Burn Notice

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
I'll need a few cell phones, some C4 and my sunglasses.

My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy, until..."We've got a burn notice on you. You're blacklisted." 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 ex-girlfriend; an Old Friend who used to inform on you to the FBI; family too -- if you're desperate. Bottom line: As long as you're burned, you're not going anywhere.

Burn Notice is a USA Network original series which debuted in 2007. Jeffrey Donovan stars as series protagonist Michael Westen (no, not that one), an American spy who has been blacklisted by the government (the titular "burn notice"). Michael's burn notice happens right in the midst of a covert mission; he barely escapes, passes out on a plane, and eventually wakes up in Miami. Michael is lucky, though: he has family, friends, and an old girlfriend there.

Michael doesn't have any money or income, 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 with 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 an episode, time is also spent on Michael's various attempts to figure out who in the government burned him (and why), as well as 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 is joined by Jesse Porter, another former spy who was burned -- accidentally -- by Michael. All of the members of this team are very good at crafting primitive explosive devices and homemade spy gear out of household items. Unconventional warfare is something of a theme; at one point, Michael says, "Guns make you dumb. It's better to fight your wars with duct tape; duct tape makes you smart." The other theme is crafting identities out of nothing; when dealing with the bad guys, Michael and company often pretend to be criminals (be they rivals or friends) or even innocent civilians, but they never show their true colors unless their hand is forced.

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 and 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 and Lacey fame) plays Michael's mother, Madeline, who often helps Michael find new clients (and sometimes plays a part in helping Michael's operations).

Michael is the show's Narrator, explaining to the viewer why he chooses a particular course of action -- but instead of being done as a real time Inner Monologue, the voiceover is done as if he's 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 writing is surprisingly aggressive in avoiding the typical action movie clichés: cars don't explode unless someone plants 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.

The show aired for 7 seasons and ended in 2013.

A prequel movie, Burn Notice: the Fall of Sam Axe, premiered on USA in 2011. Campbell, of course, starred in the film -- and Jeffrey Donovan served as director.

Burn Notice is the Trope Namer for:
  • And Some Other Stuff: In "Lesser Evil." Michael's explosive recipes contain just enough to tantalize MythBusters and brush over the rest to avoid liabilities. Usually.
Here's your tropes right here, Mikey:

Tropes A-H

  • 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.
  • Actor Shared Background: Jeffrey Donovan comes from an impoverished family and has twenty years of martial arts experience (including a black belt in karate).
  • A-Team Montage: With some helpful tips on how and why the MacGyvering is being done.
  • 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 Micheal'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.
  • 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.
  • Arms Dealer: Several, in varying alignments; good...ish (Fiona), neutral (Seymour), and villainous (Brennen).
  • All Bikers Are Hell's Angels
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
    • In Jesse's case, it was more like an armor piercing shot to the shoulder.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: 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.

  • 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.
  • Artifact Title: Mike is not under a "Burn Notice" as of the end of season 4 and start of season 5. "No Good Deed" has it is temporarily back though. And according to Agent Pearce, the CIA may actually give Michael a non-official cover... as a burned spy.
  • 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.
  • 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.
      • In fact, the hiding in the wall part ends up getting used in season four by Kendra.
    • 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. [1]
  • Awesome Yet Practical: Because he knows what works, Michael doesn't waste energy in unnecessary endeavors. This is not the same as "guaranteed", mind you.
    • Tying into the previous trope, he'll usually point out when something is impractical and then proceed to explain how to make it practical. For instance, he hid something important inside the frame of his door behind a hinge panel.
    • Along the same lines, when searching for sensitive information a rival spy would keep around in their hotel room, he said that assuming she was as smart as he was, she wouldn't keep them in any place a normal person would use. So he ignored the obvious places and started searching inside light fixtures.
  • Aw, 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Beard of Sorrow: In "Good Soldier", Michael adopts the persona of an alcoholic and stops shaving.
  • Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: Michael's the brainy one, with Fiona as a beauty of the "She Cleans Up Nicely" school. Sam, of course, is the 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.
  • 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.
      • Because of her, Michael shoots, in cold blood, the man who was going to get him back in.
    • 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.
  • 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
  • Big Damn Heroes: All throughout the series, but the most recent and 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!
  • 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)
  • 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.

  • Bond One-Liner: Sam gets one ("Honey, I'm home.") to Fi after putting taking out a guy hard enough to break a hole into one side of a wall during a minor Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bound and Gagged: Fiona, almost exclusively.
    • Sam in the season one finale.
  • 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 ends 50 episodes later. In episode 1, Michaels Russian landlord comments that he thought the name Michael Westin was a code name, used to spook russion special forces. Episode 51 has a team of russian special forces tangling with Michael. When they learn his name, they FREAK OUT!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Car Fu: Often.
    • Sam does a particularly awesome bit of it in the season 4 opener.
  • 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.
  • 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."
    • 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..."
  • Cell Phone: Hoo boy. Michael goes through these like toilet paper. Not just his own, but any he can grab from other people at need. Sam and Fiona probably don't get a lot of mileage out of their caller ID!
    • Word of God jokingly mentions that spies did not exist before cell phones - that cell phone companies invented spies. Same commentary then explains why they use cellphones a lot: "It's not that we're in love with cell phones - though we are - ..."
      • Before cell phones the cumbersome wireless of the early Twentieth Century went through operators as fast as Michael goes through cell phones. There could be only one radio to a ring and the operator had one of the most dangerous jobs; many ended up against a wall unless the Secret Police had a bent toward sadism and wished to show more imagination.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: Subverted. We at first think that the CIA is evil because of Michael being burned. But in later seasons heroic CIA operatives and Reasonable Authority Figures appear. Similarly the FBI spends time harassing Michael, but really it is just that orders came down to keep an eye on him (and to be fair if you were the FBI and Michael Westen was in town you sure as heck would be watching him). In Truth & Reconciliation Michael's shadows are happy to take a break from the boring business of watching him to make an alliance with Michael to trash a war criminal who happens to be in Miami under a false ID. Proving that they at least have some sense of perspective.
  • Clear My Name: The new plot since Michael's Burn Notice was lifted.
  • Cliff Hanger: 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.
  • 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
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Several examples:
  • Cloak and 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.
  • 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 Crew: Sam is the Fixer; he provides Michael with the tools he needs to do his work, as well as using his many "buddies" to get info from legal channels. Unlike most fixers, Sam actually does do fieldwork too.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.

"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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Dirty Cop: A trio of them in "Unpaid Debts".
  • 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.
  • Dramatic Curtain Toss: The reveal of the Charger in the first episode.
  • Dress Hits Floor: Fiona at the end of "Friendly Fire".
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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, Mild Early Installment Tweaks To The Formula. 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.
  • Exploding Barrels: In a couple of episodes.
    • 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 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.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Michael Westen spends a lot of time working out shirtless or in tank tops. Then season four gives us Ambiguously Brown Jesse. Bruce Campbell lost a lot of weight to play young Sam Axe for his TV movie. He's keeping it off and showing it off.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Larry thinks Brennen is "kind of a dick." Bye Brennen
  • Everybody Owns a Ford: Averted by GM and Hyundai sponsorship allowing a variety of brands and models.
  • Everything's Worse with Bears: 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.
  • 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 - a Casanova type who seduces rich women, but unlike Sam, has them killed after he steals their money.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Executive Meddling: A rare positive instance; Word of God has that some moments like the driving into the truck finale scene were a result of the USA network head challenging them to do something cool or different and subsequently having a back and forth exchange of ideas.
  • Experienced Protagonist: All three of the central trio are experienced at their backgrounds, and Michael is even infamous enough to make Russian special forces uneasy. The only reason they're doing odd-jobs in Miami is that Michael has been victim of a grand conspiracy and is unable to get "normal" work.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Whenever Madeline's hair is down, so is she.
  • External Combustion: Done in season 1, by accident, Sam calls the cell phone Fiona hooked up the baddie of the week's car, and causes the car to blow up.
  • 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!
  • 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. In a commercial, 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.
    • As stated the USA Network loves this one. 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: Sam and Fiona in season one's "Identity", when they're caught infiltrating a target's boat.
  • 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.
  • Fan Service: The show has a bizarre tendency to segue into new scenes with shots of random girls in bikinis.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • First-Person Smartass: Michael, occasionally in his voiceovers.
  • Five-Man Band
  • Five Second Foreshadowing: Michael finding out that his apartment is rigged to explode right as he gets home.
  • 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 Halloween I Am Going as Myself: Michael and Fiona once infiltrated a villain's organization as themselves, figuring the guy already had the connections to know who they were.
    • In "Past and Future Tense", the fact that Michael's kind of a Boogeyman to the Russians is referenced, so he banks on his reputation to interrogate one of them to find out who's hunting Paul Anderson. Hilarity Ensues.
  • For Inconvenience Press One: 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."

