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Gambit Roulette / Live-Action TV

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Gambit Roulettes in live-action TV.

  • 24: Many terrorist plans are of this nature. For example, one plan in the fourth season involves kidnapping the Secretary of Defense, and threatening to execute him live on the Internet; using the traffic that generates as a mask for them hacking into every nuclear power plant in America; using that as a diversion for hijacking a fighter plane to shoot down Air Force One, then stealing the nuclear "football" from the wreckage; using the data in the football to intercept a nuclear missile being transported through Iowa; and finally, firing the missile at Los Angeles. The villains have no explicable way of knowing that the football would survive the impact, that the plane would crash close enough to their location for them to reach it before emergency crews, or that a nuclear missile would be on the road in the vicinity of their secondary team.
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  • U.N. Owen's final murder in And Then There Were None (2015), as in the novel, is to leave a noose for the last survivor. The psychological torment Owen subjected everyone to certainly helped to push the survivor over the Despair Event Horizon, but unlike the other murders (most of which Owen committed directly), this one relies on the survivor definitely being driven round the bend in a very particular fashion so that they voluntarily commit suicide. (Owen could not have predicted that any of the victims would begin hallucinating their own victims, for example.)
  • Angel: Jasmine claims that virtually everything that's happened in the series up to the point of her arrival on Earth was the result of her manipulation. She may have just been trying to be impressive, though.
  • Babylon 5: In the fourth season, Psi Cop Alfred Bester used subtle mind manipulation to make Michael Garibaldi his unwitting agent. Over time he subtly "nudged" Garibaldi's personality in the ways he wanted, heightening Garibaldi's natural suspicion, and turning him into a Manchurian Agent of a sort. As this happened, and (in many cases) as a result of the manipulation, Garibaldi took several steps that Bester himself admitted he hadn't--and couldn't have--anticipated, such as Garibaldi's resignation from the command crew of Babylon 5. All of which played straight into Bester's hand. Making the entire "plan" of Bester's a hybrid of Gambit Roulette and Xanatos Speed Chess.
  • Breaking Bad:
    • Walter White's goal is to convince Jesse Pinkman to work with him in order to eliminate Gus Fring, whom Jesse has formed an uneasy alliance with. The plan goes as follows: Jesse keeps a vial of poison hidden inside a packet of cigarettes. Walter arranges for Walter and Jesse's lawyer, Saul Goodman, to have his bodyguard frisk Jesse and steal the vial of poison. Walter then secretly poisons Jesse's girlfriend's son, Brock, with a different, non-lethal poison, in hopes that Jesse will come to the conclusion that Walter stole the poison from him and poisoned Brock with, and thereafter attempt to kill Walter. When Jesse is threatening to kill Walter, Walter convinces him that Brock was really poisoned by Gus in an effort to turn Jesse against Walt. Could be considered a Batman Gambit, except that it relies on Jesse reaching a very improbable conclusion in an Out of Character manner.
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    • In the finale, Walt's plan relies on the Aryan Brotherhood allowing him to bring his car inside their compound and park it parallel to the building where they meet him, gathering all of their members in that building on the first floor rather than a second story or a basement, and that building being made of bullet-permeable material rather than being, say, a concrete bunker. If any one of these factors, none of which were within his control, had failed, he would have been S.O.L.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Styggron in "The Android Invasion" has a plan for invading the Earth, and it's probably the worst one ever. He starts by creating a near-exact duplicate of a little English village and filling it with robot duplicates as a "training simulation", only he also creates a killer virus that can wipe out everyone on Earth with a single drop. He locates the lost astronaut Crayford and convinces him to turn against Earth by telling him he's put him back together after an explosion, telling him that his left eye was lost and giving him an eyepatch, despite Crayford never have being injured and still having an eye under his patch (uh...). When the Doctor and Sarah arrive (consider that they are Outside Context Heroes whose arrival is completely unpredictable), they run into space-suited guards Styggron has positioned there, who lock the Doctor up in the prison Styggron built in the town he didn't expect anyone to visit. He manages to capture the Doctor, ties him to a memorial with plastic ivy and tries to blow him up, attempts to kill him with an Agony Beam body scanner that allows him to produce a duplicate Doctor, and attempts to poison Sarah with prison water, but also creates an android Sarah to help the Doctor and tell him useful information (specifically, she tells him about the android duplicates, something he hadn't figured out at that point). The Doctor suggests that Styggron is feeding him information to find out how smart he is, but it's never made clear why. Maybe he was trying to lure the Doctor into facing his android double on Earth... but why? It's entirely possible Styggron doesn't even understand his own plot and was more interested in having fun playing model villages with his androids.
