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Impersonation Gambit

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And that's how you get into a mafia's hideout.
Woman at ticket booth: You are... Cornelius Thorndyke and Ezra van Holt?
Alexis Wilder: Yea [ahem, hum] Yes, that's correct.
Woman: Yes, well, "Cornelius," I'm afraid these picture's don't—
Alex: That's my morning face! Ezra here just had some work done, and that's "Mister Thorndyke" to you, smartass.
— Two 20-somethings trying to get into the museum with senior citizen IDs, Our World

A sting operation in which the hero tries to infiltrate the villain's organization by passing themselves off as one of the bad guys.

For example, Bob is going to meet Alice to be given an Evil Plan to carry out. The hero, Charlie, catches up with Bob before he can meet with Alice. Since Alice and Bob have never met face to face, Charlie goes to the meeting point, pretending to be Bob. Charlie is attempting an Impersonation Gambit. If successful, he will take down Alice's organization, but this gambit doesn't always go as planned.

A subtrope of The Infiltration, only in this case, they are impersonating a real person that the villains were expecting to meet. Can result in a You Are Already Checked In if the person they're impersonating shows up. Compare Dressing as the Enemy which this trope can often overlap with.

Inexperienced in impersonation, the heroes might act according to Most Definitely Not a Villain (except that they're trying to pretend that they most definitely are a villain). They may also face the need to prove that they're as evil as the impersonatee is known to be.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Audio Plays 

    Fan Works 
  • A couple of chapters of All Assorted Animorphs AUs involve characters pretending to be Controllers.
    • In "What if Tom's yeerk got the morphing cube from David first?", Tom pretends that he's still a Controller when Chapman spots him and Jake in the hallway. Then, Jake morphs Tom so he can ask the other two Controllers to give him the Escafil device. It works, even though Jake-as-Tom was oddly polite.
    • In "What if they were caught on their first mission?", Visser Three bursts into the Yeerk Pool with his lieutenant, Visser Twenty-Three in Marco's body, and tells him to kill the other Animorphs... but it turns out that Marco has been Yeerk-free for a week.
  • Eleutherophobia:
    • In Escape from L.A.' Eva and Tom plan to get back home by pretending that they're still Controllers in order to sneak into a Yeerk Pool, then crash a couple of bug fighters into each other in an attempt to undo the Sario Rip that sent them two years into the past.
    • In How I Live Now, Tom pretends to be Visser Seventeen in order to get the Yeerk in Rachel to listen to him. Cassie morphs a Yeerk and infests him to "prove" that he's still a controller.
  • In What Tomorrow Brings, Marco pretends to be a Controller when he contacts Samilin, a known spy for the Yeerks.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Happens a few times in James Bond films.
    • The World Is Not Enough has Bond impersonate a nuclear physicist trying to steal a warhead scheduled for decommissioning. When the scientist becomes suspicious of him, he passes a language test, but still gets caught because of the age discrepancy between Bond and the physicist.
    • Diamonds Are Forever: James Bond impersonates Peter Franks in order to infiltrate the diamond smuggling operation.
    • Another James Bond example occurs during the opening of Die Another Day.
    • A villainous example occurs when Red Grant takes the place of Bond's Orient Express contact in From Russia with Love.
  • In Ultraviolet 1998 Violet impersonates a courier in order to get inside the Archminstry's headquarters and steal the weapon that will wipe out the hemophages.
  • This is how Connor MacManus gets the info over the phone for where the Russian mob dudes in The Boondock Saints are meeting. It helps that both he and Murphy are fluent in Russian, and could conceivably pass themselves off as members of the Russian mob if they had to.
  • The first Project A have Jackie Chan's protagonist infiltrating the Pirate Lord's hideout by pretending to be the Arms Dealer working for the pirates. It surprisingly works, for a short while anyway. His Fat Sidekick Fatty on the other hand uses a more direct Dressing as the Enemy approach by putting on a knocked-out pirate's attire but didn't even cover his face (considering he's chubbier than most of the pirates).
  • In Stroker Ace, Doc poses as a representative of the Miller Brewing Company and meets with Clyde Torkle to convince him that Miller will buy Torkle's franchise so long as he fires Stroker. Torkle is taken due to Doc's acting courses making him sound legit and never having been contacted by Miller before.
  • The whole plot of The Adventures of Tartu is Terence passing as the deceased Tartu in order to infiltrate a Nazi gas plant.
  • In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ethan takes on the identity of "John Lark", an eco-terrorist dealing with illegal weapons and criminals, in order to figure out his Evil Plan. Remarkably, the actual "John Lark" is working with him as a CIA Agent supposedly sent to take him down.

