In Praise of Duct Tape, and the End of “Burn Notice”

Posted: September 14, 2013 by writingsprint in Essay
Tags: , , , ,

duct tape“For a job like getting rid of the drug dealer next door, I’ll take a hardware store over a gun any day. Guns make you stupid; better to fight your wars with duct tape. Duct tape makes you smart.” Michael Westen, Burn Notice

That sums it up. Everything that I loved about the TV show Burn Notice is captured in this one line from the very first episode:

* Use your sense of humor
* Use your wits before your weapons
* Use your resources, like duct tape
* Use your friends to help you

Burn Notice ran from 2007 to 2013, starring Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell, Sharon Gless and Coby Bell. It told the story of Michael Westen, CIA spy, who was disavowed by the agency and more or less exiled to Miami. (Rough gig, right?) Westen spent the next seven years acting as a poor man’s James Bond for people who needed help, while trying to clear his name and get back into the agency.

Westen solved problems by outwitting his opponents, along with the occasional gun fight and car chase, while giving the audience a how-to manual on being a spy.

First and foremost, being a spy is about using your head. (Actually, being a spy is about deception. By the end of the series that’s an inescapable fact.) All right, but to be a good spy, you have to use your head.

That’s the whole point of the duct tape example. A yahoo that goes in guns blazing is more likely to get himself or his friends killed than anyone that’s causing him grief. Using duct tape, a cinderblock, medical supplies, and one shot from his gun, Westen demonstrates to the audience how to make the drug dealer leave town without putting himself in the line of fire. He makes the dealer look like an idiot in the process, and keeps him alive so that he can use him as a contact later.

Westen’s contacts and his friends set him apart from your average action hero. They never said it directly, but underneath the action, the show was about family – the family that you’re born with and the family that you choose. We always get to see the hero’s girlfriend. We also get to see his comedy relief sidekick. We never get to see his misfit brother, his chain-smoking mom, or hear about his upbringing from an abusive father. At the start of the series, Westen relies on his friends because he has no one else to turn to. By the end of the series, his mom has packed heat, his brother has cleaned up his act, and Westen has faced down some of his demons while learning he doesn’t have to go it alone.

I won’t reveal any spoilers except to say that I was happy with the ending. Like sealing up a box with duct tape, the show tied up loose ends and gave us closure to the plot lines and characters that we’ve gotten to know for the past seven years. In the end, one of the most challenging demons Michael has to face is himself. We’re not disappointed.

Farewell, Burn Notice! This mojito’s for you, in a glass wrapped in duct tape.


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