A [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin mysterious]] character who hides in the background and [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin employs or somehow directs]] the heroes, [[TheManBehindTheMan villains]] [[PlayingBothSides or both]]. Mysterious Employers tend to stay uninvolved themselves, preferring to use money, {{MacGuffin}}s, or some other way of rewarding their employees for carrying out desirable actions.

Can be a SuperTrope of BigBad or BigGood, but more often than not the Employer is a neutral party who benefits from pushing the heroes/villains down a particular path.

Very frequently TheChessmaster or, in the event of a group, the OmniscientCouncilOfVagueness. It is often the case that NoOneSeesTheBoss.

Especially common if the heroes/villains in question are HiredGuns.

Compare AnonymousBenefactor and MysteriousBacker. Subtrope of MysteriousStranger. If they stop being so mysterious, they might join up as TheTeamBenefactor.

Note that the identity of the Mysterious Employer is sometimes left secret; his identity itself, as well as his motivations, can be a substantial {{Reveal}}... if [[TheUnReveal there is a Reveal at all]].



[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* In ''LightNovel/HaruhiSuzumiya'', three out of five brigade members each have their own.
* In ''Anime/EdenOfTheEast'', we have Mr. Outside who isn't seen in the anime at all, it's not until the movie we get to see his face.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* Made up the premise of the old Creator/DCComics series ''ComicBook/SecretSix'', and to a certain extent the current incarnation of the same.
* The Fourth Man in ''ComicBook/{{Planetary}}'', [[spoiler:who also happens to be the protagonist Elijah Snow; [[PlayingWithATrope the rest of the group only pretend that their leader is an example of this trope so that he doesn't find out]]. Before his LaserGuidedAmnesia, Elijah used to take a very active part in the fieldwork of his organization.]]
* The Commissioner in ''ComicBook/SamAndMax''.
* Miranda Zero in ''ComicBook/GlobalFrequency''.
* Mr. Pilgrim from ''ComicBook/SteelgripStarkeyAndTheAllPurposePowerTool''.
* During the ''ComicBook/{{Runaways}}'' storyline "True Believers", the super hero support group Excelsior had a mysterious benefactor who wanted them to rein in the kids. Turns out that it was [[spoiler:Rick Jones, former sidekick to the [[ComicBook/IncredibleHulk Hulk]] and ComicBook/CaptainAmerica]]. It's subverted, though, when the group got their own comic ''ComicBook/TheLoners'', somehow losing their support.
* In ''ComicBook/TheLeagueOfExtraordinaryGentlemen'', the League is employed by a mysterious figure known only as M who only interacts with them through Campion Bond. Mina guesses that M is Mycroft Holmes; he turns out to be [[spoiler:James Moriarty]].

[[folder:Films -- Animated]]
* Early in ''WesternAnimation/TheIncredibles'', Mr. Incredible works for a mysterious employer who contacts him through Mirage. [[spoiler:Said mysterious employer is actually Syndrome, AKA Buddy, who wants to kill supers -- especially Mr. Incredible.]]

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* [[spoiler:Moriarty]] to Irene Adler in ''Film/SherlockHolmesAGameOfShadows''.
%%* Used to help drive the plot in ''Film/MrAndMrsSmith2005''.
* Ernst Stavro Blofeld is this in ''Film/FromRussiaWithLove'', ''{{Film/Thunderball}}'', and the first half of ''Film/YouOnlyLiveTwice''
* ''Film/{{Assassins}}'': Robert Rath is a hitman who never meets his employer face to face, communicating only by text through a secured connection. Apparently it's the same deal with all his employees. His identity turns out to be [[spoiler:Nikolai, Rath's old mentor whose "death" still haunts him.]]

