"With everybody looking up their own ass, and you looking for yourself, I'd put my money on nobody finds nothing."
Bob is leading a double life, and one of his identities is instructed to spy on, capture, or kill the other.
This can occur in a number of ways: When an organization discovers it has been infiltrated and The Mole
is given the task of uncovering the spy; or when a superhero's Secret Identity
is instructed to find out the identity of his heroic alter-ego; or when a Professional Killer
who uses an alias is hired to kill his civilian identity, or when a detective or police officer is assigned to solve a crime that he himself committed.
Someone in this situation may find himself having to maintain a careful balance. He can't actually kill/capture/unmask himself; but being too intentionally incompetent might either cause suspicion to fall on him or else get another man assigned to the job — someone who won't hold back from completing it.
Sometimes a person might intentionally set himself up in this situation, using his position to Destroy the Evidence
and cover his tracks. Other times, he may not even realize it himself, in which case the discovery that he's actually been hunting himself will be The Reveal
See also Detective Mole
, Mole in Charge
, and The Killer In Me
This trope is sometimes a SPOILER.
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Anime and Manga
- Death Note: L, the world's best detective, maintains several other detective identities. When someone hires the world's second- or third-best detective to uncover L's identity, they're really hiring him. Light also does this, joining the anti-Kira task force to put him in a position to better cover up the fact that he is Kira.
- A brief aside in Kino's Journey concerns a sentient tank which has unknowingly been tasked with hunting down and destroying itself. He gets another story in the novels, where he discovers this after befriending some kids.
- An early Lupin III manga chapter featured Lupin paying an assassin to take down a crime lord. What the assassin didn't know was that he had multiple personalities, and that the crime lord in question was one of them.
- Early on in Ranma ½, before Shampoo joined the regular cast, the Amazon put Akane through forced amnesia to make her forget about Ranma. She agrees to give Ranma the cure if he does one thing for her - kill the female Ranma! (This was before Shampoo learned of Ranma's curse.) Ranma gets her to compromise by changing the demand from 'kill' to 'beat up'.
- In Lobo vs. Mask, Lobo ended up unknowingly hunting himself due to a time loop caused by the Mask.
- In Sleeper, the villain TAO's organisation goes on a hunt for the undercover operative in their midst. Naturally, Holden, the undercover operative, is right in the middle of it.
- Peter Parker got a job taking pictures of himself and was continually instructed to find incriminating evidence to put Spider-Man behind bars.
- In Pages Of Harmony, Twilight Sparkle helps organize the town to catch the pony who appears to be kidnapping other ponies from the town. Nopony realizes that she is actually the sinister pony they're looking for.
- Quirrel from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality refuses to help Harry speculate on the possibility that it was him who killed Hermione, noting that either he does too good a job, and convinces him he did it, or does too poor a job, and convinces him that he's covering up that he did it. And that yes, it has happened to him before.
- A Scanner Darkly: Bob Arctor, codenamed "Fred", a narc, goes undercover to find a drug dealer. His superiors, who don't know his true identity so as to protect him from corrupt cops, tell him that Bob is their prime suspect (mistaking money he received for successful tips for money earned from the sale of illegal drugs) and assign "Fred" to spy on himself. The screwy part is that the effects of the drug make it so that "Fred" forgets that he's Bob, so he starts to suspect himself too.
- In No Way Out, the CIA suspects that a murdered secretary was having an affair with a KGB agent and assign Kevin Costner's character to find out who it was. The problem being, he was the one having an affair with the secretary, and thus has been put in charge of finding evidence to implicate himself as a KGB sleeper agent. Complicating things further, he didn't kill the secretary, but he does work for the KGB.
- No Way Out was based on the 1948 film The Big Clock, which was set in a media company rather than the CIA.
- The Man in the Iron Mask:
Aramis: The King has ordered me to seek out the secret general of the Jesuits and kill him.
Porthos: You should let the secret general worry about that.
Aramis: Therein is the problem. I am he.
- In The Green Hornet, Chudnofsky hires the Green Hornet via e-mail to kill Britt Reid. Kato gets the e-mail and shows up (as the Green Hornet's sidekick) to rescue Britt from the villains, causing them to put the pieces together:
Chudnofsky: Britt Reid is the Green Hornet!
Scanlon: Yeah, I know. You hired a guy to kill himself.