  • In the Animorphs book The Escape, Marco pretends to be a Controller so he can talk to Visser One.
  • Done in almost all possible ways (from stolen uniforms to magical transformations) in The Black Company series. Gambit Pileup is the typical result.
  • The Executioner series. Mack Bolan would sometimes infiltrate Mafia organizations by masquerading as an elite hitman. He did so by displaying an ace of spades, which they used to identify themselves.
  • Done in Harald, when Mord hires Westkin mercenaries as soldiers to assassinate King James, who has outlived his usefulness, Harald gets his own Westkin allies to impersonate them.
  • A beautiful inversion occurs in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Stockbroker's Clerk". The titular client obtained a job at a bank, but had never met his employer. Another man convinced the clerk to drop the job without a resignation letter; he then turned up in his stead and robbed the bank.
  • A villainous example occurs in the Lord Peter Wimsey short story "The Bibulous Business Of a Matter of Taste', where two Lord Peters show up to receive secret information from a person who then holds a wine-tasting to determine which is the real Lord Peter. Neither are, but the real Lord Peter, there in disguise, is proven anyway.
  • Star Wars Legends: A villainous variant. In Darth Bane: Rule of Two, Darth Zannah disguised herself as Jedi Padawan Nalia Adollu to infiltrate the Jedi temple on Coruscant so she can access the Jedi Archives.
  • The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign has a villainous example where the White Queen impersonates Aoi, the person who Kyousuke was planning on binding a contract with. Though it turns out that Kyousuke figures it out early on, and deliberately led the White Queen around until he had what he needed.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mission: Impossible. This was sometimes used in IMF operations.
  • Jack Bauer attempts this twice throughout the shows run. In both instances, a suspect is killed before Jack can get any info out of them, but Jack improvises when their phone rings, and gets a meeting location where he continues the guise.
  • Christopher Chance successfully pulls this off in "Taking Ames".
    • In another episode, to protect a woman he believed was being targeted, he posed as online date. However, the real date shows up, blowing Chances cover. The "real date" is revealed to be the assassin hired to kill the woman, but luckly, Chance saves her.
  • Chuck pulls this off in "Chuck vs the Fake Name" by taking an assassins identity to find out who the ring wants to kill.
    • There was a similar plot in Monk. Even more coincidental since one of the mobsters was played by the same actor who played a mobster in that episode of Chuck.
  • Angel pulls one of these in the Season 2 episode "The Shroud of Rahmon," impersonating a hip Vegas vampire to infiltrate a group of thieves.
  • Villain example in Heroes. Sylar kills Zane Taylor, steals his power, and passes himself off as him to Mohinder.
  • NCIS: Tony and Ziva pose as an assassin couple in order to sniff out who they were taking orders from.
  • In Jake 2.0, Jake infiltrates a meeting of a group of hackers (who had previously only communicated online) by impersonating a group member who has been arrested by the NSA.
  • The Cape: Vince poses as the bomber Razer as a way to spy on Scales.
  • On Charmed, an assassin tries to kill the sisters, only to be killed by Prue. She then impersonates the assassin to meet her client, who had apparently never met the assassin in person before.
  • Jarod does a few of these over the course of The Pretender
    • The first involved Jarod posing as a hitman. Jarod was walking past the hitman's hotel room when the man collapsed inside, and went to try and help him. When the man died, Jarod went through his belongings and discovered his profession - then his phone rang. It was the hitman's client, and Jarod took his place at the meeting.
    • A second episode had Jarod overhear a conversation between a former crook trying to go straight and his former employer who wants him to do One Last Job. There is one more person slated to be part of the team, a one-armed safe cracker scheduled to arrive by bus. Jarod intercepts the safe cracker, tells him the police are onto him, takes his tools, gives him a wad of money and sends him to a new target the Centre. He then takes the safe cracker's place on the robbery team.
  • In one episode of Starsky & Hutch, Hutch impersonates a reclusive hitman who has just been taken into custody. This goes wrong when the hitman escapes and shows up at the meeting...
  • Stargate SG-1 uses this when Mitchell goes undercover as Kefflin, a lieutenant in the Lucian Alliance (a group of drug smugglers) who are believed to have captured one of Earth's ships (along with Colonel Carter.) Mitchell uses a chemical compound on the one person who knows Kefflin looks like and counts on no one else having ever seen him since he has a reputation as a recluse.
  • The Professionals. In "Slush Fund", Bodie and Doyle detain a South African hitman entering the country so Doyle can take his place and find out who the target is. Inevitably the hitman escapes to put everyone in danger for the final act.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Not Madusa, but Jobber Mike Thor at WCW Clash of the Champions XXI. She was scheduled to face Paul E. Dangerously (w/Michael Hayes) in a "Battle of the Sexes" Exhibition Match. Before the match, Thor ran in dressed as her with his face disguised. Paul smashed the phone over "her" head, which was considered pretty shocking right there, until Paul and Hayes discovered it was Thor. Madusa herself then showed up to beat up Paul, including no-selling his one move, a flying axhandle, hitting a missile dropkick and ripping his pants off until the 5-minute time limit expired. Doubles as a downplayed Uriah Gambit, since Thor had to get clobbered in order for the plan to work.
  • After failing to defeat Chris Jericho for the Cruiserweight Title at WCW Uncensored 98, March 15, 1998, Dean Malenko told interviewer "Mean" Gene Okerlund that he was going "home." This led to Jericho cutting hilarious promos mocking Malenko for months, including the "1004 Holds" one. At Slamboree, May 17, there was a Cruiserweight Battle Royalnote  where the winner would get a shot at Jericho's title. It came down to Juventud Guerrera, who was a former Champion, and "Ciclope."note  Juvy eliminated himself, giving "Ciclope" the win, and "Ciclope" unmasked to reveal Malenko. Malenko then proceeded to beat the heck out of Jericho as revenge for everything Jericho had said about him and his family (including bringing out a guy named "Bore-Us Malenko") and ultimately won the title. In the post-match interview, Malenko dedicated the win to his father.
  • On the July 7, 1997 WCW Monday Nitro, Randy Savage was scheduled to face Masked Luchador La Parka. The match seemed to be going along as usual, with Parka doing his usual dancing and strutting. Out of nowhere, "Parka" hit a Diamond Cutter and unmasked as Diamond Dallas Page and got the pin. This actually raised Parka's profile in WCW a bit, as, for a short time, he would walk out to the ring and Kimberly would be standing by the entrance and raising the sign of the Diamond Cutter. On DDP's section of WCW's website, someone asked how he got Parka to loan him his costume. DDP said, "I gave him a hundred bucks."
  • At CHIKARA Young Lions Cup II, Night II, July 31, 2004, there was a trios match where the Dark Breed (Hallowicked and UltraMantis Black) and DJ Skittles defeated the Sweet 'n' Sour International team of Spyrazul, Mobius and Flex Fenom. At Retribution Rumble of Revenge and Rumble to Remember, August 27th, there was an atomicos (8-man tag match) with Jigsaw/Jolly Roger/Men @ Work (Mister ZERO and Shane Storm) vs. the Sweet 'n' Sour International team of Larry Sweeney, Spyrazul, Rorschach and Crossbones, which Jigsaw's team won. Before the match, Sweeney was asking where Mike Quackenbush was. Shane Storm defeated Spyrazul at Beware of Barely Badd Blasts and/or Blood Brawls on the Beach on September 25th. At The Cibernetico Cometh on October 30th, there was the first-ever Torneo Cibernetico match, with Jigsaw's team (Jigsaw/Men @ Work/F.I.S.T. [Icarus & Gran Akuma]/Jolly Roger and Private Eye/DJ Skittles) vs. Sweet 'n' Sour International (Sweeney/Spyrazul/Sharecropper/The Dark Breed/Crossbones/Mano Metallico/Rorschach.) When the match was down to Jigsaw vs. Sweeney/Spyrazul/Rorschach, Spyrazul hit a Black Tornado Slam on Rorschach and allowed Jigsaw to pin Rorschach. Spyrazul removed his mask to reveal, of course, Quackenbush. Quack threw the mask at Sweeney, wished Jigsaw luck and got himself counted out. This led to Jigsaw pinning Sweeney to win the match.

