Quip to Black: Sam does it twice as part of a CSI parody, posing as a crime scene investigator at a crime scene (a fashion house). The first time, he dramatically slips on his sunglasses and says, "It looks like murder...is in style this year." The second time, he dramatically slips on his sunglasses and intones, "It looks like our killer's plan... is coming apart at the seams."
Rats In A Box: Subverted/Inverted when the second rat is Michael, trying to get some information out of the baddie by pretending to be a previously-unknown colleague.
Later in season two, they manage to get two subordinates of the episode's Big Bad in a room together. Cut to Sam sitting right outside the door with a notepad and listening device.
Attempted in "You Can Run" with the twist that there is no other rat but Michael tries to make it seem otherwise.
You want to know the difference between you and me? I really do know you. You only think you know me.
Reassigned to Antarctica: Pearce is reassigned to a soul-sucking desk job in Mumbai after an underhand ploy of Michael's is uncovered by her bosses.
Real-Life Relative: Nate's wife in "Enemies Closer" was played by Seth Petersen's real life wife.
Recruiting the Criminal: Michael doesn't have any qualms enlisting the services of Barry or Seymour, as they're still more or less decent guys.
Barry, at least, is strictly white-collar in his crimes; he calls himself a "friendly neighborhood hide-your-money-from-the-taxman guy", as opposed to a Villain of the Week "rob-and-kill-for-hire-and-call-it-an-investment guy" with whom he wants nothing at all to do. Indeed, Michael gave a client Barry's information to help resolve things.
Red Shirt: Detective Paxson's partner, although not killed, was the one to take the fall for a political trap Michael set up for her.
Refuge in Audacity: Sometimes, when Michael's cover risks getting blown, instead of panicking and dropping it, Michael just gets more in character, which is often enough to convince his targets that he's legit. At one point he shot at his friends in the season 2 premiere, to which Fi replies "I think we just got drafted into Michael's cover".
"Inexperienced operatives abandon a cover ID under pressure; experienced ones just play their roles harder."
Something that gets turned on Michael in 4x02 when it's Michael that's getting shot at unexpectedly to maintain a cover.
The 2X12 episode "Seek and Destroy" is filled with this, with Michael tempting fate with comments (while undercover as a spy hunter, no less) such as "A spy could be in front of you, and you would never know it."
At one point Michael tricks a group of drug pirates into practically handing over their drugs to him by telling them that an ex-spy is coming to steal their stuff - essentially telling them exactly what he's doing to them.
In one episode, Mike, Nate, and Fiona sneak a stolen car into the backyard of a drug dealer to set him up as the thief of both the car and the drugs it was carrying. He manages to smuggle the car's parts in through the back gate past the guards and assemble the entire thing quietly enough that no one notices it being built. Then, in front of the drug dealer and his boss, he uses the fact that it would be nearly impossible to pull something like that off as proof that the car was legitimate.
Mike needs to convince a scam artist that he's legitimate. He does this by saying that cops "don't do this" and hurling a molotov cocktail into said scam artist's nice car, effortlessly blocking his enraged punches, and then pushing into an even better car and says that it's his now. (Also, it's Jessie's really nice car that Mike just gave the scammer.)
In "Hard Out" Mike sneaks onto an island filled with mercenaries, destroys their satellite commlink, posed as a security specialist from the merc's clients who turn the entire mercenary operation inside out, and makes the mercenary commander look like a complete fool. When they end up confronting the mercenary's backer and Mike makes it look like the backer stole critical and valuable files, the backer outs Mike, only for Mike to point out one of two things are possible: either the backer stole the files back to sell them for profit, or a mysterious mastermind snuck onto an island filled with mercenaries, destroyed their satellite commlink, posed as security specialist from the merc's client who turned the entire operation inside out, and somehow convinced them to turn on their own backer for taking the files. Which one sounds more plausible?
At one point, Mike is faking a weapons demonstration, using guns he doesn't actually own, in a warehouse that isn't his. So when the actual weapons dealer shows up in a truck to crash the party, Mike keeps his cover intact by including the new arrival's truck as part of the demonstration and blowing it up with an RPG.
Paul Anderson from season four is another example.
Retcon: A subtle one. In the pilot, Michael pretty much says he's not CIA. By Season 5, it's pretty clear that he always was CIA, albeit under unofficial cover (that is, he didn't pretend to be employed by the US government as a diplomat or some such).
Voiceover Michael: What do you say to that? "No?" Explain that a lot of spies don't work directly for the CIA?
Retool: Starting in Season 5 the individual episodes become less about helping random people around Miami and more about actual CIA jobs, though "client of the week" episodes were evenly dispersed. By Season 6 it has become primarily CIA jobs. This has resulted in a slightly more traditional spy story, as now Michael doesn't have to jury-rig his own spy gear and there are more "international points of interest" rather than just getting a bad guy to back off an innocent. The show is also slightly more serious, evident by a new end credits theme.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Victor against Carla's organization, and unfortunately Michael fell into that category. Michael himself said that it isn't helpful holding grudges because the guy who hit you with a baseball bat yesterday could be a valuable ally today.
To a certain extent, Simon. Though considering his personality, it's hard to say whether it's him being angry and wanting his life back or him on a normal day and wanting his life back.
Michael and Sam when Fiona is taken by O'Neill in "Long Way Back".
Jesse says he's going to do this whenever he finds out who burned him. For bonus points, he says this to the person in question: Michael.
Romantic False Lead: Campbell, Fiona's boyfriend in season 2. She never explicitly chooses between him and Michael, but eventually he correctly judges that Michael is always going to be her most important person and gently dumps her.
Rule of Funny: Sam's CSI shout-out. Realistically, that would seem like the kind of thing that would alert the target of the con. But who cares? It was funny.
Running Gag: Whenever Michael's cover is about to be blown and if he manages to defuse the situation, as soon as the bad guy turns around Michael often gives some sort of exasperated expression, either a "whew" or an "Oh Crap."
Michael's habit of finding alcohol (probably the same prop, reused each time) hidden in drawers whenever he needs to ransack cubicles.
