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Suspicion Aesop

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A new character joins the setting, but one of the protagonists thinks there's something off about them. Or a villain announces he's reformed and trying to make amends for past misdeeds, but the protagonist suspects this is just a ruse to set up a new evil scheme.

But the protagonist is wrong. The new character who seems suspiciously nice, isn't putting on an act, and really is that nice. The former villain commits an act of Unexpected Kindness, which proves he really has turned over a new leaf. Whatever evidence made the protagonist suspicious turns out to have a completely innocent explanation—or perhaps there was no evidence, and the protagonist was just paranoid. Either way, the protagonist admits their distrust was wrong, and learns a valuable lesson about not suspecting others based on snap judgements or spurious evidence. If the writer wants to go full cliche, expect to hear some variation of the aphorism "Don't judge a book by its cover."

This stock plot is idealistic enough that the completely straight version most commonly shows up in stories for children. Media for older audiences tend to play with this trope in various ways. One specific subversion is common enough to be considered a trope in its own right, the Subverted Suspicion Aesop: after the protagonist apologizes for his misguided suspicion, a final twist reveals the other character really was up to no good, and the protagonist's distrust was correct all along. Another possible subversion that's less of a Broken Aesop is when there really is a sinister plot going on—but the sinister plotter is someone else entirely, while the specific person the protagonist suspected is completely innocent.

This easily overlaps with other plot tropes, including:

  • Apophenia Plot: If the evidence against the suspected character is just a bunch of coincidences that the protagonist read too much into.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: If the suspicious protagonist is the only person in their peer group with those suspicions.
  • The Dissenter Is Always Right: On the other hand, sometimes everyone in the protagonist's peer group is suspicious, except for one skeptic who proves to be right.
  • Prejudice Aesop: If the suspected character is from some marginalized group, then the protagonist's distrust may stem from bigotry.

For the characters who tend to be the target of this kind of suspicion, see Good All Along, Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold, Sheep in Sheep's Clothing, and Reformed, but Rejected villains. Also compare with Paranoia Gambit, another trope about a character who seems suspicious but ultimately isn't planning anything directly—only in this case, the character deliberately makes themselves appear suspicious, in a bid to trick their enemies into harming themselves through their own paranoia.

WARNING: The suspected character's innocence is often the twist ending in these kinds of stories. Expect unmarked spoilers.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Sailor Moon:
    • In Ami's debut episode, Usagi and Luna start to believe that she could be working for the Dark Kingdom based upon her actions. When it turns out that Ami isn't the episode's Monster of the Week and Luna discovers that she is, in fact, Sailor Mercury, they’re quick to apologize and accept her as a teammate.
    • The third season combines this with The Dissenter Is Always Right. Many of Usagi's senshi allies tell her that she should regard Uranus and Neptune as enemies. Of course, Usagi doesn't do so, and she turns out to have the right idea: Uranus and Neptune eventually become part of the normal senshi group.

    Comic Books 
  • The first issue of the Roger Rabbit comic book had him becoming paranoid about his new weasel neighbor. Naturally, the weasel is harmless and just wants to be left alone.
  • In Superman Smashes the Klan, Superman is widely popular among the majority of Metropolis' citizens. But Mr. Lee is terrified of Superman's superhuman abilities, believing that no one man should have that much power and that Metropolis should fear him if he ever turns on them. His new job involves experimenting on the kryptonite retrieved from the Atom Man to develop weaponry capable of harming or even killing Superman. But he changes his tune after Superman saves Tommy from otherwise certain death. This feeling of suspicion later applies to all of Metropolis after Superman descends from the sky and reveals his alien origins, horrifying all of the adults except for Lois and Henderson. The kids then call out their parents for doubting Superman on the basis of xenophobia after he's saved the city and risked his life for them time and time again.

    Film - Animated 
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part: When the heroes meet Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, they're all suspicious of her intentions, believing her to be evil, even when she's singing about how evil she isn't—though she is able to win them over with gifts. Eventually, only Wyldstyle still believes she's evil. In the end, it's revealed that she isn't evil, just bad at communicating. She and the other Systarians only wanted to be friends with the heroes, and thought that playing tough and mean was the way to do it.

