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Sequencing Deception

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A trope commonly seen in mysteries. Cut from Scene A to Scene B, or alternate between two scenes. The viewer assumes that B shortly follows A in the first case, or that both are occurring simultaneously in the second. In truth, there is a much larger gap, or the scenes do not occur in that order.

Often used for temporally-based examples of Cut Apart. See also Meanwhile, in the Future… and Flashback B-Plot, for when events from different time frames are edited together for the sake of suspense or exposition, without necessarily being deceptive.

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Since this trope is usually associated with reveals, all spoilers in the examples below will be unmarked. You Have Been Warned!


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Higurashi: When They Cry: Ending to Watanagashi-hen. Scene cuts from a woman announcing she's killed all her targets to police investigating outside the last target's apartment. In fact, the last target is still alive at the time of the announcement.
  • So I'm a Spider, So What?: One of the biggest twists in the entire series, but obvious when you think about it. All of the reincarnators were born at the same time, so everything happening to Kumoko, active from the moment she is born, is happening over a decade before everyone else, who had to actually grow up. The deception is further augmented due to Julius, Shun's elder brother, being a dead ringer for Shun during Kumoko's time.
  • Your Name: Two Japanese teenagers, Taki and Mitsuha, begin switching bodies at random. They've never met, but as they keep switching they start learning more about each other. Eventually Taki decides to take a train to meet Mitsuha- but discovers she died three years earlier, and they've been switching through time as well as switching bodies. The rest of the plot involves them trying to stop her death from occurring.
    • Another example occurs much earlier in the film. The very first scene is "Mitsuha" waking up, and we quickly deduce that it's actually Taki, a guy, in Mitsuha's body. The very next scene is "Mitsuha" coming down the stairs... except it actually is Mitsuha. The next day. She (and the viewer) then proceed to find out what all happened in the day between those two scenes.

    Comic Books 
  • At the end of the first part of Tag and Bink Are Dead, the two protagonists are on board the Death Star, disguised as Imperial soldiers (with helmets hiding their faces). Darth Vader shows up, informing that Rebel ships are incoming and orders them to follow him. The next scene shows, apparently, Tag and Bink fighting in the battle of Yavin as Vader's wingmen, then dying when the Death Star is blown up. However, the beginning of the second part reveals that these were just two random Imperial Soldiers; Tag and Bink ran off as soon as Vader turned his back, and by luck they escaped the Death Star in time. Then the author, Kevin Rubio, makes a brief appearance and comments on the trick.
  • Watchmen: The protagonists' confrontation with Ozymandias is intercut with the on-the-street scenes in New York. Once he explains his Genghis Gambit, he adds "I did it 35 minutes ago." Cut to all those people being killed, which we then know all happened before the other scenes began. Note there are clocks all over the place in both the Karnak scenes and New York scenes so people paying careful attention wouldn't be surprised.

    Fan Works 
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Our True Colors, what at first appears to be a flashback describing how an orphaned Scootaloo came to Ponyville is in fact a second plot line detailing a different pony's past.
  • The Ace Attorney Online mini-case The Tangled Turnabout features a Locked Room Mystery that appears to be impossible to solve due to everyone seemingly having an alibi. The solution micro-case, The Untangled Turnabout, reveals that most scenes were out of chronological order (as the case's name suggested), making the murder not a locked room at all and solvable by realizing that everyone but one character was with someone else around the time of the murder (you're told in advance there is only one culprit and no accomplices).
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    Films 
  • Arrival is dotted with flashbacks of protagonist Louise's backstory, raising her daughter who died of cancer at the age of twelve. Late in the film, she asks the heptapods who the little girl is that she's been seeing in these visions — they're actually flash-forwards and the daughter hasn't been born yet; her grasp of the heptapod language has allowed Lousie to become a Non-Linear Character like them.
  • Babel: The four story threads appear pretty much concurrent. At the end, it turns out the subplot involving the deaf girl takes place about a week after the three others.
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: The first scene, where Joel goes out to Montauk and meets Clementine, actually takes place after most of the events in the rest of the film, right after Joel's memories are completely erased.
  • In Kamen Rider: The First, there's a sub-plot of a man in a hospital and a girl who tries to befriend him (against his will) that seems to have nothing to do with anything. Slowly, she gets him to defrost, and we find she is ill as well and just likes making people happy. They plant flowers together near the end. We cut from that to the field where the two defeated Shocker lieutenants have landed - it's the same one, and the flowers have grown, as the hospital scenes were in fact years go. The two generals, seeing the flowers, remember their true selves as the two from those scenes, just before dying.
  • Mulholland Dr., in its last act (which conflicts with much of what is shown before), does some rapid intercutting between scenes that take place before and after the second-to-last scene.
  • Ocean's Twelve: There was a segment where we see Ocean's team and a rival thief both trying to steal a MacGuffin, but find out that the rival got there much earlier and the Macguffin is gone.
  • Used several times by the Saw franchise as a form of The Reveal:
    • In Saw II, there are two plot lines: the victims in the Nerve Gas House, and the police watching them on closed-circuit TV. It later turns out that the TV footage is recorded, and Eric's son is in fact in the same building in which he's watching the recordings. It's an interesting example since the characters have the same mistaken impression as the viewer — to tragic effect.
    • Saw IV plays a similar trick. The first scene is chronologically the last; everything else takes place during the previous film.
    • Jigsaw goes even further — the barn game takes place over ten years before the rest of the movie's events.

