Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
Warning: Much like the main page, this page contains a large number of spoilers. Many of the examples below will assume you know the spoilers revealed by the endings of Saw, Saw II, Saw III, and Saw IV; as a result, those spoilers are frequently left untagged. Even then it is advised to have finished the series first. You Have Been Warned.
open/close all folders
John Kramer/Jigsaw (Tobin Bell)
John Kramer was an engineer who was driven to become the Messianic Jigsaw Killer after a series of tragic events and circumstances — his unborn son was killed when his wife, Jill, had a miscarriage; this caused John to drive her away, making her divorce him. John was later diagnosed with an inoperable tumor, which led to cancer. When his insurance company turned down an experimental treatment that could have potentially saved his life (or at least prolonged it), John attempted suicide. When he survived, his new outlook on life became his motivation to become the Jigsaw Killer.Jigsaw kidnaps people that he believes aren't valuing their lives, then forces them through sadistic "tests" where there are usually only two outcomes: live (and gain a new outlook on life) or die (and gain a new outlook on the afterlife). John was eventually killed by Jeff Denlon, one of the last of his direct victims. Events ensuring his legacy would live on, however, were already in motion — Mark Hoffman, one of John's apprentices, continued Jigsaw's work after his death.Notably, John himself admits that he never came up with the name "Jigsaw" or "Jigsaw Killer"; the press dubbed him so because of his penchant for carving a jigsaw-shaped piece of flesh from his dead victims — a reminder of the "missing piece" of the "human puzzle" those victims lacked, which he believes could have saved their lives.
Affably Evil: He kidnapped people and forced them to go through their problems in the form of "tests", but the only thing that was different between John Kramer and his other apprentices was that John never lied and was truthful.
Big Bad: Of the first three movies, and becomes the Bigger Bad after his death in Saw III.
Chekhov's Gunman: In the first movie, he's the man that Dr. Gordon is going over with his interns.
Dark Messiah: His true goal is to make people he feels are wasting their lives gain new appreciation and respect for how precious life is by putting them through hell if they want to continue living.
Early Installment Weirdness: In the first film, he slashes the throat of one detective trying to arrest him and lets a second get blown away in a shotgun booby trap. See his second example under Hypocrite for more.
He claims to despise murderers and denies that he is one, yet many of his games either require somebody to commit murder, or will result in someone else's death if they fail. Some games feature both. He likewise seems to target people who have slighted him, using any "flaws" he can find as an excuse to place them in his games.
He straight-up murders a policeman in the first movie due to a boobie trap. Said cop is only ever shown prioritizing saving lives over catching criminals, making his death at Jigsaw's hands directly against Jigsaw's stated goals.
Kick the Dog: Even being Affably Evil, Kramer was still capable of performing nasty stuff during a test subject's game. Some notable ones were:
Leaving Adam to rot at the end of the first movie, even though he had "won" in a sense.
Mocking Jeff's son death in Saw III by using Billy.
By far, however, the most cruelest KTDs was in Saw VI was placing someone who had a history of smoking problems in a vice trap that only harmed them if they had breath.
The Kindnapper: He claims to be kidnapping people and placing them in lethal deathtraps to help them appreciate their lives and to rehabilitate them.
My Death Is Just the Beginning: The events of the last three films of the series were carried out after he had died, with John's wishes and intentions guiding things along. This phrase is even invoked in the fourth film.
Rasputinian Death: He's first diagnosed with cancer (a tumor in his brain, to be exact), then he attempts suicide by driving off a cliff, and as seen in the flashback in Saw ll, he also gets impaled by a long stick. In Saw lll, he gets operated while still awake to have a part of his skull removed to ease his headache. Then, he's finally killed off by Jeff Denlon by having his throat sliced.
Relative Button: Sure, they may be divorced, but don't you ever harm his wife.
Serial Killer: He denies it and some characters agree with him due to technicalities, but that's all they are, technicalities. At best you could call him a serial torturer, which is just as bad, and most of his victims die anyway, not to mention those games of his that require someone to die.
Start of Darkness: The events that led to John taking up his "work" are detailed over several films.
Thanatos Gambit: Post Saw III, all games were this but it isn't until the last movie when the actual plan was pulled off.
