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Sick Captive Scam

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Everyone knows that The Guards Must Be Crazy, and one of the best examples of that is their reaction to faked illness. Convince your captors that you are unwell, and they'll throw all their common sense out the window, allowing you to take them out when they enter the cell to check on you. This works better if there's someone else in the cell who can do the talking ("Guys, I don't think he's breathing. You're not going to leave me in here with a dying man, are you?") and best of all if you can claim that the Big Bad would be unhappy with the guard if the prisoners died on his watch. Of course, if the guards have no reason to want you alive, this will probably fail. Accordingly, you'd better hope that yours are either semi-principled or that their boss gave them orders to keep you alive.

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Compare Playing Sick (where illness is feigned for more mundane reasons) and Wounded Gazelle Gambit (where injury is feigned to get someone in trouble) and contrast You Don't Want to Catch This (where illness is feigned to keep people away). See also Faking Another Person's Illness.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Noein: Haruka is abducted and put in a cell. She notices her food has a red, blood-like sauce, so she smears it on her stomach and lies on the floor moaning that she's in pain. When the guards open the door to check on her, she quickly darts out and escapes.

     Comic Books 
  • In Batman #163, Batman and Robin are captured by the Joker. While he heads off to commit another crime, Robin uses tomato soup to create fake pox marks, and comments that he already had chicken pox. The mooks guarding them jump to the conclusion that he has smallpox and run away, clearing the way for the Dynamic Duo to escape.
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    Fanfiction 
  • In Two Hawks Hunting four Hogwarts students are kidnapped and imprisoned by Death Eaters. Three of them scream to one of the guards for help while the fourth has a fake fit, complete with rolled-back eyes and toothpaste-foam "froth."

     Film 
  • Red Zone Cuba: Played absolutely straight, as Griffin tells a cellmate to ask for water as a ruse to take out the guard.
  • Subverted in The Dark Knight: One of the Joker's henchmen claims to have severe stomach pain. The guards initially ignore this, but it eventually becomes clear he has a real problem, to wit: the Joker sewed a bomb into him in order to create a distraction and escape.
  • Thor: Ragnarok has this in the form of Thor and Loki's "Get Help" routine, something they've apparently done before. When they do it on a group of guards as they're attempting to escape Sakkara, it works very well.
  • In Ant-Man and the Wasp Pym fakes a heart attack while tied to a chair to trick his captors into opening an Altoids tin that his daughter helpfully claims contains his medication, instead of ants primed to grow to giant size.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs, an incident is mentioned where Hannibal Lecter faked having chest pains to get a prison nurse to untie him. As soon as he was free, he killed and started eating her.

     Gamebooks 
  • In City of Thieves (1983) you can pull this to get your cell unlocked if you get arrested entering the city. The guards are apparently particularly gullible, even compared with most guards who fall for this trope - when they open your cell, you can claim to have the plague, which causes them to run off in a panic and leave the cell both unlocked and unguarded.

     Light Novels 
  • In Full Metal Panic!, Mithril officer Andrei Kalinin cautions Special Response Team leader Gail McAllen that if Gauron should insist that he's ill, he's told to ignore it at all costs, even if it turns out be real. Due to Gauron's reputation as a dangerous mercenary terrorist, Kalinin doesn't want anyone to let their guard down.

