occurs when the writers reveal a secret to the audience. Sometimes, however, the audience already knows. The dramatic tension comes from the fact that one or more characters in the story don't know, and that when they find out, the audience knows that the ramifications will be huge.
Maybe it is the fact that one of the story's main characters is in love with another character. Or perhaps we already know who the serial killer is, or that two characters are having an affair.
The audience is on tenterhooks, waiting for the rest of the characters in the story to find out. In all these cases, the reveal is an Internal Reveal.
TV networks love this device because they can promote the hell out of them. Tell the audience that this week the truth will finally be revealed, and you don't even have to hold back on what that truth is.
This tends to happen retroactively with particularly famous plot twists
: thanks to Popcultural Osmosis
, the audience already knows about what was once a regular reveal, but the characters still don't.
See also Dramatic Irony
, which often occurs before said reveal, and Reverse Whodunnit
when applied to detective stories. Compare to, but do not confuse with The Inner Reveal
where the reveal is not played for dramatic effect but serves to keep certain characters from entering subplots until necessary.
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Anime and Manga
- Tower of God - It is known from the beginning that Baam is an Irregular, i.e. somebody who entered the Tower uninvited and thus is a terrifying existence to most. But when he boldly announces that during an assembly of most of his generations regulars, jaws drop even though you already knew that.
- Mahou Sensei Negima! - The audience knows all along that the boy Ako falls in love with is really Negi magically aged up, but she doesn't find out until over 100 chapters later. Cue Shower of Angst before Ako's Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
- Also, the audience knew that the Asuna that's with Ala Alba in later chapters is an impostor long before Rakan revealed it to Negi and Chisame during his Obi-Wan Moment.
- Bleach has a number of these, most obviously the fact that Ichigo's father is a Shinigami. Ichigo has not yet figured that one out.
- As of now, he has. It literally hit him.
- It was long suspected and eventually revealed that Naruto's father was the Fourth Hokage. Naruto himself didn't discover it until a Journey to the Center of the Mind nearly 80 chapters after it was revealed to the audience in a conversation between Tsunade and Jiraiya.
- In One Piece, when the Straw Hats were brought to the Sabaody Islands, they were in search of a man who could prep their ship for Fishman Island. Then the readers were told that this person was the Pirate King's Number Two, which made fans eagerly await his inevitable meeting with Luffy.
- After Luffy's bounty goes up from 30 to 100 million Berries, and Zoro gets his first bounty of 60 million Berries, no one catches on for almost the entire Jaya arc, not even the Straw Hats themselves. Seeing Luffy's new bounty prompts an Oh Crap reaction from one member of Bellamy's crew, and Luffy only learns about his new bounty when Blackbeard's pursuing him to the Knock-Up Stream.
- On Amazon Lilly, Luffy gets the first news that his brother has been sentenced to death. He had realized that Ace was in trouble after seeing the Vivre card burning, but didn't realize how bad it was until then, although the execution had been announced days earlier.
- Much of the drama (and even some of the comedy) throughout the first season of Code Geass stems from Lelouch trying to conceal his identity as the terrorist leader Zero from both his friends and his enemies, while of course the audience knows from the very beginning. The situation is made more complex by his Geass power, which allows him to erase memories, but which only works once on any given person. The major Internal Reveal occurs in the final seconds of the season finale.
- Due to a Time Skip and some amnesia induced by The Emperor's Geass, the situation is mostly reset for the second season, with many of the characters who were previously aware of Lelouch's identity either once again oblivious or at least unsure of whether Lelouch is the "new" Zero.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, while the audience knew from the start that the master of the season's villains was the Ill Girl who was the friend of Nanoha's friend, the protagonists and antagonists didn't know this. Much of the tension comes from seeing just how soon before both sides realize just how close they actually were.
- After a number of silhouette outlines and hints for the reader's benefit, the only person who didn't know the identity of the Leader of the West before the Scavenger Hunt Arc was Ikuto.
- A bizarre inverted example in Cowboy Bebop - in the episode Wild Horses, Doohan is doing something in his garage, and the viewer is the only one who doesn't know. It makes the climax in which Doohan rescues Spike with the motherflippin' Columbia that he's been fixing up all that more awesome.
