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Mistaken Confession
Detective Krevoy: [trying to control himself] This wasn't your first time, was it, Ted? How many we talking?
Ted: Hitchhikers? I don't know - twenty-five... fifty maybe - who keeps track? Hey, I know this is the Bible Belt, but where I come from this is not that big a deal.
There's Something About Mary [Detective Krevoy is talking about murder. Ted is talking about giving hitchhikers a ride.]

Someone confesses to something that wasn't actually what the interrogators were asking about. Often happens after a bit of Perp Sweating.

Often the conversation will play out so that none of the dialogue between the cops and the Mistaken for Murderer lets slip that he is really talking about the cookie he stole from his mother's house (which has been plaguing him ever since).

Compare You Just Told Me and One Dialogue, Two Conversations. Subtrope of Poor Communication Kills.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comicbooks 
  • In the Tintin book Flight 714, the millionaire Laszlo Carreidas is kidnapped and injected with a truth serum in an attempt to force him to reveal the details of his Swiss Bank Account. But instead of revealing the relevant details, Carreidas engages in boastful rants about his underhanded exploits, much to the annoyance of his captors. Hilarity Ensues when Rastapopoulos, the mastermind behind Carreidas' capture, is accidentally injected with the serum in a struggle.

    Film 
  • Played for laughs in The Goonies. When the Fratellis catch Chunk and order him to tell everything under threat of shredding his arm in a blender, he proceeds to tell them every bad thing he's done in his life.
    Jake Fratelli: I'm beginning to like this kid, Ma!
  • Famously played for laughs in There's Something About Mary where Ted confesses to picking up a hitchhiker when he's actually under arrest for murder.
  • In My Cousin Vinny, the protagonists are arrested after realizing they accidentally took a can of tuna from a store without paying for it. In reality, the shopkeeper had been murdered shortly after they left, and witnesses reported seeing a car like theirs leaving the store. So, they confess to what think is just a shoplifting charge, and are shocked when they realize it's a murder charge. Part of the problem is that when one of the defendants realizes the charge against him, he incredulously repeats "I shot the clerk?" several times in an attempt to clarify.
  • In L.A. Confidential, where suspects for a mass homicide in a diner actually confess to kidnapping and gang rape.
  • Appeared in a black-and-white Sherlock Holmes film when Watson accused a man of murder only to find he'd stolen a teapot.
  • In Presumed Innocent, as DA Sabich is point-blank accused of killing his colleague/ex-lover by another colleague, he angrily snaps at him, "Yeah, you're right. You're always right!" Following his arrest, his colleague declares his intent to testify at the trial, claiming that Sabich admitted to the crime. Fortunately the judge realizes that Sabich was no doubt being facetious and blasts the other lawyer for either deliberately failing to realize this or genuinely foolishly taking him seriously.
  • A pretty wrenching example in The Fugitive, as the injured Helen Kimble dials 911. Her final words are "Richard... he's trying to kill me". The prosecution uses this as proof of Kimble's guilt, claiming that Helen was naming him as her assailant (completely overlooking the fact that at the beginning of the call, she clearly states that someone has broken in), never considering or realizing what really happened—that she was calling to her husband, begging for help.

