Ambiguous Clone Ending

Spider-Man: Oh, I'm the real one, Gwen. Believe me.
Gwen Stacy Clone: But... how can you tell?
Spider-Man: Simple. I... uh... Far out.

At some point in the story, the hero was cloned. At the climax of the story, the hero fights their clone and one lives while the other dies. However, whether the survivor is the clone or the original is left uncertain. This usually leaves a lot of uncertainty and angst because the survivor fears seeing a Tomato in the Mirror, and may grapple with the guilt of essentially having murdered him or herself.

Compare Schrödinger's Butterfly, where whether the heroes escaped the Lotus-Eater Machine is left in doubt. Shell Game is a prerequisite.

As an ending trope, be prepared for SPOILERS.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Happens to Paz in an episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig. It's implied that the real Pazu wins. If one looks closely, Pazu gets cut and bleeds while his Psycho Ex-Girlfriend who got a robot copy of his body and downloaded his memories, gets stabbed through the last part of her that is human, her brain. The psycho-ex's robot body has a huge cut through her robot body with no internal blood or organs when the fight ends. Interestingly, both the Major and Batou don't know who won...when the Major asks Batou, Batou responds Pazu "probably" won.
  • Hime from Princess Resurrection was cloned along with almost everyone else in one chapter reminiscent to the pod aliens. While everyone else had multiple clones, Hime only had one and the two of them act and think so alike that the two of them bar themselves in the dining room while everyone else fights off the army of clones. In the end, they both agree on who is the clone and who is the original with the clone making a heroic sacrifice. It isn't really clear if the "clone" really was the clone and we only have the agreement between the two on who is who.

    Comic Books 
  • Doing this ultimately led to the Spider-Man Clone Saga. And, by extension, to the somewhat shorter Brand New May saga in the Spider-Girl comics.
  • It happens in Lobo.
    • For a while there, even one drop of Lobo's blood would grow into a clone. Whenever this happens, the Lobos would team up to kill all of their enemies and then turn on each other. The lone surviving Lobo would be declared the "real" Lobo. Since it didn't matter to Lobo—or any of his clones—who survived as long as one of them did, and everyone else in the DC Universe tries to avoid Lobo anyway, readers didn't really care either.
      • Except for Slo'bo. See, at one point Lobo was de-aged to about fifteen and hanging out with Young Justice, and he died... and when all the blood-clones grew up and started killing each other (while everyone else, thinking he was dead, was very far away), one of them ran and hid. After the others were done, he came out and ran back to Earth while the new Lobo was off doing whatever, but he was too ashamed to be called Lobo anymore, so he took a new name.
  • In Dirty Pair: Fatal But Not Serious, both Yuri (Girly Girl of the Lovely Angels) and her Laser-Guided Tykebomb clone are seriously wounded while escaping a supernova. In the epilogue, one Yuri is bedridden as her partner Kei tells her about the funeral for the other Yuri she just came back from. Subverted in the last panel, where it's revealed that the clone's the one who survived.
  • An odd case occurs in a The Incredible Hulk story arc where the Hulk is cloned. The final confrontation follows all the conventions of the Ambiguous Clone Ending: Banner and the Clone face each other alone, the fight itself isn't shown, and the scene skips to Banner returning to his friends telling them the clone is dead. It seems like we're meant to be unsure that the real Hulk won... except that the clone was heavily modified, and in Hulk form looks unmistakably different from the real Hulk. Since we see the Hulk looking perfectly normal the very next storyline, he's clearly the original... so why does the narrative go through all the plot points associated with this trope?
  • Back in the early 90s, DC Comics revisited the famous Sand Superman storyline, in which a being of pure sand was created after Superman eradicated Kryptonite from the Earth. In the end, the two fight and a massive explosion took place within the Fortress of Solitude, the story ending with Superman talking to Luthor with the hinting that the surviving Superman was actually the sand creature. At one point, the prevalent rumor was that this story was supposed to have been DC's escape route if the marriage between Clark and Lois didn't pan out had the incident that lead to The Death of Superman not occur, but it's been proven to be not true.

  • In Read or Die when the "good" Nancy fights the "evil" Nancy it's nearly impossible to keep track of which is which during the fight. This creates an extra layer of drama when the surviving Nancy shows up and pretends to shoot the heroine so she can get close enough to the Big Bad to kill him. To make the ending more complicated, the one who wins the fight elects to join the villain in death afterwards, leaving Yomiko a note that she didn't kill the other one after all. If you pay really close attention, they have different dominant hands., something Yomiko picks up on in one scene since she figures out which Nancy to stand next to when they're facing off
  • Lupin III
    • The first movie, The Mystery of Mamo seems to be heading for this until the climax, in which Mamo reveals that the Lupin that died at the beginning was the clone. When Inspector Zenigata shows up afterwards to arrest Lupin, he tries to invoke this trope with Zenigata, but the inspector doesn't care.
    • Referenced in the later Lupin movie Green vs. Red, where it isn't clear if the Lupin at the end is the real one, Yasuo dressed as Lupin, or another impersonator entirely. No-one seems to care.