     Literature 
  • Stephen King wrote The Green Mile about Death Row in a Louisiana prison. Its newest inmate is "Wild Bill" Wharton, who has to be transferred from a sanitarium. The corrections officers conclude that Wharton has been "doped up," based on his cataleptic state. It proves to be a ruse to attempt an escape. Adapted into a feature film by Castle Rock Entertainment in 1999.
  • In the Lucky Starr series, Bigman, when escorted as a prisoner by two robots, pretends they broke his arm. Since they are Three-Laws Compliant, this confuses them long enough for him to pull a blaster out of his Martian boots.
  • A similar trick is used in Eternity Road when the protagonists are held captive by a security robot, who will only hand them over to an authorised (and long vanished) law enforcement officer. One of the protagonists pretends to be the doctor and takes the 'wounded and possibly dying' prisoners for medical care, confusing the robot long enough for them to escape.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga book Komarr, Ekaterin uses her aunt's not-completely-feigned infirmity to get them out of the lavatory being used as their cell, and then to make a break for the control room.
  • Done in Martin The Warrior, with a fake disease called "flurgy twinge".
  • Spaceship Medic, by Robert A. Heinlein. The ship's doctor has to take command of a spaceship when all the officers are killed, but is later deposed by a mutiny of the passengers. They still need a doctor, so they lock him in the Sickbay. So when it's time for the crew to retake the ship, one of them just pretends to be injured so the doctor will be brought to his location.
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     Live Action TV 
  • Skyler from Breaking Bad pretends to go into labor after being detained by a jewelry store owner for returning stolen merchandise.
  • Criminal Minds: In the episode "Ominivore" The Boston Reaper aka George Foyet cuts his wrist on a sharp edge of the bed, sucks out some of his own blood, and pretends to vomit blood and have convulsions in order to escape.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: In the first host segment of the Season 8 episode She Creature, the Observers are trying to dissect Professor Bobo while Pearl is kept trapped in Some Kind of Force Field. Mike and the bots distract the others, leaving only one Observer, future cast member Brain Guy, to guard Pearl. Pearl raps on the invisible bars with a mug and lures Brain Guy into the force field by telling him the other Observers "created an invisible man with their minds" and put him in with her, and that this man is now "looking reeeal sick." When Brain Guy gets close (because, of course, he can't see the sick, invisible, nonexistent man), Pearl takes his brain hostage and escapes with Bobo.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series
    • In "I Mudd", the crew sedate Harry and tell the androids that he's dying but could be saved if they could get to the Sickbay on board ship as part of a plan to get the upper hand. Played with in that this scheme is only part of a more complex one to outgambit the androids, who will expect them to make an escape attempt. Now that they've made an obvious one, they can continue with the real one.
    • In "By Any Other Name", after Kirk, Spock and Doctor McCoy are imprisoned by the Andromedans, Spock places himself in a trance in order to appear to be ill. McCoy tells the Andromedans that Spock needs to be taken to the Enterprise in order to be cured, and they fall for it.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: Pearl parodies the above mentioned Red Zone Cuba, saying she's sick — she needs moisturizer.

     Other 
  • The Evil Overlord List:
    "My dungeon will have its own qualified medical staff complete with bodyguards. That way if a prisoner becomes sick and his cellmates tell the guard it's an emergency, the guard will fetch a trauma team instead of opening up the cell for a look."

    Radio 
  • Journey Into Space: In The Red Planet, after they are captured by the flying doctor, Lemmy pretends to faint so that Jet, who is rapidly losing oxygen due to his helmet having been punctured, can escape.

     Tabletop Games 
  • The gnoll guarding the PC prisoners in the Dungeons & Dragons module Castle Caldwell and Beyond is not very bright and will fall for any reasonable trick, such as one of them pretending to be ill.
  • This is a common player tactic at the start of Lady Blackbird, whose player characters start out locked up in the brig: since the eponymous protagonist is particularly skilled at deception and social manipulation, she can distract the guards by pretending to feel unwell, while her companions break out.

