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Fourth Wall Psych
Any time a character appears to be Breaking the Fourth Wall, but a moment later it is revealed that their action has a perfectly legitimate in-universe explanation; the Fourth Wall is in fact intact.

For example, a character may look into the camera and seem to address the audience directly, only for the scene to pull back and reveal they were talking to another character who is "behind" the camera. Or, a character may appear to be making a Screen Tap, but they're actually tapping on a window to get another character's attention from the other side.

Related to Aside Glance. Compare and contrast also Aside Comment, where a character seems to address the audience, but no commitments about whether they really do are made either way. Not to be confused with Leaning on the Fourth Wall, wherein the fact that the characters are in a fictional work is lampshaded in the dialogue.

For cases where a character taps on a literal "fourth wall" between them and the audience, see Screen Tap. See also Unseen Audience, Behind the Black.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • A commercial for the Visa Check Card had a woman telling the camera about the product, explaining its advantages. She concludes by saying "If you had the Visa Check Card..." Cut to the guy she's actually speaking to. "...I could get out of this line already!"

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Deadpool does this once with Arcade, though it's unusual, because that series has No Fourth Wall.
  • Marvel Comics' Uatu The Watcher had been apparently talking directly to the readers for years—until it was revealed (in an issue of Quasar) that he was actually addressing a recording device, recording his impressions of events for the people of the universe that will come after this one. So technically, he was just filming his own Vlog.
  • In Young Avengers vol. 2, Kid Loki appears to be delivering an Audience Monologue in an amber void, elaborating on his character. On the next page, he is revealed to be in a field of clouds in the sky at dusk, haranguing the real Loki.
  • The Futurama comic did this in issue 46, Follow the Reader; it starts with the Professor talking directly to the reader to explain how the Choose Your Own Adventure format works. It then appears that he was babbling because Bender spiked his drink.

    Fan Works 

    Film 
  • Pirates Of Silicon Valley: The movie starts off with Steve Jobs talking about a film. You think he is talking about the movie when he is really talking to the director of the "1984" commercial, Ridley Scott.
  • In Gangs of New York, Bill the Butcher points directly at the camera after assassinating newly elected Sheriff Monk with a meat cleaver. Based on context, we find out he's talking to the (unseen) clients in Monk's barber shop.
    Bill: That, my friends, is the minority vote. Why don'tcha burn 'im, see if his ashes turn green.
  • In the theatrical version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, at one point Rosencrantz shouts "Fire!"—in a crowded theater, of course—and then seemingly watches the audience with contempt as they stay in their seats, and mutters "They should burn to death in their shoes." But in context, he's just referring to the other characters in the play.
  • Since the only camera in Slashers is also the only cameraman in the studio, the entire movie blends this with Leaning on the Fourth Wall. Characters speaking to the camera could be addressing the cameraman, the live studio audience or the movie viewer.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Smith features a scene where Jane is frisking John for weapons on a dance floor. At one point, the scene is framed so that you only see them from the shoulders up, face to face, when Jane lowers her head below the frame. John turns to the camera and winks, at which point cuts to show that he's winking at an elderly couple, also dancing.
  • One scene of Brooklyn's Finest has Tango doing this, though it was clearly shown who he was speaking to before this.
  • Oliver Stone's JFK ends with Jim Garrison making a passionate speech about the importance of truth, however much people in power try to bury it, with the camera angle making it look like he's talking directly to the audience toward the end.
  • Free Birds has Jake appear to talk directly to the audience. Then Reggie asks who he's talking to, and Jake points to his own reflection in a hubcap whom he assumes to be another soldier for the cause. See how he's nodding?
  • The Laurel and Hardy short Helpmates opens with Ollie seemingly addressing the audience and scolding them for throwing a wild party the night before. Camera pulls back and we see that he's actually talking to himself in the mirror.

