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Removing the Earpiece

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A Sub-Trope 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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    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.
  • G√≥rsky & Butch: In a spoof of The Matrix, Butch removes the earpiece to break the Hive Mind with the other agents and make them stop finishing his sentences for him.

  • The 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 that he won't hear complaints as he goes off-script.
  • 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.
  • In the 2016 film adaptation of Inferno (2013), 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.
  • The Matrix: Agent Smith does this in the first movie 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.
  • In Miss Congeniality, undercover FBI agent Gracie does this before initiating an oh-so-politically-incorrect interrogation session: clubbing, with pizza and beer. Remarkably enough, this works.
  • A secret service agent in Vantage Point does this when he goes rogue.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • In Artemis Fowl, Holly Short shuts off the communicator in her helmet when she is about to disobey an order to stand down.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • On at least two occasions in 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. Afterward, Haymitch visits her and orders her to leave her earpiece in or he'll have her put in an unremovable "head shackle" communicator that only he can unlock, and if she gets out of that, he'll have an audio-transmitting device surgically implanted in her ear.
  • 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!.
  • In Speaker for the Dead, Ender removes his two-way earpiece 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.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 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.
  • In the Bones episode "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.
  • 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.
  • Halo (2022). In the pilot episode, Master Chief tells Kwan Ha that he doesn't remove his helmet because all of his diagnostic, command and control systems run through it. When he later does a Dramatic Unmask, it doubles as this trope because we cut to his superiors demanding to know why he's broken contact. Things go from bad to worse as they then try to reassert control over him.
  • This happens in the episode "See No Evil" of NCIS. "Bait" does the same thing, with a student removing Gibb's earpiece.
  • 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.
  • 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. However, Reese does play the trope straight in "Many Happy Returns" when Finch tries to stop him getting involved in a domestic violence case.
    • Played for Laughs in the fourth season episode "Honor Among Thieves" when 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".
  • Every once in a while, 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 does this several times in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, removing his combadge to indicate that what he's doing is not Starfleet-sanctioned — first when K'Ehleyr is killed, a second time when he leaves Starfleet to participate in the Klingon civil war, and in Deep Space Nine when he challenges Gowron's authority.
    • Picard does this in Star Trek: Insurrection by removing the captain pips on his collar.
    • In Star Trek: 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 Star Trek: 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.
  • 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.
  • In the opening credits of The Wire, you see someone putting on an earpiece and later taking it off.

    Video Games 
  • 47 does this 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.
  • In Horizon Zero Dawn, after meeting Sylens Aloy removes her Focus whenever she visits Rost's grave, which is notable because there isn't any other time she's not okay with him prying into what she's doing.
  • Jack does this in MadWorld when he tires of working for the Bureau, cutting off his link to Amala. He later crushes it.
  • 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 intends to blackmail instead of kill their target for her own purposes. When she's done "negotiating", she puts it back in and claims that the target escaped.
  • Sam Fisher cuts out his subdermal implant connecting him to Third Echelon at the end of the Xbox, PS2 and Wii versions of Splinter Cell: Double Agent.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: A flashback to Locus and Felix's bounty hunter days had them going after a corrupt nightclub owner in his own club. Locus comments that the music is too loud, meaning their comms will be useless, and Felix promptly drops his earpiece in the toilet. He pays for this during the shootout upstairs, when Locus tosses a gas grenade after giving him a warning over their comms, and gets gassed along with the mooks they're fighting. At the end of the episode, the two of them argue about this, with Felix pointing out that Locus did say their comms would be useless, and Locus saying Felix didn't have to remove his earpiece in the first place.

    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 (2010): Superboy does this when he feels like going for a ride with Sphere instead of listening to Batman's briefing.


Video Example(s):


"Wrong number."

Galatea refuses to listen to Amanda Waller now that she has Supergirl dead to rights.

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Main / RemovingTheEarpiece

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