Cookiemonger and I have been watching the first season of Burn Notice (I’m seeing it for the first time, she’s already seen the first three seasons), and I’m really enjoying the series for its portrayal of spies and secret agents. There’s something about it that feels, I don’t know, … blue collar. “Working class” espionage.

Take the first episode for example. In the first episode of season one, the main character is making a payment to a criminal boss to prevent something from being attacked or destroyed. (It might have been protection money, even.) There’s a sense that secret agents are just normal people in extraordinarily dangerous situations.

While the main characters seem competent, they don’t have a Sherlock Holmes-level of awareness and deduction, they’re just practiced. And, you know, good at their jobs. There isn’t a Bones aura of “these guys are the best in the business, using the best tools available,” especially because they improvise almost everything.

Most of the really tricky stuff has to be “sold” with a cool head, charisma, and a lot of quick thinking. There’s luck involved, too, and they have lots of help. In fact, they don’t technically do most of the heavy-lifting. Instead, they rely on agencies like the police and FBI to handle things for them. Systems that are already in place.

It’s also important to note that the main characters get hurt. Sometimes more than others, but they get hurt, and we feel it when they do. And sometimes things blow up in their faces. Sometimes they change gears mid-operation. They “discard and draw,” and play the hand they’re dealt because withdrawing means someone dies.

Leverage, and now Burn Notice, have me thinking about subterfuge.