Surveillance as the Plot Demands
"Lex Luthor had cameras everywhere. It didn't matter if Jayna was on the toilet or if Superman was 3 galaxies away enjoying a bowl of cereal, Lex Luthor could put it up on the big screen if he wanted."
The bad guys have cameras everywhere
. They probably also have Ominous Multiple Screens
to follow all those cameras. Like some even-more-sinister version of Big Brother
, they always know exactly where the heroes are and what they're doing, even if there's no possible reason for them to be able to. It doesn't matter if they're three galaxies away
or five thousand years in the past
, the villains can still find them. They can put anything that they want up on the big screen, making you wonder why they don't just give up on the bizarre plans for world domination and just surreptitiously blackmail every government
in the world without the good guys ever finding out. Or at least you would if you weren't so busy trying to puzzle out exactly how Luthor
managed to get a live feed of the Super Friends
repairing satellites in outer space.
The Omniscient Council of Vagueness
will often make heavy use of this trope — it's evidently how they keep The Plan
up-to-date. Heroes or antagonists savvy to this will give them a Poke in the Third Eye
to escape detection.
Incidentally, magical versions of this trope (Crystal Balls
, Magic Mirrors
, etc.) are a little more
sensible, being one of those tropes that's so unlikely
that A Wizard Did It
becomes the most plausible explanation.
See also Big Brother Is Watching
for the dystopian
version. Not to be confused with Magical Security Cam
, which is when the surveillance footage is recycled from elsewhere in the show.
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Anime and Manga
- The new Ai no Kusabi OVA shows that Iason has surveillance cameras all over Eos watching Riki where ever he goes.
- L from Death Note likes this trope, so do Mello and Near and is often seen watching Ominous Multiple Screens. At one point L put 64 cameras in his suspect's room only to take them out again later.
- The Digimon Kaiser in Digimon Adventure 02. One of the standby jokes in any Crack Fic involved him being caught aiming the camera in odd directions...
- Dragon Quest Legend Of The Hero Abel has Baramos monitoring the heroes' progress through magic using the eyes of his many minions.
- MakubeX in Get Backers while inside his tower.
- Briefly appears in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann for a single episode: Tymilph has a wall of screens, displaying various things. Including one camera aimed directly at Kiyoh's breasts.
- In Powerpuff Girls Z Professor Utonium has a screen in his lab that can show any spot in the city, no matter how little sense it makes for him to view anything there. Mojo Jojo, unlike in the original, does not.
- Soul Eater has Arachne using her spiders as spies to track enemy movement. Even to the point of semi-omniscience, which she demonstrates by telling Maka & Soul that Soul is the one who burnt their curry the previous night, because he left it on too long. So, apparently, she's either an excellent multitasker, or she just likes watching people do mundane things.
- The power of Hermit Purple, Joseph Joestar's Stand in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. He can summon pictures of where a person is by destroying a camera, and can read the future by adjusting a television set (it manifests as people on random TV channels saying words that link into a proper sentence). Dio Brando has the same power due to having the body of Jonathan Joestar (Joseph's grandfather).
- A Running Gag in Nobody Dies is the fact that Yui knows everything that happens in Tokyo-3. Everything.
Shinji: Mom, please tell me you don't have cameras in Misato's bathroom.
Yui: I have cameras everywhere.
- Humorously invoked in Hogyoku Ex Machina, where Unohana is particularly disturbed to learn that Mayuri installed surveillance devices in Ichigo's hospital room long before his arrival in Soul Society, claiming that it was a "necessary precaution".
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- The Bourne Ultimatum. Combined with Everything Is Online, this takes things to ridiculous levels.
- Parodied in Spaceballs, where the bad guys track down the heroes via a VHS tape of the film itself.
- The Dark Knight:
- The main villain of Eagle Eye apparently has the ability to spy on anyone she cares to, including closely monitoring our heroes to ensure that they enact her plans. As it turns out, she's a super-computer that the government has built for spying, and her hijacking of various cameras was justified by the DHS having forced the companies to include back doors.