     Video Games 
  • When the party is captured in Chrono Trigger, the third member of the party will use this trick on the guard. It can be very funny when the party member who plays sick is Robo, who pretends to crash and fails to reboot.
  • In DragonFable, you can get captured by the Rose in a military checkpoint between towns. If you try to get out by pretending to be dying, the guards celebrate your "death" and how they don't need to take care of you anymore.
  • Done by Zell in Final Fantasy VIII, after the party are imprisoned by the Galbadians. He has his friends Selphie and Quisitis lie on the floor of the cell they're sharing, telling the guard that a snake bit them, then sucker-punches the guard that comes in to check on them.
  • In the Henry Stickmin game Fleeing the Complex, one of the options when Henry is locked up in a cell is feigning illness. He gets tranquilized and thrown into a quarantine of really sick prisoners.
  • One level in GoldenEye (1997) starts out in a prison cell within the Supervillain Lair. If the player doesn't immediately use Bond's Gadget Watch to escape, he'll instead try to bluff the guard by lamely pretending to have a stomach ache. It doesn't sell, and Natalya makes a sarcastic quip about Bond's cleverness.
  • Metal Gear franchise:
    • Metal Gear Solid, one possible way you can escape from your containment cell is to apply ketchup to the floor of the jail cell and lay in it as the guard passes by, fooling him into thinking you're seriously injured and open the door to inspect you.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, you can make Snake vomit at will by spinning him around in the Survival Viewer. If you do this while inside the prison cell, the guard will assume you're sick and unlock the door to check on you.
  • Dragon Age: Origins if the Grey Warden and Alistar get captured rescuing Queen Anora, one of the options for escaping is to feign illness and overpower the guard when he comes into the cell.
  • A variant occurs in Dragon Quest VIII. After being locked up with you, the Bishop will claim that he's having sudden stomach pains because he swallowed his gold rosary so it wouldn't get stolen. As soon as the guards unlock the cell, the heroes overpower them.
  • Grandia sees the party get arrested by the Garlyle Forces for trespassing and held in a cell on one of their military bases. Justin pretends to be violently ill and Sue cries shouts at the guard to come help him, allowing Justin to sucker-punch him and escape with his key. And then Justin is promptly captured after leaving the room and thrown back in the cell, this time shackled, separated from Sue, and with less-trusting security guards, forcing him to find a different way out.

     Visual Novels 

     Webcomics 

     Western Animation 
  • Discussed and performed in the DuckTales (1987) episode "Where No Duck Has Gone Before". The boys, Launchpad, and Courage are imprisoned on an alien spaceship and brainstorming ideas for getting out of their cell. Launchpad recommends playing sick, an idea which Courage likes enough to steal.
  • Justice League: When the League is kidnapped by an evil mirror universe League, the Flash manages to trick Earth-2 Batman into freeing him by speeding his heartbeat so much that the prison's sensors can't detect it, causing Earth-2 Batman to think Flash is going into cardiac arrest and unchain him. It's implied to work because of Earth-2 Batman's affection for the Earth-2 Flash.
  • Lupin III: The Italian Adventures episode "The End of Lupin III" has Lupin pretend to be sick in order to fool Zenigata into letting him out. As the episode continues, Zenigata refuses to fall for such a trick, even as Lupin stops eating and says he's going to die. Eventually, Lupin does die. Except it was all a ploy by Lupin; he's well-enough, having used the food that Inspector Zenigata was feeding him to paint a dead copy of himself on the floor of his cell.
  • Happens in the Motorcity episode The Duke of Detroit, when the Burners are captured by the titular Duke of Detroit. Locked up in the Duke's mansion, Chuck is able to construct a lock pick, but they need someone to sneak out and disable the alarms before they can escape. They try to get Texas to feign illness, but he can't. They try to get Dutch to fake it, but he flat out refuses. Fed up with the bickering, Julie kicks Dutch in the shins, and his very real pained groans are enough to distract the guards and allow her to slip out with the lock pick.

     Real Life 
  • In real life, people in police custody who feign illness are referred to as having "Incarceritis" or "Jailitis" and regardless of how doubtful their story is EMS still has to be called to check the person over, and chronic users of this know exactly what to say to fake a heart attack. The end result is the person getting tossed right back into jail once they're medically cleared and it ends up being a giant waste of time for everyone.
  • In Real Life an old trick is to deliberately drink water with cigarette ashes in it, producing genuine (but non-harmful) intestinal cramps that can be objectively verified by a doctor. One way this is used is to get an assassin into the medical wing when a target is also there.
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