  • Found the Killer, Lost the Murderer: Happens repeatedly in Michaels 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...
  • 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" (for a Ukranian 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 during the first episode. After Michael beats somebody down, he says "Bienvenido a Miami, muchacho." Which the subtitles spiced up to "Welcome to Miami, Motherf*****."
  • 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.
  • Gang-Bangers: Omar is a surprisingly sympathetic one in "Friendly Fire" who wants to protect his people. Vega, on the other hand...
  • 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 askes 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
  • 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 premier, 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".

"I think we should call him Dennis Wayne Barfield for that extra serial-killer flavor."

  • 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 Montage: In preparation for bringing down the Villain Of The Week, usually involving the construction of explosives.
  • 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.
  • Hero Antagonist: Some of the law enforecement types who come down on Micheal and co. have this feel to them.
  • Heroic 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.
  • 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."
  • 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 (in this case the fridge brilliance is because of the delayed revelation). 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.
  • 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.

Tropes I-P

  • I Am Very British: Gilroy's actor plays the accent very hard.
  • I Can See You: In "Dead to Rights", Larry pulls this on Fiona and Sam as they attempt to break into the facility he is holed up in.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Michael, all the time.
    • In "Eyes Open", Jesse blows up Fiona's house with a bomber in it, to both save Michael's life and keep the bomber from ever killing anyone else, even though the team had been willing to let the guy be taken in by the police and/or otherwise be taken of in less ruthless fashion.
  • I Have Your Wife: Happens to several clients, requiring some delicate work, and to Michael twice, once with Sam and once with Nate. In a mild variation, Sam deliberately tried to get himself killed so Michael wouldn't try and rescue him... but what fun is that?
  • Improbable Weapon User: Michael.

Juan: "What are you doing with that?"
Michael: "I'm gonna fight them off."
Juan: "With a hand towel?!"
Michael: "Why? Do you have a gun?"

  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Michael's gloss on what he does for a living. Usually invoked around his mother.
    • Also invoked by Sam on occasion, usually when he wants to avoid talking to Fiona and usually involving buying Mike some yogurt.
  • Inspector Javert: Michelle Paxson.
  • Interquel: New Day. Set between seasons 4 and 5.
  • Investigator Impersonation: Michael's favorite trick.
  • It Has Been an Honor: One slight variation in the third season finale. Sam and Fiona are disarming a bomb they were both well aware could go off. As they reach the crucial stage, Sam says to Fiona, "It's been real."
    • Another variation in the fourth season finale, as Michael was ready to engage in a suicide mission to give Jesse and Fiona time to get the NOC list into the proper hands. He gives Jesse the list and said in a very formal way, "Agent Porter, for what it's worth, I am sorry I got you burned." Jesse knew exactly what Michael was implying, and was noticeably distraught over it.
  • I Was Told There Would Be Cake: Sam's bastardly method of luring some cubicle monkeys away from their office.
  • Idiot Ball: In the season 3 finale, Management grabs onto it with both hands-- landing his helicopter on what he knows to be the only helipad in the area when he also knows that a revenge-hungry psychotic killer ex-agent has had ample opportunity to set up an ambush. The fact that this comes out right before an "I'm tougher than I look" speech only serves to heighten the effect.
    • Agent Bly grabs the ball firmly in "Bad Breaks," attempting to wrestle away a bank robber's gun while the rest of the criminals are within ear and eyeshot. He is shot in the arm for his pains and Michael immediately lampshades the stupidity of the action by pointing out that, even if he had succeeded, he would have caused a bloodbath.
    • Occasionally occurs to some of the crew. Word of God mentions one story where a police officer who was supposed to prevent anyone from crossing the fake bridge that gets blown up (it was basically a little concrete on either bank with thin wood and such to create the middle - in no way a safe support structure for cars or such) decides that he'd like to guard the bridge from the other side... and decides to drive his patrol car over the bridge.
    • When Sam asks Fiona why she doesn't charge Michael for her help, she responds that she expects "other things" from Michael. Sam, ironically, looks disturbed.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: Seems to be a popular line among spies. And Madeline Westen.
  • I Like Those Odds: Inverted.

"He's Michael Westen. There are only four of us!"

  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Addressed, as usual, in the show's unique narration. Michael says this as Fiona put a bullet between his feet.

It takes a good marksman to shoot you at 50 feet from a moving car, but it takes a great marksman to miss... while making it look like they are trying to hit you... or markswoman as the case may be.

    • And largely averted if the bad guys can't hit Michael, he can't hit them. Any firing he's doing is usually to keep their heads down.
    • It is pointed out that all three are very good shots; in one episode, Michael and Sam are at a gun range. When their targets come back, Michael's are all grouped at the head and center mass. Sam's is in the shape of a martini glass.

"Did ya notice the little olive?"

    • Jesse is shown to be a great shot as well as in 5x6, he's able to make a unhappy face out of bulletholes with a sniper rifle from a decent ways away.
  • Improvised Weapon: You'll never look at a microwave the same way again. Or an standalone air conditioner either for the matter.
  • In Medias Res: For Michael. At the beginning of Season 4, he gets back to Miami after quite a bit of time away, only to get swept up by Fiona and Sam as they work on a job. They hand him a gun and start bickering over who screwed up the operation. Cue Michael:

Michael: Guys. Guys. GUYS! I have a machine pistol and no idea what's going on!

  • Insecurity Camera: Subverted. See trope entry.
    • In a different episode, this trope is subverted. The cameras work and Fi is able to sneak beneath one to bug it. But Narrator Michael points out that the only reason Fiona was able to sneak beneath one was because the owner of said camera didn't trim his bushes which were blocking the camera.
    • In one episode, Michael notes that a building is using wireless security cameras. He pulls a Bavarian Fire Drill with a faux bomb threat knowing that the bomb squad would use a radio frequency jammer to avert any remote triggering... and in doing so, disable the cameras. Note that this may be Truth in Television; electronic devices are legally required to accept interference/not interfere with other electronics.
  • Inspector Javert: Detective Paxson, who knows stuff has a tendency to blow up around Michael, and she's determined to find out why. Michael of course, can't exactly explain.
    • Agent Pearce in season five, though she's a fairly sympathetic one - she just happens to be out of the Team Westen loop.
  • Invoked Trope: Too many to mention but Michael uses a lot of bad-guy characterization tropes when trying to convince somebody that he's now their biggest problem.
  • Ironic Echo: More like plot point - Michael finds out in the Season 4 premiere that in the course of helping Management's company during the episode, the crimes he committed to do so (steal files, etc) end up getting pinned on a spy which results in said spy getting burned. Said spy, Jesse comes back for the rest of the summer season to work with Michael & Co., all the while trying to find and kill the person who burned him. When Jesse finds out who actually burned him in "Blind Spot", fury ensues.
    • From "Blind Spot": "There's nothing more pathetic than a bitch who can't move on".
    • From "Partners In Crime": "Easy money gig??!"
    • From Season 3, Episode 4 (Fearless Leader):

Matheson (to aspiring henchman): "See, that's your problem, Tommy - you don't think!"
later in the episode
Michael (to Matheson): "What made you think you could piss-off every drug-dealer and cop in town and not get any payback? Oh wait, that's your problem - you don't think!"

    • The season 5 finale makes an echo from the pilot. Frank Westen's last words to his son? "I'll see you in hell, boy!" Michael's rebuttal to Anson after a) spoiling his attempt to sabotage Pearce's op and b) a couple episodes after Anson revealed himself to be Frank's killer? Guess.
  • Is That What They're Calling It Now?