* In Creator/WilliamGibson's ''Literature/PatternRecognition'', ''Literature/SpookCountry'', and ''Literature/ZeroHistory'', Hubertus Bigend is this.
* In Greg Egan's ''Literature/{{Quarantine}}'', Nick is hired to investigate Laura's disappearance by an anonymous client. While Nick goes on to uncover [[spoiler:the causal foundations of the universe]], he never discovers who his client was.
* Played with in ''Literature/AScannerDarkly'', in which everyone knows they work for the police... but none of the police know one another's actual identities.
* Marethyu in Literature/{{The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel}} prefers to stick to the shadows and manipulate both the heroes and Elder Gods through prophecies, cryptic secrets, and unidentified phone calls.
* Wintermute in ''Literature/{{Neuromancer}}''.
* In the unfinished Dirk Gently novel, ''Literature/TheSalmonOfDoubt'', Dirk's employer is definitely mysterious. Especially because [[AuthorExistenceFailure the book was never finished]].
** In fact, not only does Dirk not know who is employer is, he doesn't even know what he was hired for. He just reads his bank statement and discovers that somebody's been paying him a generous weekly retainer for more than a month without any explanation why.
* [[spoiler:Abel Magwitch]] in Charles Dickens's ''Literature/GreatExpectations''.
* Mr. Wednesday in Neil Gaiman's ''Literature/AmericanGods'' is an excellent example of this trope. He hires Shadow, seemingly knows everything about him, and yet tells the guy nothing about his role in everything until almost the very end.
* So is Sunday in G.K. Chesterton's ''Literature/TheManWhoWasThursday''.
* The name of the client in the ''Literature/SherlockHolmes'' story "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client" is never given. He only interacts with Holmes through an intermediary. Holmes and Watson independently figure out who it is (Watson by spying the client's coat of arms, Holmes by unknown means), but all that is ever revealed to the reader is that the client is a very influential nobleman.
* For pretty much all of the novel ''Literature/ThievesLikeUs'', almost nothing is known about the benefactor Nathaniel [[MeaningfulName Coldhardt,]] who employs the teenage criminal protagonists.
* In ''Literature/TheWiseMansFear'', Denna is working for a mysterious patron who Kvothe nicknames "Master Ash", who hires her to research ancient events and recast a mythical villain as a hero for unknown reasons.
* In ''Literature/DoctrineOfLabyrinths'', a magically-disguised Kekropian agent coerces Mehitabel into spying on the Marathine government. She doesn't discover his true identity until she catches him off-guard at a party; he turns out to [[TheReveal be]] [[spoiler:Isaac Garamond, Lord Felix's lover]].
* In ''[[Literature/ElsabethSoesten No Good Deed...]]'', after Elsabeth and Hieronymus inadvertently spoil the Prince-Bishop of Bremen's investigation into Father Garnerius, they are approached by one of his agents, identified only as the Hooded Man, [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin whose features are disguised by a cloak and hood and careful use of the shadows]], and who hires them to finish the job they interfered with. [[spoiler: It's later revealed that the Bishop's agent is actually ''Lord Cuncz'', who has his own agenda]].
* The eponymous ship's crew in MissionLevity works for a person only known as "Boss". Throughout the first episode, they don't even know [[spoiler:her]] gender.
* [[OriginalCharacter Trent]] from the S.D. Perry novelization of ''Franchise/ResidentEvil'' was written specifically to fill the various PlotHoles between the games (which didn't have a concrete continuity at the time) and to tie up loose ends (he was the one who hired Ada Wong, rather than the "unknown organization" of the games) and operates like this, being ''loaded'' with cash and having intimate knowledge of Umbrella. [[spoiler:His entire motivation is to tear the organization apart as payback for the company having killed his parents]].

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* ''Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer'': Towards the end of Season 2 and the beginning of Season 3, The Mayor is foreshadowed as an unseen but feared superior of Principal Snyder and Sunnydale's Chief of Police.
* Charlie of ''Series/CharliesAngels''.
* Similarly, Robin Masters on ''Series/MagnumPI'' was a famous but reclusive writer, and later seasons played up the idea that Magnum et al. had never actually seen him. (The first season had Magnum hanging out with Masters in an episode that became CanonDisContinuity.)
** Wasn't there a running gag that Thomas Magnum came to suspect [[spoiler:Higgins]] was actually Robin Masters (really wrote the books and owned the estate and the Ferrari) because no one had actually seen Robin Masters, with the person heard but not seen being a hired actor? If memory serves, [[spoiler:Higgins]] made a confession of sorts near the series' end to a comatose Magnum in an ICU after a car wreck—so of course said confession could be disavowed later.
** Higgins confessed outright to Magnum close to the end of the series, in the final few minutes of the last episode Higgins tells Magnum "I lied." with a giant grin on his face.
* Carla is a little like this in ''Series/BurnNotice''. So is "Management"
* [=O2STK=] in ''Series/TheMiddleman''. Wendy at first mistakes it for the name of a real organization, before Ida explains it's an acronym for "Organization Too Secret To Know."
** One of the previous Middlemen used "WTHWWF": "Whoever the Heck We Work For"
* ''Series/{{Lost}}'': After Sayid [[spoiler:leaves the island]], he becomes an assassin who is revealed to be working for [[spoiler:Ben]].
* The Rossum Corporation in ''Series/{{Dollhouse}}'', which by Season 2, is revealed to run multiple dollhouses, and have a super-secure headquarters in New Mexico, the whole corporation was masterminded by [[spoiler:Boyd Langton, who had been in the series the whole time]]
* A few ''PowerRangers'' seasons did this, though it's very, very rare. Most notably the first few episodes of ''Series/PowerRangersRPM'' with Dr. K (though she stopped being so mysterious relatively early on.)
* Management in the first season of ''Series/{{Carnivale}}''
* The Associates of Mister Morden in ''Series/{{Babylon 5}}''. He even calls them that after the whole galaxy knows exactly who they are. [[spoiler:Their reason to stay hidden and never act openly is that their goal is not to conquer the galaxy, but to prove to their rivals that their method of cultural and technological progress is superior. They merely encourage younger species to follow their methods and ideology and then smile smugly as they watch them destroy the followers of the Vorlons way.]]
* [[spoiler:Greg and Tamara]] of ''Series/OnceUponATime'' work for a group referred to as The Home Office, which is dedicated to destoying magic in our world. [[spoiler:Turns out that the Home Office was actually Peter Pan, who was only concerned with getting his hands on Henry and had them killed after [[YouHaveOutlivedYourUsefulness they had accomplished this for him]].]]
* On ''Series/AgentsOfSHIELD'', a number of bad guys in the early episodes work for a mysterious figure known only as the Clairvoyant. The Clairvoyant's identity is a mystery to his followers, as well as to SHIELD and the viewers. Finally, in "The End of the Beginning," Skye and Coulson figure out that the Clairvoyant is a high-ranking SHIELD operative; the next episode reveals [[spoiler:that it's Agent Garrett, who is also revealed to be one of many HYDRA agents in SHIELD]].

