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Investigator Impersonation

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"When you're a spy playing the role of spy hunter, the trail of evidence can lead wherever you say it does."
Michael Westen, Burn Notice, "Seek and Destroy"

So you're a scheming villain out to inflict some suffering on a poor Unwitting Pawn. You have the gadgets, the Mooks and most importantly, the Evil Plan itself. But wait! Your unsuspecting victim may not be so unsuspecting! Quickly! What do you do?


Why, you employ the Investigator Impersonation! Almost a villanous form of Lampshade Hanging, you do this by doing the last thing the victim would expect you to do: Outlining your entire plan straight to his face! By posing as a helping party, the villain convinces the victim that his plan is currently being implemented by somebody else. This allows the villain to simultaneously shift the suspicion away from him and get his victim to follow his every command to the letter.

A favorite of the Manipulative Bastard and The Chessmaster who may use any variety of plan to make this work; very often, this is part of a Bavarian Fire Drill.

Compare Detective Mole.



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     Anime and Manga  

  • Lupin III's favorite disguise is Inspector Zenigata. He goes up to his victim, explains that they're being targeted by Lupin, and asks them to allow him to increase the security. Everything that the real Zenigata would do, too.

    Fan Works 
  • The Mountain and the Wolf: When Tyrion investigates Euron's sabotage of the gates of King's Landing (actually one of the Wolf's men magically disguised as Euron), he gets quite close to the truth, discovering that Euron was wearing a helmet very similar to the Norscans. Unfortunately, Tyrion mention this to the Wolf, and what Tyrion think is him struggling to control his anger at being accused is actually him stalling for time until he comes up with a plausible explanation (that Euron ambushed and killed some of his men).


  • The "Mr. Charles" plan implemented by Cobb in Inception. By making Fisher believe Cobb was a projection of his subconscious, Cobb managed to make Fisher think someone was trying to steal information from his dreams. In reality, Cobb himself was the thief of whom he spoke. He tries the same thing on Saito earlier in the movie, and gets figured immediately.
  • In Catch Me If You Can, to throw off Tom Hanks' character, Frank pretends to be an investigator from another agency.
    • In a much more awesome variation, in Real Life the actual Frank Abagnale conned his way out of prison by impersonating an undercover FBI agent that was investigating the prison system (there were really FBI agents doing that at the time).
  • In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Donovan hiring Indiana Jones because that will lead him to the MacGuffin.
    Didn't I tell you not to trust anyone, Dr. Jones?
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, M/Moriarity was pulling this off on the whole team.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Judge Doom claims to be after Marvin Acme's murderer, when in fact it was he who committed it.
  • Terminal Velocity (1994). A sympathetic Assistant District Attorney leaves his card with Ditch Brodie, when he looks like he's facing manslaughter charges after a woman died during a skydiving accident. When Brodie discovers the woman faked her death, he contacts the ADA only to find he's actually one of the villains who are trying to track down the woman and kill her. Anyone can get a card printed up, after all.



     Live Action TV  

  • This is a favorite tactic of Michael Westen on Burn Notice. In the episode that provides the page quote, he persuades a mark to give him access to his stolen painting by telling him that he's trying to protect it from a spy. (Accompanied by frequent Sarcastic Confessions, no less.) This is a rare non-villanous example. Westen will often go to extremes in these efforts by faking "attacks" by the invisible enemies.
    • This was once played for comedy with Sam impersonating a CSI, with all the Lampshade Hanging necessary.
  • In a recent Chuck episode, a mercenary hired to rob a CIA warehouse told a guard she was an agent sent there to assist him as they'd received word someone was going to try to rob the warehouse. Of course, her success here may have been due in large part to his fascination with her cleavage.
  • This is also frequently done on Leverage as well, usually by Hardion, Parker and Eliot. In one interesting variation, during a mystery dinner theater, they have to claim to be putting on the show while solving the real murder.

     Video Games  

  • In Heavy Rain, one of the investigators on the Origami Killer case turns out to be the Killer himself. Namely, Scott Shelby, who poses as a PI to collect evidence he left behind as the killer.
  • In Starbound, the Glitch detective Hewlett Deckard specializes in tracking down rogue "heretic" Glitches who have broken free from the Simulation. Deckard actually hunt them so he can help them escape to freedom, and is a free-thinking rogue himself.