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Chaos While They're Not Looking

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"Your friends will never survi-"
"Anyone want coffee?"
"Decaf for me."

"When the cat's away, the mice will play."
— English proverb

Two characters suffer each other's company for the sake of a third, actively quarreling when that third character leaves the room. Should they come back, everything is as it was with that third character none the wiser.

For instance, Alice, Bob and Charles are in a private space. Bob and Charles hate each other, but they both like Alice, and thus they act as though they like each other too. Alice has to leave the room for a minute and Bob and Charles are immediately trying to kill each other. This goes on, Alice deaf to the fight, only for her to walk in, none the wiser as Bob and Charles have already swept the broken vase under the couch and the table set upright again.

This trope is usually Played for Laughs, a high-octane moment of drama cut clean by an ignorant character walking in, forcing the conflict to a halt for the sake of looking normal. Sometimes other things go on to keep the absent character busy and ignorant to everything that is happening, like a dog-barking or a blender loudly hiding the commotion in the other room.


Compare Playing Nice for Now. Not to be confused with Indulgent Fantasy Segue, Mid-Battle Tea Break, or Interrupted Intimacy. See also Villain Over for Dinner.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Fairy Tail has a Running Gag where rivals Natsu and Gray would repeatedly fight unless Erza was looking. When she was looking the two would act like best friends to avoid angering her and getting beat up as a result.
  • GTO: The Early Years: In the "Shonan Love Story" arc, all the boys (except Tsukai and Kamata) are trying to impress Kaoru and fight off the other guys interested in her. When she goes to the bathroom, everyone gangs up on Makoto, and then beats up Kamata for trying to prevent them from going out with Kaoru. The remaining guys (Ryuji, Eikichi, and Saejima) leave with Kaoru, and Eikichi betrays Ryuji, then he and Saejima try to beat each other up. Kaoru can tell something's up, since they're both covered in blood when she turns around.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the argument scene in The Incredibles, the Parrs spar at the dinner table using their powers, only to revert to casual positions once they hear a knock at the door.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Kill Bill opens with the fight between The Bride and Vernita in the latter’s suburban living room. As her daughter gets off the school bus, Vernita gives The Bride a pleading look. As the girl walks in, both women hide their knives behind their backs and put on their best smiles, Vernita claiming that the mess was caused by the family dog.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: Typically the case with Miss Brooks and Miss Enright. They are both in love with Mr. Boynton. Although they engage in Snark-to-Snark Combat when alone together, they tend to hold the insults while Mr. Boynton is around. Examples include "Second-hand First Aid", "The Big Game" and "Four Fiancees".
  • The Big Bang Theory: In "The Perspiration Manifestation", the guys take fencing clases from Barry Kripke, who warns them that fencing is not a joke. As they practice advancing and retreating, Kripke gets a call, and while he answers it the boys engage in a little playful Flynning behind his back. As soon as he hangs up, the others go back to practicing advancing and retreating.


    Western Animation 
  • In the Trollhunters episode "Recipe for Disaster", Jim and Strickler act cordial and enjoy their dinner. When Barbra leaves the room to tend to her apple pie, they both try to kill each other for the Amulet of Daylight. Jim conjures his armor, Strickler returns to his true form and throws his knives, but when Barbra returns, they are both out of "combat mode" and are sitting at the dinner table. The second time she walks in, they pretend that they are looking for Strickler's contact-lens.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Summer of 4 Ft. 2", Lisa is furious at Bart for revealing her true geeky nature to her new beach friends. In one scene, when Marge leaves the room, Lisa grabs Bart by his collar and prepares to pour syrup on his eyes, only to put everything back the second she reenters.

    Real Life 
  • Many, many arguments/fights between siblings have been interrupted because Mom and/or Dad just walked into the room.