Created By: KingZeal on July 13, 2012 Last Edited By: KingZeal on June 11, 2015

Illusionary Prison Escape

An illusionist tricks a captive into thinking they've escaped so that actual escape is impossible.

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"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A Mind Manipulator is a difficult opponent—particularly if his/her victims have no way of knowing that they're in an illusion. This can be bad enough when trying to simply battle one. But even worse is what happens if the Illusionist captures you.

In this trope, a Master of Illusion, Telepath, Reality Warper, or some other person capable of mentally controlling their victims or creating a false reality a takes a captive and keeps them there by allowing them to escape.

Confused? Good. The captive is allowing the prisoner to "escape" by controlling their mind to make them think they are escaping. This has several advantages: one, it makes it impossible for the captive to actually escape; two, it allows the captor to learn all of the methods they would escape and then counter them; three, done enough times, and the prisoner can become "broken", questioning whether even a real escape attempt is just another illusion. And finally, it's just deliciously evil.

Can be considered a form of Lotus-Eater Machine or Psychological Torment Zone. A more benign version of this can be a Epiphanic Prison or Closed Circle. Over the course of an entire story, this can be a form of The Masquerade.

Related to Virtual Reality Interrogation. See also Schrödinger's Butterfly, where even the audience can't be sure that the illusion was truly escaped.

Examples:

Anime & Manga
  • In Naruto, this is what a a resurrected Zombie!Itachi basically does to Kabuto, it's a subersion of sorts, because while "Izanami" does imprison the person in a loop replaying the events, said person can choose to change said events and thus, escape by acknowledging the consequences of their actions and accept their fate.

Comics
  • Teen Titans: During the "Culling" arc of the New52 relaunch, a supervillain named Harvest captures the Titans except Kid Flash using a telepath. Fortunately, Kid Flash is able to use his Super Speed to dodge the telpath's attacks. As she has no speed of her own, he can stay one step ahead of—oh, whoops. That was an illusion. He was already captured and the whole fight was fake. But, in the meantime, they've already finished their Mind Rape on Robin, and he's now free to get away and rescue the others before—oh, sorry again. Robin's mind rape is still ongoing, and he's just as screwed as everyone else. My bad.
  • Avengers vs. X-Men: What the Phoenix Five do to Avengers they've captured—locking them into Limbo and putting them through a simulation where they "escape" over and over again.
  • Incredible Hercules: How the heroes defeat Amatsu-Mikaboshi.

Film
  • Shows up in a deleted scene in X2: X-Men United. The illusionist Jason makes Professor Xavier hallucinate about successfully escaping from Stryker's compound and returning to the mansion. (In the finished film, Jason just makes Xavier hallucinate that he's back at the mansion, without the transition.)
  • 1408: One theory for the Gainax Ending.

Literature
  • Played with in Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge. The Gray Men have been psychologically torturing Jim diGriz by implanting false memories. When he manages to escape, he worries that his escape might be another false memory. It later turns out not to be the case.
    They had been running through my cerebral cortex with their little leaden boots. This certainly proved my theoretical stance that a good deal of what had happened to me was illusion or false memory. What had been real? Was this 'escape' real at the present moment? This was a chilling thought; everything that was happening could be a generated series of unreal events to prove to me that I could not escape. I could keep going down these stairs forever or wake up at any moment back in my room still attached to my pendent box. Well, if this were true, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I had to treat this illusion like reality until it proved otherwise. Unless this was an endless dream building these stairs had to end somewhere, and I was going to find out.

