Undercover When Alone is what happens when, in order to maintain the surprise for the audience, a character continues a fašade of some sort even when there is no one to see him. The only explanation is that he did it to trick the audience (or because the writers didn't know yet that he was The Mole
as they hadn't written that far ahead). This frequently occurs when a character is the Mole, and finding out the Mole's identity is a significant part of the plot.
Can be Justified
if a character fears being watched at any moment (and in fact, they're right
). Can't be too prudent, after all.
Note that this doesn't necessarily have to involve the Mole, but can be any situation where a character is hiding something from the rest of the cast. Maybe he simply has a secret, or is planning a birthday party, or is a serial killer. As long as the audience isn't supposed to know, and he acted like the secret wasn't the case when there was no one to fool but the audience, it counts.
A form of Red Herring
and the opposite of Foreshadowing
. Often a sign of a Shocking Swerve
. Contrast Revealing Hug
, where Bob reveals himself to the audience even when there are other characters present, as well as Manchurian Agent
, where the character does this because he doesn't realize he is the Mole.
NOTE: Since this trope deals with betrayals, this page will contain spoilers.
Anime & Manga
- In Naruto, Tobi puts on the happy go lucky Tobi persona even when he's far away from his partner Deidara when he's forced to flee.
- Anthy from Revolutionary Girl Utena, full stop, not only does she fools Utena and the Student Council, but even Akio himself, whom she has absolutely nothing to hide from gets fed up by her constant facade at one point. Every time she is shown alone she act the exact same way, at some point she is in her bed wondering why she's been so tired lately when she has been acting as Mamiya with Mikage resulting in double "work" for her and there was absolutely no one with her, no Utena not even Chu-chu.
- Finn from Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne does this. Especially jarring when she gives her monologues about the evil of Access and Sinbad while being The Mole all along.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, this begins to happen to Lady Une when her Saint Une persona seeps into her personal time, but is a sign that she is Becoming the Mask.
- Bruce Willis/Halle Berry thriller Perfect Stranger, Barry's character is snooping around Willis' apartment looking for evidence of who the killer is (unbeknownst to the audience, it's her). When she finds evidence that seems to indicate that it's Willis' character, she becomes visibly scared.
- Exceedingly common in Goosebumps books, particularly books where the main character was a monster all along.
- Renata Kleber, a.k.a. Marie Sanfon in Murder on the Leviathan is a master of disguise who doesn't drop the act even in private and even in chapters told from her POV.
- Played with by Littlefinger in A Song of Ice and Fire, who suggests staying in character at all times, in case someone unexpectedly enters a room.
- In one Lord Peter Wimsey story, Lord Peter goes undercover to infiltrate a criminal gang. He stays in his cover personality even when alone, to ensure he doesn't accidentally slip out of it when he isn't.
- In the New Jedi Order novel Rebel Dream, two intelligence agents, Voort "Piggy" saBinring and Sharr Latt, both Wraiths, argue about whether Jaina Solo should resort to this. (She's not The Mole, but she's pretending to be a goddess because of reasons). Piggy believes she can drop the disguise when she's around those she trusts implicitly, whereas Sharr thinks she should keep it up all the time.
- In Angel, Knox acts puzzled when a large sarcophagus gets delivered to his lab. Turns out he not only knew it was coming, he ordered it, for it contained the essence of his god.
- The Reveal that Boyd was the head of the Rossum Corporation in Dollhouse creates several examples of this. In an interesting variation, one example had him stay in character for a Doll in a Flash Forward... whose mind he would soon wipe anyway. This is an example of the writers not having decided that he was The Mole yet, which led to internal inconsistencies with the flash forwards.
- In season 2 of Dexter, Maria Laguerta is scheming to get her superior fired by pretending to be her friend when she's having marital difficulties. However, when a fight between her superior and her fiance occurs while Laguerta is in the office, Laguerta curses to herself (before shes spotted by them). Given the later reveal that she orchestrated the fights between the two, this was perfectly according to her plan.
- The Gossip Girl finale revealed that Dan Humphrey had been running the gossip blog through the entire series. This means that whenever he reacted to a shocking Gossip Girl blast while alone, he was just reacting to something he himself posted.
- In the first season of 24, Nina sniffs out a fake FBI agent at the hospital, tries to get his fingerprints but fails, and then takes Teri and Kim out of the hospital to a safehouse. In the finale, Nina is revealed to be a mole working for the bad guys. No one else noticed the fake FBI agent, so there was no one for her to impress.
- Invoked and examined in-depth in the final season of Burn Notice, which revolves around Michael's attempt to infiltrate a terrorist organization. The trope is played completely straight, and the voice-over often points out the difficulties of being undercover 24/7 (illustrated as Michael slowly loses touch with his real self and priorities over the course of the season).
- One of the Player Characters in Heavy Rain is so good at concealing said character's real intentions that you cannot guess them even if you overhear said character's private thoughts.
- The Last Daysof FOXHOUND, a comic starring the Quirky Mini Boss Squad from the first Metal Gear Solid, essentially had to do a retcon to turn Ocelot, the series' Magnificent Bastard, into this. Early in the comic's run, Ocelot was clueless about the Patriots, and while dangerous, was on occasion easily overpowered by his psychic/psycho teammate Mantis. Then Metal Gear Solid 3 came out during the comic's run and revealed that Ocelot had been working for the Patriots at least since the 1960s. The comic's creator, Chris Doucette, had to change everything into Ocelot pretending that he knew less than he did in order to become The Mole to multiple sides on behalf of the Patriots.
- Many of the fake ghosts and monsters in Scooby-Doo remain in character when alone, even though it is of no possible advantage for them to do so.
- In an episode of Archer, ISIS is being infiltrated by an enemy agent going by Conway Stern. At one point when he believes himself to be alone, he mutters to himself, "Conway, what have you gotten yourself into?" His last line in the episode was, in fact, him saying that it was not his real name. Granted, he was pretty damn good spy and knew he was in a spy agency so he probably was being listened to.