Burn Notice starts its third season this month, interestingly enough after a showing of Casino Royale, the James Bond film starring Daniel Craig. This brings up and interesting question. Who is the better spy? Burn Notice’s Michael Westen or James Bond?
On the surface the comparison seems absurd. James Bond is in many ways a cartoon character, a man capable of super human feats, but who could not exist in the real world. After all, who ever heard of a secret agent of whom every bar tender in the world knows how he prefers his vodka martinis.
James Bond also has the full resources of the British Secret Service and often an allied spy organization at his beck and call. These resources include a dizzying array of gadgets, courtesy of Q Branch, that allow James Bond to move around, kill people, blow things up, and otherwise do his job with great alacrity.
On the other hand Michael Westen, having been cut off from his spy agency by the fact of being issued the “Burn Notice” pretty much has to rely on his own resources and the help of his friends, former SEAL and now Jimmy Buffet with a license to kill, Sam Axe and former IRA terrorist and now free lance gun runner and general operative Fiona Glenanne.
Every gadget that Michael Westen uses he has to construct himself, MacGyver style, from parts and materials he gets from Home Depot. Michael Westen is also not a super human. He is adept at martial arts and almost every kind of weapon known to man. But he will bleed if you hit him, shoot him, or try to blow him up.
James Bond, when he is not shooting people with his Walther PPK or shagging some sweet young thing for information, does occasionally actually does spy stuff. This is hampered by his notoriety, though, as in You Only Live Twice, when it is noted to some Japanese industrialists worker for the evil organization Spectre that Bond is carrying a Walther PPK, known to be carried by James Bond. This leads to one of Bond’s many near death experiences.
Michael Westen, on the other hand, is obscure enough and a good enough actor to get the confidence of a drug lord or an exiled third world war criminal by pretending to be someone else.
James Bond, more often than not, achieves his goals by shooting the bad guys or blowing them up or otherwise inflicting mayhem. Michael Westen prefers to be more subtle, using misdirection and deception to cause the bad guys to destroy themselves, very often not knowing that Michael westen is the one who did it to them. Sun Tzu would approve.
James Bond prevails because the plot demands it. Michael Western prevails because he is, indeed, the better spy, accomplishing more, with less collateral damage, with minimal resources than James Bond has done with all the resources of a nation state’s spy agency at his command. True, Bond has saved the world more than once, usually by beating Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the maddest of all madmen. But one would suggest that the least criminal that Michael Westen has taken down is far more adept than Blofeld at doing what they do. Many of Michael Westen’s enemies have made successful careers of drug dealing, gun running, and other nefarious activities. Not once did Blofeld ever take over the world.