- "Thirty years of karate. Combat experience on five continents. A rating with every weapon that shoots a bullet or holds an edge."
- —Michael Westen
Michael Westen is the main protagonist in the television series Burn Notice. He is portrayed by Jeffrey Donovan.
Grew Up... in Miami with his parents Frank and Madeline. His father would physically abuse Michael and exploit him for his own illicit activities, for example forcing Michael to make a scene in a store so Frank could steal. Oddly, his rough upbringing prepared Michael well for his future career. As he puts it, "A bad childhood is the perfect background for covert ops. You don't trust anyone, you're used to getting smacked around, and you never get homesick."
Living... back in his hometown of Miami in a trashy apartment above a nightclub. He’s not too concerned about his present living conditions; he has a lot more pressing issues to worry about.
Profession... private investigator/freelance spy. Michael was an undercover CIA agent until he was blacklisted – or given a “burn notice” – without any explanation. With the help of his ex-girlfriend, Fiona, and his friend, Sam, he now works as a private eye and all-around problem-solver to pay the bills, while simultaneously investigating his ousting from the CIA.
Interests... eating yogurt. He just can’t get enough.
Relationship Status... single, at least technically. Michael has a very complicated relationship with Fiona, often implying how important she is to him but never really giving her the commitment she wants or feels that she deserves. He is too wrapped up in learning why he was “burned.” Michael has little interest in dating other women, though, and he and Fiona are clearly attracted to and care for each other.
Challenge... surviving. Michael's entire existence is an incredible challenge. Upon being blacklisted by the CIA, his bank accounts were seized, his assets frozen, and he was flagged on every government database. Ever since, he has lived in a state of fear where everyone around him may be an enemy and every move he makes could lead to potential confrontation. To Michael, even "a sunny beach just looks like a vulnerable tactical position with no decent cover."
Personality... complicated. Michael has to do a lot of questionable things in his line of work, but he still has a strong moral compass. For example: "I don't like stealing cars, but sometimes it's necessary. I have rules, though. I'll keep it clean, and if I take your car on a workday, I'll have it back by 5." He is extremely quick-thinking, able to get out of many a grim situation, and rarely falters in the face of danger. Michael is confident betting big when the stakes are high and regularly proves that he seeks justice for the right reasons
However, after being burned, and persistent persuasion from his mother, Madeline Westen, Michael did visit his father's grave; eight years after missing the funeral. He stated the "Beloved" term placed on his gravestone was "a bit of a stretch," he nevertheless gruffly thanked his father for the Charger, which his mother claimed Frank wanted him to have.
The gift of the Charger turned out to be a ruse concocted by his mother because she wanted Michael to have something to remember him. His response was to rub the scar beneath his left eye and say 'Oh, I have this to remember him.'
Michael enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 17, wishing to get away from his abusive father. Leaving with nothing but $50 and a change of clothes, Michael never turned back and vowed to never return to Miami. He was an Army Ranger and served in Special Forces. After a stint in the Army Combat Applications Group, Michael became a Covert Intelligence Operative contracted for the CIA eventually becoming a high-level field agent. He later claimed that he was happiest when he was in a different hemisphere from the rest of his family.
For the next 10 years, Michael served the United States of America in covert operations all over the world, though mostly in Eastern Europe and the OPEC countries. He was also known to have conducted operations in Africa and Ireland, the latter of which being where he met Fiona Glenanne.
Over the course of his career, Michael was very proficient as a covert operative. It was revealed in Past & Future Tense by a Russian operative named Alexi that his name was known by everyone in Russian Special Forces and was described as "Like the boogeyman: Not real."
Although the details of most of his operations are still unknown, one of them was in Kiev in 1993. At this time, a team of Spetsnaz, the top Russian operatives, tried to sell a warhead. During this operation, Michael shot one of the team and no one ever saw them again.
Michael believes his unhappy childhood, mostly his father's responsibility, has helped make him into a natural covert operative, though as a result, it has made relationships difficult for him. With time, Michael became a cynic hardened by experience, though also soon reveals he has a soft, and sometimes vulnerable side.
