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Manchurian Agent

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"He shook his head, which only intensified the ringing in his ears. When had that started? With the shockwaves? During the fight with Chevalier?
Or before all that? Before the Yàngbǎn?
Had it ever
He thought of the Simurgh, thought of all of this in the context of him being just one of her pawns.
His head hung.
Always a pawn. Always the expendable one."
Perdition, Worm

A person is Brainwashed so that, on a certain trigger (either a situation, or else a phrase only someone in the know would ever say), they will go from their normal self to The Mole; they will most often remember nothing afterward. Occasionally, they can be programmed to do even more serious crimes, such as attacking their teammates outright, but their true value lies in the fact that their cover is so deep that not even they themselves realise it.

If they or their teammates discover the truth, expect a lot of angst. Whether or not they are are able to break free of their programming (or at least, soon enough for it to matter) will vary from story to story.

In spy and technothriller fiction, such agents are an extreme form of what's commonly known as "sleeper agents", or just "sleepers".

See also Brainwashed, Berserk Button, Morality Dial, Tomato in the Mirror, Conveniently Unverifiable Cover Story, Alternate Identity Amnesia, and Lotus-Eater Machine. Compare Memory Gambit, which is when you do this to yourself. May require Deprogramming to cure and, if not cured sufficiently thoroughly, is one of the causes of Brainwash Residue.

In Troper Addition, this trope is Memory Gambit and Neuro-Vault meet Deep Cover Agent.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Code Geass: Lelouch's mind-controlling Hypnotic Eyes lets him give people orders that cannot be refused, and in addition to the immediate Brainwashed victims, he can also create a Manchurian Agent by applying special conditions to the command. For example, he made Gilbert G.P. Guilford into a Manchurian Agent who would see him as Princess Cornelia (under whose command he was) when he grabbed his collar.
  • This is how Yoh Hinomura effectively becomes Crying Freeman: With the assassin doctrines of the 108 Dragons implanted in his subconscious, all it takes for him to start a mission is the same trigger phrase he heard when he was indoctrinated.
  • Dance in the Vampire Bund provides the nanotechnology known as the "Pied Piper" which when applied to vampires forces their mind to register any orders they receive as coming directly from their overlord ("Release the insane werewolf and lock down your HQ so you are trapped with it? Of course My Liege").
  • In Death Note, Light acts as a Manchurian Agent on behalf of himself. One of the most ingenious plot twists in a series full of plot twists.
  • In Detective School Q, Pluto/Meiousei does this all the time to its clients and its own agents as a failsafe — on the trigger, they'll kill witnesses, or themselves, or go insane... and it's not pretty.
  • In the Galaxy Angel manga, Chitose appears when the Elsior finds her capsule drifting in space, she's completely amnesiac at first. As she slowly regains her memory, it's eventually revealed that she was brainwashed by Noa to kidnap Prince Shiva, but the "programming" goes haywire and she ends up kidnapping Tact instead.
  • This is the power of one of Sinbad's Djinns in Magi: Labyrinth of Magic. Zepar uses sound waves to interfere with people's minds and force Sinbad's Rukh into their bodies. Princess Kougyoku is the only known one, and we witness how it happened. Sinbad confessed she is not the only one; there are two others, one in Sindria and another one somewhere else.
  • Anew Returner in Mobile Suit Gundam 00. In this case, the trigger is the presence of a particular person: her twin brother, Revive Revival, who gets captured midway through the series and "resets" her.
  • Occurs in Negima! Magister Negi Magi with Shiori. In this case, it seems to simply be a decoy to keep Ala Alba from noticing something particular, but Mana notes that they can't rule out the possibility of a Trigger Phrase.
  • In The Rising of the Shield Hero, "Justice zombies" are infected by being cut with a cursed dagger that leaves them under the complete control of Malty and her co-conspirators. In the early stages of their spread, the zombies acted completely normal so they could perform sabotage and infect others. When their sabotage or infection is revealed, they become openly hostile to anyone not aligned with them and attack while shouting propaganda.
  • In Saint Seiya, Gemini Saga, Big Bad of the first arc, turns Leo Aioria into this with his brainwashing technique, the Genmaerouken. The sight of Seiya would trigger Aioria, turning him from his noble self into Ax-Crazy, forcing Seiya to battle him. In the end, the Genmaerouken's effect on Aioria would be dispelled by Cassios' death.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • In the original anime, Haga did something similar to this to Jonouchi by having a kid plant a Parasite Paracide card in Jonouchi's deck; in this case, the "trigger" was Haga's "Reckless Parasite" card. (Not a real card.) Unfortunately for Haga, he underestimated Jonouchi's resourcefulness; he was actually able to use the Parasite Paraside to destroy Haga's Perfectly Ultimate Great Moth.
    • In the fourth season of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Saiou did something similar, planting a copy of Arcana Force 0 -- The Fool in Judai's deck; in this case, the "trigger" was Saiou's Spell Card, "Decisive Power of Absolute Destiny" again, not a real card. With the Fool on Judai's side of the field, Saiou was nearly unbeatable, able to control the outcome of any of his cards that depended on coin tosses, but like in the case of Jonouchi, underestimated his foe's resourcefulness (and in this case, took very unnecessary risk, proving that when he had to rely on actual luck, his was pretty bad).
    • As far as humans went, Bruno from Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds was a willing Manchurian agent, at least initially. Like Aporia, he was an android containing the consciousness of one of Z-One's allies from the Bad Future that the villain wished to undo (with no regard for who might die in the process) but in Bruno's case, his memory was suppressed, and he was programmed to act as Team 5D's advisor and ally, both as Bruno and as his alter ego of "Dark Glass". Bruno's true programming didn't kick in until the Arc Cradle appeared, threatening to destroy Neo Domino, and he turned against Yusei, combating him in a lethal duel throughout outer space where a black hole threatened to consume them. However, he started to have second thoughts and resist his programming, and in the end, sacrificed himself to help Yusei escape the pull of the black hole.

