Publicly Discussing the Secret
Sometimes people need to get up to speed on a secret mission or plan quickly, it's a fact of life. One would probably expect them to whisper or duck into a broom closet, restroom, or office to discuss said information, to prevent their enemies or mark from overhearing them. Sadly, some people just stand around out in the open
, while speaking at or above their normal speaking volume, and the question of the enemy/mark catching wind of the mission/plan never comes up. AT ALL!
Also happens in settings involving The Masquerade
. In order to keep Muggles
from catching on to, say, the fact that dragons fill the sky every spring and fall, you'd expect that the people in the know would only talk about them behind closed doors, not in the middle of Trafalgar Square or on The Washington Mall. Can sometimes result in a Broken Masquerade
depending on the circumstances.
More Truth in Television
than you might think. Unless they're specifically targeting you as an eavesdropper, most other people in the room will pick up your tone rather than the actual words. As long as you're speaking in a normal, conversational sort of way the actual subject
is Hidden in Plain Sight
. Only rarely is this justification acknowledged, however.
Contrast Overt Rendezvous
, Public Secret Message
, and Easily Overheard Conversation
- Subverted in an iconic series of ads for the brokerage firm E. F. Hutton. Two people are out in public discussing stocks, and one of them says to the other, "Well, my broker is E. F. Hutton. And E. F. Hutton says -" and then notices that all other sound and activity have stopped. Everyone around is listening to find out what E. F. Hutton says.
- Watchmen and the film version too: Dan & Laurie have a conversation in a restaurant reminiscing over old times as superheroes without any regard to anyone who might overhear.
- When the courier brings the photographs in Spies Like Us, he announces himself quite loudly. The frustrated recipient lampshades this immediately, snarking, "Could you say that a little louder? We could open a window, and you could shout it towards Moscow."
- Happens quite often in the James Bond films:
- Invoked in You Only Live Twice, both the book and film. Tiger Tanaka, Bond's contact with the Japanese equivalent of MI6, says it's a Japanese custom.
- Casino Royale (2006): After making contact with Mathis, Bond and Vesper proceed to discuss their secret mission in a café just off the town square. Mathis also brings up blackmailing Royale's chief of police, with none of the other patrons noticing any of it.
- The 1979 film The In-Laws, CIA Agent Vincent Ricardo and Dentist Sheldon "Shelly" Kornpett (played by Peter Falk and Alan Arkin respectively), are conversing about the situation that they are in while dining at a restaurant. Shelly is not the least bit happy to have been dragged into this adventure and expresses his displeasure in the loudest possible manner which attracts the attention of its patrons.
- In Jurassic Park Dennis Nedry and Lew Dodgson discuss the plan to steal dinosaur embryos from InGen in a Costa Rican restaurant. Dodgson even demonstrates the functions of the shaving cream can used to smuggle the embryos there while sitting at the table. Nedry lampshades their Overt Rendezvous, believing that Hidden in Plain Sight is in full effect here:
Dodgson: You shouldn't use my name.
- In Munich, two Israeli agents discuss the workings of their terrorist hunting operation on a crowded street, passing dozens of potential witnesses while only talking at slightly below normal speaking volume.
- Hot Shots has the two conspirators discussing their plans at a noisy boxing match, while lampshading it.
Lieutenant Commander Block: Isn't this place a little public?
- Subverted in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015). The KGB and CIA spymasters are briefing the protagonists in a cafe, announce they're going to leave them alone to get acquainted, and get up to leave...along with everyone else in the cafe, as all the other customers are their agents.
- Played straight when the trio discusses their mission and cover stories in/on the street outside the West Berlin fashion boutique and outside the hotel in Rome.
- Deliberately invoked by Napoleon on several occasions to troll Illya.
Illya, when Napoleon approaches him and Gaby at the Spanish Steps: You're not supposed to make contact in public!
Illya, when Napoleon knocks on his hotel room door: What are you doing?! You're not supposed to be here!
- Harry Potter. Double Subverted in Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix when Harry, Hermione and Ron decide to avoid this trope by not discussing their plan in the village pub where all the students go. Instead, they go to the (nearly deserted) local Bad-Guy Bar (owned, or at least tended, amusingly enough, by Prof. Dumbledore's younger brother) where, as Sirius later tells them, they were more likely to be overheard.
- How NOT to Write a Novel strongly discourages this in the section called "Don't Mind Us", using a passage where a couple loudly argues about the husband's sexual life and neo-Nazism during a town hall meeting as an example.
- An odd example in the Wraith Squadron novel Mercy Kill. After the climax, Face and the others are walking through the streets of Coruscant discussing his new promotion to Minister of Intelligence (fair enough, that's prominent enough that it won't be a secret) and his intention to bring back the Wraiths, previously disbanded, as his own fully-deniable black-ops group. Of course, it does them no harm for people to know that the Wraiths are back...
- Done fairly often in Unique. In their defense, no one actually believes vampires or werewolves actually exist, so it comes across as people discussing a roleplaying group or a video game.
