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Surgical Impersonation

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"He's the most brilliant and dangerous criminal mind I've ever known. For years, I've been watching him, tracking him, studying his every move. I know his every mannerism, facial tic, gesture. I know him better than he knows himself. And now, after all this time, I've figured out a way to trap him — I will become him."
Sean Archer, Face/Off (trailer)

A Sub-Trope of Magic Plastic Surgery, this is when a person, whether by accident or on purpose, ends up with the face of another through reconstructive surgery. Usually, some kind of big accident is involved (or staged) that leads to the fateful operation, or the person might just disappear for a while and come back with the new face. However, as mentioned, this is a Sub-Trope of Magic Plastic Surgery: it is not enough that the person has a new face, it is a specific face, the face of someone else that is known to the other characters, perhaps even a character who's a participant in the story. Also, this isn't literally having the other person's face (usually...), just having surgery to look like the other person. Bottom line is this: the person's new face is not a random or unknown one, it is a face well known to the other characters. Also, this is not the same as Latex Perfection: while that might be another way of impersonating someone, it is not at all permanent like Surgical Impersonation is, nor does it have as many dramatic options.

Many interesting phenomena can happen from a character changing his/her face like this, resulting in tropes that have good synergy with this one:

  • Becoming the Mask: The character, in adopting someone else's face, actually starts living that person's life, and might even start to enjoy it and not want to go back to his previous life.
  • Identity Amnesia: A very interesting combination: a character suffers amnesia and is given someone else's face. This can lead to a Tomato in the Mirror situation in which the character eventually finds, to his horror, that he's not the person everyone claims he is. A Mining Accident On Troy might also play a part here. If the author wants to hit the character with the full whammy, he might go for Amnesiac Dissonance, too.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: One of the more common tropes associated with this one: the person is impersonating a deceased person for some motive or another, usually revenge. If the impersonator CAUSED the original's death, it's Kill and Replace. It can also be a case of My Sibling Will Live Through Me: the person receiving the surgery takes this trope to the extreme, becoming physically identical to the dead relative.

Sub-Trope of Magic Plastic Surgery. Compare Latex Perfection. A form of Acting for Two.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Black Jack has done this at least twice:
    • Once to save the life of a guy who's been sentenced to death as a scapegoat for a car accident caused by a rich guy's asshole son (by making him look like the son in question).
    • Once to help a nurse get revenge on the incompetent boss who ruined her career (by making her look like the singer the boss is obsessed with). In the latter case, Black Jack's ability to perfectly replicate the singer's face is justified by saying that he'd done plastic surgery on the singer too — or, to be more precise, he "made her face" as well.
  • In one case in Case Closed, the murderer receives surgery in order to make his face look like Shin'ichi's, in order to pin the murder on him and get revenge on him. He fakes his voice by claiming that he's sick with a cold — ironically, Shin'ichi actually does have a cold.
  • In one Crying Freeman story, an organization trying to infiltrate the 108 Dragons takes two agents and reconstructs them as identical clones of Freeman, down to his body tattoos, mannerisms and even genitalia. Freeman returns the favor by managing to get one of them killed and impersonating him, so he infiltrates the other organization in return.
  • Durarara!!: Mika Harima was badly injured and had her face remade to look like Celty's original head, which she was trying to destroy at the time, so she could get closed to Seiji, who is obsessed with said head. Seiji evidently figured it out at some point but remained in the relationship regardless.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable: After being discovered by the heroes and making an escape, Yoshikage Kira kidnaps a random man off the street and forces a Stand User to use her powers to give him the man's face, then kills both his victim and the Stand User to hide from the heroes once more by living his victim's life.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, Meer Campbell — a Lacus Clyne fangirl who possessed a singing voice not unlike hers but was very different looks-wise — agrees to have surgery (and probable DNA manipulation) that turns her into an identical twin of Lacus. This is later revealed to be an attempt to abuse Lacus' political influence by Gilbert Durandal, since Lacus herself refused to work with him; Meer, a Broken Bird who's strongly implied to be a war orphan, went along with it because she is desperately lonely.
  • In Pretty Face, the protagonist is in an accident and the surgeon reconstructs his face with a picture of the protagonist's unrequited crush. His face ends up identical to the girl's long-lost twin sister.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Thomas Elliot, a.k.a. Hush, performs surgery on himself to impersonate people.
    • In one story, Killer Moth decides to kidnap a millionaire and use plastic surgery to take over his identity. The millionaire he decides to kidnap: Bruce Wayne. At the end of the story, bullet wounds damage his face, and the new reconstructive surgery removes his resemblance to Wayne.
  • The Joker has had this done to him right before the start of I, Joker.
  • Superman: One story is about a man who'd had reconstructive surgery after being trapped in a fire as a boy: he'd been saved from the fire by Superboy, and asked to have his new face made to look like Superboy's as a tribute. As an embittered adult, he starts committing robberies disguised as Superman.
  • In Über, Josef Goebbels has plastic surgery to replace Adolf Hitler after he is murdered. This is achieved through a superhuman with extremely delicate and accurate disruption halo powers.
  • XIII: The eponymous protagonist utilizes this trope in conjunction with Dead Person Impersonation to draw out members of a government conspiracy. After the titular conspirator kills the president, the rest of the group has him killed. His wife, another conspirator as well as The Mole, hires his rival from his old army unit to impersonate her late husband so the rest of the group will come out of hiding to try and finish him off.

