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Burn Notice Spotlight: Michael Westen's Spy Tips, Memorable Quotes, and Behind-the-Scenes Fun Facts


Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen on the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice-Spotlight-2024

Ever wondered what a spy does when they’re suddenly out of a job? Enter Michael Westen.


Fans were first introduced to Michael Westen in 2007, a character who had us questioning, with each new episode, "Should he be showing us how to do that?" The series is a blend of espionage, action, and dramedy, much like the iconic 80s series The A-Team and other similar shows such as Leverage and The Equalizer.


These shows featured characters who, despite being considered criminals, still found time to help people targeted by actual criminals, corrupt politicians, and greedy corporations. The "Robin Hood" trope is a great way to tug at the heartstrings and, coupled with the action-dramedy, makes it a great recipe for successfully captivating the TV viewers' attention.



Sharon Gless as Madeline Westen on the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice-Spotlight-2024

"Sometimes people need to fight their own battles. Still, it's better to have Michael Westen than a two-by-four."

- Madeline Westen


Premiering on June 28, 2007, and running for seven seasons, the action-drama became a staple on the USA Network. Its distinctive storytelling approach, with Michael narrating and offering in-field tips and DIY spy techniques, distinguished the series from other television shows at the time.


For the uninitiated: 

Set against the sunny backdrop of Miami, Florida, Burn Notice follows Michael Westen, a former spy who has been disavowed by his intelligence agency without explanation. Stranded in Miami, Michael utilizes his skills to assist those in need while endeavoring to uncover the mystery behind his burn notice and restore his career.



Bruce Campbell as Sam Axe on the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice

"This train is rolling brother; the only question is if you’re on board."

-Sam Axe


While the show didn't shy away from discussing real issues such as kidnapping, gambling addiction, prostitution, and abuse, the showrunners still managed to keep it light-hearted and fun. "We're trying to make you laugh in every scene, even when there's violence, action, or something serious is going on. There's always a kind of edgy humor even in those moments," explained Jeffrey Donovan. (Burn Notice Interview: Hollywood Archives)


Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell, Sharon Gless, Coby Bell on the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice
(L to R) Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona Glenanne, Bruce Campbell as Sam Axe, Sharon Gless as Madeline Westen, and Coby Bell as Jesse Porter stars of the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice

Throughout the series, Michael teams up with old friends and allies, including Fiona Glenanne, a former IRA operative and explosives expert, and Sam Axe, a retired Navy SEAL with a knack for talking his way into (and out of) any situation. As they work together to help various clients and solve Michael's own burning questions, they encounter a colorful array of criminals, conspiracies, and shadowy government operatives.


Main Characters
  • Michael Westen (played by Jeffrey Donovan) – The charismatic former spy whose burn notice sets the series in motion. Michael's expertise in espionage, combat, and tradecraft is at the heart of the show.

  • Fiona Glenanne (played by Gabrielle Anwar) – Michael's on-again, off-again girlfriend and former IRA operative. She brings a fierce and fiery energy to the team, excelling in explosives and hand-to-hand combat.

  • Sam Axe (played by Bruce Campbell) – A former Navy SEAL and Michael's best friend. Sam's laid-back demeanor and wisecracks add levity to the series, though he's always ready to jump into action.

  • Madeline Westen (played by Sharon Gless) – Michael's resourceful and strong-willed mother. Though she's often exasperated by Michael's secretive life, she becomes a crucial ally.

  • Jesse Porter (played by Coby Bell) – An ex-counterintelligence agent inadvertently burned by Michael. He joins the team with his own skills and a touch of humor.


Fun Fact

In 2015, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request revealed that the FBI and NSA had classified files mentioning Burn Notice. Despite heavily redacted documents, over 100 pages confirmed that these intelligence agencies were discussing the show.


The content mostly consisted of internal blog posts and email conversations that indicated a positive reception to the series among the agencies' personnel. It seems even real-life spies found Michael Westen's antics entertaining, with some even recommending the show to others, proving that "Burn Notice" has a fanbase where you might least expect it.



