"Because, after all is said and done, an infiltrade must make an investigation on his own conscience.The protagonist must get "inside" a bad-guy organization and pass as a bad guy to accomplish a goal. Sometimes it's the other way around, where the bad-guy poses as a good guy. This is not just when they have to disguise themselves temporarily, but spend time among the villains and the Mooks themselves. Spending so long can cause a Not So Different moment or, in a more severe case, lead to Becoming the Mask. When a team must infiltrate, the story often bears resemblances to The Caper or The Con. Girls Behind Bars is usually a case of infiltration. A common twist is to make the protagonist kill or do something to his old friends. The Hero will fail here, usually, but the Anti-Hero will often pass. Spy work is also crucial, because Only the Knowledgable May Pass often comes into play. When infiltration is unnecessary, the heroes may decide to "slip by Right Under Their Noses" anyhow. Contrast The Mole, where, as noted above, a bad guy is posing as a good guy.. See also Dressing as the Enemy. Sometimes involves becoming a Fake Defector. One subtrope is Impersonation Gambit, where the hero steals the identity of a real person the bad guys have never seen. Flock of Wolves is a comedy trope where everyone else turns out to be "infiltrators" as well. Super Trope of Black-Tie Infiltration, where the infiltration is done at a party or other social event.
— A review of The Molly Maguires
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Anime and Manga
- This is the basic plot of the Zettai Karen Children Spin-Off, The Unlimited Hyoubu Kyousuke. Andy is an agent of an American Esper Intelligence organization sent to infiltrate the Esper terrorist group PANDRA. Comes complete with Not So Different and hints of Becoming the Mask.
- In Girls und Panzer, Yukari sneaks onto the Sanders school ship disguised as a student to find out more about their strategy. She gets found out and chased out of the school, but the captain has a good sense of humor about it.
- Treated like Serious Business, and Played for Laughs, in episode 3 of Is the Order a Rabbit?, after Chiya shows an advertisement flyer to the other girls of where Sharo works, and thinks it's a seedy place. They all attempt to peek in the cafe to see what kind of illegitimate business dealings go on in there...only for them to find out it's a regular tea cafe, and Sharo spots them peeking through the window immediately.
- In Detective Conan, this occurs three times within the Black Organisation. First is Rena Mizunashi aka Hidemi Hondou aka Kir who is with the CIA. Second is Shuichi Akai aka Rye who is an undercover FBI agent. Third is Tooru Amuro aka Bourbon aka Rei Furuya who is from the Japanese secret police.
- Played twice in Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note's The Valentine Knows arc, as it involves a group of Japanese Delinquents:
- Kuroki shows up in front of the rest of Detective Team KZ in whole Japanese Delinquents gear when he reports the activities of the group of delinquents they are investigating. Provided his role as The Team's Information Broker, it implies he does that briefly.
- The reason this case started in the first place is because Sunahara is sighted among that group. Turns out his foster family lost some 6 million yen in a scam, and he decides to join them for the sake of investigation. He was outed by Onozuka, nearly killed, but saved by the The Team.
- X-Men comics: Cyclops goes undercover as Eric the Red, redirecting his Eye Beams to appear that he has energy weapons in his armor's hands. (Both the Eric the Red and Red X identities were used later by actual villains, and the identities are now associated with them, not the original disguised heroes.)
- This was The Unknown Soldier's whole career. Impersonate someone, get inside the target area, terminate the target (officer, secret weapon, intelligence gatherer, Etc). Sometimes he could get the target's protectors to terminate the target for him.
- Brubaker's Sleeper is one of these with the added twist of his handler falling into a coma and leaving him trapped behind enemy lines with no one to report to.
- Mortadelo y Filemón: "Objetivo: Eliminar al Rana" and "El Tirano".
- In Astro City, Royal Williams ends up joining the villainous organization Pyramid to get more information on the whereabouts of the man who killed his parents.
- In The Prayer Warriors Battle With the Witches, Michael sneaks into Hogwarts, posing as a student, in order to find out if Hogwarts is connected with the English government and whether it is planning any attacks on Christians. He's also told that if he's ever forced to do anything un-Christian, he must pray for forgiveness.
- In the Pony POV Series Wedding Arc, on several occasions the Mane Six need to act as if they're brainwashed to sneak around during the Changeling invasion. Misfit Actual takes this a step further and exploit the fact they're the only Guards in Canterlot that presently aren't Changelings, and Running Gag's Omniglot ability allowing him to copy the Changeling's language flawlessly, to pose as Changelings and undermine their invasion.
- In The Departed, Leonardo DiCaprio's character plays the trope straight when infiltrating the Boston underworld. Matt Damon, his counterpart, plays The Mole.
- Serenity has Simon Tam infiltrating an Alliance-operated hospital to free little sister River from continued Super Soldier experimentation and Mind Rape.
