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Reverse Relationship Reveal

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Two characters have contrasting roles that relate to each other in some way. One could be a mentor and the other a student, one a stoic comforter and the other an emotional wreck, one an abusive Manipulative Bastard and the other their helpless Ingenue/Shrinking Violet victim, and so on.

Then, via a Twist Ending or the revelation of Hidden Depths, it suddenly becomes apparent that the roles of the two characters are exactly or approximately the reverse of what we originally were led to believe.

Unlike Hourglass Plot or Perspective Reversal, in which the characters gradually swap their positions and/or situations over time, this trope involves no actual swapping but only the temporary illusion of the reverse situation. The trope can also apply to two groups or parties.

May involve The Man Behind the Man. Betty and Veronica Switch and Actually, That's My Assistant are subtropes, as is Decoy Leader as long as the audience doesn't know before The Reveal. Compare also Aggressive Submissive. This is not the reverse of Relationship Reveal.

All examples below are spoilers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: Gin seemed to be the Big Bad who had killed Aizen for working against him. Then it's revealed that Aizen is actually the Big Bad and Gin is his right-hand man. Eventually, it's revealed that Gin joined Aizen solely to kill him for a wrong that happened in Gin's distant past. However, Aizen knew Gin's real motive and kept him close to turn Gin's betrayal into an opportunity for a huge power-up. While Gin's goal was the same as the protagonists (to stop Aizen), he was always a villain, albeit one Aizen was using rather than relying on.
  • In Occult Academy, among the characters the "hero" Fumiaki interacts with are Chihiro, a suspicious character who spies on the heroine, Maya, and has an unwanted crush on Fumiaki, and the sweet Mikaze, who is the Betty to the heroine's Veronica. It turns out Chihiro was Good All Along and trying to protect Maya and the innocent Mikaze is actually the Big Bad.
  • Switch Off flashback arc in Sket Dance
    • At the beginning of the arc, we got to introduced to Sawa, who was having a stalker problem, and her friend, Yukino, who accompanied her to protect her from the stalker. It turns out, however, that the stalker was Yukino's ex-boyfriend who was only looking for the right chance to confess, while Yukino is a jealous yandere who got close to Sawa only looking for revenge because she "stole" her boyfriend.
    • We were also introduced to the Kazuyoshi and Masafumi AKA the younger Switch, and An-chan, his brother. However, it turned out that An-chan is Kazuyoshi AKA the current Switch. The original Switch, Masafumi, died at the end of the arc.
  • The first chapter of Venus Puts Fur On Me casts Nakajima as The Bully and the antagonist of the series, with Shirosaki being his meek, helpless, submissive victim who can do nothing but cry as he assaults and demeans her. Then the end of the chapter cuts to them alone in the school at night, where he see her assaulting him- turns out she's been making him bully her to satisfy her own sadomasochism and torturing him with ice picks whenever he tries to back out, and he's the one reduced to crying during their late-night sessions. The story actually follows him as he attempts to escape from her.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Jean Valhardi adventure Le Soleil Noir, the heroes are held at gunpoint by Yellow Peril villain Atamato, who says his "honorable boss" will make them talk, then silence them when he gets back home. After they escape thanks to Playing Nice for Now, they return to spy on him and his boss... And it turns out Atamato is the "honorable boss" and orders the other guy around.
  • All-New Ultimates: The Ultimates are seeking Crossbones in the sewers, and are attacked by Vermin (a poor man's Hulk) and Crock (a cyborg with a staff). Black Widow kills Vermin with Crock's staff, and Kitty killed Crock by accident by phasing inside him. Turns out they were not villains, just outcasts of the super-soldier program, who just want to be left alone.

