Just knowing the work's name can act as a spoiler for this trope. Beware.
open/close all folders
- In the '80s Crisis Crossover Millennium, the premise was that every book had a mole working for the alien robots known as the Manhunters. The writer of Suicide Squad promptly drafted Mark Shaw, a character who had previously worked with the Manhunters (before turning on them), into the book to be an obvious target of suspicion. Naturally the mole was someone else entirely.
- In the first volume of Runaways, the mole is subtly hinted at to be Karolina. It turns out, of course, to be Alex, despite many of Karolina's lines seeming like the kind of thing someone who wished failure upon the mission would say. Nope, Karolina just wasn't that bright.
- In The Faculty, Delilah is a mole, but she's just there to distract the others from the fact that Marybeth has infiltrated their group.
- Happens in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Mark Strong has a reputation for playing villains (enough to have featured in a commercial lampshading this fact alongside Tom "Loki" Hiddleston and Sir Ben Kingsley), and the comic book equivalent of his film character is revealed as The Mole. However, it turns out that in the film, it's the organization's leader who is the mole instead.
- In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the film makers avoided the I Knew It crowd by making The Invisible Man vanish (Heh) from the movie for a bit, with people who read the original arc from Alan Moore 's comic book sequel think he was going to be the traitor, only for him to be the straight up hero who saves the gang at the risk of his own life.
- Inverted in No Way Out. The protagonist (Kevin Costner) must race to find evidence to exonerate himself amid a Pentagon Witch Hunt for a Soviet mole suspected of killing the Defense Secretary's mistress. The hunt, of course, is a Red Herring intended to divert attention from the real murderer. The twist comes after he has successfully cleared suspicion from himself, when it's revealed that he actually is a Soviet mole.
- From the way he was behaving, Ben Bradlee Jr. from Spotlight looked like the guilty party who sat on the discarded evidence at the Boston Globe and was trying to cover it up. Turns out it was Robinson who dropped the ball on the story when it was brought up to him in 1993.
- In Stalag 17, Sefton is widely perceived to be the spy in the barracks due to being chummy with the Germans (a professional necessity for The Scrounger) and misanthropic towards his fellow inmates. The only thing tipping off the viewer that it's not him is that he's too bloody obvious; in fact, it's Price, the man who was leading the hunt for the spy.
- The monster of The Thing (1982) mimics target animals, including humans. However, over the course of the movie, the various people which are hinted to be the monster (and suspected of being the monster by the others) are all proved to be human.
- Dan Brown is absolutely in love with this trope. Read two books, and you'll pick up how the guy who's obviously the mole isn't, and that the character least likely to be will be, and you'll be able to readily pick him out. Or, you can trust me and do it with the first one you read. Seriously. It's the guy it makes the absolute least sense for it to be.
- In Dune, Dr. Wellington Yueh is set up as this as part of an elaborate I Know You Know I Know gambit between the Harkonnens and Atreides. As the person upon whom suspicion most obviously falls, he is at the same time Beneath Suspicion due to his mental conditioning, and therefore the Atreides are lured into looking elsewhere for the real mole. Turns out that, yep, Yueh is The Mole, and does betray them, making this a deliberate subversion.
- The first Harry Potter book has Snape, whom Harry believes is attempting to steal the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone. Nope, it's Quirrell. Snape is suspected of other events of which he is innocent in later books as well.
- This got to the point where, in book 6, Rowling devoted an entire chapter to explain how Snape can be a loyal Death Eater after seemingly siding with Dumbledore against Voldemort in the previous 5 books. This chapter exists for the sole purpose of making it believable that he is very definitely the mole before he kills Dumbledore at the end of the book. In the end, he was on Harry's side the whole time and was only faking allegiance to the Death Eaters.
- Ollie Brown in the Joe Ledger Series, as a former CIA Assassin who was inexplicably kidnapped then not killed instantaneous he was suspect. When he ran off with The Big Bad it looked certain but he was innocent.
- Nursery Crime: The Big Over Easy has a subtler version with Jack Spratt's flashy rival Friedland Chymes, who appears to be obstructing the investigation, and the reader might suspect he's The Mole (but it's not directly hinted). He turns out simply to be arrogant and convinced he's already solved the case, while still being a legitimate detective.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- At the start of the first book, Catelyn Stark receives a letter from her sister Lysa telling her that Lysa's late husband, Jon Arryn, was murdered by Queen Cersei Lannister. Suspicion is further piled on Cersei when it is revealed that just before his death, Jon had discovered a secret - Cersei's three royal children were not in fact fathered by her husband King Robert, but by her brother Jaime - and that when Jon fell ill, Cersei's puppet Grand Maester Pycelle had allowed him to die rather than attempting to treat him. However, it is eventually revealed that while Jon was murdered, it was nothing to do with Cersei, and in fact it was Lysa herself, under the influence of Petyr Baelish, who killed Jon.
