Hello, Troper. I see you've come to learn more about the No One Sees The Boss trope. Don't worry, I can take care of that for you. While I'm not the trope you're asking about, you can deal with me just as you would him. You see, no one sees that particular trope, ever.
This trope (that is, the trope that is not me) is often used in conjunction with Mysterious Employer, The Don, the Big Bad, the Greater-Scope Villain, the God of Evil, the Hidden Villain, and villains which are Made of Evil, when the bad guy in question is The Ghost. Supposedly, the guy exists, and almost every person you see acts as his eyes and ears. At the same time, no one has any idea who they are or what they look like, or even if "they" really are a "they". There are also the examples where the Boss may want people to think they don't exist at all. They might employ one trusted servant whose job is to relay the Boss's words.
Almost every ordeal the characters suffer through was caused, known, or controlled by them. Often, it's as simple as it sounds: The Boss exists, but is simply reclusive. But sometimes, the person in charge only exists as a title, rather than a name and is simply replaced by a successor if they die, step down or are killed by said successor. Other times, the Boss spends most of their time as a faceless mook and is Hidden in Plain Sight the whole time. And lastly, there's the version where there actually IS no Boss, and it's actually been the Dragon-in-Chief, The Omniscient Council of Vagueness or a Cult that's been running the show by pretending to follow The Master's orders.
This trope (which is certainly not speaking to you now) is a Sub-Trope of The Ghost, The Powers That Be, and The Masquerade in combination. Like the first two, the character never makes an appearance with enough weight to establish whether theyre real or not, but this is done deliberately either by the Mooks or the Manipulative Bastard themself. Sometimes, the Exact Words "no one sees the boss" are used, or some variation thereof like "no one knows what they look like" or "they may or may not exist". Any information given will usually be Shrouded in Myth like, "I heard the boss was born after Cthulhu raped Beelzebub and the baby clawed their way out of the womb and ate both parents' souls". Before The Reveal (if there is one), any origin will be Multiple-Choice Past.
The point is, if it's not being done in-universe, it's not this trope. Usually, the audience doesn't even know themselves, but this tends to vary depending on its importance as a Plot Twist. See also Shadow Dictator. If the Boss's shadowy image is more ominous than their actual character, they may also be The Man Behind the Curtain.
Now, please write your examples below, my Troper friend. I am sure that the real No One Sees The Boss trope will put them on display so fast that it'll almost seem as though they were on this page the whole time...
- L from Death Note counts, at least for the first book. For all intents and purposes he fits as a Big Good version, but his character is pretty much fully introduced in only the second of twelve books (his name remains a mystery). Kira himself counts as this at first, since no one is sure what the hell is going on in the beginning.
- Goth, the big boss of the syndicate in Et Cetera, due to highly-secretive and indirect contact being enforced among the higher-ranks in order to keep the drug operations running. As such, he isn't seen at all until the final book.
- One Piece's Crocodile, Hero of Alabasta, turns out to be Mr. 0, leader of the Baroque Works organization, fomenting revolt. We, the audience, know this right away, but In-Universe agents of his organization are kept in the dark, only receiving orders through The Dragon, Miss All-Sunday.
- The Big Bad of the fifth part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Diavolo, is this trope embodied, to the point where he uses the name 'the Boss' and is absolutely obsessed with remaining unseen. This trope is basically what the character is based around. This is deconstructed in the non-canon Purple Haze Feedback after he's killed. Giorno takes over as boss, and pretends that he was the boss all along. Turns out that if no one knows what you look like, anyone can impersonate you...
- Arachnid has this secret international organization of bug-themed assassins which is managed by front man Suzumebachi. Its members believe he is in fact the boss, but he states the real boss is already overseeing the Arachnid Hunt contest inside the Ouran High School. We soon learn that the boss is the local Student Council President, a creepy young girl named Sara. However, it turns out neither she nor the one she is revealed to be a servant of are really the boss. The actual boss is Yoriko, the heroine's supposed first friend. She has been in control of Japan for the past century thanks to a condition that makes her ageless for as long as she is able to mantain absolute mental control over somebody.
- There was a story arc in The Phantom newspaper comic where the Phantom busted a gang whose leader spoke to his underlings via radio from a secret location and had never been seen. He turned out to be the mousy-looking accountant type who collected the gang's takings.
- In The Goon no one sees Labrazio, as he conducts all his business through the Goon. Because the Goon killed him years ago.