    Comic Books 
  • In the comic book 100 Bullets, the phrase (used to cause old memories to re-emerge rather than force them to do something against their will) is "Croatoa".
  • In Assassin's Creed: The Fall, Daniel Cross serves this role in Warren Vidic's Evil Plan to weed out the Assassin Order.
  • One of the many loathed parts of The Crossing was attempting to retcon that Iron Man had been this for Kang since The Avengers first fought him, having brainwashed him into being a mole for him, and that Giant-Man's various psychological issues were the issue of an earlier attempt by Kang to turn him into one before moving onto Iron Man. As part of Avengers Forever's damage control, it was retconned that it was really Immortus (at the time Kang's older self), the manipulations of Tony only went back to Operation: Galactic Storm (and Tony leading half of the Avengers to kill the Supreme Intelligence was an attempt to drive the Avengers back to Earth that backfired), and Kang being the cause of Hank's instability was a lie.
  • These turn out to be central to the plot of Hondo-City Justice — a large number of girls with alien DNA are triggered to kill the drokk out of any Yakuza members they happen to see. Asahara manages to overcome it.
  • Subverted in the eighth issue of the Justice League Unlimited tie-in, where this is attempted against the subject's will, but whoever it was (i.e. Brain Storm) made the mistake of choosing The Question as their mole. He's so paranoid, he actually found himself out before he could do any damage.
  • Blue Beetle, in a memorable and bloody couple of issues of Justice League International; they ultimately had to resort to a Journey to the Center of the Mind to get him deprogrammed.
  • In Mind Mgmt both the title organization and their opponents seem to utilize a number of these. One family man codenamed "The Bear" receives a piece of paper reading "mulligan duck", kills his wife (and dog), and sets off on an anti-MM mission.
  • Pathfinder: Worldscape had elf thief Merisiel, who had been transported to the Worldscape 20 years prior to the storyline' beginning by Kulan Gath and Empress Camilla to help them acquire important artifacts of immense power. After succeeding on this task, she is returned to her home with her memories of the past events wiped out. Many years afterward, she is brought back to the Worldscape, this time bringing with her the adventuring party she had joined. Her memories are restored and Gath conspires to rob Camilla's artifact so he can gain ultimate power and has the thief infiltrate her court to steal it and kill the empress. After helping Gath in his plans, its revealed the entity that returned Merisiel to her home world and wiped her memories guarded the artifacts she stole and Merisiel was the Manchurian Agent against Gath all along, making this a rare heroic variant of this trope.
  • Titans/The Flash supporting character Frances Kane was originally programmed this way by her therapist, probably contributing to her later mental problems.
  • Inverted in the Marvel Transformers comics when Ratchet, forced by Megatron to rebuild Starscream as a Pretender, hides Starscream's true personality deep in his neural circuits. Megatron then sends the "new" Starscream against the Autobots and Decepticons on Earth. One shot from Hot Rod damages Starscream, and he immediately reverts to the Dirty Coward we all know and love.
  • The Transformers (IDW):
    • The Transformers Megaseries has Nightbeat, who was reprogrammed by the inhabitants of the Dead Universe to kill Optimus Prime when the time was right. Nightbeat being Nightbeat, he realises somthing's up, and has Hardhead accompany him when he goes investigating the planet he was captured on, so that if he turns Hardhead can kill him. He does, and Hardhead does as well. He gets better, but the programming lingers until The Transformers: Dark Cybertron, when Rodimus finally breaks him out of it.
    • There's also Beachcomber, who was implanted with a cerebro-shell and sent to assassinate Blaster when the time was right. He almost succeeded. Blaster eventually recovers and finds out, and encourages Beachcomber to fight what's been done to him. It nearly kills the poor guy.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Hypnota snuck in to where Serva was being kept and brainwashed Serva right after her (first) rescue from Hypnota to report back to her former master without raising suspicion as soon as she can after hearing anything about Wonder Woman's plans or location. Hypnota is unaware of this trigger until it's been activated and can do nothing to fight it or alert the others to it.
  • X-Factor (2006): Guido was hypnotized by Singularity into serving as their sleeper agent with a code word spoken over the phone as the trigger. They used him to murder a scientist who was planning to betray them to help X-Factor.

    Comic Strips 
  • Modesty Blaise: In "Our Friend Maude", Maude Tiller is brainwashed to assassinate Rene Valois, the head of French intelligence, while believing she is acting on orders from Sir Gerald.

    Fan Works 
  • Ask Researcher Twilight: In this My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Tumblr fanfic blog, Twilight has turned Rarity into one of these.
  • Digimon Adventure 02: The Story We Never Told reveals during Chapter 64 that the Armor Digivolutions were designed as this; when Oikawa says a key phrase while the Digimon are in them, they're brainwashed into serving him.
  • Of Mice and Mayhem: Gadget has become one. She has a chip inside her head that automatically makes her kill a leader at 9 a.m. unless she is sedated. To make matters even worse for her, she has already poisoned a Middle East dictator to death in a test run which means that a human has been assassinated by a Rescue Ranger.
  • Pokéumans: Theoretically, everyone (including you) is one of these — the trigger is seeing a transforming Pokeuman, and afterwards everyone's memory of the incident is erased.
  • The River: This Season 3 Buffy the Vampire Slayer fic where Faith turned out to be a Manchurian Agent placed by Wes to infiltrate the Mayor’s organization and with a simple phrase, wake up and come back to fight with the white hats. But then there’s the big reveal in the finale, the real Faith was the evil one from the start, Wes having made up the alternate Faith to give her a chance at redemption.
  • RWBY: Dark: Ruby Rose enslaved, conditioned, mistreated and heavily abused her older half-sister Yang Xiao Long. The result of such abuse? As soon as Ruby says "six 'em", Yang, driven by rage and a will to fight back against everything, is on the warpath.
  • This Bites!: When the New World Masons are entrusted with all of Cross's future knowledge to stop the Marineford War, or at least save Ace, one of their strategies is to have Jango establish thousands of these throughout the gathered soldiers. It's implied to be something of a Godzilla Threshold, but the Marineford War does cross that threshold, and in the end, it helps camouflage the real turncoats.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Demolition Man, Dr. Raymond Cocteau intends to use Simon Phoenix in this way to assassinate the leader of the underground resistance. Cocteau is Genre Savvy enough to add a programme that prevents Phoenix from killing him, but neglects to do so for the other cryocons Phoenix has released as backup.
  • From the 1983 comedy Going Berserk, John Candy's character is brainwashed by a cult to assassinate his fiancée's congressman father using a playing card as a trigger. Something goes wrong in the hypnotism though, and the trigger doesn't make him a cold-blooded assassin as much as a loud obnoxious asshole — Hilarity Ensues.
    • Candy is also one in one of the very few funny moments in Volunteers (1985). Captured by the Red Army, he laughs at their plans to brainwash him. One jump cut later he's quoting Mao at every opportunity to the point where he's annoying the hell out of his new commander.
  • Johnny English Reborn has the bad guys use a compound to turn anyone into a hidden assassin before dying from a heart attack.
  • Arguably, the entire population of The Matrix, being as how anyone who hasn't been freed from the Matrix can become an Agent at any time. It's arguable because, while the result is the same, from the perspective of anyone inside the Matrix they physically turn into an Agent.
  • The Naked Gun. Reggie Jackson is programmed to assassinate the Queen of England. There's even a Shout-Out to Telefon when the technique is first demonstrated.
  • Star Wars: The clone troopers from the prequels are an army of Manchurian Agents, which Palpatine activates via the infamous Order 66, resulting in the massacre of nearly every Jedi throughout the galaxy. However, the manner of how this was done differs between canon and Legends.
    • Legends: Palpatine had a series of genetic "orders" implanted in them that he could activate them when ready. Until then, the clone troopers simply acted as normal, friendly soldiers. The only order we see is Order 66, which, when issued, caused every single clone who hears it to instantly consider any Jedi a traitor to the Republic and attack them. He also had plenty of failsafes to keep them loyal to him and him only.
      • The Expanded Universe showed that some of the clone troopers were strong enough to resist Order 66 and that those who simply didn't hear it remained good (one clone trooper who was stuck on an uncharted world during the end of the Clone Wars later joined up with the Rebellion), but the vast majority of them succumbed to it, and those who didn't were either forced into hiding or killed.
    • Canon: See Star Wars: The Clone Wars in the Western Animation folder.
  • Telefon (1977). The KGB plant 51 such agents with fake identities in the United States, programmed to commit acts of sabotage on receiving a Trigger Phrase. Unfortunately a fanatical Stalinist opposed to détente steals the list of agents, and the Soviets have to send Charles Bronson to stop him.
    "'The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.'
    Remember, [Agent's real name], miles to go before you sleep."
  • Terminator Genisys lampshades it, with Kyle Reese trying to convince Sarah Connor to not trust the "Guardian" T-800, on the grounds that it might have hidden programming that it's not even aware of.
  • Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning: The UniSol clones can be programmed with false memories.
  • This is what Max becomes in Videodrome, by both Barry Convex and Bianca O'Blivion. Both are able to "program" him to assassinate anyone they want to. Bianca has the decency to note that Max is an innocent victim.
  • Ann is used this way by Korvo (through hypnosis) in Whirlpool.
  • X2: X-Men United. Stryker utilizes several mutants this way, in conjunction with Brainwashed and Crazy. Cyclops is one of them, and then we find out that Stryker's Dragon Lady Deathstrike is another one.
  • In the movie Zoolander, the title character is hypnotized into becoming a berserk assassin when he hears the song "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. As is every major assassin in US history. Maybe not to that particular song, but the brainwashing thing.

