has come upon an Innocent Bystander
trapped in a Tailor-Made Prison
by a wicked monster. The prisoner may plead with the hero to be set free, telling him all about the horrors the tyrant has inflicted upon him, or the prisoner may just hang in sorrowful Unwilling Suspension
in his terrible bonds. Once the hero sets the prisoner free, it quickly becomes apparent that he was tricked.
The False Innocence Trick (aka Fake Good In A Can) is when a villain or monster locked away for a good reason feigns innocence or being a good guy in order to fool the hero into letting him go. Typically the villain will prey on the hero's good will and strong moral fiber while doing this by making himself and his story as sympathetic as possible. He often is also counting on the fact that the hero has come from a time/place far enough away to not know who the prisoner really is (or, if he's a local, simply hasn't heard of him).
Compare The Farmer and the Viper
and Bitch in Sheep's Clothing
for other cases of villains taking advantage of the hero's trusting nature
Contrast the more common Decoy Damsel
, and Disguised Hostage Gambit
for when a villain makes a genuine prisoner look like a bad guy.
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Anime and Manga
- In the 3rd OVA to Fushigi Yuugi the fake Suzaku actually Tenkou, the resident God of Evil pretends to be the real deal, promising to help Mayo and save her, "her" unborn child, and Tamahome if she concentrates on the destruction of the universe. Initially, Mayo is a little suspicious, because "Suzaku" appeared without being summoned and before all the Celestial Warriors had been found, but she falls for it when "Suzaku" convinces her that the Celestial Warriors want to kill her and rip the fetus from her belly...and that he can protect her (and make Tamahome truly hers.) After realizing the error of her ways, Mayo and Miaka summon the real Suzaku together and save the universe.
- Light Yagami of Death Note has a plan:
1. Add a false rule to the Death Note that, if broken, will result in Kira's death.
2. Arrange for the anti-Kira task force to learn of this rule.
3. Give yourself Laser-Guided Amnesia
to sell the story.
4. Have yourself imprisoned in such a way that, if you are Kira, you will be forced to break the false rule.
5. Fail to die, thus "proving" your "innocence".
7. Just as planned
- A Cruel God Reigns: Greg does this ALL THE TIME to poor Jeremy and to a lesser degree Sandra. He promises Jeremy that he only coerced him into having sex because he was confused, that he actually really loves him, and that he only wants to keep it from Sandra because he doesn't want to hurt her. Except that he's actually just Evil All Along.
- A variation is used in the first season of Detective Conan. A female kidnapper poses as the girl she's abducted, using a blindfold and a piece of duct tape over her mouth to hide her identity. When the ransom drop-off falls apart, she manages to escape while leaving the police baffled (since they believe the kidnapper managed to slipped away while lugging around a tied up hostage, a sight which would surely attract attention).
- In Ultimate Fantastic Four, Namor is found in the ruins of Atlantis and he tells the Four that he was its ruler long ago, in a nod to the mainstream version. Things go south when Reed translates the warnings on the building Namor was found in and realizes that Namor was being held in a prison. For good reason, since he's the kind of evil jerk who would threaten to flood New York unless Sue gave him a kiss.
- In Joseph Jacob's The Tiger, the Brahman and the Jackal, a tiger tricks a Brahman into releasing him from a trap, and then proposes to eat him. It finally yields that if the first three beings he asked about the justice of it agreed with the Brahman. A buffalo and the road agree that injustice like this is the way of the world, but a jackal pretended not to understand the question until the tiger went back into the trap to show him, and they left him there.
- The Angel Islington in Neverwhere seems to be a trusted ally to the heroes and informs them that he is tasked with protecting London Below due to his previous failure to adequately defend his previous city, Atlantis. They should have asked more detail about that before helping to free him. He destroyed Atlantis because he wasn't satisfied with their worship, and he's basically a Fallen Angel in the tradition of Satan with A God Am I pretensions, aiming to storm Heaven and declare himself God.