Michael: Okay, I'm not hooking up with her. It's not what's happening. I need her for tactical support.
Sam: Hehehe, is it what they're calling it these days? Tactical support?

    • Invoked by Sam toward the villain of the week: "You know, there’s nothing more pathetic than a bitch who can’t move on. A raging British jackass once told me that."
  • Instant Sedation: Of the martial arts variant and averted. Knocking someone out with a submission hold is shown to take more than a few moments.
    • Directly mentioned in 4x01. Michael attempts a sleeper hold on a big guy and mentions that while it's a good way to subdue someone, those ten seconds to truly knock someone out can be painful - as in the guy he's trying to knock out backing up into walls and such.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Fiona. In Season 1 alone, she quickly goes from violence to sex at least twice, once knocking out a thug sent to intimidate Michael and then dragging Michael to his apartment in the pilot episode, and later on, attacking Michael and ending up in bed with him.

Michael: "Violence may be foreplay for you, Fi. Not for me."

  • It's Always Sunny In Miami: Lampshaded by Michael when he starts pining for the dry weather of Afghanistan. You can occasionally still see a light drizzle in some shots.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Deconstructed thoroughly. Torture is a good method to get information, but there is nothing to prevent the one tortured from giving you bad information. Michael relied on making their target believe his information was worthless.
    • And later in season 2, they manage to get info from two marks simply by scaring them silly. And pushing one out of a window.
    • In one particularly notable example in season 2, Sam manages to scare the hell out of a guy by injuring himself. As Michael puts it in the narration, "You want them thinking, 'If he's willing to do this to himself, what the hell is he going to do to me?'" Watching Sam cut into himself was genuinely creepy for some viewers. It got worse when he started bleeding onto the guy.

"A lot of people's first instinct when they need information out of a captive is to grab a baseball bat or a gun... The fact is, torture is for sadists and thugs. It's like getting groceries with a flame thrower; it doesn't work and it makes a mess."

    • Inverted in 3x02, "Questions and Answers", where they perform "Reverse Interrogation" to get the bad guy to reveal things about his plan. This involves "Chuck Finley" punching Michael. A lot.
    • In another season 3 episode, when Sam and Fi have trouble getting a prisoner to talk through normal methods, Michael's mom takes a crack at it. Throughout the whole interrogation, she just acts nice instead of beating the prisoner to a pulp. The way she pulls it off is far more creepy than anything the other protagonists are capable of.
    • Sam reinforces the notion of "the threat is more important than the demonstration" in "Made Man", in his "Chuck Finley" persona. He sharpens a bunch of knives in front of his tied-up target, then threatens to cut the guy up. The guy talks.
    • Referenced in "Breach of Faith". After a quick threat by Sam to see if he'd talk, an uncooperative bad guy sees Sam taking his toaster and assumes Sam is going to torture him in some horrible fashion. Sam really just wants his toaster.
      • To blow up the floor, admittedly.
    • Played with painfully in 4x06 when Kendra smashes her own head on to the table multiple times (enough to cause bleeding) to prove that they can threaten her with physical torture all they want and she wouldn't break.
    • Sam endures some very harsh interrogation in the Season 1 finale... and has a hard time explaining the injuries to his sugar momma.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: One episode had Michael pretending to be an asthmatic, neurotic lab rat. At one point, he demands a gun from the pirates, and then loads the bullet into the chamber by pulling the slide. While it's pointed directly at the Villain of the Week's head. Said baddie immediately swats Michael's hand away once he realizes what he's doing.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Michael's conversations with Brennen tend to devolve into this.
  • It's Personal: In one episode, a childhood friend of Michael's is gunned down in a gang dispute. Mike teams up with the victim's brother to take down the gang leader responsible.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: Michael uses this tactic once.
  • Join or Die: Michael has this conversation with Sam:

Michael: I've been given a new job.
Sam: What's it pay?
Michael: It's more like "you do this for us or you die".
Sam: Oh, never liked those.

  • Karma Houdini: Larry. He's probably killed more people than the rest of Michael's Job Of The Week villains put together, and he had fun doing it. But he always gets away in the end. In "Double Booked," he even got to keep the money. Later, averted in the S5 midseason finale where Fiona finally kills him (after being manipulated by Anson into doing so).
  • Karmic Death: Michael's pretty good at Batman Gambiting people into these.
  • Kick the Dog: Michael is forced to invoke this in "Friends Like These", when he backhands Fi to hide signs of worry and maintain their cover. She's not happy about it.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Phillip Cowan in "Loose Ends".
  • Knight Templar: The organization of burned spies. Vaughn basically says so when talking to Michael, "We just draw the line at different points."
  • If You Know What I Mean: Sam's "ladies". Mike once asked him what he was doing for these women. Sam grins and goes "Well...". Mike promptly says "Don't wanna know." When Fiona asks more directly, Sam quips "Wouldn't you like to know."
  • Lampshade Hanging: Nate Westen suggests that Ma Westen move to Vegas with him. He outright says that he gets worried for her because "...spies and murderers keep crawling out of the woodwork every week." Which is ironic, because in the Covert Ops: Vegas Heist web tie in, you have to help Nate deal with kidnappers, murderers, and thieves.
  • Large Ham: Michael himself can becomes one depending on the episode. In one he has to pretend to be a psycho. Among other things, he ends up jumping up and down on a car screaming "THIS NEIGHBORHOOD IS MINE!" repeatedly.
    • His most entertaining Large Ham iteration might be in the season two half-finale, when he has to portray a drunkard who has a "midnight revelation" conversion to Christianity in order to foil a kidnapping plot. Turns out that Michael does righteous rage awfully well.
    • Fiona has an amusing moment where she has to stop a pair of hitmen from breaking into a house without revealing that the house is guarded. She accomplishes this by driving her car onto the front lawn, ranting and screaming about what a no-good cheating bastard the house's occupant allegedly is, and wrapping up by throwing a cinderblock through the front window. The hitmen lurking in the bushes take one look at the target's "crazy ex-girlfriend" and all the noise she's making, realize that she's almost certainly set off the silent alarm by breaking the window, and decide to just leave and come back tomorrow.
    • Sam all the way. He plays the hilariously outraged Large Ham quite a lot to let Michael and Fiona plant explosives/get info/etc.
    • Victor played by Michael Shanks, full stop.
    • Michael and Larry have a full-blown Ham-to-Ham Combat while talking their way into a federal file warehouse.
  • Laser Sight: Used by Sam specifically with a sniper rifle so he could inform the target that they were in his crosshairs.
  • Laughing Mad: Victor. And the villain of the week in "Bad Breaks", eventually.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: One episode begins with Michael addressing the camera, re-hashing all the stuff that happened to him during the season. Turns out he was talking to Carla the whole time.
  • Le Parkour: Victor pulls this in the storage lot.
  • A Lighter Shade of Gray
  • Limited Wardrobe: Michael certainly favors the Armani suit and no tie combo a lot, doesn't he?
    • Not to mention Sam's Hawaiian shirts and khakis.
      • Mentioned in episode commentary by Word of God as one of his weaknesses.
    • Even the more fashionable Fiona has a rotating wardrobe. Dresses and other outfits and accessories come and go regularly. Her most common element is her fanny pack.
      • Word of God mentions this as a way to flesh things out with Fi. That she's more than just an Action Girl but has likes and dislikes and that, yes, she likes girly things too.
      • Word of God from Gabrielle is that she herself picks most of Fi's wardrobe as she feels she knows what Fi would wear better than any one else.
    • Recurring baddie Brennen tends to favor grey suits. And grey ties. And he has grey hair.
  • Living Legend: Generally, Team Westen tries to fly under the radar, but Michael is an Urban Legend, Shrouded in Myth, Memetic Badass in Russia. Fiona's also deliberately cultivated a reputation in Miami.

Offscreen Mook: It's Michael Westen! There are only four of us!