  • The trope namer is The Manchurian Candidate, in which the protagonist and his war buddies were brainwashed in order to play politics and get a sleeper agent to be president.
  • In Babel-17, one saboteur turns out to have been programmed by Babel-17 itself, which is crafted to make people hate the Alliance.
  • Programming people is routine for the protagonist's agency in Oleg Divov's Brothers in Reason. The main character himself as well as his half-brother are programmed to shoot their father on sight, one with a gun and the other with a laser implanted in the forearm. The first one is revealed when he begins to suspect something and asks his half-brother to hypnotize him. When he becomes aware of the programming, he is now free to disobey it.
    • It is standard policy for all agency employees to undergo brainwashing whenever a mole is suspected.
    • This is the same agency that psychically zombifies the entire population of Earth into loving everything Russian, the ultimate psychotronic weapon.
  • In the Captain Underpants books, Mr. Krupp turns into Captain Underpants when he hears fingers snapping, and returns to normal when water is poured on his head.
  • As revealed in Family Business, Jimmy Anytime was a variant of this in The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids, a clone of the original Jimmy Wherever hypnotised to believe he was the real deal until Jenny Nowhere switched that part of his conditioning off at a crucial moment. However, he turned out to have developed real feelings for Jenny Everywhere and killed Nowhere instead.
  • The Dresden Files: In Turn Coat, there are abounding fears within the White Council of Wizards that there are traitors running amok after one of the Senior Council is murdered. It turns out that someone has been mucking with the heads of the entire younger generation of wizards, turning them into sleeping assassins/suicide bombers, including Captain Luccio, the head of the Wardens. On top of that, all of the other wizards have been quietly influenced by subtle mind-control enchantments over the course of the war.
  • In Frank Herbert's Dune, the Bene Gesserit can use psychosexual conditioning techniques (called hypno-ligation) to control people. They can trigger their victims by using code words.
    • The ghola Hayt has a trigger word that is intended to trigger an assassination. His ability to resist it becomes something of a plot point.
    • The Idaho ghola in Heretics of Dune also has a trigger, but it doesn't get used on its intended recipient.
  • Alias, the main heroine from the Forgotten Realms novels The Finders Stone trilogy, is an amnesiac artificial human created by the sorceress Cassana, who put an enchantment on her that triggers a murderous rage when she sees the king of Cormyr with the purpose of killing him.
  • The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters features a trigger phrase known only to the highest echelon of the Cabal, used on those who have undergone the Process, that makes them follow the instructions given by the person who uses the phrase to the letter. It varies based on several factors; it includes a colour ("blue" for those who underwent the Process at the Institute, "orange" for those who underwent it at Harschmort,) a Biblical reference ("Magdalene" for the recruited followers, "Caesar" for the officers, etc.,) the place they were recruited ("Royale" for the Hotel Royale, "Regiment" for the army,) and the words "ice consumption." So, for example, the Countess uses "orange Magdalene orange Royale ice consumption" on Miss Temple, when trying to determine whether or not she underwent the Process at Harschmort.
  • The Honor Harrington verse has several methods for doing that. One is called "psych adjustment", which implants a series of compulsions into the unwitting subject that causes him or her to do something when certain conditions are met. However, this requires a lengthy period of programming, which can be problematic if the "agent" has a rigid schedule or urgent responsibilities. A new technique is pioneered by the Mesan Alignment, involving nanites that, at a specific time, take over the person's nervous system and force the body to act the way the programmer desires. This method also involves And I Must Scream, since the agent in question is aware that he or she is not in control of the body but can't do anything about it. After the agent is dead, the nanites self-destruct, leaving no trace for anyone not specifically looking for them.
  • Dean Koontz's Night Chills has an entire town of sleepers triggered by the phrase "I am the key".
    • In False Memory, victims are programmed with two-step triggers: the name of a novel character, followed by a haiku. If the haiku is not recited for several seconds, the victim will become conscious again, with no memory of hearing the trigger or what they were doing immediately before. They will only respond to commands or statements; if asked a question (unless it is phrased as a command, i.e. "Tell me if you understand"), they will merely repeat it back.
  • Imriel in Kushiel's Mercy: the trigger is kissing his beloved.
  • In A Land Fit for Heroes, one of the Imperial marines accompanying Archeth on her mission is actually a dwenda who erased his own memory and brainwashed himself into believing he was a loyal soldier order to infiltrate the military. If certain conditions are met, he will regain his memory of his true identity and assassinate her. Warhelm Ansharal figures this out and modifies the agent's trigger, both protecting Archeth and arranging for the elimination of a different target of Ansharal's choice.
  • Inverted in the Lord Darcy story A Case Of Identity, where Lord Seiger is a homicidal maniac when in his natural state, but has been constrained by mental healers' geas effects to be entirely harmless and trustworthy. At least, until he's fed the correct trigger phrase by his superior in the Angevin royal spy organization, which unleashes his full Axe-Crazy lethality on enemies of the Crown.
  • The near-eponymous (technically speaking, the Manchurian Agent isn't the "Manchurian Candidate", but that's nitpicking) The Manchurian Candidate, and the Trope Codifier. There are currently two adaptations, the 1962 adaptation and the 2004 adaptation.
  • Inverted in MARZENA, they're not Manchurian! They're Anti-Manchurian, evil people turned into good people thanks to laser-guided brain surgeries and then who turns evil again when their brain heals and they recover their memories (It's just artificially induced DID really).
  • Raul Diaz in Mr Blank is referred to as a Manchurian Candidate. Brainwashed by so many different conspiracies, traded as a pawn, he even gets activated to kill by accident.
  • Reign of the Seven Spellblades: Unbeknownst even to himself, Yuri Leik, introduced in volume 6, is an Artificial Human created with a fragment of Professor Demetrio Aristides's own soul to spy on the student body after Professor Enrico Forghieri is assassinated. His compulsion to explore the labyrinth provides a cover justification for Aristides to periodically download his memories.
  • In the fourth A Series of Unfortunate Events book, Klaus is repeatedly taken in and out of a brainwashed state, which is triggered by the word "lucky" and ended by the word "inordinate".
  • In the Shadowrun novel Night's Pawn, a Mega-Corp executive's daughter is programmed to kill her father as soon as they're alone together. Worse, she's programmed to do so with a concealed bone spur that can't be detected on scans... and that's designed to slit her own arteries as it emerges, causing her to bleed to death and thus be unable to explain what happened to her.
  • In The Stand, Tom Cullen is hypnotized and programmed to be a spy for the Boulder faction. The full moon is his trigger for returning to report his observations. M-O-O-N, that spells moon.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • One of the X-Wing books used this. The trigger phrase, different for each agent, was a nonsensical problem (for example, "Those Wookiees are dancing in the parlor again") that instantly became the sole focus of the brainwashed person's life — and the only way to "solve the problem" was to carry out the preprogrammed mission, usually an assassination.
    • An earlier X-Wing book had a version not triggered by a code phrase, caused by long-term torture and reconditioning in the Lusankya prison. These agents would be unaware of what Isard had done until they were triggered, at which point they became Apologetic Adversaries. This was ultimately considered less dangerous than the prior example because the prior example could be engineered by only a day's worth of chemical treatments after kidnapping the target, and it also managed to stir up Fantastic Racism by, for example, causing a fleetwide suspension on Twi'lek pilots.
    • In the story "Therefore I Am" from Tales of the Bounty Hunters the assassin droid IG-88 plans to use a program to turn every droid in the galaxy into one, inciting a droid rebellion. The most astonishing part is, he actually manages to out-gambit Palpatine himself. The only reason IG-88 fails is because the final part of his plan — which he succeeds at doing — involves downloading his mind into the second Death Star's computer core (and even improves the super laser's accuracy) right before the Battle of Endor. (Which, in case anyone forgot, is where the Death Star II is blown up.)
  • In the Thousand Sons novel Ahriman: Sorcerer, Sanakht telepathically brainwashes his slave Hemellion into becoming a sleeper agent in a plot to overthrow his master Ahriman. When Sanakht is ready to spring his coup, Hemellion will activate and assassinate his target, Carmenta. He succeeds, dying in the process.
  • In the Whateley Universe, Team Kimba have worked out that Solange has created a Manchurian Agent among their friends. They still don't know who it is, but they're sure the agent has planted a blackmail note for Solange, and put a tracker in Fey's luggage.
  • In Worm, the Simurgh mass produces these. As a powerful precog, she can map out the potential futures of her victims and then modify their thought processes with telekinesis-induced hallucinations. These agents can go undetected for years, acting perfectly normal until they get into position to influence something important, sometimes snapping violently and other times simply interfering seemingly of their own accord.
  • In the third Rowan of Rin book, Rowan and the Keeper of the Crystal, Rowan has the task of choosing the next leader of the Maris people, the Keeper of the Crystal. However, it turns out that one of the three candidates, Doss of Pandellis, was brainwashed by the Zebak and sent as a sleeper agent to help them conquer the Maris. In the end he's chosen and Rowan can't take back his choice, but the Crystal itself is powerful enough to override the neural programming, so it all works out.

