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Mistaken for Imprisonment

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Characters find themselves in a situation perceived to be imprisonment. Demanding to be let out, they then find out the situation is much different than expected. Reasons include:

  • They can leave anytime they want and haven't noticed it.
  • They were rescued, most likely after being unconscious, and are actually recovering in safe environment.
  • The reason for detainment isn't for a crime but for something else, usually more mundane.
  • The room isn't actually a prison, but for a Fish out of Temporal Water it is not apparent.
  • Someone or something else is imprisoned and the character is outside the prison.

See also Not Supposed to Be a Punishment and Kidnapped by the Call. Compare with Stop Drowning and Stand Up. If somebody else mistakenly believes that a character is being imprisoned, they may launch an Unwanted Rescue. Sub-trope of Not Where They Thought.


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    Fan Works 
  • In Dungeon Keeper Ami, Ami's civilian population think they're imprisoned (because she's nominally an Evil Overlord). In reality, however, she's keeping them close because they have injuries only she can possibly heal.
  • Maybe Sprout Wings: Castiel rescues Dean and takes him to his luxurious home, but Dean cannot comprehend he's no longer being held prisoner. In fact, it takes him months to realize that Castiel intends only to legally free him from slavery and wants nothing in return.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Captain America: The First Avenger ends with the titular Captain waking up after being frozen for almost seventy years. The room he wakes in is designed to look like it's in the 1940s, in order to ease him into the news that he's in the future, but Steve notices something's up when he recognizes the baseball game playing on the radio as one he attended a few years before even becoming Captain America. Assuming he has been retrieved and captured by the enemy, he easily breaks out, only to find himself in modern-day Times Square.
  • In Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, the rescued animals are brought to the pound to safely wait until they are picked up by their family. However, with Chance comparing his prior experience in a pound to a prison, they mistakenly believe that they are being imprisoned and subsequently escape before their family arrives.
  • At the end of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Katniss wakes up in an airship and thinks she's been imprisoned by the Capitol after she helped destroy the arena forcefield. She grabs a syringe and tries to attack Haymitch with it, believing he betrayed her. It's quickly explained she's been rescued by the rebels and Haymitch mocks her notion of taking on the Capitol with only a syringe. Unfortunately, her love interest Peeta wasn't so lucky.
  • In Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession, Ivan the Terrible accidentally ends up in the 20th century, runs into an elevator, and thinks he has been walled up as the doors close.
  • Kong: Skull Island: In The Stinger, Conrad and Weaver look to be detained over their knowledge of the Skull Island Expedition, with the former promising to keep his mouth shut while the latter says she won't. Brooks and Lin soon enter the room and welcomes them to Monarch, explaining their group's goals and research.

  • A biker is driving on the road. Suddenly, he feels a thump on his helmet. He stops, looks around, and sees a sparrow on the grounds which had obviously hit him by accident. He picks it up, and sees it's alive but unconscious. "Poor bird", he thinks. So he brings it to his house, puts it in a cage to recover, places in some breadcrumbs, a dish with water... A few hours later, the bird wakes up:
    Sparrow: What is that? Bread... water... iron bars... Oh my god! I killed that biker!!!

  • The Dark Profit Saga: In the first book the heroes mistake an orc tribe's overly aggressive sales pitch for getting taken prisoner and paraded around their encampment as a show of force.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: McMurphy assumes that everyone else in the mental hospital is confined there like he is. He's shocked to learn that they're there voluntarily and can leave whenever they want.
  • In Empire from the Ashes when Colin wakes up aboard the Nergal he at first assumes that he has been captured by Anu's henchmen after being knocked out since he's being restrained by a presser field and his communications are being blocked. However, the crew of the Nergal are also fighting against Anu and the restraints are just there to keep him contained until they can explain exactly what is going on and why they want to help him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Season 5 of Angel, Angel tranquilizes a woman who's turned into a werewolf for the first time, then locks her in a cell until she reverts to human again - so she wakes up alone and naked in a cell with no memory of what happened the night before. It takes a moment for Angel to convince her that she hasn't been kidnapped by a psychopath.
  • In season 3 of Arrested Development, Gob gets arrested in Iraq after one of his magic acts inadvertently sets of an anti-Bush riot. What he doesn't know is that the soldiers detaining him are leaving him obvious opportunities to escape, hoping that he'll lead them to a house that his father built for Saddam Hussein, but he keeps sabotaging his own avenues of escape while criticizing them for their sloppiness.
  • In an episode of The Drew Carey Show, Drew Carey is drugged and sent to China. While in China, he does a puppet act with his socks to make some money, and eventually gets taken away by two police officers. When he meets a government official in the building they take him to, Drew demands a lawyer and also to call the American embassy; the official tells him "This isn't prison! This is where you get a permit for your sock puppet act!"
  • One Foot in the Grave: In One Foot In The Algarve, Victor, Margaret and Mrs. Warboys go on holiday to Portugal, but get lost late at night while driving to their holiday villa, and are pulled over by the police. Since none of them can understand a word of Portuguese, and they had a major misunderstanding earlier in the evening when Mrs. Warboys was mistaken for a prostitute, they assume they're being arrested for pimping, and that the place the police take them to is a holding cell. In fact (as they finally realize after 36 hours spent banging on the doors shouting for someone to let them out), the police — realizing they were lost tourists — had escorted them to their villa (Victor had showed them the address when they were pulled up). It's just that the villa is such a miserable fleapit that the bedroom looks like a cell (and its door got stuck closed when the cops were leaving).
  • Impractical Jokers: One of Q's punishments has him on display in a zoo complete with a kiddie pool bath, hay, and roommate Pepe the camel. He goes through the day dealing with various discomforts, until he finally can't take it anymore and calls Joe to end the punishment.
    Q: Get me outta here!
    Joe: ...We never locked the gate.
  • The League: Rafi and Dirty Randy meet in an insane asylum, which is run by a sadistic nurse a la Nurse Ratched. After spending most of the episode attempting to escape, Randy goes to the reception desk and requests to leave, revealing that he voluntarily checked in after accidentally killing Rafi's family.
  • Saturday Night Live: One sketch had Bill Hader playing Peter O'Toole reliving his Glory Days of binge drinking.
    Peter O'Toole: So I said to the man, "You will release us from your jail cell and allow us to continue with our debauchery!" He said "You're not in a jail cell, that's my closet."

