"My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy."
Before every other drama on TV started feeling the need to begin with someone announcing "My name is blank. I blank," this was the beautifully succinct and provocative short version of Michael's circumstances, given in the opening credits of every episode.
If you haven't seen the show, here are the basics:
Michael, as previously mentioned, used to be a spy. He was fired and blacklisted ("burned") by the CIA due to interference by insider enemies unknown, and dumped in Miami with what remains of his dysfunctional birth family.
With the help of his ex-IRA on-again-off-again girlfriend, Fiona,
Burn Notice is a lot of things. It's a story about obsession and revenge, and about Michael's decent and heroic nature being tested against the moral grayness inherent in the life he loves. It's a complicated and protracted love story, a team caper comedy on occasion, and a concentrated, over-the-top fantasy of spy cool-factor. And it manages to be all these things successfully and simultaneously.
Michael's a genius, intensively trained and one of the best in his field. He's a physical force to be reckoned with in a fight,
This is a guy who once foiled a bank robbery, as a hostage, by pretending to be a doctor, sabotaging a gun to put one of the robbers in need of said doctor's skills to get himself in on the conversation, and spinning a tale of the robbers’ imaginary enemies so terrifying that one well-placed explosion set by his friends outside sends them into full retreat.
He's a guy who infiltrated a group of criminals by impersonating a dorky methhead in order to be underestimated.
He's a guy who once convinced a criminal that he was the devil. The actual devil. With nothing but a snazzy red shirt, a few more well-timed explosions, and pure, icy, unflappable confidence.
He's a guy who eventually makes hardened bad guys back off by calling them on the phone with that same simple line.
And like only the best of genius characters and characters with want-to-be-them cool abilities, the serious problems with what it's like to be Michael are explored deeply, while never completely crushing that want-to-be-him fantasy.
One of the trademarks of the show is Michael's voiceover explanations of the strategy and psychology of everything he does, and depending on the tone of the scene, the narration can go from a casual school lecture on gun safety to a diary page, all in Michael's eerily controlled, detached voice. It's a technique that rarely works onscreen, but the cerebral nature of what Michael does demands an avenue of explanation, and Michael's pokerface makes a direct window into his head necessary for the audience. The narration serves both purposes.
Michael doesn't have the social awkwardness or anxiety of many Holmes-inspired archetypes, but he has the opposite problem. His practice treating people as assets or marks has given him something close to a learned form of sociopathy that strains all of his close relationships, even though he's capable of putting on flawless charm on a superficial level. The same inhuman level of obsessive focus that allowed him to become as skilled as he his also prevents him from sparing any attention for what normal people find important, to the point where even his fellow action hero lifers can't tolerate it indefinitely.
Along with the espionage intrigue and the psycho-of-the-week adventures, the show is about Michael's struggle to balance what he loves with whom he loves and what he stands for.
In his first episode, after escaping from the enemies the CIA abandoned him to when burning him, Michael's voiceover monologue explains why fighting for the little guy is for suckers. Even in his perpetually even inner voice, it's a very practiced rationalization, and by the end of the episode, he's teaching a school kid how to fight off bullies and smiling to himself as he watches him do it. Like the best pilots, that's a snapshot of exactly the kind of story you're getting into.
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