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The Dog Was the Mastermind

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Nostalgia Critic: Scooby-Doo!
Doctor Hack: It's always that character who had one scene you forgot about.

The Hidden Villain turns out to be about the least conspicuous person possible. The Big Bad, The Man Behind the Man, The Mole, etc was underneath your nose the whole time. The dog was the mastermind! Guess sometimes it is the person you least expect.

You've seen them before. Maybe once, maybe a few times, maybe repeatedly throughout the story, but you never suspected a thing up until The Reveal. Sucker. The Butler Did It is the classic, Cliché example (which never really was a cliché).

Beware, however, in certain types of fiction, such as when you are supposed to guess the identity of the villain, this can come off as an enormously crappy twist ending. Or at least a really confusing one. Though Genre Savvy fans will likely see this ending coming a mile away if a Living Prop is played by someone sufficiently recognizable.

A subtrope of Obvious Villain, Secret Villain and Chekhov's Gunman, when a seemingly episodic character eventually turns out to be of crucial importance for the plot (but not necessarily as the villain). Compare Milkman Conspiracy, which is when an entire organization that shouldn't have this much influence does.

Keep in mind that this is a Reveal Trope, so beware of unmarked spoilers!


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Arachnid:
    • The Boss of the Organization is an ageless poison-resistant girl capable of reading minds and controlling the actions of a single person until they die. When this person is revealed to be Yoriko, the Muggle Best Friend who Alice didn't want to escape without and who was thought to have been killed by scorpion venom before, Alice spends the whole chapter stupidified as the villain boasts about how everything ever was her fault, including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    • Kirigirisu didn't seem to do much in the Arachnid Hunt but play violin and look mysterious. In Blattodea, however, it is revealed everything happened according to his designs. For unknown reasons, he wanted the Boss dead and ensured both Sasori and Alice lived by warning Jigabachi and Kabutomushi to come save them.
  • In the 38th episode of the first season of Bakugan (simply known as Bakugan Battle Brawlers), one of the main villains, Masquerade, finally reveals his true identity to the Battle Brawlers after Dan defeats him... But as it turns out, he was Alice's Split Personality the whole time!
  • Black Clover:
    • Inverted. Nero, the bird who becomes Asta's pet, is in truth a human servant of the first Wizard King from five centuries ago who knew all along about the circumstances of the conflict with the elves. She had been collecting the magic stones to prepare against the consequences of the massacre as well as Zagred's return. She chose to accompany Asta because he was chosen by Licht's former grimoire, but grew to care for him and the rest of the Black Bulls throughout the story.
    • Played straight when Lucius Zogratis, the true villain of the entire series, is revealed to be the split soul of Wizard King Julius Novachrono, the beloved, eccentric ruler of the Clover Kingdom and mentor to the heroes, who instigated multiple Crazy-Prepared Batman Gambits within a decade or more to gain the power from Lucifero's heart so he could start a worldwide holy war to annihilate humanity and resurrect them into immortals. The "dog" part comes from while Julius is well-known as the Wizard King, nobody but his Dark Triad siblings know who Lucius even is.
  • Bleach: While their character designs were a big hint, could nobody think of Old Man Zangetsu being a manifestation of Ichigo's Quincy powers, and that they knew Big Bad Yhwach looked the exact same as Old Man Zangetsu 1000 years ago?
  • In Case Closed, this is inverted: the protagonist is the "Dog" and he maneuvers and manipulates those around him in order to catch criminals. Initially it was a simple inversion, with Conan the apparent six year old being The Man Behind the Man for the great Detective Mouri, but as time goes on, Conan wields increasing unofficial influence with more official crime-fighting agencies and manipulates them all the same. Amuro makes clear during "The Scarlet Return" arc that Conan definitely appears to be smarter than he looks to the few outsiders who actually figure out what role he plays in all this, but despite his suspicions, he still can't outpace Conan's mechanizations and leaves convinced that Conan did something without knowing what that something is or how to prove it. That something was faking Akai Shuuichi's death by predicting the actions of the Big Bad's crime syndicate down to the smallest variable and tricking them into believing that they successfully shot and killed Akai at point-blank range, in order to trick the FBI into trying to confirm the identity of the corpse, in order to trick the Tokyo Metropolitican Police Department's homicide division to analyze the "evidence" and confirm for the FBI that Akai was the corpse, in order to ensure that the aforementioned crime syndicate actually believes it. Yeah.. As Akai put it, "Don't worry. This is all going according to the boy's plan." Somehow.
  • In Code Geass, no one could have possibly guessed that the co-Big Bad of the story was actually Anya, the fairly emotionless girl. Even less likely is anyone figuring out that Lelouch's Lady Macbeth of a mother Marianne, believed to have died years ago, is the one actually behind Anya's position, having subjected her to a Grand Theft Me.
  • In the Future Arc of Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School, the mysterious Attacker who is killing off the Future Foundation members is the victims themselves, who are Driven to Suicide by a subliminal video evoking their worst nightmares; this was set up by the chairman himself, Kazuo Tengan, to both clean up the corruption within the Foundation and convince Ryota to use his hope brainwashing video to destroy humanity’s ability to feel despair. What makes this particularly shocking is that Tengan died about halfway through, and the characters only realize the truth a while after his death.