- Seems to be the case in the Narnia book The Silver Chair, where the prince is chained up for an hour every night while he goes insane, and during that time he pleads "This is the only time I'm sane! Let me out!" Of course, the time he's chained up really is the only time he's got his full wits about him.
- Zak Arranda, in Galaxy of Fear: The Brain Spiders, thinks of exactly this trope when he finds a prisoner in Jabba the Hutt's palace. Ultimately he decides to let the man free... and he hadn't done anything, but being freed means that Karkas's brain can't be transplanted into him, so Zak's sister Tash is used instead.
- The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Howling Man". A man stumbles upon a castle and finds a prisoner held captive by the monks who live there. The prisoner claims he's being held unjustly by an insane religious order, which seems to be confirmed when the head of the order insists that the prisoner is actually the Devil in disguise. The man decides to free the prisoner, and only then finds out that he really is the Devil in disguise. The man spends many years searching for him to atone for his mistake, and finally traps him again. Naturally, the man's maid thinks he's crazy for insisting that his prisoner is the Devil...
- There was an episode where the sisters try to save a man trapped in a painting, but it turns out he was evil all along.
- Another episode sees the sisters trying to save demon children from their ice cream truck prison.
- Still another episode involved a seemingly tormented insane man begging for help in an old tenement; when Prue took pity on him he turned out to be a demon who had been cursed by a priest with his power of The Empath...which he had just passed to Prue, leading to My Skull Runneth Over.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- When Captain Picard was abducted by aliens in "Allegiance," one of his fellow abductees is really a member of the alien race that captured them.
- Troi, O'Brien and Data were bodyjacked by noncorporeal beings in "Power Play." They claimed to be survivors of a Starfleet vessel that had crashed on an uncharted world about two hundred years before. They were actually convicted criminals.
- In the The Outer Limits episode "Quality of Mercy", Major Stokes and a female cadet are held prisoner on an alien world. She is taken for more experiments and wants just to die. At the climax, we find the woman is really an alien spy — and the man just told the aliens humanity's battle plans.
- Doctor Who:
- In "The Unquiet Dead", the Gelth claim to be refugees from the Great Time War who have lost their bodies and only want to use dead humans as Meat Suits. It turns out that there are many more of them than they claimed, and they want to take over all humanity, not just the dead ones.
- Then there's "Dalek", where Rose unwittingly sets a Dalek free by touching it in sympathy, allowing it to re-energize from her DNA and start kicking ass. The only person in the area (probably the country) who understood the full extent of the danger the Dalek presented was the Doctor, and he was tied up elsewhere at the time, so the Dalek was able to draw on Rose's sympathies to a captive and miserable creature.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: This is how we meet our first Vorta, Eris, as a "prisoner" of the Jem'Hadar.
- In season 4 of Angel, Angel's soul was removed to obtain information about The Beast from Angelus. After the team realized they couldn't get the information, they re-ensouled Angel and Cordelia let him out. It was ultimately subverted as Jasmine, in Cordelia's body, knew it was Angelus, which is why she let him out in the first place. It turned out Angelus pretended to be Angel, and he was free for a few episodes until he was captured and Willow re-ensouled him.
- Inverted in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Wish": Buffy finds Angel, a good guy, who was imprisoned by The Master and is unsure whether she should let him go at first, though she ultimately does.
- This happened a few times in Jim Henson's wonderful but forgotten gem The Storyteller; most notably, the episode titled 'The Heartless Giant' begins after a murderous giant convinces a young prince that he was wrongfully imprisoned, and the kingdom is destroyed.