  • The Load: Half the time, the client of the week keeps doing things that get in Team Westen's way. The rest of the time, it's the villain of the week who makes things difficult.
  • Loan Shark
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: Many, many instances, but there's a good example of playing with the trope in "Bad Breaks" when Prescott's henchmen let Michael (under the guise of a doctor looking for medical supplies) loose in the bank instead of locking him in with the hostages. He's able to not only get the supplies, but rig a cell phone to call Sam and Fiona in to help, and modify one of the mooks guns to malfunction. It's such a Michael thing that Larry expressly forbids Michael from going to one to prevent him from rigging something up when Larry has Michael working for him under duress.
  • Loony Fan: Michael poses as one to befriend a psychotically-unstable bomber (no, not Fiona) in "Eyes Open".
  • Loud of War: In the episode "Comrades", the heroes blast loud music on a captured enforcer from the Russian Mafia.
  • Louis Cypher: Mike does a textbook version as "Luis", showing up in a neighbourhood in "Friendly Fire", talking like Horatio Caine, and wearing a black suit with a red shirt, tie, and pocket square, with slicked-back hair, and repeatedly demanding Team Westen's target. He also seems to vanish at will, and can apparently make things explode just by snapping his fingers. Word of God has that this was intentional, as a reference to Angelheart (a devil-like character) and Clint Eastwood (a mysterious stranger with no name that scares everyone) but also as a way to play with archetypes.

"Luis": The Devil wants Rincon's soul. I just want the man.

  • Lost in Translation: The subtitles in "The Hunter" don't always match up with the Russian dialogue.
  • Love Triangle: From Jesse's perspective, he was in one with Michael and Fiona for some of season 4. It's really more a case of unrequited love on Jesse's part, as Maddie gently points out. Though Fi does acknowledge the tension between the two of them in the season 4 finale.
  • Lured into a Trap: In one episode, a character is offered a meeting in an alleyway. Michael tells him that it's an ambush and that he'll go instead. H then makes a van bulletproof via phonebooks, before talking a man he wants to keep on his side with him into the alleyway and getting shot up. They get out of the alleyway unhurt.
  • MacGuffin: Many miscelleneous items being sought after and finding out the exact nature of a certain mission someone else is planning turn out to be irrelevant. It is only something to get the characters involved and add a sense of "I don't know what they're trying to do, but we have to stop them." Of course, it makes the "mysterious prisoner" of late season three a bit more surprising.
  • MacGyvering: One of the two main gimmicks of the series. An online game is actually all about mixing and matching various items to Macgyver into a useful tool.
    • Also played with in 3x15. Michael asks Fi what's in her purse. She replies her phone, duct tape, and lipstick. Michael says they can use that. But rather than the phone or the duct tape (both a Running Gag in the series), they use the lipstick.
    • Sam and Maddie blowing up Maddie's house with MacGuyvered Christmas tree lights in the second season finale.
  • Made of Iron: Occasionally played with, but mostly averted. Michael will get caught in fist fights, car crashes and explosions and mostly shrug it off by the next scene, but usually for the rest of the episode you see him clutching his ribs or arm, reminding everyone that he is still hurting. Usually minor injuries and discomforts, Michael will get over quickly (or ignore or be shown casually dressing while doing other things) while injuries that by all rights should be serious are dealt with as serious injuries.
    • Lampshaded right in the first episode, where Michael gets in a fight and is taken down pretty quick with a shot to his previously injured torso.

Michael: It doesn't matter how much training you have; a broken rib is a broken rib.

    • Definitely averted in "Guilty as Charged" and "Eyes Open", where Michael is shot and involved in a car crash. He tries to shrug it off, but when he can't even lift his arm without wincing . . .
    • Averted in the season 4 finale. Jessie gets a piece of rebar through the leg. Fi outright states he might not live long since they can't be sure he didn't nick his femoral artery. He's pretty much Mr Mc Limpy through the rest of the episode and everyone treats his injury seriously. And Narrator!Michael notes that combat/field medicine isn't designed to be safe... just to make sure that the person doesn't get dead.
  • Magnetic Plot Device: Michael is being targeted by people who want to use him for special projects, which brings the weirdness to him. And after some time, his name tends to get around to people who want his type of expertise, much to Michael's frustration.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Actually invoked in the show, where Michael takes Sam's frequent cover ID "Chuck Finley" and hams it up to the bad guys that this guy is something akin to Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects. Michael himself is actually that role.
    • Michael's one-time cover of Luis certainly falls within this trope as well. He's the "devil-in-a-suit" type who speaks in a low, deliberate, almost monotone voice. And bad stuff tends to happen when he snaps his fingers.
    • Anson pretty much spends the entire midseason S5 finale playing Michael, Fiona, Sam and Larry like a fiddle in much the same manner Team Westen usually does to the Villain of the Week. Rather fitting for the guy that's setting up to be the Bigger Bad of the entire series.
  • Malaproper: Michael's cover, Trey, in Mind Games does this at least five times over the course of the episode.

Michael: Don't look a gift horse in the teeth.
Carter: Don't you mean mouth?
Michael: Pretty sure it's teeth.

  • Male Gaze: Most of the "eye-catch" establishment shots focus on bikini tops and bottoms.
    • It's amazing how the women of Miami seem to be walking headless torsos.
    • Played with in 4x07 where Fi and Michael ask why Jesse is staring intensely at an old, overweight woman in a bikini. Turns out, she's the wife of Jesse's old boss and he wants to get in touch with his boss.
  • Mama Bear: In one episode a Ukrainian gangster comes to kill Michael. Fi and Sam kidnap one of the gangster's mooks but can't get him to talk. So Mama Westen walks in, questions him and gets the necessary information.
    • Don't forget earlier in the same episode, when Sam is trying to leave without alerting her, but she picks up on the danger Michael is in, and tells Sam: "You're sleeping in my guest room. I can smother you in your sleep."
    • In "Devil You Know", Maddie slaps an FBI agent for trying to convince her that Michael's a contract killer.
      • And let's not forget that before that, she tips Michael off that the FBI is at the house, then sends the feds on a wild goose chase. This whole time she is interrogated in her own home, given photographs of bad stuff Mike has supposedly done and she doesn't even flinch, but she pretends to crack to keep the agents fooled.
    • Maddie's Mama Bear tendencies aren't limited to Michael and Nate. She chews Michael and the Client of the Week out when Fiona is taken hostage in "Where There's Smoke".
    • Her response to Jesse and Michael not getting along. They get along now.
    • Even more badass are her actions in "Last Stand": Vaughn has kidnapped Madeline in order for Michael to surrender the NOC list to him. In order to coerce Michael, Vaughn has one of his goons hit Maddie in the back of the head with the butt of a rifle, sending her to the ground. When Michael, listening to Maddy fall over the walkie-talkie, demands to know what just happened, instead of telling Michael she was hit, Maddie tells Michael she's been fatally shot so he won't come to rescue her.
    • Fiona also has some tendencies along these lines; she gets very emotionally involved when a job involves kids, at one point assaulting a medical scammer over it.
    • Some of Team Westen's clients go this route, too, which can bring it out in Maddie or Fi.
  • Man Behind the Man: The first two seasons are Michael going from one person to another, trying to reach the top. The third is him trying to do the same thing to get his job back.
    • In "Friends Like These", the innocent woman who was with the bad guy is the actual mastermind.
    • Gilroy ends up being more like an Unwitting Pawn to the mysterious Simon.
    • In season 4, Vaughn reveals that somebody very rich, powerful, and amoral was backing Simon and his missions.
    • And for Jesse, The Man Behind The Man is Michael.
  • Master Actor: All the main characters. Pretty much required for a spy.
  • Meganekko: The episode "Partners in Crime" had Fiona donning a pair of glasses to pose as a CIA agent, placing her nicely into this trope.
  • Memetic Badass: The fictional Chuck Finley is starting to go this direction In-Universe. He's been just about everything, from an annoying seminar instructor to a Keyser Soze Expy.
    • Also, Westen himself. His reputation is so big, he manages to intimidate a Russian Spetsnaz black ops team into submission.

Spetsnaz: He's Michael Westen. There are only four of us!