  • After several assassination attempts by the CIA, Fidel Castro decided to look for a body double to serve as a decoy. After several days of search they found the perfect candidate: an inmate from an insane asylum who, like Fidel, smoked cigars, walked with long strides, constantly ranted against American imperialism, and even refused to take baths too. So they took him out, tried (unsuccessfully) to bathe him, dressed him in an olive green military suit, and presented him to Fidel, who was so impressed by his likeness that not even he could tell who was the real one! So he took his double for a ride on a Soviet jeep, with such bad luck that they crashed. When their comrades arrived to the crash site, they saw with horror that one of them had been killed!

  • The end of the Alex Rider novel Point Blanc, although it's not technically his clone. Alex has thwarted the villain's plot to replace the children of inlufential people with surgically-altered teenage clones of himself, only to find a clone that looks like Alex waiting at his school (Alex had posed as a businessman's son to get close to the villain). The ensuing fight causes a fire, and only one Alex walks out...Until the sequel came along, of course.
    • See the WMG which ties the more dramatic plot to the fact that Alex's clone won the battle.
  • Android at Arms by Andre Norton.
  • Subverted in Legend of the Five Rings. During the original Clan War story arc, Bayushi Kachiko uses an Artifact of Doom to create an evil duplicate of Doji Hoturi as part of her revenge against him for killing her son. Unknown to Hoturi, he was actually their son. Hoturi finally faces the False Hoturi in a duel alone and away from any witnesses. But since the loser melted into goo and maggots upon death, it's quite clear that the real Hoturi won.
  • Comes up in Galaxy of Fear: Clones. Tash, fleeing a horde of malicious clones of herself, sheds her clothes and slips into one of the jumpsuits her clones are wearing, stacked nearly up near the cloning vats. She then ends up falling and hitting her head, so the past hour or so is a blurry mess, and runs into another Tash wearing something other than a jumpsuit, who rather than being evil is defeated and terrified and insists that she is Tash; the other clones arrive and kill the terrified one. Tash doubts herself for a bit, but ultimately resolves that she is not a clone - for one, she still has her mother's necklace, which none of the others have - because these clones don't act the same ways she's been acting all along. She's been intrigued and repulsed for some time by the Dark Side of the Force, while her evil clones are outright fascinated; she's pretty much become used to danger and the threat of death, but they rejoice in killing. She's afraid, but not cowering and terrified like the one nonviolent clone.

    Live Action TV 
  • Red Dwarf:
    • The episode "Out of Time". Starbug is confronted by an upgraded (but identical looking) Starbug, crewed by evil future versions of the Starbug crew. It ends with the "good" vessel losing most of its crew, and a laser blowing up one of the combatants. Which ship won isn't revealed until the next series.
    • It's also unclear which Rimmer is the Rimmer we see in series X (the one from Series I-VII who became Ace Rimmer or the one from Series VIII who may or may not have died during the series cliffhanger) as Series X presents evidence for both scenariosnote 
  • In one episode of Sliders ("Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome"), the characters find themselves on a world that's just like their own Earth, but with only a few differences. One of those differences is that that world's Professor Arturo missed the opportunity to go sliding through other dimensions with Quinn Mallory and the others, and has regretted it ever since. This world's Arturo gets in a fight with the regular Arturo just as it's time to slide. Before the portal closes, one of the Arturos leaps through and joins the other Sliders while the other is left behind. It's never made clear whether the Arturo who joins them at the end is the same one they started with.
  • In an episode of Psi Factor, a main character thinks his resurrected wife is actually possessed by an "Ancient", so he banishes her and resurrects her again. The ending heavily implies that it's still the same Ancient.
  • Played with in the third season of Farscape: after John gets "twinned", both characters are essentially seen as equally real and valid. Making it a huge Tear Jerker when one of them makes a Heroic Sacrifice; at first, Aeryn refuses to speak to the other when they're reunited.
    • D'Argo and Chiana are also "twinned", but their doubles are killed during the same episode. They are both seen to be grappling with questions of "What if that was the real me and I'm just a copy?"
  • In the Downer Ending of the Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode "The Tale of the Chameleons", the Chameleon turns into a clone of Janice, and Sharon must decide which one to spray with water. She picks the real Janice, who is turned into a chameleon and drowned in a well, while the clone has plans to turn Sharon and her family into chameleons as well.
  • The TV Movie Echo had Jack Wagner playing the main character, and the Evil Twin who kidnaps his brother and takes over his life. Near the end, his girlfriend finds out about the twin, and goes to confront him only to find that the Evil Twin has mimicked his brother so well that, when she shoots the gun, the audience is left to wonder which of the twins survived.
  • The Mexican soap opera Lazos de Amor, which dealt with a group of identical triplets, ended like this: The evil triplet kidnaps one of her triplet sisters and ends up killing her own love interest and then supposedly committing suicide, the kidnapped triplet then goes on to marry her own love interest but on the last scene on their honey moon she is seen briefly making the same particular tick of her evil sister while her ominous leitmotif plays...
  • Scarecrow and Mrs. King in the second season episode Odds on a Dead Pigeon the bad guys get a hired killer to have plastic surgery to transform herself into Amanda. At the climax they are both hanging off a building and Lee has to save the right Amanda.

