From the opening Narration: "You rely on anyone who's still speaking to you...Family, if you're desperate." The way it's originally said, you assume that the desperation has to do with Michael not liking his family very much. But the more the show goes on, the more you realize this is not the case. Michael is fiercely protective of his family, particularly his mother, and when she gets involved in spy stuff, she is put in danger. He'd have to be desperate to get her involved and put her on the line.
Another factor - at some point Michael comments that spies typically come from broken homes or have unhappy childhoods, as it means you can take a punch, know how to lie, and never get homesick (paraphrasing). Someone who has had to deal with that isn't going to have a great deal of faith in their family, and wouldn't go turn to them unless they've really got their back to the wall.
In the Season 3 finale, Simon lures Management into a vulnerable position by careful planning and manipulation. In other words, he did the same thing Michael does every week.
In the Season 4 finale, Michael is given a coat as proof against a snowy day and apparently given his old job back, while being escorted into a building. In other words, he came in from the cold.
An early episode in season 5 seems to suggest Michael is afraid of becoming his abusive father, more or less. It helps show why he's attracted to Fiona; She'd never let him act like that, even if he wanted.
He may be more like his father than he wants, in one episode reference is made to his father pretending to work for the city utility department. Apparently Michael's not the only one who can pull a Bavarian Fire Drill
Given that revealing your status as an operative is grounds for treason, why is it that Michael can get away with telling people like his family and Fi that he's a spy? Well one, arresting him for treason would acknowledge that he's a spy and all his activities (and since he's got neither an official nor unofficial cover at the moment, his defacto cover is a private citizen). Two, given the sort of trouble he caused when he was burned the first time, antagonizing Michael a second time would just be asking for trouble.
Jesse promised to put a bullet through the guy who burned him. He did. And into the guy who was holding that guy hostage.
In 5x5, Michael gives the bad guy Jesse's car and later in the episode, it gets partially ruinned. Why Jesse as opposed to someone else? Because it's part of his meta-initiation into the team as every one else's car has been totalled at some point.
In the 5th midseason finale, yes, bombing a British Consulate is a pretty heinous crime, but made even worse when the woman framed for the bombing is an ex-IRA member.
Another piece of fridge brilliance in that episode is when Sam and Fiona are discussing the bombing of the Consulate, and Fi refutes Sam's reasoning against ("We're talking about an armed assault on a friendly government building") with "Please, the British are far from friendly!" It seems slightly odd with only a layman's knowledge of geopolitics, until you remember that, entirely vanished accent or no, Fiona is Irish.
Also in the 5th mid-season finale, why does Michael finally outright defy Larry? Because Larry's words "Daddy's in one of this moods"/"I treated you like a son" made him finally realize that Larry was just as abusive to him as his own father. And by now, Michael had grown beyond that.
Larry is Michael's evil counterpart. This is lead to the point where both of them faked their death with a factory explosion. When Larry got off the grid he became a psychotic assassin. When Michael got off the grid he retired and started a family with Fi.
Hot off the TV screen - the Burn Notice episode "Friendly Fire" was nearly over when I suddenly realized why exactly Michael's black-and-red suited, explosion-snapping cover was named "Luis".
Much though I loved the "Enemies Closer" episode, I could never understand why the idea of Michael killing Carlos - a mass murderer himself, if only by proxy - was considered to be so much more of a Moral Event Horizon than setting him up to be killed. Then I realized it was never about Carlos. It was because the only way Michael could have escaped retribution afterward would be under Larry's protection. Depending for your long-term survival on a Psycho for Hire who knows exactly how to mindfuck you is all kinds of bad.
The first episode of the third season ends with Michael asking a foreign agent if he speaks English. "But why?" asks the viewer. "Why doesn't Michael, the super spy, just tell him what's going on in Spanish?" Obviously because most viewers don't speak Spanish. But in-universe? Twelve episodes later Larry (yes, dead Larry) shows up and we learn that for all his gifts, Michael doesn't know Spanish.