- Parodied in Blazing Saddles, where the villain goes into a movie theater to escape the hero, sits down, and sees the hero coming into the theater on the screen.
- In You Only Live Twice, two scenes where James Bond follows the action through TV screens might bring Fridge Logic. In one, the car television shows a helicopter throwing a car in the middle of the sea - from above - and Blofeld's ship engulfing the American one in space.
- The skeksis of The Dark Crystal have spying creatures called crystal bats, whose bodies appear to be lenses; the images picked up by these lenses can be seen through the eponymous crystal.
- Victor von Doom apparently has surveillance of the Baxter Building in Fantastic Four. It's never explained how.
- The Dark Tower:
- Stephen King's epic Dark Tower universe includes thirteen different-hued crystal balls of "the Wizard's Rainbow"—they can be used as typical crystal balls are, but each has a certain psychotic bent.
- Some of the wizards at Unseen University own small pocket crystal balls that can be used to observe a specific location, although sometimes reception is bad. And lampshaded: An Omniscope, one of the most powerful magical devices, can technically show anything anywhere in the universe; the tricky problem is getting it to show you the specific thing at the correct place and correct time that you want (it's easier now that Hex, the magical computer at Unseen University, can crunch the numbers for you). Some wizards just set the lens of the Omniscope to the dark of infinite space and use it as a shaving mirror. Recently (in Going Postal), two omniscopes have successfully been linked for long-distance "video conference" communication purposes.
- This is the result of an accidental discovery Ponder Stibbons makes in The Last Hero, where his clumsiness reveals that one half of a broken omniscope automatically sees out the other half's POV.
- In Witches Abroad, the villain, an evil Fairy Godmother, has a Magic Mirror room that allows her to scry through any reflective surface on the disc. It's a bit Awesome but Impractical, though, since she has no magical ability locate what she wants to look at, so she has to essentially scroll through every reflective surface in a given area to find what she's looking for.
- The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter:
- The whole book is about the invention of a device that allows the user to look anywhere in the world they want; later on, the technology is discovered to be able to directly view events in the past. The main focus of the novel is on how the world adapts to the fact that "privacy" literally has no meaning anymore, since you can be watched at any point in your life (and even things you've done in the past).
- It's implied that the Overlords in Childhoods End have similar technology, and that it contributed to the downfall of mass religion, as people got to see their religious figures in flesh.
- Isaac Asimov's short story "The Dead Past" covers similar ground.
- Robert Ludlum's The Prometheus Deception has a villain with this modus operandi.
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth:
- Some of the Valar have vast surveillance assets. When upon the holy mountain Taniquetil beside his spouse Varda, Manwë Súlimo could see anywhere in the world; likewise, when Varda was similarly situated, she could hear anywhere in the world. Melkor/Morgoth had a rather nasty variant; he set a chair atop the peak of Thangorodrim where he imprisoned Húrin, just so Húrin could see all of Morgoth's victories and the ruin of Húrin's own nation and family.
- Oddly, the Palantíri themselves seem to subvert this trope — they were primarily designed for communication between the owners of the stones. However, they are not purely communication devices. Tolkien elaborates on how they can be used in one of the chapters in Unfinished Tales. They have limited range, cannot see through things, and cannot look everywhere at once, but they can be used to view things in locations other than the rooms where other stones are kept.
- Due to their limitations, Frodo famously slipped through the surveillance net to get into Mordor. Sauron has to resort to more "mundane" methods of info gathering such as via his flying Nazgűl.
- Additionally, one is actually used against Sauron: Aragorn uses the Palantír taken from Isengard to show Sauron that Isildur's heir is alive and challenging him. However, this is all just a ploy to keep Sauron's attention (and Palantír) pointed elsewhere while Sam and Frodo slip into Mordor.
