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Removing the Earpiece

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A subtrope of Cutting the Electronic Leash.

Security agents, operatives and assorted henchmen come equipped with an earpiece so they can unobtrusively stay in touch with the rest of their team. When one of them, whether he's a hero or a villain, removes it, that means he's going to disobey an order, play solo or even go rogue. In which case his teammates will urgently ask him what's going on, and won't receive an answer. In more light-hearted media, the character may remove the earpiece because the person on the other side is simply getting on their nerves, thus isolating them from the team in a self-inflicted version of Cellphones Are Useless. Cue viewers going What an Idiot! as soon as the character's teammates try to reach them with vital information about the plot of the week.


Alternatively, a character removing his earpiece signals that what is going to be said or done is intended to remain "off the record". Compare Obligatory Earpiece Touch.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • Date A Live: Shido has to date Spirits and make them fall in love with them to stop them from hurting people and destroying the world. He is assisted in this task by a Mission Control council who say advice into his earpiece. During his first date with Tohka, their advice is contradictory and pretty much useless, so he turns his earpiece off and starts speaking from his heart, which yields better results.

     Comic Books  

  • In the Birds of Prey story "Manhunt" by Chuck Dixon, the Black Canary ditches the earrings that allow her to receive Oracle's transmissions. Fortunately for her, she keeps the transmitter, and the receivers end up with Huntress and Catwoman.
  • In Górsky & Butch, in a Matrix spoof, Butch removes the earpiece to break the Hive Mind with the other agents and make them stop finishing his sentences for him.


  • The Matrix: Agent Smith does this while interrogating Morpheus so he can reveal that, unlike other Agents, he actively hates humans and is desperate to escape the world he's trapped in. In The Matrix Reloaded, his rogue status is illustrated by no longer wearing the earpiece at all. He sends it to Neo to unnerve him before they meet in person.
    Smith: I've changed. I'm "unplugged". A new man, so to speak - like you, apparently free.
    Neo: Congratulations.
    Smith: Thank you.
  • Emil Blonsky in The Incredible Hulk.
  • A secret service agent in Vantage Point does this when he goes rogue.
  • Sandra Bullock's character in Miss Congeniality -an undercover FBI agent- does this before initiating an oh-so-politically-incorrect interrogation session: clubbing, with pizza and beer. Remarkably enough, this works.
  • In Hellboy (2004), Hellboy turns off his communicator while they're searching the subway to fight the monster Sammael undisturbed. Meanwhile The Men in Black on his team are massacred by Sammael clones and he can't be reached.
  • Wolverine does this in X2: X-Men United when the rest of the team are discussing their plan and he realizes if it goes the way they're hoping it will, he won't get a chance to confront the guy who holds the information about his past. When they next look up, he's gone.
  • James Bond in Skyfall: "I'll keep you posted."
  • Dan Brown's Inferno. Agent Bouchard drops his hand radio in a public trash bin after deciding to go after Langdon on his own. Ostensibly it's because he suspects someone on his team is leaking information, but he's later revealed to have his own mercenary interests in mind.
  • Brazilian movie Bingo: O Rei das Manhãs has the main character, a Bozo the Clown stand-in, removing the earpiece connecting him to the show's direction (while snarking "there's a critter buzzing in my ear...") so he won't hear complaints as he goes off-script.


  • In the Artemis Fowl series, Holly Short shuts off the communicator in her helmet when she is about to disobey an order to stand down.
  • End removes his two-way earpiece in the book Speaker for the Dead during a private conversation, and accidentally causes a temporary shutdown of the galactic communication network, since the person on the other end was an artificial intelligence who ran the internet and was just that shocked Ender would do that to her.
  • Bel Thorne does this in Mirror Dance when Admiral Naismith's clone — er, brother — shows up and almost passes himself off as the original with a new assignment.
  • On at least two occasions in Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net, Laura Webster pulls off her videoglasses and sets them aside so she can talk privately.
  • In Mockingjay, Katniss does this when the capitol is attacking a hospital and she is ordered to leave the area.
  • Ciaphas Cain: Ciaphas mentions that Sentinel pilots are used to operate solo missions with little input from command and as a result are even more of a Military Maverick than the rest of the troops. They often experience mysterious vox failures when hearing an order they don't like.
  • Played for Laughs in Redemption Games when John Rain does this because he's exasperated by his talkative partner Dox, who's unable to stop himself providing a running commentary when he's supposed to be doing counter-surveillance. Dox has checked that no-one has followed them onto the airliner they're currently on, but the Properly Paranoid Rain taking this extreme move shows he's clearly thinking You Talk Too Much!.
  • Able Team. Happens with fatal results in "Army of Devils". Carl Lyon's Action Girlfriend has a minor injury, so he orders his helicopter to take off without her as they're about to bust a convoy of drug smugglers. Flor turns up in a commandeered helicopter, curses Lyons over the radio, then cuts off transmission before he can warn her the smugglers are armed with an RPG-7 rocket. Her helicopter flies right into a rocket and is destroyed.
  • Hive Mind (2016): Amber does this occasionally to take a conversation off-the-record, such as talking to the Hive Politics team about Blue Upway.

