Created By: pure.Wasted on May 17, 2011 Last Edited By: pure.Wasted on August 6, 2014

Friends Know Impostors

Friends always know when a character is not themselves. And they're always right.

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Should We Have This One?, Needs a Better Title, Needs More Examples

Our merry Five-Man Band has recently picked up a new member -- the Sixth Ranger! Only there's nothing new about him. You see, he and The Lancer go way back. Cue celebrations, tales of shared adventures, and wine all around. Everyone loves him. There's only one problem: the Sixth Ranger is acting a little strange. You might even say he's not himself.

Only his friend picks up on the difference. If the hero tries to share his suspicions with anyone, they'll instantly have excuses on hand to explain away the different behavior. The guy's jet lagged. He's overcome by emotions. The two only met in the middle of a bloodbath warzone and it's no surprise he acts a little different inside an animal hospital. When the hero remains steadfast, they finally bring out the big guns: maybe he just ''changed''.

In truth, the probability of that being the case is inversely proportional to the degree the writers telegraph it as a possibility in advance. Characters suggesting it out loud almost certainly negates it, no matter how shaken the hero's resolve might be upon entertaining this dreadful thought. Probability decreases further if character development isn't routine. However, it goes up in more realistic works where fantastic explanations are harder to come by.

Spot the Imposter is a supertrope. May lead to Bluff the Impostor, if the hero's resolve holds strong enough to go through with it.

  • Supernatural season 6. After not seeing his brother for over a year, Dean suspects that Sam's odd behavior is, well, supernatural in origin.
    Bobby: There's a worst case scenario.
    Dean: What? Satan is my co-pilot? Yeah, I know.
    Bobby: No, that'd be the other worst case.
    Dean: Then what?
    Bobby: Maybe it's just Sam.
  • Transformers Prime episode Con Job plays this with a bad guy we know is bad. Bulkhead proceeds to Bluff the Impostor despite suggestions that his friend might have simply changed after centuries of time apart. Curiously enough, given such an opening for subversion, Bulkhead doesn't balk for a moment.

Community Feedback Replies: 17
  • May 17, 2011
    Myth Busters tested this. Turns out there's actually some truth to it.
  • May 17, 2011
    Can occur in a Freaky Friday Flip situation if one of the people involved tries to impersonate the other. Also often occurs in Kill And Replace scenarios.

    Live Action TV
    • The Prisoner episode The Schizoid Man. An enemy agent is made to look exactly like Number 6 in an attempt to break Number 6's mind. The enemy agent is killed by Rover and Number 6 tries to impersonate him in order to escape. However, his attempt fails when he makes mistakes and Number Two (who was the agent's friend) realizes that he's the real number Six.
    • Star Trek The Next Generation. Wesley realizes that Lore is impersonating his friend Commander Data and tries to convince the other bridge crew but they arbitrarily dismiss his concerns.

    Tabletop RPG
    • Champions supplement Red Doom, scenario "The Mole". When Disinformer kidnaps one of the PCs' friends and replaces him, he makes mistakes that the PCs can pick up on to realize that he's a fake. He will try to explain away his mistakes by saying that he "forgot" or he's "not feeling well".
  • May 17, 2011
    I find the Example As A Thesis somewhat unclear. Is this just when somebody's closest friend is better at spotting an imposter? Does it have to be a new arrival to the cast? Or is the trope the attempt to suggest mundane explanations for a character being Not Himself? This possibly Needs A Better Description.
  • May 17, 2011
    "Is this just when somebody's closest friend is better at spotting an imposter?"

    This is the way I see the trope playing out:

    Partial straight: closest friends are better at spotting an impostor. Partial subversion: friend is convinced X is an impostor, but it turns out they're not. Full straight: closest friends are better at spotting an impostor; another character will immediately dismiss the idea of an impostor by suggesting that X has simply changed. Full subversion: friend is convinced X is an impostor; another character will immediately dismiss the idea of an impostor by suggesting that X has simply changed; X is not actually an impostor at all, and has changed.

    It doesn't have to be an impostor per se. In the Supernatural example, Sam is still Sam. He's just been tampered with.

    "Does it have to be a new arrival to the cast?"

    No, it can definitely be a returning character. But for the full trope to come into effect we need the suggestion of character development, and that's not likely unless the two have spent time apart.

    Hope that clarified it. All manner of feedback appreciated.
  • May 17, 2011
    This showed up twice in Kim Possible: the first time when Kim and Ron first encountered Camille Leon with Camille posing as Ron, though Kim quickly saw through it. The second time was subverted when Ron tried to do the same thing to tell which was the real Kim, Monique immediately saw who the real Kim was, moreso than Ron did, though it was because he was locked up in a crate for most of the episode.
  • May 17, 2011
    I would go ahead and rewrite the description so that the first paragraph just says what the trope is.

    • Unexpectedly averted in the The Man From UNCLE episode "The Double Affair". THRUSH plans to replace Napoleon Solo with a lookalike via Magic Plastic Surgery, and the first step is to assassinate Illya Kuryakin, since Solo's partner and friend is likely to see through the deception. But after the assassination attempt fails, Illya goes on the mission with the phony Solo, and... does nothing about it. There are a few scenes where he looks a bit suspicious, but in the end it's left to the real Napoleon to escape and save the day.
  • May 20, 2011
    • Subverted on Xiaolin Showodown When a Robot impersonated Kimiko Omi atacked the robot, when they asked how he knew who was the original, omi answered he acutally just took a wild guess
  • May 20, 2011
    • Subverted in Fringe, no one guessed, not even Peter, that Olivia was actually B-olivia posing as her.
  • May 20, 2011
    • Subverted on DS 9 - The Assignment. It was actually Keiko's body, but the being possessing her did a flawless impersonation.
  • May 24, 2011
    Smallville: Nobody pick up for a while that Clark is really Bizaaro.
  • August 5, 2014
  • August 5, 2014
    Uh, pretty sure I think we have this one.
  • August 6, 2014
    ^ What is it?
  • August 6, 2014
    Well isn't it covered by Spotting The Thread? I mean, since that trope is about the imposter being spotted by someone knowing details about the imposted (? Imposed? What's the word for this?), generally the thread spotter has to be someone who knows them.
  • August 6, 2014
  • August 6, 2014
    In Royal Flash (one of the Flashman books, also made into a movie), Flashman has to do an Emergency Impersonation of a Duke, and is given dueling scars to complete the look. The Duke's best friend later recognizes him because the scars are in the wrong place.
  • August 6, 2014
    Yeah, Spotting The Thread. Discard?