- Another was used by Denethor, who was apparently unaware of the limitations and had Sauron manipulating what he saw through it. This drove him to madness and almost led to the loss of Gondor.
- The Numenoreans built a similar "Seat of Seeing" on the hilltop of Amon Hen. Frodo was able to see all the way to Minas Tirith and into Mordor from the stone seat there.
- In Septimus Heap, Merrin Meredith and later Simon Heap can use appropriately-name The Observatory to spy out the Castle from safe distance.
- The Star Trek novel The Starship Trap involves the use of a dimensional vergence (a construct that touches every point in every universe simultaneously) as a weapon to eliminate starships, and thus war, from the galaxy. The crew uses surveillance of the vergence to spy on an alternate-universe Klingon ship to bluff it into leaving them alone while they try to use the vergence to return to their own universe.
- The protagonists in Safehold have access to spy satellites and tiny remote cameras that can be placed just about any place on the planet. With Safehold stuck in Medieval Stasis and having no concept of that technology, and no way to stop it if they did, this provides a massive advantage for the protagonists. Their biggest problems have been having so much information and needing to filter out what's important and the Church of God Awaiting, assuming they just have damnably good spies, working out blind spots in their surveillance & using lone agents to counter.
Live Action TV
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Trio has cameras where they need them. How they pulled off planting that gnome in Buffy's lawn is a question for the ages.
- Doctor Who:
- In the episode "The Sound of Drums", the Master observes the Doctor, Jack and Martha on a public CCTV camera, while speaking to the Doctor on a mobile phone. While the camera's existence is perfectly plausible, the Master's ability to quickly gain access to the exact one our heroes are standing in front of is not, even if he is the Prime Minister. Barring Fourth Tier Time Lord technology, of course, though the episode doesn't say that.
- Torchwood London was able to locate the arrival of the TARDIS on their global sensors (during "Army of Ghosts"), find a public camera nearby and pipe the picture from it to a screen at their headquarter just in time to see the TARDIS dematerialize again.
- Not to mention, both Sarah Jane Smith and Harriet Jones both had their own secret global communications network (in "Journey's End"). Or the "magical" cell phones the Doctor is handing out to his companions these days, that use the TARDIS as a transtemporal relay station. Communications technology is the new plot shortcut.
- In Pretty Little Liars, it seems that "A" knows what each of the protagonists is doing almost all of the time. "A" uses this to intimidate, threaten and blackmail them.
- Megan of Drake & Josh.
- Nearly every Power Rangers team from the beginning to the present does have a Magical Security Cam, good guys and bad guys alike able to observe any plot-relevant event no matter where it took place and at angles that make you wonder if they've got an invisible camera crew (though it's not always footage we've just seen in reality.) In some seasons, surveillance devices were literally magical ("Observe the viewing globe!") but in others... apparently, the entire world (and galaxy, in some seasons) is filled with never-seen hovering security cameras for both sides. Power Rangers Ninja Storm (the 11th season) makes a mention of a security drone, and Power Rangers Jungle Fury (season 16) mentioned a citywide surveillance system - the show's first (and to date, only) attempts to justify this.
- Played with in Power Rangers Samurai: the city is rigged with sensors like the ones in Ninja Storm and Jungle Fury allegedly are, but not cameras - the alarms are accompanied by maps showing the monster's location but no video feed of the monster itself. This often leaves them unprepared for the monster's attack - most teams get to witness the monster's means of tormenting the populace before fac ing it themselves.
- In Power Rangers Turbo, the periscope of Divatox's sub can appear from any body of water... even a glass of water on a table across the room from the Rangers. It resizes to match, being bigger when it's in a lake than when it's in a coffee cup.
- In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Rita and Zedd have their telescope and visor respectively, and both are X-Ray Vision capable... but you'd expect them to only be able to look from above. They get impossible camera angles with those things!
