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False Innocence Trick

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"They're probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I'm not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching...they'll see. They'll see and they'll know, and they'll say, 'Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly.'"
Mrs. Bates, Psycho

The Hero has come upon an Innocent Bystander trapped in a Tailor-Made Prison by a wicked monster. The prisoner may plead with the hero to be set free, telling him all about the horrors the tyrant has inflicted upon him, or the prisoner may just hang in sorrowful Unwilling Suspension in his terrible bonds. Once the hero sets the prisoner free, it quickly becomes apparent that he was tricked.

The False Innocence Trick (aka Fake Good In A Can) is when a villain or monster locked away for a good reason feigns innocence or being a good guy in order to fool the hero into letting him go. Typically the villain will prey on the hero's good will and strong moral fiber while doing this by making himself and his story as sympathetic as possible. He often is also counting on the fact that the hero has come from a time/place far enough away to not know who the prisoner really is (or, if he's a local, simply hasn't heard of him).

Demons contained in the Summoning Ritual of an Evil Sorcerer love this one; usually with Voluntary Shapeshifting. "I'm just an innocent maiden, I have no idea why he has me trapped here. Could you please break the circle?"

Compare Wounded Gazelle Gambit, The Farmer and the Viper, and Bitch in Sheep's Clothing for other cases of villains taking advantage of the hero's trusting nature.

Contrast the more common Decoy Damsel and Disguised Hostage Gambit for when a villain makes a genuine prisoner look like a bad guy.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • A Cruel God Reigns: Greg does this all the time to poor Jeremy and, to a lesser degree, Sandra. He promises Jeremy that he only coerced him into having sex because he was confused, that he actually really loves him, and that he only wants to keep it from Sandra because he doesn't want to hurt her. Except that he's actually just Evil All Along.
  • A variation is used in the first season of Case Closed. A female kidnapper poses as the girl she's abducted, using a blindfold and a piece of duct tape over her mouth to hide her identity. When the ransom drop-off falls apart, she manages to escape while leaving the police baffled (since they believe the kidnapper somehow managed to slip away while lugging around a tied up hostage, a sight which would have surely attracted attention from onlookers).
  • Light Yagami of Death Note has a plan:
    1. Add a false rule to the Death Note that, if broken, will result in Kira's death.
    2. Arrange for the anti-Kira task force to learn of this rule.
    3. Give yourself Laser-Guided Amnesia to sell the story.
    4. Have yourself imprisoned in such a way that, if you are Kira, you will be forced to break the false rule.
    5. Fail to die, thus "proving" your "innocence".
  • In the 3rd OVA to Fushigi Yuugi the fake Suzaku actually Tenkou, the resident God of Evil pretends to be the real deal, promising to help Mayo and save her, "her" unborn child and Tamahome if she concentrates on the destruction of the universe. Initially, Mayo is a little suspicious, because "Suzaku" appeared without being summoned and before all the Celestial Warriors had been found, but she falls for it when "Suzaku" convinces her that the Celestial Warriors want to kill her and rip the fetus from her belly...and that he can protect her (and make Tamahome truly hers.) After realizing the error of her ways, Mayo and Miaka summon the real Suzaku together and save the universe.
  • Attempted in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable by Yoshikage Kira. His confrontation with Jotaro and Koichi leaves all three of them badly injured, but Kira the only one left conscious when Josuke and Okuyasu arrive on the scene, so Kira tries to pass himself off as a random bystander who got caught up in chaos. He accidentally gives himself away as the enemy when he specifically asks Josuke to heal him, when a real bystander wouldn't know about Josuke's Healing Hands.
  • In a Lupin III M chapter, a rival female thief ties up a rich couple in order to steal the wife's priceless necklace. The whole thing is revealed to be a trap, and it turns out that the hostages were actually Fujiko and Lupin in disguise, with the real rich people (and their servants) Bound and Gagged in a closet.
  • In an episode of Lupin III (Blue Jacket), Fujiko dresses as Zenigata and then ties up and gags herself, making it seem like she's the real Zenigata and has been Mugged for Disguise.
  • Done in one of the Magic Kaito specials. A guard is found tied up in an undershirt and boxers in a bathroom and claims that the thief has stolen his clothes. It turns out the "guard" in question is the real Kaito, while the actual guard is Bound and Gagged inside a bathroom stall.

    Comic Books 
  • In Ultimate Fantastic Four, Namor is found in the ruins of Atlantis and he tells the Four that he was its ruler long ago, in a nod to the mainstream version. Things go south when Reed translates the warnings on the building Namor was found in and realizes that Namor was being held in a prison. For good reason, since he's the kind of evil jerk who would threaten to flood New York unless Sue gave him a kiss.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In Joseph Jacob's The Tiger, the Brahman and the Jackal, (and its multiple variants all over the world) a tiger tricks a Brahman into releasing him from a trap, and then proposes to eat him. It finally yields that if the first three beings he asked about the justice of it agreed with the Brahman. A buffalo and the road agree that injustice like this is the way of the world, but a jackal pretended not to understand the question until the tiger went back into the trap to show him, and they left him there.
  • There are numerous tales/jokes where a ruler inspects the prison, and everyone insists he is innocent. Finally, the last prisoner admits he is indeed a criminal... to which the ruler says "Let this monster out, I won't allow him to ruin all the good people here!"
  • In "The Soldier and the Carpenter", a story of The Brothers Grimm, the eponymous duo find an old lady hiding in the basement of a castle from three intellectual animals above. She claims they're wicked spirits keeping her trapped, and convinces the two protagonists to kill them. Once the animals are dead, she then tries (but fails) to kill the soldier and carpenter, who have to kill her in self-defense. It turns out that she was a witch who cursed the castle but couldn't fully affect three other magicians there, and just needed someone else to do it so she could take over the place, then kill her saviors "as a reward". Thankfully, killing her broke the curse and rescued all the other inhabitants.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Ava, the title character has just executed an assassination and killed a bunch of guards. But outside the room where it all happened, she pretends to be a scared bystander who witnessed the massacre to be escorted by the incoming security to a safer location - along the way, grabbing a grenade from one of the guards to create some chaos that will hide her frantic run out of the building.
  • Bird Box. While looting a supermarket for supplies, the group hear someone pounding on a locked door pleading for help. When they open the door, he turns out to be one of the crazies who are forcing people to look at the Brown Note Beings so they will go crazy as well. One of the group does a Heroic Sacrifice and the others are horrified to see a pool of his blood seeping under the door...followed by the crazy person once again pounding on the door and pleading for someone to let him in. Later Gary, a man who claims to be fleeing the same crazies, turns out to be one of them.
  • In the Hammer Horror film The Brides of Dracula, the heroine spends the night in a lonely castle and sees from her window a handsome young man chained to the wall by a shackle around his ankle. He convinces her it's his mother's doing, that the lady of the castle's declared him insane in order to usurp his lands, and so the main character has pity on him and sets him free. Well, he's not insane, certainly...
  • Die Hard: Hans Gruber attempted to pass himself off as an escaped hostage when meeting John McClane for the first time. John wasn't fooled, because he knew a Fake American accent when he heard one. He'd also caught a glimpse of Hans earlier while hiding on top of the elevator.
  • In the Action Prologue, Machete rescues a female kidnap victim who turns out to be jaw-droppingly attractive, totally naked, and eager to reward her rescuer, only to stab him with his own machete as it's all a trap by the Big Bad.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road: Max and co. come across a naked woman in an iron cage suspended off the ground screaming for help. Max isn't fooled for a second. It turns out the other Vuvalini are waiting in ambush. Once the ruse is uncovered, the naked woman easily leaves the cage and gets dressed.
  • In Phantasm IV: Oblivion, in a dream, the Tall Man is caught by a noose and he begs the protagonist, Michael to cut him down.
    The Tall Man: Cut me down!
    Michael: No!
    The Tall Man: I won't hurt you.
    Michael: You're killing the world!
    The Tall Man: I'll go away... and I won't ever come back [gives mischievous grin]
    Michael: You will?
    The Tall Man: Yes.
  • The page quote comes from the ending scene of Psycho. "Mrs. Bates" has pulled a Split-Personality Takeover on Norman, deciding to let him take the fall for the murders that "she" had committed.
  • Screamers: The Hunting. The search team is skeptical when told the more advanced Screamers can take human form. The survivors are a bit vague as to where they get food to survive, so when the squad find a bloody dissection table and several people imprisoned behind Some Kind Of Forcefield, they naturally assume they're being used as food. Once freed, however, the 'victims' quickly sprout cybernetic killing blades and attack their rescuers. The irony is the Screamers probably are being used as food and spare parts, as it's a Scavenger World (the Screamers salvage human bodies for the same purpose).
  • Snow White & the Huntsman. The villainess uses this in combination with Rescue Romance to seduce Snow White's father in order to usurp his kingdom.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The Enterprise passes through the barrier around the heart of the galaxy and finds the legendary planet Sha Ka Ree, believed to be the home of God. The protagonists find God apparently imprisoned there, and he tries to trick them into helping him escape. Kirk figures out there's something funny going on and manages to get "God" to reveal his true nature before he gets away.
  • In Team America: World Police, Gary and Chris come across Susan Sarandon, who claims that the other members of the Film Actors Guild tied her up for refusing to help Kim Jong-il's peace conference. Chris falls for it, but Gary can tell that she's acting, leading her to rip off her ropes and attack them before being defenestrated.
  • The last arc in V/H/S sees its hapless protagonists stumble upon a Mystery Cult seemingly offering a Virgin Sacrifice to their god. After their fatal distraction leaves the ritualists vulnerable to attack by apparitional arms, the main characters decide to rescue the victim, driving her to the closest hospital until she suddenly apparates out of the car. And the car stops working. Right on the train tracks.
  • X-Men: The Last Stand: Played for laughs when Mystique is being transported along with several other captured evil mutants. She taunts the guards by morphing into first the U.S. President and then a little girl, both demanding that they let him/her go. They know full well that she can shapeshift, she just wanted to piss them off.

  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Seems to be the case in The Silver Chair, where the prince is chained up for an hour every night while he goes insane, and during that time he pleads "This is the only time I'm sane! Let me out!" Of course, the time he's chained up really is the only time he's got his full wits about him.
  • In the Deptford Mice book The Crystal Prison, Madame Akkikuyu is haunted by a voice that only she can hear calling her name at night. Soon it is revealed that the voice is coming from a tattooed face on her ear that is being animated by a spirit trapped in limbo. He tells Akkikuyu that his name is Nicodemus and that he needs her to help free him. She agrees, only to find out that he is really Jupiter, the Big Bad who was killed off in the previous book. He wants to return from the other side by taking possession of her body, as his was destroyed in a fire.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Though not a prisoner, the Denarian Rosanna is adept at using this trick to make her enemies let down their guard (especially the Knights of the Cross, who are honor-bound to help a Denarian redeem him- or herself if possible). Harry, for once not completely clueless about women, calls her out on this.
    • A subversion in Skin Game. There's a creature in the supernatural jail that piques Harry's interest specifically because, unlike every other prisoner, he DOESN'T ask to be let out. He refers to himself as "someone who needs to be here", and actually berates Harry for talking to him. "Do you even know what the word stasis means? It means nothing is happening. You standing here, walking by, talking to me, for God's sake, buggers that up entirely, the way you novices always do. What was the phrase? Ah, yes. Piss off."
  • Kid Detective Flavia in the Flavia de Luce novels uses this to gather information. Only works on people who don't know her, though.
  • Goosebumps: In "Beware, the Snowman", Jaclyn DeForest runs into a living snowman in a mountain cave. The snowman claims he is her long lost father who was trapped in that form and trapped on the mountain by an evil witch. He gets her to recite a special song to free him. It turns out he is not her father, he is an evil demon whom the benevolent witch trapped.
  • The Angel Islington in Neverwhere seems to be a trusted ally to the heroes and informs them that he is tasked with protecting London Below due to his previous failure to adequately defend his previous city, Atlantis. They should have asked more detail about that before helping to free him. He destroyed Atlantis because he wasn't satisfied with their worship, and he's basically a Fallen Angel in the tradition of Satan with A God Am I pretensions, aiming to storm Heaven and declare himself God.
  • Star Wars Legends: Zak Arranda, in Galaxy of Fear: The Brain Spiders, thinks of exactly this trope when he finds a prisoner in Jabba the Hutt's palace. Ultimately he decides to let the man free... and he hadn't done anything, but being freed means that Karkas's brain can't be transplanted into him, so Zak's sister Tash is used instead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrow. In the Lian Yu flashbacks, Oliver Queen comes across a man tied up in a cave, who claims to be a fisherman who was marooned on Lian Yu and tortured by the villains. Oliver is torn between wanting to help him and suspicion that it's a trap, and ultimately leaves him behind. In the season penultimate episode of the season, Oliver encounters him again as a mook in the mercenary camp, and is outraged as he was carrying a lot of guilt over what he did.
  • Bones had an episode where Booth asks the team to look over an old case of his. The man he arrested for killing a young woman still claims to be innocent but has run out of appeals on death row. Looking into the evidence, the team manages to uncover some sordid details that indicate her secret (older) lover may have killed her instead of the man Booth arrested. Soon, the clues lead them to the location where she was actually killed before her body was moved. There they discover dozens of bodies of young women, clearly unconnected to the original girl's lover, but with evidence linking the man in jail to the site. It turns out he did kill her and all the other ones too; his plea to Booth to look at the case again was just bait to get these bodies found without having to confess. The government is forced to stay his execution while they investigate all the remains, buying him more time as a whole new round of trials and appeals begins. He even smirked about it when they figured out his ploy.
    • The cherry on top is that he becomes a recurring villain for a while. At one point, he even tries to invoke this trope again, using a partner on the outside to throw into question whether he was the real serial killer after all.
  • Buffyverse:
    • In season 4 of Angel, Angel's soul was removed to obtain information about The Beast from Angelus. After the team realized they couldn't get the information, they re-ensouled Angel and Cordelia let him out. It was ultimately subverted as Jasmine, in Cordelia's body, knew it was Angelus, which is why she let him out in the first place. It turned out Angelus pretended to be Angel, and he was free for a few episodes until he was captured and Willow re-ensouled him.
    • Inverted in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Wish". Wishverse Buffy finds Angel imprisoned by The Master and is unsure whether she should let him go at first, though she ultimately does when he shows the torture scars the Master has given him and suggests an Enemy Mine alliance.
  • Castle, "After Hours": Castle and Beckett interview a witness to a murder, and an unfortunate series of events leaves them without a phone and Beckett's badge, gun, and car. As they flee from the people that want the witness dead, it eventually becomes apparent that the man they're escorting isn't a witness to the murder, but the murderer himself. It takes an Out-of-Character Moment for Beckett to get them out of the situation.
  • Charmed (1998):
    • There was an episode where the sisters try to save a man trapped in a painting, but it turns out he was evil all along.
    • Another episode sees the sisters trying to save demon children from their ice cream truck prison.
    • Another episode involves Phoebe finding a benevolent Genie in a Bottle, whose only desire is to be wished free so she can escape a demon planning on using her to raise a city of evil. But once free, the Genie is revealed to be a badass demon, and Phoebe is transformed into a Genie herself, forced to take her place.
    • Still another episode involved a seemingly tormented insane man begging for help in an old tenement; when Prue took pity on him he turned out to be a demon who had been cursed by a priest with his power of The Empath...which he had just passed to Prue, leading to My Skull Runneth Over.
  • Daredevil (2015): Season 3 sees Wilson Fisk paint himself as a man seeking to atone for his past crimes to manipulate the FBI into letting him out of prison. His whole sob story about ratting on the Albanians to keep Vanessa safe is designed to tug at Ray Nadeem's heartstrings as a family man who's gone into debt paying for his sister-in-law's cancer treatments thanks to Fisk cutting off her insurance.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Unquiet Dead", the Gelth claim to be refugees from the Great Time War who have lost their bodies and only want to use dead humans as Meat Suits. It turns out that there are many more of them than they claimed, and they want to take over all humanity, not just the dead ones.
    • Then there's "Dalek", where Rose unwittingly sets a Dalek free by touching it in sympathy, allowing it to re-energize from her DNA and start kicking ass. The only person in the area (probably the country) who understood the full extent of the danger the Dalek presented was the Doctor, and he was tied up elsewhere at the time, so the Dalek was able to draw on Rose's sympathies to a captive and miserable creature.
    • Invoked in "Can You Hear Me?" Rakaya is a beautiful alien in a Tailor-Made Prison being tormented by nightmares stolen from the minds of people by the Obviously Evil Zellin. Turns out Rakaya and Zellin are evil immortals who feed on fear; she was imprisoned by her victims and he's trying to free her by exploiting the Doctor's well-known Chronic Hero Syndrome.
  • In ITV's adaptation of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple series, Moira Nicholson (a pre-Game of Thrones and Elementary Natalie Dormer) is found Bound and Gagged inside a closet, presumably as a hostage. It later turns out she was actually one of the killers the entire time and tied herself up to try and divert suspicion.
  • Played with in Kamen Rider Gaim. Kouta's sister Akira is supposedly kidnapped by the Yggdrasil corporation, who agree to release her in exchange for Kouta's Sengoku Driver. When Kouta arrives to make the exchange, it turns out the Bound and Gagged woman he thinks is his sister is actually Yoko Minato/Kamen Rider Marika in disguise.
  • An example occurs in Season 2, Episode 6 of The Night Shift, "The Fog of War", in which Jordan, TC, and Paul discover a truck crashed in a remote area - the truck is full of human trafficking victims, some of who have been injured in the crash. They're forced to improvise medical care for the injured when unseasonably extreme fog delays helicopter rescue, but their efforts are complicated by a moral dilemma: an unconscious, heavily injured man they pulled from the back of the truck could die without a blood transfusion from one of the doctors (a risky operation to do in the field), but a female trafficking victim tells the doctors that the unconscious man is the coyote who endangered the victims' lives in the first place and is thus undeserving that sacrifice. The actual coyote was the woman herself, and the injured man was an innocent victim she was attempting to pin the blame on.
  • Done in Once Upon a Time by Cruella de Vil, who, to get sympathy from Isaac the Author, claims that her mother is an abusive and murderous woman who keeps her locked up so she can't tell the truth. Once Isaac gives her magic powers with his pen and ink, he finds out that she was locked up because she killed her father and stepfathers, and he's just turned a sociopathic, but mundane, woman into a powerful witch.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In the episode "Quality of Mercy", Major John Skokes and a female cadet are held prisoner on an alien world. She is taken for more experiments and wants just to die. At the climax, we find that the woman is really an alien spy — and Skokes just told the aliens humanity's battle plans in an attempt to give her hope. In a later episode, "The Light Brigade", another alien disguises itself as Skokes to hijack a ship with a weapon which can destroy the alien world then uses it to destroy Earth in its place.
  • In Pretty Little Liars the girls find a girl that had gone missing around the same time as their friend Alison had when they are trapped in the Dollhouse and rescue her, -one of the main characters even romances her for a while- only to find out she was a bad guy all along.
  • In an episode of Stargate SG-1 the team gets sent to a prison planet for basically nothing. They escape, taking with them an old lady who insinuated (but did not quite claim) that she was wrongly imprisoned. Turns out she was known as "The Destroyer of Worlds", and lives up to the name.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "The Jem'Hadar", this is how we meet our first Vorta, Eris, as a "prisoner" of the Jem'Hadar.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • When Captain Picard is abducted by aliens in "Allegiance", one of his fellow abductees is really a member of the alien race that captured them.
    • Troi, O'Brien, and Data are bodyjacked by noncorporeal beings in "Power Play". They claim to be survivors of a Starfleet vessel that had crashed on an uncharted world about two hundred years before. They're actually some convicted criminals from a penal colony there.
  • This happened a few times in Jim Henson's wonderful but forgotten gem The Storyteller; most notably, the episode titled "The Heartless Giant" begins after a murderous giant convinces a young prince that he was wrongfully imprisoned, and the kingdom is destroyed.
  • Happens several times on Supernatural, as thanks to Demonic Possession even captured friends can turn out to be not-so-innocent.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In the episode "The Howling Man", a man stumbles upon a castle and finds a prisoner held captive by the monks who live there. The prisoner claims he's being held unjustly by an insane religious order, which seems to be confirmed when the head of the order insists that the prisoner is actually the Devil in disguise. The man decides to free the prisoner, and only then finds out that he really is the Devil in disguise. The man spends many years searching for him to atone for his mistake and finally traps him again. Naturally, the man's maid thinks he's crazy for insisting that his prisoner is the Devil...

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • In "The Mansion of Mad Professor Ludlow" in Dragon magazine #42, the player characters are Boy Scouts investigating a haunted house. In one room is what appears to be an innocent maiden chained to the wall. She is actually a succubus and very hungry.
    • In the original Greyhawk campaign, the demon lord Fraz-Urb'Iuu was trapped in a stone prison below Castle Greyhawk. He finally tricked two adventurers into performing several heroic deeds to free him and rewarded them by taking them to his home plane on the Abyss as his slaves.
    • Subverted in the parody module "Castle Greyhawk", in which on one level a female vampire who's supposed to play the damsel in distress in a suitably ridiculous outfit to enact this trope decides she's sick and tired of it and just attacks the player characters out of nowhere when they arrive at her "cell". She can be calmed down by offering her a change of clothes into something decent, but if ticked off any further simply fights to the death.

    Video Games 
  • Albion: In the prison in the middle of the desert "near" Umajo-Kenta, one of the prisoners is a pretty, sympathetic-looking woman who tries this, complete with a promise for a reward to make it sound like a typical RPG quest. If you let her go, once you get back to the city, you'll hear that the dangerous psycho is on the loose and run into a child whose mother was killed by her. Eventually she'll be caught again, leaving you with nothing for your trouble but a guilty conscience. What's more, with the trip through the desert so long and difficult, there's a higher chance than average that the player won't still have a saved game conveniently from before releasing her when seeing the results.
  • Discussed in Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura when finally reaching Arronax the Destroyer, who you expected to find locked up for his crime. Inverted; he confesses his guilt to the crime he's being punished for, but he genuinely has rehabilitated, though trusting him at all appears to be Schmuck Bait.
  • Happens on at least three different occasions in Baldur's Gate II:
    • The first time is while escaping from Irenicus' dungeon. You run across an imprisoned man in a rather luxurious cell, with a large number of booby-trapped treasure chests to boot. If you let him out, he shortly afterward reveals he's a doppelganger and attacks, with rather predictable results.
    • The second time is about halfway through the game, when Yoshimo, who had (potentially) joined you near the start, reveals himself as a Sixth Ranger Traitor for Irenicus, due to a geas placed on him. The next time you meet him after that, there is no way around killing him off for real.
    • You can find a golden skull in one of the houses which begs you to free it by finding the missing parts of its body. In order to get them, you need to loot two sarcophagi guarded by liches. Then you put the missing pieces in the skull's coffin... congratulations! An Optional Boss.
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, you can see Clayface in a glass cell. But in fact, he changes his appearance each time the camera wanders away from him and tries to trick you into releasing him. Good thing the game doesn't offer you the opportunity to free him or quite a few people would.
    • A rare example of Arkham security working correctly: he's in a unique, hermetically sealed cell with no easy way for one person to open and warning signs clearly explaining the problem with its occupant. But if you can advance the plot (including optional parts) far enough, he'll stop pretending - not the disguise, just pretending he is that person. And since he can't fake internal organs or a skeleton, he of course shouldn't be able to fool Batman's detective vision.
  • Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons: On their way to the magical tree that will give them the cure for their father's illness, the boys witness a girl about to be killed by a pack of gnomes; they promptly save her and she accompanies them along their journey for a while. Once they come upon a spider's nest, however, they realize that she's a spider person in disguise and attacks them; as she lays dying she impales the older brother, who dies not too long after — right as the younger brother collects the cure from the magical tree, no less.
  • Dragon Age: Origins: The Harrowing, the final test for students of the Mage Tower in the Mage origin involves a fellow student trapped in the Dream World of the fade… only he's actually a demon of Pride attempting Demonic Possession of the warden.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In one quest in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you can buy a house, only to find that it's haunted. Investigation reveals the corpse of a lich (imprisoned for being evil) who claims he's turned good after having time to reflect on his crimes. Unfortunately, Stupidity Is the Only Option if you want to complete the quest.
    • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
      • Telrav note , a bandit living in Nilheim pretends to be a wounded merchant and asks you to escort him to the tower, in which the bandits would ambush you. If you outright ignored him, you can loot everything in the tower and the bandits don't care about their stuff being taken away by you.
      • In Ravenscar Hollow, a bandit was kidnapped by the Hagravens, he begs you to let him out of the cage, if you killed the Hagravens and released him, he immediately makes an attempt to mug you. Of course, you can invert the trope and do exactly what he ask for: release him... and let him deal with the Hagravens on his own.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, this is how you trigger the boss fight with the boss underneath Kakariko village. You are told he kidnapped one of the descendants of the sages, and in some way, you can say he did it, but he also disguised himself as the girl and hid himself in his own prison. Of course, it gets rather obvious something's up when the "hostage" doesn't want to leave the dungeon through the exit...
  • The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: Aboard the Ghost Ship, you find and rescue four unfortunate young sisters kidnapped by the ship and bring them to safety, but with each one, they get increasingly Obviously Evil, from their randomly cackling or giving blatant Anti-Advice for killing the monsters or suddenly blaring out lines like "FALLEN! FALLEN! They are the Fallen!". When all four are reunited it should come as no surprise whatsoever that they reveal themselves to be hideous monsters and start a game of Dead Man's Volley.
  • In Marvel's Spider-Man 2, when Miles is rescuing the crew of the boat that Kraven attacks, a crew member calls out to Miles saying Scorpion escaped and locked him in a room. Miles finds a way to free him without him getting electrocuted or drowned, only to find out it was Scorpion he just freed.
  • In Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, Sub-Zero (the elder) is imprisoned in the Netherrealm. His fellow prisoner is normally Scorpion, but if the player decided not to kill Hanzo Hasashi, then the other prisoner is Shinnok, the Big Bad of this game and Mortal Kombat 4. He claims that he's an unjustly imprisoned soul like Sub-Zero and notes that he's playing Raiden's "game" for the time being. His manipulation of Sub-Zero indirectly helps himself escape from the Netherrealm several years down the road.
  • In Myst, Both Sirrus and Achenar try this. No matter which one you choose to release, he turns out to be evil and traps you in the book. You're meant to choose the third option.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: Although it appears that the "evil" beings trapped in the black chests were originally good (the game appears to imply that they were the original four heroes of legend), the end result is the same nonetheless. They plead for Mario to let them out, so of course, he does. They curse him as thanks. Subverted, because the curses help you, to the point that you literally cannot continue without "acquiring" them.
  • In Shadowgate, the room with the Golden Horn is also occupied by a beautiful young woman who is chained to the wall. If you try to grab the Horn, the "prisoner" will transform into a vicious werewolf that tears you apart. The only clue that something is off with the prisoner is that the description notes that she looks beautiful in moonlight.
  • In Realm of the Mad God, the aptly named Crystal Prisoner is trapped in a Crystal Prison and begs players to free her from it while offering a reward if they do so. She promptly attacks them once they do, exclaiming "This is your reward".
  • This is a recurring element in FromSoftware's Souls games:
  • The Witch's House: Arguably, Ellen and Viola's body-swap can be interpreted this way. Just, in this case, the prison is a mangled body riddled with disease, and the 'freedom' is a body-swapping spell that's meant to last a day only.
  • In World of Warcraft, there's a quest in the Arathi Highlands where you're contacted by an earth princess named Myzrael, who seeks your help to escape her confinement. To free her, you kill some of her guardians and release her from her crystal prison, where you find out that she's evil. Sort of subverted though, in that she was driven to madness by the Old Gods, and now resides in Deepholm, where she is once again sane and good.
  • Wario Land 3: After getting trapped in the enchanted music box, Wario is approached by "a hidden figure" who claims that he was the Big Good of the realm before an evil being sealed his power, and Wario's quest to free him (in exchange for treasure and escape from the music box's realm) forms the game's Excuse Plot. After collecting all the MacGuffins and freeing the figure, it turns out that the "benevolent god" was actually a demonic Monster Clown who invaded the land before being sealed away by its true inhabitants, and he immediately tries to crush Wario now that he is no longer useful, serving as the game's Final Boss.

  • Happens multiple times in Girl Genius:
    • Agatha mentions this trope when she first encounters Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer! who asks her to free him. She believes he's doing this and does not free him; however, he actually believes he's the hero being held by the villain. Agatha does rescue him eventually, after learning some unflattering things about their mutual 'host'. He helps her escape at a later date in return. And then he tries killing her, so she throws him out of an airship. As it turns out, Othar is hardly a 'fake good'; his definition of 'good' just differs slightly from hers.
    • Attempted by Lucrezia in Agatha's body during the castle arc. Strapped to a crazy, jerry-rigged machine designed to attempt a dangerous and untried three-way Si Vales Valeo operation with two very ill gentlemen as the other participants, and with a very angry sounding voice floating up from the sub-basement vowing revenge, Lucrezia tries her damnedest to wriggle out of it.
      Lucrezia: Oh! Yes, there's something very wrong! There's been a terrible mistake! Quickly, now. Untie me, and–
  • Rusty and Co.: Malevolus the Blackguard, stuck in a cell, tries to convince Stabs and Rusty to set him free by pretending to be a poor, starving, forgotten prisoner. Stabs isn't fooled for a second, though.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Reynardine successfully executes this trope, when we first meet him he is possessing the body of a dragon and he tells Antimony he is the captive of an evil dragon killer. She stages a rescue attempt and frees him from his bonds, realizing her mistake too late as he attempts to possess her in turn.

    Western Animation 
  • In Disney's The Little Mermaid (1992), Evil Manta used this trick and got released by Ariel. Another monster unsuccessfully tried this after making Triton a child.
  • 10,000 years before the events of The Legend of Korra, the traveler Wan came across a valley being demolished by two large spirits fighting one another, tied together by their tails. One spirit begged Wan to free him from 10,000 years of torment at the hands of the other. The other insulted Wan and ordered him to stay out of business humans couldn't understand. Being a kindly soul that didn't like tyrants, Wan separated them. He then discovered that he had just freed Vaatu, the Spirit of Darkness and Chaos, from the grip of Raava, the Spirit of Light and Peace. He spent the rest of his life (and that of his many reincarnations) trying to fix that mistake.
  • Teen Titans: Raven befriends a knight hero in a book by the name of Malchoir. He tells her stories of how an evil dragon trapped him there. He teaches her powerful magic and things seem awesome. Until, it turns out the spells are dark magic that cause more chaos than good, but before Raven realizes this, she sets Malchoir free only to find out "Malchoir" is the name of the evil dragon, not the knight. The most that Malchior could do from within his prison was to switch his name with the knight's.
  • In Trollz, Simon uses this to escape the Shadow World, pretending to be a scared little boy who'd been trapped there.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Fake Good In A Can


Locking Up the Devil

Ancient folk saying: "You can catch the devil. But you cant' hold him long."

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / SealedEvilInACan

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