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Disgusted by the Big Bad
's squirrel-stealing antics, Steven Ulysses Perhero
finally corners the dastardly villain in the Abandoned Warehouse
, where the following dialog takes place:
What a shocking twist! The hero... and naturally we the audience... assumed the villain was up to something. And we were correct. He was. Unfortunately, the hero... and naturally we the audience... were utterly incorrect about precisely what
the villain was up to.
This happens a lot when your hero is either too eager... or simply an idiot.
Basically, this trope is when a character comes to an erroneous conclusion about a villain's motives based on his actions. While the Big Bad
is certainly still a horrible person, how he truly intends to go about it or why he's going about it in the first place turns out to be something for which everyone else's suspicions were way off the mark. And sometimes, the evil scheme isn't actually an evil scheme at all
. In either case, the Big Bad
didn't try to fool the hero, or leave a false trail, or otherwise trick him in any way. No, with this trope, the hero was fooling himself all along.
Sometimes the result of paying attention to the Red Herring
. Compare Hidden Agenda Villain
. Contrast Evil Plan
for a more obvious motive though this trope still might occur. See also Not Me This Time
This is an Ending Trope
, so expect UNMARKED SPOILERS
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Happens in Fullmetal Alchemist, when Dr. Marcoh asks Envy if they're planning to use Amestris to create a gigantic Philosopher's Stone. Envy responds: "Oooh, so close. But that's not it." It turns out their plan is to use the people of Amestris to create a gigantic gateway to the afterlife (or whatever regulates all Alchemy) so that Father can usurp God's power.
- Played for Laughs in Ranma ½. Pantyhose Taro arrives with a grudge against Happosai. The audience believes this grudge is his One-Winged Angel cursed form given to him because of Happosai, however he actually enjoys its enhanced power; the real reason for the grudge is his Embarrassing First Name, which Happosai also gave him.
- Mister Fantastic makes this mistake with Doctor Doom all the freaking time.
- In Watchmen, Rorschach is convinced that someone is trying to take out all the former vigilantes when the Comedian is found dead. His killer's true motives are different, and he's invoking the trope to draw attention away from him.
- Spider-Man once tracked down Doctor Octopus through various thefts, only for Doc Ock to give up once his experiment failed. The real motive wasn't criminal; Doc Ock wanted to create a cure for cancer to save an old flame.
- In Sleeper, TAO's motives are completely unknown to the characters, and the readers are led to believe he's running an incredibly complex Gambit Roulette to try to Take Over the World. It turns out he's planning on setting off World War III For the Evulz.
Films — Animation
- Randall in Monsters, Inc.. Mike (and most of the audience) thinks he's trying to cheat his way to the all-time scream record, when he's really up to something much worse...
Randall: (chuckles darkly)
You still think this is about that stupid scare record? Mike: Well... I did.
Right up until... you chuckled like that, and now I'm thinkin' I should just get outta here.
Films — Live-Action
Live Action TV
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Earshot," Buffy finds Jonathan in the school bell-tower with a high-powered rifle and immediately assumes he's out to perpetrate a student massacre, and gives him a whole speech condemning it. A confused Jonathan replies that he came up there to kill himself.
- Occurs from time to time in Law & Order: In "Doped", the prosecutors assumed the defendant spiked the victim's nasal spray (which caused her to have a car accident that killed herself and seven others) to try and discredit her whistle blower testimony and protect his employers. Turns out, he did it out of outrage that she wasn't going to keep any of the reward money she'd get with a successful action against their employer (a pharmaceutical company pushing an expensive, but near-useless cancer drug with false advertising.)
- Happens from time to time in Leverage. In their Christmas episode, they believe that the plot at the local mall is to steal everyone's credit card numbers for massive identity fraud. So they shut down the power in the whole area. Then it turns out that the Magnificent Bastard behind it wanted them to do just that. The power outage disabled the security system at the nearby bank (their real target) and he and his goons were free to move in and rob it. Of course, this being Leverage, they were still able to stop him in time. Still one of the only times when the villain was a step ahead of the team.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Hunted" has an enhanced war veteran who does this constantly while trying to evade Enterprise security. Even when they are aware that he uses misdirection to conceal his true objective, they are still unable to stop him.
- On Graceland, Agent Badillo thinks that Briggs is stealing drugs because he's working for the Caza cartel. Briggs is really Odin Rossi, an unaffiliated drug supplier whom the Caza cartel is trying to assassinate. Badillo's plan to confront Briggs disguised as a Caza assassin goes very badly for all concerned.
- In The Adventure of the Yellow Face, Sherlock Holmes misidentifies his client's suspicious wife's motive, and is for once proven wrong. It turns out that there was nothing villainous about the wife's true motive.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Harry and most likely everyone else assumes the heir of Slytherin has reopened the Chamber to carry out Salazar Slytherin's mission to purge Hogwarts of Muggle-borns. When Harry meets the Heir of Slytherin, Tom Riddle, a.k.a. Voldemort explains that his target all along has been Harry. All the near-killings were bait.
- Also in Goblet of Fire, the heroes initially suspect that someone entered Harry's name in the Triwizard tournament in order to get him killed while competing. The truth is quite the opposite: Barty Crouch Jr. intends for Harry to win the tournament and claim the trophy in the center of the maze which has been transformed into a Portkey, sending him into a trap so his blood can be used to resurrect Voldemort, without anyone being any the wiser as to where he's gone.
- When Snape kills Dumbledore, it's easy to assume that he did it because he's been evil all along. The fact that he was acting on Dumbledore's orders never occurs to any of them.
- The Death and the Compass, a Genre Deconstruction of the Detective Fiction by Jorge Luis Borges
remained standing, indifferent. He had not participated in the brief struggle, and he scarcely extended his hand to receive Lönnrot’s revolver. He spoke; Lönnrot noted in his voice a fatigued triumph, a hatred the size of the universe, a sadness not less than that hatred.
. “I am seeking something more ephemeral and perishable, I am seeking Erik Lönnrot.
- In Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, everyone assumes there's an elaborate plan behind everything The Inscrutable Machine does, assuming they're professionally trained criminal masterminds instead of just a couple of kids who happened to get lucky.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Xykon murdered Roy's father's master and took his crown. Roy thought he did it because the crown was magical and powerful; it turns out, it's neither of these things. Xykon just wanted the crown because it looked cool.
- The Sapphire Guard believes the Bearer of the Crimson Mantle's goals are to destroy the universe. While an acceptable loss, the reality is that he is actually out to blackmail the gods for his species' dominance over others. Or fair and even treatment. He'll settle for that, as well. Though it's that or the end of the universe...
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Doc initially believes that King Radical's plan is to turn an army of jerks into wizards. He only wants to turn one of those jerks into a wizard as a by-product of his larger scheme to transform this reality into the new Radical Land.
- Daily Grind deals with a LOT of these. Fitting, since the Daily Grind agency deals with sleuthing, research, and killing demon overlords:
- What seems to be a racist rally of cats against dogs (it's a furry webcomic) turns out to be a plot for a young gangster to kill his sister, drive his mother into a heart attack, and inherit over a billion dollars in stocks. The racism was publicized so that it would look like his sister dying was a hate crime and not a bid for family fortunes.
- One poor mage is forced to try and kill the Demon Bunny Tharka, or let his friends die (since his magic is connected to them, he can't commit suicide). They order him to make it look like he's just another crazy mage on a roll.
- In Worm, the supervillain Cherish has high-end emotion-reading powers that she used to establish a dossier on every parahuman in Brockton Bay for the rest of her team, but she made a number of serious errors in interpreting motivations — most notably completely misreading Skitter's.