- LOST's "Others" seem to know the Losties' every move for the first few seasons. This is eventually explained (mostly) by the presence of spies in their camps and cameras all over the island.
- In Kyle XY, Latnok apparently installs cameras in places like a diner in the middle of nowhere.
- Granted, she's not a council, but disregarding that Gossip Girl fits this trope to a T.
- Lampshaded in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, :The Menagerie," when Spock shows footage from his days with Capt. Pike (using footage from "The Cage") and when it gets so detailed, Kirk objects noting that no security footage could be like that. It turns out it is images sent from the Masters of Illusion from Talos IV instead.
- Justified and then averted in Person of Interest where the Machine is fed data from millions of cameras already installed all over the country. It can thus track individual people everywhere in the county and determine if they are pose a threat. However, the Machine was specifically designed to deny its human operators access to its inner workings and thus they cannot just tell the Machine to track a specific person. The Machine outputs a Social Security number of a Person of Interest and the humans have to track that person down through other means.
- On The Mentalist this becomes a crucial point during an investigation of a murder in a high school. The school's principal is able to obtain information about events he could not have witnessed and was not told about. It turns out that he secretly installed security cameras in the bathrooms.
- Averted by Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined). They have cameras and TVs but the existence of an internal security camera system on the Galactica would have solved many problems before they could expand into episode-length plots. The aversion is justified since the colonials are downright (and considering the Robot War very properly) paranoid about any computer networks. The more modern Pegasus has security cameras, making this one more way in which the Galactica shows just how old it is.
- This is Older Than Print with Norse myth:
- Odin is said to possess a high seat called "Hlidskjalf" which enables him (and anyone else who sits on it, at least if they are gods) to see everything that occurs in the nine worlds. However, to his defense, Odin is the master of all the gods. Which is a pretty good defense, don't you think?
- Plus, Odin has his two ravens, Hugin ("Thought") and Munin ("Memory") who fly out at dawn each day from Odin's hall across the three worlds and upon their return whisper in his ears the news of everything they've seen.
- Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition: The cover illustration of the fourth edition Dungeon Masters Guide is a dragon spying on adventurers (from the cover of the Player's Handbook) via a crystal ball in Palantir Ploy fashion.
- In Alpha Protocol you can buy maps of all of the various locations from a surveillance company, even those of extremely secure facilities. Including those which your highly powerful government agency can't get accurate data for.
- The Combine of Half-Life 2. It makes more sense than most though, as they they've conquered the entire planet.
- A character limit caused this to happen in the English versions of the first two generations of Pokémon from a kind, loving mentor. Whenever you tried to use an item improperly, the game would all of a sudden have Professor Oak speak to you, saying that this isn't the correct time to use that. Nintendo Power explained that Oak had set up a complex series of cameras across Kanto and Johto expressly for this purpose. By the time the games moved to a 32-bit system, there was more room for text, and thus they could explain that it was simply the character imagining what his mentor would say in that situation.
- In the first Rayman game, Mr. Dark spends most the game spying on the eponymous hero. Doesn't matter if Rayman's inside a cave or atop a mountain; Mr. Dark is always watching from that hill.
- Combines this with one of the most brilliant aversions of Gameplay and Story Segregation to date when we find out that the bad guys had been tracking our heroes through the Save Point network.
- Which was done again in Chrono Cross. The save points also acted as subtle mind-control devices for FATE.
- Kingdom Hearts
- In Kingdom Hearts the Council of Disney villains lead by Maleficent is shown viewing Sora's actions in some of the cutscenes.
- In the climax of Sora's story in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, it is revealed that the Recusant's Sigil - you know, that nondescript unimportant X right on his shirt? - was being used as a tracker making sure he was kept in place during his time in the Sleeping Worlds.
- Chain of Memories had Axel, Larxene, Marluxia, and Naminé watching Sora's every move from that one room, through a crystal ball. Downstairs, Zexion, Lexaeus, and Vexen were doing the same thing to Riku, though Vexen switches to upstairs once the Riku Replica is finished. Justified, considering that the entire game takes place in one castle.