- Goku spent the entirety of the original Dragon Ball in the dark about what happened to his grandfather Son Gohan — namely, that he squashed the poor guy when in his giant ape Oozaru form on the full moon, which Bulma, Yamcha and the crew figured out pretty quickly after Goku transformed for the first time in the manga. He finally twigs to it during the Saiyan saga of Dragon Ball Z when his enemy Vegeta, a member of the Saiyan race like he is, reveals his ability to transform into a giant ape as well, as well as displaying considerably more control over it than Goku was ever able to maintain.
- In Batwoman's run on Detective Comics, Katherine "Kate" Kane's cousin Bette Kane guest-starred in several issues, culminating in a three-part arc where she was kidnapped by a serial killer that Batwoman was tracking. At the end of the arc, after she has been rescued, Bette reveals to her cousin that she is Flamebird, and wishes to be Kate's sidekick. The fact that she was a costumed character had been featured several issues earlier, and her history with the Teen Titans would have revealed it even earlier to readers who were familiar with that series, but she only reveals her secret to Batwoman at the end of the arc.
- During the Civil War, Spider-Man removes his mask at a press conference, showing the world he's really Peter Parker. The reading audience had known that for about 43 years.
- Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: had one juxtaposed with a shocking reveal. Tailgate finds out that Orion Pax, badass hero and cop became... Optimus Prime benevolent leader of the Autobots, a twist already known throughout many stories. He's amazed, just like the audience was when they find out that his friend and all around Nice Guy Senator was really Shockwave.
- In Racer and the Geek, Sunny is Telny, but his love interest doesnt know that, and he is terrified by the prospect of her finding out the truth.
- Played straight but also played with in With Strings Attached. The reader knows early on why the four are on C'hou—they've been sent by alien undergraduates as subjects in a psychology experiment—but the four don't find out who sent them until halfway through the book, at which point they intermittently interact with the “Fans,” as the four dub them. However, the Fans lie to them as to why they're there, and the four never do find out the truth.
- Night Of The Shy: Nightmare possesses Fluttershy in chapter 2, but the other characters don't find out about it until chapter 4 (except Zecora, who witnesses it, and spends the next two chapters on the run).
- In chapter 60 of Kyon Big Damn Hero, Sasaki was revealed Haruhi was trying for a Marry Them All sitiation with Kyon and the girls of the SOS Brigade, while the audience already knows this: developing bonds between the girls so they can rely emotionally not only on Kyon has been an objective for dozens of chapters beforehand.
- A Growing Affection has a few of them.
- Hinata's Anguished Declaration of Love in the first chapter.
- Sakura admits to herself and Lee that she has feelings for Naruto.
- Sakura tells Naruto she has feelings for him.
- The reveal of Naruto's father, though this was not previously revealed in the story and counts on the reader knowing it from canon.
- The reveal that Tobi is Madara. But unlike canon, in this fanfic it is actually true.
- In Mega Man Reawakened, Robert reveals the full truth of his half-human, half-robot nature to Quentin Emerald, stunning him.
- In the finale of Arc 4, Blues reveals to Robert that they are brothers.
- In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, in episode 11, chapter 6, Wily finds out about ProtoMan's betrayal, courtesy of Bass.
- In the same chapter, Mega Man finally sees the full video of Proto Man's activation.
- Episode 11, chapter 11, has the reveal that Mr. Black is on the heroes' side.
- Child Of The Storm has a few of these: Jean Grey is Harry's cousin, Bucky Barnes is alive and the Winter Soldier, Lucius Malfoy murdered Harry's maternal grandparents and Tony's father was the White King of the Hellfire Club and his mother was Sage of the X-Men. It would have more if it wasn't for the fact that Word of God seems to enjoy shocking the audience at the same time as the characters.
- Halfway through Vertigo, the audience learns that Judy, who initially only seems to be a woman with an uncanny resemblance to Scottie's dead love Madeleine, actually is Madeleine. More accurately, the "Madeleine" Scottie met was only Judy impersonating as her. The audience's knowledge of Judy's secret makes her eventual giving in to Scottie's demands to make her into his lost love's image even more ironic.
