Red Herring Mole
The show's designers have set Bob up to be The Mole
. It's incredibly obvious
that Bob is The Mole
. Heck, even the other characters on the show are starting to suspect that Bob is The Mole
So here we come to The Reveal
, where it turns out... Bob wasn't The Mole
after all! Nope, Bob is a totally innocent character who just had a bunch of unfortunate coincidences surrounding him. There may not be a mole at all, but if there is, it will be an entirely different character, and probably the one that everyone suspected least — or even the one who was leading the Mole Hunt in the first place.
Not to be confused with a Reverse Mole
, who is only pretending
to work for the bad guys, though in some circumstances a character can be both. A Ten Little Murder Victims
plot involves most of the cast being these.
May involve Divided We Fall
. Compare with the Bait-and-Switch Tyrant
- 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 '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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Warchild 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.
- 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.
- Colias Palaeno is this in Ace Attorney, 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's he's always nice and helps you to the best of his ability.
- 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.
- RPG World has Eikre, who, despite an amazing number of coincidences and several characters' suspicions, is not Galgarion in disguise.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.