  • Dandadan: Arc Villain Evil Eye lived a hard life. Sacrificed by a group of snake-worshipping loons nominally to stave off a volcano eruption when he was just a wee lad, then stuck haunting the site of his death for centuries after. One would assume that his anger and rage sprang forth from this deprivation and suffering, but not quite. The actual source of his supernatural malice and hatred of all humanity? His underpants. Cursed cotton Y-fronts. It is hilarious.
  • In Darwin's Game, the main villain of the Off-Range Village mini-arc was a pet parrot that once belonged to a member of Eighth. Somehow, its owner managed to get it to accept a Darwin's Game invite and it gained a sigil.
  • Date A Live: The mysterious Phantom is Reine, the Analysis Officer and a recurring minor character. There are many hints as to this, including her tendency to call Shidou "Shin" instead of his actual name and her name can be read as containing the kanji for "zero", fitting the Numerical Theme Naming of the series.
  • Detective School Q has an epic "Whaaaat!?" moment when the high priest behind five murders in the Kamaikakushi village is revealed to be the cute and innocent girl who worked at the inn, Miyo Fuuma, who later turns out to be a Anti-Villain thanks to More than Mind Control from her grandfather that Broke the Cutie. Result? Eventual redemption and Tears of Remorse.
  • The ending of the Devilman work Violence Jack reveals that the Slum King is a creation of the slave resembling Ryo Asuka that sometimes appeared onscreen but didn't do much of anything important. He actually is Ryo Asuka, also known as Satan, and he created everyone in the new world.
  • In Domu, the psychic menace terrorizing the apartment block turns out to be the mentally-deficient little old man.
  • Doubt trilogy:
    • In Doubt, the group of friends learns that one of them is the Wolf, the one who trapped them here. Come The Reveal, the Wolf is Mitsuki, but she's not the example- it's the Wolf controlling her and all other Wolves, Rei Hazama. The sweet girl in the wheelchair who seemingly was the first to die? She's actually the Big Bad and hellbent on Revenge.
    • In Judge, the titular mastermind behind the game, is the protagonist Hiro, who showed no signs that he knew what was going on, and Hikari, who was mostly featured in flashbacks until the reveal.
    • Inverted in Secret. The game this time around is not quite a Deadly Game, but an encouragement to confess to murder lest evidence be turned in to the police. The guidance counselor, Shinichi Mitomo, openly presents himself as the mastermind. However, he hints that he is doing this to take down the greater evil, the three murderers within the class. This is a lie, as he intended to kill all of them, and only two murderers were technically present. He planned to manipulate a student into becoming the third killer. In other words, the mastermind was the guy who outright said he was the mastermind.
  • In Eden of the East, the mastermind behind the Selecao organization, Mr. Outside, is really an old taxi driver. You may remember seeing him in the earlier episodes, long before his reveal near the end of the story.
  • In Fairy Tail, the mysterious leader of Tartaros, known as E.N.D., and one of the main antagonists of the series, turns out to be the protagonist, Natsu Dragneel— or rather, a tumor in his body that takes another personality.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist (both the manga and Brotherhood series), The Homunculus Pride is Selim Bradley, the little son of King Führer Bradley. The biggest clue to his identity are his speech patterns in the original Japanese, which wouldn't get through to an American reader. One translator did pick up on this and correctly predicted his identity.
  • In Future Diary: it's eventually revealed that Deus Ex Machina, the architect of the Deadly Game, is not the ultimate villain. Yuno Gasai, the deuteragonist and Love Interest to protagonist Yukiteru, technically is, although she already was shown to be a crazy Yandere, so it's not that surprising. The real mastermind behind both of them- Mur Mur, Deus' cute little girl servant who did not appear much in the main story, but showed up at the end of every episode and in bonus material as the Plucky Comic Relief.
  • In an anime episode of Golgo 13, Duke Togo is hired to kill a British aristocrat running his own private intelligence agency, but misses a perfect opportunity when he steps out of his armored limousine. Togo instead kills his manservant, having realized that the aristocrat was just being hired as a front. The man who hired Togo is impressed that, even when given the wrong information, Golgo 13 always gets his target!
  • Who is the Claw in GUN×SWORD? The old man talking to Wendy in the park.
  • Used in Hayate the Combat Butler. Santa in Hayate's 'imaginations' from the first chapter is revealed to be Mikado. Although the reveal doesn't really unnerve Hayate, since he's already been unnerved by this point in the plot.
  • Comedic example: The villains of the first arc of Humanity Has Declined are the headless, skinless chickens that had appeared earlier but did not even show evidence of intelligence.