- Hitchcock explained his motivation for this reveal in his interviews with François Truffaut; once the audience knows the truth, their sympathies are divided between the protagonists.
- The ending of Kill Bill Volume 1 reveals that the Bride's daughter is still alive. She herself doesn't find out until the end of Volume 2, during her final confrontation with Bill.
- If you watch the Star Wars films in number order (as Word of God supposedly intended it), The Reveal in The Empire Strikes Back becomes this.
- Then again ...
- But if you watch them in release date order the prequels are sort of a Reverse Whodunnit to find out why Anakin falls to the dark side.
- To reconcile the two, an intrepid blogger invented "Machete Order"—IV V II III VI—which preserves the major reveal in ESB and recasts the prequels as a sort of "How We Got Here" interquel. (He was also pleased to find out that Episode I could be safely consigned to the Canon Discontinuity bin without anyone noticing.)
- The scene in Return of the Jedi where Luke tells Leia that Vader is his father and she is his sister was this already, as well as the scene later on when Leia tells Han.
- The Shop Around the Corner and its inferior remake You've Got Mail are built around this trope, with two Internal Reveals. Half-way through Alfred/Joe finds out that rival Klara/Kathleen is actually his secret sweetheart, and the rest of the film sees the audience waiting for Klara/Kathleen to find out the truth.
- In Gilda, the audience learns that Mundson survived the plane explosion immediately. Our lovebirds need to wait until the climax.
- Tangled: Rapunzel sees the Corona's sun emblem - which she'd only seen for the first time after leaving the tower - hidden subliminally throughout her own artwork, which along with a healthy dose of No Infantile Amnesia leads her to to the conclusion that she's the lost princess. Of course, the audience has known since the introduction.
- Frozen: Elsa only discovers that her powers have triggered an Endless Winter two thirds of the way through the film, when Anna arrives to tell her during For the First Time in Forever (Reprise). This only makes things even worse.
- In the ninth Alex Rider-book, Scorpia Rising, the audience finds out about Scorpia's plan to manipulate the MI6 to send Alex to Cairo in the beginning of the book. The rest of the book revolves around showing the MI6 falling straight into the trap, and Alex finding out about Scorpia's true plan.
- The novel From Russia with Love spends nearly half of the text detailing the history of the assassin Red Grant and the decision-making processes of the upper echelons of the Soviet spy machine, before revealing its plan to murder James Bond (using Grant) by luring him with the Fake Defector Tatiana Romanova. The other half is how Bond falls into (and gets out of) the trap.
Live Action TV
- Eastenders has made this its main strategy for driving ratings over the past 10 years (or even longer). Examples:
- Grant Mitchell finding out about the affair between his wife Sharon and brother Phil.
- Kat Slater telling her "sister" Zoe that they were actually mother and daughter.
- Bradley Branning finding out on Christmas Day that his dad had an affair with Bradley's wife Stacey when the two of them briefly split up.
- Phil Mitchell finding out that his ex-girlfriend Lisa's daughter was also his daughter, not her new husband Mark's.
- Phil finding out - on his wedding day - that his fiance Stella was psychologically abusing his son Ben.
- Bianca Jackson finding out that her boyfriend Tony was sleeping with her 14-year old step-daughter Whitney.
- Ronnie Mitchell finding out that Danielle Jones was the daughter that she gave away as a teenager.
- The audience found out who was blackmailing Syed before anyone in the story did. it was Lucy Beale.
- Friends had "The One Where Rachel Finds Out" that Ross has a crush on her, followed by "The One Where Ross Finds Out" after Unrequited Love Switcheroo.
- Monica and Chandler's relationship was treated like this a bit, too. The audience knew by the morning after, but they tried to keep it secret from other characters. Joey found out after several episodes so they were forced to confide in him, until the secret got out to Rachel and Phoebe in one episode, and finally Ross later that episode. Amusingly, Joey was the only one to figure it out just by connecting dots.
- The LOST audience found out Claire was Jack's half-sister more than a season before Jack did.