  • Mercy Kill: Victor.
  • Meta Casting: Matt Nix commented that when creating the character of Sam Axe they thought that Bruce Campbell would be a good fit but never thought they would actually get him. Sam fits right up Bruce's specialty of a slightly comical badass.
    • Jeffrey Donovan took several years of Russian in college (while maybe not fluent, he knows enough to portray it convincingly) which is frequently taken advantage of in the show, the most common enemies are Russian mafia or people coming from Russia to get revenge.
  • Mexican Standoff: Michael and Sam engineer one in 3x02, "Question and Answer". It's a 2-on-1, until Sam fires into the lawn outside the building. Then we hear gunfire.
    • 4x01 has one between Michael and three bikers, while 4x02 has one between two Asian gangsters.
  • The Men in Black: Plenty.
  • The Missus and the Ex: In the second season episode "Sins of Omission" Michael's former fiance Samantha shows up needing Michael's help. Michael deals with this trope when he has to leave Samantha alone with Fiona a few times. At the end of the episode Michael tells Fiona he never truly loved Samantha and he did truly love Fiona.
  • Mistaken for Badass: Michael and crew make a drug dealer think the doctor he's been harassing is ex-Delta Force in season 4.
  • Monster of the Week: Or, perhaps more accurately, Criminal Of The Week.
  • Mood Dissonance: Despite the darker-than-usual tone, "End Run" is one of the funnier episodes of the series.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong:

Mike: "There's Chechik"
Beck: "Damn! Is there a Russian word for "hardass"?"

Wassim: (reading a note) "I will be wearing a white shirt and ..." This word right here? It's a kind of spicy goat cheese.
Michael: I was trying to say "black pants".

  • Names to Run Away From Very Fast: a few characters (mainly villains) get nicknames like this, including "Dead" Larry and Management.
  • Never Found the Body: Dead Larry. Notice that the newspaper article in "Damned If You Do" said "two dead", which means that only the two guards have been confirmed dead. Which means that Not Quite Dead Larry is out there somewhere, and he's even more pissed off.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: For the most part the series is about cloak and dagger with most everything being on a small scale in terms of villain threat. The trailers tend to hype it up into something much bigger than it really is and trying to make almost every episode look like it will become a Wham! Episode.
    • Notably, the trailer for 4x2 packs in explosions, dramatic dialogue/narration, and what have you. Even the least Genre Savvy viewer should realize that the second episode after the season premiere will hardly be anywhere close to Wham.
  • New Media Tropes: Many of them are referenced. 4x06 mentions filesharing sites when Michael needs to quickly upload information. Specifically, he comments that while they allow anyone to see and access what you're sharing, most people are looking for MP3s and movies rather than intelligence information.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Not that you had too many options, but fantastic, Michael. Turn your back on the protection Management offered, then shoot Strickler, then break a psychotic killer out of prison. The last one is immediately lampshaded by Sam.
    • Great work, Michael, with saving Management and trying to bring them down from the inside. Shame your first assignment was burning a fellow spy.
    • Great work, Michael, with keeping Jesse in the dark. Formerly cheerly and nice Jesse as of "Eyes Open" is a heck of a lot darker, angrier, and perhaps even much more willing to cross certain moral lines.
      • Although this leads to another Nice Job Breaking It, Hero... since after spending all of season 4 helping Jesse get his job back, come season 5, we (and Michael) find out that all the experiences Jesse had with the team resulted in Jesse feeling uncomfortable at his job... so he quit. On the upside, it means Jesse can be around more often.
    • In one episode, the team decides to take down a loan shark by framing one of his lieutenants as an undercover cop. Unfortunately, the guy they framed was an actual undercover FBI agent.
  • Nice to the Waiter: The audience is introduced to one Villain of the Week at a club. He trips a bus boy from behind for no real reason.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: In his first appearance, Larry remarks that he sees no problem with killing people for money because "some people live, some people die." In his second appearance, he tells Michael that they are better than other people because they have "the will to act on our instincts, to get what we want."
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jeffrey Donovan modeled his character's cover ID in "Fast Friends" on Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
  • No Name Given: "Management". Even his collegue Anson calls him Management despite the two knowing each other for several decades and having worked together prior to going rogue from the CIA.
  • Noodle Incident: Being a spy, Michael has lots of these, particularly Afghanistan.
    • There's also whatever happened between Sam and Fiona a few years ago involving some firearms and the federal government.
    • A particularly hilarious example is when Sam's impersonating a criminal defense lawyer in "Hard Time":

Sam: You don't remember the Bennigan subpoena?
Lawyer: Um, Bennigan? Let me think . . . oh, hey, wasn't that the guy who got murdered over the parrot?
Sam: (making a swift getaway) Uh, no, but boy that sounds like an interesting case.

    • Then there's whatever happened in Chechnya that caused Larry to go rogue and caused Michael to start questioning whether or not he should be working with people like him. All we know is that a lot of people got killed, most likely by Larry and most likely unnecessarily.
    • It's a pretty typical bit of dialogue between Sam and Michael. Michael will think of a plan, remind Sam of it with "Remember [City], [Year]?" Sam will wonder if that'll work and/or mention how they had more time, manpower, etc. the last time. Michael will say they'll have to make it work, and viola. Considering how many of these end with Stuff Blowing Up or gunfire, you have to wonder just how much of a footprint Michael's left on the world.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Funny how a guy raised in South Florida has a distinctly Bawstan twang. This might actually be Truth in Television, by some reports: in his essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," David Foster Wallace talks about a group of completely-unrelated native-born Floridians on his cruise, all of whom speak with New York accents despite never having lived there. Turns out, their parents were all New Yorkers... Of course, Mama Westen doesn't have a Boston accent, either, but Michael's father could have.
  • Not My Driver: Fiona pulls a heroic version in "Blind Spot", to put the punctuation mark on Sam's Out Gambit of Charles.
  • Not So Different: They make a point to mention that near everyone involved with the "Burn Notice Club" were once much like Michael. It is evident in the show that without Fiona, Sam and Madeline (and Nate) grounding him Michael could very easily become like Victor, Carla or Simon.
    • Or Larry, as the not-so-dead Larry points out to Fi, and Michael acknowledges later in the same episode. Michael also points out in 3x15 how spies are basically just criminals with a cause. In short, Michael's most notable, most difficult, and most dangerous opponents are more or less just as talented and skilled as he is. Often times, he will determine his counter-plan based around what he would do if he were the bad guy. Given how often he's right, this is another piece of evidence as to the fine (and difficult) line he walks between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing.
      • Noted by Larry multiple times. Also notable in that, assuming we can trust what Larry says to Michael, Michael really was not so different from Larry in the past. But where Larry faked his own death and came back without a soul, Michael got better once away from the influence of Larry. It also makes for Fridge Brilliance when you realize why Michael was/is so easily manipulated by Larry - Larry is the father Michael never had. Someone who cares (in a fashion) for him, mentors him, and treats him as important.
    • In "Enemies Closer", Larry is Genre Savvy enough to realize that the only thing keeping him from corrupting Michael is The Power of Friendship, so what does he do? He manages to isolate Michael from his friends and nearly succeeds in pulling him over the Moral Event Horizon.
    • Michael was once looking for a government worker shirt his Dad would use in order to shoplift supplies. When he finally asked Madeline where it was she took him to a closet and removed a false wall. Madeline remarked she was surprised he didn't know about it, and Michael's expression definitely showed that maybe he isn't as far removed from his Dad as he would like to think.
      • Played very darkly in "Bloodlines". They bring in Maddie to play a nurse to tend to an under duress gangster. Michael, understandibly, does not want his mother in the same room as the man but she insists. He cautions her that he will have to act "differently". In order to make sure that she doesn't get hurt, Michael starts to yell at Maddie while leading her into the room. It's a difficult scene, but more so when you realize that Michael isn't just pretend yelling at his mother and his mother is pretending to be scared. He's channeling his father and Maddie is genuinely surprised by the sudden change; more so, you can see Maddie jump and become defensive as if suddenly expecting to get hit. Even Narrator!Michael sounds very hurt over the lesson that Real!Michael is doing. When they have to do it again, both of them are shaken again by the act.
    • Mike pulls an Inverted Trope version in Season 3, Episode 3 (End Run): Brennen holds Michael's unwitting brother hostage (Nate thinks it's a business deal). Brennen shoots Nate in the arm to prove that he's serious. Michael deduces the name and location of Brennen's daughter and bluffs about having an assassin in place, ready to kill her.