  • For roughly the first half of I'm Gonna Be an Angel!, the main villain is the campy, hammy Dispel, who spends most of his time launching attacks on Noelle, indulging in weird antics, and constantly mistreating his emotionless maid Silky. Then Silky just up and decides that Dispel is boring her, turns him back into a doll, and puts him away before revealing her role as the true villain.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, this becomes a bit of a theme going forward from Part 3 with the invention of Stands. Araki stated that since Stands are the manifestation of a person's power, they don't necessarily have to be some beefy, obviously evil looking person. The user can now be virtually anyone and hiding in plain sight while they attack the heroes from afar before they're figured out. For example many of the assassins in Part 3 rarely confront the heroes head on, instead trying to take them out discretly. Examples:
    • Earlier in the story heroes were attacked by a stand in the form of abnormally large and incredibly fast bug, while they were on the plane. In the middle of the fight one of the passengers, a plain-looking old man woke up, wanting to go to the toilet. After he noticed blood on the wall, he started freaking out, and Kakyoin knocked him out so he wouldn't interfere in the battle. However, after they managed to destroy the stand, the old man's head and tongue got sliced as well, revealing him to be the stand user all along.
    • Not long after, they charter a boat and the crew seems normal enough. But then, one of the crewmates is found dead and it soon revealed that the culprit was the captain... who wasn't even the captain because he had killed the real one and took his place.
    • And shortly after that fight, the heroes and remaining crew are stuck in lifeboats when they come across a seemingly empty freighter with only an orangatan on board. The ship suddenly attacks and kills said crew before it comes to light that the orangutan was the user the whole time, the first non-human user in the series as well.
    • The user of Death 13, one of the most powerful Stands in Stardust Crusaders that also almost killed the entire main cast, was an 11-month old baby.
    • Who's the real villain of Part 8? Tooru, an intern at the local hospital and Yasuho's ex-boyfriend.
  • In LASBOSS X HERO, the demon lord is the heroine, Nina. What.
  • The lesser-known Lily C.A.T. takes all of the tropes from the movie Alien and puts them in a blender. There's even a cat on board the ship, and a secret android working to bring back the murderous alien at the expense of the crew. The that the cat is the android.
  • Little Witch Academia (2017): It's obvious to the audience (but not the characters) that Professor Ursula is Shiny Chariot, but you are far less likely to guess that she siphoned magic power/potential from Akko, Diana, and the rest of the audience during her magic shows. This is actually why Akko struggles to learn magic, something we'd always assumed was because she has no magic lineage and is The Ditz. Not long after we learn this, however, it becomes clear that the true Big Bad was Croix, a more obvious canditate for secret evilness, and Ursula/Chariot was just an Unwitting Pawn in one of her schemes.
  • Make the Exorcist Fall in Love: While investigating the case of a succubus in Northern Italy, Father and Dante are caught off guard when the Demon Lord Asmodeus reveals that she had taken the form of a small child to "play" the role of younger sibling with one of her minions.
  • In the Medabots anime, the Big Bad turns out to be a (cybernetic) house cat using the body of a mad scientist as its puppet.
  • In Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation, the Big Bad has many potential agents, all of which Orsted has identified and tracked in the past save one. The single agent whose actions constantly foiled Orsted's plans while never drawing any attention was Gisu, a man with no combat power or political sway.
  • In My Hero Academia, the man responsible for the Bioweapon Beast Nomus and All For One's comeback was Mad Scientist Dr. Garaki, Deku's pediatrician who was seen all the way back in Chapter 1 breaking the news to him that he was Quirkless.
  • Naruto: The mysterious leader of the Akatsuki ninja terrorists is neither Pain nor Orochimaru nor Madara, but the Plucky Comic Relief Tobi, the secret identity of Obito Uchiha, a man believed to have died many years ago.
    • The true Big Bad of the story is not Madara Uchiha, be it the real one or the fake. It's actually Zetsu's black half, who's been manipulating practically all of history to revive Kaguya, the first chakra user, who by that point had only been introduced thirty chapters earlier.
    • Of course, Kaguya had already been introduced as the Ten Tails, and Black Zetsu is a manifestation of her will. Meaning, the true villain of the story was that freaky multi-eyed statue (the Ten Tails drained of all its power by ol' Six Path) that was first seen all the way back in Shippuden's first arc.
  • Occultic;Nine: The murderer of Yuta and Sarai's father is Izumin, the flamboyant and campy owner of the bar the group hangs out, being also the leader of the cult started by Yuta's father and has been exorcising ghosts of the 256 victims of the experiments.
  • One Piece
    • In the Water 7 Arc, the main conflict becomes centered around the assassination of Shipbuilding executive and town mayor Iceberg, which Nico Robin (who mysteriously defected from the Straw Hat Pirates) is involved in. Eventually, it's revealed to all sides that the ones responsible for Robin's defection and the assault on Iceberg are none other than some of Iceberg's own quirky employees and an easy-going bartender, and that they are in fact government spies finishing up a very long infiltration!
    • A bit earlier, Luffy meets a pirate captain who encourages him to follow through his dreams. He is later revealed to be Blackbeard, the man Ace's hunting for the murder of Thatch, who would later rise to be one of the Big Bads.
    • During the arc on Egghead island, a number of very strange events take place, from Cipher Pol agents going missing to the Seraphim—genetically engineered child super soldiers—mysteriously turning on Doctor Vegapunk. The one behind these events turns out to be none other than Vegapunk's own satellite personality: York.
  • One story of Outlaw Star had the main characters seek out and eliminate the leader of a small-time gang operating out of an ice cream truck. The leader turned out to be the potted cactus with Mind Control powers.