- In Runaways, the 1900's gang called the Sinners were run by a mysterious pair whom only the Maneater ever saw. This is because the bosses were Dale and Stacey Yorkes, Gert's time-travelling criminal parents. This creates some serious problems when Chase and Xavin try to join the Sinners.
- RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse: In the non-canon Nightmares Yet to Come, the shadowy group of ponies responsible for the plot operate like this when dealing with victims (with the hint that there's some Mouth of Sauron action going on when the head honcho wants to speak to someone). When they rough up Greengrass, he demands to speak to the one in charge. They show up, and it becomes clear that it's stopped being a conversation Greengrass is going to walk away from.
- In Equilibrium, the "Father" who runs the entire dystopian society is revealed to have been dead for years, and his son now effectively controls everything.
- Sam Gold in Revolver. He does exist. Kinda. But he's all in your head. Sorta. He's in everybody's heads. Metaphorically True. And he's also Satan. Maybe. This movie is weird like that.
- Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects is the "Hidden in Plain Sight" variant.
- The Wizard of Oz: "But nobody can see the Great Oz! Nobody's ever seen the Great Oz! Even I've never seen him!" Turns out there's a good reason for that.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: (Captain) Jack believes this to be the case when no one has seen the captain or heard him, instead taking orders from the first mate (his purported daughter), and starts a mutiny by getting the crew to realize it. Unfortunately, this backfires when it turns out Blackbeard is in fact very much present and in command.
- The mysterious boss in Fritz Lang's The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse who gives out his orders from behind a curtain.
- The unseen head of SPECTRE in From Russia with Love and Thunderball, whose identity is concealed even from his own criminal executives (but not his Right-Hand Cat). The following film You Only Live Twice had Blofeld's identity revealed to the audience, and he works among hundreds of mooks who see his face without a care.
- Dr Vulcan in the 1949 Republic Film Serial King of the Rocket Men, seen only as a voice and a shadow on the wall. He's later exposed as one of the scientists our hero is working with.
- Rio Lobo: Ever since first establishing his hold over the area, sinister land baron Ketcham rarely ventures off his well-guarded ranch, leaving Sheriff Hendricks to oversee his interests, and rule over the townspeople. This is implied to be motivated by cowardice, given the number of enemies he has.
- Snowpiercer: Mr. Wilford, the head of the train, never leaves the engine room and passes up most to all opportunities to speak to the train over the intercom. Until the last twenty minutes of the movie the audience could be forgiven for wondering whether or not he's an Invented Individual.
- Big Brother, the Greater-Scope Villain of Nineteen Eighty Four, operates like this. We don't even know if he's a single person, a Legacy Character, or just the Party's fictional mascot.
- The Creator in Sword of Truth. While the earlier books almost flat out show that he exists, later books start to imply that he's a figurative entity that has no actual consciousness, but is the essence of all good and righteousness. The same is NOT true of his opposite, the Keeper of the Underworld.
- In The Man Who Was Thursday, the Big Good who hired all the policemen to infiltrate the anarchists has never actually been seen, allowing each policeman only one brief conversation in a darkened room. Meanwhile, no one seems to have met the Big Bad Sunday at all. They're the same person.
- Catch-22: Major Major Major Major has left explicit orders that no one is to be let in to his office while he is occupying it.
- Major Major Major Major has left; you can go in now.
- In Garrett, P.I., crime boss Chodo Contague has a stroke and his daughter Belinda takes over his organization, claiming to relay his orders.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events:
- Sir from the fourth book constantly has his face surrounded by a cloud of cigar smoke, so even though he frequently occupies the same room as the protagonists, they never actually see him, at one point making them wonder if he is Count Olaf in disguise.
- Babs in the eighth book has the belief that "Children should be seen and not heard", therefore as she an adult, she should be heard and not seen. Because of this, she communicates with all of her employees of an intercom system, even going as far as to never enter her own office, and instead places a intercom on her desk to speak to whomever enters.
- The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress: Adam Selene, leader of the Revolution. Plenty of people see him on video screens, but no one gets to meet him in person, because he doesn't actually exist. He's a figurehead invented by the real mastermind of the Revolution, whose true identity is concealed from almost everyone because he's a sentient computer. When Adam Selene addresses the citizens of Free Luna, the video and audio are entirely computer-generated.
- Nightfall (1990), by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg: Mondior, leader of the Apostles of the Flame cult, turns out to be fictitious (seen only in video simulations). His "spokesman", Folimun, is the real leader of the group.