Brennen: "If you go near her. If you touch her. If- If she so much as skins her knee on the playground! I swear to god, Westen. I will spend the rest of my life destroying you and everything you love!"
Michael: "Of course you will, Brennen. She's your family."

  • When Fiona stops Gabriel from killing his hostage, he replies "What would you have done, for Claire? How far would you have gone? That's right, we're the same, you and me! The only difference are the circumstances."
  • Not with the Safety On, You Won't
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Being a show about spies, this is par for the course. Sam tends to do it the best though - hapless drunken slob one minute, asskicking spy the next.
    • Reversed in a few episodes, one where Sam portrayed a suave black market dealer and Michael portrayed a lanky, nervous, asthmatic lab rat; in another where Michael is a dimwitted rich Southern playboy and Sam is a no-nonsense financial consultant; and another where Sam is a corrupt, "coke"-snorting cop and Michael is a druggie snitch.
    • Michael: (overlooking the car he's totaled) "Omigod, I am so sorry. This cat ran right in front of me."
    • Harlan pretends to be somewhat incompetent so he can kill the mark and turn Michael over to the Venezuelans for the reward.
    • Michael does an excellent "sleazy thief with a solicitation conviction" impression in Season 5's "No Good Deed", grossing out the female Insufferable Genius Hacker Villain Of The Week.
    • And Fiona does an excellent Valley Girl / Dumb Blonde impression when she needs to.
      • In "Where There's Smoke", she plays up being the trophy wife in order to take control of the situation and eventually defeat the bad guys when she reveals her hand. To quote Word of God "...and it is delicious."
  • Oh Crap: Eddie in "Bad Blood", upon realizing his boss just overheard him confessing to embezzlement.
    • One of the people that burned Michael gets this when Michael mentions who he is... to his face. It doesn't take being Russian to know Michael's reputation.
    • Michael is trying to set up a nasty thug so his boss suspects him of being an undercover Miami PD officer and Fiona plants evidence to that effect in the guy's appartment. When Michael helps the other criminals search the appartment they instead find an FBI badge.
  • Once an Episode: In the second season, someone trying to talk Michael into returning to his first-season job. Also, Michael eating or mentioning yogurt.
    • Yogurt becomes semi-acknowledged in universe as a running gag when a client offers Michael free yogurt for the job. Michael pauses to look at all the flavors in the yogurt shop and then promptly agrees.
  • Once a Season: All of the season finales leave big question marks hanging on what is going to happen to Michael. Larry also shows up once a year, as well as Brennen ( Before both were killed off). Michael's brother Nate also shows up at least once, and the crew has stated that they love Nate (and the actor) and would love him to be a regular but felt giving him a yearly episode does more justice to the character.
  • One of Us: Matt Nix talks about Sith Lords and even calls one scene the Sith Lord scene in the Enemies Closer commentary. This includes referring to dead Larry as Michael's Emperor/Sith Lord and Larry trying to lure Michael to the dark side.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Ian, the soon-to-retire State Department official and friend of Jesse in Season 5's "Acceptable Loss".
  • One Steve Limit: Michael's ex-flame Sam (Samantha) comes to visit, which resulted in plenty of confusion between her and the regular Sam. "Call me Finley. It'll be easier that way, I promise." is our Sam's response.
    • In "Blind Spot", the mark is named "Charles". When Sam says "Time for some Chuck Finley action," Fi points out this trope. Sam insists that "Chuck is forever."
      • Additionally, he starts calling the mark "Chaz."
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted Hard. All bullet wounds and other injuries that should be serious are treated seriously. Michael is shot by Jesse in order to hit the Mook holding him. While the wound is not immediately fatal, Michael is seriously wounded and the episode ends with him passing out from his heavy blood loss and possibly on the verge of death.
    • Likewise, Jesse in the season 4 finale when he gets rebar through the leg. Fi states outright that Jesse is lucky his femoral artery wasn't nicked and the very first thing they do - even before setting up defenses - is tend to his wound and state right out that it is a shakey temporary fix.
  • Only in Miami: Well, yeah.
  • Only One Name: Harris, Lane, Vaughn, and basically all of the job-of-the-week villains.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: In the season two finale, Michael sends Sam to escort Madeline to safety. Madeline isn't hearing of it, offers Sam a beer. Sam refuses the beer, at which point Madeline starts taking him seriously.
    • You know things have taken a sharp swerve down Serious Street for Sam when he refuses a drink

Sam's Buddy from Texas: "Sam's always drinking."
Madeline: "He hasn't been since you showed up!"

    • Done again in "Dead or Alive". The waitress at their local hangout brings Sam his regular mojito without any prompting. He declines and says he'll just have water.
    • The subtitles get this at one point. New characters are often introduced with a snarky subtitle under their name, but Simon simply gets "?".
  • Opening Narration: Burn Notice starts every episode (besides the pilot) with "My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy, until..."
  • Orphaned Punchline: Sam in his Chuck Finley persona, in "Blind Spot": "... so I said, 'not if that's your idea of a haircut!'"
  • Out-Gambitted: At the end of season four, Brennen and Michael are trying to keep each other in check. Larry uses this in an attempt to try and get the NOC list and force Michael to work with him again.
  • Outrun the Fireball: A scene where Mike and Sam run away from an exploding ship is a perfect example. It's even become part of the opening narration. There's a pretty amusing difference in reactions between Mike and Sam. Jeffrey Donovan, with a career ahead of him to think about, is all stoic intensity. Bruce Campbell, meanwhile, pinwheels his arms and contorts his face in all sorts of funny ways.
  • Overt Operative: When Michael wants to cut to the chase, he'll drop his real name and occupation. This usually happens dealing with people who have ties to the Intelligence Industry or he knows his real name will scare people even more.
    • Fiona does it, too, to make various arms dealers and gangbangers take her seriously.
  • Papa Wolf: A number of Team Westen's clients are this or Mama Bear. Threats or injury to a client's child are common. This usually brings out the Papa Wolf in Michael or Sam.
  • Perma-Stubble: Michael mysteriously gets some in the Season 2 mid-finale. Sam frequently has it, but despite the "perma" in the name, he's willing to clean up if required for a role.
    • Lampshaded by Cowley in "Last Stand", where he says Sam looks like he "never learned to use a razor correctly".
  • Pec Flex: In Season Five episode "Mind Games", Michael is undercover as a not very bright man with a penchant for loud, tight T-shirts and is shown bouncing his pecs while he is waiting to meet someone.
  • Perp Sweating: Since Michael prefers not to use torture, he instead opts to use more creative ways to get his prisoners to talk.
  • Pet the Dog: The first episode had Michael give pointers to a kid on how to fight and stand up to a bully, using the same tactics he used to take down terrorist cells. See We Help the Helpless.
    • And in season two, Fiona makes friends with the child of Michael's client. "This one has a Browning. He'll need the high ground..."
    • Brennen, the notoriously evil Dangerously Genre Savvy opponent Michael first encountered in the second season has one of these when he reappears in the third when Mike "threatened" to kill his little daughter.

Brennen: Sweetie? It's daddy! Are you okay? ... Honey, I'm sorry, I forgot, uh, I forgot what time it was. You go back to sleep, punkin, I'll call you tomorrow.

    • The drug dealer neighbor "Sugar" who tried to kill Michael in the first episode returned in the third season. He had a (mentally slow) cousin, Dougie, in trouble and only knew of one person badass enough to help. This comes with a moving story about why he's so protective of Dougie.
      • It's also a humourous couple of moments in the episode about the show itself. Sugar calls Michael out on his badassery not due to his Improbable Aiming Skills, his Plans his trademark glasses, or any other sort of flashy/memorable thing you might normally associate with a hero. Instead, Sugar associates Michael's badassery with duct tape.

(Multiple times during the episode, paraphased) "Let's assault the bad guys! You can do something with duct tape!"
"Oh so now you bring out the duct tape!" (After Sugar gets himself shot and Michael has to rescue him.)

