight (with white-collar crooks who often have hired muscle to do such unsavory deeds for them), but averted with others, as one con-man had a customized gun and was very willing to use it.
    • Also worth mentioning: Since spies and con men, as explained in the second episode of the first season, differ primarily in motivation ("con men do it for the money; spies do it for the flag"): Michael. Sure, he's willing to use guns if necessary (he was an Army Ranger, after all) but he always prefers to do things with a minimum of violence—none, if possible, and with a preference for A-Team Firing when he does use them. Again: "Guns make you dumb. It's better to fight your wars with duct tape; duct tape makes you smart."
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Spencer in "Signals and Codes". He's also legitimately mentally ill.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Hilariously lampshaded in "Past and Future Tense", where Michael orders a Russian Spetsnaz team to surrender. When the leader doesn't comply, one of his men shouts that they're facing Michael Westen, and there's only four of them. All of the Russians except the leader immediately throw away their guns.
  • Continuity Lockout: Averted with the new addition to the main cast. "Down and out spy you met along the way" is a lot shorter than "the guy you burned accidentally and then he started working with you but he didn't know you burned him and eventually he found out and forgave you and then he got reinstated in the CIA but then decided he'd rather work with you."
  • Continuity Nod: Common in later seasons:
    • Fi's biker friends mentioned in 3x15 get another mention in 4x01 as one of the plans she and Sam considered when dealing with another biker gang.
    • 4x02 is also the latest in a long line of reminders Maddie has given Sam about the time he blew up her living room and the fact that he crashed at her house rent-free.
    • 4x02 references the pilot as well, referring to the scene where Fi, in typical Fi fashion, wakes Michael up with a kick. Also, it references Michael's time in Afghanistan (which itself has been brought up a number of times).
    • 4x04 references the FBI Agent ID used in the previous episodes by having Michael use the fake badge to get information. In addition, Tough S.O.B. Lt. Casey references Detective Paxson and Michael's previous run-in with the police when he finds out that he's talking to Michael Westen... by bringing up a noted fondness for explosives from a file they have on him.
    • 4x04 references Michael's cover "Luis" from episode 3x11, Friendly Fire.
    David: "So, what, you just snap your fingers and the dealers disappear?"
    Michael: "Well, it's worked before."
    • Word of God mentions this; while the show is not a soap opera and thus doesn't need constant reminders, they do try to keep aware of continuity and the development of events in the show. This, for instance, is why in later seasons, there are more clients that find Team Westen or whom Sam or Fi offer services/seek out clients for rather than clients bumbling on them or Michael on to them; Word of God mentions that they would be well known enough at this point to where this would be possible. Likewise, some episodes try to include instances of where Team Westen gets their money to avoid the appearance that the team refuses rewards all the time.
      • Word of God also notes this as 'owing' something to previous episodes. While they could handwave something such as killing a previously established character X as the best/biggest car thief in Miami if they need to do something related in a future episode, they find it adds something to acknowledge that continuity.
    • Sam nicknames John Barrett "The Prince of Darkness" to which Michael replies that they've already used that nickname.
    • Fiona's method of getting Michael to wake up in "Eyes Open"? Kicking him awake and having this exchange:
    Michael: Where am I?
    Fiona: Miami.
    • The congressman Maddie blackmails in "Past and Future Tense" proves very useful in "Last Stand".
    • Elements of Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe (which aired before season five began) are referenced several times in season five, specifically the two CIA agents show up and the major character Beatriz ends up as a client of the week.
    • In the series finale, four of the cast members' quotes from the opening sequence are said (though Michael's is said by Fiona). The only one missing is Madeline.
  • Contract on the Hitman: A variation, in that whoever "burned" Michael Westen wants him alive. This leads to a (badass) scene in the season one finale where he successfully held ''himself'' hostage by threatening to kill himself if the various government agents following him didn't back off.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: This happens a lot. Usually it's done to create a distraction or plant a bug.
  • Conveniently Cellmates: Invoked when Michael conspires to Get Into Jail Free to help a guy, and makes sure he's put in the right cell.
  • Conveniently Interrupted Document: The government documents that Michael does manage to get his hands on are these.
  • Conveniently Timed Guard: Happens on occasion, usually to the delight of the 'narrator' who always has good ideas on how to effectively deal with such a predicament.
  • The Convenient Store Next Door: Michael and Jesse gain access to a bank by breaking into the much less heavily protected law office upstairs and tunnel through the conference room floor into the vault.
  • Cool Car: Michael's Charger, which used to be his Dad's.
    • Started out as The Alleged Car, because his father's approach to machinery was pretty much the same as his approach to family:
      "If you don't like the way something works, keep banging on it till it does what you want. If something doesn't fit, force it. And above all, make sure it looks good on the outside."
    • When it gets blown up in Season 4's finale, it comes back after four episodes. Apparently it was Jesse's idea.
    • Fiona drives pretty cool Product Placements throughout the series, starting from the Saab 9-3 convertible she got from a client in Season 2, to blue Hyundai Genesis Coupe in Seasons 4 and 5.
  • Cool Old Guy: Jesse (and Sugar) end up thinking this way about Sam.
    • In a meta-example, Word of God says that when Coby Bell (Jesse) joined the cast, on the second day, Bruce Campbell (Sam) gave him a bike as a surprise gift. This combined with Bruce's charm has Coby Bell talking about how great Bruce is during one interview.
    • Paul Anderson, still badass after twenty years on the shelf.
  • Cool Shades: Lampshaded, even. Michael apparently got them from a guy he killed. Despite seeing them clearly broken at the start of "Do No Harm", he puts on an identical pair later in the episode. Or maybe a lens just got popped loose.
    • At the end of season two, he leaves them in the helicopter when he jumps out. Upon swimming out of the ocean in 3x01, the first thing he grabs is a t-shirt and shades. "Management" is considerate enough to send his originals around to the loft.
    • They get blown up in the season four mid-finale, but by the next episode, Madeline's bought him a new pair that are exactly the same as the old ones. In some ancillary trivia, it was revealed that the lens color of Michael's sunglasses (bourbon) went out of production decades ago, and those used on the show are practically unique, such that Ray-Ban had to bring them back into production specifically for the show.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Gilroy's explanation of Claude's death. Evidently, he didn't survive the complications... of breaking his ankle.