Michael Shanks as Victor Stecker-Epps on the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice-Spotlight-2024

Often, it was the everyday criminals stirring up trouble in Miami's vibrant streets, the kind you and I are used to hearing about, and Michael had just the right tricks up his sleeve to outsmart them. But then there were the high-stakes showdowns with the big bosses' hired guns, where the danger level skyrocketed.


"The people we work for, they're into the whole "carrot and stick thing," and... I'm the stick."

 - Victor Stecker-Epps


For example, Victor Stecker-Epps, played by Michael Shanks (Stargate SG-1), was a complex villain introduced in Season 2. Initially presented as a straightforward antagonist, his backstory and personal motivations added depth to his character, making him a compelling adversary and later a brief but strong ally for Michael.


Image-6-(L to R) Jere Burns, Tricia Helfer, Jay Karnes, Tim Matheson, Robert Wisdom on the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice-Spotlight-2024
(L to R) Jere Burns as Anson Fullerton, Tricia Helfer as Carla Baxter, Jay Karnes as Tyler Brennen, Tim Matheson as Larry Sizemore, Robert Wisdom as Vaughn Anderson
Most Dangerous
  1. Anson Fullerton - Played by Jere Burns (Justified), Anson is the mastermind behind Michael Westen's burn notice. Cunning and manipulative, he uses psychological leverage to control people.

  2. Carla Baxter - Portrayed by Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica), Carla is an early antagonist in Season 2. Cold, ruthless, and resourceful, she always stays a step ahead of Michael and his team.

  3. Tyler Brennen - Portrayed by Jay Karnes (The Shield), Brennen is an arms dealer and black market operator in Season 3. His cold, calculating nature and willingness to kill without hesitation make him a formidable adversary

  4. Larry Sizemore - Played by Tim Matheson (The West Wing), Larry is Michael's former mentor and a recurring villain. His twisted morality and desire to involve Michael in his criminal plans add significant tension to the series.

  5. Vaughn Anderson - Portrayed by Robert Wisdom (The Wire), Vaughn is a high-ranking member of the organization that burned Michael, introduced in Season 4. His suave demeanor, persuasive tactics, and significant power, including political and law enforcement connections, make him a dangerous opponent.



Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen on the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice-Spotlight-2024

"The lone spy who always works solo is a myth. The truth is, you don't last long without keeping a few friends around. Because you're enemies will find you on their own." 

-Michael Westen 


Even with their considerable skills, the Burn Notice crew occasionally needed a hand. Enter a group of characters who walked the line between lawbreaker and ally to Michael Westen, offering a blend of loyalty and mischief. 


(L to R) Seth Peterson as Nate Westen, Paul Tei as Barry, Silas Weir Mitchell as Seymour, and Arturo Rossi as Sugar on the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice-Spotlight-2024
(L to R) Seth Peterson as Nate Westen, Paul Tei as Barry, Silas Weir Mitchell as Seymour, and Arturo Rossi as Sugar
Honorable Criminals
  • Michael's brother, streetwise Nate Westen played by Seth Peterson (Providence), is a compulsive gambler and con artist who, despite his troubled past, is always there to help his big brother and offers insight into the criminal world that improves Michael's undercover personas.


  • Barry played by Paul Tei (Marley & Me), the savvy money launderer, has connections in the criminal underworld that prove invaluable to Michael's missions, and having a money launderer on speed dial comes in handy, especially when money needs to appear and disappear in seconds.


  • Seymour played by Silas Weir Mitchell (Grimm), a quirky yet resourceful arms dealer, initially Fiona’s contact, offers Michael much-needed intel on who's buying and selling rare weapons. It's the kind of information that comes in handy when looking for a unique item like a Russian Dragunov sniper rifle.


  • Lastly, Former drug dealer Sugar played by Arturo Rossi (Graceland) has a network of underworld connections, making him indispensable, especially when you need intel on a shot-caller or if Michael needs someone with street cred to vouch for him.