    • Inverted — kind of — throughout the Seventh Doctor's tenure. The Seventh Doctor seems to sashay through story after story knowing exactly how to tweak every adversary's nose to ensure their destruction, often by their own hands, and never bothers to explain himself, either to poor Ace or the audience. What complicates matters further is that Fenric, one of the last adversaries he faces, claims to have been pulling a similar Roulette on the Doctor ever since he met Ace... Furthermore, many of the Seventh Doctor's Roulettes tend to come perilously close to crashing down around him as one of his adversaries complicates things by doing something he never expected, resulting in a fair bit of frantic running around trying to get everything back on track. Supposedly the reveal would have been that the Seventh Doctor was playing the Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure game. His future self was setting things up so his past self would succeed... which meant that he couldn't cheat his way out of having to play Gambit Speed Chess, since his future self would remember his past self's difficulties and be unable to prevent them. It's hinted at vaguely in "Survival" and blatantly in "Battlefield", but the series ended before it became explicit.
    • Parodied neatly in Comic Relief spoof "The Curse of Fatal Death". The joke here is that the unexpected roulettes become so expected that it is funny when they stop happening. The basic idea is that both the Doctor and the Master are using their own time machine to bribe an architect to set a trap, or UNSET a trap.
    • "Blink" subverts it: From Sally's perspective, the Doctor's plan to stop the Angels relies on insane guesswork, but by the time it's over you can clearly see how he pulled it off. After all, he has a record of the entire incident given to him by Sally herself. It's timey-wimey, you know.
    • "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End": Dalek Caan's scheme to wipe out all the Daleks by letting them create a new Dalek Empire and then try to destroy reality has been in the works for ages. It helps that he's turned Mad Oracle.
    • "The End of Time": Rassilon's plan to escape the Time War has encompassed the Master's entire life since he was eight years old.
    • The plan of the Silence over series 5 and 6 is a really amazingly convoluted one. Much of the plan is coherent. YMMV if this is a gambit rather than a roulette. It ultimately fails spectacularly thanks to a paradox built into the plan causing the very events it tried to prevent.
  • Dollhouse: Boyd Langton's plan. The goal is to have Echo repeatedly imprinted, so that her resistance to imprinting will leave chemical markers in her spinal fluid, which he can then harvest and use to create a vaccine against imprinting. To this end, he installs himself as Echo's handler on a long-term basis, without anyone else in the Dollhouse knowing who he really is. During this time, Echo is sent on several engagements that nearly get her killed, as well as one or two that nearly get him killed, and he really has no reason to be so sure that she will survive. Not only that, but he's simultaneously testing Topher and Adelle to see whether or not they're worthy to be among his 'family' that will survive after the mind-wipe apocalypse.
  • FlashForward (2009): D. Gibbons is running a massive Gambit Roulette. It becomes particularly obvious when the heroes find a hidden base in Somalia and discover a 17-year-old videocassette of D. Gibbons where he addresses them by name. Then again, he's a literal Chessmaster, and he has a lot of experience with seeing flashforwards of the future.
  • Fringe: Played with.
    • An episode had an FBI agent who was infected with a life-threatening parasite which was cured at the very last second. Turns out he apparently infected himself, and the entire episode was a plan to get his wife to overhear a secret discovered by other FBI agents while they were trying to save him. But if even a single thing in the episode had gone differently - including the fact that an attempt to catch a suspect had been botched - then the plan would not have worked. If the heroes were even five minutes too late, the plotter would have been dead, and if they had gotten the necessary information just a few minutes prior, the wife would not have been in the room.