  • The Corpse Stops Here: In season 5, this is how Michael is framed for the murder of his CIA partner Max, just as he was about to get his old job back.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: John Barrett.
  • Cover-Blowing Superpower: Michael can't always be an unstoppable badass because the situation may require someone to "outsmart" him to get to the next part of the plan. In one instance, he got a dislocated shoulder for his troubles and another time, the voiceover explained how to properly hold a hostage while Michael did the exact opposite. It makes for another Running Gag where Michael is trying to get someone to give a decent fight and has an almost bored look on his face.
  • The Cracker: Eve, the villain of the week in "No Good Deed" is one of these. She's also a pint-sized, Younger Than They Look Evil Redhead with a temper and ego rivaling those of Doctor Sheldon Cooper.
  • Crapsack World: Miami in this universe is absolutely crawling with criminals of every type, and no matter how many corrupt government officials the team takes down, there are always more.
  • Crossword Puzzle: Carla uses these to communicate with Michael.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: To a certain extent, Nate Westen. Much like Michael, Nate was not exactly the model child or model citizen as an adult. However, Michael trusts him enough to let him handle pistols and protect Ma Westen against the more mundane thugs that might show up, and even brought him in on a job or two.
    • Sam also counts. Generally the first impression given of him in each episode and in the series as a whole is of an over-the-hill, overweight hedonist who is a bit of an idiot. Then the problem of the week crops up and Sam shows that he's a badass former Navy SEAL team leader, an intelligent strategist, a die-hard loyal friend, and arguably the most levelheaded of the group. Highlighted in 4x05 where to save Sugar from a beatdown, he pulls his drunk act... and then once Sugar is safe, promptly beats the crap out of his opponents.
    • Word of God has mentioned a few times that this is one of the things that makes Sam a good spy. That he's unapologetically friends with everyone means he gets along with practically everyone and they're willing to repay his friendship in kind.
    • Sam (and the rest of Team Westen) go up against another Casanova type in "Blind Spot"; Charles, a con man who strings rich women along and drains their savings. Fiona is very displeased that Charles and his money launderers go after their client even after he's taken all her money, and makes sure he gets some Laser-Guided Karma.
  • Cucumber Facial: Barry.
  • Cutting the Knot: Michael spends most of his time relying on manipulation and deception so that the bad guys undermine themselves, so very rarely does it resort to blunt violence. But on a few occasions, either the plans don't go so well, or he is literally out of options and time; it's only in these situations that he uses brute force.
    • In Truth and Reconciliation, all of Michael's plans fail, so he simply gets Fi to lure the baddie into a hotel room, knock him out, and then he climbs down from the floor above to dump him into a truck waiting below.
    • In the third season's midseason finale, Michael had everything good to go but was ratted out to the Villain of the Week by Strickler, and Fiona was taken. Michael showed that when sufficiently motivated, he will shoot to kill and go in guns blazing.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Fiona's original motivation for joining the IRA and going from being just the Girl Next Door to a Vigilante Woman was a dead little sister, killed when a British Army soldier fired into a crowd.
  • Dangerous Phlebotinum Interaction: In "Bad Breaks" one of Michael's customary voiceovers narrates his efforts to foil a gang of bank robbers.
    "Mixing medications is always a bad idea, especially when one's an upper and one's a downer. Anxiety and allergy meds together are a scary combination, and that's before you add the caffeine of an energy drink."
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Pretty much any of the other espionage types Team Westen tangle with.
    • Brennen in particular tends to be able to predict Michael's actions very well, because he can think along those lines. Of course, in the Season 4 finale, his skills don't help much when he tries to work with Dead Larry, with predictable results.
    • In the latter half of season six, After Michael killed his mentor, Tom Card, the CIA sends the best counter-intelligence agent they have, Olivia Riley, to bring him to justice. She's able to catch onto many of Team Westen's ploys before they're able to pull them off and came awfully close to catching him until she was thwarted by their successful teamwork.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Michael and Sam, most of the time, though Madeline's getting in on the act in season three.
  • Death Glare: Larry gives great ones. They're very effective even when in a cover.
    • Sam's pretty good at them too, especially toward Larry, in "Out of the Fire".
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Rival spy Larry poses as Michael Westen and steals from a druglord. When people start looking for "Michael," Larry kills one of them, and Michael frames this dead assassin as the "real" thief.
  • Deconstructed Trope: So many, but the most prominent is that the show makes it clear that operatives and spies are very talented and skilled people, but they are not invincible. If you last long enough, you are just lucky with a little bit of skill (and the ability to work with people you don't like).
    • The latter is used as a plot point for season 4 with Jesse, the counterintelligence operative Michael inadvertently burned and who promises to get vengeance on the people who burned him.
  • Decoy Damsel: Anson a Spear Counterpart.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Sugar. Occurs (in tandem with other influences) with Tyler Gray.
    • Invoked when Michael kidnaps a Russian mob enforcer; in an attempt to gain his trust, he pretends to be another mobster in the same cell, and even goes so far as to get in a fight with the captive to sell the cover. As is typical of the show, while the action is going on, Michael notes the importance of learning Russian martial arts to make a convincing identity.
    • Also happens at the end of the second season with Victor.
    • Sugar also counts as his third appearance on the show has him as an eager ally. Highlighting again Michael's statement about not holding grudges or such.
  • Defector from Decadence: Diego, Concha's right-hand henchman ("Broken Rules"). He came into Concha's employ after she killed his previous boss, and has reservations about her violent takeover of the barrio.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Psychopathic, lying killer Gilroy might have been heading in this direction. Hard to tell with him, what with the psychopathy and the lying making the line between this and Terms of Endangerment hard to see. Sadly, we will never know - What with him being blown up and all.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Fiona and Mike meet a female mark at a pool, and Mike is wearing a swimsuit while the women are wearing bikinis. After the meeting, the mark accidentally pushes Fi's Berserk Button. Catfight ensues.
  • Destructo-Nookie
  • Die Hard on an X:
    • Die Hard in a Bank: Michael and a rival find themselves in the middle of a Bank Robbery. Asskicking ensues.