  • In Pokémon the Series: XY, at first it appears that the mysterious Madame X is using her Malamar to brainwash people and Pokémon for her unknown evil intentions, but it's then revealed that she herself is just a brainwashed Officer Jenny who was used as a decoy and translator by the Malamar, marking the first time in the series that a wild Pokémon has been portrayed as actually evil. (Aside from that evil Togepi from Pokémon the Series: Diamond and Pearl, although she's more interested in food than Taking Over The World.)
  • In Reborn! (2004), nobody expected Checker Face to be Kawariha, the guy who is known for ordering ramen by I-Pin. Before this reveal, he only appeared once on-panel.
  • In Re:Zero, Subaru attempts to find out who's been murdering him during the second arc. Later, he believes that it's Rem because of her initial distrust towards him, but when she too dies of mysterious circumstances, Subaru learns that death curses can only be placed when physical contact is made to the victim. It's at this moment where Subaru discovers the only person who could have cursed him was actually the dog that bit him from a village he visited that's actually a demon.
  • In Rosario + Vampire, The Masked King, leader of the terrorist organization Fairy Tale, the final Big Bad, and most powerful character in the series, is eventually revealed to be Miyabi Fujisaki, the guy who was almost married off to Mizore back at the start of Part II. This character was important when first introduced, but was never mentioned again afterwards, and certainly showed no signs of being Alucard himself.
  • Episode 7 of Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight reveals that Daiba Nana, a.k.a. "Banana-chan", has kept the whole cast trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop for an unknown number of iterations by repeatedly winning the giraffe's audition and making a Deal with the Devil to redo the performance from their first year. There are hardly any clues that the time-loop exists at all, and she does nothing notable, let alone suspicious, in the first six episodes. The main antagonist, though, is still the giraffe himself, and/or the audience.
  • In Shugo Chara!, who is Gozen, the true leader of Easter Company? Hikaru Ichinomiya, the little kid.
  • Time Bokan series: "Zenderman". Oddly enough, it was the Trio's pet this turn around who turned out to be the Big Bad.
  • Tokyo Ghoul pulls this off to an astounding degree. The One-Eyed Owl, the mysterious ghoul of Aogiri Tree, turns out to be Eto Yoshimura, the strange and childlike member of the organization always hanging around in the background. Then it takes it even further, revealing at the same time that she's also Sen Takatsuki, the oft-mentioned and dorky horror novelist.
    • The series loves to pull this. In :re, the Big Bad and Final Boss, and the one responsible for the incident that turned Kaneki into a ghoul, is Kichimura Wasshu- also known as Nimura Furuta, Kijima's friendly and harmless assistant who mostly stayed in the background, and was first encountered as Furuta when Touko briefly mistook him for Kaneki. It goes further when he also turns out to be Souta, a member of a gang of clown-mask wearing ghouls. He appeared briefly but never seemed anything more than another ghoul.
    • There's also Roma, the Sixth Ranger at the cafe who seems to be The Cutie but is actually the founder of the Pierrot clown gang, and arguably The Dragon to Furuta.
    • In JACK, the mysterious ghoul Lantern is Uruka Minami, a high school girl who inserted herself into the investigation and seemed nothing more than a Love Interest.
    • In the side story JOKER, the leader of the skull gang is a girl on a train that Juuzou saves from molestation.
    • In the game JAIL, the main character Rio goes on a quest to find the titular ghoul, only to find that he himself is Jail.
  • In Tomodachi Game, it's revealed early on that there's a traitor within the friend group that forced them all into the Sadistic Game Show. After constant betrayals and mind games, it's finally revealed that Shrinking Violet Kokorogi masterminded almost all of the despair and trauma, being a sadistic Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who was The Dragon to the true mastermind and arranged the deaths of Tenji and Shibe's fathers after stalking them for years.
    • Happens again in the Friendless Game arc, as the Arc Villain playing the others against each other is revealed to be the other large-chested Shrinking Violet, Kimiko Kyouguchi. Funnily enough, she and Kotorogi don't get along.
  • In Tokyo Shinobi Squad, the main characters are assigned to track down and eliminate or capture The Cardinal, the head of a crime syndicate that effectively controls a region of Tokyo known as Orochi District One. When they get there, a thug crashes a truck into their car, and they are narrowly saved by Kanan, an incompetent teenage fishmonger who offers to be their guide around the district, showing them how to get places and warning them of traps set by the syndicate, such as Child Soldiers brainwashed to grasp their targets and explode. Kanan is The Cardinal. He had founded the syndicate a few years prior as a way to defend Orochi District One from government attempts to gentrify it, which would drive the residents out. He guided the main characters around to gain intel on them and whoever else might be backing them up, covertly feeding the information to his men and coordinating attacks. He did not count on there being a mind-reader among the heroes though, but he hid his true identity so well that En, said mind-reader, never bothered to check Kanan's memories until it was too late because the thought never even occurred to En to do so.
  • Tweeny Witches: The Grand Master of Witches orders Sheila to find the traitor among the witches, who will cast dark magic for the warlocks. After every suspect turns out to be innocent, Sheila discovers that it's her friend, Eva, all along, though Forced into Evil thanks to Grande's manipulation. It's particularly a shocking reveal since the character in question is not only a blonde, pigtailed Cute Witch but also one of The Hero Arusu's True Companions.