    Live-Action TV 


  • Derren Brown's special "The Heist" was a real-life attempt at creating four of these.
    • In case you're wondering... 75% success rate.
    • In his The Events special, he picks a susceptible person in a cafe and then programs the guy to steal a TV when he sees a girl wearing red and holding a balloon. The guy does and then tries to come up with a lame excuse for his behavior when caught.
    • He goes even further in the special "The Assassin". He picks a susceptible person from his audience and then spends some time programming him to respond to the polka dot pattern (which puts him into a susceptible trance after which he doesn't remember anything) and a specific ringtone (that causes him to think he's still at the shooting range firing at a target). The only other thing that is required is someone to tell him who the target is. In this case, it's Stephen Fry. The guy successfully "assassinates" the actor in the middle of a crowded theater; luckily, Derren is there to clear things up and remove the conditioning. Derren keeps referring back to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, whose killer Sirhan Sirhan has been claiming for decades that he's been programmed by the CIA.


  • Alias: Martin Shepard, who is brainwashed to be a killer for SD6. In a clear homage to The Manchurian Candidate, he's triggered by someone reciting a poem ("No Man Is an Island" by John Donne), then does whatever they said. He then forgets everything if it's recited again. After he begins to break free of the conditioning, Shepard checks into a mental institution, and eventually breaks free entirely, but not before helping Sidney. It's revealed that he's the one who killed her boyfriend Danny under the command of SD6.
  • Talia Winters in Babylon 5, and Garibaldi in Season 4.
  • Sharon "Boomer" Valerii from Battlestar Galactica (2003), although this is something of a Second Episode Spoiler. At the end of Season 3, four of the Final Five are activated by a faint, warped cover of Bob Dylan's All Along the Watchtower that only they can hear. Namely: Col. Tigh, Chief Tyrol, Sam Anders, and the President's Chief of Staff, Tory.
  • In Big Wolf on Campus, the Evil Werewolf Syndicate try to increase their numbers by doing this to Tommy; whenever he hears the code phrase he's supposed to bite the nearest person.
  • Spike in Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The trigger is "Early One Morning", a song his mother used to sing when he was a child (and when he was an adult).
  • The episode "Attack Angels" of Charlie's Angels features a villain who runs a business creating examples of this trope and selling their services to other villains.
  • Played with in the mini-series Confessional (based on the thriller by Jack Higgins). Cuchulain is conditioned to be both a god-fearing Catholic (his cover identity) and a ruthless KGB assassin, with each aspect reinforcing the other (the Trigger Phrase for his conditioning is the Lord's Prayer). However in this case he's fully aware that he's an assassin.
  • An episode of CSI dealt with people that were brainwashed by a magician to steal stuff for him, using the Trigger Phrase "it's time for your vacation". The police finds out about this scheme when they start to investigate the apparent (and pretty weird) suicide of a woman, and then it turned out that the woman heard these words on a TV advertisement, started to hallucinate that she was on a pool, and did a swan-dive out of her window straight onto the roof of a passing bus.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Auton Romans in "The Pandorica Opens", including Rory. They don't even know they're not human until they're activated, being so perfect a disguise that River's hallucinogenic lipstick even works on them.
    • In "Day of the Moon", the entire human race becomes this. The Silence's ability to control humanity via post-hypnotic suggestion ends up backfiring in the most spectacular way possible when one of them is recorded uttering the following words (intended as a boast rather than a command), which is then broadcast to the whole planet during the Apollo 11 Moon landing.
      Silence: You should kill us all on sight.
    • The Dalek Puppets introduced in "Asylum of the Daleks". They're created by hollowing out a human and replacing their insides with Dalek technology, and they will act like their original selves but with memory of their death suppressed, until they're activated.
  • Mellie and Perrin in Dollhouse.
    Adelle DeWitt: There are three flowers in a vase. The third flower is green.
    • It's not perfect, though. If someone realizes they're being triggered, they may resist, to an extent. Specifically, Mellie resists when ordered to kill Paul, and opts to shoot herself instead.
  • In the Farscape episode "A Prefect Murder", Aeryn is turned into one via a mind-controlling bug. There's also a subversion: after being bitten. John pieces together what's happening just in time to hand over his weapon and leave the area.
  • Firefly's River Tam, although it's only really seen in The Movie, Serenity. Her trigger was a subliminal message buried in a Fruity Oaty Bars commercial, which caused her to go into martial-arts-killing-machine mode.
  • Get Smart - Max is abducted and brainwashed to assassinate the Chief over their usual chess game at the club — an employee is the KAOS agent behind the scheme and knows the Chief always wins, so he makes "Checkmate" the trigger. It's Get Smartof course it doesn't work as planned.
    • And the funny part at the end after the villain is defeated, Max is still reflexively shooting at anyone saying "Checkmate" and sheepishly explaining that a bad habit is hard to break.
  • In one episode of InSecurity, N'udu is brainwashed and assigned to kill his best friend.
  • In a first season episode of Lois & Clark a magician hypnotizes people into becoming his willing slaves when they hear the phrase "moon and stars", with both Superman and Lois falling victim to this. In another episode, Lois thinks she was taken in a stereotypical Alien Abduction (when Clark expresses doubt, she points out that he himself is an alien). In reality, it was an implanted memory by a criminal, who triggers Lois to do something reckless, such as walk out onto a busy roadway, in order to distract Superman, while he steals something.
  • Done twice in the MacGyver (1985) episode "Brainwashed". Jack Dalton and Pete Thornton are both programmed with different code phrases buried in the speech to be given by the president of a fictional African country they're programmed to assassinate. The simultaneous missing weekend over which they were programmed is covered by Fake Memories.
  • Magnum, P.I.: During their service in Vietnam, Magnum and T.C. were captured by the Viet Cong. One episode revealed that a KGB officer had turned T.C. into one of these. They activated him in order to assassinate some Japanese dignitaries, but Magnum was able to stop the plot and T.C. was sent to a hospital for deprogramming.
  • The Mission: Impossible episode "Mindbend", where brainwashing is used. They have a drug prepared to counter it...
    • The second series episode "The Assassin", with hypnosis and biochips behind the ear.
  • My Life Is Murder: In "Call of the Wild", a psychiatrist discovers that one of his patients is super-susceptible to hypnotism. He programs her to shoot anyone she sees wearing purple (knowing that his intended victim jogs at the same time every day, wearing the same outfit) on hearing a particular musical Trigger Phrase. He then programs that Trigger Phrase into her phone as the ringtone for the number he will call her from.