    Video Games 
  • Pikmin 3: A Dummied Out data file reveals that Louie had assumed this was the case after the Koppaites saved him from The Scornet Maestro. He was unconscious at the time and, by the time he does wake up, the Koppaites jave already gone to sleep as well. Ironically, he ends up imprisoned for real by them after he runs away with their food. They save him again, this time from the Quaggled Mireclops, but tie him up so he can't run away again.

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: When Sprig goes to college in "Sprig Gets Schooled," the campus goes into lockdown at night. Sprig attempts a daring breakout while Hop Pop tries to break in to rescue him (while Anne and Polly are separately trying to break in to crash a wild college party). When the dean finds out, he calmly explains that the lockdown is to protect the students because the school is in a bad neighborhood, and Sprig is free to leave and/or drop out whenever he likes.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: At the start of the third season, Aang wakes up from his weeks-long coma aboard a Fire Nation warship. Assuming he's been captured, he tries to escape and makes his way to the ship's upper deck where he bumps into all his friends, then passes out from his wounds. When he comes to again later, it's explained to him that his friends had captured a Fire Nation ship while he was unconscious and were Dressing as the Enemy in order to blend in while sailing through Fire Nation waters.
  • Rick and Morty: In "Mortynight Run", Jerry is put inside a day care center for Jerrys from across the multiverse. He suggests to the other Jerrys that they escape, but they reveal that they can leave whenever they want, but they don't because "we're Jerrys". The main Jerry does end up leaving, but since he's on a terrifying alien planet with no idea how to get home, he goes straight back.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Inverted when Entrapta is captured by the Horde, yet acts as if the cuffs and guards and threats are some sort of game or play-acting.
  • Spongebob Squarepants: One episode has Spongebob and Patrick go on the run after they think they stole a balloon (on Free Balloon Day) and think that they'll be locked up forever. They confess to the police, get put in jail...and then two seconds later get let out.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In "Veritas", because of the harsh lighting and Clar's angry tone of voice, the main characters assume that they are being forced to testify against the command crew, who are being suspended motionless in the "beam of celebration."
  • Teen Titans (2003): In "Snowblind", Starfire, after nearly freezing to death in a snowstorm, wakes up in a room where a window separates her from Red Star. She immediately demands to be let out before Red Star explains that he's the one being imprisoned, and Starfire is actually free to leave.
  • The Venture Bros.: In "Spanakopita!", Sgt. Hatred finds Dr. Venture being tied to a chair by the Greek Natives. He immediately kicks into action, but is stopped before he can kill anyone by Venture. It turns out this is all part of the Spanakopita celebration Venture attends every year. As the festival continues and it becomes clear the events are rigged in Rusty's favor, Hatred becomes suspicious that something sinister is afoot. He confronts the island leader Giorgios who reveals the truth: As a child, Rusty was kidnapped from the X-2 while Team Venture was at the wedding reception of Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis. Initially holding him for ransom, the natives felt bad when they were unable to contact his father or anyone else from his team.note  So they lied and pretended the kidnapping, complete with being tied to a chair, was part of the fictional Spanakopita festival, which ended up being one of precious few happy memories of Rusty's traumatic childhood. Years later, after the sudden death of his father, Rusty returned for the non-existant festival and the natives obliged him both because they see how happy it makes the otherwise miserable super scientist and because of the money he spends on the economically poor island. Giorgios asks Hatred not to reveal the truth; seeing how genuinely happy Rusty is, Hatred keeps quiet.