- Bones had an episode where Booth asks the team to look over an old case of his. The man he arrested for killing a young woman still claims to be innocent, but has run out of appeals on death row. Looking into the evidence, the team manages to uncover some sordid details that indicate her secret (older) lover may have killed her instead of the man Booth arrested. Soon, the clues lead them to the location where she was actually killed before her body was moved. There they discover dozens of bodies of young women, clearly unconnected to the original girl's lover, but with evidence linking the man in jail to the site. It turns out he did kill her and all the other ones too; his plea to Booth to look at the case again was just bait to get these bodies found without having to confess. The government is forced to stay his execution while they investigate all the remains, buying him more time as a whole new round of trials and appeals begins. He even smirked about it when they figured out his ploy.
- The cherry on top is that he becomes a recurring villain for a while. At one point, he even tries to invoke this trope again, using a partner on the outside to throw into question whether he was the real serial killer after all.
- Happens several times on Supernatural as thanks to Demonic Possession even captured friends can turn out to be not-so-innocent.
- In ITV's adaptation of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple series, Moira Nicholson (a pre-Game of Thrones and Elementary Natalie Dormer) is found Bound and Gagged inside a closet, presumably as a hostage. It later turns out she was actually one of the killers the entire time, and tied herself up to try and divert suspicion.
- Played with in Kamen Rider Gaim. Kouta's sister Akira is supposedly kidnapped by the Yggdrasil corporation, who agree to release her in exchange for Kouta's Sengoku Driver. When Kouta arrives to make the exchange, it turns out the Bound and Gagged woman he thinks is his sister is actually Yoko Minato/Kamen Rider Marika in disguise.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- In "The Mansion of Mad Professor Ludlow" in Dragon magazine #42, the player characters are Boy Scouts investigating a haunted house. In one room is what appears to be an innocent maiden chained to the wall. She is actually a succubus and very hungry.
- In the original Greyhawk campaign, the demon lord Fraz-Urb'Iuu was trapped in a stone prison below Castle Greyhawk. He finally tricked two adventurers into performing several heroic deeds to free him, and rewarded them by taking them to his home plane on the Abyss as his slaves.
- Subverted in the parody module "Castle Greyhawk", in which on one level a female vampire who's supposed to play the damsel in distress in a suitably ridiculous outfit to enact this trope decides she's sick and tired of it and just attacks the player characters out of nowhere when they arrive at her "cell". She can be calmed down by offering her a change of clothes into something decent, but if ticked off any further simply fights to the death.
- In Mortal Kombat Mythologies Sub Zero, Sub-Zero (the elder) is imprisoned in the Netherrealm. His fellow prisoner is normally Scorpion, but if the player decided not to kill Hanzo Hasashi, then the other prisoner is Shinnok, the Big Bad of this game and Mortal Kombat 4. He claims that he's an unjustly imprisoned soul like Sub-Zero and notes that he's playing Raiden's "game" for the time being. His manipulation of Sub-Zero indirectly helps himself escape from the Netherrealm several years down the road.
- In one quest in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you can buy a house, only to find that it's haunted. Investigation reveals the corpse of a lich (imprisoned for being evil) who claim's he's turned good after having time to reflect on his crimes. Unfortunately Stupidity Is the Only Option if you want to complete the quest.
- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: Although it appears that the "evil" beings trapped in the black chests were originally good (the game appears to imply that they were the original four heroes of legend), the end result is the same nonetheless. They plead for Mario to let them out, so of course, he does. They curse him as thanks. Kind of subverted, because the curses help you, to the point that you literally cannot continue without "acquiring" them.
- In World of Warcraft, there's a quest in the Arathi Highlands where you're contacted by an earth princess named Myzrael, who seeks your help to escape her confinement. To free her, you kill some of her guardians and release her from her crystal prison, where you find out that she's evil. Sort of subverted though, in that she was driven to madness by the Old Gods, and now resides in Deepholm, where she is once again sane and good.
- In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, this is how you trigger the boss fight with the boss underneath Kakariko village. You are told he kidnapped one of the descendants of the sages, and in some way you can say he did it, but he also disguised himself as the girl and hid himself in his own prison.