    Literature 
  • The Fifth Season follows three main characters- a girl named Damaya, a young woman named Syenite and a woman named Essun. It is eventually made clear that all three are the same person, in flashback. Somewhat played with in that it was always clear that the Damaya and Syenite segments took place in the past, as the city of Yumenes is destroyed in the Essun segments but still exists in the other plots. The exact temporal relationship isn't clear until later on however.
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Dr. Sheppard, the narrator of the mystery, turns out to be the murderer. When he says that he entered the study with Ackroyd at 8:40 and left at 8:50 he is telling the factual truth, but does not mention that in that ten-minute interim he murdered Ackroyd. When he describes coming back to the house and finding Ackroyd dead he says "I did what little needed to be done." It comes off as innocuous when he says it, but at the end he admits that "what little needed to be done" included altering the crime scene to cover his tracks and support his alibi.
  • The Reader (2016) makes it seem like Lon and Mareah's studies are taking place at the same time as Sefia's quest. In actuality, they happened years before, and Lon and Mareah are Sefia's parents.
  • The Three Coffins: The murders actually occurred in the opposite order from what appears.

    Live-Action TV 
  • House invokes this during the Three Stories episode. House is telling the medical students about three cases involving leg problems and each with its own diagnosis. At one point, the flashback scene shows House talking with his own staff about one case, then brings up one of the other cases — only his team looks confused, and House reveals that that case didn't occur until three months later.
  • How I Met Your Mother had a season 4 episode that used this effectively: the title itself, "Three Days of Snow," was already a hint.
  • Jonathan Creek, episode Angel Hair: Events that we think were recorded days in advance actually turn out to be happening live over a closed-circuit TV system rigged to look like a VCR. An exact inversion of the trope use in Saw II.
  • Lost:
    • An episode that appears to be a flashback is actually a flash forward.
    • An episode that appears to be a flash-forward featuring two characters is actually a flashback for one and a flash-forward for the other.
  • Once Upon a Time:
    • "Broken", the first episode of Season 2, alternates between events in Storybrooke, and the Enchanted Forest version of Sleeping Beauty. Since Season 1 has primed the audience to think of Enchanted Forest scenes as flashbacks, and "What happened to the Enchanted Forest after the curse?" is not a question that's even been asked at this point, the lack of regular characters is not enough to clue the audience in that the scenes are happening simultaneously.
    • Similarly, Season 7's "Is This Henry Mills" interweaves Adult Henry resisting the truth in Hyperion Heights with Young Henry finishing school back in Storybrooke (shortly before he leaves for the New Enchanted Forest, as seen in the season opener). Not until Roni tells Adult Henry that the reason nobody in Storybrooke knows they're missing is that the curse sent them back in time, does it turn out that Young Henry's graduation is happening now. (This is the least of the chronological confusions in this season, but most of the others are explained as they come up.)
  • The big twist in The Prisoner (2009) involves a Flashback B-Plot that turns out to be something rather more complicated. The audience is led to assume that the scenes in New York are all set before the protagonist's arrival in the Village — and then the protagonist in New York remembers something that happened in the Village. It turns out that the Village isn't a physical location, but a shared subconscious dream state, and that the protagonist's conscious self has been going about his life in New York at the same time that his dreaming self has been exploring the Village.
  • Sherlock: After Moriarty's apparent death in "The Reichenbach Fall", the show starts teasing the possibility that he actually survived. This culminates in "The Final Problem", where Moriarty shows up in person on the island where Sherlock and John have just been taken captive — only it turns out that Moriarty's visit to the island actually took place years earlier, before "The Reichenbach Fall". It is then explained that the person he met then has been faking Moriarty's continued existence using recordings he made before he died.
  • Westworld:
    • In the first season, William and Logan's story is strongly hinted, and eventually revealed by the ninth episode, to be taking place years before the other events of the series, with William going on to become the "Man in Black" seen elsewhere in the story.
    • Several scenes appear to feature Bernard chatting with Dolores. They actually took place decades ago, before the park even opened. Bernard is a Host made in the image of Arnold, who Dolores was actually talking to.

