Created By: NakuyabiDecember 4, 2013 Last Edited By: NakuyabiDecember 19, 2013
Troped

Too Good To Be True

A character is appropriately skeptical that an improbably favorable situation is some kind of scam.

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Genre Savvy characters are often aware that in real life, perfect outcomes to practically anything are extremely rare. Whether the asking price for something at Honest Johns Dealership is just a little too low to be believable, that ravishingly lovely lady throwing herself at the protagonist claims to have an extremely unlikely fetish for guys matching his specific description (which incidentally includes the word "ugly"), or some present situation just plain seems to be a little too wonderful to be real, the character's instincts tell him something must be wrong. Somebody must be getting screwed here, and if he can't determine who's the patsy, that somebody is probably himself.

Such instincts, more often than not, tend to be sound: Honest John's name is a misnomer and that product he's trying to unload for next to nothing is actually a liability to its owner, which is why he's trying to get rid of it; that lovely lady is a Honey Trap or worse and plans to deliver her victim to his worst enemies to be tortured to death; and the reason things are going so well is that one of the protagonist's enemies is setting him up for a terrible fall from the heights of his greatest triumph. Note that this instinct is common in characters from all parts of the moral spectrum, though heroes tend to be targeted for this kind of deception a lot more than villains. Also, while high intelligence tends to coincide with this instinct, characters who are Too Dumb To Fool are especially likely to be appropriately skeptical that they could really be on an endless lucky streak.

As much as this instinct often proves to be Truth In Television, the Rule Of Drama actually dictates that it's even more likely to be an accurate appraisal of the situation in fictional works, since an ideal situation in which everything goes according to plan leaves no room for Conflict, and without conflict, there's no story. Considering how very often this instinct expresses itself to both the characters and the audience, let there be In Universe Examples Only on the main page for any given work to which this applies, please. Audience Reactions expressing this instinct can go on the Fridge Logic tab.

The Schlub Pub Seduction Deduction can be considered a sexual Sub Trope. See also Your Princess Is In Another Castle and Spoiled By The Format for some specific Fridge Logic that may clue the audience to this trope.

Examples

Film
  • A somewhat downplayed example in Aladdin The Return Of Jafar: Abis Mal is offered tons of treasures in exchange for setting his genie Jafar free. Initially he's elated, but just before he's going to make the wish, he remembers that Jafar has been a complete Jackass Genie the entire time he's had him. If he sets Jafar free, what's stopping Jafar from making all his treasure disappear and doing horrible things to his former master the moment he's loose?
  • A shop owner in Cone Heads admits to having suspected the truth all along when his incredibly industrious new employee Beldar admits to being an illegal alien (which technically he is, though the shop owner is unaware of just how alien he is).
  • In the first Matrix movie, Agent Smith gives a Hannibal Lecture about how this trope thwarted the machines' earliest efforts to build a Matrix that was intended to be a utopian Heaven-on-Earth for humanity because humanity just wasn't buying it: "It was a disaster. Whole clusters were lost." He speculates that this distrust for perfection is inborn.
  • As one of the investigators in Minority Report points out, the cops' discovery of an "orgy of evidence" actually makes him more skeptical that they're pursuing the right suspect (and he's right, sort of).
  • In Terminator 2 Judgment Day, John calls his foster parents to see if they're safe from the T-1000. What initially tips him off that's something's not kosher is that his foster mother is being far nicer to him than she ever has before, since normally she's fed up with his juvenile delinquent ways. Sure enough, the T-1000 has already replaced her, and is in the middle of killing off his foster father as well while they're talking.

Live Action TV
  • In Castle's first episode, Richard Castle is rather bothered by how quickly and neatly everything on his first case falls so neatly into place, though the cops don't see anything wrong with this. It turns out he's right, and the man they've arrested is a patsy.
  • In "Dead Stop" from Star Trek Enterprise, T'Pol notices Captain Archer is visibly troubled about the mysterious repair station they've found which is able and willing to fix every bit of the extensive damage to their ship (and the injuries to its crew) in exchange for the amazingly low price of just 200 liters of warp plasma. His instincts are sound, as it turns out there's a "hidden fee" the station also tries to extract from them.
Community Feedback Replies: 13
  • December 4, 2013
    Chabal2
  • December 5, 2013
    Arivne
    Another specific type of this: law enforcement agents are investigating a crime, and they solve it quickly and easily, almost without effort. One of them may realize that something is wrong: they are being given someone who didn't commit the crime as a scapegoat so the actual criminal can escape punishment, the person who confessed to the crime didn't actually commit it, etc.
  • December 5, 2013
    DAN004
  • December 5, 2013
    Nakuyabi
    Yes, solving a crime case too easily would definitely qualify: as one of the investigators in Minority Report points out, the cops' discovery of an "orgy of evidence" actually makes him more skeptical that they're pursuing the right suspect (and he's right, sort of).

    The Schlub Pub Seduction Deduction certainly qualifies as a sub-trope, as does Honey Trap, but this trope also covers financial and political and other kinds of situations. Star Trek Enterprise, for instance, had an automated alien repair station in "Dead Stop" that was willing to fix all the rather extensive damage to the Enterprise NX-01 for a mere 200 liters of warp plasma, which Captain Archer rightly suspected was an awfully unlikely bargain. A shop owner in Cone Heads rightly suspected that this unusually diligent new worker he'd hired had to be an illegal alien (though he didn't guess just how alien) since he was such an unbelievably perfect employee.