  • In the kids' book Who's Inside That Hat?, a girl named Anika has a new neighbour Amelia, who she thinks is a witch because she wears a pointy hat, has a lump on her nose, owns a black cat, and buys a broom from the store. She also buys vegetables, making Anika think that Amelia wants to make "children stew". However, Amelia is just a normal woman.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: In "The Honest Burglar" (a Sound-to-Screen Adaptation of the radio episode "The Burglar"), Miss Brooks and her landlady Mrs. Davis meets a burglar raiding their refrigerator. The burglar, Joe Phillips, is stealing food, but as he is out of work, Miss Brooks gets him a job substituting for the ill school custodian. Soon items all over the school go missing; Mr. Conklin's pen and watch, Mr. Boynton's desk, a sewing machine from the home economics room, and even all the silverware in the school cafeteria. It turns out that Phillips was either repairing or polishing the items, or, in the case of Mr. Conklin's watch, Conklin's daughter Harriet had merely placed it inside his desk. Miss Brooks apologizes for being suspicious, but she's readily forgiven due to her earlier kindness and best intentions.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: In "Captain Kim", the titular captain takes over the nine-nine after Holt's latest demotion. Although she appears to be a perfectly nice person and capable replacement, Jake and Holt are suspicious due to the precinct's horrible experiences with past replacement captains, and spend the entire episode trying to dig up dirt on her. It turns out that Kim is exactly as nice as she seems to be, and she's so upset by their unfounded suspicions that she quits at the end of the episode.
  • Castle with Tom Demming. When it's revealed that a suspect might be from Demming's precinct (and Esposito's old precinct), Castle and Those Two Guys do everything to try and confirm Demming as the bad guy... but it turns out he's not only not the bad guy, he's a sickeningly sweet, almost Stu-ish, clean-cut good guy.
  • 30 Rock: The episode "Somebody to Love" plays this for some very Black Comedy. The episode's B-plot revolves around Liz growing suspicious that her new neighbor, Raheem, might be a terrorist plotting an attack after catching him and his brother in the middle of very militant-looking actions. Eventually, she calls the Department of Homeland Security on him and gets him arrested... only to learn at the end that he was actually training to audition for The Amazing Race. And because of his treatment in custody, it's implied that he'll actually turn to terrorism thanks to Liz's actions.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Amphibia episode "Marcy at the Gates", Sprig is suspicious of Marcy when she first appears, as Anne's other friend Sasha was a notoriously toxic influence—and the fact that Marcy's high status with the King seems too good to be true doesn't help. By the end of the episode, when Marcy saves the Plantars from Barbari-ants and leads them straight to Newtopia, Sprig realizes his suspicions are unwarranted.
  • Dan Vs.: In "Dan Vs. The Neighbors", Dan finds his new neighbors suspiciously nice, decides they must be hiding something, then jumps to the conclusion they must be cannibals and spends the whole episode trying to prove it. Ultimately, the neighbors turn out to be perfectly normal and nice—and they're so disturbed by Dan's paranoid behavior that they pack up and move away. (Almost every other episode of the show uses the Subverted Suspicion Aesop instead, where the subject of Dan's ire turns out to actually deserve whatever retribution they get, sometimes just by coincidence. This episode is an Internal Deconstruction, showing how Dan is incapable of interacting with normal, innocent people—and how said people would react to Dan's usual behavior.)
  • Dragons: The Nine Realms: When Ex-Big Bad Buzzsaw asks the riders for help saying his dragons was seriously injured by Big Bad Jörmungandr, the riders, excluding D'Angelo. don't believe him thinking he's lying in order to lure them into a trap. However, upon D'Angelo's urging on the off-chance he is telling the truth, they follow him - and cannot believe their eyes when they see he was telling the truth.
  • Futurama: "The Lesser Of Two Evils" has the Planet Express crew hire a new crew mate named Flexo to help guard a valuable atom they're transporting. Flexo, as it turns out, is a bending robot of the same model as Bender, only with a metallic goatee. Fry immediately suspects Flexo is up to no good, and his suspicions are seemingly confirmed when the atom is stolen and Flexo disappears. A confrontation at the end of the episode reveals that the thief was actually Bender, and Flexo had witnessed the act and was trying to get the police. Not that any of this helps as Flexo is still mistaken for Bender and ultimately charged with the crime.
  • Horseland: When Sarah first arrives at Horseland, the other girls reject her attempts at making friends because they expect her to be stuck-up like Chloe and Zoey due to being rich. In the end, they realize they were wrong about Sarah and become good friends, as seen throughout the series.
  • The Loud House: In "Shell Shock", Lincoln and Ronnie Anne are tasked to look after an egg. Lincoln fears that Ronnie Anne will break the egg on purpose because of her usual recklessness, but then he finds that she's not as rough as she seems when she removes a splinter from Bobby's finger, makes dinner, and cleans Bobby's uniforms for him. Realizing he shouldn't have judged her, Lincoln decides to let her look after the egg. (Although the egg does get cracked afterwards—by Lincoln himself.)
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Bridle Gossip", the entire town of Ponyville is terrified of the mysterious, cloaked Zecora: she looks odd, talks odd, acts odd, and lives alone in the spooky and mysterious Everfree Forest, leading the ponies to think she must be some kind of "evil enchantress". Twilight Sparkle, the newcomer and only sane mare this episode, remains skeptical—but circumstantial evidence eventually convinces even her that Zecora's up to no good. Of course, when the ponies burst into Zecora's home to confront her, they discover she's completely innocent. They spend the remainder of the episode convincing the rest of town that Zecora is harmless and actually friendly.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998): In "Substitute Creature", Mr. Green fills in for Ms. Keane. Because he's a monster, the Girls fear that he's eaten Ms. Keane and that he wants to poison the students, so they attempt to attack him. The kids stop the girls and Mr. Green says he really does love the students. The Girls apologize and say they've learned not to judge a book by its cover.
  • T.U.F.F. Puppy: "Girlfriend or Foe?" has Kitty Katswell suspect Dudley's new girlfriend Daisy of being a spy for Snaptrap. She later learns that Daisy is innocent and that Snaptrap was one step ahead of T.U.F.F. due to eavesdropping their conversations after Kitty neglected to hang up the phone.


Video Example(s):


Terrorist Neighbor

Liz suspects her neighbor is a terrorist, but he's actually just training for a reality show.

How well does it match the trope?

4.76 (17 votes)

Example of:

Main / MistakenForTerrorist

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