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A Spy At The Spa

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Spas and/or beauty parlors as a den of espionage. Mind-reading optional but welcomed.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
Rubber_Lotus on Dec 22nd 2017 at 9:13:54 AM
Last Edited By:
AndreaTx on Jun 1st 2018 at 8:00:36 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

The more sinister side of the Chatty Hairdresser. Loose Lips sink ships - and where will you find looser lips than in the midst of centers of socialization and self-indulgence such as beauty parlors, barber shops, nail salons or massage parlors? People assume that the help is being paid for their discretion. But maybe they're only pretending to be a sympathetic ear about that project you're working on at work. Or maybe that fellow customer is just pretending to be waiting for the next empty styling chair as cover for hours of listening. Failing that, trapping some VIP (or their significant other or faithful subordinate) under the hairdryer or at the shampoo basin gives one an excellent opportunity to rifle through their purses or coat pockets...

In more fantastic settings, out-and-out mind-reading might be involved, particularly useful for psychics who need proximity or touch in order to read minds. For more aggressive intelligence operatives, this may lead to Sauna of Death.


Examples:

Film - Live Action

  • In Like Flint. The Fabulous Face beauty spa uses special hairdryers to brainwash their female clients into becoming ardent feminists. It then uses them as spies for the organization.

Literature

  • A more mundane instance in one Encyclopedia Brown case, where a customer nabbed an important secret from the owners because they thought she couldn't hear them under the hairdryer. Turned out she was deaf to begin with, and read their lips.

Live-Action TV

  • The finale to Batman had special guest villainess Zsa Zsa Gabor reading billionaire spa-goers' minds with her special "Eggplant Jelly Vitamin Scalp Massage".
  • The Bionic Woman - a similar thing happens to Oscar's secretary Peggy Callahan in the episode "Brain Wash". For extra points, the guy running the salon was her fiance.
  • Burn Notice:
    • "Hard Bargain": Michael poses as a hostage negotiator trying to rescue a kidnapped girl. The leader of the kidnapping ring, Reyes, meets him in a massage parlor, which Michael tells him is smart, because it means Reyes knows Michael isn't wearing a wire (or anything besides a towel, for that matter). After Reyes leaves, Mike asks the masseuse if they paid her for the whole hour.
  • The Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series featured a spa with mind-reading massages in the episode "I Do, I Do".

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • In Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, the Lotus Blossom spa and massage parlour is a front for the local Tong gang (and, therefore, for the shadowy Kuei-Jin vampire cabal). Given the peepholes and hidden recording equipment in some of the rooms, it's implied that the Tongs engineer compromising situations to use as Blackmail material.
  • In The Witcher 3, the bathhouse in Novigrad is run by Sigi Reuven, also known as Sigismund Dijkstra, former head of Redanian intelligence. Information is still his preferred currency to exchange for favors. He uses the bathhouse as a meeting ground for the heads of the big four crime syndicates in Novigrad. Before attending a meeting, clothes and weapons are stowed in cubbies in a separate room. When one crime boss breaks away and attacks the bathhouse, Geralt and the other three are forced to fend off the attack in nothing but towels using the clubs Dijkstra keeps in his personal bathing room.

Web Comics

  • Master Varanasi from the webcomic "Battle Bunnies" receives Impossible Thief Connie at a sauna in Azkenderan, where he and his bodyguards are naked, except for towels. Connie at first refers to Varanasi as Azkendaren's "resident Rajland spy" before correcting herself with "trade magnate." She is charged with absconding a MacGuffin from a covert Kahn force operating in the city's Forbidden Zone. Notably, the sauna is chosen to preclude weapons, yet Connie can produce a blade as if from Hammerspace. The subtext is clear: if Varanasi tries to alter the deal, Connie can and will subtract him, precautions notwithstanding.

Western Animation

  • One episode of Spy Groove involved the two spies investigating a spa that targeted fashion models for kidnapping and replacement.

