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Make It Look Like a Struggle

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Mal: The leg is good. It'll bleed plenty, and we avoid any necessary organs.
Payroll Guard: I was thinking more like a graze...
Mal: Eh, you don't wanna make it seem like you just gave up.
Payroll Guard: No, I get that.

The Hero needs a MacGuffin, or simply an escape. Someone is supposed to prevent it... but doesn't really want to. Or simply doesn't want to fight The Hero. So that person won't be punished for aiding, they have to pretend the guard tried to resist, but was defeated. This means that the helper will be tied up and sometimes smacked around a bit to make it look genuine. This is generally somewhat Played for Laughs, especially when the hero takes it upon themselves to do this rather than their ally suggesting it. Often involves Tap on the Head.


Alone-with-Prisoner Ploy may include the prisoner doing it; The Infiltration may put the undercover participant in either or both roles. Apologetic Attacker and Hit Me, Dammit! are to be expected. May involve delays if the "attacker" Wouldn't Hit a Girl or has other such restrictions and have to circumvent or get over it. Compare Passive Rescue (which may overlap, if the guard provides the means to be taken "hostage" or otherwise overpowered).



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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 

  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When Butch and Sundance go to see their friend Sheriff Bledsoe, he insists on their tying him up and gagging him so there's no chance of him losing his job if anyone saw the two criminals entering his home.
  • Force 10 from Navarone. After Maritza kills the two Nazi guards, she demands that Barnsby hit her to make it appear that he and Mallory attacked her and got away. Barnsby apologizes and hits her weakly. She berates him and orders him to hit her harder. Mallory suddenly punches her hard and knocks her out.
    • The punching and knocking her out actually happened in real life. They had to delay filming the next scene until the actress woke up.
  • In the Get Smart movie, Maxwell is helped escape by Bruce and Lloyd and tells them that he has to punch them out to make it look like a struggle. He makes a fake blow at Bruce and Lloyd faints when he keeps thinking about blood.
  • Ghost Dog in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai had to shoot his former boss in the arm, to avoid suspicions from the rest of mafiosi when they both survive the encounter.
  • In Independence Day, Will Smith's character "borrows" a helicopter to find his girlfriend. One soldier catches him and draws his pistol, ordering Smith out. Smith just gives him a look and asks if he really wants to shoot him, which makes the soldier lower the gun. As he's taking off, Smith goes, "Look, just tell 'em I hit you."
    • The soldier is quite a bit bigger than Smith's character, making his "you shittin' me?" look particularly amusing.
  • In The Lavender Hill Mob, Holland wants Lackery and Shorty to tie him up and rough him up to make the robbery look convincing. However, they have to flee as the police approach, having only had time to bind, gag and blindfold him. Holland has to finish the job by rolling in the dust, tearing his clothes on a hook, and falling in the river (which was definitely not part of the plan).
  • This happened in Minority Report when the protagonist's former colleagues allowed him to escape.
  • In National Treasure Ben duct tapes his father to a chair in his house so that the FBI won't arrest him for aiding a fugitive.
  • A variation in Ocean's Eleven: Benedict puts Danny Ocean in a room with a thug. Turns out the thug is actually on Danny's side, and he beats on the furniture to make it sound like he's beating the crap out of Danny while Danny himself escapes the room and joins in the heist. Later on, he returns to the room and the thug beats him up for real, making his alibi complete.
    • Except at first the thug punches Danny across the jaw for real before realizing that part wasn't supposed to come until later.
  • This exchange from Serenity:
    Mal: The leg is good. It'll bleed plenty, and we avoid any necessary organs.
    Payroll Guard: I was thinking more like a graze?
    Mal: Eh, you don't wanna make it seem like you just gave up.
    Payroll Guard: No, I get that.
  • Training Day features a villainous example, in which a murder is disguised as a shootout during a drug raid. After killing his victim with Jake's shotgun, Alonzo shoots - and accidentally wounds - another officer with a "throw down" gun, which he places in the victim's hands.
  • Subverted in Max Manus. Max escapes from hospital with the help of a nurse, who tells Max to hit her. Although he obligingly gives her a black eye (after a grateful kiss), the Gestapo aren't fooled and arrest her anyway.
  • Another villainous version in Ice Station Zebra. The Mole tells an American army officer to beat him with a crowbar so he can be shot in 'self defense'. The officer is incredulous that he would go along with this plan, but the mole points out that he's the type to die fighting. Instead of reaching for the crowbar, the officer attacks him directly, eventually gaining the upper hand until he's shot dead by the hero under the assumption that he is The Mole.

