No One Sees the Boss
"No one sees Gold, but Gold sees everything."Hello, Troper. I see you've come to learn more about the No One Sees The Boss trope. Don't worry, I can take care of that for you. While I'm not the trope you're asking about, you can deal with me just as you would him. You see, no one sees that particular trope, ever. This trope (that is, the trope that is not me) is often used in conjunction with Mysterious Employer, The Don, The Big Bad, The Bigger Bad, The God of Evil, and villains which are Made of Evil, when the bad guy in question is The Unseen. Supposedly, the guy exists, and almost every person you see acts as his eyes and ears. At the same time, no one has any idea who he is or what he looks like, or even if "he" is really a "they". There are also the examples where the Boss may want people to think he doesn't exist at all. Almost every ordeal the characters suffer through was caused, known, or controlled by him. Often, it's as simple as it sounds: The Boss exists, but is simply reclusive. But sometimes, the person in charge only exists as a title, rather than a name and is simply replaced by a successor if they die, step down or are killed by said successor. Other times, the Boss spends most of his time as a faceless mook and is Hidden in Plain Sight the whole time. And lastly, there's the version where there actually IS no Boss, and it's actually been the Dragon-in-Chief, The Omniscient Council of Vagueness or a Cult that's been running the show by pretending to follow The Master's orders. This can sometimes be used by the forces of good as well, but it's not very common. Some heroic cases where this may apply are Mission Control, The Chosen One, The Big Good or The Fake Ultimate Hero. This trope (which is certainly not speaking to you now) is a Sub-Trope of The Unseen, The Powers That Be, and The Masquerade in combination. Like the first two, the character never makes an appearance with enough weight to establish whether he's real or not, but this is done deliberately either by his Mooks or the Manipulative Bastard himself. Sometimes, the Exact Words "no one sees the boss" are used, or some variation thereof like "no one knows what he looks like" or "he may or may not exist". Any information given will usually be Shrouded in Myth like, "I heard he was born after Cthulhu raped Beelzebub and the baby clawed his way out of the womb and ate both parents' souls". Before The Reveal (if there is one), any origin will be Multiple-Choice Past. The point is, if it's not being done in-universe, it's not this trope. Usually, the audience doesn't even know themselves, but this tends to vary depending on its importance as a Plot Twist. See also Shadow Dictator. Now, please write your examples below, my Troper friend. I am sure that the real No One Sees The Boss trope will put them on display so fast that it'll almost seem as though he were on this page the whole time . . .
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Anime and Manga
- L from Death Note counts, at least for the first book. For all intents and purposes he fits as a Big Good version, but his character is pretty much fully introduced in only the second of twelve books (his name remains a mystery). Kira himself counts as this at first, since no one is sure what the hell is going on in the beginning.
- Goth, the big boss of the syndicate in Et Cetera, due to highly-secretive and indirect contact being enforced among the higher-ranks in order to keep the drug operations running. As such, he isn't seen at all until the final book.
- One Piece's Crocodile, Hero of Alabasta, turns out to be Mr. 0, leader of the Baroque Works organization, fomenting revolt. We, the audience, know this right away, but In-Universe agents of his organization are kept in the dark, only receiving orders through The Dragon, Miss All-Sunday.
- The Big Bad of the fifth part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Diavolo, is this trope embodied, to the point where he uses the name 'the Boss' and is absolutely obsessed with remaining unseen. This trope is basically what the character is based around.
- There was a story arc in The Phantom newspaper comic where the Phantom busted a gang whose leader spoke to his underlings via radio from a secret location and had never been seen. He turned out to be the mousy-looking accountant type who collected the gang's takings.
- In The Goon no one sees Labrazio, as he conducts all his business through the Goon. Because the Goon killed him years ago.
- In Equilibrium, the "Father" who runs the entire dystopian society is revealed to have been dead for years, and his son now effectively controls everything.
- Sam Gold in Revolver. He does exist. Kinda. But he's all in your head. Sorta. He's in everybody's heads. Metaphorically True. And he's also Satan. Maybe. This movie is weird like that.
- Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects is the "Hidden in Plain Sight" variant.