    Literature 
  • Happens in a novel called The Futurist.
  • In The Brothers Karamazov, during an interrogation, Dmitri is quick to confess to murder and answer all the detectives' questions, believing that he's killed his family's servant. It turns out the servant survived, and he's being accused of murdering his father. Happens all throughout the interrogation as well, when Dmitri says one thing and the cops interpret it against him.
  • In the play The Miser by french author Molière, the eponymous miser, Harpagon, accuses his servant Valere of stealing his stash of money. Valere thinks he is talking about his daughter promising to marry Valere. This misunderstanding goes on as Valere talks about the beautiful eyes of Harpagon's 'treasure'...
  • Invoked by Tyrion Lannister when he is accused of attempting to murder a seven-year-old boy, Bran Stark, and murdering Lord Jon Arryn by his insane widow, Lysa Arryn. He loudly gives a public confession of his numerous "crimes," including lying on numerous occasions, whoring, insulting the queen (his sister) and her father, and so on. This was a ploy to call Lysa out in public about her behavior towards him and demanding a trial, which she was honor-bound to give.
  • In the The Family Trade by Charles Stross, Olga confronts Miriam with a pistol to get revenge for Miriam having wronged her. Miriam gives Olga a heartfelt apology for sleeping with her fiancé. This confuses Olga, who is trying to take revenge on Miriam because she suspects Miriam of hiring the thug who broke into her room and tried to rape her.
  • Done to death and continually for laughs in the stories involving William George (Billy) Bunter, by Frank Richards (one of around two dozen pseudonyms used by Charles Hamilton). Whenever Bunter is summoned or called by name by an authority figure, Bunter almost always responds with "It wasn't me, sir" followed by a denial of some misdeed which Bunter names and which therefore amounts to a confession. Yes, Bunter is an idiot. That's the point.
  • In Kevin J. Anderson's Blindfold, capital crimes on the remote human colony Atlas are brought before a caste of genetically-engineered telepaths called Truthsayers who use a drug called Veritas to allow them to perceive another brain's electrical impulses (i.e. thoughts). They are able to determine guilt or innocence based on the accused's own thoughts and memories. Their decision is final and cannot be appealed. The entire Atlas society holds on the idea that the Truthsayers are never wrong. Along comes Troy Borren, a young Space Elevator worker who is late filing a report, so he breaks into the building after hours in order to claim that he filed the report on-time. Unfortunately, he stumbles on the body of his boss, recently killed on the Big Bad's orders. Troy is arrested and brought before a young Truthsayer named Kalliana, who has recently been traumatized by the mind of an insane mass murderer. She interprets Troy's intense feelings of guilt over the break-in as admission of guilt about the murder of his boss. By the time she realizes she was wrong, it's too late.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played straight on the CSI-Without a Trace crossover, in a bit of an Idiot Plot moment.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun had an episode where Dick confessed to being gay, but thought he was confessing to being an alien. Hilarity Ensued.
    • Happened the other way around in Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Phases" - Xander thought Larry was confessing to being a werewolf, when in fact he was just coming out of the closet.
      • Happened the normal way in the same conversation. Xander had previously been possessed by a hyena spirit, so knew a little what it would be like to be a werewolf. His little speech on the subject made Larry think that Xander was coming out the closet, and that encouraged Larry to.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Willow literally sweats a confession out of Jonathan, using a desk lamp, but it turns out instead of killing the swim team bullies, he just pissed in their pool.
  • Pretty much every episode of Frasier ever.
  • The Colonel does one of these in the Doctor Who episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp", confessing to having been faking his need for a wheelchair for nearly ten years when the pointing finger of accusations seems to be on him. Agatha Christie then goes on to say "Actually, I was going to say you were completely innocent..."
  • In The Office accountant webisodes, the accountants asked Phillis if she had spent any company money on something, hoping to find the missing $3000, she admits to having bought something with a company card, but it was a heel for her shoe, only costing $14.
  • The Wire features a drug dealer named Cheese being caught talking about killing "my dog" on the phone, and the cops listening in on it through their wiretap are stunned that he's freely discussing killing a friend. Turns out he really was talking about his dog, who he had to kill after it was injured in a dog fight, and the cops have just advertised that they have a wiretap up over this.
  • One episode of Castle, they catch up to a murder suspect, and the first thing she says is: "I did it. I did it, I did it." (She was admitting merely to taking a bribe to put the victim on that particular jury.)
    • In a different episode, one suspect (Also the killer) confesses to Beckett's face that he's "dying to cop a feel under her cop blouse."
  • On one of the very few episodes of the short-lived sitcom Go Fish, a high school teacher thinks his student is on drugs, while the student is under the impression that the teacher thinks he's gay. In a hilarious instance of a confession being mistaken by both parties, the entire affair is resolved when the student explains, "I'm straight."
  • On Suits, five years before the series started, Jessica gives Louis a chance to come clean and he confesses that he likes to sleep on her couch, drinks Harvey's liquor, steals another associate's candy bars and likes to walk barefoot in the library. She was actually talking about him stealing half a million dollars from the firm and his outburst makes her realize that he has been framed.
  • In an episode of NCIS, all signs point to the doctor being the one who killed the nurse and let the patient (who Abby had befriended) die. The doctor confesses, but believes they're interrogating him about him embezzling, not murder. As it turns out, the patient was never under the doctor's care, never died, and was the one who killed the nurse.
  • In an episode of The Lucy Show, Lucy was arrested in a case of Mistaken Identity over several jewel robberies. She accidentally confessed to a few of them at the police station. She thought she had been arrested for littering.
  • In the Warehouse 13 episode "Age Before Beauty", Pete and Myka are investigating the murders by artifact of several supermodels and notice that Jenny the PA is acting suspiciously. They confront her, and she tells them that the models deserve to pay. They tell her that this is a poor justification for murder. Shocked, she explains that she thought they were busting her for dealing drugs. Later in the episode, one of the designers confesses to giving Myka "a killer dress": he gave her a metaphorically killer dress as a snub to one of the other models.
  • On one episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Hal tries to run a father-son race with Dewey, despite being temporarily blinded. He goes off track and eventually tears through what he thinks is the finish line tape, but is actually tape around a crime scene. He immediately starts jumping up and down and gleefully shouting "I did it!"
  • On 227, Lester shows up at his wife Mary's hotel room in order to surprise her. He's shocked to find men's clothing in her closet (which she bought for him). When she returns to the room, he holds up one of the shirts, asking her, "How could you do this to me?", assuming she's having an affair. Thinking he's complaining about the clothes and not understanding why he's upset, she blithely declares, "Honey, I do it all the time! Whenever I shop, whenever I travel! I thought you liked it!"

