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Disguised Hostage Gambit

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Basically the villain has hostages. The Cavalry are ready to storm the fortress and rescue them. Suddenly the heroes (or just the viewer) realize that the villains have restrained the hostages, forced them into their uniforms, put tape on their mouths and fastened weapons to their hands. This can turn out in three different ways;

  1. The heroes manage to get the message across in time.
  2. The Cavalry end up accidentally shooting the hostages.
  3. The heroes must stop The Cavalry by force.

The Cavalry are always fooled by this (at least, at the start, although lone protagonists have a better chance of working out what's going on in the nick of time).

Compare to Fakeout Escape, where the villain makes it look as if an escape has already happened, Decoy Getaway, where the villain escapes while the heroes are distracted by the disguised hostages, and Outfit Decoy, where clothes or the inanimate objects wearing them is used in a deception. Contrast Trojan Prisoner, where the heroes pretend to be villains with hostages so the real villains will let them go about their business and False Innocence Trick or Faked Kidnapping for when a villain is pretending to be a hostage and Dressing as the Enemy, where the heroes deliberately do this.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Angel Sanctuary a variation of this was used against one of the supporting character's Back Story. Celestial Bureaucracy questioned said character's loyalty, and had suspected he had relations with another Angel (which was strictly forbidden and the punishment is severe), they sent him off to kill the leader of a rebel fraction in their Ghetto. Turned out the supposed leader was actually the Angel's lover - her hair was cut short, dyed red, and a gun tied to her hands so he wouldn't recognize her at first. He didn't realized this until after he shot and killed her.
  • One episode of Digimon Adventure 02 had Davis getting split up from his friends, then finds himself at the mercy of the Digimon Emperor because he captured his friends. The captives on display are actually disguised Bakemons, and Davis gets reunited with his friends who were never even captured at all.
  • Lupin III:
    • Fujiko does this to an unlucky cult enforcer in the pilot episode of Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. She dresses the thug in her dress and gags him, leading to the unlucky mook getting beheaded in her place while she escapes in his uniform.
    • Lupin III: Part II has a similar scene. After Lupin and Fujiko hijack a train, the cops think they've cornered them. Zenigata then tears off Lupin's "face", revealing that he's really one of the train drivers with some tape over his mouth.
    • In the manga, there's a chapter where Fujiko partners with a college film student named Yumi to make a documentary about a battle between Lupin and Zenigata. Lupin is seemingly trapped inside in inescapable coffin in order to lure in Zenigata, but it's discovered that he had actually switched places with Yumi by taping her mouth shut and placing a mask of his face over hers, which allowed him to slip away in her outfit.

