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Bait-and-Switch Character Intro

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Sometimes, you can tell from a character's first moments exactly who and what they are. A character appears on-screen and immediately kicks a dog, he's obviously the villain. Another appears and his first act is to help a kindly old lady across the street, he's a good guy.

But wait... that guy wasn't actually kicking the dog, he was stomping on a spider that was about to bite it! And that so-called good guy was only helping the little old lady so he could steal her purse once her guard was down!

This is the Bait-and-Switch Character Intro. It's a form of Establishing Character Moment where the character is initially introduced in a certain way, which is then immediately subverted and shown that the character is actually something entirely different.

Naturally, it can go in multiple different directions. A powerful character might be introduced as a non-combatant in order to establish them as a Humble Hero or a Hidden Badass. A villainous character may be introduced doing something nice to establish them as a Villain with Good Publicity, or the opposite used to set up a Hero with Bad Publicity. So on and so forth.


Note, also, that this only counts if it happens as part of the character's original Establishing Character Moment. Simply showing their true colors late in the story doesn't count.

Compare Decoy Protagonist, which can also overlap with this trope. Often a type of First-Episode Twist. See also Not What It Looks Like. Is naturally a subtrope of Bait-and-Switch and Establishing Character Moment.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bungo Stray Dogs: Chuuya Nakahara is introduced as a scary Port Mafia executive whose presence unnerves a captive Dazai, who isn't afraid of anyone. However, the situation quickly changes as Dazai reveals he was actually making fun of Chuuya's hat and proceeds to blackmail and humiliate the other man. Played with later on as it turns out that Chuuya really is terrifying and dangerous so long as Dazai isn't around.
  • Guildmaster Makarov of Fairy Tail first appears in his giant form, shouting angrily at his rowdy guild like some sort of enraged monster, leading Audience Surrogate Lucy to wonder what she's gotten herself into. Realizing he has a new recruit to deal with, he immediately reverts to his tiny, normal form and takes on a polite demeanor, which serves to weird her out even more.
  • Fate/Zero, in this scene that we're introduced to Caster, a legendary figure accidentally summoned by Ryunosuke Uryuu, a depraved serial killer. To Uryuu's displeasure, Caster speaks kindly to the child whose family was murdered for the summoning ritual, telling the boy that he's free to go. The boy gets to the door...and is then grabbed and brutally ripped to pieces by ethereal tentacles. Caster then reveals that he just wanted the boy to experience a Hope Spot, as it makes the realization of their death even more satisfying. Naturally, this establishes Caster as an even worse villain than his summoner.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders: Alessi's introduction involves a four year old boy accidentally getting mud on his pants. He speaks kindly to the boy, asking is he's alright, and where his parents are. As soon as he's sure the kid's parents aren't around he changes his tune, starts screaming in the kid's face and hits him, sending the kid running away crying. This establishes him as a Dirty Coward villain who targets children. And we see later that he has the power to transform adults into children.
  • Mama Isabella of The Promised Neverland is first shown as a kind and caring foster mom to all the children at the orphanage. The end of the first issue reveals, however, that she is only taking care of the children to raise them as food for demons.
  • Rosario + Vampire: Kahlua Shuzen makes her debut as her little sister Kokoa gets uncharacteristically frightened. With her eyes mysteriously half-closed, she walks down the corridor... then trips over her own dress and sits up with a "Silly Me" Gesture. Kokoa was not frightened for nothing, though; Kahlua may be naïve and childlike, but she is a top assassin who does anything for her employer, as it soon becomes obvious when she innocently reveals her blindfolded and straitjacketed hostage in a wheelchair.
  • Most of the title characters of The Seven Deadly Sins are introduced like this. In particular, Meliodas is introduced as some kid who tends a bar and has some unnamed business with the Sins, before revealing his true nature during a fight a little later. He's also seen acting vaguely threatening and like he's about to get into a fight with some of his customers... before it's shown that he was just teasing and is actually a very amiable individual.
  • All three of the main meister-weapon groups of Soul Eater are introduced like this in their Debut Queue episodes/chapters.
    • The title character, Soul, is the biggest example of it. He's initially introduced as a somewhat shallow young man who insults his partner and talks a lot about being a "cool" guy. It reaches a head a little later when, frustrated at his inability to defeat the not actually a witch Blair, he very despicably and cruelly gives up and switches sides to be with Blair instead of Maka, even dropping Maka in a trash bin and insulting her, saying "anyone would choose someone with a body like Blair's over you and your flat chest." After Maka calls him out for being a bastard, he reveals it was actually just a deception to get Blair to drop her guard and set her up for the kill. After all, cool guys don't cheat on their partners.
    • Black☆Star very quietly and skillfully infiltrates the hideout of the Al Capone gang during the middle of a dinner celebration, and gets the drop on them with effortless ease... but instead of quietly assassinating the villains, he gives a boisterous speech about how awesome he is and then declares that his job is done, right before being chased off by gunfire. He then shows no remorse for it when his weapon partner, Tsubaki, calls him out on it, saying that he was the biggest star in the room. This establishes him as the Brilliant, but Lazy, Small Name, Big Ego, Highly Visible Ninja. It's further established at the end of the episode when he challenges the samurai Mifune and despite having trouble at first (specifically because of his flaws) manages to get serious and effortlessly win with a single move, showing that he really is as powerful and skilled as he claims he is... when he can manage to get his act together.
    • Death the Kid's introduction has him chase down a fleeing villain and corner him, only to get side-tracked because Liz and Patty messed up their Ass Kicking Pose, allowing the villain to escape and establishing his Super OCD tendencies. He gets another one later in the same episode when he finds himself unable to attack the evil super-mummy hiding inside a perfectly symmetrical sarcophagus and is nearly killed before the mummy itself appears in all its asymmetrical Body Horror glory, at which point Kid declares that it makes him feel "violently ill" and utterly destroys it... and the pyramid they're in too.
  • Zombieland Saga introduces the protagonist as a plucky young girl who is excited to try out in an idol competition until mere minutes into the first episode she is killed by a truck. The death metal theme kicks in, further indicating to the audience that the show will not be straightforward.

