James Bond Is A Horrible Spy, Burn Notice’s Michael Weston Is Better

James Bond is a horrible spy, but Burn Notice explains what real spycraft is like.

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

The James Bond franchise is routinely held up as some of the all-time greatest spy movies ever made, and even in-universe, the MI6 Agent is referred to as a spy when he’s not really a spy at all. Bond’s years of spycraft were expertly deconstructed, not only in various parodies like Austin Powers and XXX, but the 2007 USA original Burn Notice, which focuses on a former spy trying to figure out who betrayed him. With constant narration provided, in character, by Jeffrey Donovan as Michael Weston, that explains why how and why he’s using spycraft, he’s a better spy than James Bond, and it’s not even close.

For starters, the famous line “Bond, James Bond” is counter to the role of a spy; after all, how can you sneak around undetected when everyone knows your name? Michael Weston, throughout the series, often adopts fake names and personas to get close to the villain of the week, including one episode that has him convincing Danny Trejo‘s gang leader that he’s the literal Devil. Weston’s villains, which include a mastermind played by Tricia Helfer, know who he is because of their involvement in a vast global conspiracy, yet how do so many of Bond’s adversaries know he’s “007?

Released alongside Burn Notice was a series of web shorts, including one that explains the perfect spy getaway car: a non-descript station wagon with a powerful engine under the hood. James Bond drives an Aston Martin. Which one will be overlooked outside an office building, and which one will have every security camera aimed directly at it?

James Bond and his Aston Martin

In Burn Notice, Michael Weston operates alongside a team, Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), Sam (Bruce Campbell), Jesse (Coby Bell), and even his mother (Sharon Gless), while technically, James Bond has a support team as well, only one of them coordinates and plans with field assets regularly. It’s assumed that Bond will go off script and abandon the plan, which in real-life would get his co-workers brutally murdered (see Quantum of Solace for just one of many examples). Real spies may not throw a mattress out the window to escape from pursuers, but they also aren’t going to break cover and infiltrate a secret base without a backup team already in place.

James Bond leaves a trail of destruction in his wake, only outdone by the broken hearts he leaves behind as well. Michael Weston keeps personal contacts to a minimum, with some of his recurring allies not even certain what his real name is, while on the other hand, Bond has bedded every femme fatale in Europe. In fact, given his habit of sleeping around and using his real name with everyone, it seems like Bond is trying to go out of his way to draw attention to himself.

Gabrielle Anwar and Jeffrey Donovan in Burn Notice

Unless, as with Archer, that’s part of the plan. Even on Burn Notice, Michael Weston will get himself in deep as a means for Fiona or Sam to accomplish the real goal, so is that why James Bond is drawing so much attention to himself? Somewhere, far off-screen, is there a competent agent quietly diffusing dangerous situations?

It makes sense why James Bond is a horrible spy, though, since in the original novels, he’s not a spy at all; he’s an assassin and a counter-intelligence agent. Ian Fleming’s original version engaged in spycraft, but that wasn’t the main point of the character, instead of how the movies handle it, where it’s guns blazing first and foremost.

Burn Notice’s Michael Weston may also engage in the type of spycraft that would be laughed out of the CIA, but he’s still closer to reality than James Bond. Instead of watching Bond drive a tank through a major city, watch as a cool, calm, and collected character explains how to shoot around a fortified door or why it’s better to use an annoying guy for a distraction instead of an attractive woman. 007 should not be held up as fiction’s greatest spy when he does nothing remotely related to fieldwork.