I'll need a few cell phones, some C4 and my sunglasses.
"When you're burned, you've got nothing: no cash, no credit, no job history. You're stuck in whatever city they decide to dump you in. You do whatever work comes your way. You rely on anyone who's still talking to you: a trigger happy girlfriend; an old friend who used to inform on you to the FBI; family too — if you're desperate. And a down and out spy you met along the way. Bottom line: As long as you're burned, you're not going anywhere."Burn Notice
, a USA Network
original series which ran from 2007 to 2013, stars Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen (no, not that one
, although he has guested on the show), an American spy who gets blacklisted by the government (the titular "burn notice
") in the midst of a covert mission. Michael barely escapes the mission, passes out on a plane, and eventually wakes up in his native Miami
— where he finds family, friends, and an old girlfriend waiting for him.
Michael doesn't have any money or income, though, and he can't exactly get a job recommendation from his former employers. To make ends meet, he reluctantly accepts clients from around the Miami area and works to help them solve their problems under the table. These problems usually involve saving said clients from various life-threatening situations, mostly of the "good guy gets deep in debt to bad guys" variety. While these tasks take up the majority of most episodes, the show also spends time on Michael's various attempts to figure out who in the government burned him (and why), his ongoing quest to clear his burn notice, and his interpersonal relationships with his friends and family.
Michael relies on Fiona Glenanne (his girlfriend and a former IRA
operative) and Sam Axe (a retired spy/ex-Navy SEAL who Michael worked with in the past) to watch his back as he takes on con artists, mobsters, gang leaders, and various other underworld riff-raff. From Season Four onwards, the team gains an extra member in Jesse Porter, a counterintelligence agent who Michael accidentally burned as a side-effect of the Myth Arc
. All of the members of this team have plenty of skill when it comes to crafting primitive explosive devices and homemade spy gear out of household items. Unconventional warfare serves as one of the show's major themes; at one point, Michael says, "Guns make you stupid. It's better to fight your wars with duct tape. Duct tape makes you smart." Another theme comes in the form of crafting identities
out of nothing; when dealing with the bad guys, Michael and company often play the role of criminals (be they rivals or friends) or even innocent civilians, but never show their true colors unless someone or something forces their hand.
As noted above, Michael is played by Jeffrey Donovan, a previously under-the-radar actor (prior to Burn Notice
, he had guest-starring roles on Law & Order
and Homicide: Life on the Street
, and he showed up in the best-forgotten Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
). Fiona is played by Gabrielle Anwar, most famous for her brief role as Al Pacino's dancing partner in Scent of a Woman
. Sam is played by famous chin Bruce Campbell
. Sharon Gless (of Cagney & Lacey
fame) plays Michael's mother, Madeline, who often helps Michael find new clients (and sometimes plays a part in helping Michael's operations). Season Four adds Jesse, played by Coby Bell, previously known for Third Watch
and The Game
Michael serves as the show's narrator
, explaining to the viewer why he chooses a particular course of action. Rather than doing a real time Inner Monologue
, Michael narrates as if giving a lecture to a class of students. Viewers can think of Michael the Narrator as a slightly different character from Michael Westen. Through this method, the show addresses a large number of tropes (most of them spy-related) and plays with them in a variety of ways
. The show does its best to avoid typical action movie clichés: a car won't explode
unless someone's planted a bomb on it
, characters get hurt and are forced to spend several episodes limping around
, and making escapes involve either dangerous stunts
or being small enough to squeeze through an air vent
eventually began branching away from A-Team
-style clients-of-the-week to focus on Michael's quest to clear his burn notice. From Season Five onward, the show explores, expands upon, and develops the drama behind the characters and the ramifications of the Myth Arc
. (A number of other shows on the USA Network
began to copy this approach in the hopes of reaching the same level of success as Burn Notice
.) By the middle of Season Six, the show effectively wraps up the original Myth Arc
while introducing new plot points to carry it through its seventh and final season.
A prequel movie to the series, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe
, premiered on USA in 2011. Bruce Campbell starred in the film (obviously) and Jeffrey Donovan served as director.
We're TV Tropes, and we used to list all the Burn Notice tropes on this page — but when a page gets too big, we have to break it into subpages. This doesn't involve duct tape, but it should.