[[folder:Professional Wrestling]]
* The mysterious general manager of Wrestling/{{WWE}} ''Raw'', the [[InsistentTerminology "Anonymous RAW GM"]] "hired" after Bret Hart was fired from the position. S/he communicates in text messages that are read by MichaelCole.

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* This is an entire category of characters in ''TabletopGame/{{Shadowrun}}'', known in the biz as a "Mr. Johnson." They tend to work for a MegaCorp, and act as liaisons between the legitimate face of a company and our less than legal protagonists. One of the major mysteries behind each mission, for those who care to find out, is exactly ''who'' they are working for and what their motive is. Given the existence of twenty-first century cosmetics, hackers, counter-hackers, and possibly magic, many players would rather just get on with it.
** The fact that these individuals are universally known as "Mr. Johnson" was [[LampshadeHanging lampshaded]] and utterly averted in one supplement with a "Mr. Johnson" who, in defiance of the tradition of never revealing who they really are, tells the player characters that her name really is Angelita Johnson, so why bother hiding her identity. Of course, she might have been lying.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* In the ultra-violent WII game ''VideoGame/MadWorld'', Protagonist Jack is sponsored by a shadowy figure with a thick eastern European accent who calls himself "13". As the story progresses he reveals bits of information relevant to the ultimate purpose of "[=DeathWatch=]".
* The hero of ''VideoGame/{{BioShock|1}}'''s MissionControl: [[spoiler:There ain't no Atlas, kid.]]
* Somewhat differently, the [[spoiler:Luteces]] from ''Videogame/BioshockInfinite'', the first people you meet in the game. Who are they? What relevance do they have to the plot? Why do they act so ''weird?'' All of this becomes gradually clearer throughout in the game, and is ''extremely important.''
** There's also the people who Booker owes his gambling debts to, and have offered to wipe them in exchange for bringing them Elizabeth, for whom they have unknown intentions. [[spoiler:This turns out to be a fabrication of Booker's mind dealing with the cognitive dissonance of crossing universes, cobbled together from numerous experiences in order to justify his journey to Columbia.]]
* Played with in ''VideoGame/MetalGearSolid 2'' series, where the initially quite ordinary boss gradually comes to seem more and more mysterious as the plot thickens.
* Gordon Freeman's sponsor in ''VideoGame/HalfLife''; still no {{reveal}} as to who it is.
** Also the G-Man, unless, [[EpilepticTrees of course]], they are the same person.
* ''VideoGame/GrandTheftAuto'' is big on this trope from time to time. The main characters of most of the games will likely run into a pay phone in which an anonymous employer offers assasination jobs to the player's character. Features in ''[[VideoGame/GrandTheftAutoViceCity Vice City]]'', ''VideoGame/GrandTheftAutoIV'' and possibly several others.
** ''VideoGame/GrandTheftAutoSanAndreas'' had C.J. being led around by a mysterious voice on a loudspeaker who reveals himself to be the thought-dead Mike Toreno.
* Just who is the main character of ''VideoGame/HotlineMiami'' working for? He receives [[SpySpeak seemingly mundane]] pseudonymous messages on his answering machine, instructing him to go to a specified location, where he renders his "services". By collecting secret collectibles scattered throughout the levels and playing through the epilogue, the ending reveals them to be [[spoiler:a neo-nationalist organization with the intent of taking down the "Russo-American Coalition"]].
* The Cerberus leader, known only as the [[MagnificentBastard Illusive Man,]] in ''VideoGame/MassEffect2''. While his goals are clearly stated and he makes no apologies for his actions, as an individual virtually nothing is known about him. Even his right-hand woman admits that she knows virtually nothing about him.