- Not to mention Richard's immortality, the extent of the Smoke Monster's abilities and influence, and characters like Christian Shepherd and Libby having met various Losties before their arrival on the Island. Mostly they're due to the flashback/flashforward structure of the story and the characters inability to communicate whatever new information they've learned (seriously, half the mysteries on the show would've been solved in season 1 if people had just compared notes).
- What were they supposed to do? "Hello, fellow survivor of an airline crash, this is a list of all the people I've ever met. Anyone seem familiar?"
- After the fifteenth time two strangers turned out to have a connection relevant to their current situation? Yeah, maybe.
- Heroes: The audience finds out that Nathan is Claire's father before Claire does.
- Don't forget most of the second season, like Hiro finding out that Adam killed his father when it was already incredibly obvious in Peter's storyline.
- Lois and Clark had the episode where Lois Lane finally figures out that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person.
- Niles was in love with Daphne on Frasier for years and years before she finally found out.
- Boomer was revealed to be a Cylon sleeper agent at the end of the Battlestar Galactica miniseries. Most of the cast, including Boomer herself, didn't find out until the end of season one.
- In the fifth season of Angel when Lindsey shows himself to Spike and calling himself Doyle, any viewers who followed the show know something is up because the real Doyle did the same thing for Angel.
- Done to a frustrating level in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When will Joyce learn that Buffy is a Slayer? When will Buffy learn that Riley is working for The Initiative? When will the cast learn that Willow and Tara are romantically involved? When will the Scoobies learn Ben and Glory are the same person? And so on. One of the things that "Once More With Feeling" is notable for is revealing just about every secret the characters had to each other. Of course, by the next episode there was another half dozen drama-sustaining secrets put into place.
- Ben being Glory was played with, in that it was revealed that a spell stopped people from remembering the fact that they inhabited the same body. So even when they did find out, they didn't know.
- Buffy having been in heaven prior to her friend "saving her" through resurrection was one of the internal reveals in "Once More With Feeling", and was one of the most emotional of the lot.
- Spike kept his soul secret from Buffy for a couple of episodes, making for quite a powerful scene when she finally realised.
- Doctor Who has done this several times, often using viewers' knowledge of the show before it was brought back.
- The first season episode "Dalek" for example, has two for anyone who knew the episode title — first when the Doctor realises that there is a Dalek, and then when the rest of the characters realised how dangerous Daleks are.
- Any time there are reasonably knowledgeable alien lifeforms in the show, we wait eagerly for them to realise that this is that Doctor.
- Done to powerful emotional effect in the episode "Vincent and the Doctor". The episode features the Doctor meeting Vincent van Gogh, who is portrayed as full of self-doubt and insecurity. After the Monster of the Week has been defeated, the Doctor takes Vincent to the Musée D'Orsay in the present day, and leads him up to the van Gogh collection. There, he asks a tour guide, in earshot of Vincent, where he thinks van Gogh rates in the history of art.
Mr Black: Well... big question! But to me, van Gogh was the finest painter of them all. Certainly he is the most popular great artist of all time. The most beloved. His command of colour the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. To portray pain is easy, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world... no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world's greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.
- In the episode "Asylum of the Daleks" we met Oswin Oswald, a girl trapped on the Daleks' asylum planet who served as the Doctor's Voice with an Internet Connection. We see her in her base, but because we eventually learn she was forcibly converted into a Dalek, the Doctor himself never sees her face. Due to this, in a later episode, when the Doctor meets Clara Oswald, he fails to recognize her even though the audience is perfectly aware it's the same person. Only after Clara dies does the Doctor realize she was the same person and she died both times he encountered her, setting off the big mystery of season seven.
- Supernatural first reveals to the audience that Sam's been powering up by drinking demon blood. Dean is the last person to know.
- Fringe - Peter finding out that he is Walter's Replacement Goldfish from the Alternate Universe. The reveal to the audience happens at the end of the first season, but once Olivia figures it out in the middle of the second, the audience knows it's only a matter of time until the beans are spilled, and the writers milked it for all the tension they could. Peter's reaction to the reveal does not disappoint (well, it may have been a What the Hell, Hero? for some people, but it was so worth the wait).