     Live Action TV  

  • In The A-Team's Season 5 James Bond Homage episode "The Spy Who Mugged Me," Murdock (posing as a 007-type spy) does this when he starts making out with the villain's girlfriend. In doing so, he leaves poor Face to spend the night out in the rain.
  • Arrow. In "Salvation", Felicity Smoak is trying to track down the Villain of the Week who is murdering people live on the internet. Oliver Queen rushes to the address she gives only to find no-one there. He loses his temper and shouts, "Find the right address now!" just as Felicity witnesses the victim being shot dead. Felicity's response is to tear out her earpiece and run away. Diggle then picks up the earpiece to let Oliver know what happened.
  • In the Bones episode "The Fire in the Ice" when Booth is being interrogated on suspicion of murder, Agent Perotta removes her earpiece to indicate that she (not Dr. Sweets) is the one asking the questions from that point forward.
  • Happened in the episode "See No Evil" of NCIS. "Bait" does the same thing, with a student removing Gibb's earpiece.
  • Every once in awhile someone on Star Trek removes their combadge to similar effect. Since it's also an emblem, it can be a sort of Turn in Your Badge. Plus, it's a tracking device.
    • Worf did this several times in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, removing his combadge to indicate that what he was doing was not Starfleet sanctioned. First when K'Ehleyr was killed, a second time when he left Starfleet to participate in the Klingon civil war, and in Deep Space Nine when he challenged Gowron's authority.
    • Picard did this in Star Trek: Insurrection with removing his captain pips on his collar.
    • In Deep Space Nine's "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges," Dr. Bashir and Admiral Ross have such an off-the-record discussion after removing their combadges.
    • Done very seriously by Chakotay in the Voyager relaunch novels—he disappears into the wilderness without his commbadge. It's not just that he's cutting ties with Starfleet—he's basically abandoning his life.
  • In the opening credits of The Wire, you see someone putting on an earpiece and later taking it off.
  • In The Newsroom, Sloan Sabbith does this when going off the rails while covering the Fukushima Meltdown in "Bullies". Don Keefer is distinctly unhappy and her "going rogue" has consequences that resonate through the rest of the first season and into the second.
  • In The Closer, Brenda removes her earpiece when a DA tries to use it to tell her how to run her interview. When she is asked to wear one so Taylor can instruct her, she "forgets" to put it in altogether.
  • Person of Interest
    • In several episodes John Reese loses access to his earpiece — generally because he's undercover with a gang and they all ditch their mobiles in preparation for some form of crime, which is certainly a wise precaution in the age of GPS tracking. Reese does however play the trope straight in "Many Happy Returns", when Finch tries to stop him getting involved in a domestic violence case (Reese's personal Berserk Button).
    • Played for Laughs in the fourth season episode "Honor among Thieves", where Sameen Shaw flirts with the Number of the week—a professional thief—to get into his gang and, just possibly, into his pants. Root listens in via earpiece and provides a running commentary (and her own flirtatious remarks) until Shaw shuts her off. Something similar happens when Finch starts Playing Cyrano with Reese in "Bury the Lede".
  • Treadstone. In the pilot episode, an ex-journalist is wired up by the CIA for her meeting with a North Korean general, but the general removes the wire and dunks it under a running washroom tap. The agent checks afterwards but the reporter has put the wire back in place to make it look like a malfunction.

     Video Games  

  • Jack does it in MadWorld when he tires of working for The Bureau, cutting off his link to Amala. He later crushes it.
  • 47 does it at the end of the prologue of Hitman: Absolution after killing his former contact and deciding not to turn over the girl she was trying to protect to the Agency.
  • Sam Fisher cuts out his subdermal implant connecting him to to Third Echelon at the end of the Xbox, PS2 and Wii versions of Splinter Cell: Double Agent.
  • Overwatch in Sombra's premiere animation she takes out her earpiece when face to face with the corporate executive her team supposedly came to assassinate, in order to hide from the others that she intended to blackmail instead of killing their target for her own purposes. When she's done "negotiating" she puts it back in and claims that the target escaped.

     Western Animation  

  • Justice League:
    • When trying to deal with Cadmus, Superman is bound by regulations and rules he set up himself. After he learns from Huntress that The Question has been captured by Cadmus and is being interrogated (tortured), he decides to take her advice and do things "off the books." No visual cue is given at that point, but he later gives his earpiece to Huntress so she can call the League and get emergency evacuation and medical aid for the injured Question. (She no longer has an earpiece of her own, having been expelled from the League in an earlier episode.)
    • When the sociopathic clone of Supergirl leads an attack on the Watchtower, Amanda Waller (who authorized the attack) realizes that the League was framed and tries to issue a recall order. Galatea is too eager for a chance to kill Supergirl and the League to bother with trivialities like a direct order to stand down, so she removes her earpiece, crushes it and smugly comments to Supergirl, "Wrong number."
  • Young Justice: Superboy does this when he feels like going for a ride with Sphere instead of listening to Batman's briefing.


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