While on assignment in Nigeria, Michael was paying off a Nigerian warlord. During the money transfer Michael's CIA contact informed him the mission was off, they had a burn notice on him. The warlord he was dealing with did not like that Michael wasn't able to provide what he had promised and proceeded to beat him. Michael narrowly escaped from him. He was severely beaten before escaping to the airport where he caught a plane. Once on the plane, he passed out and was then effectively dumped in his hometown of Miami without money or resources, unable to leave or risk "disappearing" completely.
Having been burned, his bank accounts seized, and his assets frozen, Michael is cut off from all of his contacts and flagged on every government list. Every spy's worst nightmare.
Life in Miami
Michael now has to find work that suits his unusual skill set and knowledge. He counts on longtime friends like Sam Axe, who informed on him to the FBI until midway through the first season, and Fiona to help him perform such tasks while fighting with his mother Madeline Westen and trying to find out who burned him and why. Michael lives in a decrepit loft situated over a nightclub, with a bed, workbench, some barbells, a punching bag, no air conditioning, an oven, a few chairs, a mid-90's era computer, and a refrigerator filled with yogurt and alcohol. He obtained the loft in the pilot episode when he assisted his Russian landlord and club owner by ridding a drug dealer Raymond, nicknamed "Sugar" who also lived on the premises. He also spends time at hotels in Miami, as well as his mother's house.
Upon returning to Miami, Michael was watched by the FBI & other agencies (Vaughn). It was revealed that he was burned in order to be recruited by a mysterious organization and is contacted by a woman named Carla. After Carla was killed by Fiona, Michael received an offer to replace her by a man referred to as the organization's "Management." He refused to take the job and lost the security detail and personal restrictions he had been under to protect him from the countless enemies he made as a CIA operative, choosing to be free from the organization's hold. It is later discovered that the organization was also protecting him from the rest of the world who were hunting the name, Michael Westen.
Michael continued to work toward removing his burn notice and being reinstated in the CIA. Michael then approached CIA agent Diego Garza, who became his point of contact for the CIA. Michael has also approached himself and later threatened by Tom Strickler, an "agent to the spies" with powerful connections. Tom had tried to remove Fiona from Michael's life, and Michael subsequently killed him. With Tom dead, the incident sparked a chain of events that led Diego to be murdered by Mason Gilroy, a former MI6 spy, and freelance black ops psychopath. Michael ended up working with Gilroy in order to find out his plan. Michael eventually found out that Gilroy was working on securing the release of a high-risk fugitive named Simon Escher. Gilroy succeeded in freeing him but is later killed by Simon. In another revelation, Simon was the one responsible for the actions that got blamed on Michael when he was burned. Simon's profile was transferred to Michael. Simon forced Michael to bring Management to Miami but ends up being recaptured again when Michael overtook him.
After initially being taken away by the authorities, Michael is taken into Management's custody by use of their high-level government contacts. A high-level member of Management named Vaughn, convinces Michael about a group of people in the world who are plotting assassinations, political coups, funding terrorist organizations, genocide and are using the terrible effects of such actions to greatly profit. Michael agrees to help Management in order to stop the organization that broke Simon out of prison. During the process of investigating, Michael accidentally burns a spy named Jesse Porter.
Despite the objection from Fiona and his own mother, Michael kept a secret from Jesse about his role in destroying his life. Later, Jesse discovered Michael's deception and vowed revenge. Just before Jesse found out, Michael found a close link to the organization behind Simon and a mysterious book code contained within an out of print Family Bible, a power-broker and billionaire CEO of Drake Technologies, named John Barrett. Michael offered to trade him the stolen bible in exchange for shedding some light on who he's up against and what the Bible as a book code decrypts - the true identities of the organization that burned Michael. Management – the people who burned him – are hidden within the United States government, private military corporations, and various other powerful organizations. Barrett planned on recruiting Michael to help him eliminate them. During the exchange of the case, Michael was shot by Jesse during a confrontation of Vaughn's and John Barrett's team. Michael, bleeding, was taken by John Barrett. Michael then caused the car he was in to crash, leaving John Barrett dead. Michael survives the accident and manages to crawl out of the wreckage. With Michael bleeding out and unconscious, someone steals the case.