- Happens on two different occasions in Baldur's Gate II:
- The first time is while escaping from Irenicus' dungeon. You run across an imprisoned man in a rather luxurious cell, with a large number of booby-trapped treasure chests to boot. If you let him out, he shortly afterward reveals he's a doppelganger and attacks, with rather predictable results.
- The second time is about halfway through the game, when Yoshimo, who had (potentially) joined you near the start, reveals himself as a Sixth Ranger Traitor for Irenicus, due to a geas placed on him. The next time you meet him after that, there is no way around killing him off for real.
- In Myst, Both Sirrus and Achenar try this. No matter which one you choose to release, he turns out to be evil and traps you in the book. You're meant to choose the third option.
- Albion: In the prison in the middle of the desert "near" Umajo-Kenta, one of the prisoners is a pretty, sympathetic-looking woman who tries this, complete with a promise for a reward to make it sound like a typical RPG quest. If you let her go, once you get back to the city, you'll hear that the dangerous psycho is on the loose and run into a child whose mother was killed by her. Eventually she'll be caught again, leaving you with nothing for your trouble but a guilty conscience. What's more, with the trip through the desert so long and difficult, there's a higher chance than average that the player won't still have a saved game conveniently from before releasing her when seeing the results.
- In Shadowgate, the room with the Golden Horn is also occupied by a beautiful young woman who is chained to the wall. If you try to grab the Horn, the "prisoner" will transform into a vicious werewolf that tears you apart. The only clue that something is off with the prisoner is that the description notes that she looks beautiful in moonlight.
- This is the main plot point in the 2004 Bards Tale game.
- In Batman: Arkham Asylum, you can see Clayface in a glass cell. But in fact, he changes his appearance each time the camera wanders away from him and tries to trick you into releasing him. Good thing the game doesn't offer you the opportunity to free him, or quite a few people would.
- A rare example of Arkham security working correctly: he's in a unique, hermetically sealed cell with no easy way for one person to open and warning signs clearly explaining the problem with its occupant. But if you can advance the plot (including optional parts) far enough, he'll stop pretending - not the disguise, just pretending he is that person. And since he can't fake internal organs or a skeleton, he of course shouldn't be able to fool Batman's detective vision.
- Played with in Dark Souls: you find Lautrec locked up in a cell, and while he claims he was put there unjustly he isn't very convincing. However, if you don't let him out he gets out on his own anyway—you may as well have let him out because he'd give you a small reward. Afterward, you can only stop him from doing something horrible by actually killing him.
- The Witch's House: Arguably, Ellen and Viola's body-swap can be interpreted this way. Just, in this case, the prison is a mangled body riddled with disease, and the 'freedom' is a body-swapping spell that's meant to last a day only.
- Discussed in Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura when finally reaching Arronax the Destroyer, who you expected to find locked up for his crime. Inverted; he confesses his guilt to the crime he's being punished for, but he genuinely has rehabilitated, though trusting him at all appears to be Schmuck Bait.
- In Girl Genius, Agatha mentions this trope when she first encounters Othar Tryggvassen, GENTLEMAN ADVENTURER! who asks her to free him. She believes he's doing this and does not free him; however, he actually believes he's the hero being held by the villain.
- Agatha does rescue him eventually, after learning some unflattering things about their mutual 'host'. He helps her escape at a later date in return. And then he tries killing her, so she throws him out of an airship. As it turns out, Othar is hardly a 'fake good'; his definition of 'good' just differs slightly from hers.
- Teen Titans: Raven befriends a knight hero in a book by the name of Malchoir. He tells her stories of how an evil dragon trapped him there. He teaches her powerful magic and things seem awesome. Until, The spells are dark magic that cause more chaos than good, but before Raven realizes she sets Malchoir free only to find out "Malchoir" is the name of the evil dragon, not the knight. The most that Malchior could do from within his prison was to switch his name with the knight's.
- In Disney The Little Mermaid TV series, Evil Manta used this trick and got released by Ariel. Another monster unsuccessfully tried this after making Triton a child.