- In the Deptford Mice trilogy, no one has ever seen the Big Bad living God of Evil Jupiter, not even the rats who worship him. He can see things anywhere through an extension of himself in Madame Akkikuyu's Crystal Ball. It turns out the reason he never lets his rat minions see him because he's actually a monstrous cat.
- In the Star Trek Novel Verse Section 31 novels, the eponymous organisation is run by a figure called Control, who only appears to the Directors, and even then only as a Sinister Silhouette generically-humanoid hologram with a disguised voice. It's generally believed by the Directors that one of them could eventually succeed to the position, but further research suggests that this has never happened. Control is actually a three-hundred-year-old AI data monitoring program that decided "report any suspicious activity to appropriate authorities" wasn't enough of a response.
- In Bridge of Birds, nobody communicates with the current Duke of Qin except through his assistant, a timid little man called the Key Rabbit, who serves as an intermediary and holds the keys, as the name suggests. This is because he is in fact the Duke, Qin Shi Huangdi himself, having become immortal and apparently less recognizable than the portraits would suggest.
- Near the end of Paradox Bound, after the death of Archibald Truss, one of his Bodyguard Babes (the other one was killed too) plans to run his banking empire in this manner, acting as his errand girl, while actually making all the decisions herself.
- Foundation and Empire, by Isaac Asimov, revolves around the enigmatic Mule- a galactic conqueror who orchestrates a takeover of the entire galaxy. Despite the Mule's description being revealed in the very first words of the book, this is later discounted. Throughout the story, the Mule himself, his appearance, and the equally mysterious power that enabled him to overthrow the galactic authorities so quickly, are kept under absolute secrecy by his forces. And then, at the end, It turns out he was with the main characters the whole time.
- Accidental Detectives: In Sunrise at The Mayan Temple, Señor Castillo, the owner of the archeological site, is constantly away on business while his assistant Roderick Kay manages things. Many of the locals believe Castillo to to be the embodiment of a god demanding Human Sacrifice, while Kay claims that there are rumors that Castillo is dead; having been sacrificed to that very God, and the local police consider him a person of interest in smuggling operations. It eventually turns turns out that Castillo is an Invented Individual and Kay is the real boss.
- Dont Care High: The Principal has abandoned any effort to exert authority over the school, and the students don't even know his name. He just spends all day in his office, working on PA announcements which emphasize the Sucky School nature of the place and which he reads off like comedy sketches while doing his best to avoid dealing with anyone or anything else.
- In Supernatural, this trope is the reason that Heaven is so screwed up. Apparently only four angels have ever actually seen God, which doesn't include Joshua, the only angel He seems to really talk to. As a result, half of the angels don't even believe God exists and some of them have decided that there's no point trying to obey their errant father and that they might as well do whatever they want. The few who do believe in their Father and are loyal to Him express it in different ways, and the whole situation eventually degenerates into an outright civil war.
- Up until the very end of Season 5, Jacob in Lost appears to give some sort of orders but is never seen. When Locke demands in Season 3 that Ben take him to see Jacob, it turns out that Jacob apparently doesn't exist at all... or does he?
- NCIS: In one episode, the errand boy is actually the boss, but nobody realises because the real boss was around, but is now in a coma. Another episode centers around a street gang whose leader only communicates with one lieutenant via email, because the lieutenant murdered him and has been emailing himself to become the gang's de facto leader.
- Robin Masters from Magnum, P.I., with Higgins as his front man. The last episode seemed to clear it up, but then...
- In the first half or so season of Soap, the head of the Mafia was like this. (He later appeared, negating his this-trope-ness.)
"Nobody sees Mr. Lefkowitz. Not even Mrs. Lefkowitz."
- Number One in The Prisoner (1967), until the final episode anyway. Except not. Maybe.
- On the Apprentice-spoof My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss, the apparent boss "Mr Todd" would refer the elimination decisions to "the real boss". In the final episode, the real boss is revealed to be a monkey.
- Remington Steele: Miss Holt named the eponymous agency because she didn't think she'd be hired if people didn't believe there was a man at the helm, sending her on her assignments. This trope starts out being placed perfectly straight, but then a man actually did show up to take on the role and name.
- In Plain Sight, the US Marshals transport a man who is the go-between for a mysterious female assassin known as "Lola", who agreed to inform on her after being caught in a sting. It turns out There is no "Lola", he is the assassin, and he let himself be caught just so he could get at a target in the jail he was being held at, confident his lieutenants would free him from the marshalls.
