Two characters have contrasting roles that relate to each other in some way. One could be a mentor and the other a student, one a stoic comforter and the other an emotional wreck, one a Manipulative Bastard
and the other an Ingenue, and so on.
Then, via a Twist Ending
or the revelation of Hidden Depths
, it suddenly becomes apparent that the roles of the two characters are exactly or approximately the reverse of what we originally were led to believe.
Unlike Hourglass Plot
, in which the characters gradually swap their positions and/or situations over time, this trope involves no actual swapping but only the temporary illusion of the reverse situation. The trope can also apply to two groups or parties.
May involve The Man In Front Of The Man
. Betty and Veronica Switch
and Actually That's My Assistant
are subtropes, as is Decoy Leader
as long as the audience doesn't know before The Reveal
. Compare also Aggressive Submissive
All examples below are spoilers.
Anime and Manga
- In Bleach, Gin Ichimaru is believed to have killed Sosuke Aizen; his subsequent behaviors establish him as an evil character who brutally impaled the beloved captain. In two separate reveals, Aizen is exposed as the actual Big Bad who faked his death as part of a plot to seize power, and Ichimaru's back story shows that he became close to Aizen in order to take revenge for prior evil deeds. When Ichimaru actually does run Aizen through much later in the story, there is no question as to which character is the actual antagonist.
- In Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin, among the characters the "hero" Fumiaki interacts with are Chihiro, a suspicious character who spies on the heroine, Maya, and has an unwanted crush on Fumiaki, and the sweet Mikaze, who is the Betty to the heroine's Veronica. It turns out Chihiro was Good All Along and trying to protect Maya and the innocent Mikaze is actually a Horny Devil and the Big Bad.
- Switch Off flashback arc in Sket Dance
- At the beginning of the arc, we got to introduced to Sawa, who was having a stalker problem, and her friend, Yukino, who accompanied her to protect her from the stalker. It turns out, however, that the stalker was Yukino's ex-boyfriend who was only looking for the right chance to confess, while Yukino is a jealous yandere who got close to Sawa only looking for revenge because she "stole" her boyfriend.
- We were also introduced to the Kazuyoshi and Masafumi AKA the younger Switch, and An-chan, his brother. However, it turned out that An-chan is Kazuyoshi AKA the current Switch. The original Switch, Masafumi, died at the end of the arc.
- In Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, Blanche has been abused and horrifically treated by her sister Jane, who crippled her for life while attempting to kill her. It was actually Blanche who crippled herself trying to kill a drunken Jane, who remembers nothing of that night, and on whom Blanche has manipulatively pinned her crippling.
- The Sixth Sense. Malcolm is a child psychologist and Cole is a child who can see dead people. Malcolm suggests to Cole that he is supposed to help the dead people in their path to the afterlife and let go of their earthly concerns. It turns out that Malcolm is dead and Cole is helping him in his path to the afterlife.
- Oz: The Great and Powerful apparently introduces the good witch and deputy ruler of the city, Evanora, who sends the wizard to kill the wicked witch who murdered her own father the king. Really, this black-cloaked witch is Glinda the Good, mourning her father in exile, and Evanora is the true wicked witch who murdered him.
- In one of the three endings of Clue, Wadsworth reveals that HE is actually Mr. Boddy, and the person killed earlier was his butler.
- Similar to the above, in Murder by Death Lionel Twain takes off his Latex Perfection disguise to reveal that he's really the blind butler - who then takes off his Latex Perfection disguise to reveal that he's really the deaf maid. Who had had scenes with each other.
- In The Sting, we see the gloved hand of a man stalking Johnny Hooker, then later that hand raising a gun and firing... at Hooker's new girlfriend (who we later learn was about to kill Hooker). Then the man comes out of hiding, explains the situation, and tells Johnny he (the man) was hired by Gondorff to protect Johnny.
- In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Queen Amidala is revealed to be a handmaiden decoy; the actual queen had been posing as the handmaiden for much of the film.
- In Without A Clue it's revealed early on that Dr Watson is actually the brilliant detective, and Sherlock Holmes is the bumbling sidekick.
- At the end of Charade, Reggie concludes that her friend Peter is a murderer, and runs away from him to seek the protection of Mr. Bartholomew at the American Embassy. Actually, Mr. Bartholomew is the murderer, and it is Peter who ends up having to protect her from him.