    • Die Hard at an Executive Airport: Michael convinces the bad guys he is undercover with in another episode that the airport they locked down has a former Army Ranger maintenance worker engaged in one of these.
  • Directed by Cast Member: Several episodes haven been directed by Jeffrey Donovan and when he's not, he also acts as a producer.
    • Tim Matheson (who plays "Dead" Larry Sizemore) has actually directed more episodes of the show than he's acted in.
  • Dirty Business: In the season two finale, Michael is forced to kill an already-dying Victor so Management won't know he betrayed Carla; he is clearly very upset during and after.
    • Used a couple other times, most notably in a season one episode where Michael helps one awful person blow up his even-more-awful boss, all to save a small business owner (and neighborhood) the boss was threatening.
      Michael: Being a spy, you have to get comfortable with the idea of people doing bad things for good reasons...doing good things for bad reasons. You do the best you can.
    • Explored at some length in "A Dark Road," in which Michael first asks his mom to befriend a source (who he warned his mom not to get too chummy with) and later demands that she blackmail the same source.
    • Also explored in "Enemies Closer". Larry uses the operations that he and Michael ran in the past as a way to isolate Michael from Fiona. To paraphrase Fi, "How could you do those things/let those things happen." Michael acknowledges this later in the episode as well... but adds that The Power of Friendship is letting him bury this dark side. This also adds additional insight into why Michael is so much of a pacifist at times - he is trying to redeem himself over some of the bad things he's done, participated in, or allowed to happen.
    • And further in "Devil You Know". Does Michael aid Simon in capturing Management to save the lives of thousands of people now only to put them at risk later if Simon kills Management? He does, but gets himself captured by the FBI when he refuses to kill Simon. Management gets him out, but who knows what Management's going to want him to do in return.
    • And...then there's season seven. Just Season Seven.
  • Dirty Cop: A trio of them in "Unpaid Debts". Sam has pretended to be one on more than one occasion.
  • Disc One Final Boss: Alas, poor Gilroy.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Fiona causes Michael to have a loose grip on his power drill in an episode.
    • This happens in episode 3x11, Friendly Fire - Fiona found a pair of handcuffs she apparently didn't realize Michael had.
      Fiona: *dangling handcuffs suggestively* Where have you been hiding these?
  • Divide and Conquer: Team Westen's primary tactic when dealing with groups of baddies is to try and get half of them to believe that the other half is double crossing them.
    • In "Enemies Closer", Larry very nearly manages to do this to Team Westen.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The second time we see Simon, he's wearing loose white clothing, walking around on a beach barefoot, has grown a beard, and makes lots of Biblical references. Simon being Simon, the Jesus impression may be deliberate.
  • Don't Tell Mama: Michael tried to keep his mother in the dark about his life as a spy for awhile, but he eventually had to give that up.
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Feigned by Michael in order to avert the prying eyes of others. Invoked in "High Seas" when Michael is passing off vials of Mountain Dew as anabolic steroids, and later in "Noble Causes" when forced to improvise in the middle of stealing hydraulic cutters.
  • Double Agent: Sam, who was supposed to inform the FBI on Michael, but instead only tells them what Michael wants him to tell them. The agents involved got reassigned about halfway through the first season, letting Sam off the hook.
    • Michael blackmailed a mook into being a double agent, explaining the "management" skills needed to maintain such operatives. He did say that suicide rates were unfortunately high in this demographic.
  • Downer Ending: "Acceptable Loss". The client story succeeds as usual (the bad guy gets caught) but to do so, the client - one of Jesse's friends - lets himself be murdered in order to do so. No one on Team Westen is very happy with the plan but the client was going to do so in order to allow the bad guy get caught so they help only to ensure that his sacrifice is not in vain.
    • The only reason they go along with it at all is because the client has pancreatic cancer - he has very little time left, almost all of which will be very painful.
    • "Shock Wave". Something of a Wham Episode, as once again, the bad guy gets shot before revealing something. Also, Nate.
  • Dramatic Curtain Toss: The reveal of the Charger in the first episode.
  • Dress Hits Floor: Fiona at the end of "Friendly Fire".
  • Drink Order: Sam's mojitos. Beer, too, but mostly mojitos.
  • Driving Question: Who burned Michael?
  • Drop-In Character: Nate. Larry's on his way to becoming one.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Gilroy, after being built up over season 3.5 as an Evil Counterpart to Michael, gets shot and then blown up by the prisoner he was hired to free.
    • Also, Max, Michael's CIA contact. A number of fans thought he was a better addition to the cast than Coby Bell, but unfortunately, Max turns up dead and Michael's framed for it.
    • Both Anson and Nate in "Shock Wave".
    • Bly in "Game Change".
  • Due to the Dead: In the finale, Michael and Fiona receive proper burial, full military honors, and even a black star for Michael at Langley.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Maddie in the finale. "This is for my boys."
  • Dynamic Entry: Usually played straight, but subverted hilariously in one episode; Sam can't break the flimsy hotel-room door down.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Mama Westen tries to pretend she had something of a decent household. But in actuality Michael was more responsible than his Dad.
    • Highlighted in several episodes with references to Michael stealing cars as young as eight years old so they could get to where they needed to go (like the hospital when Nate was sick, shoplifting to supply groceries to his family or car parts for the Charger because his father was too cheap to actually buy spark plugs). Oddly enough, Madeline shows she's aware of what actually went on so and isn't actually deluding herself completely. She just doesn't seem to like to have to deal with the painful truth.
    Madeline: You missed your father's funeral by eight years.
    Michael: Well, the last time I saw him he said "See ya in hell boy!" so I figured we had something on the books.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Almost everyone Michael works with seems to have a pretty screwed up past, often involving someone dying or disappearing on them. Hell, the only member of Team Westen without any known familial issues is Sam, and that may just be because we don't know much about his family.
  • A Death in the Limelight: We get Victor's backstory in the season 2 finale, which combined with the Enemy Mine setup of the episode makes him much, much more sympathetic... right before Mike is forced to Shoot the Dog.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Or, perhaps more accurately, MildEarlyInstallmentTweaksToTheFormula. Mike's voiceover narrations, which quickly developed into more abstract spy tips related to the scene at hand (Fi sneaks into a guarded house, and Mike's voiceover talks about the difficulties of breaking into a guarded compound), actually feature some first person discussion. Also, there are some (very) mild profanities in the early episodes ("tits," "goddammit," "bitchy") that never made it past episode four or five.