- Carnivàle gave us Management, who never emerges from his caravan and has his orders relayed by Samson. Once Jonesy works up the courage to enter the caravan only to find it empty. Samson claims that Management has the power to make himself incorporeal, but Jonesy naturally thinks Samson is just pulling the fake boss trick on them. At the end of the episode however, Samson enters the caravan and gets spoken to by Management directly. He still remains The Faceless until Season 2, where it's revealed that his self-isolation is mainly because he lost an arm and both legs during World War One.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The mysterious mastermind behind Project Centipede, known only as The Clairvoyant. He seems to live up to the name, staying several steps ahead of the SHIELD agents as if he can read their minds and foresee their actions. The Clairvoyant never meets anyone in person, giving orders to Centipede operatives only by telephone or text message. In reality, he is a turncoat SHIELD agent with high-level security clearance, which he uses to read SHIELD's files (including the psychological profiles, mission reports, and planning documents of other agents).
- In one episode of Mission: Impossible, the IMF infiltrate a conspiracy of former Nazi leaders intent on establishing a Fourth Reich, allegedly lead by a bedridden official from Hitler's original Third Reich, whose bed is obscured by a curtain and who always gives orders through his Dragon. When it turns out the leader is just a dummy and a series of tape recordings, Rollin poses as the official (claiming to be recovering from his illness) in order to drive a wedge between the dragon, who knows the man doesn't exist and that Rollin can only be an impostor, and the rest of the conspiracy, who do not, and believe that the dragon is irrationally attacking their beloved leader.
- In The Wire, an international crime syndicate is headed by a mysterious man known as "The Greek" who nobody outside the organization ever sees, regardless of how important their connection to the syndicate is. Instead, outsiders meet with The Greek's Number Two, a man called Spiros, usually at a run down little Greek diner with just a couple of booths and a little bar area. Everyone wonders who The Greek is, and no one suspects that he's the little old man with a kindly appearance who sips coffee and reads the newspaper at the bar, sitting just close enough to listen to Spiros and the people he talks with.
- In Cold Case, a circus is ostensibly run by "Management". When pressed, the little person, who manages the carnies, replies that it's a group of investors from various parts of the world. It actually turns out to be the circus's resident giant, who is actually smarter than he lets on and is the real killer.
- Daredevil (2015): Wilson Fisk likes to keep everything about his syndicate hidden and buried, and that extends to having the majority of his henchmen get their orders from an intermediary (James Wesley in season 1, Felix Manning in season 3) rather than from Fisk directly.
- There's a popular adage: "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn't exist." That's actually from The Screwtape Letters, though the idea may have been kicking around before that specific work.
- "Supporting Cast: The Man," a Pyramid Magazine article for GURPS Voodoo. "The Man" is a powerful crimeboss who nobody ever sees, but who controls all the gangs in the city. In fact he's a powerful spirit who manifests because people believe there's a hidden figure controlling crime.
- Another Pyramid article, "A Fistful of Tunes You Can Whistle" for Discworld Roleplaying Game, is set in a Spaghetti Western style town run by the barking mad Varozag family. The head of the family is never seen, but "Don Dominguo orders it!" is the standard justification for their odder demands. The article suggests that an actual encounter with the Don could serve as the climax of a scenario — live or stuffed.
- In Mage: The Ascension, no one ever sees the members of the Technocracy's inner council, though you may be promoted to join the inner circle if you prove yourself competent enough. The problem is that the image of unseen leaders is so ingrained in the organization, and since the Technocracy are Mages despite their insistence otherwise, anyone who gets promoted in the inner council will cease to exist and become part of the Hive Mind haunting the council room.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- By the time of the game, the Tribunal were forced into this after Dagoth Ur cut them off from their source of power. Previously, Vivec and Almalexia walked and worked among their people, offering guidance and performing miracles. Now, they remain almost exclusively in their temples, communicating with only a few high ranking Temple officials and personal guards. The third Tribunal god, Sotha Sil, was reclusive to begin with and has gone so far into seclusion that even Temple officials can admit they don't actually have any contact with him (they don't even know where he is, as his Clockwork City is hidden).
- While most of the Thieves' Guild hideouts are Open Secrets, the actual Guild Master stays well hidden. You'll only find out where he hides out once you've risen to a high rank in the Guild. Justified, since he is a high priority target for the rival Cammona Tong.