    Comic Books 
  • In a story in an issue of The Batman Chronicles, a killer nicknamed the Mimic tries to pull this stunt on private eye Jason Bard, using his facility at imitating voices to make it sound like Bard's client is calling for help. At the last moment, Bard realizes what is going on and shoots the correct target.
  • While imprisoned by the Penguin in Batman Eternal, Catwoman manages to switch places with Lark, Penguin's Bodyguard Babe, by taping her mouth shut and handcuffing her. When the ruse works, Catwoman feigns offense and says that Lark isn't nearly sexy enough to pass for her.
  • The Joker does this during Batman: No Man's Land to get rid of a rogue group of survivalist ex-cops. Send out prisoners painted to look like him and the admittedly-crazy leader shot them all.
  • In Christopher Priest's Black Panther run, T'Challa's ex-girlfriend Monica ends up captured by a Reverend Achebe. The twist is, Achebe tapes Monica's mouth shut and dresses her up in a remote-controlled exoskeleton, making it difficult for T'Challa to stop the plot without hurting or killing her in the process. Effectively, it's this trope crossed with a Human Shield.
  • In an issue of Tini Howard's Catwoman run, Black Mask hires Red Claw to capture Catwoman for him. After the two women instead strike a deal, they force a random jerk who had been harassing Catwoman into one of her spare costumes, duct tape his mouth shut, and deliver him to Black Mask in her place.
  • Code Name: Gravedigger: In Men of War #18, Gravedigger—who has infiltrated a hospital by covering his face and hands in bandages—creates a diversion by dressing a Nazi nurse in his bandages and civilian coat and trousers, and shoving her out into the corridor. Unable to speak because of the bandages tightly wrapped around her mouth, she cannot tell the guards who she is and is gunned down by her fellow Nazis.
  • In Flashpoint Batman: Knight of Vengeance, the Joker pulls this on Jim Gordon, causing Jim to shoot one of Harvey Dent's kids.
  • In one of the Guardians of the Galaxy issues dealing with the aftermath of Civil War II, Gamora is captured by Alpha Flight. It's later discovered that the "Gamora" in custody is actually a female Alpha Flight agent that Gamora had gagged, switched clothes with, and painted up to resemble her.
    Gladiator: This is not Gamora. Gamora's skin is a completely different hue.
  • More than once Jonah Hex has captured an enemy, dressed the bad guy in his trademark jacket and hat, gagged him and bound him to the saddle before sending the horse galloping into the outlaw camp to draw fire.
  • A variation occurs in the first issue of Ninjak. The title character tapes a villainess' mouth shut and tapes her hand to a sword. When her mooks arrive, they see a shadowed figure holding a weapon and open fire, killing her and allowing Ninjak to escape.
  • Oxymoron: One of Oxymoron's favored tactics is to blackmail people to dress up as him and force them to kill people.
  • The Punisher: Frank Castle does this often spray-painting his trademark skull on the chest of the unfortunate mook.
  • Des and the militia pull one of these in the closing scenes of Revival. It's understated in that there's only a couple of fake targets in the field of a real firefight.
  • In the Scooby-Doo! Team-Up issue "Quest for Mystery!", Dr. Zin dresses up Dr. Quest as one of his genetically engineered monsters, hoping that his team would attack him, which would allow him [Dr. Zin] some satisfaction from their reactions when they found out what they had done. Luckily, Velma recognized that the "monster" wasn't a monster when she saw its shoes, and was just in time to keep Race from shooting Dr. Quest with the sonic blaster.
  • Done by Gypsy Moth during Spider-Island. She uses her silk to web Spider-Woman's mouth shut, and then dresses up the gagged heroine in a copy of her costume. When the Thing arrives a few minutes later, he thinks Spider-Woman is actually Gypsy Moth and immediately attacks her.
  • Superman foe Ruin once kidnapped Superman's friend Pete Ross (whom he tricked almost everyone into believing was Ruin) and his family (his wife Lana and their child), then dressed up Pete like Ruin and made it look like Pete was about to shoot his family when a detective whose fellow officers Ruin killed appeared on the scene. Fortunately, the detective was savvy enough to realize she was being set up.
  • An issue of Teen Titans Spotlight has Two-Face kidnapping Cyborg's girlfriend Sarah in order to lure him into a trap. He tapes her mouth shut and dresses her up in a convincing Two-Face costume, hoping that Cyborg will accidently kill her in a fit of rage. Fortunately, Cyborg sees through the ruse at the last second.
  • The graphic novel V for Vendetta has a slightly different scene than in the movie: Just one guy is dressed up as V, and he is pretty much one of the bad guys (a high-ranking party member with some seriously sleazy Kick the Dog moments, though no outright Moral Event Horizon crossings).
  • The Warlord (DC): In #125, the Scavenger dresses Tara in in his cloak and throws her at Morgan, making it look like she is attacking him and causing Morgan to stab his own wife.
  • In an old Wolverine short story by Chris Claremont, Logan tries to rescue his girlfriend Mariko after she's kidnapped by a Yakuza boss. The Yakuza boss has a squad of thugs in Mandroid armor, and traps Mariko inside one of the suits so that she'll be killed by Logan. Luckily, Logan recognizes Mariko by her scent, and is able to avoid harming her.

    Comic Strips 
  • Klang does this to Pat Ryan in Terry and the Pirates. Having captured Pat, Klang dresses him a Japanese uniform, gags him and ties him to a post so he looks like a sentry in the fake camp the Dragon Lady is about to attack.

    Fan Works 
  • In Harry Potter & Death's Ultimatum Voldemort has the Imperiused people fighting on his side clad in Death Eater robes and masks. Harry, knowing that only the genuine Death Eaters will have dragonhide armor on underneath, tells the Hogwarts defenders to stun everybody and then use lethal spells on the ones who aren't knocked unconscious.
  • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: when Harry and Professor Quirrel are breaking into Azkaban to free Bellatrix Black, they stun and Obliviate an Auror who catches them. When the Auror (whom none of his comrades really dared to hope was still alive) is found, the head Auror immediately starts ordering various checks to ensure that the infiltrators (she doesn't know who they are) didn't pull this move. (They didn't.)
  • In Harry Potter: IronWizard several of Voldemort's mooks dress an Imperiused Percy and Penelope up in Death Eater robes and masks. Harry, who has an X-ray spell on his helmet, can see that they don't have the Dark Mark and therefore spares them.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • A variation is done in The A-Team, with Murdock substituting for the general in the final scene.
  • Assault on Wall Street: Jim is able to get away at the end of his rampage by taking the CEO of the corrupt bank hostage, then placing a gun in between them in a supposed fair game of survival. The banker cheats and gloats about his victory, but finds the gun is empty. Jim was counting on him to grab it early, waiting for SWAT to burst into the room and mistake him for the shooter, and Jim for the hostage so they would escort him off the scene.
  • The Bold Caballero: Following Zorro's theft of the reward money, the Spanish soldiers return thinking they have captured Zorro. However, when Isabella pulls his mask off, it is revealed to be a gagged Commandante.
  • In Cold Prey, Jannicke aims the shotgun at a door, knowing that the Mountain Man is going to have to come throw it. However, when the door opens, he is holding Eirik in front of him. Tobias realizes what is happening to knock the shotgun aside just as Jannicke fires.
  • In The Dark Knight, The Joker does this with his hostages (with their mouths taped shut, masks to hide this, weapons tied to their hands), and guns being given to the fake hostages to prevent them from actually running, forcing Batman to disable the police officers (although they worked it out eventually). At the very least cops do notice how suspicious it is that the clowns are standing in plain sight of windows with no cover, wondering why they would leave themselves as such easy targets, but Gordon is in such a desperate panic to save Harvey that he orders the attack anyway, though he later learns from Barbara that Harvey Dent is holding his family hostage at 250 52nd Street where Rachel died.
  • The title character does this in Darkman. After capturing one of the villainous mooks, he duct-tapes the man's mouth shut and then dresses him up in a realistic mask, making him resemble the hero.
  • In Enemy at the Gates Germans dress a captured Soviet soldier as a German signaller and send him to the battlefield to sink a cable. Unfortunately enemy signallers are priority targets for snipers and the poor sob gets shot by his comrades. The German sniper uses the kill to pinpoint the location of the Soviets.
  • This kind of thing was done to the Big Bad in F/X: Murder by Illusion, though the "hostage" was a bad guy trying to kill the protagonist seconds before.
  • Hold-up: In order to escape the site of the Bank Robbery he's been planning for two years in Montreal, protagonist Grimm (who did the robbery taking hostages while disguised as a clown) puts his clown disguise on the bank's director, takes his clothes, ties him up on an office chair and leaves him in the boiler room. The police momentarily thinks it's Grimm once they enter the bank, while Grimm has actually left the bank a long while ago disguised as an old man with the bank's director's clothes.
  • Inside Man has a variant, in which the thieves make the hostages wear the same uniform as them, but with the full knowledge of the police outside. This keeps the police from interfering at first. It also lets most of the robbers blend into the crowd of freed hostages and escape after the robbery is complete.
  • A variation occurs in the film Master and Commander when at the end Aubrey realizes, from an offhand comment by Maturin, that the doctor on the Acheron had died some time before the final battle, so the "doctor" who told Aubrey the captain had been killed had been the captain, so was in a position to organize the captured French sailors and retake the ship. It also pays off the foreshadowing seen earlier in the film that the audience, and Aubrey, never see the French captain's face clearly.
  • Mission: Impossible Film Series
    • In Mission: Impossible II, there is a rare example of the hero pulling this on the villain, with the aid of a couple of Latex Perfection masks.
    • A grim variant occurs in Mission: Impossible III, where Ethan's wife Jules is apparently executed by the big bad at the climax. We later learn that the victim was really the big bad's female mook dressed up like Jules, with her mouth taped shut to prevent her from revealing the ruse.
  • Panic Room: Burnham and Raoul are able to lure Meg out of the panic room by disguising Raoul as her husband Stephen (whom they've taken captive and already tortured) and Stephen as Raoul.
  • The villain gets the protagonist to do this twice in Poker Night by gagging people, sticking his mask on them, and then putting them in the line of fire.
  • Subverted in Quick Change (1990). Grimm (Bill Murray) robs a bank while dressed as a clown. He takes everyone inside hostage and demands getaway vehicles. Police Chief Ratzinger thinks Grimm will dress some of the hostages as clowns and take them out to the vehicles in a group so police snipers can't target him. Grimm actually has something else in mind: He and two confederates inside the bank will pretend to be released hostages (with the cash taped to their bodies under their civilian clothes) and escape while the cops are concentrating on the bank; the scheme nearly fails when Grimm neglects to remove one spot of white greasepaint from his neck, but his girlfriend (also a "hostage") discreetly rubs it off.
  • In Red Hill, Old Bill shoots what he thinks is Jimmy through the rear window of a car, only for it to turn out to be Slim; Bound and Gagged and wearing Jimmy's hat.
  • In the thriller Resurrection (1999), the killer is chased through the rain by two detectives who split up before he captures one of them and dresses him in his own disguise with a gun taped to his hands so the other cops will shoot him. The killer gets away, though the captured detective survives despite needing to have his shattered leg amputated.
  • SAS: Rise of the Black Swan. Some of the Swans attempt this by dressing in civilian clothes and slipping out with the hostages when they're released. It doesn't work; SAS snipers are still able to identify the Swans thanks to Facial Recognition Software and gun them down.
  • The killer in Stage Fright (2014) knocks out Liz and leaves her bound and gagged in the opera ghost costume and kabuki mask to take the fall for the murders and probably get killed in the process.
  • V for Vendetta: An (anti-)heroic example. V takes over a TV station to broadcast a message to the people, then dresses all the hostages in his trademark mask and cape to sow confusion and allow him to escape. This slightly backfires when police accidentally shoot one of the hostages and then use footage of the shooting to semi-plausibly claim that they have killed V; however, most people see through it.

  • Ascendance of a Bookworm inverts this. In late Part 4, Devouring soldiers working for Rozemyne's noble enemies abduct gray priests in hope that Rozemyne will rescue them. When she does, it quickly turns out that the "gray priests" she finds are actually Devouring soldiers dressed in their robes. The actual gray priests are somewhere else, stripped down to their underwear.
  • Mabuse uses this to trick Moran into shooting an agent of Box Brothers in a bank in Switzerland in The Hound of the D'Urbervilles.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Inverted during the hostage crisis in season 5 of 24 when Jack notices one of the supposed hostages being handed something by one of the terrorists. The otherwise perfectly inconspicuous looking man is wearing a bright yellow tie, a pretty crappy choice when you want to blend in.
  • Arrow. Oliver Queen picks the wrong time to drop his Thou Shalt Not Kill rule when Prometheus uses this trope to fool the Green Arrow into killing a hostage dressed up in the Prometheus costume and wearing a speaker to relay his voice. He was someone Felicity Smoak was dating at the time as well.
  • An interesting variation is used in Burn Notice. After their attempts to defuse a hostage situation result in them accidentally becoming accomplices (someone pulled a gun and Mike took it away from him), Mike and Sam need to find a way out of the situation. After discussing trying this based on an urban legend, and the fact the cops haven't seen the hostage-taker, they manage to convince one of the two hostages (who just found out the other one, her boss, is really a sleazy con artist) to name the other as the gunman. Mike then engineers a situation where said sleazeball is able to take his gun back, and when the cops burst in the plan works without a hitch. Though the negotiator is kind of curious why somebody blew open a safe full of ill-gotten money...
  • The season 3 finale of CSI: NY had balaclava wearing Irish terrorists do this to some police officers that they had captured. Adam, who, along with Danny, had earlier been ambushed and held hostage by the terrorists, manages to free himself and stop another squad of police officers from firing on their comrades in the nick of time.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Witch's Familiar", Missy attempts to trick the Doctor into shooting Clara by placing her in a Dalek casing.
  • In Fargo, Malvo tricks the cops into wasting their time and killing Don Chumph this way: he uses duct tape to gag, tie him to an exercise wheel, and stick an unloaded shotgun in his hand which is then pointed at the front door. He draws the cops' attention by firing a rifle at some cars outside, leaves, and then a tripwire makes the rifle fire more once the SWAT team arrives. When the team enters the front door, the light is in their eyes, so all they see is a silhouette of a man holding a shotgun. Since the exercise wheel keeps him propped up even after being shot, the entire unit shoots continuously for several seconds until they can see he's dead.
  • Father Brown: In "The Jackdaw's Revenge", the murderer does this in an attempt to trick Father Brown into shooting Bunty. She uses a light to blind Father Brown as he enters, and has Bunty trussed standing behind the light, while she is tied in a chair with a bag over her head.
  • Gotham: Professor Pyg does this with Officer Patel. He stuffs her into a pig mask and puts her next to a crash-test dummy as her "victim", tricking Bullock into shooting her. Patel is fine after being given medical attention, but he still triggers a hidden machine gun to fire at them.
  • In the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "The Gang Gets Taken Hostage", the McPoyles make the gang put on their signature bathrobes and briefs (in Dee's case it's an oversized Garfield t-shirt) because "it's far too obvious who the hostages are in this situation".
  • The Kill Point: The bank robbers' final ploy to escape involves dressing up three of the hostages as bank robbers, and disguising themselves as hostages so they can escape from the scene in an ambulance.
  • Leverage: Nathan is about to con a corrupt judge out of thousands of dollars when the bank is robbed and the robbers take everyone hostage when the police arrive. The robbers turn out to be father and son who are only robbing the place to get money to pay off some thugs holding the father's wife for ransom. The judge figures out that he is being scammed and when he disarms the robbers, he uses the gun to shoot Nathan. When the cops storm the bank in the end, the team has arranged things to look like the judge was the sole robber and hostage taker. All the witnesses back them up since the judge is reviled by everyone and the cops will not investigate further since they hate his guts as well. Planted drugs also didn't help the judge's image.