    • In the pilot, a big deal is made Madeleine's hypochondria. It's never brought up again besides a single reference in season 2, although occasionally we see a table with about a dozen bottles of pills on it. Although, as anyone who has a 60-something parent (or is themselves), bottles of pills come with the age legitimately.
      • Although that may count as Character Development; as Madeleine became accustomed to both Michael's continued presence in general and his growing tendency to use her home as a safe house she's simply had bigger things on her mind... and lots of other excuses to demand Michael's attention.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Did they ever. Over seven seasons. (Although not 100% happy- see Bittersweet Ending above.)
    • Even justified once with incendiary ammunition (hot like wow) and barrels full of highly flammable sealant.
  • Enemy Mine: From time to time. The voiceover mentions that this is why it doesn't pay for spies to hold grudges.
  • Enforced Method Acting: In-Universe example: In "Bloodlines", Madeline is pretending to help Takeda, a Yakuza human trafficker who has been wounded. Michael tells her beforehand that he's going to have to treat her roughly so that she can be convincing as a reluctant nurse. She's sort of blase about the idea at first, until Michael channels his abusive father so convincingly that Madeline gets really frightened, so much so that she's still shaking even after it's over. In a later scene, Michael actually slaps her. They agreed to do that before it happened, and it was her idea, but she's visibly shaken again.
  • Engineered Heroics: Happens in almost every single episode. With some exceptions, Mike's plans generally follow the same structure: First, Mike causes a problem (or exacerbates an existing problem, or creates the illusion of a problem) for the target. Second, he poses as someone who can solve that problem. Third, he uses this problem-solving persona to get closer to the target, usually while covertly making the problem worse the whole time, so that the target becomes more desperate for Mike's help. Finally, Mike uses his position to get what he wants, which is almost invariably either destroying the target's operation, making the target look like a traitor to their boss, stealing something, or blackmailing the target into doing something Mike needs.
  • Engineered Public Confession
  • Espionage Tropes: Plays with just about all of them at some point or other.
  • Establishing Shot: Generally done in a hyperkinetic way with stock Florida footage cut rapidly together, often with the show's trademark freezeframe.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Michael's first scene involves him being gang beaten, devising a lie to prolong his life, beating up and killing the guards restraining him, racing away on a stolen motorcycle (promising the guy that he could pick it up at the airport) and escaping Nigeria on a plane.
    • Fiona shows up by kicking Michael awake and being someone Michael trusts enough to distract some FBI agents.
    • Sam's first line has him explaining that he is already known as a drunk womanizer so he had nothing to lose by talking to a burned spy, highlighting his Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass tendencies and his friendship with Michael.
    • Madeline is introduced by Michael being absolutely terrified to see her again, and her bullying him into taking her hypochondriac tendencies seriously.
    • Jesse's moment is him making a Stealth Hi/Bye on Michael in his loft. Not counting him being taken away in handcuffs after getting burned for Michael's actions. This shows off right away that Jesse is as good as Michael is while the conversation itself shows off his personality.
    • While it wasn't his very first scene, the first scene where Anson shows his true colors certainly counts. He reveals that instead of being the helpless client, he is actually The Chessmaster for the whole operation. He makes a casual joke about the random woman he had kidnapped and killed (simply for the sake of selling his cover). He then shows how he killed two people, framed Fiona, and was using it as blackmail on Michael.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: "Bad" in the sense of "tough" here: Michael and Jesse stand out. Jesse lost his mom as a child and spent 24 years trying to get at the Atlanta PD's file, to no avail. As for Michael, well, here's him in the pilot:
    Michael: *in voiceover* Thirty years of karate. Combat experience on five continents. A rating with every weapon that shoots a bullet or holds an edge. Still haven't found any defense against Mom crying into my shirt.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Acknowledged that even some of the worst scum has people they care about and will go to lengths to protect or avenge.
    • One notable example is in the climax of 3x3 "End Run", where Brennen is revealed to have a daughter named "Annabelle." And the way he talks to her is equal parts heartwarming and hilarious.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Larry thinks Brennen is "kind of a dick." Bye Brennen
    • When the team tries to trick a Dirty Cop into stealing a gun from an evidence locker so he can get revenge on his partner's killer, the plan falls apart due to the cop balking, saying even he wouldn't do something like breaking into an evidence locker.
  • Everybody Owns A Ford: Averted by GM and Hyundai sponsorship allowing a variety of brands and models.
  • Evil Brit: Gilroy, naturally. Charles The Casanova con man from "Blind Spot", too.
  • Evil Counterpart: Victor is, as Sam describes him, like Michael "but with rabies." Brennen is Mike's amoral counterpart. Gilroy is Michael's psychopathic counterpart. Larry is Michael's Evil Mentor. Simon is Michael's dark reflection. Carla and Kendra are Michael's dark female counterparts. You may be noticing a theme here.
    • Of these, Victor and Simon play this trope straightest for Michael, since many of the others (particularly Brennen) do not show the same type of skills (particularly physical) as Michael, but rather an equal but somewhat different intelligence.
    • Charles is Sam's evil counterpart - The Casanova type who seduces rich women, but unlike Sam, has them killed after he steals their money.
      • And his name is an obvious play on Sam's default alias, Chuck Finley.
    • Word of God notes that Gabriel is Fi's evil counterpart and that Maddie will get one.
  • Evil Is Easy: The violent solutions to Michael's problems would seem to be a lot simpler than the subtle, Machiavellian plots he throws into motion. Not as clean for the gang or fun for the audience, of course.
    • Subverted by frequently illustrating or explaining that while shooting the Big Bad in his first appearance might be easier in the short term, it usually causes more problems in the long term, such as police response or vengeful gangsters. Typically, the client of the week asks Michael Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?, to which Michael gives fairly rational reasons why it's a bad idea.
  • Evil Former Friend: Harlan, though it doesn't exactly come as a shock.