This was foreshadowed earlier, but covered up as part of the job. Michael was pretending to be security detail for a rich Spanish speaking family and when the girl he's supposed to be the agent for flirts with him and asks if he speaks Spanish. Michael answers that he doesn't.
Burn Notice appears to love its continuity, and is very subtle about it, particularly in the second season. In the first episode, Michael helps a programmer get away from the people who burned him and from some unpleasant mercs by helping him hightail it to South America by way of Haiti. Thirteen episodes later, a man from Haiti says he met someone who Michael helped, who said Michael used to work for the government. In the eleventh episode, Fiona takes it very personally that a client's younger sister was accosted by a gangster. Then in the ninth episode of the third season, we learn all about Fi's younger sister.
This is a very small one. Michael's trying to get back in season three by bugging Diego, a CIA field officer in Miami. To do so he steals some bowls and auctions them online with the name "Michael Hearts Diego". He returns one of the bowls and learns his situations is being looked at. For the longest time, I thought he only stole the one bowl, but in the scene just after that, we see Michael and Fi eating salad in his loft out of bowls exactly like the one he returned to Diego. A tiny bit of continuity porn.
Before the show "Dead Larry" faked his death in order to retire by walking into an Oil refinery and then having it blow up with him inside, how did Larry actually die? He was blown up in an English consulate building. Also in the same vein, we get a few death scares with Sam one of which mirrors Larry's fake death (he goes into a chemical plant before it blows up) before he walks out and asks Mike what he's so upset about, this is a bit interesting when you notice it and give a little thought because Sam is an effective foil to Larry in almost every way, personality wise and in their relationships with Mike.
In the season 4 premiere, we are introduced to Vaughn, the next face of Management's company. In the scene outside the holding facility, he tries to convince Michael to help them out with settling a massive conspiracy. Part of his pitch is to admit to him that previous operatives (Carla, Victor, Simon) were pretty bad, even throwing in the word psychotic. Come the season 5 summer finale, Anson reveals that he was one of the founders of the burn company. He used his access as a psychiatrist to identify good intelligence operatives that would or could get burned, and have them recruited into Management's organization. In other words, he was selecting agents with great skills and ability, but were psychologically unstable for the field. If their profiles were close or could fit it given the right provocation (ex: Michael and Victor), they were up for recruitment too.
The person the Burned Spy organization wanted dead? It still doesn't matter but come season five, knowing how Anson operates, we can guess that Mike was recruited to help start another agent on the path to being recruited. It would make sense - the person would be unknown to Michael and so knowing who it was wouldn't reveal anything to Mike, it would help reinforce Mike's status as burnt (and of course put him in the pocket more of the organization), and it fits the sort of methods Anson might use on an agent (kill agent's family, convince agent that he can help get revenge/get over the grief/etc in counseling, and then later show evidence that it was some 'crazy' burnt spy that the CIA didn't bother protecting the agent's family from).
Something that seemed strange was the apparently permanent shift to less lethal ammunition whenever Team Westen used shotguns, starting in season 4. While the show used bean bag rounds before in season 2, it seemed implied that anytime a shotgun appeared, it was loaded with something lethal. It seemed weird that a switch to less lethal ammunition was not given without the usual voiceover to justify it. However, the season 4 premiere featured a scene where Mike and Sam broke into a house to kidnap a bike gang's leader. When confronting the leader, his girlfriend fights with Sam, who accidentally discharges his shotgun near Mike. Perhaps Team Westen decided to take precautions in the event they accidentally shoot each other with a shotgun again...
It took this troper until the season 5 finale to realize this. Of course, the obvious ploy with Anson is blackmail. But remember Michael's lecture on how to turn an asset (antagonize their friends, separate them from other voices, make them desperate, give them the logical choice)? That's exactly what Anson is doing/has been doing ever since he showed up. We've gotten the chance to see what it's like from the other end of the spy/asset relationship over the long term. The blackmail? That's inconsequential in all likelihood.