    • In "Plateau", the villain Milo gained super plan making powers by taking a drug. He orchestrated peoples' deaths by setting a pen on the ground and creating a chain reaction ending in a traffic accident. In the last season it was revealed that the observers are crazy good at these, but that's justified by time travel or by the fact that time isn't even linear for them. They can see all points of time at once.
  • Heroes:
    • Subverted. It appears the mysterious organization seems to be manipulating a ridiculous number of variables to come out at a dark future, but we eventually discover that things didn't turn out quite as they planned either. Also, they specifically have: 1) a guy who can see the future; 2) a little girl who can tell them exactly where any human being in the world is at all times; 3) a telepath capable of reading people's minds over long distances and probing their deepest memories. And, initially, 4) an agent capable of total mind control, being able to order anyone she can talk to to do anything and then make them forget about it. All this makes the villains' prescience at least a bit more plausible. Really, the dizzying array of assets the Company has at the outset of the series tends to make their failures less believable than their successes.
    • Played straight on a smaller scale, when Nathan's crusade is about to be shut down by an appalled Homeland Security agent (and acquaintance of the currently imprisoned Tracy), Nate's Psycho for Hire second-in-command manages to rig Tracy's restraints, so she'd break free, try to escape, and show just how dangerous she really is... just in time for the agent (who'd just returned with an armful of Cease And Desist orders) to see her freak out and kill someone (something Tracy hadn't done in a while because she had actual control of her powers now). This whole scenario only works if Tracy panics and kills - something she hadn't done in months. Plus the chance that the agent shuts the place down anyway and insists Tracy be tried for murder, publicly.
  • How I Met Your Mother:
    • In the episode "The Playbook", the Scuba Diver gambit does seem to rely on an uncontrollable event and a second person performing a plan of their own, but neither are really required. However, all four of his closest friends still have to miss his insincerity, Lily has to set Ted up on a date at the expected time, and one of them has to trigger the plan's start while there's an appropriate girl present.
    • In the eighth season, Barney takes this same premise and turns the dial way up for his final play: the proposal. Likewise, some of the steps weren't really necessary, such as the intervention, but for other steps the roulette was even justified. At one point he says that Ted's actions would reveal his true feelings on the matter and allow the play to continue or fall apart accordingly. It's probable that he intentionally set it up so the same was true for Robin as well.
  • The Invisible Man: Lampshaded with a speech given by the hero to the recurring villain, at whose mercy he is. Having asked the villain to Just Shoot Him or at least knock him out and get on with whatever he wants to do, he launches into:
    Darien Fawkes: What is it with all these complex plots, huh? What is it? Is it a Swiss thing, is that what it is? [...] No, no, don't defend it, please. [...] Please, will you just admit it? [...] You're ridiculous. You are! I mean, you join the Q gland design team just so you can steal the design. You... you make me think Kevin's alive so I can lead you to some files that, hey, Buddy? You could have found on your own with a little research. Then you give me the flu so I can what? Wind up in some hospital room and you can take the gland out of me? Douche. Rube Goldberg has got nothing on you, pal.
  • Joan of Arcadia: God does this, but then - God. Omniscient.
  • Lie to Me: This is Cal Lightman's favorite strategy, calling it the Long Con. This to the point of even tricking his own employees into actions he knew they would do to help.