Mama Westen's relative ignorance of actual domestic chores like cooking, although subverted when she rewired her car by herself.
Sam's frequent cover-id "Chuck Finley." This one is frequently lampshaded.
That time Sam blew up Maddie's house. It kept coming up for a while.
Michael, despite growing up in Miami and speaking several foreign languages (Russian, Urdu, Czech, French, German, Arabic, and counting), being completely unable to speak even basic Spanish. "Oir sey por fa... please!"
This one even comes up in the season 5 premiere. The audience gets to see a rare moment where Michael actually looks completely flustered while in a cover when someone asks him if they can speak in Spanish. As it turns out, Michael's so bad at Spanish, he can barely say the word in some of the other languages he's fluent in.
By the start of the final season, he's finally added Spanish to his list of languages spoken.
The show's various spies using each other's names as aliases.
Fi's never-ending supply of C-4 and other explosives.
Sam's inexhaustable supply of "old buddies" and his love of mojitos.
Westen eats yogurt, mentions yogurt, holds a yogurt container, or goes shopping for yogurt in every episode.
Single-episode example: In the Season 6 summer finale, Jesse has no shoes. And he wants you to be very aware of this.
One of the members of Team Westen makes up an on-the-spot cover ID, often emotionally-wrenching, to get someone's attention or fool someone watching them. The moment the danger is past, they drop the act and bolt as quickly as they can, leaving the person they were acting at completely befuddled.
Sarcastic Confession: Michael once played a "spy hunter" while being the spy he was hunting for, and he essentially explained his entire plan to the bad guy. It was a method of psyching him out.
Funny. One British spy in Russia during the revolution actually did that.
At one point he's explaining to the villain of the episode that a hard drive containing video footage was erased (by Mike, via electromagnet) possibly by "a security guard with a grudge, a hacker, maybe even some guy with an electromagnet."
El Diablo: Michael dresses the part in "Friendly Fire".
Say Your Prayers: In a season 6 episode, a cop goes on a suicide mission, intending to either bring in the gangster who murdered his partner... or provoke the guy into killing him in broad daylight. Just before he starts, he says the Lord's Prayer.
Scenery Porn: Lots of establishing shots of beautiful Miami beaches. Given the propensity of including good-looking ladies in bikinis, this makes this a somewhat more literal interpretation of "porn" than usual.
Seen It All: Incidentally, you know the excrement's hit the cooling-device when something comes up that neither Michael, Sam, nor Fiona have ever encountered in some form.
Lampshaded by a client, Emily, when the crew came up with their third improvised plan against the bad guy and she wondered, "Do you guys have a manual on this stuff?"
Selective Obliviousness: Voiceover Michael calls Madeline out on this in an early episode. Her knowledge of what he did for a living was said to vary depending on what she needed from him at any given time: at one moment she thinks he works for the post office, another she can name all the members of the National Security Council.
Self-Destructing Security: In Season 4, an important MacGuffin is buried in a graveyard in an airtight container, which also contains highly reactive chemicals that would explode when exposed to the air. Filling the grave with machine oil allows them to get inside safely.
Sentimental Sacrifice: Michael explains several times that you can't get too attached to items because they can get in the way. When finding pictures of Victors family, Michael immediate felt sympathy for him because a spy doesn't keep pictures of his family with him unless they are already dead. And when Faking the Dead that means much the same thing. On more specific occasions, various beloved cars have been destroyed in the name of keeping them alive.
Shaggy Dog Story: Done intentionally many times, as a reflection of how sometimes the mission involved will lead to dead-ends and are sometimes irrelevant to the interpersonal issues going on. As for specific examples:
Michael spends a good three episodes tracking down who Carla is only to have been played with. Michael is just as frustrated as we are (it's possible Michael was closer than we can tell, since he had to back out of an initial search due to the client of the week story). The details of what exactly Carla's operation in the second season mid-finale was turned out to be irrelevant.
This ends up making the reveal of Simon at the end of season three more interesting because it subverts the tendency for the show to leave the "mysterious backers" mysterious.
One of the most personal vendetta's in the series regarding Michael trying to find out who killed Nate alongside Anson ended up being revealed as having no specific purpose. The sniper didn't have a clean shot that wouldn't harm Nate and took it anyway just because he was ordered to.
Shallow Love Interest: In-universe example: Nate's wife Ruth is considered pretty shallow by everyone except Nate.
Sherlock Scan: The main three can decipher things out with just a quick lookover, but they are also aware of the need for more concrete information like FBI reports.
Shocking Voice Identity Reveal: In the Season 2 episode "Bad Breaks", Michael is unexpectedly stuck in a bank in the middle of a robbery. Michael pretends to be a doctor (which gives him various opportunities to cause trouble for the bad guys.) After many fun shenanigans, it ends up with Sam calling the head bank robber on his cell phone, pretending to be a powerful, scary guy who "really owns the bank." Michael confirms that he "recognizes the voice," and relates a story about what a powerful, scary guy he is, which causes dissension in the ranks of the remaining robbers.
Shoot the Dog: In order to maintain his cover with James, Michael is forced to assassinate one of his old spy friends.
Shoot the Hostage: Season 4 midseason cliff hanger Jesse shoots through Michael to get the bad guy. Michael is actually recovering from his injuries for several episodes in season 4.5
Shown Their Work: While it is hard to tell if they are portraying the spy experience accurately (as it is likely many of the exact details are not known to the public), every episode features at least one very deliberate subversion of a variety of common tropes, which would actually be aversions if it wasn't for the voice-over narration. And the narration also makes this show a goldmine of clever and effective quotes to describe tropes on this site.
Though probably prettied up for TV the production actually does have a retired spy, Michael Wilson, on staff as a consulting producer. They'll usually come up with something and then ask him how he might do it. Jeffrey Donovan said that he would be in contact with Wilson and told he would be gone for a few days. When he returned there is something in the news about a recent political event and he can't help but wonder...
Showrunner Matt Nix films short commentaries for each episode online. He frequently mentions how each episode they usually call up Michael Wilson (Retired espionage advisor) or another specialist (ie an X Ray technician for the trunk x ray machine) so they can get things right.