  • Artemis Fowl: In The Opal Deception, Mulch Diggums has been arrested at the Tara shuttleport for escaping from a police transport. The officer sent to interrogate him is Chix Verbil. Mulch persuades Chix to let him escape by informing him of the dire situation: "Opal Koboi is back." He knocks Chix out so he doesn't get in trouble with the Lower Elements Police while escaping.
  • In the Discworld book Monstrous Regiment, after the female soldiers knock out one of the two guards and try to escape, the other guard says this:
    "Would you mind giving me a whack on the head too? Only it looks like I didn't put up a fight against a bunch of women."
    "Why don't you put up a fight? We're only a bunch of women."
    "I'm not crazy!"
  • In Dragon Bones, Ward uses that method, but in an inversion, it is he, the hero, who is hit over the head to make him look as if he was unconscious. He helpfully bows down a bit, as he's so tall it would otherwise be difficult to hit him over the head. The person who hits him is a bit angry at him, and therefore he doesn't have to pretend unconsciousness.
  • In the Vicious Circle, Felix Castor and a guard go in to Rafi's room, and Felix offers to make it look like a struggle. The guard was sick of the job anyway and declines, knowing he'll be fired.
  • In the fifth Harry Potter book, Dumbledore knocks out Shacklebolt, a member of the Order of the Phoenix, along with another Auror when the Ministry tries to arrest him, so it won't look suspicious while he makes his escape.
  • In The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman, the soldier who assists Farrell and Mrs Pollifax in their escape attempt insists that they tie him up so he won't be suspected, and offers helpful advice on where best to hit him on the head to render him unconscious without doing permanent damage.
  • It's a Troll tradition in Myth Adventures — the unique method of talking secrets publicly by making a spectacle of fighting. Because in a few seconds after trolls begin to punch and wrestle there's usually no one close enough to overhear quiet speech. With an added bonus of advertisement — trolls tend to be hired as a muscle.
  • In one of the Night Watch books the protagonist is going to pass the guard. He is one of the Others, thus so absurdly overpowered a human doesn't really stand any chance against him, simply because he would just mind control him into letting him go. Though there's a tricky rule of balancing stuff: if the good guys cast some magic, the bad guys get a right to do that. So he decides to go take a Refuge in Audacity, since the guard knows he's the Other.
    "Dude, at least have decency to give me a black eye."
    "Nah, I'm in a hurry, do that yourself."
  • No one but President by Lev Gursky. The escaped abductee apologized to an innocent who noticed him about the upcoming Tap on the Head. The innocent, being in an empty theater box viewing a spectacle he hated (because of his vow to Fate for getting away from another trouble), only asks to be knocked out till the end of the show, if possible.
  • In Renegades, when Nova (who's working as a Double Agent) has to arrest her fellow Anarchist Ingrid, she only cuffs one of her hands, then tells her to free herself as to make it look like Nova made an actual effort to detain her.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Dark Mirror, Troi stuns mirror!Worf so that he won't be executed by the Empire for treason after he aids them in escaping.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • Ahsoka has an unusual example: R2-D2, after agreeing to help the title character sneak onboard the Tantive IV to see Bail Organa, activates a circuit making it look like she deactivated him with a shocker. It's unusual because ultimately, everyone involved is on the same side.
  • The Tomorrow War by Alexander Zorich. When a desperate employee running from Peace & Love, Incorporated hijacks a freighter ship, the navigator sets up a jump quickly, because she isn't enthusiastic about having corporate security assault the ship, then staying in detention while it's all sorted out if she survives the cross-fire — she's hurrying to a wedding. She only insists that a pirate strike her with a pistol handle — on her cheek-bone, so that it will be visible.
  • Played for Black Comedy in Declare when British spy Andrew Hale is hauled into a Lebanese police station on trumped-up charges so The Handler can brief him. Meanwhile a man fitting Hale's description is undergoing a mock interrogation so the Soviets won't be suspicious. Apparently they're not being very gentle about it, as a policeman keeps interrupting the briefing to inflict the same injuries on Hale.
    Handler: We better wrap things up before they break the poor man's legs.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On 24, while Jack is undercover with terrorists attacking CTU, he allows a hostage to escape but cuts his own scalp to make it appear he had been knocked out.
  • Doctor Who: In "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", Benton is told to take the Doctor into custody. Once Yates has gone, and Benton has ordered the other soldiers away, comes this exchange:
    Benton: Right then, Doctor, you'd better get busy.
    Doctor: What?
    Benton: You'd better start overpowering me, hadn't you. You know, a bit of your Venusian oojah?
    Doctor: Thank you, Sergeant Benton.
    Doctor: Are you ready?
    Benton: Yeah!
    (Benton tenses and shuts his eyes tight. The Doctor uses the pressure grip at the back of Benton's neck to put him to sleep.)
  • Sawyer posed this offer to Sayid in the fifth season of LOST, to help Sayid avoid an execution without revealing that they actually know each other in the process. Sayid instead chooses to remain locked up.
  • In an early episode of M*A*S*H, a soldier was captured trying to steal medical supplies from the 4077th. Col. Flagg then showed up to interrogate him. Instead of asking questions, Flagg told him to go, assuring him it wasn't a ploy to kill him for "trying to escape". Once the soldier was gone, Flagg trashed the tent he was being held in, broke a phone over his head, ran himself head-first into the door, then claimed the soldier jumped him and escaped.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Dead in the Water'', a jeweller conspires with some of his friends to rob his own store. The jeweller is left Bound and Gagged in a chair in the vault, but one of the robbers decides to make he scenario look more realistic by smacking him hard in the face.
  • Person of Interest
    • A villainous version appears when the head of HR murders two people who are threatening to interfere with his plans, and then has one of his henchman shoot him in order to divert suspicion away from him.
    • In the pilot episode, Detective Fusco establishes his Butt-Monkey status when John Reese forcibly recruits him as an informant against his fellow Dirty Cops. After checking that Fusco is wearing a bulletproof vest, he shoots him in the chest. The crazy thing is that Reese had genuinely escaped from Fusco's custody, but the villains might have questioned why Reese didn't try to kill Fusco in the process.
  • Spaced: When the gang rescue Tim & Daisy's dog from an animal testing lab, they feel bad that the sympathetic security guard will lose his job over it. Luckily, twist insisted on bringing her makeup bag.
    Tim: There. It's not your fault we got past you. We "beat you up".
    All laugh.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "1969", a young Lieutenant Hammond is worried that helping the team escape will get him court-martialed. Before they leave, O'Neill tells him he's about to make sure that doesn't happen... and zaps him with a Zat gun.
  • In the episode "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, Ep19) of Supernatural, Sam and Dean stage a fight to help them escape. In addition, Dean punches Deacon on the cheek to make it look like he was jumped.
  • In the original V (1983):
    • A Fifth Columnist gives Donovan her uniform to help him escape the ship, then makes him shoot her so it will look like a genuine escape. She actually tells Donovan to kill her, not stun her, as her superiors would never believe any story she'd come up with. He checks her pulse, and she luckily survived the blast.
    • Donovan is confronted at gunpoint by his Quisling mother. He points out that she'd never shoot her own son, so as he runs off she fires her gun in the air and rips her own dress.
  • The Professionals. Doyle enters a Bad-Guy Bar and hauls a customer into the storeroom. Turns out he's an undercover cop and the two of them start knocking things off the shelves to make it sound like Doyle is beating him up. When it's time to leave, Doyle goes to inflict the required facial injury, and the cop tells him not to hit his good side as he's got a date tonight.
  • Get Smart. The Chief wants KAOS to think that Maxwell Smart can be recruited as a Double Agent, so they pretend to have a fight in a bar that's under KAOS surveillance. The Chief is to arrest Max, who will then break a specially prepared Soft Glass bottle over his head. Unfortunately every time Max hits the Chief, the KAOS agent is distracted and misses it, so they have to keep asking the bartender for more bottles.