- Infernal Affairs, played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.
- Reservoir Dogs has the main characters trying to figure out which one of them is an undercover cop. Sure they can figure it out, if the right guy lends them an ear.
- White Heat has an undercover agent posing as a prison inmate and subsequently joining Cody Jarrett's gang.
- Diamonds Are Forever has James Bond infiltrating a diamond-smuggling operation.
- Donnie Brasco, in which an FBI agent infiltrates a Mafia family. This one was Truth in Television.
- Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness, a TV Movie sequel to the Dungeons & Dragons films centers around The Hero infiltrating a Five-Bad Band in order to rescue his father.
- Sky High is about a Border Patrol agent who infiltrates a human trafficking gang that smuggles Chinese immmigrants over the border from Mexico.
- The Conspiracy: Characters infiltrate an ancient secret society.
- Scanners: Cameron Vale poses as one of Darryl Revok's scientists to infiltrate his chemical company. While there, he discovers Revok's 'Ripe Program', a master plan to create a new army of psychic scanners by bribing physicians to prescribe Ephemerol to their pregnant patients.
- Severus Snape from Harry Potter most certainly qualifies for many reasons:
- During the Attack on Godric's Hollow, when Lord Voldemort killed Harry's parents, James and Lilly, Snape was devastated over his loss of Lilly; and therefore, he sided with Dumbledore to protect young Harry.
- Later, after he killed Dumbledore, he seemingly sided with the Death Eaters, until Voldemort murdered him with Nagini, thinking him as master of the Elder Wand.
- In Russia and probably all other post-Soviet countries, this trope is literally synonymous with the name of Stirlitz, the main character of a spy novel series and an incredibly popular television series based on it. He's basically a Soviet spy who is skilfully pretending to be a SS-Standartenführer.
- Richard Adams' Watership Down. Bigwig uses this technique as part of Hazel's plan to free some does from Efrafa.
- In Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's Hoka stories, Alex Jones inflitrates the Hoka Pirates to prevent actual fighting from breaking out.
- The murder Sherlock Holmes investigates in The Valley of Fear centers around a Pinkerton agent who infiltrated a criminal gang in the United States by posing as a murderer and counterfeiter, before turning on his supposed allies and helping the police break up their operations. It's Truth in Television: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based this story on a real-life Pinkerton agent (an agency of private detectives often used in the days before the government created the FBI) who infiltrated and then broke up a gang of militant miners known as the Molly Maguires in the 1870s.
- In Brian Jacques' Martin the Warrior, Brome gets into Marshank by pretending to be a sea rat.
- In Sandy Mitchell's Warhammer 40,000 novel Scourge the Heretic, Keira poses as a noblewoman to infiltrate a Chaos cult. Meanwhile, Kyrlock and Elyra attempt to infiltrate a smuggling operation: Kyrlock by pretending he deserted and Elyra posing as a servant running away from a mistress whose husband she had slept with and whom she had robbed.
- Many times in the X-Wing Series. The Rogues pass as Imperial civilians to get on Coruscant. The Wraiths pass a warlord's subjects, then as stormtroopers, then later as pirates that the warlord wants to recruit. The Rogues set themselves up as members of one Imperial faction.
- In G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, Syme is taken to an anarchist meeting and, being a policeman, sets out to infiltrate.
- Done twice in the Age of Fire Series. AuRon infiltrates the Circle of Man's main base to end their enslavement of dragons and to protect his friend's nation. In the next book, Wistala does the same to the Wheel of Fire Dwarves, this time to get revenge on those who slaughtered her family.
- Septimus Heap does this in Darke by disguising in Darkenesse to get into the Darke Halls and rescue Alther Mella.
- Katya is used in the task for most of the Paladin of Shadows series, and is being trained by Jay to improve her abilities in it starting with Choosers of the Slain.
- In The Clockwork Angel, having been given absolutely, totally false information that de Quincey is the Magister, the Clave devises a plan to have Will and Tessa enter one of de Quincey's lavish parties where he tortures mundanes like Nate by having Tessa transform into Camille Belcourt. At the sign of de Quincey breaking the Law, Will is supposed to signal the Clave so that they can kick some vampire ass.
Live Action TV
- Used by both the good and bad guys on 24. So much so that you start to wonder if anybody on that show ever heard of a background check....
- Sayid infiltrates a terrorist cell in the flashbacks of the Lost episode "The Greater Good."
- "Mirror, Mirror", one of the most popular Original Trek episodes, featured the good guys from the Enterprise having to spend some time among their evil universe counterparts.
- There was another episode in which Picard and Riker pretended they were under the influence of an alien parasite.
- The entire premise of Wiseguy, in which a cop adopts a fake identity as a bad guy and infiltrates organized crime outfits.