  • The Plan: Played with. Michael is fairly good at manipulating the baddies, and his plans still go wrong. On several occasions, they have worked too well. He explains that sometimes all you need is a method to get noticed.
    • One gambit was used against Brennen, using an Indy Ploy. Brennen had some government property he wanted to sell on the black market and Michael worked to get into his inner circle, but details kept being changed around. Improvising at the last moment Sam screwed up the exchange with the buyers and those guys now wanted Brennen dead. He realized that if he kept the merchandise, both the government and the black market would be looking for him. So to at least keep the FBI off his trail, he got Michael to return it. This was Michael's plan at this point and even though Brennen realizes that's probably what's going on, Michael points out that regardless of what he believes is going on, it's the only possible move he can make.
  • Play-Along Prisoner: In "Friendly Fire", Michael replaces the link in his handcuffs with an epoxy, before Breaking the Bonds in awesome style. "Hard Time" sees Michael enter the state penitentiary as a faux convict.
  • Playing Drunk: This is one of the spy skills that Michael and Sam have cultivated.
    • Fiona has also done this on occasion. Though of the group, Sam seems to be the master of this, for the obvious reason of far more experience and the liver-damage and bar tabs to prove it.
  • Plays Great Ethnics: Jessie is an in-universe example. His bi-racial background (shared with his actor, chosen to allow this trope) makes his ethnicity vague enough Jessie can claim almost any ethnicity for a cover.
  • Poisonous Friend: It was never really a secret that Strickler was one of these. The only surprise was just how far it went: setting up Fiona to be killed because associating with someone like her was bad for Michael's image.
  • Power of Friendship: Michael, Sam, and Fiona regularly help each other out on their various jobs, and occasionally save each other's lives. And they're not the only ones -- Michael has racked up a fairly high number of debtors.
    • Deconstructed in too many ways to list in "Friends Like These".
  • Power Trio: Mike, Sam, Fiona.
    • Now adding Jesse, another member. Uh oh...
    • A fact not missed (in some fashion) by the writers, what with the inevitable confrontation between them over Michael actually being the guy who burned Jesse.
  • Power Walk: After the team steal the NOC list.
  • Primal Fear: Invoked in 3x07, "Shot In The Dark", when the team blows the light in a parking area (darkness), keeps the target's car disabled (confinement, lack of mobility), and jams his cell phone (being alone). Then they really get to work.
  • Pro Bono Barter: The only payment that Michael Westen typically accepts for his services is that his basic expenses are covered. He has, on occasion, accepted gifts instead: he did get a bag of cell phones in one episode, and a grateful client gave him a car at the end of the season two premiere.
  • Product Placement: Sam's OnStar-equipped Cadillac for season one (later taken back by the gal who gave it to him) And in the first episode of Season 2, a client gives Michael a Saab, which he passed on to Fiona. Both are made by GM, and the Saab is the focus of the "Covert Ops" series of tie-in web games.
    • In the post-opening portion of "Friends Like These", there's a brief closeup of Sam putting his Miller Genuine Draft 64 on a table. This wouldn't be so blatant if a)that's the only time that camera is used in the entire scene, and b)in the original airing, there was an MGD 64 ad in the preceding commercial break. He mentioned in the previous episode that he was trying to watch his weight.
    • Blackberry cell phones feature prominently in season 3. Considering that they go through these frequently, one wonders why they use an expensive phone with lots of features.
    • Season 1 has a few prominent mentions of Direct TV, including Sam outright mentioning that a certain bar is his favorite because (among other reasons) they have Direct TV's NFL Sunday Ticket. Subtle, guys.
    • Episode 4x08 has Michael driving a Hyundai to a kidnapping payoff with the narrative talking about the need for power and control if you're going to be driving along roads with lots of curves. All this is interspersed with front shots of the car with the logo visible. One has to wonder how much USA is getting paid for these in-show 30 second spots.
    • The writers sometimes have fun with these tidbits. After Sam and Fiona ram their car into a house as a SWAT team-like surprise, Sam afterwards praises how well it held up and said "You never really know a car until you ram it through a wall."
  • Professional Killer: Michael meets both kinds.
  • Profiling: Fiona and Sam can't do their usual thing in a Hispanic neighborhood in "Friendly Fire" because any white person walking through is automatically assumed to be a cop. This forces Michael to play a crazier-than-usual guy (who he strongly implies is the devil himself) in order to recruit the local gang leader into tracking down the man he wants.
  • Psycho for Hire: Gilroy is described as such by Michael, who calls him a "freelance psychopath."
    • Larry works as a professional killer just so he can be paid for what he enjoys doing anyway.
  • Public Secret Message: Michael has been known to create or receive coded messages in public locations. One earlier example showed him writing a cryptic note to another spy on the sidewalk in chalk.
  • Punny Name: Sugar, whose real name is Raymond.

Tropes Q-Z

  • 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In the Season 4 finale, Michael gives Larry an epic reason why Not So Different doesn't apply to them.

You want to know the difference between you and me? I really do know you. You only think you know me.

  • 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.
    • The drug dealer Sugar was also invited to be one of Michael's frequent contacts, and shows that despite having once tried to kill Michael (and got a bullet in the knee for it) he still had certain standards he worked by. Again, unlike the Villain of the Week, he avoided territory wars with other dealers and wouldn't harass local businesses.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Jesse is red, Michael is blue.
  • 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 give up their cover ID under pressure. Experienced ones play it 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."
  • Relationship Reset Button
  • Remember That You Trust Me

Nate: Jesus, bro. Dad's dead. You're not in Afghanistan anymore. I mean, when are you gonna learn there are people you can trust?

    • Counts as a CMOH as unlike in many instances during the show where Team Westen calls each other to check up, Nate shows up in person because he was worried about Michael.
  • Retired Badass: Sam, in the pilot, who un-retires pretty quickly.
    • Paul Anderson from season four is another example.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: Zachariah and his followers in "Besieged".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Rule of Perception: Frequently subverted.
  • 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.
    • Yes, dead Larry.
    • That time Sam blew up Maddie's house.
    • 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 premier. 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.
    • 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.
  • Ruthless Modern Pirates: The Villain of the Week in "Rough Seas".
  • Ryu and Ken: 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.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Michael's Charger gets it in the S4 finale, just to make sure you know just how bad things have gotten.
    • In season five, poor, poor Max. And it was deliberately shown in that episode that he was one of the good guys.
  • Safecracking: Seen from time to time, and anytime Michael expects to be dealing with a safe, he can be seen practicing on a safe mechanism beforehand.
  • Samus Is a Girl: In "Entry Point", "Mr. Slippery" is a woman
  • 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.
  • El Diablo: Michael dresses the part in "Friendly Fire".
  • 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?"
  • Seventh-Episode Twist[context?]
  • 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.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: Done intentionally, 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.
    • The details of what exactly Carla's operation in the second season mid-finale was turned out to be irrelevant.
    • You don't know he was being played with per se; he almost made it into the building the first time, but was called back by his client of the week. When he finally gets in, the building is empty of everything, the theory being they picked up on Michael's first attempt (they even left pictures), cleared the building, and kept the outside rotations just to screw with him afterward.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Michael referring to Fiona. Frequently.
  • 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.
  • 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 on staff as a consulting producer. They'll usually come up with something and then ask him how he might do it.
    • Show Runner 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.
    • A subversion is in the show's theme. Yes there is a such thing as a burn notice. No it does not mean the entire CIA has a grudge against him nor that they would bother to do such things as vindictively freeze his bank accounts, as if he was a known terrorist. What it means is that information from a given source is no longer reliable. It could just as easily be that Mission Control is declaring that someone is a casualty and anyone else sending messages from him is a scam.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Michael and Nate constantly.
  • Sibling Team: Michael and Nate, occasionally.
  • 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.
  • 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.)