This shows up in the little stuff too—like when Garza calls the CIA "The Company."
In "Signals and Codes," the discussion of a cryptographic algorithm with a 4K key length being impossible to crack within the projected lifetime of the universe is absolutely right, and the sort of incidental detail that only an experienced cryptographer or computer programmer would have known about.
Shut Up, Hannibal!: In "Long Way Back", Strickler gets Fi kidnapped, and then holds a gun on Mike and tells him to "Forget the past!"
Michael:Fiona is not my past. (Quick Draws his gun and shoots Strickler twice.)
Sibling Yin-Yang: Michael and Nate, pretty much all the time unless one of the above applies.
A Simple Plan: Played straight pretty often, but with some justification, insofar as the screw-ups are usually the result of normal people making understandable mistakes. One plan called for Michael and Fi to watch while a client, Nick, picked up some ransom info from a dead-drop. Michael and Fi were to find and capture the kidnapper, who would probably be watching as well. All Nick had to do was walk in, pick up the info, and leave without looking at Michael or Fi. Guess what he does?
And played with in 4x05. Michael's plan is fairly convoluted and intricate. The plan that actually solves the problem? Blow up a few things pretty much out of context and call it a day. Astute viewers will note that Michael The Narrator actually reveals this plot twist on the opening narration... but it's disguised as advice on Michael The Spy making a cold approach to the villain of the week.
Sixth Ranger: Jesse. Nate, when he's around. By season 6, Pearce.
Also, Michael after Anson nearly gets away from the chemical plant in Season 6's premiere and Michael catches him.
Anson: (confident) You don't want to do this, Michael.
Michael: (demonic smile) Oh, yes I do.
Smug Snake: Brennan would be a Magnificent Bastard if Michael didn't keep foiling his plans. When Larry fatally stabs Brennan, he states that Brennan's weakness is that he can't deal with an Indy Ploy.
"You're so busy thinking ten steps ahead that you don't see the movements in front of you."
Soft Water: Averted and lampshaded; the times Michael has had to jump into a body of water, he'll either dive correctly or toss something in front of him to help with the impact. In one instance, someone following him didn't hit the mark properly and ends up breaking his ankle.
Spoiler Opening: The list of guest stars in episode 7x11 "Tipping Point" quite needlessly threw out Garrett Dillahunt's name, so anyone with a memory of the earlier seasons knew that Simon had returned. We couldn't guess what the nature of his return would be, of course, or that he would end up dead with his own knife in his chest after trying to kill Michael..... but there was no reason not to save the star's name for the end titles. Nice job breaking it, Matt!!
Spoiler Recap: The "Previously OnBurn Notice" recap at the beginning of the Season 3 finale shows clips of Management from the end of Season 2, thus spoiling the surprise when, after an entire season of not being mentioned at all, Management suddenly pops up again later in the episode.
Spy Fiction: Michael is stale beer in a more martini situation while trying to get back to stale beer.
Stalker with a Crush: Lucy Lawless and Mark Sheppard both play characters like this. Mark Sheppard's character was faking it in order to get information. Lucy Lawless's character, on the other hand... was just a bit of a psychopath.
State The Simple Solution: "Why don't you just shoot him?" is more or less Fiona's Catch Phrase. They usually give a Hand Wave at least as to why they can't do that, usually because they won't get back the stolen money that way. Or because it would throw away their only lead.
Jesse seems to be of this school of thought as well.
As is Larry, though his philosophy tends to run toward "why don't we just shoot him, and the guy standing next to him, and everyone either of them knows, and anyone else involved in the job."
Stealth Pun: Drug dealer 'Sugar' returns in episode 3x12, where its revealed his real name is Raymond. Which would make him "Sugar Ray".
In the first season, Michael takes a job working for Sam's Seal buddy Virgil. The name Mike takes for his persona is Homer.
Stealth Hi/Bye: Some kidnappers pull this on Michael while he's getting a massage.
Sam later pulls this on some FBI agents on a stakeout. To be fair, both were dozing off at the time.
Maddie manages this on Jesse and Michael. And it is hilarious.
Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: Michael in the season 1 finale does this to allow himself to finish a job before being taken in by the mysterious men after him.
A Storm Is Coming: The opening to "Center of the Storm." Unusually, the main part of the episode takes place in the aftermath of the hurricane.
Storming the Castle: About every third episode, Michael (with or without the assistance of Fi, Sam, or both) have to invade a bad guy's lair by force.
And then in 4x02, they have to fake one.
Strange Minds Think Alike: Mike and Fiona are in the garage working on Mike's car when Maddie comes in and mentions that Barry's brother is there to see Mike for a job. Fiona looks startled at Mike; "There's two of them?". Later, when Fiona tells Sam about Barry's brother, he says the same thing.
Season 4 seems to be playing with the formula so far. Both to keep things fun and interesting but also, subtly, to push Michael to prove or disprove Simon's words of them being just like one another.
Because of this formula, episodes that break away from the pattern tend to be among the more surprising and popular ones. The finales of the second and third season are good examples.
As of season 5, however, the formula has been broken completely. Any given episode's client story (if there is one) may or may not involve Michael (whether he gets involved or whether the client is one that has approached him) while any given burn notice story may or may not play significantly in the episode. The addition of Jesse as a regular also seems to have allowed the show to contain more of these non-formula stories by allowing Team Westen to break up into two teams of two rather than having one solo character trying to solve problems.
Season 6, the formula is broken completely with the myth arc given front stage and most minor stories told as longer multi-episode arcs. Client stories are few and far between, tending to be filler or the client being related to the big picture. The show now resembles more of a character-driven action/drama while retaining the many established elements of the show.
Status Quo Is God: While it does advance the characters and the arc slightly, most fan frustrations are from the lack of definitive change in the individual episodes.
Strapped to a Bomb: In his first appearance, Anson claims he is being forced to work with Larry because Larry has strapped a bomb to his wife. There is a woman with a bomb strapped to her, but exactly who she is becomes less clear as the episode goes on.