Michael eventually recovered from his injuries. With the help of Fiona, Sam, and Jesse, Michael was able to recover the information on Management. Michael and Jessie turned over the flash drive to Marv - in exchange for Michael testifying to everything he knows about the organization, Jesse's old CIA handler. Seconds after the handoff Marv is killed by men posing as Homeland Security agents and the flash drive is stolen by Tyler Brennen, an enemy Michael makes during the second season, who dislikes him even more after their next encounter in season three, and is one of the most intelligent villains he has encountered. Brennen, threatening to expose Michael's betrayal to Vaughn, blackmailed Michael into killing the people who on the list who burned him. Brennen is murdered by Larry Sizemore who was recruited by Brennan to be Michael's partner for the killings. Michael was able to defeat Larry, but Vaughn found out of Michael's betrayal. Vaughn and his team go after Michael and those around him but is arrested. Michael was then taken by two mysterious men to Washington, DC and was met by an unknown acquaintance. The unknown acquaintance turns out to be Raines, Michael's former recruiter, who helps Michael hunt down every member of The Organization
After taking down The Organization, Michael is, officially, still burned but he is unofficially working with the CIA as a freelance spy. Another spy Michael had been working with, his handler, Max, is murdered and Michael is framed for the murder. Agent Pearce, who's been sent by the CIA to investigate Max's murder and serve as Michael's new agency contact. Michael must do what he can to aid the CIA's investigation while keeping the evidence from leading to his own doorstep. After he finds the killer is a Russian named Tavian Korzha the CIA lets Michael go to talk to him where he throws himself off a 5-story, unfinished, parking structure. Larry comes back and kidnaps Anson Fullerton, holding his wife hostage, forcing Michael to help him break into the British consulate, frame several British government personnel, and gain two million dollars. Larry reveals that he plans on killing Michael after Fi and Sam find Anson's wife had been blown up. Fiona plants a small explosive to kill Larry. The building suddenly explodes from the bottom, killing 2 security guards inside. It turns out that Anson planted the bomb and framed Fi and he is the founder of Management and threatened to have the CIA and MI6 after Fi if Michael does not do his dirty work. Eventually, Fiona grows tired of Michael working for Anson and turns herself into the FBI when Anson tries to get Michael to burn a CIA Operations team for him. Michael arrives at the Federal Building as Fiona is turning herself in. Michael becomes extremely angry and chases Anson to a chemical plant in the Florida Keys. Anson outwits, rigging the building explode and attaching the detonator on a dead man switch. Michael yet again despite the support of Agent Pierce and the CIA with Michael vowing to go after Anson dead or alive.
After having worked with Rebecca, Anson's partner, who was also blackmailed by him like Michael, he tracks Anson down to Atlantic City and goes after him to take him with Jessie, Pearce, and Nate. Michael's life takes a turn for the worse when a Barret M82 .50cal (even though the gun's assembly and diagram labeled it as .950cal) sniper rifle, shot by Tyler Grey, kills his younger brother, Nate as well as Anson. As such, Michael, Madeline, Sam, Fiona, and Jesse are all hell-bent on exacting revenge for Nate's murder.
Eventually, Michael, with his former mentor Tom Card helping him, tracks Nate's killer, Tyler Grey, to Panama. After Michael successfully captures him, Grey reveals Card was the one who pulled the strings behind Anson's death, since Card had been working with Anson and Card decided to kill Anson to keep him from talking. The mission to Panama was supposed to be a suicide mission for Michael and his friends. After barely escaping Card's air strike, Michael and the others attempt to get back to Miami, all the while learning that Grey had been lied to by Card about what he was told about Michael. After realizing Michael wasn't the person he was told, Grey agrees to help Michael take down Card.