  • In What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Blanche has been abused and horrifically treated by her sister Jane, who crippled her for life while attempting to kill her. It was actually Blanche who crippled herself trying to kill a drunken Jane, who remembers nothing of that night, and on whom Blanche has manipulatively pinned her crippling.
  • The Sixth Sense. Malcolm is a child psychologist and Cole is a child who can see dead people. Malcolm suggests to Cole that he is supposed to help the dead people in their path to the afterlife and let go of their earthly concerns. It turns out that Malcolm is dead and Cole is helping him in his path to the afterlife.
  • Oz the Great and Powerful apparently introduces the good witch and deputy ruler of the city, Evanora, who sends the wizard to kill the wicked witch who murdered her own father the king. Really, this black-cloaked witch is Glinda the Good, mourning her father in exile, and Evanora is the true wicked witch who murdered him.
  • In one of the three endings of Clue, Wadsworth reveals that HE is actually Mr. Boddy, and the person killed earlier was his butler.
  • Similar to the above, in Murder by Death, the not-so-blind butler takes off his Latex Perfection disguise to reveal that he's really Lionel Twain. After everyone leaves and he's by himself, he removes his Latex Perfection disguise to reveal that he's really the not-so-deaf-and-dumb maid. She proceeds to laugh herself hoarse.
  • In The Sting, we see the gloved hand of a man stalking Johnny Hooker, then later that hand raising a gun and firing... at Hooker's new girlfriend (who later is shown about to kill Hooker). Then the man comes out of hiding, explains the situation, and tells Johnny he (the man) was hired by Gondorff to protect Johnny.
  • In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Queen Amidala is revealed to be a handmaiden decoy; the actual queen had been posing as the handmaiden for much of the film.
  • In Without a Clue it's revealed early on that Dr Watson is actually the brilliant detective, and Sherlock Holmes is the bumbling sidekick.
  • At the end of Charade, Reggie concludes that her friend Peter is a murderer, and runs away from him to seek the protection of Mr. Bartholomew at the American Embassy. Actually, Mr. Bartholomew is the murderer, and it is Peter who ends up having to protect her from him.
  • Naked Killer opens with a beautiful woman apparently being stalked by a man who follows her up to an apartment and surprises her in the shower...whereupon he demands to know what she's doing in his apartment. She answers by kneecapping him with a silenced gun and then bashing out his brains with a barbell.