- In Infernal Affairs, both central characters are in this situation. One is a policeman undercover in a criminal gang, while the other is a corrupt policeman secretly working for the boss of the same gang. Both end up being ordered by their apparent bosses to find the mole within their team.
- Breach. Based on the Real Life story of Robert Hanssen (see below).
- A variation occurs in the Denzel Washington vehicle Out Of Time. Matt, the police chief trying to solve a double homicide, had nothing to do with the murder, but there was lots of incriminating evidence since he was having a secret affair with one of the victims. As a result, he had to find ways to hide the evidence against him from the other cops long enough to figure out what really happened.
- Variant in Where Eagles Dare: Smith is put on the mission by Colonel Turner, who believes he is a double agent, in order to sabotage the mission and prevent the loyal British agents from carrying it out.
- In Alan Parker's Angel Heart (1987), private eye Harold Angel is hired to find a missing singer called "Johnny Favourite", with horrific results. Harold discovers that he himself is actually Johnny Favourite and had erased his own memories to escape a Deal with the Devil he had made for money and fame, sacrificing a young man and stealing his identity to accomplish this. The Devil allowed Johnny to condemn himself himself to Hell by uncovering his own evil personality, and Johnny has murdered most of his past associates and raped his own daughter to death in the process.
- Happens in The Big Hit when Lou Diamond Phillips and his crew kidnap the daughter of their boss' friend and is ordered to get her back.
- This is the premise of Looper, only in this case the protagonist has been ordered to kill his future self.
- Non-Stop: One of the people the air marshal asks to help locate the terrorist on his flight is actually working with them.
- In the fourth of the Baccano! Light Novels, the infamous assassin Vino purchases the identity of retiring hitman Felix Walken for reasons which only really make sense to himself but involves having a legal identity under which to get married. Then an enemy of Vino's adopted family tries to hire "Felix" to kill Vino. Hilarity Ensues.
- Tour of the Merrimack: In Wolf Star, an intelligence officer assigned to root out an enemy spy turns out to be the spy. He is discovered when he tries to frame someone else.
- The original novel A Scanner Darkly, which was the basis for the aforementioned movie.
- In Brothers In Arms, Admiral Naismith is hired to kidnap Lord Vorkosigan—which is quite easy for him since they happen to be the same person. The client knows about his double identity and successfully uses the job to lure him into a trap.
- In Michael Connelly's mystery novel The Poet, the Serial Killer that the FBI is hunting turns out to be one of the FBI agents.
- Arguably the Trope Codifier, which may have inspired many of the above examples, is Kenneth Fearing's novel The Big Clock. This book is about a journalist who is having an affair with a woman who is also the mistress of the owner of the magazine he works for. When the owner discovers that his mistress is unfaithful, he murders her, and then orders the journalist to find her lover so that he can frame the man for the murder.
- Invoked by Kimball Kinnison in Second Stage Lensmen. Kinnison had the Patrol plant evidence that he (in his guise as THE Lensman) was tracing the Boskonian communication lines, so that he (in his cover identity as the Boskonian Traska Gannel) would be ordered to investigate. This was a cover for Kinnison to go off-planet and join the Dauntless in following a Boskonian ship traveling down a hyperspatial tube.
- In Faded Steel Heat, Garrett mentions that this once happened to Pokey Pigotta, a former fellow-detective who used a lot of false identities and disguises in his work.
Live Action TV
- In Dino Attack RPG, being a Communications Officer, Ata was instructed by Specs to constantly review the team's communications to see if there were any suspicious messages, hoping to track down The Mole. Ata used this to his advantage by leading Specs to investigate Red Herring Moles such as Scout while covering up his own tracks.
- In Paranoia, Troubleshooter teams are sent on missions to root out traitors. Not only are all Troubleshooters traitors, sometimes they even committed the specific treason that led to the mission being assigned.
- In Clue the players are attempting to uncover the identity of Mr. Boddy's killer. Of course, one of the players may well be the guilty party.
- The play Oedipus Rex is about Oedipus' attempt to hunt down the murderer of Laius, not connecting it with that time twenty years ago when he killed an old man he met on the road...
- In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, one minor side quest has a runaway slave who poses as a guide to the slave hunter hired to bring him back in. For bonus points, the guide uses a direct translation of the name under which he is wanted, as only other members of the race (who obviously aren't going to help), the odd slave trader, and an extremely intelligent Player Character know the language.