Stuff Blowing Up: Every explosion comes with a justification. With Exploding Barrels it was filled with a flammable water sealant, and Michael used a shotgun with incendiary ammo. For Every Car Is a Pinto Mike points out that shooting a gas tank will just leave you with an empty gas tank with a hole in it and a lot of gas on the floor. Unless, of course, you tape a few bags of acetone peroxide to the tank.
The one occasion when Michael didn't intend to destroy the car, he had wanted Fiona to set up the spark plugs to be remotely disabled, in order to immobilize him. When triggered, the device blew up the car. (In hindsight, Michael should have been much more specific when he told Fiona to disable it.)
And in a later episode, he was dealing with a Genre Savvy South American drug dealer. When the dealers car didn't start, he immediately got out, since, as the narration pointed out, he was Genre Savvy enough to know that in his line of work, a car acting up may mean a bomb. There wasn't; Michael had removed the spark plugs.
Stupid Sacrifice. From the finale, Maddie suicidally detonating C4 to cover Jessie and Charlie's escape. All because they don't have radio detonators and the cord from the big red button is too short. They could have easily spliced in some wires from the wall or some appliances.
Submarine Pirates: One episode featured an Amoral Attorney who counted a drug cartel among his many evil clients. To rescue his daughter, Westen and crew request that the attorney get them a one-man submarine from the cartel. The submarine ends up being Team Westen's payment.
Suicide Mission: As Tyler Gray informs Michael, the mission Card sends Michael and company on for the season 6 summer finale was supposed to kill them, without implicating the CIA. Problem is, they just won't die.
Suspiciously Specific Denial: Inverted many times. When Michael is caught in a lie, he'll usually just keep playing his lie with specific made up details and sometimes hamming it up in the process. 4x06 has him walking quickly away from a crime scene carrying a lead in a metal basket, shouting very specifically about radiation and getting to a lab. Where he'll be. The lab.
The Svengali: Tom Card. Dead Larry tried to turn Michael evil, Evil Card tried to turn Michael dead.
Michael Westen: Who do you work for? Gregory Hart: I work for a 16-digit Swiss bank account number, and an anonymous email address.
Explained in detail about why the Cayman Islands is such a popular place for shady financial deals.
Switch to English: When Michael pretended to be a Russian spy, he began talking to a contact in Russian, who suggested switching to Spanish, because his Russian was rusty. They settled on English instead. (Michael doesn't habla Espanol.)
Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Det. Paxson's reasons for concern at Team Westen's apparent penchant for Stuff Blowing Up is portrayed as entirely understandable. Agent Pierce is this until she eventually becomes Michael's CIA contact and gives the team missions. Finally, Agent Riley is this until she hires a cartel to finish outside the law what she can't finish inside it.
Take That: Larry (yes, dead Larry) makes a wry remark while pulling up security footage that there hasn't been anything that good on at 10 PM in a long time. Guess what time Burn Notice airs?
The above is ironic in the second half of season 5. For some reason the show was shifted back to 10 PM from 9, and the ratings have taken a noticeably hard hit.
An affectionate one, but Sam's aforementioned pitch-perfect Horatio Caine impersonation.
Sharon Gless (Maddie) mentions in one interview that she likes the smoking aspect of Maddie since it allows some sense of impact sort of like how some people use glasses.
Tap on the Head: Subverted. Fi hits a mark on the head with an empty liquor bottle, and it... pisses him off. She has to hit him again.
Sam also subverts this intentionally. In 4x05, he uses the fact that you can't do a tap on the head to disable an opponent by smashing a beer bottle across the guys shin.
Tattoo as Character Type: Various thugs and gang leaders have the appropriately identifying markers, the show also carries a heavy military undertone as Sam and others have military tattoos.
Technical Pacifist: In place most of the time. Michael will avoid killing whenever possible, but does say that you should be willing to kill or allow someone to be killed when the situation requires it. The general impression the show gives is that the characters are willing to kill but they prefer manipulation because it avoids legal ramifications coming back on them. So far, the only people Michael has killed casually are a few mob thugs in the pilot episode (and as it's the pilot...). Later in the series when he does kill someone personally it is presented as a very desperate situation.
On the other hand, Michael is more than happy to set someone up for a Karmic Death. He just doesn't want to get his hands dirty.
The fact that Jesse has no problem causing a bomb to detonate early, killing the person who set it, shows a completely different kind of agent.
Technology Marches On: Played with in episode 5 of season 4 where Michael is stymied by a dated data storage tape.
Fiona "14 phone calls, 7 data-recovery experts, and three hours of arm-twisting to even access this drive, and it's unreadable!"
Michael isn't up to date with the latest spy gadgets largely because he doesn't have the money for it, but before he was burned he spent a lot of time in places where smartphones and computers are luxuries. Once he asked a client for their yellow pages to look up the nearest hardware store and the guy responds, "Bro! I've got a computer!"
Tempting Fate: You would think that a group as Genre Savvy as Michael and friends would eventually learn to stop telling each other how easy the latest job of the week is going to be, but no, they never do.
Becomes a Running Gag later on, with some variation of "I thought this was going to be [an easy job/a half-hour gig/just a white collar crime/etc]!" coming up almost once every other episode.
There Are No Therapists: Madeline ropes Michael into attending a home therapy session, but they both end up throwing the therapist out.
There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The CIA assassination team tasked with killing Dexter Gamble does this by spraying his safehouse with at least five heavy machine guns on full auto.
Somewhat Justified in the scene itself - they don't know exactly where in the room Gamble is, but the walls are just sheet metal, so they just rake the entire building horizontally. They go at length to explain where Michael's code-phrase basically meaning "get down and don't get up until it's over" comes from to make it work somewhat safely.
Tonight Someone Dies: Previews for "Shock Wave", one of the members of Team Westen is not going to make it out alive. It's Nate.
Too Dumb to Live: The vast majority of Michael's clients. There are several who are simply stuck between a rock and a hard place; take the client with a son who had just gotten out of jail and was "recruited" for a job. He turns the bad guy down, they kill him. He goes to the police, they put him in jail and he loses his son. Luckily, he had heard about this guy...