Returning to Miami, Grey assists Michael in gathering intel on Card, but when Card discovers Grey's betrayal, Card kills Grey, makes it look like a struggle and tries to convince Michael that they can do "great things" and has always been proud of him. For a moment, it appears that Michael is nearly convinced to go along with Card's plan to make the killing of Grey out to be self-defense. However, Michael, unable to forgive Card for what he did and knowing what he's capable of, shoots Card through the head despite Card having put his own gun away.
The killing of Card puts Michael and the entire group on the run with Olivia Riley leading the pursuit. After going to great lengths to secure the necessary supplies to leave the country with new identities, Michael discovers another way to resolve his conflict with Riley. With her reputation on the line after failing to arrest Michael, Riley "sells out" many government agencies to the cartel in exchange for their help in providing a hit squad to find and kill Michael. With the leverage gained by exposing her corruption, and after making a new deal to help the CIA in a deep cover mission, Michael is able to negotiate for the freedom of his friends.
The deep cover mission sends Michael into the Dominican Republic where he struggles to ensure his friends and family remain free of the agency's grasp (as their continued freedom is contingent on his success), to get close to his new target, and to adjust to a solitary life while his friends back in Miami adjust to life without Michael. Slowly but surely the mission causes Michael to sacrifice his morals as proven by literally "sleeping with the enemy" and assassinating an old friend. As his mission reaches its end, Michael discovers that the CIA has tasked Simon Escher to lead the extraction team in charge of rescuing Michael and capturing James and Sonya.
Knowing that Simon is "a monster," yet seeing how the CIA chooses to work with him anyway, Michael finds himself in a moment of deep personal crisis that causes Michael to flinch in his loyalty to the CIA. Instead of securing their capture, Michael escapes with James and Sonya. Michael is forced to tell James the truth--that he is working with the CIA--when James blames Sonya for their near-capture. Michael then reveals his newly found belief that he's wasted his life working for the CIA. James is conflicted as he can see Michael's sincerity and potential benefit to the group, but he is unsure of how to handle Michael's betrayal.
James ultimately decides the best course of action is to turn over leadership of his network to Sonya and Michael while allowing himself to be captured by the CIA. During this time, Michael's friends detect that Michael is not acting like himself and they become concerned staging a kind of intervention. After engaging Sam in a fist fight, Michael escapes his friends to return to James and Sonya. Fiona, however, interrupts their plan by coming to the building where James is to be captured by the CIA. Sonya insists that Fiona cannot become a problem and raises a gun toward her. Michael is then faced with the dilemma that leads into the series finale--does he let Fiona die and complete his conversion from his past life, or does he save Fiona and put himself back at odds with James?
Michael chooses to kill Sonya and save Fiona. James witnesses this from his helicopter becomes enraged, and orders his men to kill Michael and Fiona. Sam and Jesse help Michael and Fiona escape and go on the offensive by tracking down a data center used by James's organization. Michael, Sam, and Fiona steal data that could be used to unravel the entire organization while Jesse is protecting Madeline and Charlie elsewhere. James arrives to confront Michael and threatens to have everyone killed including Madeline and Charlie. However, Madeline chooses to sacrifice her life to kill James's hit squad and protect Jesse and Charlie. Sam escapes the building while Michael and Fiona engage James and his men the climactic fight of the series.
The fight ends with the explosion of the entire building and the apparent deaths of Michael and Fiona. Strong tells Sam and Jesse that Michael will get a star on a CIA memorial as a hero to his country and a funeral is held for Madeline, Michael, and Fiona. Later it's revealed that Michael and Fiona are alive, having escaped the building moments before it exploded. In what is presumably Ireland, Michael and Fiona are shown to have settled down with Charlie. Sam and Jesse are perhaps the only people who know Michael and Fiona are alive as indicated by Sam's comment that they missed a hell of a funeral, and as implied by the fact that Michael and Fiona have Charlie with them despite Charlie having been with Jesse at the time of their presumed deaths.