- Played straight in Mega Man X2, replete with villains in the shadows. They exchange words about their master, but anyone who's even a little well versed in the series' trend of recurring final bosses already knows this "master" is Sigma.
- In Holiday Wars, The Bunny teams up with The Forgotten which allows him to keep track of the story's protagonist. You can check it out here
- In The Order of the Stick:
- Xykon makes heavy use of his crystal ball. It features picture-in-picture (for viewing multiple groups of heroes at once), widescreen, and a "TeeVo" to record actions the heroes take while he's busy with something else.
- The Three Fiends also have a TV that lets them watch whatever they're interested in, complete with a mode to see invisible things.
- The non-canon spy spoof arc of Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures shows some increasingly-improbable surveillance, then lampshades it in this strip.
- In RPG World, Galgarion has his Magic Mirror, with Tee Vo.
- Sinfest has Satan's "Drone Cams" apparently see everything and collect data for soul audits. Except they fail half of the time. Not resistant even to bedeviling, so upon annoying a Fire Succubus become <Bomf!> -skeet. And the Zombie Guy simply punched one out. And pestering Buddha got these things "enlightened" by him. Once self-aware, they turned Big D's wall of screens into non-stop nature show and became afraid of his employees.
Cambug: Emotional state: Irritable, hostile.
Cambug: Abilities: Fireball, pitchfork.
Cambug: Conclusion: AVOID.
- After enough of this hilarity, DeviltechTM developed another version, but it's really lame.
- Lampshaded in a The Powerpuff Girls episode, when Mojo Jojo steals the Anubis head for the second time and replays clips from the last episode of the effects of the head's magic in countries around the globe.
Blossom: Hey, who filmed this, anyway? What, do you have cameras all over the world?
Mojo Jojo: Yes! Now shut up!
- Plasmius by Season 3 of Danny Phantom has taken to using numerous, tiny, bug-shaped, Spider-Man-esque cameras. But not that tiny.
- Dr. Claw in Inspector Gadget has cameras everywhere. Apparently his minions carry them around everywhere, but sometimes they pop up in weird places, like ancient pyramids, the police stations, and Gadget's own house!
- Lex Luthor:
- Super Friends. He had cameras everywhere, including Earth orbit...and near the Earth's core.
- And as Seanbaby pointed out, they could have used blackmail to take over the world several times over by now... except it's the Superfriends, the show where everyone, hero or villain or the show's writers, is Too Dumb to Live.
- On Samurai Jack:
- The Big Bad Aku has a crystal ball that allows him to see whatever Jack is doing. Why he doesn't try more often to send his flunkies right to Jack is anyone's guess.
- It has been demonstrated at least once that it can be "jammed", causing it to display only static (Aku treats it like a faulty TV, but hitting it doesn't help much). Also, it probably does a great job of tracking people once the user has found them, but might not be so hot at actually finding them in the first place.
- Still, even if Jack keeps winning, you'd think he would just send staggered waves of weak or competent enemies to tire and infuriate Jack before he delivers a finishing blow. At least part of this plan has actually happened in series.
- He has space-capabilities as well, if he knows where Jack is, how about an orbital weapon? Or just a Colony Drop (not like that kind of collateral damage is Oo C for Aku, the living embodiment of darkness and evil).
- WOOHP, the Heroes "R" Us of Totally Spies! can not only record everything everywhere in the world but can find and summon the girls from anywhere: at school, at the mall, in the Middle Ages, even from their bedroom or from in the shower!
- Played with in the Season 3 premičre of The Venture Bros.:
The Monarch: Yeah, yeah, roll the clip...
Unfortunately, we have no visual records of your time in college.
Councilman 2: Of course not! How could we have video of you from that long ago? That's crazy!
Councilman 3: We're the Council of Thirteen, not magic angel babies.