Schmidt is the king of this in all three of his episodes. He goes to his warehouse when someone wants to kill him and knows it's his, grabs a drink when sneaking into a crime scene, does the opposite of what Mike tells him to in general, and tries to snitch on one of competitors who he just had a deal with. One wonders how he survived before meeting the team.
In general, it's like Michael is Surrounded by Idiots, it seems whenever clients ignore Michael's advice or deviate from it bad things start happening to them.
Jack Yablonski, in "Enemies Closer", is so annoyingly befuddled as to almost make Mike regret saving his life. Word of God mentions that this was intentional; they wanted to try out a situation where in order to save someone's life, one has to deceive and manipulate that person.
Too Good For This Sinful Company: Poor, poor Max. He appeared to be a genuinely, unambiguously good man working for the CIA. He helped Michael dismantle the company that burned him, and was willing to go out on a limb and risk politics (and his job?) to help out one of Michael's clients.
Likewise, Mauve Shirt Brady Pressman who appears in one episode to help Team Weston find Tyler Gray. He gives up his life so that Team Weston can live, despite never knowing each other prior to this mission and have no real personal connection to the mission at hand.
Took a Level in Badass: Mama Westen might just be the poster child for the trope. She's slowly become more accustomed to Michael's lifestyle; occassionally being asked to leave town or have Sam stay with her at first. Starting in the third season she begun taking care of herself and participating in missions by doing surveillance or some (fairly safe) infiltration. It has built to the point where a phone conversation between her and Sam went like this:
In a later episode, she helps Fi, Jesse, and Sam search a house for information. She ends up finding the information needed before the other three. And then gets in a little gloating over the fact. In the same episode, Jesse and Sam have to pass a coded message to Michael over the radio. When Jesse later is about to explain the code to her, Maddie preempts the explanation by de-cyphering the code right back at him. In "Last Stand", when she lies over the phone to Michael when Vaughn's goons have guns to her head, and then spits in his face for good measure.
Finally comes to the breaking point in the sixth season premiere, she manages to hide from a psychopath sent after her by Anson and when Jesse is about to get killed by the guy she shoots him from the attic down into the main floor of her house with her shotgun... effectively shooting blind. It should also be noticed that several episodes have shown her with that shotgun but so far she has never had to use it in a conventional way.
Jesse fits this trope as of "Eyes Open", where Jesse, Michael, Sam and Fiona attempt to track down a fanatic bomb-maker. At the end of the episode, Jesse detonates the bomb the bomb-maker is carrying, killing him and destroying Fiona's house. Keep in mind, this is in a series where the protagonists rarely, if ever, actually kill anyone. And in the cases where they do kill someone, it's usually through Karmic Death or someone related to the burn notice story. In this case, it was a client story and Jesse was directly responsible for the killing.
Jesse: Sometimes you gotta put the rabid dog down.
Toyota Tripwire: Michael does this is in "Question and Answer", driving alongside someone who is attempting to run away from him and then opening the door to knock him down when he refuses to stop.
While breaking into a house, he raided the fridge of yogurt before he continued. He was left a gift basket of yogurt as "getting to know you" present by Strickler. In their emergency emergency meeting point, Sam mentioned the only thing the didn't have stockpiled was some yogurt. The list goes on.
For Sam, it's mojitos and beer.
There was a Burn Notice marathon sponsored by Yoplait. Whether this was coincidence or clever marketing is up to you.
Lampshaded when Sam gives Michael his old notes for the FBI...which included a daily tally of the amount of yogurt consumed.
Further lampshaded in the S5 premier. Max asks Michael how he's still alive (during a firefight which occurred due to an Indy Ploy). Michael can only suggest that it's because he eats a lot of yogurt.
And then later on in S5, a client offers Michael free yogurt as payment for a job. He readily accepts.
Tragic Villain: Victor's backstory, which is part of what explains his evil choices.
Fridge Logic suggests this of Larry of all people, particularly given his line to Michael: "They put us out there, they tell us the end justifies the means— sooner or later, you believe 'em!"
Another distinct possible candidate for this is Simon: for all we know, he may be Victor taken one step further...
Gabriel, who as a doctor did everything he could to save the people of his Argentinean village when a tech corporation started dumping chemical waste into the water. But when the sickness claimed his daughter, he was pushed to take more drastic action.
Trapped In Villainy: Rebecca. The only reason she was working for Anson was because he had her brother captive.
Trigger Happy: Fiona. Even the opening narration acknowledges it:
"A trigger-happy ex-girlfriend..."
Larry is even more so. While Fiona proposes they just shoot the Big Bad and end the situation, Larry prefers to kill everyone because they're witnesses.
And now Jesse. The trio seems to treat him like a younger brother while Maddie seems to treat him as a son. Jesse for his part seems to return the feelings; he looks up to Sam, has brotherly arguments with Michael, is protective of Fi, and treats Maddie like a Parental Substitute for his dead mother. Word of God mentions this; Jesse, being a counter-intelligence agent and thus trained to be suspicious of everyone, is not use to being close to people and working in a team. Thus the whole emerging relationships with everyone is something he isn't really prepared for. Then of course, he found out who really got him burned.
In 4x14, Maddie basically says this trope aloud, referring obliquely to them all as "family" when giving two of her boys a verbal chewing out.
More subtle, but over the course of season 4, Jesse switches from calling Maddie Missus Westen to well... Maddie as he gets closer to Team Westen.
Lampshaded in "Best Laid Plans" of season six. The client of the week asks incredulously that Jesse and Fi (who aren't around) will participate in (what he thinks is) a suicidal task just because Michael and Sam asks them to. Michael and Sam give each other a look like they didn't even realize that Jesse and Fi declining was even a possibility.
Sam: Yup. That's how we roll.
Outright stated for the first time in "You Can Run" when Jesse is captured by Riley and she tempts him with the file on his mother's murder in order to get him to turn on Team Westen.
Jesse: You're not my mother. You don't get to speak for her.
Riley:Why are you protecting them? They're not your family.
Tsundere: Fiona truly cares for Michael and certain of their clients (particularly kids), but is otherwise a scary, violent individual.