  • Evil Mentor: (Dead) Larry Sizemore, Michael's former mentor, who faked his own death in Bosnia and is now a Psycho for Hire Professional Killer whose solution to everything is Kill 'Em All. Larry also likes to invoke Not So Different in regards to himself and Michael. Particularly notable in the season 4 finale when Larry wonders where all the darkness and anger Michael had went. On par for being the evil mentor, Larry also laments that Michael is losing those things that made him do bad things with a smile and so good at his job.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: When Michael approaches a Libyan security agent working at the Miama consulate and introduces himself, the spy says that he was expecting Michael Westen to be taller.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Whenever Madeline's hair is down, so is she.
  • Expy: The show generally likes to cast actors in roles that are appropriate to their acting history, but this really hits home when John C. McGinley is cast as Tom Card, Michael's CIA mentor. Tom has so many of the same mannerisms as Dr. Cox (the "attention whistle" and the way he rants) that you almost expect him to call Michael a girls name or "newbie."
  • Face Death with Dignity: Maddie Westen. With James' men about to storm the safe house where she, Jessie, and her grandson are, and Michael in a bind elsewhere, Maddie decides to do one final act for her boys. They had enough C-4 to make a good bomb and take out those who are rushing in, but no remote detonator. So she tells Jessie and Michael (by phone) she will take them out since Jessie will need to be the one to shoot and protect Charlie from those the bomb didn't kill. reluctantly, Jessie allows this and Maddie sits calmly, smoking a cigarette, waiting. When the men break in, she coolly says, "This one's for my boys...."
  • Failure Is the Only Option: The burn notice is the only thing that keeps Michael in Miami. Word of God is that because of the way the shows production process is set up, shooting outside of the Miami area is inconvenient to the point of impossibility (though they have shot in the Bahamas for a couple of scenes in season four, involving Fiona and Jesse, but not Michael). Therefore, it is doubtful the burn notice will ever be taken out of play.
    • At one point, Michael was willing to risk it and got a cover ID from an old friend (a former contact who only showed up in two episodes, the first and hers as a client) to go to Washington; story contrivances had the people Michael wanted to see come to him right before he was going to get on the plane, thereby keeping him in Miami.
    • He got out of Miami for the Season 4 premiere, but it's rather obviously still filmed in South Florida. In any case, after one trip to an undisclosed private holding facility and a generic jungle location, it's back to Miami in time for the first commercial break.
    • As of the season 4 finale, it looks like this is averted and Michael is back in!
  • External Combustion: Done in season 1, by accident, Sam calls the cell phone Fiona hooked up to the baddie of the week's car, and causes the car to blow up.
  • Fake Buzz: Pretending to get drunk is one of the spy skills Michael has cultivated. Sam also pulls out the trick on occasion.
  • Fake Crossover: A USA Network staple is making crossover commercials for multiple shows;
    • In one, Michael sends a care package to Hank from Royal Pains. A care package that contained sunglasses, suntan lotion, and C4 plastic explosives. Because "you never know when you might need a stable plastic explosive." To a concierge doctor! Hilarity ensues.
    • To promote the final season of Monk, Sam and Fiona give tidbits about their impressions of the famous detective, like many of the other USA Network original show characters.
    • Used when they were advertising the network première of Casino Royale. Cue several scenes edited together to make it look like Michael and Bond are working together (with special attention to the Miami scenes of the Bond film).
    • A more recent commercial has Michael and Fiona at a restaurant. Fiona is digging through her purse and leaves a handgun on the table, which FBI Agent Peter Burke spots and questions her about it, and Fiona feigns ignorance. Then a grenade rolls out of her purse... Michael's resulting Face Palm is well deserved. And epic.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out:
  • Faking the Dead: In "Friends Like These", Sam and Michael instruct a hostage to scream, then harmlessly fire their guns at the walls to give the impression they've executed him. They heavily imply that if he doesn't act convincingly, they'll have to kill him for real.
  • Fanservice:
    • The show has a tendency to segue into new scenes with shots of random girls in bikinis. Very pervy shots at that.
    • For fairness' sake, there's plenty of shots of Mike and other muscular men stripped to the waist as well, and the fifth season even has a prolonged hand-to-hand fight between Mike and a Russian bodyguard in a steam room where they're both clad in nothing but short towels, with all of the shots emphasizing how totally cut they both are.
  • Fatal Flaw: Lampshaded by Narrator Michael in season 2 (that episode where he had to clear the name of his friend accused of stealing from a record producer played by Method Man). He says every target has a weakness whether its money, drugs, women or respect.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: In the second episode Sam and Michael make lighthearted banter about conning a hardened criminal who'll probably shoot Michael if his cover is blown. Michael having dinner with Fiona and his mother? That's Serious Business.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Brennen is the embodiment of this.
  • Feed the Mole
  • Fighting Fingerprint: * In the episode "Comrades", Michael (in one of his narrative spy tips) talks about the importance of knowing different fighting styles and remembering which one to use depending on your cover. In the episode he was posing as a Russian Mafiya mook and so had to use a fighting style called Sambo.
    Narrator!Michael: A fight is one of the quickest ways to tell if someone isn't who they say they are. If you say you are Russian but fight like an American, consider your cover blown, which means you better know Sambo, the mixed martial art of Russia. Of course, you also have to win the fight; a great cover ID doesn't help much if you're dead.
  • Finishing Move: Michael doesn't use too many recognizable or flashy martial arts moves. However, he has ended using some sort of sleeper hold with a body scissors on several occasions.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: How things get worked out between Michael and Agent Bly after the latter shows up a second time. They're preparing to ruin one anothers' lives when they wind up in the midst of a bank heist. After that they part ways amicably.
    • Also, Michael and Beck are this by the end of "The Hunter."
  • First-Person Smartass: Michael, occasionally in his voiceovers.
  • Five-Man Band
  • Five Second Fore Shadowing: Michael finding out that his apartment is rigged to explode right as he gets home.
    • How many helipads in the area? There's only one...
    • From "Depth Perception": That was hours ago. He could be here already.
    • Also used frequently in Michael's narration. It goes something like this:
    When you're a covert operative and you have to do X, it's a pretty good idea to make sure that you Y and don't Z, in order to avoid problems like A, B, and C. (*Camera follows someone from Team Westen setting the plan into motion.*) Of course, none of that matters if someone else unexpectedly does D. (*Someone else immediately does D and the whole plan blows up in their faces.*)
  • The Fixer: Sam, and Barry the Money Launderer.