Tragic Villain: And how! He lost his son in a miscarriage, he went through a messy divorce, he contacted cancer and was denied health insurance, and he grew disgusted seeing those unappreciative of the precious gift of life that he was being denied.
Villainous Legacy: Jigsaw is killed in Saw 3, but the series is continued on by his apprentices and the plans he's left for them to follow.
Villains Never Lie: While his apprentices stray from this key tenant, the uniting idea of Jigsaw's traps is that there is always a way out, no matter how traumatic or difficult it may be, the victim always has hope to win and be free and alive. And they are usually told exactly what they have to do to win in the recorded messages he leaves for them.
Visionary Villain: He genuinely believes that he's helping people realize their true potential by bringing them to the brink of death. He's a self-help guru whose idea of helping the world involves lots of blood.
Wham Shot: Provides one at the end of the first movie.
Jigsaw's first canonical apprentice, and the third Jigsaw Killer (after Amanda Young). Hoffman is a cop assigned to the Jigsaw case. He uses the knowledge he has of Jigsaw by virtue of following the case to murder his sister's killer using Jigsaw's MO. The frame job catches John's attention, and Hoffman is blackmailed into helping Jigsaw. Shortly afterward, he becomes a willing accomplice. At some point, he began to fall in love with his carnage and, like Amanda, did not completely buy into Jigsaw's philosophy. After Jigsaw and Amanda's deaths, Hoffman continued John's work until the final film. His true identity as Jigsaw's accomplice/successor was discovered in the sixth film, but was only revealed to the police force at large in the last film.
Ax-Crazy: In 3D. With his identity as a Serial Killer known to the public, he sees no reason not to become a raging psychopath, killing anyone who is in his way for the remainder of the film as sadistically as he can.
Asshole Victim: No tears were shed after, with all of his murders, he was finally killed himself in an inescapable trap, like those he made.
Big Bad: After John's death, he became this. However, it took a couple of films to solidify him as a legit threat.
Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Qualifies as a subtle example. Outwardly presenting himself as a hard-working and caring cop, while hiding what a coldly manipulative, murderous, apathetic bastard he truly is.
Chekhov's Gunman: Much like Amanda, he appeared in a small scene in III and ended up being shown he was the first canonical apprentice and took up the Jigsaw killer reign after the deaths of Kramer and Young.
Co-Dragons: With Amanda, though she didn't like him being there.
The Determinator: In Saw 3D, he really wants to get to Jill. Getting in his way? That is a very bad idea.
Eviler Than Thou: Unlike Amanda (who apparently saw her inescapable traps as Mercy Kill examples) or John (who wanted his victims to live and be better), Hoffman just wants to kill those who know too much. Even that goes out the window in 3D, as, with his identity as the last Jigsaw known, he goes on a maniacal killing spree for the remainder of his screen time until he is caught.
Faux Affably Evil: His entire affable demeanor is pretty fooling at first, that is until you witnessed his true colors under the Jigsaw persona is when you realize that half his affable side is pretty much just an act to lower suspicions.
Glasgow Grin: He receives half of one after narrowly escaping the Reverse Bear Trap.
Jack the Ripoff: What drew attention to the original Jigsaw who took offense that he would use his name and methods for revenge.
Karmic Death: We don't see him die, but it's pretty obvious at the end of 3D that he's been left to a slow death by starvation by Gordon. All things considered, he deserves it. Word of God confirmed his death.
Kick the Dog: Did this multiple times, including framing Strahm as Jigsaw's apprentice, replacing John's letter to Amanda with one of his own that threatened to reveal her secret, killing an FBI lab technician, Erickson, and Perez to maintain his cover, and finally killing nearly 20 police personnel (directly or otherwise) as part of his plan to kill Jill Tuck.
Knight Templar Big Brother: When his sister is killed by her boyfriend and said boyfriend is let off on a technicality, he avenges his sister's death by killing the boyfriend in such a way that it would appear to be another Jigsaw killing.
Serial Killer: Takes up Kramer's mantle of this after his and Amanda's deaths.