  • Sixth Ranger: Jesse. Nate, when he's around.
  • Slasher Smile: Kendra, after bashing her own head open during an interrogation.
  • 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.
  • Spanner in the Works: In the episode "Out of the Fire", Undead Larry exemplifies this trope. While Brennen and Michael are too busy staring down each other from across the chessboard and using Larry as a pawn, Larry goes along with their plans until he's in the best position to wreck the board with a pipe wrench. In the end, Brennen is dead and as a result Michael's hours away from winding up on Management's hit list.
  • Special Guest: Hey, it's Method Man! ...playing more or less the exact same character he did on CSI.
    • There is also Lucy Lawless and Michael Shanks playing rival agents.
    • In season 3, Tyne Daly guest stars (and fans get an unofficial "Cagney and Lacey" Reunion).
    • Burt Reynolds played a retired spy.
    • Robert Patrick played a very powerful businessman.
  • Spy Couple: 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.
  • Spiritual Successor: It's pretty much a modern day A Team or MacGyver. It bears the most resemblance to The Equalizer, except that Mike was kicked out instead of retiring.
  • Spoiler Recap: The ""Previously On..." Burn 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Strictly Formula: Someone comes to Michael who needs...extralegal assistance. Michael goes to Fiona and Sam to help him out. He'll usually have to go through plans A through C, with a little bit of Indy Ploy, before saving the Client Of The Week, often while having to work around the client's well-intentioned "assistance". Plan C often culminates in Crowning Moment of Awesome serving up a heaping helping of the Westen family recipe for Laser-Guided Karma to the bad guy, followed by a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming from the grateful client. The Myth Arc tends to be a lot more chaotic, usually merging with the usual plot in the season finales.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 incindiary 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Swiss Bank Account: In the episode "Friends and Enemies":

Michael Westen: Who do you work for?
Gregory Hart: I work for a 16-digit Swiss bank account number, and an anonymous email address.

  • Switch to English: When Micheal 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.
  • 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.
  • Terms of Endangerment: Michael, Victor, Brennen, Larry, and Gilroy do this whenever they meet each other. Presumably because Ho Yay can actually throw people off; even someone who has no problem with homosexuality itself can get antsy when their sexuality comes into question. Or maybe they just like to needle people.
    • Carla doesn't do it much, but that's because she seems to have one-sided Foe Yay towards Mike.
    • Gilroy would hit on Mike and others even when he had no need for a psychological advantage.
    • O'Neill called Fiona "sweetheart" several times, too.
    • Kendra does this with both Mike and Jesse.

Fiona: "I wish our phone conversations were that flirty..."

  • They Were Holding You Back
  • There Are No Therapists: Madeline ropes Michael into attending a home therapy session, but they both end up throwing the therapist out.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch: "Here's Marsden, you son of a bitch." Bonus points, it was Madeleine, clubbing down a bad guy.
  • Time for Plan B: Is there an episode where Plan A didn't go wrong?
  • Thanatos Gambit: Ian, the client in "Acceptable Loss". He was Secretly Dying and wanted to bring the Villain of the Week down by any means necessary.
  • Those Two Guys: FBI agents Lane and Harris, recurring Butt Monkeys and occasional Chekhov's Guns.
  • Three Amigos: Michael, Fiona, and Sam.
  • 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...
    • 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.
  • 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:

Sam: I need your help to kidnap a congressman.
Madeline: I'll be there in a half hour.

    • 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.
    • And does it again 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.
    • 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.

  • Trademark Favorite Food: Michael really likes yogurt. No... Really.
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Trojan Prisoner: Michael in "Comrades" and "Center of the Storm".
  • True Companions: Michael, Fiona, Sam, and Madeline. And Nate.
    • 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.
  • Try and Follow
  • 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 Cliff Hanger, 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.
  • Under the Truck
  • 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.
  • The Unfettered: Larry. He even has a little speech about it in "Enemies Closer."
  • 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-talkin’ Johnny" - again): "What did we do?"
Chop-shop explodes behind them
Michael: "That’s 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.
  • X Meets Y: Miami Vice meets MacGyver, The A-Team meets The Rockford Files, any number of those kind of "outsmart the enemy" shows updated for the 2000's.
  • 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.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Recurring baddie Brennen a slick, smooth talking, ruthless arms dealer. However, when Michael bluffs that he's found out about his daughter and is willing to assassinate her, Brennen panics and backs down.
    • 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 kill off nearly all his mooks.
    • Done epically with Larry. After god-knows-how-many Plans and manipulations, he gets caught in a firing sight by Sam and unable to do anything except wait for the cops or shoot Michael...and shooting Mike would mean he would die, something he could never do. He takes this about as well as you would expect.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Sam and Fiona have morphed into this.
  • 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 recent 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 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 cops in the Caribbean use the same basic uniform in the first place.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Gabriel in the third season episode "Good Intentions," who is a thinly-disguised Che Guevara: he's from Argentina, used to be a physician, and he joined a group of guerilla fighters as part of a plan to get revenge on the Corrupt Corporate Executives who dumped toxic waste in his hometown, poisoning the locals and causing the death of his daughter.
  • Western Terrorists: Fiona used to be one.
  • 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. Then he 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.
  • What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: Carla, meet Karla.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: 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, or perhaps just Michael spending more time with her.
    • Best guess is that it was just a method of getting Michael to pay attention to her. When he starts doing that via more normal methods, she stops.
    • Likely the second point as in 4x01. When visiting his mother after his disappearance, you can see an entire tray full of medicine bottles in the living room.
    • 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? What happened to Nate's titanium recycling business?
    • Even though it's heavily implied that Management was arrested or killed when his organization is dismantled, we still have no idea what exactly happened to him.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • What Were You Thinking?: Michael's mom wins an award for vigilantly calling the police about stolen cars that Michael stole!

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 when you got the reward for reporting crimes I committed!

  • Wild Card: Fiona. The lady's on a short fuse.
    • 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.
    • Also, see Stuff Blowing Up.
    • 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."

    • 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.
  • Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Jason Bly enjoys barging into Michael's loft and ripping everything apart in search of "evidence".
  • 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.
  • Why We're Bummed Communism Fell: Paul Anderson (Burt Reynolds) can't wrap his mind around not being allowed to shoot Russians.
  • Women Drivers: Lampshaded by Fiona in "Rough Seas".
  • Working with the Ex: One of Michael's ex-girlfriends once showed up on to ask for his help, and ended up working closely with the team throughout the episode.
    • Technically, Michael and Fiona at least in the first few seasons count as well--they were once in a serious relationship, which ended when Michael had to walk out in the middle of the night.
  • Worthy Opponent: The eventual relationship between Michael and Agent Bly.
  • 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.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: All of Team Westen seems to have a soft spot for abused kids.
    • Brennen calls Mike out on this when Michael figures out the name and location of Brennen's daughter.

Brennen: "This isn't you, Westen. You're capable of a lot, but you wouldn't hurt a child."
Michael: "But you would, Brennen. This is your game, we're playing by your rules."

  • Would Not Shoot a Good Guy: In "Devil You Know", a police officer claims that Michael tried to kill him. Maddie follows up with the "if he wanted to kill you, you'd be dead" line.
    • 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.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: In a monologue, Michael mentions how people are so much more inclined to be sympathetic when they see someone with injuries, right before using a locker to give himself a shiner. (Ouch!)
    • 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.
    • Subverted hard in "Friends Like These".
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance, potentially.
    • Officially, until his policy was canceled.
  • 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.
  • Yaoi Fangirl: Fiona flirts with this in the first season episode "Loose Ends" when Sam interacts with the patrons of a gay bar in order to get information.

Fiona: "You know, you were captivating over there."

  • You Are Not Alone: Nate does this for Michael in "Enemies Closer".
  • You Have Failed Me...: Time after time after time. It rarely happens onscreen, but still.
  • You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: In "Army of One", when bad guy Holcombe sees that not only is Michael working with the cops, but that he's not dead.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Gilroy's fate in the penultimate episode of season 3.
    • 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.
  • You Just Told Me: The whole point of the "reverse interrogation".
  • 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 What They Say
  • 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."
  1. The MythBusters tried using the phone books to bulletproof the windows, too, but Michael preferred to install bulletproof windows instead, because "bullet-proof glass is not the sort of thing you skimp on." Michael was aware of his attackers' preferred arsenal (SMGs), which did not include any of the high powered rifles that required the additional phone books.