    Films — Animation 
  • Aladdin: Iago the evil parrot is first introduced by having him spend a few moments repeating things like a normal parrot... and then ask, "Where did you dig this bozo up?", revealing that he can not only talk properly, but he's got a smart mouth.
  • In Brave, this happens twice with Wee Dingwall:
    • During the initial introduction, we're lead to believe he's a hulking beefcake of a man... until Lord Dingwall pulls the real son from behind him, revealing him to be scrawny and wall-eyed.
    • When Lord MacIntosh begins throwing jeers and insults at Lord Dingwall, the latter sics his son on the former... who proceeds to attack with an animalistic ferocity, showing that his father's boasts were far from idle.
  • Cats Don't Dance: Darla Dimple is first shown performing a musical number for her newest movie Li'l Ark Angel, playing a literal angel acting all sweet and adoring to the animals getting on the Ark. When Danny's ad-libbing steals the spotlight from her, she loses her temper and screeches at everyone that "I... hate... ANIMALS!!". This cements her as a Tiny Tyrannical Girl who is the opposite of her Friend to All Living Things persona.
  • Despicable Me: When Gru is first introduced, he's shown making a balloon dog for a little boy who is crying over his dropped ice cream... and then instantly popping it. This cements him as evil, but only in a petty sort of way.
  • In Frankenweenie, when we first see Colossus, one of the undead pets, he's seen with a huge shadow and his footsteps were making loud booming noises. As it turns out, he's only a small hamster; the booming was because he was in an echo-y tomb.
  • The Good Dinosaur: The pterodactyls are first seen searching for trapped animals to help after a storm passes through. The leader, Thunderclap, introduces himself to Arlo, seeming a bit odd, but still pretty friendly. After Arlo helps them free a trapped critter, Thunderclap thanks him for his help…and then immediately swallows the cute animal whole, revealing that they are simply scavengers, and setting them up as the film’s closest thing to an actual villain.
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part: When Ice Cream Cone introduces Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi to Wyldstyle and crew, a podium rises from the center with a minidoll in a pink dress and a gold crown riding a colorful brick-built horse on it. Then, the horse, who reveals herself to be the real queen, asks the minidoll (named Susan) to prepare refreshments for their guests, so she gives the crown back to the queen and rushes into another room to serve drinks.
  • Monsters University: When Mike meets his new dorm-mate Randall, he is first seen in the shadows with a squinting look, evoking the shifty and snakelike Randall known from Monsters, Inc.. He then runs to the front of the dorm room, where we see he wears big glasses and a friendly expression.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In S.W.A.T., Brian Gamble intervenes in a Hostage Situation, disobeying orders like your typical movie Cowboy Cop, and his partner Jim Street follows him in. But when he tries to Shoot the Hostage Taker, he hits the hostage by accident. Afterwards, they're both chewed out and demoted off the SWAT Team, and Gamble loses his temper and Rage Quits the police force entirely. Jim Street, who disagreed with disobeying orders but backed up his partner, is the actual hero of the film, while Gamble undergoes a Face–Heel Turn and is the primary villain.
  • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: The first time Wonka appears, he seems to be a frail old man, hunched over and walking slowly with a cane. Then he drops the cane and loses his balance, but instead of falling over he does a perfect somersault and gets up with a big grin on his face. This establishes him as both a fun-loving guy and a devious trickster.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Skye later going by Daisy/Quake is introduced as an intimidating hacker in her Hacker Cave, who passionately boasts about how she can't be stopped! Then the rest of the cast break into the beat-up van she's broadcasting from, and she's quickly re-characterised as the New Meat Audience Surrogate.
  • From The A-Team two-parter "The Bend in the River", villain El Cajón's introduction does this twice in rapid succession. The episode begins with the natives telling the client of the week Brian Lefcourt all about the myth of the pirate who walks on one leg, and how utterly terrifying he is. They even demand that Brian "give his hand to save us" by which they mean literally cut off his own hand and offer it as a gift in exchange for their lives. El Cajón shows up, chases away the natives, and takes Brian captive, at which point he's revealed to be an illiterate Fat Slob. He also speaks affably with his captive, saying he won't hurt him, he only terrorizes the natives so they'll be too scared to defy him and force him to do something really evil, and he definitely has no intention of cutting off Brian's hand. A moment later, after leaving Brian with his other captives, he goes back to his hut. He finds one of his people there digging through his chest of treasures, at which point he reveals he has a shotgun hidden in his prosthetic leg, and his other followers drag the man away to be killed. This establishes him as a Faux Affably Evil villain who really is a dangerous and cunning individual in spite of his shortcomings.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: The first scene of the pilot shows Detective Jake Peralta playing with a puppet and fooling around at a crime scene. This exhausts his partner, Detective Santiago — until Jake reveals that he solved the crime almost immediately upon his arrival.
  • The very first scene in the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer shows a young couple—a fresh-faced blonde girl, and a cocky, somewhat arrogant boy—break into the local high school, with the evident intention of "making out"...all while ominous music plays. The girl seems somewhat hesitant ("Are you sure this is a good idea?"), then she says she "heard a noise". The boy assures her they're which point the girl reveals her Game Face and proceeds to chomp his neck. The "schoolgirl", the vampire Darla, would go on to be a major villain in Buffy (and an important character in its spinoff Angel).
  • Supernatural: Dean, Sam, and Bobby speculate that only the most powerful and sinister of demons could have snatched Dean from Hell and restored his body. An attempt to summon the demon leads to a psychic having her eyes burned out just by looking at the thing, and when the creature Castiel does show up, looking more like a tax accountant than a demon, lights blow out and the wind blows. Yet, Castiel walks past every devil's trap and hex, and he proves immune to being shot and stabbed. He finally reveals to Dean that he is an angel and shows the shadow of his wings to prove it.