The Sociopath: He seriously surpasses his mentor John Kramer on how many lines he's willing to cross. While the former had a moral lesson with his doings and gave his victims a chance to survive, he makes his traps inescapable in the belief that murderers can't redeem themselves, being hypocritical in that statement while claiming so. His partner Amanda Young is a Broken Bird with standards, and was horrifyingly blackmailed by him simply because he didn't like her. He's also willing to murder people whom he worked with for over 20 years just to get away, as well as putting Detective Peter Strahm in an inescapable trap and blaming him for the murder he himself committed in Saw V. He finally crosses the Moral Event Horizon when he murders his mentor's ex-wife with a Reverse Bear Trap in Saw 3D. Luckily, justice was served to him as Dr. Gordon, the protagonist of Saw, put him at his place and locked him in the bathroom in which he finally died.
Villainous Valor: He's a murderous bastard, but escaping the Reverse Bear Trap was pretty damn impressive.
Villain with Good Publicity: He's a decorated and highly respected police lieutenant with over 20 years experience and numerous promotions under his belt, a fact that's pointed out by Agent Perez in Saw IV.
Jigsaw's second canonical apprentice, a junkie who had been the first to survive his tests. She, like Hoffman, perverted Jigsaw's message by creating traps that were inescapable; she believed that Jigsaw's methods were too lenient. She also had an inadvertent hand in causing the miscarriage of Jigsaw's child.Killed by Jeff Denlon at the end of III.
Abusive Parents: Though deleted, in a line of the Saw III script, Amanda states when she was a child her father kept her locked in the basement, in the dark, for hours.
Brainy Brunette: She designed some of the traps and devices herself, in particular the shock collar that Lynn was forced to wear.
Broken Bird: She's been the victim of Abusive Parents, framed for a crime she didn't commit, very nearly died in a death trap set up by a serial killer, and blackmailed by her rival apprentice... and she becomes a cynical and violent serial killer herself.
Co-Dragons: With Hoffman, though she didn't like him being there.
Dragon with an Agenda: While she did support Jigsaw's testing, she used inescapable traps rather letting the subject live.
Even Evil Has Standards: While her traps were inescapable, she seemed to believe that she was doing people a mercy by simply letting them die rather than leaving them to suffer after escaping. She also mercy killed Adam rather than letting him starve to death.
Eviler Than Thou: Creates inescapable traps, unlike Jigsaw, who intends for his victims to survive.
Final Girl: Subverted in the second film when it's revealed she was working with Jigsaw the whole time.
Hair-Trigger Temper: Amanda is apparently real quick to anger, which is not a very good situation if you ever find yourself under this woman's mercy as shown in Saw III with Lynn and especially who found out nearly too late, Matthews.
Holier Than Thou: Amanda became Jigsaw's apprentice after successfully surviving a trap, but then perverts his philosophy by making inescapable traps designed to kill the victims as she believes they won't change if they do survive while arrogantly believing herself to be the sole exception.
Murder the Hypotenuse: Amanda towards Lynn in Saw III, since she wants John for herself. If she only knew Lynn was really Jeff's wife.
Serial Killer: More up front about this than Kramer, as she doesn't even intend for her victims to live, as the traps she makes are inescapable.
Stockholm Syndrome: She comes to think of John Kramer as a father figure and is intensely loyal to him. She says that he "helped [her]"... by kidnapping her when she was asleep/unconscious, duct-taping her to a chair with a Reverse Bear Trap on her head that we later find out causes a gory death if it goes off, and basically gets her to kill a guy to enable her very narrow escape from certain Death by Disfigurement.
Zep Hindle(Michael Emerson)
An orderly who tended to John Kramer while he was being diagnosed with Cancer. He formed a sort of bond to the madman, which went horribly when Kramer decided to include him in his rise to evil.
Chekhov's Gunman: He shows up in one flashback scene before it's eventually revealed he's the antagonist.
Starter Villain: He may be a small fry in the long run, but Zep is the first revealed antagonist in the franchise(not counting Billy).
Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes)
He is one of the main protagonists of the original Saw. The doctor who was treating John at the hospital, he wasn't particularly caring towards his patients, being more interested in treating the disease than the person. He was also taking his family for granted. Jigsaw thinks he has a way to teach him to appreciate them more...
Anti-Hero: Becomes Nominal Hero after his Face-Heel Turn; the only thing that prevents him from being an outright villain is the fact that he's just as moral as Jigsaw and at least follows all his instructions to the letter. Alternatively a Noble Demon, since he at least doesn't do anything blatantly evil in Saw 3D and his only real contribution to the film is putting Hoffman in his place.
