"My father taught me many things here — he taught me in this room. He taught me — keep your friends close but your enemies closer.
Alice knows that if she ever turned her back on Bob, he might stab her in the back
. Surely, Bob is too dangerous to keep around... but, on the other hand, so long as Alice keeps an eye on Bob, she'll always know what he's doing. So, what better way for Alice to keep an eye on Bob than to keep Bob around Alice?
Often times, Alice keeps Bob close by appointing him to a position of power, such as her personal adviser. Alternatively, Alice might associate herself with Bob's friends, or in rare occasions, might even try to form a relationship with Bob himself
. Anything that can work to keep Bob under check at all times.
This trope does not necessarily apply only to villains or traitors, but also to any character who could become a dangerous loose cannon if left unmonitored, such as a Blood Knight
. It is safer to keep these characters around you, so you always are aware of their actions and motivations, than to risk letting them slip under the radar. In the case of the aforementioned Blood Knight, it is safer to keep the Blood Knight in your army than it is to discharge him and not know where he is or whom his next target might be.
This trope is risky to pull off, since it can backfire and Bob will have a much easier time stabbing Alice in the back than he would have if she stayed far away from him.
Compare Living with the Villain
; contrast Go-Karting with Bowser
. If you get too
close, it may result in Foe Romance Subtext
or Dating Catwoman
Anime and Manga
- Bleach. Captain Shinji Hirako of the 5th Division distrusted Sosuke Aizen and made Aizen his lieutenant so he could keep an eye on him. Aizen found a way around this by using a dummy. Ironically, Aizen explains that the fact that he never trusted him is how he was able to make it work. If Shinji had gotten to know Aizen better, then he would've noticed that the double's mannerisms didn't quite match his own. Since he kept Aizen at a distance, he never learned enough about him to see through the deception. In the end Aizen used his position to perform evil experiments and eventually turn Hirako and a number of other high level Soul Reapers into hollows.
- In Death Note, L's primary tactic at one point is to actually keep Light handcuffed to him so he can't act as Kira. This backfires on him because it allows Light to come into contact with the Death Note again.
- In Code Geass, Lelouch does this to Rolo during the Geass raid and the second Tokyo battle before he intends to dispose him as payback for murdering Shirley. Unfortunately for the former, Rolo makes various other Black Knights suspicious by telling them he trusts him the most. Should've reined him in a bit more.
- Earlier in the season, Villetta and Rolo are assigned to the OSI detail to watch over Lelouch in order to keep him from using his Geass or becoming Zero. Lelouch manages to flip the script on them both via blackmail of the former's relationship with Ohgi, and convincing the latter that he has no future with Britannia, respectively. (Unfortunately, he fails to keep an absolute leash on either.)
- It can be argued that Code Geass deconstructed this trope as it shows how keeping enemies like Rolo and Villetta close like Lelouch did can and usually is very risky and probably will backfire as well as the actions of both Rolo and Villetta play a major part in Lelouch losing control of the Black Knights and finally in the end doing Zero requiem. In the process which probably wouldn't have happened if he had gotten rid of those two like he should have. But it does play into Lelouch's obsession with control.
- Naruto: The 2nd Hokage never trusted the Uchiha clan and felt their extreme emotions meant that even as allies they were a Face-Heel Turn waiting to happen. Later events would prove that he had a point. He put them in charge of Konoha's law enforcement so that he could more easily keep an eye on them.
- Michael Corleone of The Godfather Part II is the Trope Namer, who learned this trope as a lesson from Vito and practices it with Roth and Don Altobello.
- In Blade 2, Blade knew that Scud was a traitor the whole time, but kept him around for this reason.
- In The Chronicles of Magravandias, Valraven, the emperor's most valued general, is married to Princess Varencienne for this purpose.
- Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. When the conspiracy learns the names of all of the Lunar Authority's spies, Wyoming Knott wants them to be killed but Professor Bernardo de la Paz has other plans.
Professor de la Paz
: The thing to do with a spy is to let him breathe, encyst him with loyal comrades, and feed him harmless information to please his employers
. These creatures will be taken into our organization. Don't be shocked; they will be in very special cells. "Cages" is a better word. But it would be the greatest waste to eliminate them - not only would each spy be replaced with someone new but also killing these traitors would tell the Warden that we have penetrated his secrets.