Coby Bell as Jesse Porter on the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice-Spotlight-2024

"Justice and revenge, that's chocolate and peanut butter as far as I'm concerned."

-Jesse Porter


(L to R): Basil Wallace as Claude Laurent, Bruce Campbell as Sam Axe, Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen in "Truth and Reconciliation," Season 2, Episode 14 of Burn Notice-(Image Courtesy of USA Network/NBCUniversal)
(L to R): Basil Wallace as Claude Laurent, Bruce Campbell as Sam Axe, Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen in "Truth and Reconciliation," Season 2, Episode 14 of Burn Notice-(Image Courtesy of USA Network/NBCUniversal)
Must-See Guest Performance

In "Truth and Reconciliation," Season 2, Episode 14 of Burn Notice, Basil Wallace (Marked for Death) delivers a standout performance as Claude Laurent, a Haitian man on a mission to expose a Miami resident he believes is a fugitive responsible for the death of his daughter in a Haitian prison. About 23 minutes into the episode, Wallace's portrayal of a grief-stricken father seeking justice is heart-wrenching and authentic. 


The confrontational scenes with Michael are filled with tension, illustrating the character's deep vulnerability, guilt, and desperation. This guest role is a testament to Wallace's remarkable talent and emotional depth, a definite must-see performance.


Episode Quote (S2 E14): "Working covert ops, you learn to exploit weakness. You manipulate greed, fear, pride...to make people do what you want. But when you're dealing with true believers, those weaknesses aren't there. All you can do is help or get out of the way." - Michael Westen


Fun Fact

This episode also adds an extra element of fun with an unexpected and surprising cameo from Clarence Williams III as the father of the fugitive criminal. Williams, known for his role as Linc Hayes in The Mod Squad, one of the three young undercover detectives in the series, brings a touch of nostalgia to the episode. The Mod Squad was a groundbreaking television series that aired in 1968 and became an iconic representation of the counterculture movement of the late 1960s. (S2 E14 Cast)



(L to R): Coby Bell as Jesse Porter, Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona Glenanne, Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen in a scene from the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice
(L to R): Coby Bell as Jesse Porter, Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona Glenanne, Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen in a scene from the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice
Fun Fact

In the final episode of Burn Notice, creator Matt Nix included Easter eggs throughout the episode, with each of the main characters echoing their iconic lines from earlier seasons, adding a touch of nostalgia and lightness to an otherwise intense finale. Additionally, the use of duct tape—a hallmark from the pilot—appeared in various scenes, with each character finding a unique purpose for it, creating a sense of continuity and a fun wink to dedicated viewers. (Matt Nix on series nod)


Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless a Cagney & Lacey reunion in Season 3, Episode 10 titled 'A Dark Road,' of Burn Notice-(Image Courtesy of USA Network/NBCUniversal/IMDb)
Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless a Cagney & Lacey reunion in Season 3, Episode 10 titled 'A Dark Road,' of Burn Notice-(Image Courtesy of USA Network/NBCUniversal/IMDb)
Reunion Episode

In Season 3, Episode 10 of "Burn Notice," titled "A Dark Road," Michael Westen's mission to find Diego's killer is derailed when he's asked to help a widow combat a network of insurance scammers. The plot thickens when Madeline, Michael's mother, befriends an "asset," creating unexpected complications. This episode features a special guest appearance by Tyne Daly, marking a nostalgic reunion with Sharon Gless, who plays Madeline Westen.


The two actresses famously starred together in the award-winning series 'Cagney & Lacey' (1981-1988), which spanned 126 episodes. This unexpected crossover delighted fans of both shows, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to an already compelling episode.



Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona Glenanne Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen in a scene from the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice
Gabrielle Anwar as Fiona Glenanne Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen in a scene from the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice
Fiery Partnership

The showrunners did a great job of showing Fiona and Michael's romantic relationship without slowing down the fast-paced action of the series. Gabrielle Anwar's performance as Fiona Glenanne made the character an integral part of Burn Notice. Fiona's dynamic relationship with Michael added depth to the series. Their interactions in intense situations did enough to show their deep connection and trust.