    Fan Works 
  • One of the two toad spies who undergoes "species reassignment surgery" in The Bucky O'Hare Web Series is made to look like Bucky O'Hare so he can assassinate Chairman Dogstar.

  • Probably the most literal example is Face/Off, in which agent Sean Archer undergoes a special operation in which he has his face literally taken off and replaced with terrorist Castor Troy's in order to infiltrate his organization... and later Castor wakes from a coma to return the favor to Archer.
  • In Jail Bait, a crook blackmails a plastic surgeon to change his face so the police won't recognize him. He responds by giving him the face of the surgeon's own son, who's been falsely accused of murder.
  • James Bond:
  • A subplot in L.A. Confidential involves a ring of prostitutes who received plastic surgery to make them look like famous actresses.
  • Our Man Flint: Flint kills several Z.O.W.I.E. guards and is arrested.
    Flint: They're impostors.
    Cramden: Gridley? He's been with us... That's Gridley!
    Flint: Sir, if you look around the eyes, you'll see some scars. On the bridge of the nose. Plastic surgery.
  • The amnesiac variant is seen in Shattered (1991): Tom Berenger's character wakes up after an accident with full amnesia, and later discovers he's not the person everyone thinks he is.
  • In Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, part of Moriarty's plot turns out to involve having one of his underlings undergo surgery to impersonate a diplomat at an important peace conference.
  • In Trap For Cinderella, Micky is told that she is actually Domenica, whose face was reconstructed to match Micky's after the accident. In actuality, Micky was the one who survived the accident.