    It occurs to me this trope should probably be considered to apply to both the characters and the viewers, since both are likely to have their suspicions about impossibly perfect situations, and to call out anyone who doesn't have any suspicions about it for either carrying the Idiot Ball or possibly being The Mole.
  • December 8, 2013
    Nakuyabi
    No one seems to have any objections, but I do think maybe soliciting some suggestions for refinement is in order before I go launching anything.
  • December 8, 2013
    Tuckerscreator
    • In Aladdin The Return Of Jafar, Abis Mal is given tons of treasures in exchange for setting his genie Jafar free. Initially he's elated, but just before he'll make the wish, he remembers that Jafar has been a complete Jackass Genie the entire time he's had him. If he sets Jafar free, what's stopping Jafar from making all his treasure disappear the moment he's freed?
    • In Terminator 2 Judgment Day, John calls his foster parents to see if they're safe from the T-1000. What tips him off that's something's not right is that his foster mother is acting too nice, when normally she's fed up with him. Sure enough, the T-1000 is impersonating her.
  • December 10, 2013
    Nakuyabi
    The examples from Aladdin and Terminator do sort of qualify, but they'd be rather downplayed versions of this since, in each case, the characters already knew the ones trying to scam them were treacherous and "never this nice" respectively. A more compelling example would be from the first The Matrix movie, in which Agent Smith discusses how this trope thwarted the machines' earliest efforts to build a Matrix that would be a utopian Heaven-on-Earth for humanity because the humans just weren't buying it: "It was a disaster. Whole clusters were lost." He speculates that this distrust for perfection is inborn.

    I've adjusted the trope description to address the fact that while it's logical for viewers to have this kind of instinct about certain situations in fictional works, some will feel this instinct more acutely than others and therefore these reactions belong in Fridge Logic sections.
  • December 10, 2013
    MetaFour
    The audience reaction version of this is definitely related to Your Princess Is In Another Castle and Spoiled By The Format: that plot device looks like it could solve all the conflicts instantly, but there are still five hundred pages to go in the book? Yeah, there's no way the plot device is going to actually work.
  • December 18, 2013
    Nakuyabi
    Yes, I suppose Spoiled By The Format may tend to involve this, since it's often part of Holding Back The Phlebotinum. On the other hand, the format doesn't always clue you to whether it'll work or not. As an Un Twist, sometimes the early solution works just fine, but only because the problem had to be solved in order to Make Room For The New Plot. Take a hypothetical Firefly situation, for example:

    Malcom: "Hey, I can hardly believe it. The deal didn't go sour, we've just been paid, and we're all safely back on our ship. Things actually went smooth for a change? Check that money again, Wash.

    Wash: "Checks out fine, Captain. No tracers, unless the Alliance has got something new we don't know about, and it's real."

    Malcom: "Ain't that something? It really did go smooth this time..."

    Jayne: [Bursts in yelling and waving his arms] "The Reavers are coming! The Reavers are coming!"

    Malcom: "Well, that was nice while it lasted..."

    One example of Too Good To Be True I won't include here, though I might put it up on the Fridge Logic tab at Star Trek Deep Space Nine, is an episode in which Gul Dukat goes missing for a while and the Cardassian government informs Sisko and his crew that Dukat is a wanted criminal and must be to blame for their problem of the week. They insist on going looking for him to hear his side of the story because that's just how the Federation operates, but none of them brings up a far more straightforward reason to be skeptical that occurred to me: gee, isn't it awfully convenient that the one cantankerous scumbag the Cardassian government knows none of you people ever liked anyway (and is even more conveniently not around to defend himself) is suddenly being blamed for all your problems? Sure enough, it turns out Dukat is being scapegoated.

    As everyone can see, I've refined the description further. I think I'll make this the last call for any further criticism and revision before launch.
  • December 18, 2013
    MoPete
    "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
    Gary Adler
  • December 18, 2013
    douglasg
    There is an instance of this in the Brothers Karamazov, though I would call it simply Smerdyakov's Double Bluff rather than Too Good to be True. Smerdyakov, the true perpetrator, now dead, dropped heavy hints to three key people that he had long been aware the old man was going to be murdered. The three people are Ivan, whose brother Dmitri goes on trial for a murder he didn't commit; the prosecuting attorney, Ippolit Kirillovich; and Dmitri's defence attorney, Fetyukovich. Kirillovich says at one point, "If he had really been a guilty accomplice, would he so readily have stated at the inquiry that he had himself told everything to the accused? On the contrary, he would have tried to conceal it, to distort the facts or minimize them. No one but an innocent man, who had no fear of being charged with complicity, could have acted as he did."

    For me, I think Double Bluff sums it up nicely. But Too Good to be True would fit as well.
  • December 18, 2013
    frosty
    The first episode of Castle had writer Castle be bothered by how quickly and neatly everything fell into place on his first case, while the actual cops didn't have that feeling. It turns out he's correct, and the man they arrested was being set up.
  • December 19, 2013
    Nakuyabi
    The Brothers Karamazov may be somewhat famous, but I've noticed that tropes which get named after such characters or works tend to get renamed to something more universally well-known. "Too Good To Be True" is a common and popular phrase, and most tropers will have little trouble understanding it even before they read the description. I doubt a title based on the specific and comparatively obscure case of Smerdyakov's complicated set-up against Dmitri would be all that accessible.

    "Too Good To Be True" shall stand as the title, therefore, and I believe it has accumulated a sufficient number of examples so far to be launched. Further examples can go on the trope page.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable