The Cake Is a Lie
aka: There Will Be Cake
"The Enrichment Center is committed to the well being of all participants. Cake and grief counseling will be available at the conclusion of the test."There will be cake at the bottom of this page. A character, usually an antagonist, promises another character, usually the hero, a reward if they can complete some task for them. This can be anything from fame, to riches, to women, to baked desserts, or pretty much anything generally considered desirable. But wait! "I Lied." It turns out that there is no reward! Upon either finding this out or completing the task, it's discovered that the villain simply wanted something to be done for them, and now plans to dispose of the hero now that their usefulness to the villain has ended. Often a crucial part of many a Macguffin Delivery Service. May make use of False Reassurance. Sometimes employed by a Mission Control that is off its meds. The "cake" may consist of a promised Body Upgrade. When the other character isn't necessarily evil, doesn't plan on hurting the hero, and simply raises his or her standards whenever the other character comes near to completion, this becomes Moving the Goalposts. Compare Deal with the Devil, Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves, You Said You Would Let Them Go, Released to Elsewhere. Contrast Villains Never Lie. Only overlaps with I Was Told There Would Be Cake when the reward the villain promises is actually cake. Caution: Since this trope involves plot twists, spoilers may be left unmarked.
— GLaDOS, Portal.
open/close all folders
- In Liar Game, during the Contraband game, Yokoya enforced a point-based loyalty scheme to guarantee loyalty from the members of his team that they would spy on the other members and report any dishonesty to him, where he would give more money to the snitch. Fukunaga suspects that Yokoya didn't even keep count; he just wanted the members to feed him as much information of the others as possible.
- This occurs to Lina Inverse in the first Slayers movie. The character in question isn't evil and doesn't plan on hurting Lina per se, but it's definitely not a case of Moving The Goalposts. Needing Lina to risk her life by going back in time hundreds of years in order to save a much younger version of himself, his love, and a group of elves from a mazoku, the elderly ghost of an adventurer promises Lina to show her the location of "the fountain of growth", which she interprets, and is led on to believe, will finally make her tall, curvy, and stacked. In reality, the ghost has lied, and the fountain in question is the reverse of the fountain of youth, aging things that touch its waters to death, making Lina's trials and tribulations completely meaningless (in her eyes). However, since Lina was particularly dumb for believing him, and since he's really the ancestor of her (not-yet-encountered-yet-at-the-time) love and life-long partner Gourry, it worked out in her favor anyways.
- There was a slight instance of this in the Battle City arc of Yu-Gi-Oh!; Arcana, one of Marik's servant's, is promised a reunion with his lost love upon fulfillment of a mission; Marik even put a mannequin shrouded by curtains in the room to persuade him. He fails his mission, and the last thing he sees before Marik kills him is that he never intended to keep his end of the deal.
- To make it even worse for Arcana, Yugi continually told him during the duel that this was likely the case. Arcana actually seemed to have doubts once or twice, but never enough to truly believe him until the end.
- Sword Art Online fits this well in the Fairy Dance Arc. According to given sources of Alfheim Online, one can try the "Grand Quest", which would give his or her race a meeting with the Fairy King Oberon and promote the entire aligned race to the powerful Alfs. However, because only one can complete such a task, there is a lot of competition between the races, despite the alliances. It turns out the whole thing is a hoax. The "Grand Quest" is an Impossible Task and the main entrance impassable to normal players. What's more, there is no city or castle at the top of the tree that was said in the game, as it is merely a research center for the psychotic administrator and staff to experiment on human brains.
- When Cologne first appears in Ranma ½, she traps Ranma in her female form via a special pressure point that makes her unable to stand any sort of heat, including hot water. Eventually she reveals she has a special pill that can cure Ranma of her affliction, but the only way to even get it would be to master a speed based attack. Ranma ultimately is able to do so and succeeds in getting the pill from Cologne, only for Cologne to reveal that at the last minute that she'd substituted the real pill for a candy drop.
- There was a Rugrats comic story where Chuckie had all but one of the collectible Reptar cards, and Angelica claimed she would give him the one he was missing if he performed a series of chores for her. When he finished them all, it turned out the card she gave him was a phony drawing.
- In the Gunslinger comic, one of the villains ask an addict for information on the heroes, implying that they will give him "metal" in exchange. After they are finished, the addict asks if he is getting gold or silver, the villain replies 'lead' and shoots him. (This is a visual re-telling of the incident from the original source, the novel Wizard and Glass.)
- In Power Girl (Issue #12 to be exact), super-villainess Satanna wants Mad Scientist Dr. Sivana to make her a super-weapon to kill Power Girl (Kryptonians being rather hard to kill). Sivana wants some bouncy-bouncy in exchange. Despite her disgust, Satanna complies, and afterwards Sivana points out that they are both "bad guys," and as long as he got his, he doesn't care that she doesn't get anything. So not only has she debased herself for nothing, he adds injury to insult by making his robots beat her up and throw her out of a fourth-story window. So not only is Sivana a complete pig, he's made Satanna's list—he'll be showing up in revenge-oriented tropes in the near future.
- The obscure French comic book "38e parallèle" features the story of the French expeditionary force in The Korean War. An officer promises his commando a treasure behind the enemy lines; it was actually an undercover operation seeking a Vietcong agent.
- Subverted in one Marvel comic. A skrull promises a human "the most beautiful woman in the galaxy" to betray his species. He accepts, but then turns back when somebody points out to him, "Even if the Skrull was going to keep his promise, what's beautiful to a reptilian alien?" Then we see a beautiful Skrull woman waiting to be given away to some lowly human (out of love for the invading skrull). The Fridge Logic is, Skrulls are shapeshifters. He could send the ugliest woman, and she could change into the most beautiful.
- Subverted in the second issue of The Batman Adventures, the animated Batman spin-off comic from the 1990s. The Joker hijacks a cable television outlet and uses it to broadcast himself onto a closed-circuit TV set delivered to Selina Kyle's apartment. After revealing that he knows Selina is Catwoman, Joker tells her that he has concocted a foolproof plan for stealing the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London, and asks her if she'd like to attempt the feat. Selina, who relishes this ultimate test of her burglary skills, still feels suspicious, even asking Joker, "What's the catch?" Turns out, Joker also wants her to snatch something else for him while she's in London (we're never told exactly what this is, but it's apparently microcircuitry or something similarly electronic). Once Selina has heard all the details, she goes through with Joker's plan—but Batman outsmarts her and manages to prevent her from swiping the jewels, and Catwoman barely escapes capture. She does, however, manage to acquire the technology Joker requested, and sends it to him at the end of the comic. (In the next issue, it's finally revealed that whatever Joker had Catwoman steal for him allows him to override every other TV station in Gotham City, so that he can broadcast his sadistic variety show on every channel.) But even though Catwoman didn't get what she wanted, Joker didn't care: she managed to get him on TV, and whether or not she also got the Crown Jewels was irrelevant.
- From Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series:
Marik: Shut up! What we came here to do is defeat Yugi Muto, once and for all!
Bonz: Brains. [I came here for the free tacos.]
Marik: By the way, there are no free tacos; that was a lie.
Bonz: Brains... [It figures.]
- From later in the same series: Kaiba is in training, because he actually has to learn how to play Duel Monsters. (Dun, dun, DUN~!)
- Which in turn is a shout-out to Portal.
Films — Animated
- In Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Forte promises a musical solo for his henchman Fife in exchange for performing many of the tasks that would help Forte challenge/endanger Belle. Near the end of the movie when Forte gets confronted by Belle, Beast and the gang, Fife finds the pages for his solo to be blank.
- In South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Cartman suggests bringing in potential members to La Résistance by promising punch and pie. When the meeting starts...
Kid: Uh, we were to understand there'd be pie and punch?Kyle: There isn't any.Kid: Oh.
- So the kids leave.
- Aladdin: The old beggar in the dungeon promises Aladdin that he'll give him a reward should he go into the Cave of Wonders and fetch the magic lamp for him. When Aladdin brings back the lamp, he says he'll give Aladdin his reward... his eternal reward. Of course, Aladdin manages to get free before the "beggar" (Jafar in disguise) stabs him.
Films — Live-Action
- In Dangerous Liaisons, when Valmont breaks off his relationship with Madame de Tourvel and comes to collect his "reward" from Merteuil, she simply tells him "no," and mocks him to his face.
- Therefore, also seen in Cruel Intentions.
"You're just a toy, Sebastian. A little toy I like to play with."
- The Collector does this in Demon Knight, enticing one of the heroes to the evil side with promises that include a bunch of hot dancing women. The Collector congratulates him on his wise choice, and...
"One more thing: I lied". (Women revert to demon form, and lunge)
- The Collector does this to everyone who listens to him. Another character agrees to betray the others and removes the barrier keeping the demons at bay in exchange for his own freedom. As he is about to leave, the Collector admits he lied, and the demons tear the guy apart.
- The Collector gets to people by promising them things such as love and friendship. Inevitably, the only thing they get is Demonic Possession.
- In Parts: The Clonus Horror, the clones are told that they are preparing for a trip to America, which is portrayed like paradise.
- The Island is based on "The Clonus Horror" and has a similar lie. The clones are told that they are preparing for a trip to "The Island," the only haven from a "virus outbreak."
- In Conan the Destroyer, the reward that Queen Taramis promises to Conan for his assistance is a lie.
- In Nacho Libre, Ignacio and his wrestling partner Steven seek a guru for advice on winning matches. The guru tells them to climb a cliff to an eagle's nest, break open an egg and drink its yolk which contains powerful nutrients. After doing so, they lose their next match anyway.
Ignacio: Those eggs were a lie, Steven. A LIE!!
- In Oblivion, Earth is devastated by alien invaders, and survivors have taken refuge on the saturnian moon of Titan. Jack and Victoria are technicians monitoring and repairing various machinery being used by a salvage operation administrated by a massive space station called "The Tet" (due to it being roughly a tetrahedron in shape). They're constantly dealing with stragglers of the alien invaders called "Scavs". They have two weeks to go before they're done with their stint and are off to Titan themselves. There is no colony on Titan. The Tet is the alien invader, and plans on disposing of the two. The remaining "Scavs" are actually remmants of humanity. And Jack and Victoria are clones of two crewmembers of a manned international mission to Titan who were intercepted by the Tet before the invasion and used as a clone army whose original memories are lost in oblivion.
- Kindergarten Cop: John Kimble goes undercover in a school to locate the ex-wife of a crazed drug dealer, believing she stole $3 million from him, this making her a valuable witness against her. Turns out she never stole anything: the drug dealer told these stories so people would track down his ex-wife and reunite him with his son.
- This is also sometimes known as "jam tomorrow" for the White Queen's promise in Through the Looking-Glass to provide "jam every other day" ... which turns out to mean jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today.
- Played with in the Buffy spin-off novel Pretty Maids All In A Row: The novel focuses on Spike and Dru, who are hired by a demon to do a job for him, with the promised reward being a powerful magical artifact Dru has decided she wants. A third of the way through, there's a flashback revealing that this artifact was stolen off the demon sixty years ago — but then two-thirds of the way through, there's another flashback revealing that thirty years ago the demon took it back. Finally, when Spike and Dru come to claim the reward, he admits that when he hired them he'd already given it away to somebody else he wanted a favour from. Final score: Double Subversion.
- In the Philippa Gregory book The Boleyn Inheritance, Norfolk did this to Jane Parker/Rochford/Boleyn with a promise of setting up another marriage for her. This ended not just with him denying her the prize, but offering a brutal, scathing commentary on her personality, and leaving her to be thrown in jail and executed while he got off scot-free.
- The Millennium Trilogy plays with this. In "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," Henrik Vanger's "dirt" on Wennerström is not nearly as damning or damaging as was implied when the promise was made; however, Wennerström gets his just deserts in the end anyway, and Blomkvist still gets the otherwise sizable payday promised.
- In Sergey Lukyanenko's first published novel Knights Of The Forty Islands, several hundred children are kidnapped and put into an artificial environment consisting of small islands connected by bridges. They are given swords and are told that anyone who conquers all islands gets to go home. The thing is, the captors know full well that Humans Are Bastards and that even children can be turned into monsters given the right conditions, meaning there is no way for any one group to realistically conquer such a large area, and alliances are doomed to fail. Also, all the captives are actually duplicates, so the captors have no intention of sending them back home.
- In Sommerset Maugham's story "A Friend in Need", a wealthy businessman tells the narrator about an incident in which he promised a Remittance Man a position at the firm if he could successfully swim a treacherous length of water. The Remittance Man drowned to death, and the business man then casually reveals that he never had a position open in the first place.
- In one of the stories in Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories series, two girls perform a series of escalating bad deeds on their mother and brother in the hopes of collecting a magic drum from a gypsy girl. After they have driven away the rest of their family with their behavior, the gypsy girl tells them they will never be naughty enough for her standards, and leaves.
- Septimus Heap: Flyte: After having been destroyed by the Undoing of the Placement, DomDaniel reveals that Simon Heap was just a delivery boy to be discarded one he had done his job.
- The Bible Has Genesis 29:20 where Jacob worked for seven years to win the hand of Rachel from her father. He dumps his other daughter Leah on Jacob, who realizes the next morning he banged the wrong woman. He ends up having to work another seven years to actually get Rachel.
- The SF short story "Jennings' Operative Webster" is about an agency which sends operatives back in time to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. It turns out that the only time they make any money is when they fail, and then it's only the retainer.
Live Action Television
- Doctor Who: "Yes, I lied, it's a jammy dodger. But I was promised tea!"
- Rule #1: The Doctor lies.
- The premise of the US Office episode "Scott's Tots." Michael made a promise to send some kids to college, but by the time they graduated high school he reneged on said promise. In this case, Michael had ridiculously optimistic expectations about what his life would be like by the time the kids graduated, so it wasn't an intentional lie.
- Burn Notice: Sam is trying to clear out an office temporarily so Michael can steal some information from one of the office computers. So posing as an office manager, he tries to herd everyone into a meeting room to work on "team work activities". It's not until he promises cake do people start listening to him. They're very grouchy later when they find out he lied.
- Chuck: In "Chuck vs the Wedding Planner" the team sets up an elaborate con Wedding reception, including a cake made of fondant, icing... and Styrofoam.
- Subverted on Boy Meets World. When Mr. Feeney has trouble getting Shawn to attend his SAT preparation class, he makes up lie on the spot about there being delicious cake at the class. But later we see Shawn at the class, and he is in fact eating a big piece of cake.
- On The Twilight Zone, a talkative man bets another member of his exclusive club a fortune that he can't remain silent for a full year. He succeeds by having his vocal cords severed in secret, but the man he made the bet with admits that he's flat broke and could never have paid the agreed-upon sum.
- The crew on Farscape once visited an agricultural world where tomorrow was always a rest day, but it never came because the workers' memories kept getting re-written as to what day it was.
- In a Mr. Show sketch, John goes off to meet his friends, under the impression they set him up on a blind date. They just wanted him to come to an intervention for another friend of theirs. He claims "You don't have to trick me, you're my friends." It turns out they pull this trope on him every time they have an intervention. Interestingly enough, he gets increasingly angrier the further back in time they flashback to.
- In as much as a cake can be considered the culmination of an organized party, during the Season 3 Parks and Recreation episode "April and Andy's Fancy Party" April and Andy ask Chris to bring a cake their dinner party. Instead he brings a vegetable loaf because "it's healthier" prompting this remark from Ron Swanson:
Ron: So, not only does this thing exist but you have also deprived everyone of cake!
- A song written by songwriter Ed Pickford, and popular with many folk singers, is Pound a Week Rise. The workers of the coal mines are fed up and want a raise. When they confront the then chairman of the National Coal Board (Lord Robens), he tells them that he used to be a miner and knows how hard it can be so he makes them a deal. If he can get their output to break records, he'll give raise their pay by a pound per week (hence the title). When they finally accomplish this, he laughs at them, denies them the raise he promised and yells at them to get back to their jobs.
- The Child Ballad "The Golden Vanity" takes this and puts a rather...dark spin on it. The captain promises the hero (the ship's boy) money and his daughter, if he will swim to the enemy vessel and drill holes in it, but when the hero sinks the enemy ship, the captain leaves him in the ocean to drown.
- This trope is actually very popular in the traditional songs of many countries.
- In the original version of the song "Big Rock Candy Mountain," the tale of the enchanted hobo's paradise is being told to a child to recruit him as a partner. In the end, the child tells the hobo that the Big Rock Candy Mountain is a lie.
- Jamie O'Neal's "There Is No Arizona" is a variant. The narrator is promised a better life in Arizona by her man, who claims to set out in advance to set things up for her. He leaves for Arizona but, other than a single postcard with no return address, she never hears from him again. She then realizes that his promises of a better life in Arizona are a lie, and that "there is no Arizona."
- An anecdote related by MC5 member Wayne Kramer in the book "Please Kill Me" tells how he concocted a plan to recover a drug money debt from Iggy Pop by asking the latter to pay him up front for some heroin and then simply refusing to provide the drugs. Kramer met Iggy accompanied by a big roadie to watch his back in case there was trouble. When Kramer revealed that there were no drugs, however, Iggy was reportedly so distraught that he broke down crying, causing the hired muscle to give him a consoling hug.
- Portal: Trope Namer ("THE CAKE IS A LIE" being written on walls in various places by Doug Rattmann, an employee turned test subject). Note that there actually was cake—it just wasn't for you.
- Moreover, note the wording by GlaDOS: "There will be cake" (and similar vague statements, like "cake will be served" and "cake ... will be available"). It's not until later (when her lies become more transparent) does GLaDOS suggest that Chell will be the one to eat it ("Okay, the test is over now. You win! Go back to the recovery annex for your cake.")
- Subverted in the Portal level of Lego Dimensions. GLaDOS confirms that the cake does exist, but doesn't use it to motivate the heroes.
- In the Neverwinter Nights mod Tales of Arterra, if you complete the obstacle course in Vannik the Red's hideout you find a large chest containing a sheet of paper: "Congratulations! Your reward is knowledge! Word: bamboozled. Synonyms: hoodwinked, befuddled. Definition: to be deceived. Example: The foolish adventurer was bamboozled into thinking there was loot at the end of the obstacle course!"
- In Bully, Gary prompts you to follow him through the school's basement, promising nothing specific, just having something to show you.
- In Morrowind, a woman's ring landed in a pond. She wants it back, and she'll nookie you for it. Except that she just wanted you down at the bottom of a hill so she could rob you from the high ground.
- Similarly, in Oblivion, a mage offers to recommend you for membership to the Arcane University if you retrieve his magical Ring of Burden from the bottom of a well. Turns out he was just hoping you'd drown while down there. Which is absolutely hilarious, in an Idiot Ball / Fridge Logic manner if you're an Argonian, seeing as the entire race can breathe underwater.
- In Baldur's Gate 2, the player is offered a quest with a 10,000 gp reward—big money at that point in the game—by Jierdan Firkraag. Once you reach the quest area, however, you're manipulated into killing several knights, and you find out that Firkraag is not only a dragon in disguise, but trying to destroy your reputation as payback for some half-explained slight.
- Several other characters do this as well, Kangaxx the Demi-Lich and the Chromatic Demon from Watcher's Keep come to mind.
- By the time of the Chromatic Demon, CHARNAME has apparently become Genre Savvy to this, as (s)he observes in the diary: "As I expected, the Chromatic Demon attacked me as soon as I released it from its prison..."
- As a rule of thumb, almost every evil guy who gives you a quest in the Baldur's Gate series will end up fighting you. Which doesn't mean you shouldn't do the quest, since you will find the reward they promised you over their dead body anyway, as well as valuable loot that's probably more useful than the money.
- This is the ending for Shadowrun Returns. The protagonist's old partner promises a reward for solving his murder. That reward is a lie.