- Power Rangers RPM: Doctor K creating Venjix. The Rangers don't find out until a few episodes after the audience did, and General Truman and co don't find out for quite some time after that.
- In the second series of Being Human, the audience knows that Lucy is Dr. Jaggat as soon as the latter appears on screen. Mitchell remains in the dark until she's killed his vampire charges and the priest he's interrogating about her whereabouts refers to her by her surname.
- The Joe Schmo Show is built around this, with the ending of each of its seasons featuring the reveal to the chosen schmo (or schmoes in season two) that the entire reality show they've been participating in was fake and everyone they were supposedly competing again was actually an actor.
- Anyone who has been exposed to popular media in the last 20 years knows that the title character on Hannibal is a serial killer who will later be known as "Hannibal the Cannibal". Part of the drama in the series is when and how Will Graham will figure it out.
- It's also played as a bit of a wink to the audience in one episode when Jack Crawford is having a meal at Lecter's and innocently asks what the meat is. Mads Mikkelson draws out the pause before saying it's just pork.
- Not to mention the lion in the room metaphor, and the little in-jokes Hannibal likes to make.
- Farscape got a nice bit of mileage out of this trope:
- Moya's pregnancy, first revealed to the audience in the season one episode "They've Got A Secret," has significant implications for multiple villains of the week when they discover this over the rest of the season, such as sending Durka into a full-on Villainous Breakdown when he realizes Moya's condition prevents her from utilizing StarBurst to escape a Nebari vessel he really doesn't want to go back to.
- Harvey's existence has the distinction of not only getting played as The Reveal, but an Internal Reveal as well. For the same character! Harvey first reveals himself to Crichton as a bizarre Enemy Mine to help Crichton escape capture by the Scarrans in "Won't Get Fooled Again," but by the end of the episode has erased his existence from Crichton's mind. Later in season 2, Scorpius himself reveals Harvey's presence to Crichton, which ultimately sets up the season finale.
- In season 3 we get a couple doozies:
- First, Zahn discovers Aeryn is still alive as The Reveal, sacrificing her own life to bring her back. The Internal Reveal occurs later in the episode, when Aeryn pulls a Big Damn Heroes to save Crichton and D'Argo from a Scarran agent.
- In the same episode, Chiana and Jothee sleep together. The following episode D'Argo finds out, which completely destroys his relationship with Jothee and isn't repaired again until the finale miniseries.
- "Incubator" reveals Scorpius's backstory to the audience, which he later relates to Crichton in "Into the Lion's Den: Part I," to show him just why he's so desperate to construct a wormhole weapon. The revelation of just how dangerous the Scarrans are and Scorpius's drive to defend the galaxy (supported by the agreement of Harvey, who has Scorpius' memories and intellect, but "not his passions and his fears") almost convinces Crichton to go back on his plan to destroy the wormhole weapon project and consider helping him for real.
- After Crichton is "twinned" in "Eat Me," a substantial part of the season splits the crews between Moya and Talyn, with one Crichton on each. Talyn!John dies, sacrificing himself to destroy a Scarran Dreadnought. Moya!John learning of this when the crews finally reunite several episodes later severely impacts his relationship with Aeryn.
- A big one is set up by The Reveal that Aeryn is pregnant in the season 3 finale. Noranti tells Crichton immediately, while the Internal Reveal to various other characters ( including Crichton revealing to Aeryn that he knows) drives a fair bit of interactions between Aeryn and the rest of the crew for much of season 4, as well as further damaging Crichton and Aeryn's relationship.
- Crichton taking drugs supplied by Noranti over most of the season to suppress his feelings for Aeryn does not go over well with her when she finds out. Her furious confrontation with him and outright ordering him to stop taking them ultimately reconciles them and leads to them finally getting together for good.
- The premise of the first season of Once Upon a Time is that all of the people in Storybrooke are fairy tale characters magic'd into thinking they're not. The audience learns this quickly. The Huntsman starts to understand, but then he's killed. Much later Emma gets a proper Internal Reveal, and then the whole town.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. "Turn, Turn, Turn" brought the show's characters (and any viewers who missed the movie) up to speed on what happened in Captain America: The Winter Soldier: HYDRA had infiltrated SHIELD, the Triskelion (SHIELD HQ) was destroyed, and Nick Fury was dead. The next episode had Coulson learn that Nick Fury was secretly alive.