- Early on in the first book, Bran Stark accidentally catches Cersei and Jaime having sex. Jaime throws Bran out of a window, but this fails to kill him. A failed attempt to kill Bran is later made by an assassin, heavily implied to have been sent by Jaime or Cersei to stop Bran from telling. In actual fact the assassin was sent by Joffrey, who had no knowledge of what Bran had seen just before his fall.
- In the middle of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, one of the characters mysteriously disappears. He/she could have been offed by the serial killer in their midst, but the other characters can't find his/her body or even any sign of him/her anywhere else on the island. Aha! He/she must be the killer, hiding somewhere that the others can't find! That assumption's shot down when the surviving characters find his/her body washed up on the shore. The line of the nursery rhyme referring to the character's sequential death even states that he/she was done in by a Red Herring, having been set up by the actual killer.
- Harry Turtledove's The Two Georges: we think The Mole is a civil servant who stole the protagonist's wife from him, but it turns out to be his old friend and boss.
- In Warchild Series Evan is introduced as a member of some recently captured pirates. He claims innocence but nobody but Jos believes him, thinking him to be a pirate mole. This continues in universe, but he's actually completely innocent and was being kept as a slave by the pirates.
- Timothy Zahn likes this trope:
- In Night Train to Rigel, Compton realises that either one of the two people he ate dinner with at one point must be The Mole: either the Jerkass Obstructive Bureaucrat who had him fired from Westali, or the friendly colleague. Guess which it is?
- In The Thrawn Trilogy, after Borsk Fey'lya accuses Admiral Ackbar of being The Mole, Leia wonders if Fey'lya himself might be The Mole instead. In a subversion, it turns out there is no mole - just a hidden Imperial sound recording system that picked up sensitive conversations.
- During season three of Arrested Development, Michael dates a British woman named Rita who is repeatedly set up as a spy investigating the Bluth family. Sure enough, the episode "Mr. F" reveals that a mole has been leaking information to the CIA. The Bluths (and audience) immediately suspect Rita. However, it turns out that the mole is actually Tobias (Mr. F being Mr. Funke.) Rita's real secret: she's mentally retarded.
- Blackadder Goes Forth episode "General Hospital" has Blackadder sent to a field hospital to track down a mole. Once there he meets "Mister Smith", who speaks with a HEAVY German accent. Also leads to this:
George: "You haven't seen any suspicious-looking characters that might be German spies, have you Smitty?"Smith: "Nein!"
- Of course, Smith does turn out to be a spy...a British spy, who developed "a teensy bit of an accent" from working undercover in Germany for so long; Blackadder realized the Germans weren't dumb enough to send such an obvious spy, but Capt. Darling didn't, tried to arrest Smith, and ended up being chewed out by Gen. Melchett for his incompetence.
- Bones: They set up Lance Sweets to look like he might be the Gormogon's apprentice, before the reveal that it was Zack.
- Part of the seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer dropped hints that Giles might have been murdered and impersonated by the First Evil. He wasn't. It was purest coincidence that he
completelyconspicuously failed to come into physical contact with anything or anyone for five straight episodes.Giles: Wait... you think I'm evil if I go on a camping trip with young girls and don't touch them?
- Doctor Who: In "The Web of Fear", for most of the story the primary suspect for being the vessel of the Great Intelligence is one Colonel Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who, obviously, was not at the time expected to become a recurring character of any sort.
- The actual Pilot Episode of Firefly does this. From the moment you see him, Simon is set up as the mole with every trick in the book short of painting the word "mole" on his back - until The Reveal, which still misdirects suspicion onto Shepherd Book for a split second before revealing the mole to be Dobson, who'd been largely inoffensive and bumbling to that point.
- Of course, since there are ten people on the ship and nine of them are in the opening credits, it's fairly obvious which one isn't above board.
- Game of Thrones introduces the Sons of the Harpy, a resistance movement in favor of returning control of Meereen to the wealthy elites. By far the elite with the most screen time is Hizdahr zo Loraq, who is lobbying for political reversion on grounds of cultural norms. He's cleared when he tries to lead Daenerys out of an ambush and dies immediately.