Live-Action TV
  • In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation a holographic Professor Moriarity leaves the holodeck, even though that's impossible. It turns out that he's programmed the holodeck to make Picard & the others think he's left, but they're all still trapped on the holodeck. They turn tables on him, making him think that they've given him a shuttlecraft and allow him to leave to explore the galaxy, but he's really a program in a little box.
    • This applies to the original pilot episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (as well as the two-parter, The Menagerie, which it was later adapted into). The Talosians' illusion power is so great that there ought to be no way to tell if Pike really escaped their world. This possibility is never directly raised though, and we're probably supposed to just assume it didn't happen so that the series could go on.
  • Angel: In order to defeat The Beast Angel decides that he must release his evil self, Angelus. He contacts a shaman friend of his to cast the spell releasing Angelus; but at the last minute he calls it off, then figures out how to defeat the Beast and beds Cordilia. This gives him a moment of "perfect happiness," which releases Angelus. It turns out that the story from the moment he stopped the ritual is actually all in his head, and it was this which releases Angelus as planned.
  • Red Dwarf VIII, where the Dwarfers only think they're escaping captivity - they are hooked up to a mind-monitoring device.

Videogames
  • Fall from Heaven: In the setting for the game, one of the "hell" areas is meant to do this.

Web Comics

Other
  • Here's an example of a Koan: "If you think you're free, there's no escape possible."
Community Feedback Replies: 22
  • July 13, 2012
    Pickly
    • Fall From Heaven: In the setting for the game, one of the "hell" areas is meant to do this.
    • One theory for the end of {{1408}}
  • July 13, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • In an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation a holographic Professor Moriarity leaves the holodeck, even though that's impossible. It turns out that he's programmed the holodeck to make Picard & the others think he's left, but they're all still trapped on the holodeck. They turn tables on him, making him think that they've given him a shuttlecraft and allow him to leave to explore the galaxy, but he's really a program in a little box.
    • Angel: In order to defeat The Beast Angel decides that he must release his evil self, Angelus. He contacts a shaman friend of his to cast the spell releasing Angelus; but at the last minute he calls it off, then figures out how to defeat the Beast and beds Cordilia. This gives him a moment of "perfect happiness," which releases Angelus. It turns out that the story from the moment he stopped the ritual is actually all in his head, and it was this which releases Angelus as planned.
  • July 14, 2012
    AgProv
    The Prisoner

  • July 14, 2012
    Statalyzer
    This applies to the original pilot episode of Star Trek The Original Series (as well as the two-parter, The Menagerie, which it was later adapted into). The Talosians' illusion power is so great that there ought to be no way to tell if Pike really escaped their world. This possibility is never directly raised though, and we're probably supposed to just assume it didn't happen so that the series could go on.
  • November 23, 2012
    TonyG
    In Madagascar 3 Europes Most Wanted, Captain DuBois is jailed in Italy. When the cops find her cell empty, the chief looks for every prison escape cliche in the book before finding a tunnel under the bed. As they go into the tunnel, DuBois steps out of her hiding place inside the mattress and locks the cell behind her.
  • November 23, 2012
    TonyG
    ^Disregard this example, I read the trope page wrong.
  • November 23, 2012
    Astaroth
    Related to Virtual Reality Interrogation (Sister trope possibly?)

    Also, how about this for the page quote:
    'None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.'
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • November 27, 2012
    MetaFour
    • Shows up in a deleted scene in X 2 X Men United. The illusionist Jason makes Professor Xavier hallucinate about successfully escaping from Stryker's compound and returning to the mansion. (In the finished film, Jason just makes Xavier hallucinate that he's back at the mansion, without the transition.)
  • November 27, 2012
    Earnest
    See also Schrodingers Butterfly, where the heroes aren't sure they've really escaped the illusion.
  • December 19, 2012
    AgProv
    Literature: does this happen to Jim diGriz in one of the Stainless Steel Rat books? Where the Grey Men have hooked him up to a mind-control device?

    TV - Red Dwarf VIII, where the Dwarfers only think they're escaping captivity - they are hooked up to a mind-monitoring device.
  • December 19, 2012
    Cider
    Lord Vamde from Digimon V-Tamer 01.
  • December 19, 2012
    RoseBride
    In Naruto, this is what a a resurrected zombie!Itachi basically does to Kabuto, it's a subersion of sorts, because while the the techniche "Izanami" does imprison the person in a loop replaying the events, said person can choose to change said events and thus, escape by acknowlodging the consecuencies of their actions and accept their fate
  • December 20, 2012
    Arivne
    ^^^ @Ag Prov wrote: Literature: does this happen to Jim diGriz in one of the Stainless Steel Rat books? Where the Grey Men have hooked him up to a mind-control device?