- "Spies live in the shadows, but they dream of the light. When you're working covert ops for low pay and life-threatening conditions, the idea that your work won't remain secret forever keeps you going. One day, the world will learn what you've done even if your name is never known. Some of the sweetest moments come when the job ends and the bullets stop flying. That is unless one of those bullets rips through your chest."
- — Michael[src]
Having endured a horrible childhood which also involved him suffering regular beatings at the hands of his deceased father, Frank, Michael has become something of a distant character, afraid to commit to a long-term relationship or to let anyone get too close to him.
Michael demonstrates indomitable will and resourcefulness to accomplish his goals. He virtually lost everything he worked so hard to build a spy when he was burned such as his official CIA position, finance, reputation, and freedom having been confined to Miami. Yet he does not douse in self-pity or any destructive behavior but immediately starts building himself to works towards ascertaining the truth behind his burn notice which would take a very long time and many setbacks and failures.
Despite, or perhaps because of this, he's a very skilled spy, using his abilities to help others in trouble. Unlike any fellow spies he's met who kill for profit, Michael has a strong sense of empathy and refuses to kill anyone unless it's really necessary--whether in self-defense, or to avoid unacceptable circumstances such as when he shoots Tom Strickler in "Long Way Back" to prevent the probable torture and death of Fiona. He's also extremely protective of his friends, family and clients, looks after their interests, and is unwilling to let anyone endanger them even if it does mean giving into his enemy's demands sometimes, although he did almost make one exception: when he and his friends needed help from smuggler Calvin Schmidt to leave the country, he almost handed Schmidt over to be tortured and killed by a rival smuggler after learning that Schmidt, knowingly, almost indirectly sent the feds after them, but he suddenly revealed it was a ruse so they could escape. It was later implied that, although he didn't want to, he would have handed Schmidt over.
Michael also has been shown to not be quick to let go of a grudge with someone, especially if they endangered his friends and family and even if they were on his side. A perfect example is when Virgil Watkins returned to Miami for Mike's help. He told Virgil to stay away from Madeline and not call her until he's back in the Bahamas, showing that he still hadn't forgiven Virgil for putting her life in danger last time he was there. He also was distrustful towards Simon after seeing him again even though they were on the same side.
Skills & Talents
Michael is highly skilled and extremely clever, displaying his abilities by quickly thinking on his feet, improvising electronic devices from commonly available commercial equipment (e.g. radios, cell phones etc.) and using ordinary items (ranging from duct tape to cake frosting) in highly unorthodox ways in order to complete a job.
Michael also became an expert martial artist, with around 30 years of training and experience in karate. Westen has also demonstrated proficiency in the Russian martial art Sambo. He has received special operations training, has combat experience on 5 continents, and remarked that he holds "a rating with any weapon that shoots a bullet or holds an edge."
Michael speaks several different accents that help him act out different persona, including Southern accent, Boston accent, Irish accent, New Jersey, and etc. He has shown proficiency and fluency in Russian, Farsi, and Arabic. Throughout the series, Michael has, ironically, shown little to no knowledge of Spanish, but by the time he was sent to the Dominican Republic, he had learned to fluently speak Spanish.
Michael has profound knowledge in the art of war that helps him create strategies and tactics in various combat situations such as seizing, breaching, defending, high-speed chasing, and capturing enemies. Almost more than half of his preformed plans often have to be altered due to unknown factors such as intrusion of new enemy personnel, reduction of collateral damage, or entering unfavorable terrains. He has demonstrated incredible improvisation skills that often turned the tides of the battles.