  • Foreshadowing: In 3x01, "Friends and Family", Michael helps his old friend, Harlan, kidnap a Very Bad Man so they can covertly ship him back to his home country to be tried. Madeline says she hopes Michael doesn't get Harlan killed. Subverted when they kidnap the guy, and Harlan kills him and points the gun at Michael. Turns out he's working for the Bad Guy's partners, who didn't want to risk him testifying against them. Harlan plans to turn Michael over for the reward and blame him for the kill. Michael would be given a mock trial and executed. Double subverted when Michael escapes, incapacitates Harlan, and hands him over to the Venezuelans, presumably to undergo the same fate he had planned for Michael.
    • In the S2 half-season finale, Sam and Michael divvy up tasks, leaving Fi to say "Leaving me free to shoot Carla." Michael: "Fi!" She actually does shoot Carla in the season finale. Then she says "Finally!"
  • Footnote Fever: See the Fun with Subtitles entry further down the page.
  • For Inconvenience, Press "1": In "Do No Harm", the Con Artist forced at gunpoint to dial 9-11 and confess to her crimes.
    "I'd like to report a crime. *groan* Yes, I'll hold."
  • Forklift Fu: In "Damned If You Do", Michael uses a forklift and shipping container to disable a gang of thugs and their vehicle at a storage facility.
  • Found the Killer, Lost the Murderer: Happens repeatedly in Michael's quest to find out who burned him.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Regularly. Michael points out that knocking someone out and putting their prints on the gun can be explained away by any decent lawyer. Prints on the trigger assembly, however...
    • It goes horribly wrong when Michael decides to frame a loan shark's dragon as an undercover cop by hiding credentials and a gun under his floorboards. The incompetent mooks can't find them in their initial search. Under more prodding from Michael they finally break into a wall - where the undercover FBI agent had stored his badge, gun, and family photo.
  • Friendship Moment: Many, many between Michael, Sam, and Fiona. Stop and sniffle for a few minutes in "Long Way Back" when Sam doesn't even need to be asked to get Fiona back at all costs, saying he'll get her out of there no matter what - and, of course, appending that statement by telling Michael never to tell Fiona he said that.
    • In 3x15, Sam puts a tracker in Fi's lipstick because, to paraphrase, "...[I've] already had one friend disappear with a psychopath today; I'm not about to let a second."
    • Michael and Maddie get a family version of this when Michael confesses his fears of becoming a psychopath like Simon in the Season 4 premiere.
    • Michael refusing to leave Sam in the hostage situation in "Breach of Faith" - "I leave when you leave."
      • Echoed in "Where There's Smoke" when Maddie says "I go home when Fi goes home."
    • 4x06 has Sam and Michael share a beer with Jesse in acknowledgement that he's become a part of the team and earned their trust that he can handle himself.
    • In 4x10, "Hard Time", Michael goes to prison to protect a friend of Sam's for no other reason than to help Sam.
    • In 4x16, "Last Stand", Michael, Jesse, and Fiona refusing to leave one another, and Michael finally apologizing to Jesse for lying about the burn notice.
  • Friend to All Children: The one guaranteed way to get Michael to take a job is to have a child be in danger. Foes who know this sometimes take advantage. Likewise, hurting a kid is Fi's Berserk Button.
  • Fruit Cart
  • Funny Background Event: In the third season finale, Sam and Michael have a conversation via cell phone while distantly behind Sam you can see Fiona chewing out one of her sources for information.
  • Fun with Subtitles: Every episode has a subtitle of any person of note, the current villain, client or a new ally. Usually it is used to punctuate Michael picking up a new client. Once it was used to describe how many different job titles a one-off character had. And once it was used to help clarify when a supposed client turned into an assassin. (See Batman Gambit.)
    • One particularly notable example had a character identified with one subtitle when first spotted, then switched to another subtitle when Fi explained a few things, then added another subtitle when he was observed to be a real jackass. All in the same three minute scene.
    • In one episode, they even gave one of Michael's MacGyver contraptions a witty subtitle.
    • The subtitles, one of the series' main gimmicks, started as fairly straight-forward ID devices. Once or twice in the early seasons they included snark. By the third season they use them to Paint The Medium, being almost entirely snarky and insulting. Notable highlights include "Evil Son of a Bitch," "Probably Not An Alien," "УCTУПКИ" (answering the question "is there a Russian word for hardass?"), "Charmless Sleazebag", and "Pathetic Excuse of Man".
    • Perhaps the most common is when the subtitle is taken directly from the dialogue, often contradicting it (for instance, when in season 3's half-season finale Fiona says "I'm not one of your damn clients" the subtitle reads "Fiona-The Client").
    • Management's title only states "Management", with no clarifying subtitle.
    • Simon's subtitle is merely his name plus "?" Then changed to "The Client" when Michael is forced to help him.
    • Vaughn gets "Michael's New Friend" contrary to Michael saying otherwise. It also serves to give us his name since he has no reason to tell Michael.
    • This started back even early in the first season. After Michael beats down an Czech assassin, he hisses at him in Czech or Russian, ending in "comrade." Which the subtitles spiced up to "Welcome to Miami, ass***."
    • Unfortunately, season 7 seems to have discarded the subtitles altogether.
  • Gambit Pileup: Some episodes emphasize that Michael really has no idea what is going on and who is messing with him.
    There's a reason they call the spy trade "The Hall of Mirrors." You can never know for sure whether you're in control or you're being played. But if you do it long enough you'll learn to trust your instincts.
    • Case in point with the third season's first half finale, when after having killed Strickler to save Fiona, people start dying around him, including his government contact for getting back in, and he has no idea who is doing it.
      "In the spy game, the worst thing that can happen is to not know who the players are, what the rules are, and what's going on."
    • "Guilty as Charged": Michael, Sam, and Fiona (who are trying to clear Jesse's name and bring down Barrett) versus Jesse (who wants revenge against Michael for burning him) versus Vaughn (who thinks Michael's on his side and wants to eliminate Jesse) versus Barrett (who is a merchant of death with his hands in Michael and Jesse's burn notices).