- Count Hassildor of Skingrad in Oblivion is famously reclusive, unusually Long-Lived, rumoured to be a powerful sorcerer, and well-loved by his subjects despite his isolation. His affairs are managed by his stewards, who are quick to remind people that he doesn't take visitors. When the player persists in requesting a meeting, it's revealed that the Count is actually a vampire, but a good guy and a conscientious ruler nonetheless.
- In the Fall from Heaven II mod for Civilization IV, Sabathiel is never seen except by a few high priests. He actually left and the priests are ruling in his name
- The leader of the Enclave in Fallout 3, President Eden, is unseen, with Dragon, Colonel Autumn, being the only one who know's his true identity. he seems to spend his time broadcasting messages about the glory of pre-nuclear holocaust America on the Enclave's radio station. Eden is later revealed to be the maintenance system for Raven Rock, who took over the Enclave after the previous leader was killed.
- In Grandia II, The God of Light, Granas, has been dead for centuries and the church that supposedly worships him is actually devoted to Valmar, the God of Darkness.
- In Mass Effect, the Shadow Broker has never been seen by anyone—not even his closest operatives. Turns out that the Broker is a yahg, a primitive species that are pretty much good at anything they care to try. He's later killed by Shepard and Liara, and to cement how good he was at his job, Liara takes his place without anyone knowing there was a change. In fact, this is exactly how the yahg took control from the previous Broker.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda: The mysterious benefactor behind the Initiative only acts via intermediaries, and in a flashback we do get to hear them speaking to Alec Ryder through a screen, which shifts from species to species every few seconds.
- "The Colonel" in Metal Gear Solid 2. Specifically, at one point you're directly asked if you've ever met him in person or know any name for him besides "The Colonel". Raiden can't give a good answer, and it's because The Colonel is essentially an AI construct who was never a real person.
- In Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, the Empress Of Time fits this trope, since her real identity is Kaileena, and her own underlings actually attempt to kill her at some points of the story.
- In Splatoon 2, Mr. Grizz in the Salmon Run mode is portrayed as just a bear statue with an antenna on it, as we never get to see who is really speaking through said statue.
- The villain of Stinkoman 20X6 is always shown as a silhouette, but since that game actually doesn't have a final level, this means that we will never get to see what he really looks like. The general guess from fans is that hes the 20X6 version of Coach Z, but we dont have any concrete evidence.
- None of the Elder Powers from Nexus Clash have been seen or heard from in person since the final chapter of the first game. The Guilds dedicated to them that players can join aren't even run by the Powers directly, but by intermediaries. Some of those intermediaries hold to pretty narrow interpretations of their patron Power's goals, and there's a lot of disagreement both among player characters and backstory characters as to what each Power actually wants.
- Talzo's boss in Kirby Adventure stays hidden in the shadows for most of the comic and makes very few appearances, with our heroes not even becoming aware of his existence until much later on. He is eventually revealed to be Miracle Matter.
- In Vexxarr, Vexxarr is arrested by some kind of AIs who unquestioningly obey the "Master", who they never disturb in case he might be in deep meditation. When Vexxarr finally talks his way into a private audience, it turns out that the Master is a skeleton sixty years dead, having died when the ship's life support was ruined in a long-ago battle.
- Australian parody site Sev Trek had a cartoon of Blofeld's minions asking why they never see his face. The winning punchline is: "It's not a pleasant sight. I'm allergic to cats."
- Avatar: The Last Airbender has a variant, with a twist: The Dai Li do this with the Earth King, in order to enforce their chief Long Feng's monopoly on his ear and control of his authority. The Gaang eventually had to fight their way into his throne room, and then found out that he didn't even know of the Forever War with the Fire Nation.
- From Inspector Gadget, Doctor Claw.
- In The Spectacular Spider Man, no one but Hammerhead ever gets to meet the Big Man, New York's premier gang lord. His organization either take their orders from Hammerhead or more rarely get to talk to the Big Man over speakerphone (overseen by Hammerhead). This is because the Big Man is a well-known and respected philanthropist who can't risk anyone being able to connect him to the underworld. Subverted in season two, when the Big Man starts losing faith in Hammerhead's competence and begins meeting with his henchmen in person- causing Hammerhead to turn Starscream against him.
- Danger Mouse tries to talk to the U.S. President in "The Statue Of Liberty Caper," but the Commander-In-Chief is surrounded by Secret Service agents.
Danger Mouse: Uh...nice to have almost met you!