- Nathan in the Lost episode "The Other 48 Days." His name reminds the audience of Ethan, who infiltrated the fuselage survivors, and he even says he's from Canada, just as Ethan claimed to be (a Running Gag on the show is that anytime someone mentions Canada, he's lying.) Of course, Nathan's not an infiltrator; Goodwin is.
- In the Reality Show named The Mole, the object is to identify The Mole among the contestants. Since failed guesses at the Mole's identity get players eliminated from the game, players will often pretend to be the Mole to trick their competitors into guessing wrong.
- The tricky bit here is that the Mole wants missions to fail so the pot of prize money remains low, whereas everyone else wants to win missions and raise the pot. That means the regular players try their best to succeed while trying to make it look like they're attempting to fail.
- And, because the Mole would not be obvious about his task, players don't want to make it obvious they are failing on purpose. They want to make it seem like they are doing subtle sabotage badly. Anyone who is clearly failing on purpose is clearly a Red Herring Mole and not the real Mole. (That is, unless the real Mole thought you would think that, and is making himself so obvious you will overlook him. Yeah, it's that kind of show.)
- Season six of NCIS begins with a mole-hunt within the department, which apparently ends when Agent Brent Langer tries to kill recurring character Agent Michelle Lee, who shoots him in self-defense. The audience is almost immediately tipped off that Lee herself is the mole, but the rest of the cast don't find out for another eight episodes.
- The Marquis de Carabas in Neverwhere. In both book and TV show, he's set up to look like the bad guys' employer. Right up until they kill him.
- In season 1 of Orphan Black, Aynsley, a completely innocent woman, chokes to death because Alison thought she was a monitor from the Dyad.
- Repeated in season 3, when Shay is suspected only to be found completely innocent. Turns out there was no mole, and Gracie was tricked by Castor.
- Although it's known to the audience the whole time, Robin of Robin Hood uses Will Scarlett as a Red Herring Mole in order to flush out the real one.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the season 4 finale "Broken Link", while he was joined with a Founder, Odo saw an image of Klingon chancellor Gowron, and is led to think that Gowron is a changeling imposter. The season 5 episode "Apocalypse Rising" has Odo join Sisko to infiltrate a Klingon station where Gowron is visiting to kill him. But eventually, he realizes that Gowron isn't an imposter, but General Martok is, who is eliminated quickly. They deduce that the Founders wanted Odo misled into assassinating Gowron so that the Klingon/Federation war would go on, leaving both too weak to stop the Dominion.
- In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), Lily seems to be holding the Villain Ball, but it is actually the adorable Ava who begins killing the other Special Children.
- Cave Story: Professor Booster appears as a grumpy-looking, old scientist in a white coat wearing opaque, signal red glasses. It doesn't help that the game's main antagonist throughout the story is also a doctor in a white coat. Nonetheless he never switches sides, and even stays loyal until his death in one continuity of the game, giving away an item to the protagonist with his last bit of strength that he could otherwise have used to save himself.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the player is given every reason to think Jolene is responsible for the mysterious disappearances around the Glitz Pit. Nope, it's Grubba, the Glitz Pit's manager; turns out Jolene was snooping around to find evidence of Grubba's evil plot to expose him.
- Gorath in Betrayal at Krondor, a dark elf who joins the humans for the good of his own race, is suspected of being a double agent for much of the game, with several unfortunate (and no doubt orchestrated by his enemies) incidents painting him in a highly suspicious light. When the party arrives in Romney to find the Krondorian Lancers brutally murdered, one of the witnesses reports of someone sharing Gorath's name and description supposedly being seen there earlier, much to James' fury. Later, when Gorath and Owyn are captured by Delekhan, the former is treated somewhat like a spy who has failed in his tasks. Owyn is unsettled by the idea but concludes that he still needs Gorath's help to get out of there alive, whatever his real loyalties might be.
- In the 2009 Ghostbusters: The Video Game, Walter Peck spends almost the entire game actively hindering the team, to the point where they suspect he is secretly a Gozer cultist. It turns out that he's just an idiot, the Mayor on the other hand has been possessed and set Peck on the Ghostbusters to slow down their progress.
- In Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, while you're at sea, you see a cutscene with Ashnard which basically boils down to learning that although Ike and co. have escaped with Princess Elincia, they have a spy in their group reporting on their every move. The very next scene, you find a stowaway, the young thief Sothe, on your ship and have to choose whether to recruit him or not. It doesn't help that Sothe won't tell you what he's doing there for quite a few more chapters. The real mole is Nasir, the trustworthy ally of the Laguz who owns the ship you're on.
- Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings And the Long Lost Ocean has two -Savyna and Lyude. Both have ties to The Empire you're fighting against, with Lyude being an Imperial Officer and Savyna an assassin they employed. Both of them are discussed by other characters as being likely candidates for The Mole. There's even a boss fight against Savyna after she's accused (after which she says she wasn't a spy, and only went along with the fight because the rest of the party was too stubborn to listen). Of course, they're both innocent. The real spy is Kalas, the main character.
- Inazuma Eleven GO has Kariya, just a jerk who says he's a SEED from Fifth Sector to screw with Kirino.
- It makes most of the fun in Trouble In Terrorist Town, given how players may gun other ones down because they've mistaken them to be the traitor. Whether or not this is due to griefing, trolling or Poor Communication Kills depends on what game lobby you land in.
- For most of the Meet the Spy Team Fortress 2 short, the BLU Spy is made out to be the RED Spy in disguise. He saunters into the intel room later than everyone else while carrying the corpse of one of the RED Spy's victims, possesses information that seemingly only the RED Spy could have access to and spends the whole short painting his counterpart out to be an unstoppable, shapeshifting badass. He's not. The Soldier certainly believes he is though, and blasts his head off with his shotgun in the middle of the Spy's exposition. The RED Spy is really disguised as the Scout, who spent the whole time mocking the RED Spy and acting like a goof. Also somewhat of a Meta Twist, since up until Meet the Spy, the class in the limelight had never been shown to be on both the RED and BLU teams at the same time.
- Tales of Berseria follows the series's tradition of having a traitor within the group of heroes. At first, Magilou seems like an obvious candidate due to her Obfuscating Stupidity, Mysterious Past, and one instance where she sold out the group to avoid torture. In a twist, the traitor turns out to be her Malak, Bienfu, who was forced by a Geas to report on the party's activities. Magilou eventually catches on to him and breaks the Geas, firmly cementing that she was a red herring.
- Colias Palaeno is this in Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth, so sweet and innocent that the player is driven to think they must be guilty of something. Not guilty, just too clueless to know The Dragon of the smuggling ring was his secretary. In fact, it's more unnerving that he's always nice and helps you to the best of his ability.
- RPG World has Eikre, who, despite an amazing number of coincidences and several characters' suspicions, is not Galgarion in disguise.
- Subverted in the pilot of Archer, aptly titled "Mole Hunt". The end of the episode revealed that the Mole Hunt itself had been intended as a red herring, but ended up smoking out an actual mole.
- In The Legend of Korra, we have Asami Sato. Introduced as the romantic rival to the main character, she wears plentiful makeup, comes from a very wealthy family, and dresses in red and black, the same color schemes as Amon and the Equalists... but she remains completely loyal to the Krew, even turning against her own father when she finds out he's part of the aforementioned Equalists. She was initially envisioned as a mole, and her character design was simply left alone when she was changed to a truly good character.
- In the Rick and Morty episode "Total Rickall", the family deal with alien parasites that take the form of wacky side-characters that come from nowhere that have the ability to create memories of various misadventures. Of note is Mr. Poopybutthole who is not only treated as a beloved family friend but also gets edited into the intro of the episode. At the end of the episode, after all the other parasites are killed Beth shoots Mr. Poopybutthole out of understandable suspicion, only for him to begin bleeding to death rather than turn back into a parasite.
- In a particularly nasty example for a kids' show, Transformers Animated has Wasp, who is framed as a traitor and spends over fifty years in prison. The real traitor gets away with it and eventually gets promoted to chief of intelligence.
- Young Justice:
- Artemis. Girl who appears out of nowhere with a mysterious back-story? Seems to have shady connections? Shortly after she joins the team they get a tip about there being a mole? It was so obvious that most fans dismissed her immediately.
- There were two others. Miss Martian, who seems like a sweet girl, except she's clearly hiding something, and Super Boy, whose dubious background makes it likely that he is a Manchurian Agent. In the end all three of them come clean, and The Mole turns out to be Roy, who really is a Manchurian Agent.
- The mole hunt that eventually nabbed notorious FBI spy Robert Hanssen was focused for some time on the wrong person, a CIA agent who turned out to be innocent. The Bureau questioned the CIA officer and his family at length, until they acquired a recording of the mole and realized they'd been looking at the wrong man. Hanssen's arrest followed a few months later.
- This trope is why it's extremely difficult to convict someone in criminal court using circumstantial evidence only, and why criminal courts insist on "proven beyond a reasonable doubt" as the threshold for a conviction.