Michael often uses psychological warfare as the key component of his missions. He often prioritizes finding out enemy weaknesses and focuses on intimidating the enemies into hiding or deceives them until they are forced to fight the local law enforcement, rival enemies, or each other. Thus he is not an unstoppable juggernaut who can take down an army on his own but more of a virus who will break his adversaries from within systematically with wit, knowledge, and unbreakable conviction to uphold justice. To orchestrate such plans, he is aware of the behaviors, structures, and rules of various types of criminals such as local drug lords and international arms dealers as well as the those of law enforcement agencies and other clandestine services such as the police, FBI, and NSA. He has also studied interrogation tactics that are effective without the use of brutal coercion.
Though not on par with a medical professional, Michael has sufficient knowledge of the human body to apply the emergency treatment on the field and gauge the physiological changes of operatives in calmer situations such as stake-outs to intense firefights.
In addition to his trade-craft, Michael has also studied civilian life and behaviors such as the inner workings of nightclubs. His knowledge of banking and finance has proven pivotal to his missions.
Perhaps his most important skill is his ability to blend in and lie by assuming different identities which have helped him infiltrate criminal organizations located in both foreign and domestic.
Michael is also a decent cook ranging from various ethnic cuisines like Persian.
Background Information & Notes
- Michael appears to favor the SIG Sauer P228 (9x19mm) as his primary sidearm which is known to be easy to conceal. In season four, he appears to have changed his weapon to the larger and more modern Heckler and Koch P30 (9x19mm) which has a bigger capacity and superior ergonomics than the P228. The P30 is given to him by Cole, the former US marine turned hitman in "Center of the Storm," to replace the P228 which Cole disposed of and as a reward for helping him escape from his ruthless clients.
- Michael appears to favor Emerson knives, especially the Karambit, though which one is hard to identify. He threatens Larry with it after Larry uses Mike's name to get close to the Drug Cartels. In one episode, however, he uses a Bench made 3300 Infidel.
- Michael's signature sunglasses are made by Oliver Peoples, and the style is called "Victory." In the episode "Broken Rules," Michael claimed he got the sunglasses from an Algerian special ops soldier he tangled with who "didn't need them anymore."
- Michael seems to have a fondness for yogurt (particularly Blueberry) as he is often seen talking about it and eating it in various episodes. In the episode "Broken Rules" he blackmails Jason Bly by showing him multiple embarrassing photos, one of them of the agent breaking inside Michael's home without a warrant and eating his yogurt. Later seasons have reduced the emphasis on Michael's favorite snack, but yogurt still makes occasional appearances. In the episode "Mixed Messages" we find out Michael picked up his yogurt habit from his training officer, Tom Card. While at Card's office we see him still enjoying yogurt.
- Michael usually wears an Armani suit similar to Leonard Shelby in Memento.
- When secretly breaking into a person's home, Michael tends to snack on food items in the person's kitchen, such as tortilla chips and yogurt.
- Michael also tends to whistle whenever he's impressed.
- His car is a black 1973 Dodge Charger which was destroyed in "Last Stand" when he detonates a large number of explosives to buy time for them to get away from Management's Tactical Team. It was then recovered from impound by Jesse Porter by the start of "Company Man," where Michael started working to fix it.
- Although he grew up in Miami, Michael doesn't speak Spanish. But since "New Deal," it appears that he's gotten much better at it.
- Michael snores when he sleeps. In the pilot episode, when Fiona wakes up Michael after his flight to Miami, a portion of air movement during his breathing is obstructed. You can also find the same section in the prologue narration at the beginning of each episode.
- Michael's activities in Russia have earned him a fearsome reputation and made him something of a ghost story among Russian operatives, which is referenced multiple times by Russian characters in the show. Oleg, his landlord, said that he heard that Michael Westen was "one name for many people," thinking that no one man could cause them so much trouble. Alexi, a Russian operative, stated that "Everyone in Russian Special Forces has heard the name Westen. He's like the boogeyman: not real." Michael encountered another Russian, Vitali, in the same episode and said, "I'm Michael Westen." Vitali gave him a look and Michael simply said. "Yeah, that one."
- USA Burn Notice: Michael Westen Character Bio at USA.com
- Burned in Miami: Michael Westen, an unofficial fansite.
Jonas found out that his middle name was Alan.