  • The setup for My Own Worst Enemy is an inversion as Edward Albright, the spy, is the original personality, and Henry Spivey, a quiet middle-management office employee with a wife and two kids, is the implanted cover. The whole premise of the show is the breakdown of the chip that separates the two lives and Henry becoming aware of his alter-ego. Cue the inexperienced Henry going on missions, and Edward sleeping with Henry's wife.
  • The New Adventures of Robin Hood: In "The Hanged Man", the Sheriff uses a Mad Scientist to brainwash either Marion, Little John, or Tuck to kill Robin.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): The episode "Straight and Narrow" deals with a prep school which is a front for an agency training these. It is revealed at the end that their "recruits" have infiltrated many agencies, including law enforcement. Programming is done with an implanted computer chip, although it fails with someone who has ulcers due to a treatment formerly prescribed for it.
  • In Power Rangers RPM, while Dillon is the most obvious, a significant percentage of the population of Corinth have been turned into cyborgs without their knowledge, to turn on the rest of the population when Venjix triggers the command.
  • Cuddles the Comfort Doll from Puppets Who Kill was brainwashed into becoming an assassin for the government in one episode. The trigger to switch him between normal and brainwashed was to show him a Jack of Diamonds. Naturally, this led to a whole bunch of stuff happening that made the two scientists stop and note that they shouldn't have used something as common as playing cards for the trigger. At the end of the episode, the scientists attempt to remove the brainwashing and are seemingly successful... at least, until the local news introduces their new weatherman, Jack O'Diamond.
  • A couple episodes of Stargate SG-1 use this. The agents trigger to a particular event or time after being brainwashed to do so, kill the target(s) and then themselves.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "The Mind's Eye", Geordi was on his way to Risa when he was abducted by Romulans and brainwashed into being an operative in a plot aimed at undermining the Klingon/Federation alliance. He carries out orders fed to him via transmissions his VISOR can pick up. He has no memory of doing these things, and in fact capably investigates himself, forcing his handlers to accelerate their plans.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • In the episode "Inquisition", Bashir is accused of being a willing one of these (as in, he agreed to become an enemy agent and then suppressed any knowledge of it in order to maintain his cover perfectly) by Section 31. He's not, it's all just a test by the Secret Police to screen him for initiation into their organization whether he likes it or not.
    • In the episode "Whispers", an alien rebel faction has come up with a twist; rather than try and brainwash O'Brien to sabotage peace talks, they replace him with a programmable clone who otherwise believes himself to be the original.
  • In Star Trek: Discovery, it's revealed that Starfleet has a Manchurian Protocol specifically designed to detect any such mind manipulation. It fails to expose Ash Tyler as the Klingon Voq, as the real Ash Tyler's memories were actually overlayed on top of Voq's suppressed consciousness, avoiding the protocol (presumably, the Klingons knew about it). It's only when Dr. Culber digs deeper, at Tyler's request, that he discovers the ruse. Unfortunately for him, he tells it to Tyler while they're alone in sickbay, so Tyler/Voq snaps his neck.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: In the Mirror Universe episode "In a Mirror Darkly", Mirror Tucker is tortured for hours after a suspicious overload shuts off the ship's cloaking device and internal sensors. Afterwards, he accuses Mirror T'Pol of doing the deed and framing him for it.
    T'Pol: You're mistaken.
    Tucker: The hell I am! I think I'd remember if I had sabotaged the ship!
    T'Pol: Not necessarily.
    Tucker: [Beat] What did you do to me?
    T'Pol: I lured you away from Engineering with the promise of a sexual encounter. Once we were alone in my quarters, I implanted a telepathic suggestion. I compelled you to sabotage the power grid. After you completed the assignment, we melded again. I altered your memory of what had happened.
  • Supernatural: Castiel spends most of Season 8 being controlled by Naomi, the head of Heaven's black ops division, only remembering this fact when called back to Heaven to report to her. When Naomi orders him to kill Dean however, he can't bring himself to do it and this frees him long enough to pick up the Angel Tablet, breaking her control.
  • A Tekwar episode had an agent undergo this to infiltrate a criminal organization, which screens entries using a lie detector. The criminals somehow catch on and interfere with the switch, causing a personality crisis –- resolved by the main character preparing to make the coup de grace.
  • Torchwood:
    • "Sleeper" has the titular alien sleeper agents.
    • Also in the episode "They Keep Killing Suzie", where a certain someone (Suzie) encodes multiple triggers into a hapless man she met at a philosophical group in order to get herself brought back from the dead and take over Torchwood.
  • In Treadstone this is used to carry on the amnesia theme from The Bourne Series. Both the CIA (in an extension of the Treadstone program) and the KGB had brainwashed sleeper assassins, who are now being activated by Former Regime Personnel. Even after activation the assassins have memory blocks as to their past and why they have their deadly skills. However Surprisingly Realistic Outcome occurs because the longer the sleeper agents remain inactive and exposed to outside influences, the more likely their conditioning will break down, with the agents either going insane or just failing to carry out their instructions properly.
  • A major plot point in Utopia, as The Network has these across the world. They live completely unremarkable lives and act like completely normal people, but when they are activated, they will complete their objectives to the letter with terrifying efficiency. Keep in mind the emphasis on "unremarkable lives", as some of these agents had families prior to their eventual activation, and are willing to eradicate them, even their own children.
  • This was a favourite tactic of the aliens in UFO (1970).
    • In "Kill Straker!" The aliens give Paul Foster a subliminal command to kill Commander Straker.
    • In "The Man Who Came Back", Commander Straker's friend Collins turns out to have been brainwashed by the aliens into an assassin. His orders: kill Straker.
  • In the (original) TV series of V (1983), Ham Tyler is brainwashed to kill resistance leader Michael Donovan.
  • The Vega$ (1978) episode "Lost Monday" has Binzer being hypnotized into constructing and detonating a bomb. The hypnotist instructs him to respond to the trigger word "superstar".
  • The Witcher (2019): We see that in the Battle of Sodden Hill Nilfgaard's mages have compelled Sabrina Glevissig and two muggle boys to act as unwitting agents by placing worms in their ears which presumably control them (perhaps by affecting the brain somehow). They use the former to attack Yenn, as the latter destroy the potion supply with a vial she gave them, which causes a huge explosion as well.