- Leonard of Quirm in the Discworld books, the Disc's equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci. He's not a villain as such, just unconsciously very dangerous: an amiable old man who is brilliant and naive enough to invent all sorts of misusable devices (implied at one point to include nuclear bombs, which he thinks could be useful in civil engineering "when the mountains get in the way.") Lord Vetinari has him locked in a cell in the palace with a supply of art materials to keep him occupied.
- In Babylon 5, G'Kar alludes to this trope and then says that humans probably stole it from the Narn.
- In CSI: NY, Detective Mac Taylor alludes to this trope:
Detective Mac Taylor: You know what they say: keep your friends close and your enemies closer - and if that doesn't work, kill 'em.
- As quoted by Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock:
Jack: The Italians have a saying, Lemon: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." And although they've never won a war or mass-produced a decent car, in this area they are correct.
- In the Supernatural episode "Devil May Care" (S09, Ep02), Sam and Dean bring Crowley, the King of Hell, inside their heavily warded secret bunker.
- A slightly modified version spoken by Gaheris Rhade in an Alternate Reality episode of Andromeda regarding Tyr: "Keep your friends close. Keep your enemies under constant surveillance." It helps that there's nowhere on Andromeda that Tyr can go where the Spaceship Girl won't see him.
- Falcone in Gotham knows Mooney wants to usurp his place as the crimelord of Gotham but continues to keep her as his go-to gal and even had a civil conversation with her as his men beat Mooney's lover behind them.
- In Mad Daedalus, King Minos tries to capture the inventor Daedalus to prevent him from escaping into the future and taking his technological wonders with him.
- In Dino Attack RPG, Sgt. Ronald E. Army is a Blood Knight who spent years thinking that he was a general. Rather than discharging Army, the president allows Army to maintain his rank for this reason, since it was safer to keep Army in the military than to let him become a loose cannon.
- In LEGO Knights' Kingdom, King Mathias knows that Vladek is a dangerous, brooding, scheming fellow who would usurp the throne if given the chance. So, he appoints Vladek to the position of his personal adviser so he can always keep an eye on Vladek and make sure he's not up to no good. Unfortunately, this backfires, since Vladek doesn't remain content being the king's adviser.
- Discussed and defied in Penny and Aggie when Meg, after humiliating Penny in front of a boy she likes, invites her and her friends to a Slumber Party. Penny accepts, explaining afterward to her friends that Meg is practicing this trope, but that she plans to use it against Meg. At the party, Penny takes embarassing candid photos of her and shares them with her classmates, thereby ending Meg's reign as queen bee.
- This is Roy's reason for keeping Belkar as a member of The Order of the Stick. Roy doesn't trust any prison enough to keep Belkar from breaking out and going on a rampage, whereas so long as Belkar is working for the Order, the other members can keep him in check and direct his sociopathic tendencies towards evils that are more dangerous than him.
- Archer Partly why Malory keeps Dr. Krieger around, because of what he could become.
: And if there is one thing I have learned in all my years as a spymaster, it's that you keep your friends close and possible genetic clones of Adolph Hitler
- In Hot Wheels Battle Force 5, Kalus promoted Grimian to second-in-command because a wise one once advised him about this trope.
- In The Transformers, this is generally understood as one of the major reasons why Starscream is second-in-command to Megatron despite (or rather, due to) his Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
- In Total Drama Island, Heather uses her understanding of what reality show producers like best to get to the final three of Island, and so despite hating Leshawna, acts nice to her for this reason.
- In the third season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, episode "Keep Calm and Flutter On" Discord of all people is entrusted to Fluttershy to remain under surveillance and be reformed. Which he apparently does.
- In The Simpsons, this is how Homer gains his position at the nuclear power plant. He led a protest against the plant's numerous safety violations, so Mr. Burns placated the protesters by making Homer the head of safety. Burns explained to Smithers afterwards that this allows them to keep a close eye on Homer and punish him in due time. (However, this seems to have completely failed—in subsequent episodes it becomes a running gag that Burns never remembers who Homer is, in spite of how often they interact.)