    Puppet Shows 
  • In the Sesame Street song "I Cry", a baby named Rocky is introduced as a normal baby, crying. When his mother and sister leave, however, he bursts into a song about why he cries. This cements him being Prone to Tears, which is typical of a baby, but at the same time, secretly a Brainy Baby.

    Video Games 
  • Bug Fables: Mothiva's first proper meeting with Team Snakemouth has her arrive with Zasp into the Golden Hills entrance when Team Snakemouth installs the big crank that is required to operate the lift into the hole. Initially, she compliments Team Snakemouth, praising them on their hard work...and then starts insisting that they allow her to finish the mission, even trying to bribe them with exposure, and when they refuse, she reveals her disdain for them threatening to overshadow her popularity and initiates a fight. This establishes her as a Glory Hound and a massive jerk beneath the facade she puts on public.
  • Crackdown 3: In keeping with their status as Wolf in Sheep's Clothing Villains With Good Publicity, all the bosses of TerraNova are established like this, with cutscenes that start out showing them in the way they're initially seen by the people of New Providence, as brave heroes and saviors... then quickly changes and reveals their tyrannical true nature.
    • Wilhelm Berg: First appears as a benevolent gatekeeper, welcoming refugees to New Providence, but soon the gate closes and he reveals himself to be a cruel man who forces newcomers to stay in the outskirts.
    • ROXY: The camera zooms in on ROXY's smiling emoji face as it goes past a string of monorail lines... it then cuts to ROXY's face turned into an angry emoji as a nightmare sprawl of twisting, chaotic rail lines spreads out around her. Then shutters close on the trams, saying "Property of TerraNova".
    • Alois Quist: Quist stands in his lab surrounded by machinery, watching 0's and 1's scroll past on his screen. The camera pans around and zooms in on his face, where the 0's and 1's are reflected in his glasses as skulls and bones, establishing him as a man who pretends to be a genius obsessed with his work but who is actually a murderous psychopath with dreams of starting a Robot War.
    • Reza Khan: Workers walk in orderly lines past mining equipment with signs talking about how safe the operation is, and the health benefits they offer. The camera then zooms through the ground, down into the mines, where Khan stands, sneering over obviously ill workers choking on noxious fumes as equipment literally falls apart around them.
    • Djimon Keita: Keita stands looming over the chemical plant, sending glowing green down the pipes. The camera pans down to an impoverished slum as that same glowing green pours from open pipes all over the people, and acid rain falls from the sky.
    • Katala Vargas: The camera zooms in on a newspaper talking about Vargas winning the Nobel prize, with a picture of her standing near a machine, proudly. The camera zooms past as the glowing sphere on the machine turns into a globe, with Vargas' face now horribly scarred, and her holding the globe in a death grip as she sneers menacingly.
    • Liv Sorensen: Sorenson stands over the city with angelic wings as transport planes and boats head toward a city. The camera pans over and we hear screaming, as it's revealed the transport planes aren't going to save people, but instead are rounding up prisoners at gunpoint.
    • Kuli Ngata: Ngata stands among citizens under a banner reading "your security is our priority" as a security robot hands a balloon to a child. The camera zooms in on the balloon... and then it cuts to Ngata standing surrounded by soldiers, with that same robot firing its lasers into a crowd of unarmed protestors and incinerating them.