    Tabletop Games 
  • One of various character options that be taken on Dark Heresy is that of an Agent of the Inquisition that has some of his knowledge locked away (meaning that the player must take some of his character creation points and use them to buy skills and abilities that will be locked) up until the moment he hears a Trigger Phrase. This is one of various measures the Inquisition takes with agents that will be constantly exposed to Chaos or doing dirty (well, dirtier) jobs for it.
  • A number of social Charms in Exalted do this. The standout would be the Subsidiary Personality Implant expansion of Mind-Ripping Probe, which explicitly mentions setting a trigger condition for the hidden self to come out to play.
  • The Old World of Darkness allows plenty of this. Vampire: The Masquerade and Mage: The Ascension give players access to Dominate and the Mind sphere, respectively, while World Of Darkness: Sorcerer provides Psychic (and Hedge Magic and Technomagic) Hypnosis. All of those can be used to create a Manchurian Agent with deep programming. Project Twilight — a sourcebook for anti-supernatural government agents — even makes "Manchurian Candidate" a flaw that can be taken by players.

    Video Games 
  • In BioShock, the main character would obey any command he heard that was accompanied by the phrase "would you kindly." Slightly different than most, in that it didn't put him into any kind of trance; the details on how exactly it works are somewhat lost, as the main character is a silent protagonist. And since the commands are mission objectives, you have to do them. According to Dr. Yi Suchong's "Mind Control Antidote" audio diary, they did use some Plasmids in order for the agent to susceptible to the code phrase, as shown in the "Mind Control Test" audio diary.
  • Kilrathi defector "Hobbes" was revealed as one of these in Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger, with the trigger phrase... "Heart of the Tiger".
  • Luke in Tales of the Abyss, who was programmed to unleash a hyperresonnance when he heard the trigger phrase.
  • Boyd, aka "The Milkman" in Psychonauts apparently had some sort of subliminal trigger implanted in his already fragmented mind by the Big Bad. When Raz accidentally released that trigger while exploring his mind, he followed those implanted orders to destroy the asylum and cover up anything that went on there. However, it takes him quite a long time to finally do it, because the final passcode hadn't been given. Fred says it completely by coincidence as he leaves the asylum.
    • Notably, Boyd's mind was aware of the implanted personality but not what exactly it was. He became obsessed with finding out what the Milkman was, which led to his brain creating government-inspired mental constructs called G-Men, whose entire purpose was investigating and eliminating the aforementioned implanted personality, the Milkman.
  • Alex Mason in Call of Duty: Black Ops is programmed to kill President Kennedy. It's not outright stated whether this succeeded or not, but it's heavily implied.
    Mason: You tried to make me kill my own President!
    Dragovitch: (laughs) Tried?
    • It's also revealed that Viktor Reznov managed to add onto that programming, sending him after the men responsible for the initial brainwashing. This bit comes up again in Call of Duty: Black Ops II, where one of Reznov's targets, Kravchenko, is revealed to have survived — when he shows up, one of the plot-changing decisions you get to make is whether to resist the brainwashing and let him talk, or give in and shoot him.
  • In an overheard conversation in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, the Templars have in the past used brainwashed spies against the Assassins. Shaun Hastings suspects that Desmond may be one after he killed Lucy while under the control of a Piece of Eden, but there are hints that Lucy herself could have been one.
    • Assassin's Creed III reveals that Lucy was a willing traitor while Daniel Cross was turned into this trope by the Animus.
  • A variation is featured in Chapter 2 of the Imperial Agent storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic. The Agent is programmed to carry out certain orders given after the command word is used and, while they still control their own thoughts and remember their actions, they are unable to disobey. The Agent doesn't realise they have undergone the procedure until the leader of the SIS cell they're infiltrating forces them to obey him. The Agent also starts going insane as a side-effect.
    • The other use of this in-game is the Children of the Emperor, crossing both the Consular and Knight arcs. Force-Sensitive infants and children throughout the galaxy are found by the Emperor's agents and brought to him. The Emperor then uses a Sith ritual to establish a Psychic Link with them, seeding them across the galaxy. At any time, he can activate that link and use them as vessels for his will and consciousness. The "children" are not usually aware of their status until the emperor has need of them, so they live ordinary lives, many as loyal Republic citizens, until the trigger causes them to betray their former friends and allies while exhibiting the usual Sith degree of sanity. With the Knight, Kira Carsen's parents surrendered her willingly, and the Emperor possesses her to try and kill the Knight in Act One, when they're still too weak to face him directly. Consulars will have their hands full with the rest of the "siblings," who range from diplomats and low-ranking Sith, to common Republic soldiers and even Master Syo Bakarn, a senior member of the Jedi Council!
  • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, the Male protagonist, Joshua Bright is revealed to be a Manchurian agent for Ouroboros, giving Cassius Bright's information to them while everyone else are asleep. In the second game, the aforementioned character gets a rare heroic version of this to counter the original "programming". Before leaving for the final battle, Joshua has Kevin Graham implant a Stigma in him that will counteract Weissman's brainwashing, and the trigger turns out to be Weissman ordering Joshua to kill Estelle. Because Joshua knew Weissman wouldn't be able to resist such an act of dog-kicking.