     Video Games 
  • In Kagetsu Tohya, if you decide to search for the killer, sometimes you do battle with him. The killer is you, somehow. During some of the battles, it gets so confusing the fighters themselves begin mixing which is which, and the winner himself doesn't know who he is anymore. Try Again!
  • The ending of Tales of the Abyss is ambiguous on whether the person who appears at the end is Luke, Asch, or an amalgamation of the two. The only piece of evidence is an optional sidequest reveals that creatures who undergo fomicry suffer a "big crunch" effect after a certain amount of time, in which the fonons of the original disperse and are absorbed into the clone. However, the sidequest does not reveal how much of the original persists after this process, leaving the answer vague.
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 lives on this. The protagonist dies in the canonical ending of the first game and is then cloned by the beginning of the second. The clone was imprinted with memories of the original up until to some point, essentially making him the same person. Midway through the game confusion arises when another character states that it is impossible to clone a Jedi (although Star Wars Expanded Universe has it possible, they just wind up crazy and evil). Then more clones of the original are revealed, going mad from their conflicting personalities, which you have to fight. And while the Light Side ending is pretty straightforward, the Dark Side ending is a guaranteed Mind Screw on the first playthrough: the main character is killed by another clone of the original, who succumbed to the Dark Side. It is implied that he exists in the Light Side version of the game as well but does not attack you because of your actions. And then the bonus cinematics hint that you already played as a clone in the first game...
    • The protagonist (of the second game) himself believes himself to be a clone, and at one point (at least in the novelization) refutes Rahm Kota's claims that Jedi cannot be cloned (at least not without physically degenerating) by pointing out that is as far as he knows. While the game and the novelization are deliberately vague, the supplementary material tend to state that he is a clone. The unlockable Distant Thunder, which detail the Dark Apprentice's training, feature Darth Vader displaying Galen Marek's corpse to the Dark Apprentice. Since the cinematics occur before the game's ending, and have no impact on the game's events themselves, and due to the fact that Databanks and a Force vision (in the novelization) confirm the existence of the Dark Apprentice, it is probable that Distant Thunder is canon, which means that the second game's protagonist is, in fact, a clone.
    • Complicating things is the existence of Essence Transfer, which means he could be the original Galen Marek and a clone.

     Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • In Welcome to Night Vale, Intern Dana is the only intern to have ever graduated from Red Shirt status at Night Vale Community Radio. Only problem is, it might not have Dana who survived the death match with her Desert Bluffs doppelganger. Due to this, from then on she's referred to as "Intern Dana, or her double".
    Dana: I remember, I am Dana. Or, I am Dana’s double. One of us killed the other with the stapler. Even I don’t know which one. I have these memories, but memories prove nothing. Experiences also prove nothing.
  • Taken Up to Eleven in this fake Fate of the Jedi epilogue which reveals that not only did Luuke Skywalker from The Thrawn Trilogy survive in place of Luke, but Thrawn himself has been creating clones of everyone in the entire galaxy. The proposed unending series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars 2, plays up the ambiguity of the cast being clones.

     Western Animation 
  • One episode of Time Squad had Larry make a double of himself, with each double making another until there were hordes of them. Otto and Tuddrussel decided to shove all but one who claims to be the original into space. Despite the final Larry booted out being especially insistent he's the original and the one left behind giving an evil laugh, status quo is restored when he's shunted back to a subservient role.
  • Part of a throwaway gag in an Imagine Spot on Family Guy, but with a robot replicant instead of a clone.
    • Played straight when Stewie creates an evil clone of himself. It is implied that Brian shot the wrong one with an ending in the style of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video.
    • Then subverted again when Chris thinks he has to either shoot Peter or an old man. This being Chris, he's completely ignoring how neither of them look anything alike!
    • In "Roads to Vegas" two perfect copies of Brian and Stewie are created. By the end of the episode, one Brian and one Stewie are both dead...but the show never specifies which pair is the original and which is the copy (Did the machine teleport them to Vegas and leave clones behind, or teleport the clones to Vegas?). Since there's one death in each pair, either the original Brian or original Stewie is definitely dead.
  • One Halloween short on The Simpsons involving a magical hammock that made multiple Homer Simpson clones ends with all the Homer clones being sent plummeting down a cliff. However, it turns out that the real Homer was amongst the clones who fell to their doom. However, Marge doesn't seem to mind, making love in bed with the clone Homer that survived in the real Homer's stead. The fact that the song "Love the one You're With" by Stephen Stills is playing in the background also helps.
  • Played with in "Too Many Pinkie Pies" episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic after Twilight zaps away all the clones in the room and only the original Pinkie remains. At first she shouts joyfully "I'm me! I'm me! I'm me!", but then she suddenly stops and asks herself "Or am I?", nervously examines her own face and concludes: "Yeah, I'm pretty sure I am".