Created By: Chabal 2 on August 19, 2009 Last Edited By: Worldmaker on February 18, 2011

The Big Bad Shuffle

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Some works have a clear, outstanding Big Bad. Others like to play it tricky with The Man Behind the Man. And then there's this. Not even The Chessmaster really seems to know who's in control, and on the off chance that they do, nobody else ever will. When Jack defeats Mr. Corrupton, learns that Corrupton was really just being mislead by Dr. Unethik, kills Unethik, finds out that Unethik was secretly controlled by a shadowy government conspiracy and investigates them for a while before learning that one of the people on their Omniscient Council of Vagueness was Mr. Corrupton (who nevertheless may be doing it all at the behest of his scheming trophy wife), the writers are playing the Big Bad Shuffle.

This will often involve a Thirty Xanatos Pileup, as in the above example. But, where the Pileup deals with all these manipulators thwarting each other, this Trope is about the plot's cascading secrecy as to who is really in control. Multiple Reveals and UnReveals are almost mandatory.


  • One episode of Gargoyles featured six villains, each revealing one after the other that the previous illain wasn't actually that episode's Big Bad.


Live-Action TV
  • Angel: Darla wants revenge/reunion with Angel. Her actions prompt Sajhan to pull Holtz through time to kill Angel and Darla both. Holtz betrays Sajhan, who then seeks aid from longtime foes Wolfram And Hart, who play off of both Sajhan and Holtz. Sajhan discovers this and banishes Holtz to another reality, then duels Angel. In the aftermath of that battle, Holtz returns with a new means of attacking Angel, while Wolfram And Hart lick their wounds. Who was the Big Bad? Not even Joss Whedon could tell you.

Video Games
  • The Metal Gear games, especially the Mind Screw of Metal Gear Solid 2, and the non-canonical Ghost Babel, where the terrorist general, his mercenary [{The Dragon Dragon]]/manipulator, and the U.S. government all mock the others as fools just being played.
  • Untangling who stands behind who, with many false leads, is the entire point of Deus Ex.

Community Feedback Replies: 10
  • August 19, 2009
    Chabal 2
    Apparently one episode of Gargoyles had this. (I didn't see it, but the Nostalgia Critic mentioned it in his review.) It had maybe six villains revealing one after the other that the last one was a fake.
  • August 19, 2009
    I don't recall that episode, but it sure sounds like Gargoyles to me :p
  • August 19, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    That sounds like the entire multi-episode Avalon Arc (Demona and Mac Beth used Xanatos, while being posessed by the Wierd Sisters, who were manipulated by the Archmage... Exactly As Planned by Titania). Also, Thailog's intro had three other villains on hand, just to tell the audience they were as confused by this evil scheme as Goliath.
  • August 20, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Is This Tropable? Different enough from Thirty Xanatos Pileup?

    Lack of comments makes me nervous, both about quality and about falling off.
  • August 20, 2009
    Last Scenario might have this... There are at least three Man Behind The Man moments.
  • August 20, 2009
    Chabal 2
    What the... Why's it giving me as the author?
  • August 20, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Maybe it does that for the first named Troper to comment?
  • August 21, 2009
    @Chabal 2: If you edit any post (including the OP), it changes the author's name to yours. Just one of the Wiki's little quirks.
  • August 21, 2009
    Chabal 2
    Ah. Okay, whoever put this trope up in the first place, please note that I do not wish to steal your work, so change it back. Please don't sue.
  • February 14, 2011
    Launching soon.