Feedback: 16 replies

Dec 24th 2017 at 9:51:24 AM

Page quote:

Reyes: I like doing my meetings this way. I hope you don't mind. Michael Westen: No, fine by me. You know I'm not wearing a wire. That's smart. Plus,the massage music is really nice and calming.

TV:

  • Burn Notice:
    • "Hard Bargain": Michael poses as a hostage negotiator trying to rescue a kidnapped girl. The leader of the kidnapping ring, Reyes, meets him in a massage parlor, which Michael tells him is smart, because it means Reyes knows Michael isn't wearing a wire (or anything besides a towel, for that matter). After Reyes leaves, Mike asks the masseuse if they paid her for the whole hour.
    • "Turn and Burn": Fiona tracks down the series' resident money-launderer Barry, who's been avoiding Michael since the previous season finale, at a spa, where she intimidates him into coughing up information about a counterfeiter that Michael's handler Carla asked him to contact for a job.

Dec 23rd 2017 at 2:51:53 AM

Film - Live Action

  • In Like Flint. The Fabulous Face beauty spa uses special hairdryers to brainwash their female clients into becoming ardent feminists.

Dec 23rd 2017 at 12:05:32 PM

@Star Sword, thanks for the quote, but could you clarify a bit on why "massage parlor" = "guy's not wearing a wire"? I'd like to establish as strong a link between the business and the spying as possible.

Dec 26th 2017 at 7:38:35 AM

Video Games- In The Witcher 3, the bathhouse in Novigrad is run by Sigi Reuven, also known as Sigismund Dijkstra, former head of Redanian intelligence. Information is still his preferred currency to exchange for favors. He uses the bathhouse as a meeting ground for the heads of the big four crime syndicates in Novigrad. Before attending a meeting, clothes and weapons are stowed in cubbies in a separate room. When one crime boss breaks away and attacks the bathhouse, Geralt and the other three are forced to fend off the attack in nothing but towels using the clubs Dijkstra keeps in his personal bathing room.

Dec 24th 2017 at 9:20:34 AM

^^ I think the idea is that in the massage parlor, people wear very little (if any) clothing, and therefore it's impossible to conceal wires and other devices - the trope that covers this idea is called Nudity Equals Honesty.

Dec 24th 2017 at 9:41:00 AM

Dec 24th 2017 at 9:51:40 AM

@Rubber_Lotus: What @Snicka said. You can't see it from the quote, but Michael is wearing nothing but a towel around his waist when he says the line. I made a slight edit to my example to explain this.

Dec 24th 2017 at 12:59:50 PM

Doesn't one of the original James Bond movies start with him recovering from a mission at a health spa and assassins trying to kill him there?

Dec 24th 2017 at 1:51:43 PM

^Yes, that's the opening to Thunderball.

Dec 24th 2017 at 3:06:58 PM

[up] IIRC the spa plays an even bigger role in the book. Can anyone who's read it confirm?

May 7th 2018 at 5:40:57 PM

The title isn't encompassing enough if the trope isn't limited to spas.

May 7th 2018 at 6:05:15 PM

Marked the draft as Up For Grabs since it hasn't been edited since December.

May 7th 2018 at 6:30:52 PM

Western Animation

  • One episode of Spy Groove involved the two spies investigating a spa that targeted fashion models for kidnapping and replacement.

May 8th 2018 at 1:56:35 PM

Webcomics

  • Master Varanasi from Battle Bunnies receives Impossible Thief Connie at a sauna in Azkenderan, where he and his bodyguards are naked, except for towels. Connie at first refers to Varanasi as Azkendaren's "resident Rajland spy" before correcting herself with "trade magnate." She is charged with absconding a Mac Guffin from a covert Kahn force operating in the city's Forbidden Zone. Notably, the sauna is chosen to preclude weapons, yet Connie can produce a blade as if from Hammerspace. The subtext is clear: if Varanasi tries to alter the deal, Connie can and will subtract him, precautions notwithstanding.

May 23rd 2018 at 10:58:47 PM

May 26th 2018 at 2:17:52 PM

  • Removed: Wonder Woman example which said that the spa had nothing to do with actual espionage.

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