Councilman 2: We don't have like a... magic window into the past-
The Monarch: Okay, okay, I get it.
- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983): He-Man's nemesis Skeletor had (at least in the Ladybird books) a 'mystic viewscreen' which let him see absolutely anywhere, including inside Castle Grayskull. When you can watch the heroes' every movement and still lose every time, you're obviously doing something wrong.
- In the 2002 remake, Tri-Klops uses a series of small floating Conspicuous CG devices to spy on everyone. The heroes completely fail to notice them flying around their palace... most of the time. There are at least two cases of animals chasing them, and a minor villain finds one and uses it as an excuse to get inside Skeletor's base.
- Kim Possible: This is lampshaded when Kim points out the obvious security risks of the bad guy having a direct video link into the hero's base. Somehow, the heroes fail to see any problem with this. Aside from Kim and Shego, who exasperatedly comments that such idiocy is the reason the Dark Action Girl left.
- Transformers Generation 1:
- It is crawling with hidden cameras, from both the Decepticons and the Autobots. Oddly enough, even when they're supposedly connecting with the 'visual sensors' of another bot, there's always some sort of angled camera view instead.
- Megatron has one of those when he's dismembered during the first few episodes of Transformers Animated.
- Mumm-Ra from ThunderCats does this. Only partially justified, based on how much you want to believe that he really is confined to his pyramid in any given episode. Lion-O's Sword Of Omens can do this too.
- Shredder was a huge offender of this trope in the '80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'' cartoons.
- Dr. Wily in the Mega Man cartoon had what some fans call the 'Anywhere Screen', letting him see live feed of just about anywhere.
- In the "Abducted" episode of Invader Zim:
- The duo of aliens that abducted Zim somehow have recorded video of Zim lying about being human, made even more implausible in this case since these aliens are so stupid that it'd be a stretch to think they'd even know how to use a camera.
- Maybe they somehow hacked into the one Ms. Bitters used to record Zim saying he would attend Parent-Teacher Night. In that case, Zim lampshades:
Zim: Why would you record that...?
- Total Drama is (in-universe) a reality show. Okay. But some of the things that Chris and Chef manage to record is just ridiculous—like, for example, Owen's dreams. And how did they pull off the TDWT penultimate episode? Did they put cameras all along the pathway between Alberta and Tijuana, despite not even having planned that challenge before Sierra blew up the plane?
- The Phineas and Ferb Clip Show claims that most of the clips shown were things Irving had recorded over the summer. Some of these clips were from en episode that was All Just a Dream Within A Dream.
- On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Lucius seems to be able to pull up anything going on in Miseryville on his big screen. This is probably a side effect of his Reality Warper powers.
- The Gamesmaster from the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episode of the same name takes this Up to Eleven. His screens showed the inside of Cobra's base, Lady Jaye changing her clothes, and the Baroness taking a bath. Serious Paranoia Fuel.
- Robot Santa in Futurama has a screen where he spies on people being naughty. (Which, due to a glitch in his programming, is everyone). "Don't you ever knock? Who knows what naughty things I could be watching? I get New Orleans on this thing, you know!"
- Except Dr. Zoidberg, the only person Robot Santa regards as "nice".
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Magical Mystery Cure", princess Celestia reveals that she's been watching Twilight Sparkle since the very beginning. On several magic screens suspended in a supernatural void. Which not only show her adventures in Ponyville, but also scenes from her childhood and one of her imagine spots. Feel free to worry about the implications of Celestia monitoring her student's thoughts.
- It did save the day in one episode where Twilight went nuts from stress and managed to drag the whole town down with her using magic. Given that the first thing Celestia saw her do was lose control of her powers and nearly destroy the capital, surveillance is probably warranted.
- Her surveillance doesn't end there. In "Twilight's Kingdom", when Tirek attacks a random pony, both Celestia and Luna experience it as a vision.
- The Duke's Viewing Stone provides this in Gawayn.