  • The first chapter of Venus Puts Fur On Me establishes Nakajima as a heartless bully who picks on the shy, submissive Shirosaki, who can do nothing but cry in fear as he does things like beat her, make her drink her own piss, and tell her she should die. The end of the chapter reveals that Shirosaki herself is forcing him to do all this to satisfy her sadomasochistic desires, and tortures him if he doesn't do so. Notably, Katou, when trying to deduce who is making Nakajima bully Shirosaki, never considers the possibility of Shirosaki herself doing it because the very idea of a bullying victim masterminding her own torment sounds absurd.
  • In chapters 6-7 of Zodiac P.I., Lili is behind someone who names itself "Sirius", thinking it's the one she already met in the past. In the first of those two chapters, a girl with huge glasses named Yukiji appears multiple times in the background, staring down Lili multiple times, and also briefly helps her in the latter chapter. At the end, after Lili discovered that the Sirius they were searching for was not the same one as the last time, Yukiji is shown briefly monologuing about that guy who called himself "Sirius"...then she takes off her glasses and a wig revealing she was the other Sirius all along, annoyed because someone stole her moniker and she wasn't the one who punished him for his evil deeds.
  • Happens constantly in Yu-Gi-Oh!.
    • In Duel Monsters, Marik invokes this by posing as a friend of Bakura's named Namu, while making it appear that his servant Rishid is him. Jonouchi isn't fooled when he sees that Rishid is too much of a Noble Demon to be Marik.
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Darkness is introduced as part of the first Quirky Miniboss Squad, and later comes back during the second season. The final season reveals that all the events of the show were a prelude to the coming of his true form, an Eldritch Abomination as old as the universe itself.
    • ZEXAL II has Yuma's new friend Shingetsu, who is introduced as The Ditz, before revealing he's a detective Obfuscating Stupidity, before revealing that he's actually Vector, the Big Bad of the series so far.
    • ARC-V takes this to the logical conclusion, with the Big Bad turning out to be The Hero. Not that he's aware of it.
    • SEVENS has Swirly, a kid in a chameleon costume who joins the gang just as 5 of the 6 Goha Siblings appear. No prizes for guessing who the 6th turns out to be.
  • Yui Kamio Lets Loose: The person seemingly behind all the Mushi incidents is the young priest from the temple, though he's only cooperating with Hiniko.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: The villain behind the sickle-trafficking gang in Asterix's second album, "Asterix and the Golden Sickle": He appeared time and again before the reveal? Check. Was he Beneath Suspicion? Check. Is it a surprise both to the heroes and the audience? Check. Does it make sense with the general theme of that album? You bet, because this is the only way the not-so-bright members of the sickle-trafficking gang could get away with an operation like this for so much time.
  • In a two-part story in Detective Comics (circa 1989), Batman tries to stop the anti-establishment villain (or anti-hero depending on individual viewpoint) Anarky. Over the course of the two issues, the reader is shown scenes of a family man and his son, both together and apart. These scenes slowly imply that Anarky is the father, and he even tries to take responsibility when Batman catches him with Anarky's cape. Turns out he was just covering for his son, who was the real Anarky. The son was a middle schooler at the time.
  • In the Darkwing Duck comic book series, a recurring villain is a genetically engineered house cat who fakes his own kidnapping from a research laboratory. Yes, in the Darkwing Duck universe ducks can keep cats as pets.
  • In the Doom Patrol comic, the would-be cosmos-destroyers in the Cult of the Unwritten book are led by the Archons of Nurnheim—i.e. a couple of Punch and Judy puppets. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, this was written by Grant Morrison.
  • In Fables, The Emperor/The Adversary, who conquered the Homelands and drove most of the Fables out into the mundane world, turns out to be Gepetto, of all people.note 
  • This happens twice in 52. The first time is a huge early reveal that the time issues going on are the work of Skeets, Booster Gold's sidekick. Oh, and he kills Booster. In the very last issues after Booster is revealed to be alive due to time travel tricks, it's discovered that Skeets is possessed by Mister Mind. Said villain had only appeared in a few panels without ever saying a word in the early issues.
  • In the third Justice Society of America story in All Star Comics #5, the JSA bust up a series of rackets headed by a mysterious figure known as Mr. X. At the end of the story, an innocuous milquetoast who had appeared in each of the individual chapters turns up at the police station. It turns out he is really Mr. X and now, with all of his rackets smashed, he intends to turn himself in and live off the state in prison.
  • In The Golden Age of Comic Books, it was assumed by everyone - in-universe and out - that Captain Marvel's unseen enemy Mr. Mind was an dangerously brilliant Evil Genius bent on world domination; this was true, but everyone also assumed he was human, which he was not. He is actually a tiny little worm from another planet, something which came as a surprise to everyone. (But he's one dangerous little worm.)
  • Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, threw the readers a curve when the identity of HYDRA's leader, Don Antonio Caballero, proved to be an alias. Ripping off his life-like mask, the true Supreme Hydra stood revealed as Fury's long missing WW2 arch-enemy Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. It was a moment so jarring, artist Jim Steranko made it a two page panel for the occasion.
