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The Top 5 Episodes Of 'Burn Notice' To Sharpen Your Spy Skills

Michael Westen went on some pretty high-stakes adventures on "Burn Notice." These are just some of his best.

By Tyler McCarthy
Burn Notice Main Image

For seven seasons, the team on “Burn Notice” went on as many high-stakes adventures as the city of Miami would throw at them. Whether it’s going undercover or surviving tactical sieges, there’s no shortage of fan-favorite episodes in which Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) teaches viewers how to get out of a sticky situation the way only a master spy knows how. 

Sometimes he’s alone, other times he’s joined by his intrepid and highly capable friends, Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) and his mom, Madeline Westen (Sharon Gless). Regardless, Team Michael spent each episode facing down villains who simply weren’t ready for the expertise they brought to the table. However, some super spy antics were more beloved among fans than others. 

As they wait to see if the characters will ever return for one more mission, we thought it might be fun to take a look back at just some of the team’s greatest episodes in the series in no particular order.

'Pilot' – Season 1, Episode 1

Burn Notice Pilot

Obviously, it’s important to acknowledge where it all began. When the audience meets Michael, he’s already one of the best spies in the world. However, he immediately faces his greatest challenge yet when he’s disavowed by every agency and government with a surprise burn notice while in the middle of a mission overseas. 

He escapes danger only to find himself back in his hometown of Miami with only a handful of people still willing to talk to him, let alone help. The first episode not only establishes who Michael is and how capable he can be with his super spy skills, but it also lays out how dire his situation as a burned agent really is and why he needs to get this fixed as soon as possible. 

'Bad Breaks' – Season 2, Episode 13

Burn Notice Bad Breaks

It’s not often that villains return in “Burn Notice,” but when they do it always spells really bad news for Michael. In this episode, a government agent he previously blackmailed shows back up in Miami to try to make his life as miserable as possible in the hopes of finally taking him down.

Unfortunately for him, that's easier said than done. Getting involved in Westen's world typically puts you in some serious danger.

He tails Westen to a bank where he thinks he’s just got a routine case in which a woman needs help with her abusive boyfriend. Instead, the two enemies find themselves in a hostage situation once it’s revealed the boyfriend in question was casing the bank she works at the entire time.

Michael knows they could simply grab guns and get into a shootout and maybe even win. However, that risks getting innocent people killed. Instead, he fights like a spy, posing as a helpless bank customer while finding ways to sabotage the robbers’ master plan. Through sheer deception and resourcefulness, by the time he’s done with them, a series of “accidents” have left the team horribly injured and their plan in shambles. 

It’s a great example of the show proving that the best weapon in any fight is Michael’s cleverness rather than his ability to fight. The experience even brings the two enemies to a place of mutual respect. 

'Friendly Fire' – Season 3, Episode 12

Burn Notice Friendly Fire

Almost every episode of “Burn Notice” sees Michael adopt a cover identity. One of his most memorable undercover characters is Luis, a man who dresses like Satan himself to make the lives of a local crime syndicate hell all in service of tracking down a kidnapped child. 

When one of Sam’s frenemies comes to town asking for help, Michael adopts the character, a soft-spoken and highly capable man of mystery who comes out of nowhere and, with a snap of his fingers, starts blowing up an organized crime operation — literally. 

After a while, Luis merely needs to show up on the block for the criminals to know they're about to get their butts handed to them in some way. They literally beg for mercy at the mere sight of him. 

The character is a great example of Donovan’s skill at being playful with the many characters he gets to play. At no point does he wink at the comedy of how ridiculous Luis is. He’s the devil incarnate and it’s up to the audience to either laugh or cry at his presence. 

'Last Stand' – Season 4, Episode 18

Burn Notice Last Stand

Rarely do Westen and his team not have some kind of clever way out of a situation. However, when Michael finally gets information that could lead to the people who burned him being exposed, the group, led by villain Vaughn Anderson (Robert Wisdom), stops at nothing to get it back. 

This episode forces them to put aside cloak-and-dagger tactics as Michael, Fiona and Jesse find themselves trapped in an abandoned hotel with a full tactical squad outside with one directive — kill them.

We see Michael apply his spy training in a completely different way as undercover identities make way for brute force and siege tactics. Limited resources and clever tricks are powerful tools, but with deception off the table, Michael is forced to put himself and his friends in the most danger they've ever been in just for a hope at surviving. 

The show is at its best when it takes a man as well-trained as its lead character and forces him into desperate, no-win situations. “Last Stand” does that and then some, with the stakes being as high as ever with the very fate of Michael’s burn notice on the line. 

'Dead To Rights' – Season 5, Episode 12

Burn Notice Dead To Rights

As mentioned, Michael tends to be effective in what he does. So, there are very few bad guys who return to his life. One of the worst, though, is Larry Sizemore. A man from Michael’s past, Larry showed up in a handful of episodes and it’s made clear he’s a murderous psychopath from a time in our hero’s life when he was lost emotionally. 

In “Dead To Rights,” he finally meets his end at the hands of a vengeful Fiona when he goes too far. Larry, as he does, shows up out of nowhere and forces Michael to break into a British consulate for some dangerous work that’s very likely to get people killed. If he doesn't an innocent woman will die (or so he thinks). As their mission puts them at physical odds, they also hash out their emotional conflict as well. Larry does everything he can to convince Michael he’s a killer just like him and lure him over to the dark side.

It's true that his burn notice restricts him to Miami and certain work, but if he makes the right people "un-alive," all that goes away. Fortunately, Michael isn't willing to do that.  

As Michael wages the emotional battle, Fiona’s efforts to cross Larry off the board for a good result in some unexpected collateral damage that put the team on the run, which leads to some of the most intense drama of the season that carries the group right into the finale. 

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