  • The villain in Danse Macabre 5: Lethal Letters uses hypnosis to turn people into these, the usual trigger being a special red envelope.
  • In Overwatch this happened to Amélie Lacroix, who was kidnapped by the Talon terrorist organization, reprogrammed into an assassin and then "found" by Overwatch agents and returned to her husband Gerard apparently none the worse for the wear. Two weeks later her programming was activated and she killed Gerard in his sleep before returning to Talon and becoming the assassin Widowmaker.
  • In Far Cry 5, Jacob Seed uses brainwashing and drugs to condition people into going under his control when they hear the song "Only You". He puts it to especially useful effect when he triggers the Junior Deputy to kill Eli, the leader of the resistance against him.
  • Mass Effect: A favoured tactic of the Reapers is to use Indoctrination to turn people into their puppets, and send them somewhere they can do damage. When they get to the "Kill everything everywhere" part of their plan, indoctrinated sleeper agents are sent to find any refugees so the Reapers can get them.
  • In Phantom Doctrine, after you have researched MKULTRA and built its facility, you can do this to captured enemy agents, with several flavors: making enemy agent reveal their base when they returned, or even destroy it, or setting up trigger phrases that you can activate to turn them to your side if you meet them again, or even automatically comes to your side when you get into fight with them. Of course, beware that some agent you hired might be one for the enemy...
  • Played with the Thalmor in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. When they're not secretly torturing people to spread fear and gather information, or to fulfill their amusement, the Thalmor would also manipulate certain people (through any means possible, including Cold-Blooded Torture) for their own benefits. Best exemplified with Ulfric Stormcloak, where they tortured him and shaped him into believing that the rotting Tamrielic Empire is detrimental to Skyrim's future and the independent Skyrim is the only solution to fix many problems that currently plagued Skyrim, thus instigating the Civil War. The only reason why this isn't played straight is twofold: One, that Ulfric himself is uncooperative towards them (given what they did) and Thalmor's main purpose isn't removing Empire's presence in Skyrim nor letting Ulfric take Skyrim for himself, but to instigate endless conflict that put both forces in state of stagnant and exhaustion so that they will never be able to actually top off the Thalmor anytime sooner, and two, the Thalmor didn't count on the Dragonborn showing up and semi-accidentally becoming a key figure in the Civil War, allowing either the Empire or the Stormcloaks themselves to tip the balance in their respective favors and end the war and ostensibly prepare to re-start the war with the Thalmor again.
  • An early mission in X-Wing Alliance has the player participate in the rescue of a number of Rebels captured during the Battle of Hoth. One of the prisoners, Commander Kupalo, is later revealed to have been brainwashed by the Empire into one of these. His actions when triggered result in the (temporary) arrest of an Imperial defector, the ambush of an Alliance task force, and ultimately his attempted escape into Imperial custody. The final incident alone led to the deaths of a number of Rebel pilots and techs and significant damage to the player's home base warship.
  • Fate/Grand Order:
    • The first part reveals that many of the Nasuverse's top mages are actually Manchurian Agents. In ages past, the Grand Order was institutionalized for every magus family: to live as long as possible and mantain a lineage that would in time inherit the family's Magic Crest, a Power Tattoo that represents their legacy as magi and contains their accumulated power and knowledge; defying the Order and willingly ending a family is considered the absolute taboo for a magus. The thing is, seventy-two of these Crests are imbued with the Ars Goetia demons, and the Grand Order was put in place to ensure they would survive for the three thousand years they'd need for their plan to come to fruition. Unfortunately, it turns out Professor Lev Lainur was one of the carriers, and after an unsuccessful suicide attempt when he realized what was going on, the demon Flauros awoke within him and seized control of him just in time to sabotage Chaldea's first Singularity mission to Fuyuki.
    • In the Atlantis Lostbelt, Assassin Charlotte Corday was an unknowing agent for Lostbelt Odysseus, who summoned them while dismantling a Ley Line and injected them with Zeus Klironomia before erasing their memories. The Klironomia in Corday activate when she and Chaldea Perse Island, forcing her to fight her friends while her body was being destroyed. Thankfully, Chaldea was able to subdue the Zeus Klironomia with other types of Klironomia. In the end, Corday was able to get revenge against Odysseus in a mutual kill.
    • During the Traum Singularity, it's revealed that Sherlock Holmes was initially summoned as an Apostle of the Foreign God during the events of Part 1, then erased his memories to better infiltrate Chaldea. This backfired as Holmes grew to care for the members of Chaldea, and even helped them in their fight against the Crypters. When Ruler Moriarty, an apostle of the Foreign World, try to restore Holmes's memories and make him serve the Foreign God again, Holmes choose to let himself be killed by Moriarty so he wouldn't harm Chaldea. This ended up screwing both the Foreign God's and Moriarty's plans.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Fate/stay night, asking Issei too much about Caster will trigger a bad end.
  • In Sunrider Liberation Day, Chigara is revealed to be a Prototype spy sent to keep tabs on (and in one case, seduce) certain members of the Sunrider’s crew. Unlike most examples, she doesn’t require a code phrase since the other Prototypes can take control of her at any time through their shared Hive Mind. She’s able to break free of their control, but not before the villains use her to massacre the delegates attending a peace conference.