    Theatre 
  • In the play/film Arsenic and Old Lace, Jonathan thinks he's caught by the police when the police really just caught another policeman who forgot to check in.
    • Not to mention Mortimer's aunts casually confessing to their serial murders in front of the police chief despite his frantic attempts throughout the movie to keep them from being discovered. Fortunately, they've just signed papers committing themselves to a mental institution so he manages to convince the police not to believe them.
      Mortimer: Certainly, there are thirteen bodies buried in the cellar. And I've got hundreds more up in the attic, Captain!

    Videogames 
  • In the first level of The Simpsons: Hit & Run, Homer accuses Mr Burns of being behind the mysterious black vans all over town. Not only does Burns have nothing to do with it, but they're only pizza vans.
    Homer: C. Montgomery Burns, I know you're guilty! J'accuse!...Sir.
    Burns: Fine, I admit it, I had Amelia Earhart's plane shot down. That hussie was getting too big for her jodhpurs.

    Web Animation 
  • Ultra Fast Pony: In the episode "Purple Party Pooper", Twilight gets an ominously-worded summons from Princess Celestia, and then angrily declares that if she's going down, she'll take her friends down with her. Her friends realize just how much dirt Twilight has on all of them, so they rush to Celestia to collectively defend Twilight, defend themselves, beg for mercy, and bribe Celestia. Only after indirectly incriminating themselves do they realize that Celestia was simply looking for someone to celebrate her birthday with.

    Webcomics 
  • In this Dewey Defeats Tarzan strip, one character incorrectly thinks he is being confronted and starts to confess to something (probably) pretty terrible.

    Western Animation 
  • The character Wade did this regularly in the U.S. Acres segment of Garfield and Friends. In one episode the farm's cow had been stolen. Wade was questioned, and within minutes, he confessed to, among other things: wearing wax lips out of season, putting lettuce and tomato on a corn beef sandwich, eating all of a piece of bread but the crust, and phoning information for numbers he could have looked up himself. However, he didn't even mention the missing cow.
  • In The Simpsons, Lisa tries to get Jessica Lovejoy to confess to stealing the church's collection money, so she stands in front of the congregation and asks that the criminal confess now. As she didn't specify which crime she was referring to, everyone in town starts owning up to random things. And when Jessica plays dumb through the entire thing, Lisa just says "Oh what the heck...IT WAS JESSICA LOVEJOY!"
    Skinner: I smelled marijuana smoke in Vietnam!
    Grampa: I was the one who cancelled Star Trek!
    Dr. Hibbert: I left my Porsche keys in Mrs. Glick!
    • There's also the episode where Bart believes Flanders killed his wife after overhearing him saying "I've killed her... I'm a mur-diddly-urdler!" Turns out he just killed a ficus plant.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Pinkie decides to interrogate Spike to find out why her friends are ignoring her...
    Pinkie Pie: NO! You're not understanding me! I want you to confess!
    Spike: I'm the one who spilled juice all over Twilight's copy of Magical Mysteries and Practical Potions! *wince*
    Pinkie Pie: And?
    Spike: And I'm the one who used up all the hot water in Ponyville yesterday when I took a seven-hour bubblebath! *harder wince*
    Pinkie Pie: AND?
    Spike: ...And sometimes, when no one's around, I do this... *flexes arms in front of mirror* Lookin' good, Spike! Lookin' REAL good!
    Pinkie Pie: *Eye Take*
    • Yet another example occurs in this show in which Zecora is trying to get Apple Bloom to confess to using some of her potion ingredients thereby coming down with an amusing disease. A confession is the only thing that will make the antidote (a flower) grow. Pinkie Pie was within earshot and inadvertently came to believe that she was the one who needed to confess to something. "I ate five corn cakes....SIX! I ate six corncakes."
  • Doug once accidentally turned in a doodle he made of Mrs. Wingo along with his homework assignment, and was panicking as she began grading each of the papers. Doug decided to try and act casual and maybe she would never find out he made the drawing. But as soon as she asked who turned in something, before she could finish the sentence, Doug confessed, only to find out she was asking who had turned in a paper titled "My First Pair of High Heels" (which is Bebe's paper and forgot to write her name).


Love Revelation EpiphanyConfession TropesNot So Final Confession
Mirror MonologueDialogueMister X and Mister Y
Mistaken AgeMistaken for IndexMistaken For Afterlife
Miscarriage of JusticeCrime and Punishment TropesThe Mob Boss Is Scarier
Metaphorically TruePoor Communication KillsMondegreen

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