- Happens often in Burn Notice, although Michael occasionally takes the identity of a potential business associate of that episode's villain rather than a member of their group.
- Callen of NCIS: Los Angeles makes his careers, plural, out of this trope, and undercover work is a specialty of the L.A. team.
- Chuck has Mary Bartowski in the backstory and Sarah in season 4 undertake these by pretending to do Face Heel Turns.
- The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries: "Game Plan", in Season 3, has Frank Hardy joining a criminal organization by pretending to be a drifter looking for work. At one point, he seems to have gone totally over & sold out the Feds, to the point of pulling a gun on his brother Joe.
- A regular staple of the Mission: Impossible television show, usually by the team's Master of Disguise.
- True Detective:
- Played out with lots of tension. Rust, a former undercover cop, decides to go back into his undercover persona "off the books" in order to get to a specific person of interest. Although he's done the infiltration before, the tests he has to run through such as doing drugs that have been previous shown to mess with his head and sense of awareness to varying degrees to prove his bona fides, and the massive mess that erupts when things fall apart, make it harrowing to watch.
- In season two, Ani pretends to be a prostitute in order to infiltrate a secret party where rich and powerful men get to network, close deals and participate in Hookers and Blow orgies. Things quickly go bad since all the prostitutes are given a date rape drug that makes them weak and unable to resist. Ani almost gets raped and killed but manages to stab her attackers with a knife and escape.
- The Stargate SG-1 episode "Off the Grid" requires a member of SG-1 to go undercover as a drug smuggler. After a hilarious argument about who would be the most convincing, Colonel Mitchell pulls rank and decides he's going to do it. Mitchell's act fails spectacularly and the scene cuts to the team running away from the bad guys and Teal'c saying "I did advise you were a most unlikely drug smuggler, Colonel Mitchell."
- On The Blacklist this is Tom's specialty. As a teenager, he was recruited by The Major and trained to be a perfect undercover operative. When he assumes a new persona his performance is usually flawless. He is able to fool Liz for years into thinking that he is a mild mannered teacher and even a full scale FBI investigation is unable to break through his legend. In a latter assignment he transforms himself into a neo-Nazi so he can get inside a neo-Nazi weapons smuggling ring.
- On Legends Martin Odum is an FBI agent who specializes in deep cover undercover work. He regularly assumes new identities and rarely breaks his cover. However, he starts to suspect that his identity as Martin Odum is just another of his legends and that he forgot who he really was due to amnesia from an accident. He was actually a MI-6 agent and his new identity is a form of witness protection after he was almost killed infiltrating a mercenary group. Season 2 has him try to renter an old identity that he has forgotten and try to fix some of the mistakes he made when he tried to infiltrate a group of Chechen criminals with ties to terrorists. It is then reveals that he is actually a Russian who was trained from childhood to pretend to be British so he could then infiltrate MI-6 and thus he has been living this trope for most of his life.
- The Night Manager is a story about an infiltration, the psychology of the infiltrator, and the dangers of possible betrayal at multiple levels.
- In order to fulfill Safe Cracker's title, you must first get into the vault the safe is located in. There are three ways of doing so - the front door, the roof, and the cellar.
- In Sleeping Dogs, Wei Shen is an undercover cop trying to take down the Sun On Yee Triads in Hong Kong.
- The modus operandi of the Metal Gear series.
- In Betrayal at Krondor, James and Locklear pretend to be Quegan mercenaries to infiltrate the Big Bad's army in order to deactivate the Rift machine through which more of that army is arriving each minute.
- Dragon Age: Origins: After the protagonist gets captured (avoidable, if you can win one of the game's toughest fights), you are given two options: Break out on your own, or select two companions to control while they do this. Their different bluffing attempts are some of the funniest moments in the game, like Sten and Oghren's circus act.
- Several [PROTOTYPE] missions. Even in non-mission military consumptions, there's a huge EP bonus for acquiring a skill and leaving without alerting the troops.
- This is whole premise of Splinter Cell Double Agent.
- In the Thief: The Dark Project mission "Undercover", Garrett infiltrates the Hammerites by passing as a novice.
- In Mass Effect 2, in order to recruit "Archangel" for their mission, Shepard has to first pose as a freelance mercenary, joining the other mooks-for-hire hired by the three major mercenary groups on Omega, hellbent on taking Archangel out. After taking a moment to subtly sabotage the mercenaries efforts and equipment, Shepard heads across the bridge to Archangel's compound, before immediately turning around and begin taking out their former "allies".
- In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Imperial Agent does this on multiple occasions, for an entire chapter at one point.
- Infiltration becomes the endgame goal of most light-sided Imperial characters in one form or another, with Sith Warriors/Inquisitors wanting to reform the Empire from within, Imperial Agents erasing their identity with the Black Codex so they can help the Empire without having to worry about Sith infighting, and Bounty Hunters defecting from the Empire completely and becoming Republic moles.