  • Rat-Man: One story has the eponymous "hero" meeting Graziello, a stick figure who annoys him by telling corny jokes and laughing in a monotonous way, and Rat-Man can't get rid of him. In the end we discover that everything that happened in the issue was Graziello's plan: as a failed comic book character who never got the chance to be published, he lured Rat-Man to the comic book school and in doing that he had appeared in a Rat-Man issue, thus finally being published and read by many people!
  • In the original Silver Age Spider-Man, The Big Man—a New York crimelord and leader of the Enforcers—was revealed to be Frederick Foswell, a browbeaten reporter at The Daily Bugle.
    • This is something of a reoccurring theme among Spider-Man villains. The original Green Goblin was eventually revealed to be Norman Osborn, the father of his best friend (this being long before Norman established himself as the Alternate Company Equivalent of Lex Luthor). The Jackal, better known as the villain who set up The Clone Saga, was Peter's nerdy science professor. The Hobgoblin, a villain modeled after the Green Goblin, had a two-for-one deal. He was originally revealed to be a Daily Bugle reporter and longtime minor supporting cast member Ned Leeds until a Retcon explained that he was yet another minor supporting character who had since faded into near-obscurity.
    • One particularly jarring example involves Spider-Man searching for the murderer of a scientist who had created a crime cataloging supercomputer. The culprit is none of the three suspects, but the computer itself.
    • Played for laughs in a 1990 story-arc where Spidey and Wolverine face the super-villain team "Band of Baddies". There is a mystery villain working with them who dresses up as the Burglar who shot Uncle Ben, and who Spidey suspects is someone from his past. When he unmasks the mystery villain, he recognizes that the guy is Peter Parker's dentist.
  • A variation in The Avengers (Jonathan Hickman) comic book. The Star Brand has come to our Earth, and we're shown several scenes at a college focusing on different characters we believe are potential hosts. At the end of the issue, the Starbrand chooses an inconspicuous background character that had meaningless interactions with each of the candidates.
  • Homaged in Bongo Comics' Radioactive Man series which generally parodied most of the major cliches in comics, superhero especially, and had the final issue reveal that Radioactive Man's deadliest foe was Radioactive Worm, an Expy of Mister Mind, who reveals it was caught in the same explosion that created RM. Indeed, as pointed out in a footnote, if you look back at the first issue's splash page of Claude caught in the atomic explosion, you can see a tiny earthworm crawling up from the ground right below him and being in it as well, thus planting the reveal as this rather than one of the Stranger Behind the Mask variety.
    • Similarly, in their short-lived Bartman comic, the true villain behind the crime wave that's taken siege of Springfield? Lenny, thanks to the fact that a faulty leak had dropped minor radioactive waste on his head resulting in him going temporarily insane, a moment that's briefly seen early on in the fourth issue as a Funny Background Event while Mr. Burns and Smithers were talking.
  • An Anti-Hero version of this trope happened in Watchmen. Rorschach's identity was mostly a secret until it is revealed he was that random homeless guy that was always hanging out in the background.
  • In Batman Eternal, all of Batman's Rogues Gallery are brought together and manipulated by a mysterious hidden villain who seems to have learned Batman's identity. Each time Batman seems to be getting close to a big mastermind (Hush, The Riddler, Owlman, even Ra's Al-Ghul), it turns out that they were just invited by the real Big Bad. In the finale it's revealed that the villain was Cluemaster, a fairly minor member of Batman's rogues who rarely pulled off anything big. As it turns out, Cluemaster had gotten fed up with his constant fights with Batman and decided to apply himself to making a fool-proof scheme to destroy him; to divert attention from himself he invited a bunch of big-name Gotham villains to the team-up to make Batman think the culprit had to be a huge and major enemy like the Joker. That way, Batman was focusing on the idea that the mastermind would be this ungodly powerful person and never stopped to think that any of the c-listers would be able to pull something like this off. The twist was ultimately subverted: The plan was indeed Cluemaster's, but far more likely and foreshadowed villain Lincoln March pulled a Hijacked by Ganon in order to serve as the story's final boss.
  • The Avengers once encountered a mysterious super-villain called The Crimson Cowl; upon being unmasked, the Cowl was revealed to be "merely a robot", the "real" Cowl being Tony Stark's butler Jarvis; later, Jarvis confessed that he had been forced to impersonate the Cowl under duress, and he begged the "real" Cowl not to kill the Avengers "in the name of humanity"; the Cowl replied "What makes you think I am human?", and unmasked himself to reveal...that he was really the robot all along! (this was the first appearance in comics of the Avengers villain Ultron)
  • In Batman: Hush, a mysterious new villain—the eponymous Hush—appears in Gotham, kicking off a massive evil plot that involves not just Batman's allies and rogues' gallery, but other heroes and villains (including Superman and Lex Luthor). While Hush is ultimately unmasked as Dr. Thomas Elliott, Bruce's childhood friend turned criminal, the true villain of the story is the Riddler, who everyone in the city considered a washed-up joke villain because of his puzzle gimmick. He worked out Batman's true identity after submerging himself in a Lazarus Pit, then worked with Elliott to try to take down the Dark Knight once and for all.
