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Tactical Reminiscence

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"Go for the eyes, like in episode 22!"
Tommy, Galaxy Quest

Tactical Reminiscence is where characters remind each other of their shared history to communicate and co-ordinate, giving additional meaning to references to the past only clear to those in the know. There are several ways the tactic can be used:

  • Sharing a plan the characters have used before by referring to it by name or "Like that time in Berlin in '93". Can be used as a quick way to refer to a plan when there is no-time to go into detail, a secretive way to share a plan when you need the element of surprise or if insinuated into the conversation, a way to share the plan without anyone overhearing knowing you have a plan at all.
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  • Testing someone with a fake reminiscence (Bluff the Imposter)
  • Hinting to someone that something is wrong with a fake reminiscence like:
    Bob: Remember how we used to sit and read War and Peace together...
    Alice: [Thinking] We never read together, Bob must be trying to tell me where he hid the diamonds. Of course, he must have hollowed out his copy of War and Peace and hidden them inside!
  • Used in an overt fashion to convey covert information, like saying "I'll meet you where we had our first kiss". Doesn't conceal the intended action, or the fact that they're being deliberately secretive about it, but anyone listening in will still have no idea where the meeting is going to take place.

Using Tactical Reminiscence in dialogue is a useful tool for the writers as well.

  • It lets them hint at a plan in a concise way without revealing to the audience exactly what the plan is, allowing for the Unspoken Plan Guarantee.
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  • The characters' reactions can be used for drama or comedy ("Not an Aunt Sally, I still have the scars from last time!")
  • It emphasizes that the characters have a long and colorful history together that might not have been seen on screen, or acts as a fun Call-Back if it's referring to something that was seen earlier.
  • It can become a Noodle Incident that's repeatedly referred to without revealing all the details.
  • It justifies the ability to enact and co-ordinate complex plans quickly, or even instantly; after all, this isn't the first time they've done this.
  • It can be used as a teaser for back-story the audience will find more out about later.
  • It leaves an opening for another character to ask "What's an Aunt Sally?" and have the plan explained to them and therefore the audience.
  • It's a great shortcut for writers to cut through the planning that would realistically be needed to pull off a coordinated plan and get straight to watching the action unfold.

This can backfire if the intended recipient does not or cannot actually recall the details whether through ordinary scatterminded-ness, amnesia or other inabilities to connect the intentionally vague dots.

Bluff the Imposter is a sub-trope, so examples of that kind should go there.

Compare Out-of-Character Alert, Something Only They Would Say, and Covert Distress Code.


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     Anime & Manga  

  • In Naruto, Sasuke and Itachi pull this off while fighting Kabuto. Itachi asks Sasuke if he remembers the time they had to fight off a giant boar. Sasuke remembers. Suffice to say that it is not a good thing to have both Uchiha brothers as enemies when they aren't trying to kill each other.


  • Subverted in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when such a reference is used to hint at a double agent's true loyalty, but the hint is not picked up on.
  • From Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey: "Melvin? Melvin" (cue groin attack).
  • In Inception, Cobb briefly mentions the "Stein job", which was apparently the last time when Cobb and Arthur tried their "Mr. Charles" gambit. We also learn that the gambit backfired spectacularly because it made the subject's subconscious even more hostile.
  • Hope and Crosby had a couple of these in the Road to ... movies, such as the "Pattycake" bit.
  • Hackers:
    Phantom Phreak: It's in that place I put that thing that time.
Acid Burn knew what he was talking about and dug up a floppy disk stuck with a wad of gum to the back of a condom dispenser. In the boy's bathroom.
  • Capricorn One had one of the astronauts make a remark to his wife about a vacation in some place that really wasn't, to hint that the space mission was fake.
  • In one scene in Sahara (2005), in order to get out of a really tight situation involving guys with automatic weapons shooting up their boat, Dirk Pitt suggests "doing a Panama," an obvious reference to some crazy maneuver that he and Al did in the region so named. Except they weren't in Panama. And it didn't work.
  • In ¡Three Amigos!, when the heroes, who are actually actors mistaken for badasses, are out of idea how to beat the villain, Lucky makes a reference to a ploy in a previous movies of theirs which is immediately recognized by Ned.
    Lucky: Remember our film "Amigos, Amigos, Amigos?"
    Ned: Yes.
    Lucky: Remember what we did in that movie?
    Ned: Do you think it could work?
    Lucky: It's got to work. It's our only hope.
  • Happens a couple of times in Galaxy Quest. "Go for the eyes, like in episode 22!" "You're starting to act like you did in episode 17, you scene-stealing hack!" or "Why does this sound so familiar? — "Assault on Voltareck III," episode 81."
  • In Iron Man 2 when Tony and Rhodey fight each other in their respectable suits, and at the end, Tony goads Rhodey into taking the shot nearly destroying Tony's house in the process. Tony reminds Rhodey in the film's climax: 'You want to be a hero?' while the Big Bad has them both pinned down using this tactic to defeat him.
  • In Captain Marvel (2019), Fury suspects that his boss has been replaced with a shape-shifter, so uses this to Bluff the Impostor, describing a plan as "Just like in Havana", in reference to a fictional previous plan. He's right, but then that same shapeshifter co-opts the phrase later on as a way to reveal his identity to Fury, effectively playing the trope straight.