- Happens all the time on Chuck, especially in the early seasons. Chuck, Sarah, Casey, and Morgan routinely discuss the secret mission du jour on the Buy More's sales floor. None of the characters in the know (including the folks back in Langley and Arlington) see any problem with this approach.
- Happens a lot in the third season of Dexter when the DA repeatedly discusses murdering people with Dexter in restaurants, at parties, over the phone, in the office, and pretty much everywhere. Yet no one ever overhears, nor do the characters seem to be concerned that anyone will hear them. Because having the characters go somewhere private every time they need to move the plot forward would take too much screen time.
- Played for Laughs on a regular basis by the Trope Codifier, Get Smart.
- Max would often call CONTROL Headquarters on his shoe phone and openly discuss mission details in plain sight of dozens, if not hundreds, of onlookers. One episode even had Max use a phone that was hidden in a fire hydrant, while people passed him on the street.
- In other episodes, he'd make collect calls to CONTROL by asking the operator to patch him through, after giving them their secured number. Eventually, the operator learned to recognize the number and would cut Max off in mid-sentence by simply stating: "Oh, you want CONTROL Headquarters. One moment please."
- The special agents in Threshold would often publicly discuss the secret alien invasion they are investigating. In one instance, they interview a witness while pretending to be looking for terrorists... and then turn their back and immediately start talking about alien viruses and whatnot.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer made a lot of nods early on toward maintaining the masquerade for the muggles' benefit, but that fell by the wayside somewhere in the third season. From there on out, they would just talk about whatever wherever they happened to be.
- Angel: In a season 5 episode where Lorne hosts a party, he invites the senior partners, who set a trap for Angel. They discuss the trap and the plan to kill everyone at the party, while standing next to the dance floor.
- Occurs from time to time in Burn Notice, including one scene in season 2 where Michael and Victor discuss the former's next job while playing speed chess in a park in the middle of the day.
- The genre-blind titular characters of Pretty Little Liars discuss dangerous secrets, the goings and comings of A, and all the rest of their business in the open more than once. For example, in episode 23 of the fourth season, the Emily shouts with Paige about Allison, who is supposed to be dead, in the girls bathroom. This behavior repeatedly leads to the girls getting more trouble from A.
- Happens on Supernatural since they'll casually discuss whatever monster/ghost/demon their current hunt involves in the middle of diners with normal people just sitting around having a meal.
- In a recent episode of Degrassi, two perpetrators of a sexual assault were loudly discussing said assault in the hallway which allowed two other students to identify them as the perpetrators. Though they spoke in slightly hushed tones, it was evidently loud enough for two people all the way down the hall to hear them.
- A Running Gag in the first season of Roswell was Liz and Maria discussing the fact that Max, Isabel, and Michael are aliens in places like the Crashdown Cafe or West Roswell High School's cafeteria. Though they were Genre Savvy enough to not actually use the word "aliens", the word they decided to use was "Czechoslovakians", which manages to be no less weird and attention-grabbing a thing to talk about in New Mexico, especially in 1999-2000.
- For undercover agents, Deeks and Kensi in NCIS: Los Angeles seem to spend a lot of time discussing their missions in public places.
- In one episode of Callan, Callan and his fellow operative are in a bar in West Germany, talking heatedly about their mission to rescue an agent from behind the Iron Curtain. Lucky East German agents never visit bars near the border, isn't it?
- Person of Interest is also guilty of this, though not to the same degree as some other shows. How easy it is for sensitive conversations to be overheard seems to vary based on dramatic impact.
- Happens all the time on Leverage. You would think that, considering the number of times the team runs a scam that depends on no one knowing that they're running a scam, that they'd strictly avoid discussing their scams in public, but they still do, and no one seems to notice or care.
- Breaking Bad: Walt and Gus have a discussion about their meth enterprise in the middle of a hospital lobby filled with DEA agents and other law enforcement officers.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Pegasus", Riker and his former captain discuss their mutual secret (which could get them both court-martialed) in "Ten-Forward", the ship's bar, while it is full of people. Neither of them makes any effort to talk softly - they're sitting casually across a table from one another. Also remember that the person who runs Ten Forward is a woman famous for being a "great listener".
- Exaggerated in SPYFox. Not only does Spy Fox discuss secret plans on his spy watch out in the open, but he also refers to himself as a spy to incidental characters on the street.
- You see this in almost every role-playing video game whose world includes a "Thieves Guild" or something similar. Instead of remaining cagey and guarded until they're sure someone can be trusted, members of the Guild walk right up to your avatar and announce that they're thieves, and by the way they have a guild full of fellow thieves; would you like to come to their hideout for tea?
- The Booth at the End plays off of this trope. The Man at the Booth discusses lucrative, dangerous, and questionable information with visitors who come to see him at his Booth. There are always some other customers in the diners that he appears at, yet he seems not to mind, or care. This leads to a waitress asking about his "business" (assuming he's some kind of therapist based on the overheard snippets). And then the Man gets a new friend...
- In Code Lyoko, the heroes regularly discuss X.A.N.A's activities. This has gotten them into a trouble a couple times, but because their super computer has Return To The Past functionality, they're able to undo anyone finding out too much.