  • Unlike the common zombie-like revenants in Girl Genius, the revenants from Sturmhalten appear exactly like normal people (well, as normal as anyone in a Phil Foglio comic) until their controller issues them orders, which they carry out against their will. Interestingly, some are capable of freedom within those constraints. (Such as killing a friend so he won't suffer a Fate Worse than Death.)
    • Recently, Tarvek stated that the zombie revenants are actually only "a statistical extreme", and that the sleeper agent revenants are actually far more common. It's just that, since the zombie revenants are far more obvious, they managed to divert attention from the real things.
  • The Order of the Stick: The Monster in the Darkness has "eat Redcloak (and spit out his holy symbol)" linked to the trigger "Redcloak betrays Xykon".
  • Emily the Sixth Ranger Traitor from Our Little Adventure shed her human shell and turned into a Humanoid Abomination under Angelo's command when she touched the first Magicant Piece.
  • Gabriel (of Penny Arcade fame) is responsible for the murder of the president of the U.S.A in one comic after presumably having the instruction planted in him after going to a psychotherapist (or something).
  • Oasis from Sluggy Freelance, when she sees Hereti-Corp's logo "Override B-1" is activated and she murders every H-C employee in sight.

    Web Original 
  • Deconstructed For Laughs in this Warhammer 40,000 news article. An assassin was called in to assist a regiment, disguised as a soldier and given false memories for maximum concealment. Not even their allies know the identity of the assassin... so once the officers realize that the assassin wasn't triggered, they have to go on a regiment-wide search for them by triggering all 80,000 soldiers under their command. The deconstruction comes with the 'rumor' that the assassin was killed by the Commissar (morale officer, infamous for killing their own soldiers); no memories means no legal protection.

    Web Videos 
  • Travis Crabtree of 80's Dan was revealed to be one in The Cinema Snob's review of The Legend Of Boggy Creek: the song which his name comes from sends him into a hypnotic state which causes him to kill the Cinema Bum with a golf club.
    Snob: Now there's something you don't see every day.

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius in "My Big Fat Spy Wedding", where Jet Fusion is hypnotized by Beautiful Gorgeous to kill anyone who says "I have the Ring", with Jimmy being her target and the Best Man in their wedding. Sheen and Carl discover the trick and crash into the wedding to tell Jimmy; Jimmy convinces everybody in the church to say "I have the Ring" and Libby makes up a gospel song with the trigger phase as the lyrics, leading to a whole musical number which includes the show's creator Keith Alcorn and John A. Davis dancing in the church with everyone else, thereby confusing Jet's brainwashing enough to let him regain his senses, call off the wedding, and arrest Gorgeous.
  • All Hail King Julien episode "The Panchurian Candidate" reveals that the previous king had trained a team of sleeper agents that he can deploy to take care of various threats to his crown, and that Pancho is the only one of those left.
  • Haley in an episode of American Dad!, due to "Project Daycare" by the CIA to create sleeper agents from children, but the project was shelved for an unclear reason. To prevent accidental activation, the trigger phrase was purposely chosen to be something nobody would ever say normally: "I'm getting fed up with this orgasm!". If the phrase is uttered again the agent's last order is treated as part of their own free will, but failing to do so before a deadline will render their hypnotised state permanent. Stan later learns that Daycare was shelved because too many handlers were killed by their own agents due to a side-effect where going past the deadline would make them turn on their handlers until they're dead.
    • Another episode had Steve react to a trigger that compelled him to assassinate a certain government official, as a throwaway gag.
  • The brainwashing done by the Dai Li of Ba Sing Se in Avatar: The Last Airbender is activated by saying "(name), the Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai," to which they respond by gaining Mind-Control Eyes and saying "I am honored to accept his invitation."
  • Clone High: In the episode "Anxious Times at Clone High," anyone who got caught by the Heebie Jeebie and sent to the spa is turned into a sleeper agent Candide can activate with a flute.
  • In the Duckman episode "The Mallardian Candidate", Duckman is brainwashed into becoming compelled to kill his Hypercompetent Sidekick Cornfed every time he sees a Queen of Hearts playing card, and return to normal after committing the crime when he hears the phrase "Call the police". Fortunately, the phrase "Call the police" keeps coming up in his family's conversation before he can actually kill Cornfed.
  • DuckTales (2017): After watching a bad movie, Launchpad becomes convinced that evil molemen are infiltrating the surface, and then that he is an evil moleman, and that he needs to redeem his race.
    Mrs Beakley: [flatly] Launchpad, you're not a moleman.
    Launchpad: Oh. Yeah, yeah that makes sense.
  • Mayor Adam West of Family Guy. Like in American Dad, the trigger phrase was purposely chosen to be something that has no chance of ever being said in normal conversation: "Gosh, that Italian family at the next table sure is quiet." Also, Meg is revealed to be a deep-cover agent as well, luckily she is ignored as even the Russians treat her as a Butt-Monkey.
    • Bonus points for doing this to a character whose voice actress is fluent in Russian.
  • Inspector Gadget: In "Quiz Master", a game show was a front for MAD to hypnotize the contestants (including Gadget) into comitting crimes after hearng the Trigger Phrase "Going my way?" Turns out it did make him go their way...
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: During "Mer-Mysteries," the heroes have finally figured out that there's a spy in the Rebellion. Poor Bow becomes convinced that he is an unwitting double-agent and has multiple panic attacks. He insists that he needs to be locked up for everyone's safety.
  • The Simpsons: Using this, Sideshow Bob turns Bart Simpson into a Laser-Guided Tyke-Bomb in "Day of the Jackanapes".
    Bart: Time to blow up the clown.
    Homer: Go. Blow.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In the Lost Missions, the clone troopers are revealed to be this. Seeing how we've discovered that their obedience conditioning doesn't make them mindless and have spent the entire series with them arguing that Clones Are People, Too, the chip in their head that enforces total obedience is probably the only way to explain how they all turned on the Jedi in Order 66. In Season 7, we see it in action in "Shattered", and while Rex is able to resist for a few moments because he had previous warning, it takes over. Even when Rex tries to reason with his brothers after Ahsoka manages to knock him out and remove the chip from his head, even providing them a potential excuse to spare Ashoka by pointing out that she isn't a Jedi anymore, they ignore it as a meaningless distinction and resolve to kill him too for interfering with their orders. The brainwashing is so extensive that the clones refuse to evacuate a crashing ship and ultimately all die rather than let her escape.
  • In the third Season Finale of Teen Titans (2003), Brother Blood brainwashes the members of Titans East as Manchurian Agents after his initial assault fails, or rather, appears to.
  • In Young Justice (2010), the heroes discover that there may be a Mole on the Team. One possibility they float is Superboy — he's a clone created by Cadmus and "raised" by telepathic mutants, so what if he was working for the villains without even knowing it? Ultimately, we learn that Roy is actually a clone and the real Manchurian Agent.

    Real Life 
  • This was one of many forms of mind control researched by the CIA's Project MKULTRA and, out of all the things they tried, seems to have been the least workable (and for one of America's many insane Cold War super-science pipe dreams that is really saying something). At least that's the official story...


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Unwitting Mole, Sleeper Agent



The Nerd discovers that continuously playing Polybius has led him to do mysterious and questionable actions that he has no memory of.

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Main / ManchurianAgent

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