  • Subverted in BIONICLE. A group of Boxed Crooks trick a villager by offering him the claim to the capture of a wanted criminal in exchange for his boat. The leader of the group offers to do this to him.
    Brutaka: But if you want people to believe you caught this dangerous criminal, you will need to look like you've been in a fight. A light tap to your head would do the trick, perhaps. My colleague, Vezon, can handle it — you won't feel a thing.
    Vezon: Ever Again.
    • Brutaka then proceeds to knock him out cold and steal his boat without keeping his side of the bargain.

    Video Games 
  • A borderline case: in Iji, if Vateilika helps you and kills Krotera, she asks Iji to pretend that she (Iji) did it herself. Similar with Ansaksie against Iosa.
  • In the end of Splinter Cell: Conviction, Grim does this to Sam, telling him to hit her to help sell the story. She baits him by telling her about how she knew what really happened to his daughter, after which he gives her a good smack (and another unnecessary one just because he's that pissed off).

  • In Sidekick Girl, Tornado Boy punches unwilling henchman Coldfire during a mission. Though probably not really the reason he did so (Coldfire is dating Sidekick Girl in their civilian identities, and Tornado Boy has a crush on her), Coldfire says that it's good that he has the black eye resulting from it, as it would look suspicious if he just let the heroes walk on through without a fight.

    Western Animation 
  • Star Wars Rebels:
    • "A Princess on Lothal": Twice, both to prevent the Imperials from realizing Princess Leia is a rebel.
      • When the Ghost arrives in the mountains to rescue them, Ryder Azadi, a wanted prisoner, gets himself and Leia aboard by pretending to abduct her. Kanan and Ezra, Dressing as the Enemy, get aboard by attempting to stop the "kidnapping" and get knocked out and "taken prisoner" by Zeb.
      • When they're almost done "stealing" Leia's ships, Ezra stuns her, with her permission.
    • "An Inside Man": Agent Kallus, who's revealed himself as Fulcrum, gets Force-thrown around by Ezra a few times to conceal the fact he was helping Ezra and Kanan escape from the Imperial complex.
  • In the The Amazing Worldof Gumball episode "The Banana," Banana Joe, storms towards Gumball and Darwin to pick a fight, but ends up slipping and bruising himself. Gumball and Darwin know they'll be seen as bullies if anyone sees this, so they proceed to beat themselves up to make it look like it was an actual fight.

    Real Life 
  • According to Corrie Ten Boom, an inside man helping The Resistance against the Nazis in the Netherlands who got their hands on some ration cards told the Resistance member who'd come to get the cards to make the pickup look like a robbery. The inside man in question later turned up with several bumps on his head, explaining when asked only that the Resistance member had indeed made the raid look like a robbery.