  • Lost:
    • Benjamin Linus may be one of the all-time greatest chessmasters. The leader of the "Others" is able to manipulate the show's castaways into thinking his group are primitive savages (in truth they are a bunch of modern savages/guardians of the island) AND arranges for his own capture by the castaways, in a net of the crazy Frenchwoman whose child he abducted and raised as his own, while claiming to be a castaway whose balloon crashed on the island, killing his "wife" in the process. In spite of having his lie exposed, he succeeds in getting the father of a child his minions have already kidnapped to free him, resulting in the deaths of two of the dad's fellow castaways in the process, at the hands of the father. He then uses this as leverage to get three of the castaways to surrender themselves to him. In season 3, he steps it up a notch by somehow managing to force Jack to perform an operation on his spinal column. This may be one of the only times where Ben's plans don't work too well, as Jack slits his kidney as a level to force the Others to allow Kate and Sawyer to go free. Ben survives, and seemingly without doing anything at all manages to destroy several chances for survivors to escape the island, thanks to John Locke. He is also revealed to have orchestrated the murder of the village the Others now live in, the hippie commune/big secret science project thingy known as the Dharma Initiative, including his evil father. By season 4, Ben has successfully manipulated Sayid (who tortured Ben) into working for him as his personal assassin and in season five, it's revealed that Ben murdered John Locke in order to make the rest of the castaways who did escape the island, go back to the island.
    • Flocke predicts that Widmore would rig the plane to explode so he could take the explosives and put them in Jack's bag, and that Sawyer would prevent Flocke from getting on the submarine, AND that the people trapped on the submarine would attempt to disarm the bomb (since Flocke himself apparently can't directly kill these particular characters). Plus, they only find the bomb because Kate is shot getting onto the submarine, so he would have been screwed if they managed to do it with no casualties. The plan did not end up panning out perfectly, though.
  • NUMB3RS: This is a common problem on this show in that it relies on mathematics far more than real investigations ever would. While statistical analysis and some other techniques are used in law enforcement, they are not used in individual cases to the same degree as in the show. For example an episode centers around a dirty bomb threat somewhere in LA, which turns out to be fake; the actual point of the threat was to trigger the evacuation of the immediate area, so the crooks could break into a vault without interference. However, the plan requires that the FBI evacuate the right area, which was not revealed by the "terrorists" and which is only determined at the last minute through extreme deductive skill (and nearly incorrectly anyway). Had the FBI guessed wrong, the plan would have failed.
  • Revenge:
    • Tyler's plan to break up Emily and Daniel would not have worked if Jack hadn't shown up or if Emily hadn't invited him in, things Tyler hadn't no control over. In fact, if that hadn't happened, the conversation would have gone like this:
      Emily: You are extremely late. I hope you have a good excuse. Why didn't you call?
      Daniel: What? Tyler told me you cancelled. I came to ask why.
      Emily: Well, he lied.
      [both fume; Tyler's a dead man walking]]
    • The plan to frame David Clarke as a money launderer for terrorists relied on a large number of people being willing to perjure themselves in court and the prosecutor suppressing evidence. If any of these people were honest, the case against Emily's father might have fallen apart. It is likely that the initial plan did not require the frameup but Conrad screwed up and then had to play Xanatos Speed Chess so someone else would take the blame.
  • Sherlock:
    • An interesting justified version happened in the first episode, where the murder victim used Gambit Roulette to lay out a trail of clues to help the police identify her killer. Yes, it was a roulette, but considering that she had to concoct and execute this plan within the last hour or so of her life while under the watchful eyes of her killer, it makes sense that it wasn't planned out better.
    • A lot of Moriarty's plans depend on this. The second series finale is the best example, with many elements apparently coming down to luck, and absolutely hinging on the police being incredibly stupid.
    • Sherlock manages this in "The Lying Detective", which relies on an old drug addiction coming back and a whole array of Batman Gambits in which everyone had to react as he anticipated within a span of two weeks, all to catch a serial killer with good publicity. If that's not improbable, even Sherlock doesn't know what is.
    • This trope is taken to absurd levels in "The Final Problem" as we learn about the master plan of Eurus.
      • Her plan to destroy Sherlock is critically dependent on help from Moriarty. In order to meet Jim, Eurus needs to convince Mycroft to arrange a meeting for the two evil geniuses. This part of the plan requires Mycroft, who is phenomenally smart and is deeply caring about Sherlock, to act very dumb for no good reason and to allow an unsupervised meeting between two extremely dangerously psychotic and intelligent criminals, who are not hiding their intentions to harm his brother. If Mycroft refused, she would've lost her only chance to do anything outside her prison cell for the rest of her life. This highly improbable scenario works in the actual episode because plot needs to move.