  • Gambit Roulette: Pops up in Season 4 episode "Breach of Faith" - while Michael was doing the best he could with what he had, his entire escape plan could've been utterly derailed by only one of any number of variables such as the incriminating cash not being in a safe right in the building they were in, the safe in question not being a floor safe (and thus having weak sides), the SWAT team trying and successfully getting audio and/or visual feeds inside the office, the Villain of the Week not having a gun pointed at Team Westen and Friends as the SWAT team breached the office, or the Villain of the Week's assistant not finiding her conscience and turning against her former boss. He, in narration, is fully aware of how lucky he is.
    • The characters are generally very good at anticipating the behaviors and reactions other people will do, which is generally explained in enough detail that it avoids becoming to convoluted. That said, a character in the fifth season mid-finale pulls off a plan that was so well designed to anticipate seemingly random events that even they are amazed it worked so well.
  • Game Changer: The game changer was Michael coming across a NOC list of the organization that burned him.
  • Gang Bangers: Omar is a surprisingly sympathetic one in "Friendly Fire" who wants to protect his people. Vega, on the other hand...
  • Gangsta Style: Used by Beck in "The Hunter" and by a gangster wannabe in "Fearless Leader."
  • Gaslighting: Michael does this sometimes, but an early episode in Season One deconstructs it by pointing out the potential dangers:
    Michael: One of the dangers of psychological warfare is that it can be too effective and send your target into a paranoid tailspin. That paranoia can be useful...or deadly.
  • Get Into Jail Free: Michael asks to be put in prison for a week to protect a friend of Sam. This ends with a prison riot, and the man who wants Sam's friend dead being broken out of prison, and set up to go right back
  • The Ghost: Sam's ladies are mostly off screen. In season two, the viewers actually meet Veronica, Sam's big squeeze.
  • Give Me Back My Wallet: Mike's professional thief ex-fiancée Sam steals his wallet repeatedly as a joke.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Not quite a "end of the world" scenario but Sam and Barry were trapped at a mansion with a villainous SWAT team ready to slaughter them (it involved a black market arms deal that went very wrong). Sam tried all sorts of alternate tactics to get them out and to safety, with everything failing. Knowing the bad guys were going to try an explosive breach, Sam reluctantly broke the gas line and had him and Barry hide in an iron bathtub.
    • In Season 7's "Tipping Point", Agent Strong clearly feels he has crossed this in his quest to bring in James. We find out how desperate Strong has become when we learn that the mercenaries he hired to run the capture operation are led by Simon, who tells Michael that the CIA has been keeping him as Sealed Evil in a Can for years now, pulling him out for special operations like this one.
  • Gone Horribly Right: In "Brother In Arms," they're trying to convince the people running a Russian black site that it's compromised and about to be raided by the CIA, to convince them to transfer a prisoner. Instead, they end up calling in a squad of commandos for reinforcements!
  • Going Native: Mike jokingly accuses the security chief at the Pakistani consulate of this:
    Michael: Pakistani spy in an Indian restaurant. My friend, you have gone native.
    Waseem: Oh, I like the chicken tikka.
  • Go-to Alias: Sam always uses the name "Chuck Finley" when he needs an alias for the Job of the Week. Except when he needs to pretend to be one of the bad guys, when he goes by "Ian Finley" instead.
    • In the fifth season premiere, he wants to use "Chuck Finley," but the CIA makes him use an alias they cooked up instead.
  • Got the Call on Speed Dial: The entire premise of the series.
  • The Government
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Michael engages Carla in a brief conversation in Arabic at one point. Subverted in that he did it just to discover what sort of regional accent she had (Kurdish!) in hopes of figuring out more about her background.
    • In one episode, Michael actually can't read Spanish and so Fi and Larry (yes, dead Larry) have to translate for him. They end up translating things the same way.
      • And they don't just translate it with the same meaning, but word for word the same: pendejo="like idiot but ruder." They also both giggle during the translation as they find the translation funny.
  • Groin Attack: Fiona shoots a thug in the crotch with a shotgun (It was only a beanbag) in episode 5x04 "No Good Deed" after he had been tossing Sam and Jesse around.
  • Guile Hero: Three of them, actually, but Michael most of all.
  • Gunman with Three Names: Sam lampshades the trope in "Eyes Open", when he doesn't think that "Dennis Barfield" is a sufficiently menacing name for a Mad Bomber;
    "I think we should call him 'Dennis Wayne Barfield' for that extra serial-killer flavor."
  • Gunship Rescue: In "Game Change" Michael does a variation of this. Michael commandeers a yacht that a rogue CIA agent and her drug dealer ally are on with him. He then radios the Coast Guard, telling them it was a drug ship. When they come to stop the yacht, the "rescue" comes from them being pressure on the rogue CIA agent to confess to her crimes or the Coast Guard will blow them out of the water as Michael won't stop the boat as ordered.
  • Hammerspace: It's not clear where precisely Fiona keeps pulling shotguns from....
  • Hand Wave: Arguably, the finale of Season 2/the beginning of season 3 handwaves the Fridge Logic of "Why doesn't Michael get the cops on him for doing crazy stuff constantly" and "Why don't more of his old enemies show up" by saying The Management was "working some magic" to keep him off the radar; the moment he returns from meeting with them, he is set on by the police, and his bail is paid by someone else who's now able to locate him.
  • The Handler: A new one per season.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Usually averted at least in the case of Team Westen; they almost never answer any questions their prisoner may ask. The few cases it happens is when it's untrained interrogators or when Team Westen is playing a Batman Gambit and allowing the lecture to happen. The most overt (and well written) example would be when Jesse interrogates Kendra. He starts off doing things properly and refuses to answer questions. Over time, he allows her to get the upper hand until she's talking and he's reluctant to answer. Of course, this is what they want and so it becomes reverse-interrogation, resulting in the new 'interrogator' (Kendra) slipping up and giving them information.
  • Happy Place: Subverted beautifully, in a standard psychologist joke.
    Fiona: Tricia, I want you to try something. It's a relaxation exercise I do in situations like this. I want you to close your eyes, and breathe deep... picture a peaceful mountain stream... picture yourself drowning the kidnapper in the stream. You're taking a rock from the stream, and raising it above your head, and with tremendous force you're bringing-
    Michael: Fi!