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 what, if any, is the truth and what is a bluff.
Tuckerization: Some characters are named after the production crew: Dan Siebels, Michael's former handler is named after producer Craig Siebels, Ukrainian hardass Piotr Chechik is named after director Jeremiah Chechik and one of Michael's cover IDs is named after composer John Dickson. Fiona's then-boyfriend Campbell may be a shout out to Bruce Campbell, giving the scene where Fiona tells Sam "You're no Campbell", followed by his surprised reaction hints of a deliberate Shout-Out.
Twist Ending: Every season and half-season finale ends in a cliffhanger, but season 3's takes the cake for twistiness. Michael Westen has been snatched out of the FBI's custody, and the FBI agent guilt-trips Mama Westen about not being more helpful by saying "God only knows what kind of a hole he's in now." Intercut with this are scenes of Michael or Simon (you don't know but he is limping and Simon has a leg injury from a knife) being marched through dim corridors in chains with a bag over his head. Then, in the last scene, he opens his eyes—to find he's seated not in some secret prison, but a well-furnished, luxurious den. Probably a very classy blacksite prison for people they want to have less incentive to escape.
Underestimating Badassery: Michael notes that the Coast Guard is generally seen as not very powerful. He then explains why this is not truly so.
Most people don't think the Coast Guard as being particularly well-armed. Most people are wrong. A Coast Guard patrol boat carries three .50-caliber M2 Browning machine guns and a 25-millimeter cannon, which means it can take out anything short of a battleship.
Underside Ride: In "Besieged", Fiona attaches herself underneath a fuel tanker in an attempt to infiltrate a Right Wing Militia Fanatic compound. She has a harness spefically designed for this purpose.
Unflinching Walk / Outrun the Fireball: In the S1 finale, Michael rigged the access ramp to a boat to explode because he was looking to rescue a kidnapped Sam. Once he freed Sam and they both crossed the ramp Fiona set off the explosive to distract the bad guys still on the boat. In glorious slow motion (while they are running) you see Sam freaking out while Michael is as calm and badass as ever. Makes sense as Michael knew that was going to happen and Sam did not.
Played Straight in "Brotherly Love"
Caleb: "What the hell did you do in there?!?" Michael (as "Smooth-talkiní Johnny" - again): "What did we do?" ~Chop-shop explodes behind them~ Michael: "Thatís what we did."
The Cleaner in The Teaser of "Friends Like These" does the UF bit.
And in 3x15, "Good Intentions", we get not one, not two, but three explosions that have to be outrun.
The show deconstructed even this trope: when Michael suspects the bad guy is in disguise among firefighters and rescue personnel. Michael yells that someone needs help. The bad guy, of course, is the only one who doesn't turn around.
Michael: Never mind.
Unfortunate Names: In the episode "Fearless Leader," Sam gets flack from an IRS agent named Stacey. He gets ready to schmooze her, but it turns out she's a he, and he's not buying into Sam's charm and half-assed excuses. To make things worse, we later find out Sam had dated Stacey's mom. So Stacy's Mom had got it going on...
Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Not a guarantee either way, but it's certainly more likely that something will go wrong when we know the details.
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The season 1 finale had a hilarious real life example of this. One of the mooks blows up a car with a rocket launcher, creating this huge ten-story fireball right near an overpass. And people on the overpass just keep driving. The director started to complain that the extras on the overpass missed their cue, then he realized those were actual Miami drivers completely ignoring the explosion.
Very Special Episode: Not used directly, but Word of God says this trope by name when talking about why they can't always have Nate appear even though they love the character and actor. In short, the act of bringing Nate into an episode would nudge the episode into something familial as Nate isn't a regular character and so there would need to be an explanation for his presense. Word of God notes he would love to bring Nate in for several episodes so that Nate can be there, do Nate things, but avoid having to justify it through a client story. They finally get around to it in Season 6, when his wife leaves him. Then he's killed.
Victoria's Secret Compartment: Ayn in Season 6 pulls one... in a prison outfit. That takes talent since they're little more than bare shirts and pants.
Villainous Breakdown: Recurring baddie Brennen a slick, smooth talking, ruthless arms dealer. However, when Michael
A season three episode features Michael convincing a white-collar smuggler that the two of them were being targeted by "Chuck Finley". Michael recruits a pair of hitmen (Sam and Fiona) to track Finley down, but Michael, Sam, and Fiona are "gunned down". When the smuggler calls his mobster brother for help, Michael pretends to be a priest and expresses concern that the guy had been talking nonsense. The mobster's convinced his brother lost his marbles when the guy identifies a fruit seller (Sam), and a random woman walking down the street (Fi), as a pair of deceased hitmen.
Prescott the bank robber has a fairly spectacular one when Michael and Jason Bly foil his plan and disable nearly all his mooks.
James is the ultimate example of this. Unlike the CIA, his organization doesn't believe in working with monsters. And unlike the organization that burned Michael, all the members seem to join of their own free will.It's very easy to understand why Mike briefly joined them.
War for Fun and Profit: The organization that hired Simon and which Jesse was investigating before he got burned.
Brennen finances private wars in his free time.
The Watson: The client is typically an audience surrogate that lets Team Westen explain their plans, with their increasing convolutions, to the audience.
We Help the Helpless: Michael's otherwise nameless business in Miami. One episode had a potential client asking Michael for help, and Michael repeatedly turned him down... right up until the guy mentions his son.
Actually taken advantage of through this in several episodes, with one person exclusively mocking Michael for it.
"You know how easy it is to find someone in trouble?"
And played with in the case of Simon. He tells Michael, complete with pity pout, to just think of him like one of his clients. Cue updated subtitle labeled "Simon - The Client."
We Need a Distraction: Lampshaded. Michael points out that Sam, pretending to be an irritating businessman, would make a better distraction than the attractive Fiona, because the guys would want Fi to stay around.
And then played with in the season 4 summer finale. Fi provides the distraction precisely because she is an attractive female and needs the attention on her.
Michael: A good trap makes people curious.