- In the NES game The Portopia Serial Murder Case, Yasu is assigned to help the player character solve a murder that Yasu himself committed
- In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the Marked One is hunting down Strelok, who turns out to be himself.
- Occurred as a Good Bad Bug in Uplink. It was possible to get a "track down the IP of the hacker who brought down our mainframe" mission in which you are the hacker. You could then report yourself for a reward, with no negative consequences. This was fixed in a later patch.
- Three examples from Ace Attorney
- Luke Atmey is trying to catch the Kurain Urn thief, but actually committed the crime himself in order to have an alibi for the murder he would commit later.
- Tyrell Badd planted himself as the head of the Yatagarasu case to conceal evidence which would incriminate himself and his partners as the Yatagarasu.
- And a double-agent. Calisto Yew defended agents of the smuggling ring in court, in order to have access to their information and facilities to uncover the ring's dealings for the Yatagarasu...but she was double-secretly an agent of the ring herself.
- In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Adam Jensen, the Sarif Industries corporate security chief, receives emails about office thefts which give passcodes to said offices. When you plunder more stuff, more emails arrive about further thefts.
- Which can be really embarrassing if you don't realise that picking up a newspaper in an office (the only way to read it) counts as stealing it, get the email, and diligently try to track down the thief. An oddly literal example of this trope.
- Scott Shelby of Heavy Rain pretends that he's been hired by the families of the Origami Killer's victims in order to interview the parents of his latest victims and gather any evidence that might be left behind. This claim actually comes back to bite him in one ending of the game. Lauren (if she survives) does the legwork, learns that no one hired him, and realizes what he's done. She guns Shelby down in the street.
- In Gunpoint, Conway (a freelance spy) gets hired by the chief of police to help gather evidence for a murder case. Conway actually is innocent, but through Contrived Coincidence everything points towards him being the killer. With each piece of evidence you find, you can choose whether or not to withhold it. Best not withhold the fake one that's part of a Secret Test of Character, though.
- Marilith: Marilith, an assassin looking to make a little money on the side, kidnaps a rich businessman's daughter to hold for ransom. The businessman puts a bounty on the kidnapper's head. Marilith's boss then gives her the assignment of hunting down and killing the kidnapper for the bounty.
- I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space: In a bonus story, Ursula is hired by a PI to catch a woman having an affair in a women's bathroom and take photos. As the lover in question she forgets the camera.
- In Darths & Droids, Qui-Gon (as played by the shortsighted-when-roleplaying Jim) gets the help of the sand people by promising to help catch a Jedi who's been seen in the area. He intends to be (and, mostly due to large amounts of dumb luck, actually is) far out of the way before the alleged hunt takes place.
- In the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Hall Monitor", SpongeBob and Patrick take it upon themselves to catch a maniac loose in Bikini Bottom, not realizing that said "maniac" was actually SpongeBob himself, wreaking havoc in his misguided attempts to help the citizens.
- In the Easy Amnesia episode of Donkey Kong Country, DK ends up a pirate working for Kaptain Skurvy. After some decent plundering (Including the show's MacGuffin), Skurvy decides to get rid of 'Donkey Kroc' by sending him off to find...Donkey Kong. The minute DK leaves, the pirates start laughing about the Snipe Hunt.
- Family Guy: Peter accidentally kills Quagmire's new pet cat and hides the body. Quagmire is frantic to find it. At the end of the episode Quagmire offers a reward for information leading to his cat. Peter tells him "I killed your cat" and takes the money.
- Occurs in the American Dad! episode "Office Spaceman" when Roger leaks photos of himself to make money, which leads to the CIA forming an Alien Task Force. Roger then ends up leading the task force and frames Stan as the alien to cover his tracks.
- Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who was spying for the Soviet Union and later Russian Federation, was at one point the head of the FBI task force looking for a mole in the Bureau—Hanssen himself.
- Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Marshman Bailey while operating in Taskent in 1918 using the cover of an Austrian POW was hired by the Cheka to hunt down a British agent operating in the area
- A section of the Nixon tapes where President Richard Nixon and White House Chief of Staff HR Haldeman discussing who should deal with the "deep throat" leak (6/23/72):
Haldeman: Pat [FBI Director Patrick Gray] does want to. He doesn’t know how to, and he doesn’t have, he doesn’t have any basis for doing it. Given this, he will then have the basis. Hell call Mark Felt in, and the two of them …and Mark Felt wants to cooperate because…