- One of the most famous literary examples is in Pride and Prejudice. The reader spends most of the book thinking Mr Wickham is a decent young man done out of marriage and a fortune by Mr Darcy. In fact, Wickham is a spendthrift who tried to run off with Darcy's sister, and Darcy is blameless.
- Agatha Christie used this trope a number of times:
- In both Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun, a wealthy seductress apparently seduces a handsome man away from his poor abandoned wife or ex-fiancee. This was an illusion staged by the latter two, who played on the seductress' weakness to kill her for her money.
- The short story Triangle At Rhodes involves two married couples, with two of the partners apparently in an adulterous affair. It is really the other two partners who are in an affair, and who are plotting to kill their spouses and marry each other, and this plot includes creating the illusion of an affair between the others.
- Lord Edgware Dies
- Jane Wilkinson is apparently the victim of a frame-up, in which Carlotta Adams was employed to kill Lord Edgware. In fact, Jane was the real murderer and Carlotta her victim.
- Jane also feels victimized by her terrible husband who refuses to grant her a divorce. He is in fact her victim. He granted her a divorce by letter, but she pretended never to receive it, as part of her alibi for his murder.
- In both Towards Zero and Murder is Easy, the real murderer killed their victim(s) for the sole purpose of getting their spouse or significant other framed and hanged for the murder, while initially appearing to be in need of protection from their "murderous" partner.
- In A Murder Is Announced, the young man who apparently took a shot in the dark at Miss Blacklock before turning the gun on himself turns out to have been murdered by her.
- In And Then There Were None, it seems as though Dr Armstrong is the murderer, having killed Justice Wargrave and then vanished, as indicated by the line in the poem "A red herring swallowed one, and then there were three". In fact, Wargrave was the murderer, and faked his own death, with Armstrong as an unwitting accomplice, whom he murdered shortly after.
- It also appears in several Sherlock Holmes stories.
- In "A Scandal In Bohemia", the King of Bohemia intends to marry, but fears that his ex-lover, Irene Adler, is in a position to blackmail or publically disgrace him using a photograph of the two of them. She has no such intention, and keeps the photograph only to safeguard herself against any steps he might take against her, he having cruelly wronged her in the past. In the Granada TV adaptation, she is shown throwing the photograph into the middle of the sea.
- In "The Beryl Coronet", the client's reprobate son appears to have attempted theft, to the horror of his upright foster sister. Said sister was the true accomplice to the attempted theft, which the son heroically thwarted.
- In "The Norwood Builder", the evidence initially suggests that a young solicitor murdered a builder for his money. The builder faked his death, partly for financial reasons, and partly to get the solicitor hanged for the murder as revenge against his ex-sweetheart (the solicitor's mother).
- In The Age of Innocence, Newland Archer is having an affair behind his seemingly innocent and clueless wife's back. Said wife is really the clever and manipulative one, who managed to keep him within her grasp and get rid of his other love interest, while he is the innocent and clueless one.
- In Harry Harrison's SF novel Invasion: Earth, an alien spacecraft crash-lands on Earth, after being hijacked by a different alien race. It turns out the peaceful alien race is being set up to look like aggressors by the aliens who actually want to take over Earth.
- In the first book of Sara Douglass' The Wayfarer Redemption, the religious leaders, the Seneschal, led a defensive revolution to overthrew the evil Forbidden, of whom there was a recorded history of tyranny, and bring peace and freedom. This history was fabricated, the Forbidden are decent and peaceful people, and the Seneschal were the real terrorists who committed devastating genocide in said revolution.
- Used and commented on in several Father Brown stories.
- In "The Scandal of Father Brown" Brown is seen by a reporter to help a married woman run off with a handsome young man and leave the older one she checked into a hotel with. The handsome young man is her husband, the older one a paramour.
- In "The Pursuit of Mr. Blue" a millionaire is threatened by his cousin. Someone sees them both and gets them confused.
- In "The Chief Mourner of Marne" a man shuts himself up after apparently killing his brother in a duel. He's really the supposedly dead brother, having 'played dead' and then shot.
- In "The Sins of Prince Saradine" it seems the prince is killed, but the prince knew the enemy was coming so switched places with his butler.
- In "The Blue Cross", a policeman encounters two priests, one of whom is committing a series of petty crimes and pranks. The policeman follows the priest, believing that the prankster must be some kind of hoodlum. Actually, it is his companion priest who is the criminal; Father Brown has been playing the pranks so that the policeman will follow them and arrest the real villain.
