Haley: That was a moment ago.
Simply put, a character is tied up by the enemy for whatever purpose, and when the most dramatic (or the most humorously opportune) moment arises, reveals that they slipped out of their ropes ages ago. Can also be done with handcuffs. Often done to indicate an Escape Artist.
A frequent variation is with handcuffs. Apparently, television is convinced that if you break or dislocate your thumb, then you can slip your hand through the cuff and thus free yourself.
A variation is where they reveal that they could have slipped the ropes, but chose not to: this is Play-Along Prisoner.
Compare and contrast Breaking the Bonds, which is generally much less subtle.
- Dark and Riku from D.N.Angel have been captured and handcuffed because Dark surrendered the moment they were confronted. Riku is furious and begins yelling at Dark, at which point he reveals he has easily escaped. "You were saying...something about handcuffs?"
- In the Fullmetal Alchemist anime, Father Cornello arrives in the dungeons to gloat in front of the captured hero Edward. In the middle of it, Edward lowers his hands from the shackles that were supposed to bind him and proceeds to eat some bread with Cornello being so caught up in his monologue that he takes a few seconds to even notice. It is then revealed that Edward was unbound the entire time and was just playing along for an Engineered Public Confession that he and his younger brother had set up.
- Gunslinger Girl. Mafia boss Mario Bossi escapes Triela with a Bathroom Breakout, despite them being chained together. When Triela goes to chase after him, she finds he's slipped the chain's handcuff and reattached it to a water pipe, which she has to waste time ripping from the wall before she can get after him.
- Lupin III can only be handcuffed if he lets you handcuff him. During a Lupin III: Part II episode, Fujiko uses this trait to convince Zenigata Lupin is possessed: there's blood on the cuffs, which means he had to fight his way out of them... something the normal Lupin wouldn't have to do.
- Naruto: In one of the first chapters, Naruto ties Sasuke up so he can disguise himself as him and go talk to his crush Sakura without any chance of Sasuke blowing the deception wide open. Sasuke swiftly escapes after being left unattended, then mocks Naruto for forgetting how escaping ropes was one of the first things they were taught at the ninja Academy.
- Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind manga. Yupa: "Heedra handler!" Said Handler: "if its slop you want, you'll get yours soon enough." Yupa: Holds up handcuffs, proceeds to kick their asses.
- ST☆R: Strike it Rich: Hina dislocates her own thumb to free herself from the handcuffs Ichika put on her. She then immediately snaps her thumb back in place.
- Trigun: Vash the Stampede once slid out of ropes to protect a young woman from bandits. Said bandits caught him before he could get back into them... the second time.
- Lucky Luke: The album Fingers is about Luke dealing with the eponymous magician/pickpocket. While captured and tied up alongside Lucky Luke by Indians, Fingers demonstrates he also did an escape artist show in the past by standing up and letting the ropes fall around him. Later, he easily slips out of Luke's lasso when the cowboy looks away. Even later, at his trial, he starts his pleading by casually tossing aside the handcuffs.
- Wonder Woman Vol 1: While Diana prefers to just break whatever bonds are holding her any time a villain manages to tie her up with her indestructible lasso she has to subtly slip out instead.
- Iago had this moment in Aladdin and the King of Thieves. This time, however, it wasn't easy, as he had to wiggle out of his very tight bonds.
- Bugs Bunny in Space Jam. When the aliens have him imprisoned, and are "gloating" to the highly amused toons, Bugs is quietly rolling his eyes and slipping out of the somewhat impressive amount of rope he's bound with. And the cuffs for his ears.
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: When Miles has Peter B. tied up, Peter distracts him by talking while undoing his restraints.
Peter B. Parker: Don't watch the mouth, watch the hands.
- Done hilariously in Treasure Planet with Dr. Doppler. Turns out, he has abnormally thin wrists.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Roger Rabbit can slip out of his cuffs at any given moment, but ''only'' if it's funny to do so. He doesn't seem any happier about this fact than Eddie is.
- The President in Air Force One does this, using a shard of glass to get free.
- One of the villains Pike from The A-Team has his hands cuffed behind him and put in the backseat of a car. Using his would-be killer's incompetence he quickly reveals his hands are free and steals the gun away from the man, pointing out they should "Never handcuff a guy's hands behind his back, then you can't see the hands."
- Babylon 5: A Call to Arms has Dureena Nafeel show the entire Thieves guild that she already loosened the bonds by simply dropping them, then knocking out the person who was taunting her about being restrained.
- Dog Bite Dog has the main character escaping from behind a police car after pulling his right hand out of his cuffs. But Surprisingly Realistic Outcome, his hand is shown to be excessively bloody from the struggle, and after his breakout, he spends much of his next scene nursing his bloody hand.
- My Little Sister: In the movie prologue, one of the Little Sister's victims manages to slip her handcuffs off. It takes some effort, but she does it before the Little Sister can get to her.