- The Wizard of Oz: "But nobody can see the Great Oz! Nobody's ever seen the Great Oz! Even I've never seen him!" Turns out there's a good reason for that.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: (Captain) Jack believes this to be the case when no one has seen the captain or heard him, instead taking orders from the first mate (his purported daughter), and starts a mutiny by getting the crew to realize it. Unfortunately, this backfires when it turns out Blackbeard is in fact very much present and in command.
- The mysterious boss in Fritz Lang's Das Testament des Doktor Mabuse who gives out his orders from behind a curtain.
- It's strongly implied in 1984 that Big Brother doesn't actually exist, and is a complete fabrication of the Party.
- The Creator in Sword of Truth. While the earlier books almost flat out show that he exists, later books start to imply that he's a figurative entity that has no actual consciousness, but is the essence of all good and righteousness. The same is NOT true of his opposite, the Keeper of the Underworld.
- In The Man Who Was Thursday, the Big Good who hired all the policemen to infiltrate the anarchists has never actually been seen, allowing each policeman only one brief conversation in a darkened room. Meanwhile, no one seems to have met the Big Bad Sunday at all. They're the same person.
- Catch-22: Major Major Major Major has left explicit orders that no one is to be let in to his office while he is.
- Major Major Major Major has left; you can go in now.
- In Garrett, P.I., crime boss Chodo Contague has a stroke and his daughter Belinda takes over his organization, claiming to relay his orders.
- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress: Adam Selene, leader of the Revolution. Plenty of people see him on video screens, but no one gets to meet him in person, because he doesn't actually exist. He's a figurehead invented by the real mastermind of the Revolution, whose true identity is concealed from almost everyone because he's a sentient computer. When Adam Selene addresses the citizens of Free Luna, the video and audio are entirely computer-generated.
- In Nightfall, Mondior, leader of the Apostles of the Flame cult, turns out to be fictitious (similarly to Adam Selene, he's seen in video simulations only). His "spokesman", Folimun, is the real leader of the group.
- Up until the very end of Season 5, Jacob in Lost appears to give some sort of orders but is never seen. When Locke demands in Season 3 that Ben take him to see Jacob, it turns out that Jacob apparently doesn't exist at all... or does he?
- NCIS: In one episode, the errand boy is actually the boss, but nobody realises because the real boss was around, but is now in a coma.
- Robin Masters from Magnum, P.I., with Higgins as his front man. The last episode seemed to clear it up, but then...
- In the first half or so season of Soap, the head of the Mafia was like this. (He later appeared, negating his this-trope-ness.)
"Nobody sees Mr. Lefkowitz. Not even Mrs. Lefkowitz."
- Number One in The Prisoner.
- On the Apprentice-spoof My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss, the apparent boss "Mr Todd" would refer the elimination decisions to "the real boss". In the final episode, the real boss is revealed to be a monkey.
- Remington Steele: Miss Holt named the eponymous agency because she didn't think she'd be hired if people didn't believe there was a man at the helm, sending her on her assignments. This trope starts out being placed perfectly straight, but then a man actually did show up to take on the role and name.
- In Plain Sight, the US Marshals transport a man who is the go-between for a mysterious female assassin known as "Lola", who agreed to inform on her after being caught in a sting. It turns out There is no "Lola", he is the assassin, and he let himself be caught just so he could get at a target in the jail he was being held at, confident his lieutenants would free him from the marshalls.
- Carnivāle gave us Management.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The mysterious mastermind behind Project Centipede, known only as The Clairvoyant. He seems to live up to the name, staying several steps ahead of the SHIELD agents as if he can read their minds and foresee their actions. The Clairvoyant never meets anyone in person, giving orders to Centipede operatives only by telephone or text message. In reality, he is a turncoat SHIELD agent with high-level security clearance, which he uses to read SHIELD's files (including the psychological profiles, mission reports, and planning documents of other agents).
- In one episode of Mission: Impossible, the IMF infiltrate a conspiracy of sons of former Nazi leaders intent on establishing Fourth Reich, allegedly lead by a bedridden official from Hitler's original Third Reich, whose bed is obscured by a curtain and who always gives orders through his Dragon. When it turns out the leader is just a dummy and a series of tape recordings, Rollin poses as the official (claiming to be recovering from his illness) in order to drive a wedge between the the dragon, who knows the man doesn't exist and that Rollin can only be an impostor, and the rest of the conspiracy, who do not, and believe that the dragon is irrationally attacking their beloved leader.