  • Parodied and exaggerated in The Goon's "The Deceit of a Cro-Magnon Dandy" arc. The Goon's crime empire is threatened by a Sharp-Dressed Frazetta Man gangster named Dapper, but Dapper himself has an elusive and mysterious patron. This turns out to be the strange-looking kid who carries a duck around and had been a Recurring Extra since the beginning of the comic.

    Comic Strips 
  • Parodied in The Far Side when (what else?) a cow suddenly stands up in court and says, "All right, I confess! I did it! That's right! The cow! Ha ha! And I feel great!"
  • Played with and subverted in Luann. In the arc where two of the teachers (acting as chaperones) ended up dancing with each other, and getting recorded by an anonymous student via cell phone and posted on the internet and getting in trouble with the principal, one of the teachers thinks Luann did it, while another felt it was more likely that Tiffany did it. The male teacher's reason was because of this trope, to which the female teacher pointed out that he would also qualify for that exact trope to prove that it shouldn't be used. It turns out Tiffany really did do it, after Luann tricked her into revealing to her deed by claiming credit as being between her and herself, although she ultimately wasn't able to reveal it after Tiffany recorded her changing and then used her old cell phone as a decoy in case Luann did attempt to tell her.
  • Parodied again in FoxTrot in a month-long series where Phoebe Wu (a girl Jason, Marcus and Eileen befriended at summer camp) comes to visit. Her camp journal goes missing and the evidence points in all different directions: Marcus' fingerprints are found nearby, as is a note written in Eileen's secret code using one of Phoebe's glitter pensnote . In the end the culprit turns out to be Phoebe's Insufferable Genius brother Eugene, who only appeared in a couple of early strips of the storyline. When this is revealed, the trio Face Palms ("Of course! The innocuous secondary character!" "Introduced and then forgotten!") Phoebe remarks "Scooby Snacks are on me."

    Fan Works 
  • The Harry Potter story Backward With Purpose involved Harry, Ginny, and Ron traveling back in time to fix a Bad Future. At the same time (relatively), someone else is also traveling from the future and tweaking things behind their backs. It is revealed to be Harry and Ginny's son Albus, who was never seen previously and had not yet even existed in any form or timeline from the main characters' (and audiences') perspective. Perhaps most bizarrely, if you read the sequel it all makes sense.
  • In the Firefly fanfic Forward, it turns out that the mastermind behind the events of the "Charity" episode was Katie, the little girl following Zoe around, who was actually a powerful psychic.
  • In the Legend of the Five Rings fanfic Rokugan 2000, the champion of the Realm of Evil turns out to be Hoshi Jack, the motivational speaker who stars in a cheesy TV talk show.
  • The Harry Potter fanfic The Ones You Never Expect (link) has this trope as the premise, parodying bashfics that turn nice characters in canon into manipulative villains. It starts off with Colin Creevey being revealed to have faked his death in the final battle at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He then meets up with his brother to report to Dedalus Diggle. All three report to Crookshanks. Who reports to "The Queen": Hedwig. As it turns out: The war wasn't between Voldemort and Dumbledore; it was between Nagini and Fawkes. And Hedwig has been waiting on the sidelines, faking her death, until the two sides butchered each other so that she could take over the world in the aftermath.
  • At the very end of The Unchosen One, it turns out that the mastermind for the whole operation—a plot including the near-destruction of Equestria, Twilight temporarily turning evil, and Trixie getting ascended into an alicorn, although the last one wasn't actually part of the plan—is actually Princess Cadance, with some help from her henchman Discord. The whole thing was done so she could get her hooves on the Element of Dominance in order to establish her control of Equestria. No, this character has had no bearing on the plot whatsoever up until this point.
  • In the last part of Reality Is Fluid, the person who sabotaged an experiment on the USS Bajor turns out to be a random background character who only even appeared in three paragraphs in what seemed like a throwaway scene in the middle of part I.
  • Non-villainous version in The Infinite Loops: For several Equestrian loops, Twilight was vaguely aware that events were going...smoother than usual; fewer conflicts, fewer ponies getting into trouble from canon events, and so on. Eventually she discovers that Big Macintosh Awoke at some point, and has been tampering with things while avoiding notice. His main reason for hiding? During the loop he Awoke for the first time, Twilight pretended to be a Nightmare-possessed villain as a prank, and it took him a long time to accept that she wasn't actually evil.
  • Escape from the Moon: Chapter 13 of the final story, Scavenge For the Future, reveals the one behind everything that went wrong in Spliced's life, from her never having friends to her being recruited into the Thirds' army to her being made immortal, was Subtle Dancer, a servant of a Greater-Scope Villain. She was seen but not identified in one of Spliced's dreams of being recruited, she acted as a maid in the Crystal Empire in one scene, and she was the secretary/assistant of the supposed lead villain of the final story.
  • The Twist Ending of this one-off My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fancomic. In it, Opal the cat shreds a roll of fabric belonging to Rarity, and blames it on Sweetie Belle. She did it in exchange for Diamond Tiara giving her a ball of yarn. From there on, a string of masterminds is revealed, before the ultimate mastermind is shown to be...Opal herself, again.
  • The Bolt Chronicles: A literal example In-Universe in "The Murder Mystery." It is revealed that Bolt and the other animals from the TV show teamed up to kill The Director, and furthermore collected a double-indemnity life insurance payout afterwards.