** The [[KnowledgeBroker Shadow Broker]] has an interesting file on him though...
* ''Franchise/DragonAge'' has the sidequest-giving group known as the Friends of Red Jenny. In the first game, the Warden can deliver them a "small painted box" from the office of Ferelden's [[TheArchmage First Enchanter]]. Asking what they want with it gets the door shut in your face without payment. In the second, a woman known only as "A Friend" can hire Hawke to wipe out nearly a dozen small gangs for them; you only learn who you're working for after the last quest. In the third, one of your rogue companions is a member. She explains that the "Friends" are a loosely-organised group of little people exchanging favours, and the name is a convenient bogeyman; she doesn't actually know if there ever ''was'' a Red Jenny.
* ''VideoGame/StarCraftII'': Jim Raynor jumps back into action after being informed by his old friend Tychus that the "Moebius Foundation" is purchasing Xel'Naga artifacts from anyone who can find them for a hefty price. The Foundation is eventually revealed to be owned by [[spoiler:Valerian Mengsk, son of Arcturus]], so he can use the assembled artifacts to [[spoiler:cure Kerrigan]].
** Furthermore, the head scientist of the foundation is named Dr. [[SdrawkcabAlias Narud]].
* ''VideoGame/TeamFortress2'': RED and BLU are the mysterious employers, and it's revealed in para-game materials that [[spoiler:the same Administrator runs both teams]].
* In ''VideoGame/SonicHeroes'', Team Chaotix is thrust into the adventure by a client sending a radio to them and requesting they do missions for him, promising a huge reward. The voice on the radio is very squeaky and hamstery, but as the story goes along, thanks to all of his strange reactions along with blatant foreshadowing in a mid-story FMV, it becomes fairly obvious that he's [[spoiler:Dr. Eggman]] long before they actually find him.
* In ''VideoGame/TheWorldEndsWithYou'', [[TheManBehindTheMan the Composer]] directs the [[{{Shinigami}} Reapers]] from an unknown location, and only [[TheDragon the Conductor]] ever gets to see him or speak to him. As such, the latter is necessarily tasked with acting as a representative of the former.
* Mr. Hadden from ''TheLostCrown''. Not only are his motives unclear, but it becomes apparent that he's got Nigel under constant surveillance, possibly via supernatural means, and may not even be directing events from ''the same decade'' as Nigel.
* ''VideoGame/ShinMegamiTenseiIV'' has Sister Gabby of the Monastery. She's said to be virtually ageless and will issue missions with apparent previous knowledge of places sealed centuries beforehand. [[spoiler:That's because she's the disguised form of the ArchangelGabriel, who has plans for you and your friends...]]

[[folder:Web Comics]]
* ''Webcomic/SchlockMercenary'' has several of these; [[spoiler:Petey/the Fleetmind]] is the most notable.
* ''[[http://www.rockpapercynic.com/littleworlds/ Little Worlds]]'' has The Accountant, who seems to be a reclusive, plot-engineering kind of fellow.

[[folder:Web Original]]
* [[VoiceOfTheLegion Mr.]] [[EveryoneCallsHimBarkeep Administrator]] of ''WebVideo/EchoChamber'' [[TheFaceless deliberately conceals his identity]] and motivations from the people he hired to create the Wiki/TVTropes vlog, as well as the audience. None of the people working for him have ever met him. [[spoiler:Except Zack, who has apparently been meeting with him for some time, and hiding the fact from Tom and Dana.]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* ''WesternAnimation/AquaTeenHungerForce'' parodies this in the episode "Der Inflatable Fuhrer".
* Dr. Claw from ''InspectorGadget'' was so mysterious he and his nemesis Gadget never actually met (though Gadget heard his voice a few times and noted it 'sounds familiar'). The underlings he sent to kill Gadget usually only spoke to him via telescreens.
* ''WesternAnimation/ScoobyDooMysteryIncorporated'' - the team is given cryptic clues by a "Mr. E". Took a long time before we ever saw what he looks like.