    Music 
  • Funeral for a Friend's album Tales Don't Tell Themselves is mostly a concept album about a man who is having trouble at sea and hopes to get back to his family. However, the tracks are arranged to flow rather than to tell the story in a coherent order. The opening track, "Into Oblivion (Reunion)", seems to imply it's actually one of the last tracks chronologically. Confusingly, some of the tracks concern the character walking home through the desert but it isn't explained how he made it to land.

    Video Games 
  • AI: The Somnium Files - nirvanA Initiative initially presents itself as two investigations taking place six years apart, when different halves of a victim's body are uncovered. The "past" protagonist Ryuki's already-fragile mental state deteriorates further due to stress as the investigation remains unsolved, and the "present" protagonist Mizuki is a child in the "past" that grows up to become an investigator and takes over the case. However, there are some discrepancies in events, which is revealed towards the end to be because of this type of deception; half of Ryuki's segments actually take place in the "present", and half of Mizuki's segments were actually the player taking control of her older doppelganger in the "past".
  • The Five Nights at Freddy's series manages to do this across games. The second game initially presents itself as a direct sequel to the first game, with emphasis on a brand new restaurant with shiny new animatronics (known as the "Toy" animatronic line) replacing the original ones from the first game, who are in a state of disrepair and left in a maintenance room. The paycheck that the protagonist gets after completing the fifth night eventually reveals it's actually a prequel, with the supposed new restaurant being later closed down to move to a small location, the Toy generation getting scrapped, and the original animatronics getting refurbished and used again.
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    Visual Novels 
  • Infinity series:
    • The prologue of Ever17 switches back and forth between the two possible protagonists (Takeshi and the Kid). The two viewpoints are made to appear as though it is a mere perspective flip (including some scenes in which the viewpoint character changes in mid-conversation), but are actually similar events that take place on either side of a 17-year gap.
    • Throughout the entirety of Remember11, the viewpoint switches between Kokoro and Satoru's bodies (though not their minds). Roughly halfway through the game, it is confirmed that there is a 1-year gap between the two time periods. Additionally, the end of the game also reveals that there was an additional 33 minute gap between perspective switches, which had remained undetected until then due to an inaccurate clock.
    • Similar to Ever17, 12Riven's opening features what appears to be a mere perspective flip of the same incident. In the final route, we find out that these perspective flips are actually between two very similar events, exactly 24 hours apart.
  • Lucy ~The Eternity She Wished For~: The game is interspersed with what appears to be flashbacks but are actually flash forwards. The short interludes with the Doctor and Lucy are in actuality the player character and Lucy interacting 15 years after the original ending.
  • In Zero Time Dilemma, after "Coincide", the camera alternates between the three teams as all of them receive the game rules by Zero. However, each team is getting information at completely different times, with each exposition separated by two hours. The scene the player sees is the conjunction of every scattered exposition in the form of a quick summary, effectively fooling the player into believing that all three teams are listening to Zero at the same time when actually they're not.

    Web Animation 
  • Charlie the Unicorn's finale alternates between between two different plots, one with a new character named Nyx dealing with an unleashed Sealed Evil in a Can, and another with the Blue and Pink unicorns taking Charlie with them to deal with said Sealed Evil in a Can. In part 4 it is revealed the plot with Nyx actually took place ten thousand years in the past. We are actually seeing the story of how the demons possessing the Blue and Pink unicorns were unleashed upon the world. The Sealed Evil in a Can Blue and Pink were talking about was probably a lie.

    Webcomics 
  • The first four Acts of Homestuck concern four friends, all young teenagers, who begin playing the videogame Sburb on the same day. Things get very confusing from there, so much so that Act 5 ends with characters triggering a Cosmic Retcon and jumping into a new universe. Act 6 begins with four new friends, all slightly older teenagers and obvious parallels of the comic's starting cast, starting their own game of Sburb. One of the twists in this Act is that these four teens aren't even living in the same century: Jane and Jake are living in 2011, while Dirk and Roxy are living about four centuries later. They communicate like they're contemporaries via a chat client that can send messages backwards and forwards in time.
  • Used to convey the impression that Amber and Ethan are waking up next to each other in Shortpacked!, before The Reveal that they are both waking up next to Mike. The next strip continues alternating between the two scenes, but the last panel establishes the Ethan one happened first, and then Mike went back to Amber's room.
  • This Wapsi Square strip contains a particularly extreme example. The transition from panel two to panel three looks almost instantaneous, but there is actually a time difference of roughly 80,000 years.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Young Justice, one of the heroes is cornered by two supervillains; the show cuts to commercial and then returns to what seems to be the same moment, with the hero starting his escape. It later turns out that the hero is an unwitting Manchurian Agent pawn of the villains, and spent the commercial break in a trance as they gave him his instructions.

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