Nina Sordi from Den Of Geek said it best, "Watching them together in a gunfight, car chase, or a complicated con reveals more than dramatic heart-to-hearts or cutesy flirting ever could." (Den Of Geek: TV couples that don’t make us puke by Nina Sordi)


While Fiona's deep feelings for Michael were evident in each episode, her unwavering strength and fierce determination to stand up against those who victimized others were also always on display, and she did not mince words. "Screw wisdom! I belong out there with him, for better or worse. I knew that the moment I met him," along with "Shall we shoot them?" showcased her fiery and determined personality. Even in Michael's absence, it was clear that Fiona held her ground, leaving no doubt that she was a force to be reckoned with. Somewhere, out there, in hiding, we know that Michael is losing arguments to Fiona.


Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen on the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice-Michael Westen Quotes
Westen's Spy Tips

"Dominance in the battlefield isn't always about the use of lethal force. Sometimes it's more effective to leave a few targets around to spread the word."


"In a fight, you have to be careful not to break the little bones in your hand on someone's face. That's why I like bathrooms. Lots of hard surfaces."


“If you wanna make a friend, solve a problem for them. No problem to solve? Create one.”


"The key to hand-to-hand combat is being able to close the distance between you and your opponent without putting them on their guard."


"Making an approach to a bad guy isn't always about seeming scary, intimidating, or even smart. A certain kind of target needs to feel superior, so if getting the job done means letting them be the dominant force in the room...you step back and let them do exactly that."



(L to R)-Bruce Campbell as Sam Axe, Burt Reynolds as Paul Anderson, and Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen in the episode titled 'Past & Future Tense' from the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice
(L to R)-Bruce Campbell as Sam Axe, Burt Reynolds as Paul Anderson, and Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Westen in the episode titled 'Past & Future Tense' from the USA Network TV Series Burn Notice
Guest Stars

Each time you tuned in to Burn Notice, it felt like watching an episode of The Love Boat - excited to see who would appear next. Across its seven-season run, the show featured an impressive lineup of famous guest stars who brought depth and charisma to the series. 


Burt Reynolds left a lasting impression on fans with his charm and bad-boy swagger. Reynolds played Paul Anderson, a former Cold War spy who became a target for Russian operatives. The poignant final scene between Michael and Paul seemed to symbolize a passing of the torch, as Paul asked Michael, "Can you handle the rest of this, kid?" (S4 Ep7 Past & Future Tense)


Among the notable guest stars on Burn Notice were Richard Schiff, known for his role as Toby Ziegler in The West Wing, who brought gravitas to the show. Danny Trejo, famous for his tough-guy persona in films like Machete and Desperado, added a gritty edge to the series.


John Mahoney showcased his versatility as an actor, known for playing Martin Crane in Frasier. Ray Wise, Michael Rooker, and Robert Patrick each brought their unique talents and charisma to the show. Additionally, Paul Donald Wight II, also known as WWE's The Big Show, would have put a serious hurt on Sam and Jesse if Fiona hadn't stepped in to save the day. (Big Show Guest Stars on USA Network's Burn Notice: See photos)



(L to R)Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Coby Bell, Bruce Campbell-USA Network TV Series Burn Notice-Spotlight-2024

From its innovative narrative style to its memorable guest performances and iconic spy tips, the series showcased the creativity and talent of its creators and cast. As fans continue to revisit the sunny streets of Miami with Michael Westen and his team, the legacy of Burn Notice remains as enduring as ever, serving as a timeless reminder that, as Burt Reynolds' character Paul eloquently stated, "All you really have in the end...are your stories." And after watching this series for so many years I definitely have a few stories to tell.


This iconic show celebrates the notion that sometimes true heroes are the ones who fight their battles with wit, charm, and a roll of duct tape.


Thanks for making it this far! Let me know your thoughts. Do you have a favorite episode?


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