Religion and Mythology
- May or may not be true with every deity in every religion ever. Only put examples here where it applies in story or adage.
- There's a popular adage: "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn't exist." That's actually from The Screwtape Letters, though the idea may have been kicking around before that specific work.
- "Supporting Cast: The Man," a Pyramid Magazine article for GURPS Voodoo. "The Man" is a powerful crimeboss who nobody ever sees, but who controls all the gangs in the city. In fact he's a powerful spirit who manifests because people believe there's a hidden figure controlling crime.
- Another Pyramid article, "A Fistful of Tunes You Can Whistle" for GURPS Discworld, is set in a Spaghetti Western style town run by the barking mad Varozag family. The head of the family is never seen, but "Don Dominguo orders it!" is the standard justification for their odder demands. The article suggests that an actual encounter with the Don could serve as the climax of a scenario — live or stuffed.
- In Grandia II, The God of Light, Granas, has been dead for centuries and the church that supposedly worships him is actually devoted to Valmar, the God of Darkness.
- In Mass Effect, the Shadow Broker has never been seen by anyone—not even his closest operatives. Turns out that the Broker is a yahg, a primitive species that are pretty much good at anything they care to try. He's later killed by Shepard and Liara, and to cement how good he was at his job, Liara takes his place without anyone knowing there was a change. In fact, this is exactly how the yahg took control from the previous Broker.
- In Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, the Empress Of Time fits this trope, since her real identity is Kaileena, and her own underlings actually attempt to kill her at some points of the story.
- "The Colonel" in Metal Gear Solid 2. Specifically, at one point you're directly asked if you've ever met him in person or know any name for him besides "The Colonel". Raiden can't give a good answer, and later it's because we learn that The Colonel is essentially an AI construct who was never a real person.
- In the Fall from Heaven II mod for Civilization IV, Sabathiel is never seen except by a few high priests. He actually left and the priests are ruling in his name
- The villain of Stinkoman 20X6 is always shown as a silhouette, but since that game actually doesn't have a final level, this means that we will never get to see what he really looks like.
- By The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, two of the Tribunal gods, Vivec and Almalexia, have been forced into this. They used to walk amongst the people doing miracles, but now the war against Dagoth Ur has forces them into seclusion to conserve strength, only communicating directly with a select few high-ranking Temple officials (and in Almalexia's case her personal guard). The third Tribunal god, Sotha Sil already was reclusive, and has gone so far into seclusion that even Temple officials can admit they don't actually have any contact with him (they don't even know where he is, as his Clockwork City is hidden).
- Count Hassildor of Skingrad in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is famously reclusive, unusually Long Lived, rumoured to be a powerful sorcerer, and well-loved by his subjects despite his isolation. His affairs are managed by his stewards, who are quick to remind people that he doesn't take visitors. When the player persists in requesting a meeting, it's revealed that the Count is actually a vampire, but a good guy and a conscientious ruler nonetheless.
- In Vexxarr, Vexxarr is arrested by some kind of AIs who unquestioningly obey the "Master", who they never disturb in case he might be in deep meditation. When Vexxarr finally talks his way into a private audience, it turns out that the Master is a skeleton sixty years dead, having died when the ship's life support was ruined in a long-ago battle.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender has a variant, with a twist: The Dai Li do this with the Earth King, in order to enforce their chief Long Feng's monopoly on his ear and control of his authority. The Gaang eventually had to fight their way into his throne room, and then found out that he didn't even know of the Forever War with the Fire Nation.
- From Inspector Gadget, Doctor Claw.
- In The Spectacular Spider-Man, no one but Hammerhead ever gets to meet the Big Man, New York's premier gang lord. His organization either take their orders from Hammerhead or more rarely get to talk to the Big Man over speakerphone (overseen by Hammerhead). This is because the Big Man is a well-known and respected philanthropist who can't risk anyone being able to connect him to the underworld. Subverted in season two, when the Big Man starts losing faith in Hammerhead's competence and begins meeting with his henchmen in person- causing Hammerhead to turn Starscream against him.