  • Mars: War Logs opens with Innocence Smith being transported to a POW camp while he narrates some of the backstory and how he got drafted and captured. After he arrives, he is attacked in the showers by three other prisoners but is saved by Roy. The game then cuts to Innocence thanking Roy and the player is given a number of responses to choose from, revealing that Roy is actually the protagonist.
  • Undertale: Sans the skeleton first appears menacingly lurking by the entrance to Snowdin Town, stalking the player. He quickly afterwards establishes himself as a joker by pulling "the old whoopee cushion in the hand trick" and speaking in Comic Sans font. Similarly, Flowey the Flower first presents himself as friendly and helpful but almost immediately turns around and tries to kill the player to steal their soul.

    Web Animation 
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: In Inquisitor Kryptman's first appearance (outside of side story Behemoth), he shows up as the second Only Sane Man of the Inquisition (the first being Amberley Veil) by sharply rebuking the band of Inquisitors in the Warp for slapping everything with the label of heresy, pointing out that if they'd just shown a little more discretion, they wouldn't be in the mess they're in How did they get there? . The Emperor says that he likes Kryptman, but Rogal Dorn immediately says that he was responsible for one of the worst genocides in Imperial history.
    "He was exiled. From the Inquisition. For being too cruel."
  • Sr. Pelo: The first Spooky Month video begins with a silhouetted figure in a chair slowly turning after the clock strikes midnight, October 1st. We are then shown them creepily smiling into nothing, before the light flicks on to reveal a small child in a skeleton costume who then happily exclaims "It is the spooky month!".

    Western Animation 
  • BoJack Horseman: The first time we see the titular character is a clip of his old sitcom Horsin' Around where he shows concern for his adoptive daughter and makes her laugh when he gets excited about hay. This makes him appear friendly and fatherly, and subsequent clips of him smiling on magazine covers explain how he was so successful because of this role. Then we cut to an interview with Charlie Rose, where modern-day BoJack appears, and he immediately starts talking about how drunk he is and how he parked his car in a handicapped space, and it becomes clear that he's nowhere near as successful as he used to be.
  • Dave the Barbarian: The first few scenes of the theme song feature Dave standing dramatically and swinging his sword around, looking much like He-Man. As the lyrics then point out, he's "huge, but a wimp", punctuated by him running in fear from a mouse.
  • Phineas and Ferb: The first time we see Perry the platypus in "Rollercoaster," he's just lying next to Phineas and Ferb with a dopey expression, and Phineas remarks that, "He's a platypus. They don't do much." A few scenes later, we watch Perry hide behind the house, stand up, put on a fedora, and disappear into a secret lair beneath the house. This is when we learn Perry is Agent P, a crime-fighting secret agent who only pretends to be a simple platypus around his family to keep his identity safe.
  • When we first see Scorpia in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, she appears stoic and menacing. One second later, she excitedly shouts "Kitty!" upon seeing Catra and hugs her, much to the latter's dismay.


Video Example(s):


Spooky Month - Meet Skid

The first ''Spooky Month'' video begins with a silhouetted figure in a chair creepily smiling into nothing... before the lights flick on, revealing the figure to be a small child in a skeleton costume that absolutely ''loves'' Halloween.

How well does it match the trope?

4 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / BaitAndSwitchCharacterIntro

Media sources:

Main / BaitAndSwitchCharacterIntro