- The sci-fi story upon which The Day the Earth Stood Still is based on, Harry Bates' "Farewell To The Master", Klaatu is set up to be Gnut/Gort's master and gets killed early on (in the original story he's shot by a lunatic immediately after he introduces himself, making both movies a variation of Spared by the Adaptation (in that he lasts longer)), with the twist at the end that Gnut/Gort was Klaatu's master all along.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone sets the audience up to believe that Snape is evil, and that he is blackmailing the innocent Professor Quirrell. It turns out that Quirrell is actually a servant of Lord Voldemort and Snape is trying to stop him.
- The Benny Hill Show. At the end of a sketch parodying Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Butch & Sundance are captured. We see them talking to Butch's girlfriend through prison bars; then they leave and we see that she is the one locked up while they ride off into the sunset.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Welcome to the Hellmouth." The episode opens with a boy and girl breaking into the high school, presumably for sexy times; the girl's nervous and the boy predatory. Every horror buff knows what's going to happen. Then she turns into a monster and kills him, not quite what people were expecting (unless they're really into horror).
- In an episode of Picket Fences Kimberly sees one of her classmates kissing said classmate's father. Kimberly calls the cops. It turns out the classmate and the father aren't father and daughter, but husband and wife in a Mormon polygamous marriage (with the "mother" actually being the senior wife).
- In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Bound" it is revealed that in Orion society, the males are slaves to the females, but they maintain the facade that it's the other way around. (It fools the protagonists.)
- In Mozart's The Magic Flute, the Queen of the Night promises Tamino her daughter Pamina's hand in marriage if he rescues her from the evil Sarastro. It's revealed later that the Queen is the Big Bad, and Sarastro is one of Pamina's benevolent rescuers.
- In Danganronpa, Junko Enoshima is sadistically killed by Monokuma right after the start of the first case as punishment for protesting the rules of his "game." Later, it's revealed that there is a 16th student whose identity has been kept secret: "Super High School-Level Soldier" Mukuro Ikusaba, who is immediately speculated to be the true identity of the mastermind. However, it turns out that Mukuro and Junko are sisters, and they switched places before the game even started: not only is Junko the real mastermind, but she killed Mukuro rather than vice versa!
- The Order of the Stick
- Early in the comic, the Big Bad Xyon, and The Dragon, Redcloak, appear to have a Villainous Friendship. This is revealed to be very much not the case in the prequel work Start Of Darkness, which reveals that initially Xykon was The Dragon to Redcloak and his brother, Right Eye, who partnered with him to advance their well-intentioned goals. Ultimately, Redcloak helped Xykon become a lich and Right Eye realized that Xykon was bad news and wanted to pursue a peaceful life, and attempted to stop Xykon. Redcloak killed his brother, and Xykon then gave Redcloak a brutal (and accurate) "The Reason You Suck" Speech, revealing that he couldn't have been harmed anyway but wanted to see what Redcloak would do- he states that he knows he can't trust Redcloak, but knows Redcloak would never betray him, because while Redcloak knows he did/is doing the wrong thing, if he ever admitted it, he would be acknowledging that his brother died for nothing.
- The villain Nale, the Evil Twin of one of the protagonists, is consistently presented as an unpleasant Smug Snake. Later in the strip, the reader is introduced to Nale's affable Evil Overlord father, Tarquin, and his equally affable sidekick, Minister Malack, both of whom oppose him. While initially, the reader is encouraged to root for the two of them against Nale, especially because Malack has a personal motive as Nale murdered his children, it turns out that both of them are probably even eviler than Nale, and Tarquin opposes Nale because Nale is bad at being an effective villain. As for Malack, he is a vampire who wants to rule over an empire in which living creatures are treated like cattle, and his children are his vampire spawn.
- At the end of The Care Bears: Adventure in Wonderland, it looks like Alice has the green thumb power that only a true princess can have, and then it's revealed that it was really the rescued princess who was doing this.
- The Loonatics Unleashed episode My Life Is A Circus has the Loonatics captured by The Ringmaster, who has Otto the Odd use a sonic DNA scrambler to transform them into patchwork freaks. After their escape, the Loonatics corner The Ringmaster, only to discover that he's merely the face of the operation. Otto the Odd is the mastermind behind the freak show.