Chekhov's Gunman: The best example in the series. While he does show up at the beginning of the film, his sudden reappearance at the end of Saw 3D is a Deus ex Machina to stop Hoffman once and for all. It isn't seconds later, where its explained that John had inducted him into his philosophy.
The Dragon: More or less takes this role in Saw 3D, to posthumous Big Bad John Kramer.
Evil All Along: In a manner of speaking. He's at least more moral than Hoffman and even brings about his doom in the final scene of the series. In fact, he's among the nicer of Jigsaw's men.
Face-Heel Turn: He was inducted into Jigsaw's philosophy after Jigsaw nursed him back to health.
Fatal Family Photo: Quite possibly the biggest defiance of this trope in film history. Gordon shows Adam a picture of his family in the first movie, and yet he is still alive in the 7th one. Considering the series' ludicrously high mortality rate, his survival would be impressive even if he didn't tempt fate with this trope.
Karma Houdini: He is the only known apprentice to not have been killed or confirmed to have been killed.
The other main protagonist of the original Saw, locked in the bathroom with Dr. Gordon. A photographer by trade, Adam was paid by David Tapp to take pictures of Gordon while Tapp was trying to pin the Jigsaw murders on Gordon.
Bad Bad Acting: His attempt to convince Jigsaw that he's poisoned. It works as well as you would expect.
Deadpan Snarker: "I went to bed in my shithole apartment, and woke up in an actual shithole."
Mercy Kill: By Amanda, after her remorse caught up to her.
The detective assigned to the Jigsaw case before Eric Matthews. After finding evidence pointing to Lawrence Gordon as the Jigsaw Killer, he began to obsess over arresting him, even after Gordon's alibi proved that he couldn't be the killer. After Jigsaw wounded him and killed his partner, Steven Sing, he was discharged from the force.
Ascended Extra: Is the main character of the (debatably canonical) game.
Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Despite having the best lead they've ever had to the Jigsaw Killer, Tapp, for some inexplicable reason, chooses to ignore protocol and charge in to arrest him without a warrant. As anyone with rudimentary knowledge of the law will tell you, any evidence taken without a warrant is inadmissible in a court of law. Nothing was achieved by this, except getting his partner killed and getting his own throat slashed. (Though, in this blunder, they had managed to save one person seemingly set to his die)
It seems like they were just following a lead and didn't necessarily expect to run into the actual killer or find his lair- either way, if they had caught him, Jigsaw would not have gotten Off on a Technicality in Real Life even if they did require a warrant, since Fruit of the Poisonous Tree does not apply in such extreme situations, especially when a life was saved. The law is not that dumb.
Determinator: This is the guy who, in the game, managed to rip off the Reverse Bear Trap without a key just by fiddling with the mechanics. Granted it's because he's studied the trap, but nobody else has done that.
Driven to Suicide: Confirmed in Saw IV and (considering if its canon) shown in the true ending of the first Saw game.
Hero with Bad Publicity: Arguably his own fault, since his reckless actions got his partner killed, but taken to ridiculous levels in the video game, where everyone he saves blames him for their dilemnas.
Lawful Stupid: Seems unable to wrap his head around the possibility that Dr. Gordon may not be the Jigsaw Killer.
Somewhat Justified since it is implied that Jigsaw had been deliberately setting Dr Gordon up (stealing his pen and leaving it at a crime scene, which is why Tapp comes to Gordon in the first place). Still, he holds onto that theory long after it became implausible at best (though he may simply have thought Gordon was at least involved, if he wasn't the killer).
It's also Retconned that Hoffman was meant to be deliberately encouraging him to believe Gordon to be responsible. It's not clear if that stopped with the pen light or if he was feeding into his obsession even after he was dismissed from the force.
It still doesn't answer for the time he and his partner saw Jigsaw's face the partner died which proves that Gordan is not Jigsaw.
Rabid Cop: His recklessness results in his partner killed, his throat nearly slashed and him dismissed from the force.
Scary Black Man: He has his moments, especially regarding the lengths he's willing to go to catch Jigsaw.
Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg)
The main protagonist of Saw II, and a supporting character in Saw III and IV. A cop that is pulled into the Jigsaw case when one of his informants is killed in a Jigsaw trap.
Asshole Victim: If you choose to believe Eric truly deserved his punishment.
Determinator: In the second and third movies. He even smashes his own foot repeatedly in order to get out of a trap.
Dirty Cop: He makes a habit of planting evidence on people. However, it is shown that the people that he framed were guilty of something, just not necessarily the thing he was framing them for.
From Bad to Worse: He's in three of the movies. Every time we see him he is in worse shape than the last time we left him.
Papa Wolf: He was extremely worried when Jigsaw had his son and was willing go to huge lengths to get him back. Unfortunately all that was required of him was to be patient.
Rabid Cop: It's revealed that he has a very nasty record of violence towards most of the suspects.
Your Cheating Heart: It's only mentioned in passing, but Eric and his wife separated after he had an affair with Kerry.
The main protagonist of Saw III. His son was killed by a drunk driver. He is unable to let go, to the detriment of the rest of his family, his daughter Corbett, and his wife, Lynn. Jigsaw devises a series of traps in an attempt to help him let go and forgive those responsible for his son's death.
Aborted Arc: In Saw IV, the arc about saving his daughter by playing another game is abruptly cut short by Strahm shooting him dead.
Decoy Protagonist: The last minute or so of Saw III sets him up as the protagonist for the next movie as well - "In order to save your daughter, you will need to play a game." Apparently the new writers brought in for IV didn't want to follow up on that plot line, since he is shot by Strahm seconds later. In another version of the Saw IV script, it was shown that Jeff was to have played a game similar to Strahm's in Saw V but with saw blades, and would have considered to be inside like a giant blender of sorts. He was still killed regardless.
Papa Bear: All of his rage is over the death of his son. Anyone even remotely involved with the boy's death is responsible in his eyes.
Parental Neglect: He's so busy grieving for his lost son that he has been neglecting his daughter.
A major character in Saw III, Lynn is kidnapped by Amanda and forced to perform a brain surgery on John Kramer to keep him alive. In order to ensure her cooperation, a devise is placed on her neck that is hooked up to John's heart monitor, ensuring she only lives as long as he does.
Emotionless Girl: To some extent. Justified, as she's grieving for her and Jeff's deceased son.
Stop Helping Me!: In-Universe and invoked by Jigsaw for his test. His test was to watch people suffer in their traps and seeing them get out of there, or try and help them. By the end of IV, Rigg kills several characters in misguided attempts at saving them.
Too Dumb to Live: He ignored John's recorded warning to not go down the hall and he winds up in the cube trap. He ignores Hoffman's recorded warning to go into the glass coffin and he gets squished like a grape.
Unwitting Pawn: While there are a bunch of these in the series, Strahm is the most blatant example.
William Easton (Peter Outerbridge)
The main protagonist of Saw VI. He is the head of a local health insurance office and is in charge of, among other things, allowing or denying claims. One of his customers was John Kramer; Easton personally denied coverage for an experimental treatment for John's brain tumor. That was probably not a good idea.
Decoy Protagonist: As he realizes, the game in Saw VI isn't his, it's the that of the family of one of the people he's let die.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: By the end of the movie, he did learn a thing or two about helping people. If he had lived, he may have become a better person.
The main protagonist of Saw 3D. Dagen realized that Jigsaw victims could make a lot of money by telling their story — if they weren't so traumatized by the experience. To this end, Dagen decides to lie about being a victim, publish a book about his "experience", and go on the talk show circuit to rake in the cash and fame. Jigsaw takes issue with this...
Determinator: Dagen is an asshole for lying, but he was fully willing to do what it took to keep his friends and wife alive, even if that meant ripping out his own back teeth and re-creating the trap that had gotten him there in the first place.
Hoist by His Own Petard: His final test involves recreating the trap he lied about surviving in the first place: hoisting himself up by chains hooked through his chest muscles to stop a trap from springing. His failure to recreate the trap as he described it cost him dearly.
A drug dealer captured by Jigsaw and forced into the "Gas House" of Saw II with a half dozen other "subjects". He is notable in the series for being the only antagonist that is, at no point, aligned with Jigsaw in any way.
Ax-Crazy: When he realizes how to get the combination to the safe.