Welcome to the Caribbean, Mon!: In "Breach of Faith", The Teaser involves Fi and Jesse in a suspiciously Jamaica-like Bahamas, down to the very incorrect accents, and unlikely cars, and lack of the usual coral paint on what's supposedly a government building. Strangely, the police uniforms were more or less correct by default, but most copsin the Caribbeanuse the same basic uniform in the first place.
"Well Done, Son" Guy: Both Michael and Nate (and a number of clients and criminals) have father issues. A plot point in the first season has Michael and Nate arguing over the Charger and why their father left it to Michael. They're both hurt to learn he didn't leave it to either of them.
Wham Episode: Every mid-season or season finale, but notably:
The second season finale. Michael finally met with "Management" and cut off ties with them. They said they've been keeping him off the radar since he's been burned, so leaving their protection will bring out old enemies. "I'll take my chances." In this case, fans had to wait until the next season to see if the change of direction was going to really mean anything.
The third season finale, start to finish. To start with, Michael is on the run from the FBI and DHS after helping Simon escape.Thenhe ends up getting blackmailed into helping Simon set up a meeting with Management. After a whole lot of Indy Ploying by everyone involved, Simon's on his way back to some secret prison... and Michael's been disappeared off to some unknown location, presumably to go to work for Management. Whether he wants to or not. Oh yeah, did I mention that none of his friends or family know where he is or if he's even alive?
The PRELUDE to the Fourth Season finale. Hi Brennen
The first half of the Fourth Season finale. Bye Brennen. You're irrelevant now.
The second half of the Fourth Season finale. Hey Michael, take this jacket. You're going to need it, as it is pretty cold in Washington DC.
The Fifth Season summer finale, where Michael finally finds the man who burned him, and is blackmailed into working for him.
And now it turns out that Anson not only talked with Michael's father, he "arranged" his heart attack when Frank started asking questions. Anson is the bringer of wham.
Anson: You're welcome, Michael.
In the Fifth Season finale, in order to prevent Michael from basically selling his soul to Anson, Fiona turns herself in to the FBI for the British consulate bombing.
And now, in the sixth season episode "Shock Wave", Nate has been killed, along with Anson. By the same shot, apparently..
Seventh season, episode 11, Michael kills CIA alpha team leader/psychopath Simon Escher and defects to James's cause..
What Did I Do Last Night?: Invoked, twice, on an alcoholic con-man. Sam takes him out partying, drugs his drinks, and then when he passes out they set him up to think he did something really stupid so that they can pretend to fix it for him. (Michael W, have you been talking to Michael C?)
In the pilot episode, Mama Westen is portrayed as a long-suffering hypochondriac who has been treated for "every disease known to man" (with Michael footing the medical bills). This is treated as a defining trait for the character, i.e. on learning her prodigal son had returned after years away, she immediately demanded he drive her to the doctor. However, after the pilot episode, this hypochondria largely vanishes and is rarely alluded to again (save for one mention in a voiceover later in the series, and pill bottles seen in the background around the house). Chalk it up to Early-Installment Weirdness or Characterization Marches On. Possibly it was just a method of getting Michael to pay attention to her — when he starts doing that via more normal methods, she stops.
It's a Blink And You Miss It, but at the end of the pilot she complains that the new pills from her doctor for her hypochondria aren't going to work. Michael insists that they try it just for a little bit anyway.
A second minor one is averted in 4x06. After saving someone from getting blown up, the trio are leaving when Michael comments, "Wait, we can't just leave a bomb in public!"
Oleg, the landlord of Michael's loft, appears in the pilot, then in the third episode to point him to the Client of the Week, then never again. His club, located RIGHT BELOW Michael's loft, disappears too.
What was on Kendra's data drive?
Who was Carla trying to assassinate?
The long-running plotline leading up to the second season mid-season finale involves Michael running errands for the people who burned him and Michael's quest to find out what that's leading to. He learns a lot, and tracks down disparate elements of an assassination. Cue the mid-season finale, when the entire plot is burned to the ground by Victor, who sends Carla into a tizzy and sends the second season in an entirely different direction for the back half.
When Michael works with the CIA to take down the organization that runs off burned spies, the head honcho that Michael has worked with several times in the past, "Management," is not confirmed as being caught or killed and only mentioned once by Anson with regards to the origin of the group.
Lucy from season one completely drops off the radar after Mike saves her from a would-be assassin. She is never even mentioned.
Sam is married. Or at least, he was when he was younger, and he and his unknown wife separated after a brief relationship and never got legally divorced. We know absolutely nothing about this woman apart from a single mention of her.
What Measure Is a Mook?: While perfectly willing to abuse and knock around mooks, Michael and his friends try to avoid killing them whenever possible.
In "Down Range", Sam is forced to shoot and kill a mook who is about to spot Michael. Sam is clearly shaken up about it, and when Agent Strong tries to tell him the mook probably wasn't a good guy anyways, Sam shouts him down.
What the Hell, Hero?: In 3x10, "A Dark Road", Mike gets his mother to trick a government employee, Tina, into giving her some records illegally. And then Maddie ends up making friends with the employee, which causes some friction when Mike is forced to ask his mum to blackmail Tina for an even larger amount of records that would doubtless get her fired. Her angry conversation with the stonefaced Mike—who had been beating himself up about it already—mirrors the stonefaced one she has with the tearful Tina in the next scene.
But he did set things up later so that she wouldn't get fired.
In another episode, Michael needs to give FAA flight plans to Gilroy to earn his trust. However, Sam, who obtained the flight plans from a friend, refuses to let Michael take them, stating that he would be putting thousands of people at risk, as well as exposing his source. Fortunately, Michael decides that even though Gilroy might kill him for not providing all of the flight plans, he wouldn't want to live with himself if he put all those people in danger anyway.
4x03 has his mother give him one about Jesse. Cue Michael looking about as shocked and depressed as he could be.
Fiona is also starting to give Michael grief about lying to Jesse and keeping him in the dark about the nature of his burning. Which is a little odd given Jesse has made no secret of the fact he wants to kill the person who burned him. Sure, be angry at Michael for getting the guy burned, but the lying? That is better than the alternative.