    Live Action TV 
  • Scrubs does this on several occasions when they are not abusing the Fourth Wall outright.
    • Three times in a row on one episode, with JD continually turning and asking, "What do you think?" "But what do you think?" "All that matters is what America thinks," about his new tailored Italian suit. It turns out he's asking 1. His friends 2. His residents 3. His tailor, who protests his name is "Amerigo", and adds of course he likes it, he made it.
    • Happens again in the eighth season when they switched from NBC to ABC. JD points to the bottom corner of the frame (where the ABC logo/watermark resides) and comments "hey, that's new!", at which point the camera cuts to what he was actually pointing at.
  • In the first episode of the fourth season of 30 Rock, Jack turns to the camera and says "Welcome to Season 4." The camera pans away and it's revealed he's introducing people to a new, swanky restaurant named "Season 4."
  • In an episode of Burn Notice, Michael Westen described the things he'd discovered over the course of the last half-season while looking right into the camera. Turned out he was talking to The Handler, who had told him to investigate those things.
  • In a season 3 episode of WEEDS, Shane addresses the fourth wall and says "Yeah, it's just a bug in the system". In the next episode it is revealed that he was speaking to his late father, Judah.
  • Furuhata Ninaburou: just before the final act, Furuhata usually pauses the action to address the home audience directly, but in "Furuhata vs SMAP", he approaches the camera to apparently yell at the fourth wall for interfering in a crime scene—except that turns out to be a SMAP staff member.
  • "Little Brown Noses", an episode of Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: Marian and the gang are holding a charity telethon (despite the fact that it's The Dung Ages and television hasn't been invented yet; it's that kind of series). After a while, the scene cuts away to show what the villains are up to, then cuts back to the telethon, where the MC goes into a back-from-the-commercial-break style "Welcome back" spiel. The camera then turns to the telethon's in-story audience, one of whom wonders out loud who's being welcomed back, since nobody's actually gone anywhere in the meantime.
  • Happens in an episode of How I Met Your Mother when Barney is addressing what appears to be the audience about Christmas being the time of giving. He then says the greatest gift is the gift of booty and "why not bang someone in need?", with the camera switching to the girl he was talking to.
  • Supernatural Castiel looks straight at the camera and says, "Let me tell you my story." Then we find out he's talking to God.
  • The Prisoner has the episode "A, B, and C" where Number 6's dreams are examined for clues to why he resigned. In the end he figures out what's going on and takes control of the dream, and teases the Village overlords observing the process with the idea that he's about to reveal everything: "We mustn't disappoint the people watching."
  • At the end of an episode of Brotherly Love, a character looks like she is giving historical information to the audience, but she's just giving it to The Ditz in the cast.
  • Chef — In a season one episode, Gareth wigs out on Everton in his signature style. After a minute or two, they pause, and Everton slowly looks at the camera. Then Chef does. This is, of course, the camera placed there earlier by a documentary film crew.
  • In The Mrs Bradley Mysteries, the title character frequently addresses the camera directly. Sometimes it turns out to be Fourth Wall Psych, other times it's actual Fourth Wallbreaking.
  • Count Arthur Strong - From time to time, Arthur adresses an imaginary audience. He has no idea there really is an audience, he's just acting out a fantasy.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • There is a Calvin and Hobbes strip drawn through the eyes of Hobbes. At the start, Calvin looks at the fourth wall and asks "Are you ready?", but was actually talking to Hobbes.
    • There's also the time he talks about a little boy living in an oppressed country who dreams of coming to America and learning about freedom. He says he wants to meet that little boy—and the camera cuts to reveal he's sitting at the dinner table with his family—"and tell him the awful truth about this place!" Dad tells him to pipe down and eat his lima beans.

    Video Games 
  • Played for scares in Ghost Trick. When someone tries to talk to a ghost and they aren't using the ghost world, their sprite will turn and directly face the viewer as if talking to the player themselves. And when Yomiel does it, catching you in the act of trying to save Cabanela, it's fucking terrifying.
  • This happens once in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. While exploring Castle Town, you can run into a guy that appears to be trying to catch the attention of the actual player behind the screen. If you walk down his line of sight in game though, it turns out that he's actually addressing another (very confused) NPC.
  • In the final cutscene of Assassin's Creed II, Minerva begins her monologue talking to Ezio, but turns to stare into the camera a few sentences in. When Ezio expresses his profound confusion, she tells him that she's not talking to him and continues to talk to the camera, despite his protests that there's no one else there. It isn't until the end of the cutscene that she confirms she's addressing future Desmond and friends. It should be noted that this is technically still breaking a fourth wall, just not The Fourth Wall.
  • Dante does this in his ending in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Talking to Ghost Rider.
  • Team Fortress 2: In "Meet the Medic", the Scout is blasted by rockets and appears to crash into the camera, until it's revealed he actually flew against a window.
  • Lunar: Silver Star Story has an inversion. After capturing the White Dragon, the Magic Emperor states that he will need a queen, just as the camera pans down at Luna's back, and just as she's standing before him. The camera then switch's to Luna's horrified face, complete with an extreme close up. We all know that she's staring at the Magic Emperor, but the fact that it looks as if she's looking directly at us increases the tension, not to mention making that particular scene even more creepy.

    Visual Novels 
  • Sharin No Kuni, Himawari no Shoujo: The main character, Kenichi, spends the majority of the game addressing the audience directly and making random narrations. The fifth chapter of the game reveals that everything of that sort was actually directed at his sister, Ririko, who has been present for almost the entire game, but was never directly acknowledged because she is under a legal punishment where acknowledging her existence in any way is a capital crime.
  • Zigzagged by Bernkastel in Umineko no Naku Koro ni often addresses 'the audience', but in Ep7 she's speaking specifically to an audience of witches, Featherine among them, giving them rhetorical statements it sounds like she would make to the audience of readers. So which fourth wall is she breaking, the one within the medium or beyond it?