Not only that, but the more you analyse the situation Anson had planned, the more you realize how manipulative he is. Had things gone according to plan: 1) Jesse's dead meaning one less voice of reason/one fewer ally for Michael, 2) Michael's even more unstable, 3) Sam and Fi are likely to become more distant over the loss as would Maddie, 4) Pearce and other operatives are burned giving him new tools to work with, 5) Michaels even more in the hole, 6) Anson has leverage over Pearce and the others, both personally and professionally (he'd use Michael's betrayal to get Pearce for instance), 7) Rebecca becomes even more in his pocket, 8) he gets rid of Reed who would be targeting the same people he would be, 9) Michael becomes The Man (ie he looks like the evil mastermind of Anson's organization)... and it goes on. In short, in one little operation, Anson leaves with a very impressive start to a new organization. And even with the botched operation, he still wins (Reed's out of the picture, Rebecca's outed as a plant so she's burnt and beholden to him, Michael's still in a desperate situation).
The Honor Before Reason entry in the main page notes that Word of God has Michael value his own rep and word more than others. This was from an interview back in perhaps season 3 or so. Likewise, various entries about Simon such as the He Who Fights Monsters. These aren't just comments about Michael - they're actual character trait which are shown off because Anson demonstrates he can control Michael using them. Michael is willing to burn 4 other agents (willing!) because he believes he can fix it later (and it'll be okay) whereas he feels he should never have been burned in the first place and even though he fixed it, his life is still not what it was/could have been.
In addition, this also sheds some light about why he killed Frank. Sure, Frank was getting nosy, but Anson has shown it's easy for him to disappear. However, if Frank were to have made amends to his family, Michael would not have been as unstable and distant from his family - which means making it harder for Anson to eventually distance Michael from his family later.
Season 6's mid-finale episode is another Fridge Brilliance thing about Michael getting burned. Anson getting his hands on Michael's file - okay, considering he was a shrink, that's possible. Maybe he knew a thing or two about him. But Tom Card? That guy knew Mike inside out as his training officer. Even with Narrowed It Down to the Guy I Recognize it's not obvious at first.
Michael seems upset (to say the least) over Nate's death. Yes, it's justified to begin with and so he also begins to refuse to allow Fi to help on missions. But looking further, look at how things ended with Nate. Their last times together were arguments, despite having gotten alot closer over the recent years. Though "See you in hell" was never said, the same sort of hostility was there. Michael, older and wiser now, realizes this and that's why he's so upset. Every single relationship he has has so far ended in arguments and then death.
The series finale gives an in-universe explanation for Michael's narration: He's actually recounting his life story to Charlie.
It also combines this with Callbacks. Michael's 'retirement' plan? It's a culmination of all of his father figures' deaths. As with Frank, it comes after a realization of his evil. As with Card, it comes after an expression of pride and love. As with Anson, a gunshot. As with Larry, well... just as Larry walked into a building and it exploded, so did he (the first time anyway).
It also serves as a resolution to the fundamental reason Michael became a spy in the first place. In giving up his anger, giving into his humanity, in forgiving his father by forgoing revenge on James, he's finally moved beyond the abuse. And the path he does so is indicative of his childhood - he takes on the abuse of his father so that others aren't hurt. The difference this time is trust and openness with another as well as a willingness to strike back and walk away.
And lastly, Fi and Mike end up in what is somewhat implied to be Ireland.
At the joint funeral for Maddie, Mike, and Fi, the soldier gives Jesse the flag which is usually given to family members. Sam is a close friend and while he considers them family, he thinks of them as friends first. Jesse, on the other hand, thinks of them as family first.
Maddie's actions in the finale. It's representative of her own growth as well as her coming to terms with Frank's abuse. Though many of her actions might have implied it, her sacrifice - in defiance of James who speaks to her a lot like an abusive spouse - is basically her saying "No, I am not a victim here any more." in the same way that Michael's defeat of James is the same.
James' organization is a Foil for Team Westen itself. Their motives, their extreme loyalty, everything except their methods and means. If Simon and Larry were what Michael could have become had he not found his humanity, James is what Michael could become if he could not balance his humanity with his ethics. An interview with Nix reinforces this, saying that Sonya is who he thinks he wants to be (the professional) while Fi is who he actually is.