And now it seems that Michael was at least somewhat right on the subject, as Jesse found out for himself and began a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. It might have been softened if Michael and company told it to him outright, but probably not all that much since he's basically Guy-Fi. Or Michael and Fiona's kid.
A small one from Jesse when Michael tells him he needs to lie about Marv's murder. "So I have to lie to the people who are just trying to find out the truth. Sounds like a Michael plan to me."
Fiona constantly calls out Michael for his willingness to be blackmailed by Anson for her sake.
Mom: I won it for, you know, reporting three stolen cars in the last two weeks. Michael: You mean the cars I stole and asked you to report? [...] Mom: Anyway, dress nice and wear a tie, the chief of police will be there. Michael: Mom, I can't show up to a ceremony surrounded by police officers while you get the reward for reporting crimes I committed!
Wig, Dress, Accent: While the wig part is deliberately averted, the show focuses almost exclusively on how Michael alters his attire, posture and vocal mannerisms (accent, pitch, idiosyncrasies, etc) on how he takes on new personas. It takes it to the logical extreme, as if Michael (and one time Sam) needs to look beaten up they can't rely on make-up to achieve that affect. So his gets punched a few times to sell the story.
One of the most hilarious examples was the episode when the client worked for a rap mogul and had been accused of stealing from him. Client had been given a time limit to 'find' the money, and about halfway through the time period, the mogul calls his entire staff into his office and starts talking about "loyalty" and "respect". While Michael and Fi listen in outside on their client's cell phone, she pulls a shotgun out of nowhere, and starts loading and priming it while Michael tries to stop her and listen to the meeting. She had gotten out of the car and was halfway across the street, with the gun in a bag, before the situation stabilized.
This also serves to drive home how serious the situation in the Season 3 opening is, when Fi advises a prudent course of action over a more explodey one.
Michael's mother can be pretty high-strung as well, especially shown in the season 2 opener.
Michael: "Mom, what are you doing? Put the shotgun down."
She texts or calls members of Team Westen at random times with urgent emergencies, demanding they come over right away. 50/50, it's either someone attacking her to coerce Michael, or a broken coffeepot, lakcing a partner for a yoga class, or similar non-emergencies.
While Fiona seems to have mellowed, Jesse is far more prone to break off from their current mission.
Michael Batman Gambit's this tendency of Jesse's in 4x06 to help with interrogating Kendra.
Flip a coin. Michael's client is usually either an idiot or a wild card.
Wire Dilemma: Averted. "On a well-made bomb, you can forget about cutting wires. Any decent bomb maker will make sure the important wires are impossible to reach. Freeze the detonator, though, and you can usually remove it safely. Of course, 'usually' is not a word you want to hear when you're working with explosives."
This is followed by a classic Gag Delayed Explosion as they chuck the detonator behind some water bottles and it goes off only after they visibly relax that it's not going to.
Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Subverted. Sam, in the S4 premiere, tries really hard not to hit the girlfriend of a biker gang leader, but she's kicking the crap out of him, and eventually, does lay her out with a roundhouse.
And Michael, if he has to, will hit a knife-wielding female assassin in the face with a steel-lined briefcase.
In fact, if you watch the actual scene where Michael is shooting at the person, you can see him instinctively take aim at the person before pausing and adjusting his aim to hit the person's car instead.
Also, taking a shard of window glass and slicing his own arm open to convince the security guards that he had accidentally (and drunkenly) broken a window he needed to get through.
After knocking out a would-be hijacker while pretending to be the hijacking crew's hacker, Michael smashes a glass table and slices his own forehead open to make it seem like they were attacked from behind by someone else. Later in the episode he fakes being mortally wounded.
Subverted in "Friends Like These".
This is how Michael meets Anson. Anson is pretending to be Larry's hostage, complete with a kidnapped wife with a bomb strapped to her.
Xanatos Speed Chess: The "reverse interrogation" scene from "Question and Answer", a rare three-way example. Michael and Sam are trying to find out from the kidnapper where he's hidden the boy, but they can't let him know that they don't already have the information. So Sam goes undercover as "Detective Chuck Finley", a corrupt drug-addicted cop, and Michael as his druggie snitch, and Sam has to interrogate Michael and feed him information he doesn't have as well as keeping the kidnapper from just killing Michael. On the other hand, Michael has to keep his cover, pretend he knows all the details of something he's trying to find out information about, and play it well enough to keep the kidnapper interested in his info instead of shooting him.
In the season 4 finale, with Brennan and "Dead" Larry working together, the only question is who will turn on the other first. Larry suddenly just stabs Brennan in the chest in broad daylight while the latter was still trying to play the long game.
As for Red Shirts...generally, if a character has a key to the overplot, the villain will pull this JUST in time for Michael to find the body.
You Killed My Father: Quite a few clients have dead family members or close friends as incentive to bring the bad guy to justice.
In "Depth Perception" Anson reveals that he had Michael on his radar for many years and had long chats with both Madeline and Michael's father Frank, and that once Frank started asking too many questions they "arranged" a heart attack. The thing is Michael did not have any fond memories of his dad, but the invasion against his family was still intensely personal.
You Know I'm Black, Right?: Humorously inverted, as the team had to decide which of them would be most convincing as a member of a black gang. Jesse hadn't really been paying attention to the conversation and when everyone started looking at him his response was "Really!?"
You Remind Me Of Me: Michael never quite says it, but his last interactions with Joey in Shot in the Dark are all about this, including when they both lean on Michael's car the exact same way and in the same pose.
Reinforced for humor—Michael says that the hypothetical guy who used to be a street punk got a better job doing a lot of the things he did when he was young. Joey's responds "So, I should eat a lot of yogurt?" There's a bit of a grin on Michael's face when he says "Couldn't hurt."
Paul says this to Mike word for word in "Past & Future".
Your Costume Needs Work: A variant on this in "Long Way Back": Michael pretends to be Irish so Fiona's brother Sean will trust him. When he needs to pose as an American arms dealer, he drops the Irish accent, telling Sean he's pretended to be American before. Sean's response: "The accent's a bit dodgy."