- Around the 1930s, shaving cream manufacturer Burma Shave put out a promotional contest in which they promised a half-pound jar of their product to anyone who sent them the ripped-off fender of their car. It was meant as a joke, but after receiving dozens of fenders from participants—even those taken from toy cars—the company made good on its promise. When it made a later attempt in 1955 at an even sillier announcement in hopes that people would only find it amusing and not actually try to fulfill it—in this case, announcing that 900 empty jars would net the sender a free trip to Mars—someone actually did anyway. Burma-Shave obviously couldn't fulfill the promise this time, but they did provide the "winner" a free trip to Moers, Germany. Which just so happened to be pronounced similar to "Mars."
- Burrell Smith (who designed the hardware for the original Macintosh) would often promise to be your best friend in order to get you to do something. This relationship, however, only lasts a few milliseconds.
- Happens all too often when you're a toddler. Your parent will promise you a reward if you do something or go through something, and once that's over with they take back their word. This even happens to kids, teenagers, and even adults, and it encourages kids to engage in rebellious behavior—and they wonder why there's so many rebellious teenagers around. As the description for Moving the Goalposts points out, this is actually a subtle form of psychological abuse which may result in life-long trust issues since, well, if you can't trust your parents, whom can you trust?
- Although the exact amount is disputed, Thomas Edison reportedly promised $10-50,000 ($1.1 million today) to anyone who could solve the crippling inefficiencies in his prototype automobile motors and electrical generators. When Nikola Tesla solved them both, Edison refused to honor his agreement.
- Jodee Berry, a former Hooters waitress in Panama City, Florida, won a contest for most beer sales held by her boss, who announced that the grand prize was a new Toyota. On the day of the presentation, she was blindfolded and led to the restaurant's parking lot to receive her prize...which turned out to be a Toy Yoda! She quit immediately and won an undisclosed settlement against Gulf Coast Wings, Hooters parent company, a year later. Part of the settlement included a Toyota car of her choice.
- Swedish-Finnish journalist, writer and talk-show host Mark Levengood once said this happened to him. His mother told him that if he did not start smoking before his 18th birthday, she would pay for his drivers license. When he turned 18 and asked for his reward, his mother lit another of her cigarettes and told him she had never planned to pay his driving lessons. "The important thing was that you did not start smoking, and it did succeed, didn't it?"
- A similar arrangement led to the famous case Hamer v. Sidway. Hamer's uncle promised him $5000 (nearly $125,000 in current dollars) if he refused to smoke, drink, swear, or play billiards until he was 21. Hamer did this, but the uncle died in the interim and his estate refused to pay. The court sided with Hamer, and First Year Law Students for the last hundred years have learned about it.
- Newman v. Schiff. Tax-avoidance charlatan Irwin Schiff appeared on CBS News, and offered to pay $100,000 to anyone who could identify the section of the United States Code requiring citizens to pay income tax. When a lawyer named John Newman called in with the correct answer, Schiff refused to pay. A judge affirmed Newman's answer, but since he didn't call during the time specified by Schiff, Schiff did not have to pay.
- During the Warring States Period of Ancient China, Qin advisor/strategist Zhang Yi promised King Huai of Chu 600 square miles of land if the latter breaks up his alliance with the State of Qi. When the king does that, Zhang Yi told him that he'd only get 6 square miles of land instead; this prompted Chu to attack Qin but without their alliance with Qi, who decided to aid Qin in retaliation of Chu's "betrayal", led to their defeat.
- During WWII, the Nazis made a propaganda film to trick the opposition into rejecting the reality of Nazi death camps. They dressed up the death camp, Thereseinsadt (located in what is now The Czech Republic), to look like a pleasant little settlement, with phony mock-ups of quaint store-fronts & cafes and forced the prisoners to pretend to be happy & entertained. They enlisted the film making know-how of professional actor & director, Kurt Gerron...a Jew who was a prisoner, there. The Nazis promised Gerron that he would be spared if he did this project. Upon completion, however, Gerron, along with with most who appeared in the film, were shipped off to Auschwitz to their deaths.
...I Was Told There Would Be Cake.