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Averted. Burn Notice often shows Michael working out in his loft, or down at the gun range with Sam. Fiona's skill as a marksman plays this straight, but her kitchen chemistry and Michael's soldering skills are shown often enough that they can't really be questioned. Sam's physique doesn't demand an explanation.
  • Hard Work Montage: In preparation for bringing down the Villain Of The Week, usually involving the construction of explosives.
  • He Didn't Make It: In the final season episode "Brothers In Arms," Burke, the man Michael went on the mission to take down, sacrifices himself to allow Michael to rescue a woman from the Russian FSB. After the wall explodes and Michael brings out the woman in a fireman's carry, Jessie asks him where Burke is. "He didn't make it."
    • Invoked by Gilroy when he tells Michael that thief Claude didn't make it from his injury. His injury was a broken ankle
  • Heal It With Booze: Michael gets trapped in a bank robbery with Special Agent Bly. Bly goes cowboy and gets winged in the arm for his trouble, and Michael starts pretending to be a doctor. While treating Bly, he pours vodka over the wound both to disinfect and to punish him for being a jerk.
  • Heel Realization: Michael comes dangerously close to one in the episode "Bloodlines." The job requires him to mistreat his mother in front of the mark. Although he's sincerely apologetic about having to do it, Madeline is completely unprepared for the level of venom Michael is able to generate and is physically shaken. It's only toward the end of the episode that it's revealed he's been channeling his abusive father.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Simon pretty much straight-up tells Michael that this will be his ultimate fate.
    • And Mike gets called out on this by Sam and Pearce at least a couple times in Season 6 - he was ready to burn spies and betray his own nation to get Fiona back and stop Anson, and another time he pulled a gun on Sam (who was unarmed), and had to be talked down by Pearce, who convinced Mike that he was too emotionally involved to maintain the composure he would need to apprehend Anson.
    • And he begins to succumb to this in Season 7, where he outright joins James' organization.
  • Hero Antagonist: Some of the law enforcement types who come down on Michael and co. have this feel to them.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Fiona.
    • She's called out on this by Larry in "Enemies Closer" by comparing her to himself and talking about how Michael needs someone like that. Like him.
    • In 3x15, she threats a bomb maker by mentioning that he's working in her turf and she could get him killed by contacting the bikers he worked with and having them drag him from Florida to Jersey. It's impossible to tell how much of this, if any, is a bluff.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: One client of the week offered to sacrifice himself to ensure the villain of the week goes down for his murder, after failing to catch him for his actual crimes of smuggling via diplomatic immunity.
    • In the Grand Finale, Madeline refuses to be used against Michael by James' men and offers to blow herself up with a bunch of mooks to ensure Jesse and Charlie get to safety. The entire team absolutely hated what happened, but she refused to do otherwise.
  • Hero Stole My Car: Michael does this so often, he sets "rules" for himself: he will always try to return the car "reasonably intact," and if stolen from a workplace during working hours, the car will be returned by 5:00 PM if at all possible.
  • Hero Tracking Failure: Invoked in 3x07, "Shot In The Dark" to scare the target silly.
  • Hidden Supplies: Whenever things get a little tough Michael and co. have random supply spots with guns, explosives and other spy gear. Almost goes sour when Detective Paxson gains wind of where one of these spots are.
    "Spies hide guns like squirrels hide acorns."
    • And then lampshaded in 4x02 when someone renting out Maddie's garage finds one of Michael's old detonators.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Comes up occasionally. Other times, it's not Michael or someone else he's trying to hide but what he's doing. In 4x07, for instance, he disables a spec ops team in the middle of a party by disguising his actions as people getting drunk and such.
  • High-Altitude Interrogation: Michael and Sam use this technique on two men to try to find the boss of a medical scam ring. The interrogatees, however, were in no real danger as they were tied to the ground; Michael and Sam's plan was just to pretended they dropped one of them so the other would squeal from terror.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: most of them courtesy of Bruce Campbell.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Cole, the Villain of the Week in "Center of The Storm." He's double-booked for a job alongside a genuine Psycho for Hire, and Michael has to appeal to that heart to get Cole on his side against the other guy.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard
  • Hollywood Silencer: Played annoyingly straight in several episodes.
  • Homage: It's a testiment to the writing of the show when it takes you until the next day to realize that Simon is a modified version of Heath Ledger's Joker. Simon's actor (Garrett Dillahunt) isn't playing him as a carbon copy, but it is impossible not to catch on to several cues. Setting up bombs using store-bought incendiary ingrediants, nuzzling his head against the barrel of a loaded gun being held by someone willing to pull the trigger, the casual way he shoots Management's bodyguard and the way he laughs hysterically when his arch rival ultimately refuses to kill him.
  • Home Field Advantage: Michael takes advantage of this whenever possible, and does his best to prevent enemies doing the same.
  • Honor Before Reason: Jesse.
    Jesse: Some guys can watch a dude smack his girlfriend around in a bar. Some guys can't.
    • Notably, in 4x05, Jesse is never in the same room as Sugar (a drug dealer) likely because the Power Trio knows that Jesse would as soon arrest Sugar as work with him (which the plan requires).
    • Sam counts to an extent. While he's willing to ask favors from both professional and social friends, he rarely allows the more mundane among them to be used and abused to the extent of his professional contacts (who can generally handle themselves). Visual case in point in 4x05 when he allows himself to get beat up so that Sugar, a guy he openly admits he doesn't particularly like, can avoid getting roughed up or killed.
      • Word of God notes that this is actually one of the differences between Michael and Sam. One of the undertones of "Dead or Alive" is Michael realizing that he has a Double Standard (he values his own word and own reputation more than other people's) - that it's hypocritical to want to salvage his reputation but not do the same for others. Word of God even notes that the client of "Dead or Alive" is not one Michael would have taken initially.
  • Hot Men At Work: One of Fiona's undercover acts has her introducing herself as an agent for a company that makes calendars specializing in this trope.
  • Hyper Awareness: Played straight in the pilot. In season 5, it's played with hard - Michael spends the first couple of episodes suffering from what he calls post-operation paranoia; he starts seeing things everywhere.
    • Maddie also gets hit with this in Season 7. Michael's voiceover points out that simply knowing you are being watched makes it almost impossible to not pay intense attention to everyone around you, and misinterpret their actions as being hostile.
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