      • Ironically, one of the largest gambles and risks for her plan was highly unpredictable and unreliable Moriarty himself. In "The Reichenbach Fall" Moriarty went full force against Sherlock and was willing to see his nemesis die, which, for obvious reasons, could cancel out plan of Eurus entirely. She also needed Moriarty to die himself and get out of the picture with absolutely no guarantees that any of these events would happen as predicted. In fact, Moriarty seemed content with continuing his games with "ordinary" people. Her whole plan hinged on highly specific outcomes, typical of any Gambit Roulette plans, while for Moriarty postmortem game was just an entertaining alternative option in his grandiose Xanatos Gambit.
      • Eurus had to be able to somehow discretely and completely brainwash all the prison staff without Mycroft or any other top government agent noticing; hope that Sherlock survives dismantling Moriarty’s network; hope that he survives a terror attack plot; hope that his confrontation with extremely dangerous Magnussen would not end with Sherlock being destroyed; hack the telecommunication system of Great Britain to distribute Moriarty’s message at the perfectly calculated time without anyone noticing; leave prison; reconstruct Musgrave estate without Mycroft noticing; seduce John “the Family Man” Watson and hope again that Sherlock would not see through her disguise as Culverton Smith’s daughter. In each instance chance of failure was as high as it gets with her plan critically requiring British authorities, as well as her supergenius brothers, to be extremely incompetent for no reason whatsoever.
      • In "The Final Problem" itself her plan required Sherlock, John and Mycroft to survive a grenade explosion at close range and infiltrate the highest security island prison with a very high chance of someone being killed or arrested in the process. In the prison, her whole plan hinges entirely on Sherlock, master of Sherlock Scan, not noticing the lack of glass. Later trials absolutely required her brothers to suddenly get dumbed down and play by her rules without any improvisations or creative solutions or even recognizing Eurus as little girl impersonator. Of course her initial plan does fall apart the moment Sherlock just ignores her rules.
  • Sneaky Pete: Many of Marius's schemes rely on people acting or reacting in a way that he has predicted. For example, in a flashback, he impresses Vince with a card trick and then leaves. Eddie is annoyed at him for leaving because they could have conned Vince after that power play, but Marius knows what he's doing. Leaving the joint causes Vince to call him back immediately and get hooked into a big con.
  • Stargate SG-1: Subverted. When Teal'c is brainwashed by Apophis to believe he never actually left his service, the various characters point out all the things he did that not only hurt the Goa'uld as a whole, but Apophis in particular, demonstrating how the Gambit Roulette Apophis is making Teal'c buy into makes not the slightest bit of sense at all. Of course, thanks to brainwashing, Teal'c is having none of it.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Happens in "The Most Toys". Collector Kivas Fajo wants to add Lt. Data to his collection. To succesfully kidnap Data and fake his accidental death, he poisons the water supply of a Federation colony with Tricyanate, making it look like a natural disaster. Because the only antidote, Hitridium, is extremely unstable, he's the only merchant in the region selling the Green Rocks needed to solve this catastrophe. Said green rocks cannot be beamed, thus they must be be shuttled over because they are highly volatile, resulting in a good cover-up for any accidental explosion of the shuttle. His plan, however, hinged on the fact that Picard would send Data on the simple job of ferrying things back and forth, and this is nothing the collector has any control over. Furthermore, Data is not even the crew's best pilot (that honor goes to Riker), and being a high ranking member of the crew, he could very well not have been available to do this ferrying job. Furthermore, the Enterprise has HUNDREDS of crewmembers Picard can choose from. Thankfully, it seems fate threw him a bone and Picard decided to pick Data for the job that day. In a subversion, however, this Roulette didn't work out. The crew was able to tell upon reversing the poisoning that it was sabotage and not a natural disaster, and immediately began to wonder just how long the odds were that Fajo would conveniently have the Green Rocks needed for the mission (and just enough'' Green Rocks). One look into Fajo's personal history and hobbies later, the crew had fingered him for Data's abduction.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: In "Dark Frontier", the Borg Queen essentially says that she orchestrated 7 of 9 being taken in by Voyager and integrated into the crew, so that she could later coerce her into returning to the Collective. This required the following - Voyager to attempt to ally themselves with the Borg, then ask for a representative, then for the cube to be destroyed, allowing 7 to get onto Voyager and then, despite the Borg stabbing Voyager in the back, 7 surviving and being taken into the Voyager crew. In the Grand Finale this implausible plot is further used to explain why Voyager could always miraculously escape the Borg, as Seven of Nine is the Queen's "favourite".