- In The Thing from Another World (1951), in an awkward romantic moment, a military officer lets a woman tie him to a chair after she claimed he was too handsy last time. He has already slipped out of his bonds by the time she confesses to things and says she would never have said them if he wasn't tied up.
- Harry Tasker does this in True Lies. The cool part is that he had just told his interrogator exactly how he was going to kill the guy (thanks to Truth Serum), right before revealing the cuffs are off.
- The Dresden Files: Harry manages to slip from being bound with duct tape, noting that if duct tape was actually any good as a restraint the police would be using is instead of handcuffs. However, he has lamented more than once that his father (who was a Stage Magician) never got around to teaching him how to slip a pair of handcuffs.
- Journey to Chaos: Rope escape is part of Tiza's Squad Four cross-training. It comes in handy in Mana Mutation Menace when Dosh Heleti tries to kidnap her. She escapes the handcuffs he uses, magic eyes him into paralysis and then uses the cuffs on him instead.
- In the Relativity story "Master Blankard's Pawn", the heroes escape right in front of the villain while he's is monologuing.
Black Torrent: I'm free. What about you guys?
Zephyra: Me, too.
Dark Flame: [still tied up] How did you guys do that?
- Arrow: Oliver Queen does this in the pilot episode. It gets a Call-Back in the fifth season premier, complete with a flashback to when he was introduced to the skill of dislocating his own thumbs.
Kidnapper: [after Oliver threatens to kill him] You're delusional. You're zip-cuffed to that chair!
Oliver: [shows his hands] Not anymore.
- In the episode "Wheel of Fortune" of The A-Team, Murdock's been kidnapped by a militia group needing him to pilot a helicopter on an "unauthorized overseas rescue mission" only for Murdoch to figure out they're lying and using him for an casino heist in Las Vegas. They're holding an innocent Vegas showgirl hostage to try and force Murdock to continue the mission but he escapes to go rescue the woman, only for the showgirl escape her rope bondage to rescue Murdock. "I dated a magician" is how she explains getting out so quickly.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Living Conditions" Buffy is starting to go Ax-Crazy because a demon is taking her soul, so the Scoobies tie her to a chair. At one point Xander and Oz wonder if the ropes are tight enough, and cautiously approach Buffy...who promptly bangs their heads together.
- Doctor Who: In "Death in Heaven", Missy not only uncuffs herself without her captors noticing, she sneaks the cuffs into Osgood's pocket for the sake of a joke.
Missy: Oh, my giddy aunt. Quiet ones are the worst.
- The Magician:
- Somewhat averted in "Lightning on a Dry Day", when Platt handcuffs Tony and pretends that Tony is his prisoner. Tony escapes the cuffs on his own, and even Platt seems surprised.
- Played straight in "The Illusion of the Deadly Congolmerate", where Tony points out to the bad guys that his friend Frank Denbo is a trained escapologist and has cxlenched his fists and tensed his muscles, meaning that the straps holding him to the dentist chair aren't actually tight and he can slip free at any time by relaxing his muscles. The crooks assume Tony is stalling and ignore. When Tony stages a dramatic distraction, Denbo is able to slip free immediately.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "0-8-4", Melinda May does this... by dislocating her wrist first.
- Daredevil. In "The Man in the Box", Matt Murdock goes to interrogate Wilson Fisk in prison, with Fisk handcuffed to a desk. But when Matt deliberately antagonises him, Fisk's handcuffs drop to the floor and he starts pounding Matt's head on the table. Matt realises too late that Fisk has bribed the guards so he's running the prison from the inside.
- Hawkeye, episode "Hide and Seek": While he's interrogated by the Tracksuit Mafia, as he starts asking to see their boss, Clint casually reveals that he'd already freed himself from the rope that tied his hands behind his back. This freaks out the goons quite a bit, and they all pull out their weapons.
- Person of Interest:
- "The Crossing": Having been tortured by HR, Detective Fusco is about to be executed by Dirty Cop Petersen. Fusco has his hands cuffed behind his back.
Petersen: You want me to hold your hand, Fusco? Oh, I forgot, we broke your fingers.
Fusco: Yeah, you did. Which made it no big deal for me to break my thumb.
- At the start of "The Cold War", Team Machine have Token Evil Teammate Shaw handcuffed to a bench and she isn't happy about it. Root points out that they can't hold her, "not against your will, anyway." Shaw shows Root the unlocked handcuff. "Too true."
- "The Crossing": Having been tortured by HR, Detective Fusco is about to be executed by Dirty Cop Petersen. Fusco has his hands cuffed behind his back.
- Supernatural. Played for Drama when Dean discovers Sam doesn't have a soul after being rescued from Hell. He beats Sam up and ties him to a chair while he and Castiel try and work out what to do. Sam argues that it doesn't make any difference, and Dean can hardly keep him tied to a chair forever. He then stands up having spent the time working on his bonds.