- Also in "Turn, Turn, Turn," the audience learns that Agent Grant Ward is The Mole. It's not until two episodes later that someone on the regular team finds out, and the rest of the main cast find out in the episode after that.
- Breaking Bad sat on the reveal that Walt watched Jane die for three and a half seasons. Much of the tension between Jesse and Walt was heightened with the viewer's knowledge that the truth would eventually out. The episode where Walter reveals the truth is widely regarded as the best of the entire show.
- Othello - The audience knows from the beginning that Iago is a Manipulative Bastard, but the majority of the other characters don't find out until the play's climax.
- Similarly, Edmund of King Lear outs himself to the audience as a Manipulative Bastard out to banish his brother Edgar and usurp his father, Duke of Gloucester early on in Act I. The latter two only find out about it during Act III, when things come to a head and Edmund has Goneril and Regan gouge his father's eyes out.
- Similarly (and perhaps more importantly) Goneril and Regan discuss getting rid of their father - or at the very least, putting him in his place - as early as the first scene. Lear only realises his daughters have turned on him at the end of Act II, just in time for them to turn him out into a storm. This, coupled with the added realisation that he banished his only loving daughter, Cordelia (yet another piece of knowledge the audience was already privy to), drives him to madness.
- An interesting and common variation on this trope is to have the big secret hid from the player character, typically by means of showing a cutscene from elsewhere. For example, in The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Link and Ezlo don't find out until near the end that Vaati has been impersonating the King since they had headed off toward the swamp.
- Final Fantasy X makes use of this for most of its biggest plot-points:
- Rikku's identity as an Al Bhed is this for the majority of the rest of the party in at two different points; Auron and Lulu find out when she joins the main party, and Wakka and possibly Kimahri find out after fighting her brother's machina.
- Yuna's Al Bhed heritage is also one (but for Wakka only). He finds out some time after Rikku's secret is outed, from Rikku's father (Yuna's uncle) no less.
- The fact that Sin is Jecht is given to the player (and Tidus) very early on, but the rest of the party only find out on Mt. Gagazet. Well, the rest of the party save Auron, who is the one that reveals it to Tidus.
- Auron reveals himself to Tidus as an Unsent after fighting Yunalesca (but there were already many hints at this to the player) — the Internal Reveal comes at the end, when he has Yuna Send him in front of everyone. But it's strongly implied that Kimahri already knew about this, as he had encountered the dying Auron.
- Possibly the biggest of all: Tidus finds out he's a Dream of the Fayth, and will eventually disappear if Sin is permanently defeated, comes just after the first half of Mt. Gagazet (and one hell of a boss fight). It's only several gameplay hours later that Yuna begins to suspect something is awry, and he only openly admits the truth just before the final battle.
- In El Goonish Shive, the build-up of one particular relationship mess. The fans had diagrams. To quote a recap:
Nanase likes the ladies, and knows that Elliot and Susan know.
Elliot knows that Ellen knows, very likely knows that Susan knows and may know that Justin knows.
Ellen knows that Elliot, Susan and Justin know.
Susan knows that Ellen and Justin know.
Justin knows that Susan and Ellen know.
Sarah knows that Grace and Susan know.
Grace knows that Sarah and Susan know.
Tedd is completely clueless.
- In American Dragon Jake Long, the audience finds out that Jake's crush Rose is actually the secret identity of his archenemy Huntsgirl quite early on in the series, but Jake doesn't find out until near the end of the first season.
- In Dog City, the cartoonist drawing Ace's story was fighting with another cartoonist on whether or not to reveal the villian's plan to the viewer. They re-painted over the scene a few times.
- The identity of Mr. E in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is revealed to the audience in episode 21, but as of the season finale the gang still hasn't figured it out.
- The opening of the first episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic explains to the audience the story of Princess Celestia's sister, Luna, and how she became corrupted into Nightmare Moon. Only at the end of the premiere does the rest of the cast learn of Nightmare Moon's relationship to Celestia.