  • One of the most famous literary examples is in Pride and Prejudice. The reader spends most of the book thinking Mr Wickham is a decent young man done out of marriage and a fortune by Mr Darcy. In fact, Wickham is a spendthrift who tried to run off with Darcy's sister, and Darcy is blameless.
  • Agatha Christie used this trope a number of times:
    • In both Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun, a wealthy seductress apparently seduces a handsome man away from his poor abandoned wife or ex-fiancee. This was an illusion staged by the latter two, who played on the seductress' weakness to kill her for her money.
    • The short story "Triangle At Rhodes" involves two married couples, with two of the partners apparently in an adulterous affair. It is really the other two partners who are in an affair, and who are plotting to kill their spouses and marry each other, and this plot includes creating the illusion of an affair between the others.
    • Lord Edgware Dies
      • Jane Wilkinson is apparently the victim of a frame-up, in which the murderer hired a mimic named Carlotta Adams to make it appear that Jane had kill Lord Edgware. In fact, Jane was the real murderer and had hired Carlotta to establish her alibi.
      • Jane also feels victimized by her terrible husband who refuses to grant her a divorce. He is in fact her victim. He granted her a divorce by letter, but she pretended never to receive it, as part of her alibi for his murder.
    • In both Towards Zero and Murder is Easy, the real murderer killed their victim(s) for the sole purpose of getting their spouse or significant other framed and hanged for the murder, while initially appearing to be in need of protection from their "murderous" partner.
    • In A Murder Is Announced, the young man who apparently took a shot in the dark at Miss Blacklock before turning the gun on himself turns out to have been murdered by her.
    • In And Then There Were None, it seems as though Dr Armstrong is the murderer, having killed Justice Wargrave and then vanished, as indicated by the line in the poem "A red herring swallowed one, and then there were three". In fact, Wargrave was the murderer, and faked his own death, with Armstrong as an unwitting accomplice, whom he murdered shortly after.
    • The Murder on the Links: Jack Renaud is apparently in love with the Girl Next Door Marthe Daubreuil but had a brief fling with a Vaudeville performer named Bella Duveen. It turns out that Jack is really in love with Bella, and it was his affair with Marthe that was just a passing infatuation.
  • It also appears in several Sherlock Holmes stories.
    • In "A Scandal In Bohemia", the King of Bohemia intends to marry, but fears that his ex-lover, Irene Adler, is in a position to blackmail or publically disgrace him using a photograph of the two of them. She has no such intention, and keeps the photograph only to safeguard herself against any steps he might take against her, he having cruelly wronged her in the past. In the Granada TV adaptation, she is shown throwing the photograph into the middle of the sea.
    • In "The Beryl Coronet", the client's reprobate son appears to have attempted theft, to the horror of his upright foster sister. Said sister was the true accomplice to the attempted theft, which the son heroically thwarted.
    • In "The Norwood Builder", the evidence initially suggests that a young solicitor murdered a builder for his money. The builder faked his death, partly for financial reasons, and partly to get the solicitor hanged for the murder as revenge against his ex-sweetheart (the solicitor's mother).
  • In The Age of Innocence, Newland Archer is having an affair behind his seemingly innocent and clueless wife's back. Said wife is really the clever and manipulative one, who managed to keep him within her grasp and get rid of his other love interest, while he is the innocent and clueless one.
  • In Harry Harrison's SF novel Invasion: Earth, an alien spacecraft crash-lands on Earth, after being hijacked by a different alien race. The humans eventually meet the leaders of the supposedly evil race, who reveal that they're the good guys, and the "good" race is actually evil. The truth is that both races are working together to scam humanity out of their resources.
  • Warbreaker
  • In the first book of Sara Douglass' The Wayfarer Redemption, the religious leaders, the Seneschal, led a defensive revolution to overthrew the evil Forbidden, of whom there was a recorded history of tyranny, and bring peace and freedom. This history was fabricated, the Forbidden are decent and peaceful people, and the Seneschal were the real terrorists who committed devastating genocide in said revolution.
  • Used and commented on in several Father Brown stories.
    • In "The Scandal of Father Brown" Brown is seen by a reporter to help a married woman run off with a handsome young man and leave the older one she checked into a hotel with. The handsome young man is her husband, the older one a paramour.
    • In "The Pursuit of Mr. Blue" a millionaire is threatened by his cousin. Someone sees them both and gets them confused.
    • In "The Chief Mourner of Marne" a man shuts himself up after apparently killing his brother in a duel. He's really the supposedly dead brother, having 'played dead' and then shot.
    • In "The Sins of Prince Saradine" it seems the prince is killed, but the prince knew the enemy was coming so switched places with his butler.
    • In "The Blue Cross", a policeman encounters two priests, one of whom is committing a series of petty crimes and pranks. The policeman follows the priest, believing that the prankster must be some kind of hoodlum. Actually, it is his companion priest who is the criminal; Father Brown has been playing the pranks so that the policeman will follow them and arrest the real villain.
  • The sci-fi story upon which The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is based on, Harry Bates' "Farewell To The Master", Klaatu is set up to be Gnut/Gort's master and gets killed early on (in the original story he's shot by a lunatic immediately after he introduces himself, making both movies a variation of Spared by the Adaptation (in that he lasts longer)), with the twist at the end that Gnut/Gort was Klaatu's master all along.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone sets the audience up to believe that Snape is evil, and that he is blackmailing the innocent Professor Quirrell. It turns out that Quirrell is actually a servant of Lord Voldemort and Snape is trying to stop him.
    • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and the wizarding world at large believe Sirius Black betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort and that Peter Pettigrew confronted in anger and grief, and that the former killed the latter. As it turns out, Pettigrew was the one who betrayed the Potters, and when Sirius confronted him, he faked his own death.
    • Done again with Snape in the last two books. When he kills Dumbledore at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince it seems that he was really a double agent for Voldemort the entire time. But towards the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it turns out that he was genuinely on the side of the heroes, having killed Dumbledore (at his own request) to maintain his cover and as a Mercy Kill.
  • In the Discworld novel Unseen Academicals, Glenda initially assumes that the tall, willowy and commanding woman attending an Unseen University function is the Vampire Lady Margolotta, while the small dumpy woman with her is her librarian. Only after complaining about Margolotta at some length to the latter does she catch on that it's actually the other way around.
  • In the New Jedi Order, Yhuuzan Vong Supreme Overlord Shimrra has a deformed jester called Onimi as a pet. In Yhuuzan culture, people with deformities such as Onimi's are shunned and detested, and his presence in the court is somewhere between appalling and insulting to most of them. Throughout the series, he appears in scenes in Shimrra's court, generally spouting off bits of nonsense and annoying the viewpoint character. The finale reveals that he is actually an ex-Shaper who managed to grant himself Force sensitivity, and that he's been controlling Shimrra telepathically throughout the series. Shimrra himself, when not controlled, is little more than a mook- albeit a very large and very dangerous mook.
  • In one of the stories in The Practical Princess and Other Liberated Fairy Tales, "Petronella", the eponymous heroine is a princess who is trying to rescue a handsome prince from an evil wizard who sets her Impossible Tasks. It eventually transpires the deeply obnoxious prince is The Thing That Would Not Leave, and the not-so-evil wizard was setting these tasks because he was attracted to her and didn't know how to say so.
  • In Herman Melville's novella "Benito Cereno", Delano thinks that the titular ship captain Benito Cereno, who is constantly followed by his loyal slave Babo, is plotting something malicious. In reality, Benito is completely innocent and it's Babo and the other "slaves" on the ship who are up to no good and keeping Benito as a virtual hostage.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Benny Hill Show. At the end of a sketch parodying Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Butch & Sundance are captured. The camera shows them talking to Butch's girlfriend through prison bars; then they leave and we see that she is the one locked up while they ride off into the sunset.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Welcome to the Hellmouth." The episode opens with a boy and girl breaking into the high school, presumably for sexy times; the girl's nervous and the boy predatory. Every horror buff knows what's going to happen. Then she turns into a monster and kills him, not quite what people were expecting (unless they're really into horror).
  • In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Bound" it is revealed that in Orion society, the males are slaves to the females, but they maintain the facade that it's the other way around. (It fools the protagonists.)
  • Blake's 7. In "Assassin", our heroes discover a Professional Killer known only as Cancer has been hired to eliminate them. They decide to strike first and board Cancer's spaceship, finding a large steely-eyed man with a Beard of Evil dressed in black leather uttering death threats, and a Hysterical Woman he's keeping as his Sex Slave. Turns out the tearful damsel is Cancer and the man is her slave, a male actor that she purchased to play the role in order to lure her targets into a trap.
  • One episode of Criminal Minds features a suspect in a string of brutal rapes and murders with his poor battered wife serving as a witness against him. It eventually turns out that, not only was she involved in the crimes, she was the mastermind, and the first few had been done with her ex-boyfriend. Her husband is still sadistic, but he's the submissive in this relationship, and her earlier meekness and fear around investigators was just an act.