  • In Dragnet, the plot of #72, "The Big Meet", involves Friday impersonating the local contact that a major drug lord plans to use to distribute a batch of his product through.

    Video Games 
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Eva isn't really your contact. Also in Snake Eater, Snake impersonates Major Raikov in order to get to the west wing of Grozni Grad.
  • The Dark Brotherhood quest chain in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim requires you to murder and impersonate The Gourmet, Tamriel's greatest - and most secretive - chef, in order to get close to your ultimate target, the emperor. It helps that no one actually knows what The Gourmet looks like (with the exception of the one guy you interrogated for The Gourmet's location, and subsequently killed to cover your tracks), so you can look and dress and act like anything you want.
  • BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm features a scene where Catie has to dress up as Miku Hatsune to sneak around backstage at a Vocaloid concert. She ends up running into the real Miku, who just assumes that Catie is a cosplaying superfan. Sadly, the security guards aren’t so gullible and end up throwing her out.
  • In Carmen Sandiego: Math Detective, the player character is tasked with infiltrating V.I.L.E.'s new base with one of these in the opening cutscene. They make it past the front desk okay, and stay undercover long enough to hear Carmen's Evil Plan, but they're quickly exposed and have to make a run for it.

  • Rather humorously averted in DOUBLE K - having just raided a drug dealer's warehouse, Kamina notices the suspect's portable phone ringing and answers it. When the guy on the other end assumes that he's talking to the dealer as normal, well... in the author's own words, "True to form, Kamina immediately pisses away any usefulness this development may have brought." Explosions ensue.
  • Magick Chicks: Following the school's takeover, in chapter 16, The Ninja Club are revealed to be that last holdouts, in terms of opposition. They've even managed to capture Skye and replaced her with Rain, in order to spy on Cerise and undermine her authority.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Gloriously played in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Almost Got 'Im", where Killer Croc, of all people, turns out to have been Batman the whole time.
  • In the Carmen Sandiego episode "The Big Bad Ivy Caper," Carmen and Ivy are trying to locate a V.I.L.E. contact when Dash Haber comes up to Ivy and gives her a code phrase, having mistaken her for the contact. Carmen then finds the actual woman and gives the same code phrase, passing herself off as Dash Haber, so that Ivy can learn the proper response to give.

    Real Life 
  • Two FBI agents were able to stop a bomb plot in Portland by impersonating the would-be bombers' online contacts.