  • Played With in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, because said hostages joined the enemy out of free will without expecting that their enemy's promises to spare their lives if they join his army, were just a trick. Yeah, the Southlanders who joined Adar ended up being used as canon fodders dressed as Orcs, and got themselves killed by their own people who were believing they were fighting just Orcs the whole time.
  • In an episode of Medium, the bad guy released an hostage through a back door with a balaclava on his head and a gun taped to his hand. The police shot him dead. Fortunately, it was All Just a Dream. A prophetic one, but the main character managed to save the victim when it happened for real.
  • Occurs at the end of an episode of Millennium (1996). The villain is a serial killer called the Avatar (based on the Zodiac Killer) who wears a burlap sack over his head to mask his face. He kidnaps a woman, and hero Frank chases him to his lair. After being injured by the Avatar, Frank chases him through the house and manages to corner the killer, who's pointing a gun at him. At the last moment, Frank realizes something's wrong, and doesn't pull the trigger. Turns out the "Avatar" is the hostage, who's been tied up, gagged, and posed with a gun in her hand. The real Avatar uses this opportunity to escape.
  • Money Heist: In both of the two heists that divide the series into two major storylines, the hostages are forced by the heist team to wear the same outfits as them. The intention of the gambit is notably different from the usual examples of the trope, as instead of disguising the hostages as more robbers, it's the robbers who disguise themselves among the hostages, which the police becomes aware of early on in the first heist and right at the beginning of the second.
  • NCIS: At the end of "Murder 2.0" the team finds Rose holding Tommy Doyle at gunpoint. Gibbs notices a camera in the room and turns his gun towards Doyle, who reveals he is the real hostage taker who is threatening Rose with explosives.
  • On the 1970's anthology show Police Story (1973) they had an episode which was the pilot for S.W.A.T. (1975). A killer brings out his hostage and the commander orders his snipers to shoot the "hostage" because he sees a glint of chrome on the killer that he realizes are handcuffs meaning they have switched roles. Of course if the glint was from a handgun ... but that is never mentioned
  • On Psych (episode "Ferry Tale") escaping convicts on a ferry surrounded by the police take prisoners inside and pretend to shoot them. When the police raid the boat and take two wounded "hostages" to one of their boats they discover too late that two of the criminals are in fact convicts.
  • Smallville:
    • Someone pulls this on Clark after he's begun officially superheroing. The rest of the episode is devoted to him needing to develop his "Kryptonian intuition" to avoid this sort of thing, something he could've done just by x-raying the "gunman," although he had no reason to suspect him.
    • Another episode has Roulette dressing up a bound-and-gagged Lois Lane in a replica of her costume in order to trick Green Arrow into shooting her.
  • Titans (2018). In "Red Hood", the eponymous supervillain kidnaps a mother's child to force her to do his bidding. The Titans then discover three more children have been kidnapped, and their parents forced to rob a bank. The Titans reassure the robbers that the children will be found, which turns out to be the case. Then they find the parents as well, whereupon the robbers reveal themselves as criminals who throw grenades at the Titans and flee with the loot. Commissioner Barbara Gordon is furious, as Dick Grayson had convinced her to pull back the police units surrounding the bank, enabling the robbers to make a clean getaway.
  • An absolutely horrifying example in Whitechapel, series 4, when an escaped serial killer known for wearing a creepy mask takes a young man who is roughly the same height and weight as him, tortures him, sews his mouth shut so he cannot speak then tapes the mask to his face. He then attaches a fake but realistic-looking gun to the young man's hands with wire, and sends him out into a police fight. One of the detectives realises something is up as the "killer" is whimpering in pain, but before he can intervene the young man is shot dead by snipers, after the actual killer deliberately spooks them. Only then do the police realize what they've done.