  • Rogue Squadron once pulled this in The Thrawn Trilogy, when they couldn't exchange jump coordinates without the Imperials intercepting their transmission. Wedge reminded his squad of the battle of Xyquine, which they correctly interpreted as a suggestion to use a disinformation technique called the Cracken Twist.
    • In the same trilogy, Leia and Han attempt this, but haven't worked out a good enough verbal code beforehand for it to work very well.
  • At the start of Iron Fist, the squad are being led away from a Bar Brawl by a group of Republic military police. "Face" Loran starts talking to the lead MP and mentions that his name is Corellian, and the MP confirms that he's from Corellia. "Just like the welcoming party on M2398", he replies, referring to an incident in the previous book where the Wraiths were Lured into a Trap — because he knows from the man's body lanuage that he isn't from Corellia.
  • In the third The Hunger Games book, Katniss shouts "Geese!" when enemy hovercraft flies overhead. Her friend Gale gets the reference right away: back when they used to hunt together, they had a system worked out for who would aim at what geese in a V. Since the hovercraft are flying in a V-shaped formation, she's reminding him of the way they used to hunt and telling him to shoot the same way now.

     Live Action TV  

  • Angel did this late on, although it took Spike a few moments to realise what the reminisce is about.
    Spike: Strategy?
    Angel: Just hold my hand.
    Spike: *shrugs, takes hand, smirks* St Petersburg.
    Angel: Thought you'd forgotten... *they drop Razor Wire between them and decapitate the onrushing demons*'
  • Burn Notice uses this all the time, most often between Mike and Sam, but also with Mike and Fi or even Mike and Larry. Ticks all of the boxes above, since as a spy Michael is often unable to speak freely or too pressed for time to go into a detailed plan, and with Sam especially it builds the picture of a long and close working relationship that led to their friendship.
  • White Collar does this as well. "Remember Madrid 1993?" Similarly Leverage.
  • Human Target: Chance, Winston and Guererro use "Uncle Bob" or "Aunt Alice" to reference specific plans. Almost never mentioned in a way the audience can tell is what the plan actually is - except one time:
    Chance: Oh an Aunt Linda.
    Winston: Uh uh, calling in the cavalry is an Uncle Dan.
    Chance: No, calling in the cavalry is an Aunt Linda; I don't even know who Uncle Dan is.
  • Lampshaded on Chuck. Chuck and Morgan have been to several European countries on a search. Back at home, they are confronted by bad guys, and Chuck says to Morgan, "Remember Hungary?" You think they are going to do some intricate maneuver, but apparently all they did in Hungary was... run like crazy!
  • In Criminal Minds when an unsub shows up in his wife's home, Hotchner tells his son to "help Daddy work" because that is what he had once said he was doing when he hid in Hotchner's office.
  • Columbo episode "Identity Crisis" has a CIA operative (Patrick McGoohan) and another operative (Leslie Nielsen) discuss meeting a third party to arrange obtaining microfilm while they wander around an amusement park; McGoohan's character references "La Paz in '72" and says "Clickety-click" to tell the other operative how the first contact is to be made.
  • In the opening episode of the second series of Space: 1999, Commander Koenig is captured by an alien who forces him to order the evacuation of Moonbase Alpha. When this is questioned by Alpha's security chief back on the Moon, he is instructed that the operation comes under 'Directive Four'. It turns out that this is a secret code ordering the destruction of the signal's point of origin.
  • Implied in Sherlock: The titular character says "Vatican cameos!" more than once as a signal for John to make his move. It's a Mythology Gag to a Conan Doyle story, which presumably was a Noodle Incident in this 'verse.

     Western Animation  

  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, at the start of "Death Race to Oblivion", Batman tells Green Arrow he'll beat him in the race "Just like he beat him at Monte Carlo". At the end it's revealed that they didn't race at Monte Carlo, but they did use a similar plan to defeat the Clock King there.