  • Julius Grief from Alex Rider accidentally received Alex Rider's face rather than somebody else's. It causes him to go insane and try to kill Alex.
  • One Greg Egan story revolves around a Mad Artist whose attempts to reenact old paintings in real life include surgically altering models (against their will, if necessary) to match the characters in the paintings.
  • The Executioner: Mack Bolan visits a fellow Vietnam vet who now works as a plastic surgeon, and among a number of suggested faces picks one who looks like an Italian-American soldier, then infiltrates the local Mafia family under that name. When the mob boss hears a rumor that particular soldier died in the war, Bolan drops a hint that he was a substitute hired to take his place so he could dodge the draft.
  • Book 1 of MARZENA has Dr. Lauren, who is actually a Body Double of the real Dr. Lauren, who is already long dead.
  • In Mona Lisa Overdrive, a conspiracy to kidnap sim-sense star Angie Mitchell takes a young hooker and has her face reworked into a duplicate of Angie's.
  • Sweet Valley High: One of the Sweet Valley University spin-offs is based around a girl obsessed with Jessica's current boyfriend. The girl has inherited a lot of money from her late parents, so after the guy puts out a restraining order against her, she uses this trope to assume the identity of a popular sorority girl from her university and continue stalking him.
  • Desmond Bagley's spy thriller The Tightrope Men opens with the protagonist waking up in a strange hotel room and reacting in terror when he looks in the mirror because his face is completely different. Turns out his new face is that of a Kidnapped Scientist and he's been altered and brainwashed to take his place. Unlike other examples he knows he's not this other person, but his memories are so confused it takes a while for everyone to sort out what's going on.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An assassin in 24 does this by impersonating a photographer and stealing his identity to get through security.
  • Alias: One faction of bad guys can do this; they kill Sidney's best friend Francine and replace her with a duplicate.
  • In the Baywatch Hawaiian Wedding Reunion Show, Mitch is about to marry Allison, who's a dead ringer for his long-dead love, Stephanie Holden. While all his friends are surprised at the resemblance, conniving Neely is the one who suspects something, getting into a catfight in a pool with Allison. She tells Mitch that the fight was an excuse to get a closer look and feel the scars by Allison's ears and hairline that show she had some plastic surgery, and this "resemblance" is no coincidence. At first not believing her, Mitch studies Allison himself to find the scars and realizes she's a con artist altered to look like Stephanie to trick Mitch, all as part of a plot of revenge by an old enemy.
  • Dark Matter (2015): One is revealed to have taken the identity of a notorious criminal by changing his face (and voice) with plastic surgery when he's captured by the same criminal. This is because he's looking for the man who killed his wife, whom he suspects to be part of the ship's crew. (Both One and the real Jace Corso are played by Marc Bendavid, while One's previous identity as Derrick Moss is played by Dan Jeannotte.)
  • Doctor Who: In "Arc of Infinity", Omega wants to transfer from his world into ours, and he uses the Fifth Doctor's biodata to achieve this. The process makes him look exactly like the Fifth Doctor for a while, but it's imperfect: his form begins to break down just when he's gotten to enjoy himself.
  • A variation on Dynasty (2017). Alexis has her face burned in a fire with surgery needed. Conniving son Adam arranges for the doctor to be given a photograph of Fallon so that when the bandages come off, Alexis is now a dead ringer for her own daughter (Elizabeth Gillies thus plays both parts). Incredibly, the vain Alexis is convinced this is "me five years ago." It takes the entire family reacting for her to finally realize the resemblance and how they all think this was Alexis' twisted idea...which is just what Adam wanted them to so Alexis was alienated from the family as part of his plan. Alexis eventually leaves, declaring her first move is to get herself another new face.
  • Get Smart: In one of the many Spot the Imposter episodes, master impersonator Alexi Sebastian has his face altered to look like Da Chief.
  • Highlander: In one two-part episode, the villain tries to get to Duncan by changing a woman into an exact double of his long dead love, Tessa. However, as the double never pretends to be Tessa, it's a bit more complicated than this trope usually is.
  • Knight Rider starts off with the main character getting a new face that just so happens look like the son of the man who paid for the operation.
  • In one episode of Lois & Clark, the villain attempts to use a double of Lois in order to convince her and others that she is insane... and then accuse her of murdering Superman.
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: In the episode "The Double Affair", a THRUSH agent gets Magic Plastic Surgery and voice training to look and sound like Napoleon Solo so he can replace him and sabotage UNCLE affairs.
  • In the Spy Fiction Sitcom The Piglet Files, a Chinese spy imitates the protagonist this way, despite obvious surgical scars and still retaining his Chinese accent. As usual, the other MI5 agents are too incompetent to notice.
  • In Raised by Wolves (2020), atheist soldiers Caleb and Mary found a Mithraic couple named Marcus and Sue who had some physical similarities to them, killed them and then had a surgical android reconstruct their faces so they could pass for them and leave the ravaged Earth on The Ark. What comes as a surprise to them is finding out that they have now inherited a son, Paul.
  • Even telenovelas don't escape this: for example, the plot of El Rostro de Analía can be described as Face/Off crossed with Pretty Face, but as a Latin soap opera with a woman doing the face exchange.
  • Given all the advanced technology in Star Trek, this is used in place of Latex Perfection. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example, Cmdr. Riker is turned into an alien for a recon mission, and Counselor Troi, Capt. Picard and Lt. Data are (willingly or not) changed into Romulans.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Number 12 Looks Just Like You", everyone undergoes a process called the Transformation when they turn 19. It involves altering their bodies into one of a set of pre-existing, physically attractive body patterns. They are at least 17 models to choose from. Lana Cuberle describes Number 12, which she chose, as "everybody's favorite".