    It is mentioned as a possibility by Jim diGriz during his escape, but turns out not to be the case.

    Literature
    • Played with in Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge. The Gray Men have been psychologically torturing Jim diGriz by implanting false memories. When he manages to escape, he worries that his escape might be another false memory. It later turns out not to be the case.
      They had been running through my cerebral cortex with their little leaden boots. This certainly proved my theoretical stance that a good deal of what had happened to me was illusion or false memory. What had been real? Was this 'escape' real at the present moment? This was a chilling thought; everything that was happening could be a generated series of unreal events to prove to me that I could not escape. I could keep going down these stairs forever or wake up at any moment back in my room still attached to my pendent box. Well, if this were true, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I had to treat this illusion like reality until it proved otherwise. Unless this was an endless dream building these stairs had to end somewhere, and I was going to find out.
  • December 24, 2013
    DAN004
    I kinda think this happens in The Matrix and maybe Inception, but I can't provide context...
  • December 25, 2013
    Arivne
    ^ I have watched all three of The Matrix movies multiple times and I can't remember this ever happening or even being mentioned as a possibility.

    After Neo was captured by the Agents in the first movie they implanted a Tracking Device in him and let him go for real so he would lead them to Morpheus. After Morpheus was captured Neo and Trinity rescued him for real.

    The only thing that's close to it is when Neo is first removed from the Matrix. Morpheus says "Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?" However, there's no mention of Neo being imprisoned or someone using illusion powers on him.
  • December 4, 2014
    zarpaulus
    • In Schlock Mercenary, a Gatekeeper officer who is refusing to tell the Fleetmind anything about the dark matter entities is captured for Mind-ripping. As he's being brought in he escapes, and while shooting his way out he starts to wonder if it's really worth it to protect those ungrateful younger races from the Paan'uri...
      Petey: "Well, the simulation has him thinking along the right track."
  • December 4, 2014
    arbiter099
    For The Man Who Has Everything: Happens in the form of a Lotus Eater Machine where the villain Mongul is subjected to the Black Mercy parasite which traps its host in their deepest desires. He believes he swatted it aside and went on to kill Superman and conquer the earth.
  • December 5, 2014
    AgProv
    Literature: In Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus sequel The Widow's Son, intrepid hero Sigismundo Celine does what no man has ever before achieved - he escapes from the Bastille. Re-arrested while trying to get out of Paris, he is interrogated by the police and sent back to the Bastille. But one morning he awakens on the ceiling of his tower cell, looking down on his bed and table. While trying to puzzle this out he falls asleep. This is the beginning of a newer form of imprisonment which seeks to seriously mess with his mind. He is seemingly "liberated" by "friends" who raid the chateau he has been diverted to (at this point he only thinks he is still in the Bastille). But this seeming escape is only the beginning of the third phase of his imprisonment... Celine is left wondering if he's ever going to escape for real.
  • March 21, 2015
    DAN004
    bump
  • June 11, 2015
    SteveMB
    Related to Fauxtastic Voyage, in which mundane trickery is used to set up a fake "escape".

  • June 11, 2015
    Lord-Jaric
    Attempted in the episode Gamekeeper of Stargate SG 1 after being stuck in a virtual reality world where they live the worst event of their lives for the entertainment of others, the team come across the man in control and demand to be let go, he seemly does but when they debrief at the SGC and Hammond tells them to go back for further study Jack sees right through the ploy.
  • June 11, 2015
    Lythande
    The number of ZCE examples makes me wince. But I hate examples white are sentence fragments - "Shows up in __. What __ does to __." even if they aren't ZCE, so that might also be influencing me, because there are a lot of those, too.

    Specifically, the Incredible Hercules, 1408, Fall From Heaven, and Marauder Shields need context, and the Naruto needs rewritten for grammar (and if this were mine I would do the same with Avengers vs X-Men to make it stand on its own).

    Does anyone own this?
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=y6rqe4shne04xyanjb3blwqe