    Video Games 

  • In The Order of the Stick, Nale switches outfits and facial hair with a semiconscious Elan and makes it appear that "Nale" was about to sacrifice "Elan" when the cops and the rest of the Order show up. Elan is then jailed, and Nale travels with the Order until Elan manages to escape prison and catch up with them just in time to stop Nale from killing Haley.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender, "Zuko Alone": It is mentioned that the Fire Nation took Earth Kingdom prisoners-of-war, dressed them up in Fire Nation uniform, and dropped them off at the front lines.
  • Inverted in the Thunder Cats 2011 episode "Omens Part Two," when Catfolk King Claudus learns that invading Lizards are holding Panthro, his friend and best General, in a Hostage for MacGuffin. Rather than acquiece, Claudus promptly ditches his bodyguards to cut a rapid path to Panthro, who he successfully rescues. Panthro then stabs Claudus In the Back, and reveals himself to be Sorcerous Overlord and series Big Bad Mumm-Ra, in illusory disguise.
  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Star Sapphire does this to a British reporter named Georgette Taylor. She uses her power ring to immobilize Taylor and encase her in a Star Sapphire costume, and then sends her flying off into the distance. Batman and Green Lantern waste time trying to capture the fake Star Sapphire while the real one carries out her nefarious scheme.
  • Ben 10: Omniverse: After escaping from Plumbers HQ, Zombozo disguises Jerry from Inhuman Resources as himself and leaves him in his cell tied up. Ben and Max find out about this after Ben as Wildmutt tears off the disguise.
    Max: Well, that explains why I haven't gotten my paycheck yet.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998): Sedusa once traded clothes with Miss Bellum and claimed to have captured "Sedusa" to trick the girls, who fortunately didn't believe Ms. Bellum would single-handedly defeat Sedusa. Ironically, the real Ms. Bellum shows that she can still at least take on Sedusa long enough to figure out how to free the girls from her trap.

    Real Life 
  • Sad Real Life example: The memoirs of a WWII soldier whose unit was pursuing some demoralized German troops through the Italian countryside. At one point, the Germans (who turned out to be deserters) forced two unlucky Italian farm wives out to check for an ambush, dressed up in German uniforms. The unfortunate women were shot from long range by the unknowing GIs, and the Americans ramped up their pursuit in outrage over being tricked into killing hapless civilians.