- Wednesday: After commenting, at the start of episode "Friend or Woe", that the ropes tying her wrists were tight enough to cut off circulation, Wednesday reveals to the secret society kidnapping her that... she freed herself five minutes ago.
- In Mass Effect 3: Citadel, after the final mission, Maya Brooks is captured by Shepard's squad and cuffed with some kind of Hard Light omni-cuffs, which she proceeds to try to hack before she's even left the room. She's perfectly capable of working the cuffs off in less than a minute. She's less capable of dodging gunfire from ten feet away.
- In Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, Layton and Luke get captured and tied up by a vampire who intends to drink their blood. Luckily, their captor did a sloppy job of securing the ropes, so after a quick puzzle, they manage to free themselves and continue their investigation. This turns out to have been an Invoked Trope. Anton's standard procedure for dealing with intruders is to capture them, threaten them a little, then leave them alone so they can escape and flee to further spread his fearsome reputation.
- Cody in Street Fighter Alpha 3 is a prisoner who makes a habit of breaking out of jail. He's handcuffed. In his taunt, he slips out of the cuffs, makes fun of his enemy, and then puts them back on.
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja Dr. McNinja has demonstrated this ability at least once.
- Batman: Wayne Family Adventures: Once Jason shows up and the kidnappers are distracted Tim, who is bored and annoyed, easily slips out of the ropes holding his wrists and ankles. Then gets out of the chair in a huff and waits leaning against the wall with his arms crossed for Jason to finish "rescuing" him.
- The Order of the Stick: Haley Starshine has ranks in both escape artist and use rope, meaning tying her up is doomed to failure.
- Flander's Company: In episode "Holidays", Dr. Parker is taken hostage by activists and tied up. In the ensuing negotiations, he slips out of the ropes — twice — while making a point, to the hostage-takers' annoyance.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- In "Avatar Day", Aang is charged for murder in a former life, imprisoned with hands and head locked in a pillory, and casually slips out of it during a chat with other inmates. In this case, it's implied Aang isn't being limber, the stock just seems oversized.
- In "The Earth King", Team Avatar get caught by the Dai Li when attempting to reach the Earth King. When Long Feng accidentally reveals that the Avatar is among those caught, Sokka points Aang out. Aang, being the Cheerful Child he is, Earthbends his cuffs off, waves to the King, then Bends them back on again. Oddly, this does not clue the Dai Li that they probably need more firepower to keep this particular prisoner (plus Toph) in line.
- Family Guy:
- Parodying this trope, the family get tied up by robbers and are trying to work out how to get free, when Chris or Peter stands up as the robbers didn't bother to tie him up.
- In the "Stewie Kills Lois/Lois Kills Stewie" episodes, Stewie ties up the entire family. To pass the time, they start making up celebrity rumors, until Chris starts clapping. He claims that Stewie must have forgotten him.
Lois: You realize we've been sitting here for fourteen hours?!
Chris: Well, get pissy if you want, Mom. I've enjoyed the time we've had as a family.
- Futurama: When the Space Amazons have Bender, Zap, Fry, and Kif chained up, to explain that Bender lacks certain parts he slips one hand out of the chains to demonstrate and then puts it back in the chain.
- Jackie Chan Adventures played with this. One episode had the good guys voluntarily let themselves be tied to chairs (clones were involved, just go with it). When they are attacked by a clone Viper slips the ropes, El Toro and Tohru break the ropes, and Captain Black tries to slip out, but fails.
- The Flash does this in an episode of Justice League. He was arrested and cooperating with police, then when they want to uncuff him, he just hands the empty cuffs to them as a way of showing that he was there purely by choice.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Stranger Than Fan Fiction", when Quibble Pants and Rainbow Dash are captured by Caballeron, Quibble easily unties himself. In fact, he escapes so easily that he doesn't realize that Caballeron was seriously trying to tie him up.
- In the last episode of Sam & Max: Freelance Police, Sam and Max get bored and do this repeatedly.
- Lestrade does this at least once on the cartoon Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century.
Lestrade: Never put a cop in their own cuffs. They probably know how to get out of them.
- In a series of Wander over Yonder shorts airing between the first and second seasons, Lord Hater has finally captured Wander and has him shackled while he plans to broadcast his execution live. However, Wander is able to slip out easily, which annoys Hater to no end.
- Harry Houdini did this a lot. On more than one occasion, police officers he challenged handcuffed him to something and walked away, saying, "We'll be back for you in an hour." Before they reached the door, Houdini would walk up to them and say, "Take your handcuffs with you."
- At least one magician has had a routine where he's handcuffed by volunteers, supposedly to do a trick, his hands are hidden and he's continually pulling out one hand or the other (sometimes with the cuffs dangling from it) to "assist" the volunteers in setting up the supposed trick or "correcting" things they've supposedly done wrong.