In "Better Halves", Fi remarks that when dealing with drug lords or mob bosses, Michael always knows exactly what to say or do, but he has a hard time with her. Well of course he's going to have a hard time with Fiona, he's explicitly trying to not manipulate her into doing what he wants. Not to mention she'd probably pick up on it quickly.
From the pilot: "No matter how good your training is, a broken rib is still a broken rib." The body has physical limits, and no matter how well you train, plan, or execute, it can -and will- betray you.
Big one for the 4th Season finale. Brennan has a daughter. Larry just murdered an innocent girl's father in cold blood.
Then again it -is- Larry. He probably couldn't care less. Doesn't make it less bad for Annabelle though...
Knowing Brennan, he had plans for precisely that contingency. His family is almost certainly taken care of.
The client in the season 2 premiere and his family fled to Haiti. 3 years later there was an earthquake.
He only fled to Haiti to catch a plane to Argentina. They should be fine.
But later on he helps a man who lives in Haiti and was going back there at the end of the episode.
Also Paranoia Fuel: Michael is always talking about how surprisingly easy it is to break into a government building, provided you wear the right uniform, and how easy it is to get people to give you what you want, provided you know a little Game Theory and human psychology. How much of that do you think actually works? How many actual spies have bluffed their way into secure facilities using disturbingly simple methods? How safe are we, really?
Any security expert will tell you that, at the end of the day, a secret is only as safe as the person with the key. The intent of most modern security systems is to take out the human aspect (or disassociate the person with the key) so that these tactics don't work. This, unfortunately, has the effect of making the humans feel alienated, which may make them vulnerable to exploit...
To answer the question: a whooole lot, probably ditto, and much less than we'd like to think.
What happened to Anson's "kidnapped" wife? Did she actually exist? Did Larry attack her under orders from Anson or did Anson do it himself?
He himself explains: "I think her name was 'Some lady'.
An in-canon version pops up at the end of season 2. Management points out that it sure is odd that all the enemies Michael made as a spy hadn't come after him now he was pinned down, and if he wants to leave the people who burned him, they won't be providing him with protection any more.
In order to avoid detection a professional spy has to keep changing identities. So why does Sam Axe constantly use the alias "Chuck Finley" in nearly all of his jobs? Wouldn't that increase the chances of a random hostile to blow his cover?
In real life, most spies don't actually change names. And at any rate, names aren't as unique as people think they are. It would be more of a curiosity thing than anything else; certainly a quick Google search will bring up at least one other person if not lots more who share a common name.
Fridge Brilliance?: His Chuck Finley alias has such an Expansion Pack Past that, without facial recognition, people that heard the name alone or just googled it would think he was several different people.
In the case of Chuck Finley, Sam based it off the name of a famous pitcher who mainly played for the Angels. This may be partially intentional since it means most cursory searches probably bring up the baseball player and not some international man of mystery.
The brilliance of the Chuck Finley alias is that it becomes instinctual. When the rest of the team goes undercover they need to create a new persona and alias, Michael especially who buys wardrobes for his role. But Sam acts as support with most of his roles are short-term, the clipboard and hard hat variety where he needs to be able to respond to the name without hesitation so he can go in and out without fuss. Note that while Chuck Finley is the most famous alias, he does change it up for more major roles.
In the series finale, it's heavily implied that Michael and Fiona are living in Ireland after faking their deaths. Didn't Fi's brother say in the season 3 mid-finale that they could never go back there due to Mike being outed as an American?
Mike Westen is dead, so clearly that can't be him. Think anyone who sees Bruce Wayne after the end of Dark Knight Rises.
Not to mention they could easily be someplace else, like Maine or Vermont, or half a dozen other places. Who's going to look for Michael Westen in Canada?
Fiona keeping up her American accent supports this story, but what about the Celtic music playing during the whole scene?
Celtic doesn't mean Irish alone. Though I doubt Fi would care for it, Scotland is a possibility. Or Nova Scotia (New Scotland). Or it's Saint Patrick's Day.