  • In Mozart's The Magic Flute, the Queen of the Night promises Tamino her daughter Pamina's hand in marriage if he rescues her from the evil Sarastro. It's revealed later that the Queen is the Big Bad, and Sarastro is one of Pamina's benevolent rescuers.

    Video Games 
  • In Escape from Monkey Island, series villain LeChuck the ghost pirate is actually working for new antagonist Ozzie Mandrill, subverting the usual pattern of Hijacked by Ganon. Guybrush is shocked.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, Bowser and Antasma team up to conquer the world and defeat the title duo. Initially, it looks like Antasma, the new villain and a powerful nightmare monster, will be the ultimate Big Bad and eventually betray Bowser, the goofy recurring villain who spent the first three games being overshadowed by a bigger threat. But then Bowser betrays Antasma instead and becomes the Final Boss.
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers, you are initially led to believe that Grovyle is a villain trying to create the Bad Future by stealing the Time Gears, while Dusknoir is trying to stop him. But it turns out that Dusknoir is the actual villain and Grovyle is trying to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, because the problems caused by removing the Time Gears are actually temporary and the true danger is the Time Gears being kept away from Temporal Tower for too long - and Grovyle is trying to return them there.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Rex begins to see Malos when he should be seeing his Driver, Amalthus. This implies that Malos has some influence over him. In reality, it's the other way around, since Malos was born from Amalthus' desire to watch the world burn for what it did and what it cost him.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Great Ace Attorney: In case 2 of Resolve, Soseki Natsume is the suspect of poisoning his neighbor William Shamspeare when the latter is found nearly dead from said poisoning in his apartment, with the investigation initially suspecting Soseki's gift of tea being the means of poisoning. It turns out that William Shamspeare was indirectly poisoning Soseki Natsume by using the building's faulty gas infrastructure to drive him out of his apartment in order to get his hands on a piece of treasure hidden in Natsume's apartment.
  • Danganronpa:

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • At the end of The Care Bears: Adventure in Wonderland, it looks like Alice has the green thumb power that only a true princess can have, and then it's revealed that it was really the rescued princess who was doing this.
  • The Loonatics Unleashed episode My Life Is A Circus has the Loonatics captured by The Ringmaster, who has Otto the Odd use a sonic DNA scrambler to transform them into patchwork freaks. After their escape, the Loonatics corner The Ringmaster, only to discover that he's merely the face of the operation. Otto the Odd is the mastermind behind the freak show.