- In World of Warcraft, the Cape of Stranglethorn questline involves you infiltrating the Bloodsail pirates on behalf of Booty Bay. At one point, they do ask for a test of loyalty - you need to kill a tauren who is a higher-up in Booty Bay, and bring back his head. Fortunately, they're too stupid to tell a (female) cow's head from a (male) tauren head, so you decapitate a cow, slap a pirate hat on her head, and hand it off.
- In the Mount Hyjal quest chain, you have to pose as a Twilight's Hammer initiate to find out where Jarod Shadowsong is being kept.
- In the Alliance "Operation Shieldwall" questline, you have to disguise yourself as a Horde soldier and get information from a Horde interrogation of a captive Mogu.
- In Star Wars game Knights of the Old Republic the Player Character, looking for a MacGuffin, has to infiltrate a Sith Academy, posing as being interested in becoming a student.
- In Saints Row 1, Troy Bradshaw does this. He's an undercover cop who joins the Third Street Saints. He gets a little too into his role, but eventually reveals himself by arresting Julius.
- In Worm, Taylor, after being mistaken for a supervillain on her first night out in costume, decides to infiltrate the supervillains that she helped with the intention of betraying them to the local superheroes once she's gathered information on the group. As time goes on, however, she finds herself Becoming the Mask and becoming real friends with the Undersiders.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Boiling Rock", Sokka and Zuko dress up as prison guards to get back Hakoda (Sokka's father).
- The Legend of Korra "The Revelation." Mako and Korra disguise themselves and sneak into an Equalist rally.
- Spoofed in a short on OH Yeah! Cartoons, in which a crime-solving doughnut infiltrates a criminal organization under the guise of a new recruit to save his fellow officer. As the doughnut unties him, the officer says "I thought for sure you were in that box of doughnuts!". The doughnut responds, "Huh...never thought of that."
- Teen Titans does it twice:
- Cyborg enters the HIVE Academy under the guise of "Stone" to find out what secrets they're planning next. Later, in a mission against the HIVE with the Titans, he is beset by the HIVE's top agent, Bumblebee, only to find that she is a spy (though she's more of a Fake Defector, as she has not donned a new identity for the mission.) When Brother Blood finds out he rhetorically screams, "Was anyone at my school actually there to LEARN?"
- On another occasion, Robin goes undercover in Slade's organization as Red X, but Slade sees through the deception.
- The entire concept of Punch/Counterpunch of Transformers Generation 1, an Autobot spy who has the ability to adopt a Decepticon robot mode. In the Japanese Transformers Headmasters continuity, he had even managed to become firmly entrenched in the Decepticon ranks as Scorponok's closely-trusted informant.
- An episode of Inspector Gadget featured this, appropriately titled The Infiltration, with M.A.D. Master of Disguise Presto Change-O impersonating Inspector Gadget to sneak into a top secret worldwide police conference in London. The viewing audience can tell the phony Gadget from his stereotypical bad English teeth and crazed eyes, while the rest of the cast initially can't, until the real Gadget accidentally bonks Chief Quimby with his Gadget Mallet.
- Young Justice:
- One episode had Superboy and Miss Martian infiltrate a maximum security prison for supervillains in order to prevent an impending jailbreak.
- The second season had a major Story Arc where Artemis and Aqualad infiltrated the Light to discover and sabotage their plans. (Though Artemis was the only one who made a new identity. Aqualad just pretended to defect.) As an added wrinkle, most of the heroes were kept in the dark about the infiltration plan. This led to some friendly fire problems...
- In the third episode of TaleSpin's pilot series, Plunder & Lightning, Kit Cloudkicker pretends to betray Baloo, Molly and Rebecca in the Iron Vulture to his former mentor Don Karnage, to allow them to escape. The fake deception is so convincing and surprising that Baloo believes himself betrayed, and angrily leaves Higher For Hire with the SeaDuck to Louie's to party his cares away, until he hears Kit desperately radio for help in the fourth episode.
- In the episode "Kennel Kittens Return" of Pound Puppies (2010), Squirt "volunteers" to be disguised as a cat to retrieve the team's stolen invention from the rival cat organization.
- Elisa does this a couple times in Gargoyles, both times involving uncovering operations by mobster Tony Dracon.
- Justice League Unlimited S 2 E 4 Task Force X: Our protagonists (the Task Force X, AKA the Suicide Squad) must get "inside" a bad-guy organization (The Justice League Watch Tower) and pass as mooks to steal a MacGuffin, only this episode is an inversion because this is a Villain Episode, but given we are seeing things from the villains perspective, and the Justice League acts invokes Beware the Superman, this trope seems played straight.
Colonel Flagg: This tower is so big and has so much staff in it no ones is going to notice us... unless one of you do something stupid.