  • Survivor: China: On the Reunion episode that aired immediately after the final episode, season winner Todd implied that everything that had happened during the show, up to and including who was selected to be on the show, was all somehow part of his master plan.
  • Tales from the Crypt: "The Pit" relied entirely on this. Not only were two men able to predict exactly how their wives would react in a certain situation, they were also able to reschedule a major international fighting event, change the designated fighters, AND apparently hype this last-minute change to the point that no ratings were lost, all without their wives finding out. Even more bizarrely, they seemed fairly confident that their wives would kill each other in the match (although, assuming one survived, her husband could have filed for divorce).
  • In Japanese drama Uramiya Honpo, almost every plan Uramiya uses to punish her victims is a Gambit Roulette. The most blatant exemple being the second movie special, "Mind Control no Wana". In the last episode of the first season, we were introduced to Kiyomi, a woman who looked exactly like Uramiya and has been institutionalized since her family was murdered before her eyes when she was a child. In "Mind Control no Wana", it is revealed that the murderer is Sunstone, an insane guru who is also her real father (he raped her mother) and intends to marry her on his 55 birthday. After discovering the truth, Kiyomi hired Uramiya to help her avenge her family's death. Uramiya's plan was to disfigure Kiyomi with acid so her face could be rebuilt into an exact replica of Uramiya, so years later, Sunstone will kill Kiyomi, mistaking her for Uramiya. And it worked!
  • Veronica Mars: Many schemes verge into this territory, most notably the plan to kidnap her boyfriend's baby, which had as linchpins one character opening a letter addressed to someone else, her phone being tapped, and the sheriff driving all the way to Mexico without looking in his trunk.
  • The West Wing: Lampshaded by the National Security Advisor in the Season 4 finale: the terrorists' entire plan to kidnap the daughter of the President of the United States hinged, first, on her taking some of her boyfriend's Ecstasy (which had been laced with GHB) and, second, on her deciding to use the bathroom in the club before leaving. Her point was that the crime, since it relied on those variables, probably wasn't the work of a master criminal or terrorist cell, but probably some opportunistic idiots. That made a lot more sense than the eventual resolution, and since Aaron Sorkin left the show before the cliffhanger was wrapped up, that might have been its intended conclusion.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place: One of the villains was a shopkeeper who sold the kids a pet dragon. For some reason, Alex can't tell her parents about it. So she pretends it's a lost dog that they found, and they post lost-and-found posters. Suddenly the shopkeeper apparently responds to the posters and takes it back, claiming to have done this several times before. This way, he can sell the dragon several times to different people while getting it back each time. So the guy apparently planned for Alex, and everyone he sells it to ever, to do something stupid like that. Either the guy was just a really devious shopkeeper, or you could just blame this on bad writing.
  • X-Play: The plot of Saw I is parodied in an episode. Adam and Morgan are locked in a cell; which leads Adam to discover a cassette player; which he uses to describe how they are trapped in a madman's game. Morgan, realizing that the player might've had a clue to help them escape, slaps it out of Adam's hand. It turns out the player had a key inside it, which unlocks a cabinet with a TV that the killer broadcasts his messages (his first being that he knew Adam would tape over his recording, Morgan would break the player, and they would find the key).


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