    Web Comics 
  • In a Killroy and Tina strip, The Ditz Brandon says he's saying what Tina already knows for the benefit of those people watching them — and it turns out a couple of nearby kids are eavesdropping on the characters.
  • Beautifully exemplified in this Cyanide and Happiness strip.
  • Roger did this once in College Roomies from Hell!!!. The "camera" never moves, but the others comment that he's apparently talking to a Simpsons poster (he's high on hallucinogenic mushrooms at the time).
  • In Whomp!, Ronnie apologizes to the viewers for making terrible webcomics. The scene is reversed to show him talking to repair men because he thinks his comics have broken his internet connection.

    Web Original 
  • In the Potter Puppet Pals episode Harry's Nightmares Harry turns to the camera and asks for comments and subscriptions. The camera shifts to show he's talking to Hermione and Ron who have no idea what he's talking about.

    Western Animation 
  • Because The Simpsons tend to embrace This Is Reality despite being a farce, they prefer this trope to more overt Fourth Wall gags... except on Halloween Episodes and other specials where they are allowed to resort to Leaning on the Fourth Wall.
    • In "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" Dr. Hibbert says that he can't solve this case, and then points at the audience and says, "Can you?" The camera changes angles to show that he's really pointing at Chief Wiggum.
    Chief Wiggum: Yeah, I'll give it a shot. I mean, you know, it's my job, right?
    • At the end of the episode "Duffless" when Homer decides he would rather take Marge on a romantic bike ride than have a drink at Moe's, the other barflies leave with him causing Moe to exclaim "You'll be back, and you" than he points to the audience and says "And yoooou". Moe is revealed to be talking to Barney who replies, "Of course I'll be back. If you didn't close I'd never leave."
      • This is a clear reference to the same line in the unintentional classic Reefer Madness.
    • A variation occurs in the episode "Mom and Pop Art", in which Homer is displeased to see artwork from series creator Matt Groening's Life In Hell in an art museum, because "He (Groening) can't draw!" Suddenly, the eraser of a giant pencil descends from above and appears to strike him in retaliation, prompting Homer to scream, "Help! I'm being erased!" In the next shot, it is revealed that the giant pencil is merely an art exhibit being relocated.
    • This was inverted in The Simpsons Movie: while the family is watching the Itchy and Scratchy Movie, Homer expresses incredulity that they're paying to see something they can watch on TV for free, points at the audience of the theater they're in saying that "everyone in this theater is a giant sucker"... and the "camera" swivels so that Homer looks like he's directly pointing at the "real" audience while saying "Especially YOU!"
    • In the Da Vinci Code spoof Gone Maggie Gone, Lisa presents a puzzle then faces the camera and asks "Can you solve it?" right before a commercial break. When we return, it's revealed that she's talking to Milhouse.
  • In one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, "Survival of the Idiots", there's a scene where SpongeBob and Patrick are attempting to escape Sandy's treedome, during which there's a shot that makes it look as if SpongeBob is trying to open up the TV screen and escape into the viewers' world. A quick cutaway reveals that he's actually trying to open the door to the treedome.
  • In the final scene of the second season of Beast Wars, Megatron rants about how he's changed history so that the villains win. At the end of his speech, he points towards the screen and exclaims "And YOU! You no longer EXIST!" In context, he's pointing to the Maximals who were just in the foreground as the shot zoomed in.
  • In the middle of one episode of The Replacements, Sheldon essentially summarizes everything that had happened thus far in the episode, after which he looks directly at the fourth wall and says "What do YOOUUU think [will happen]?" Cut to Buzz, who is standing right in front of him.
  • In one of the Jimmy Neutron/The Fairly OddParents Cross Over specials this was a Running Gag. Sheen would ask, seemingly no one in particular, "Do you know what this means?! Do you?" He would then lean directly at the camera, asking "Do yoooouuu?" We then switch angles and zoom out to see that each time, he's asking Libby, who exasperatedly tells him to back off.
  • The episode "Lesson Zero" of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has Pinkie Pie, the resident fourth-wall master, skip over to a picnic with a basket, and when she uncovers it, a cluster of balloons floats out and carries it away. Pinkie then appears to look at the audience for approval of her gag, and being disappointed when she doesn't see a reaction. This is due to her taking up the entire screen before hand focusing the viewer on the party pony. A second look shows that she's actually looking for a reaction from Fluttershy, whom the viewer likely didn't notice enter the frame via zoom-out.
    • In the same season, in "A Friend In Deed", Pinkie's "morning workout" involves making random silly faces and noises to the camera... until we find out she's actually trying to entertain the baby twins Pound and Pumpkin Cake.note 
    • The whole idea of Pinkie Pie being a fourth wall breaker initially was based on an animation error in the final shot of the season 1 episode "Bridle Gossip" that makes her appear to be staring at the camera, then the production team made her a fourth wall-breaker intentionally.
  • In the Adventure Time episode "The Eyes", Finn and Jake both look at the camera while Finn says he has the feeling that someone is watching them. The camera pans back during the last part of the sentence to show that they're actually looking out the window at a horse standing on a nearby hill, watching them.

Fourth Wall PortraitFourth WallFourth Wall Shut In Story
Fourth Wall ObserverMetafiction Demanded This IndexThe Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You

alternative title(s): Tapping On The Fourth Wall
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