    Newspaper Comics 
  • This is done to create a double of Modesty in the Modesty Blaise arc "The Double Agent".

  • In Arsenic and Old Lace, one of the characters is a wanted criminal who had surgery to change his appearance; the surgeon, inspired by a horror movie he'd been watching, gave him the face of Boris Karloff. (This started out as an Actor Allusion: in the original production, the actor playing the character was Boris Karloff.)

    Video Games 
  • Batman: Arkham City: One of the sidequests involves a serial killer surgically removing his victims' faces. It turns out to be Hush, who (as in the comics) has reconstructed his own face to resemble Bruce Wayne.
  • In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, the Doppelganger DLC character is an actor by the name of Timothy Lawrence who signed a contract to be Jack's Body Double in order to pay off his student loans, complete with surgery and a voice modulator (though it's hinted that he didn't entirely consent to this).
  • Metal Gear:
    • Decoy Octopus, Foxhound's infiltration and espionage expert in Metal Gear Solid, uses this method to impersonate people.
    • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: Venom Snake is actually the former Militaires Sans Frontieres medic who was in the helicopter crash in Ground Zeroes, given cosmetic surgery and hypnotherapy to be a body double for Big Boss. He's the one who Solid Snake kills at Outer Heaven in the original Metal Gear.
  • Saints Row: The Third makes use of this in the "My name is Cyrus Temple" mission. Interestingly enough, the mistakes the boss makes while under the disguise of Cyrus Temple are different for every voice of the boss.

    Visual Novels 
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All: The murderer is revealed to be a woman who was believed to have died in a car accident, when it turned out that the one who died was actually her sister. She took her sister's identity by presenting the girl's picture while she was in surgery in order to escape the publicity from a traumatic medical malpractice incident.

    Web Original 
  • Bonesaw of Worm uses her Tinker skills on captured civilians to create Body Doubles of the Slaughterhouse 9. Most are killed either due to the modifications or the ensuing battle between the Capes and 9.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of The Adventures of T-Rex is centered around villains ordering their own doubles for the purpose of alibi.
  • Glenn Martin, DDS: Jackie's old boyfriend Gary never got over her and has plastic surgery so he can be with her.
  • Jonny Quest: In the episode "Double Danger", Dr. Zin uses plastic surgery on a man to make him look like Race Bannon so he can impersonate Race and steal a secret formula.
  • The Simpsons: In the episode "The Bob Next Door", Sideshow Bob trades faces with his cellmate, who was to be released the next day, in order to enact his latest plan to kill Bart.


Video Example(s):


Johnny's New Face

When the main antagonist, a relative who's a wanted criminal, reveals himself, we find out he's had his face changed numerous times. The latest one, he's not too happy with: the guy who plays him, recognized by many in-universe. And pointing that out is something he's willing to kill over.

How well does it match the trope?

4.67 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / SurgicalImpersonation

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