  • Becoming a True Invader: The Employer ultimately turns out to be Minimoose, who it turns out was actually a Control Brain from an Alternate Universe all along.
  • Power Chord: High School Musical: Who would have thought that the quiet, shy, performing girl Luan was actually the villain behind all of the bad things that happened throughout the story.
  • In the Neptunia fanfic Rei Ryghts: Ace Attorney Turnabout Of The Revengers, the true culprit is deduced as the serial murderer known as the Dragon Killer, who turns out to be the movie director's errand boy, a nice young man who is also friends with E-Sha of Gold Third. Another reason he wasn't suspected was because he's a native of Leanbox, whereas all the murders occurred entirely in Lastation.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Lemons Kingpin in Cars 2, who is determined to sabotage Miles Axelrod's alternative fuel Allinol in the World Grand Prix and increase reliance on oil, is Axelrod himself, who created Allinol as part of a plan to discredit alternative fuel in general.
  • The villain in Hoodwinked!, except instead of a dog it's a cute little bunny rabbit named Boingo. The fact that he keeps appearing in the stories may send up warning flags to the savvy viewernote . Used again in the sequel, where Hansel and Gretel, the supposedly kidnapped and innocent kids, are behind everything.
  • In Meet the Robinsons, the Big Bad turns out to be the future version of Lewis' roommate Goob. Except it's actually future!Goob's bowler hat.
  • The Adventures of the American Rabbit has the eponymous hero getting a big surprise when he tackles the Big Bad, only to have him suddenly deflate. It turns out that the human-like figure was a decoy and the pet vulture who is usually perched on him is the real villain all along.
  • Played almost straight in The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue. There, instead it's The Mouse Was The Mastermind. In the movie it was almost obvious that the villain was a man named Doctor Valentine, a particularly unscrupulous scientist working at NIMH. However, it is revealed that the real villain is the mouse Martin, brother of Timmy (the hero) and son of the heroine of the first movie (Mrs. Brisby), kidnapped earlier in the movie by Doctor Valentine, who performed experiments on Martin, enhancing his intelligence but also making him evil. This led Martin to use Valentine's equipment to regress all the scientist's intelligences to those of dogs. Martin then plans to create an army of genetically-modified rats to take over Thorn Valley, the valley in which the gentle intelligent rats who previously escaped the NIMH laboratories now live.
  • In Zootopia, Judy and Nick initially think that Mayor Lionheart is the Big Bad for trying to cover up the predator citizens that have gone savage, and get him arrested. However, once they learn the truth about how the animals are going savage, they run into Assistant Mayor Bellwether, who reveals herself to be the true mastermind of a plot to turn prey against predator.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Assassins, Robert's contact and Miguel's contact who have been pitting them against each other turned out to be Robert's supposed to be dead friend Nikolai.
  • Occurs in the Framing Device of horror Anthology Film Asylum: in order to get a job at a mental asylum, the psychiatrist Dr. Martin has to interview the patients there and determine which of them is really Dr. B. Starr, the former asylum head who had a mental breakdown and adopted a new personality. None of the patients are B. Starr - Max, the orderly who has been taking him on a tour of the asylum, is...Once Dr. Martin guesses incorrectly, Max takes the opportunity to kill him.
  • In Bad Girls from Valley High, it is ultimately revealed that the Rapid Aging being experienced by the Villain Protagonists is not a curse from Katarina or anything to do with Charity's ghost. Instead, Mrs. Witt (the old woman who Danielle was meant to be caring for) shows up and reveals that she was Charity's grandmother. Also, while she had been briefly unable to speak due to a stroke, she had very good hearing and sight and overheard Danielle bragging about Charity's murder. Witt then reveals she poisoned the chocolate box (knowing that the girls would eat it) with an aging chemical (thanks to her late roommate's husband that worked with biological warfare technology).
  • In Blood Work, the serial killer turns out to be the protagonist's drunkard fisherman friend from the same marina.
  • The Bodyguard. Rachel's sister Nikki hired the hitman who's been hounding her the whole movie.
  • In The Bone Collector, the killer is Richard, the technician from the beginning of the movie.
  • The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial: Keefer gets the least focus out of the crewmen at first, but Greenwald reveals he's the one responsible for the mutiny, at least indirectly. His hatred of the Navy led him to sow discontent under Captain Queeg and fed Maryk's suspicions about Queeg's mental illness, but has spent the entire trial ducking away from the consequences.
  • Captive State: Twice. A low-class prostitute, formerly a history teacher, is revealed to have coordinated the Resistance in Chicago - and implied to have a major hand in American Resistance. This was specifically so all the politicians and government personnel who slept with her spill enough beans for the Resistance to strike targets. And after that, her partner is a police commander who has been spearheading the investigation into eliminating the Resistance... and, by eliminating them, becomes the new commissioner, and thus gets a face-to-face audience with the Legislator colony in Chicago...who don't realize he's a suicide bomber packing enough explosives to kill them all.
  • In Cube 2: Hypercube, the supposed super-hacker and mastermind Alex Trusk turns out to be...a blind girl?
  • Dream House throws suspicion over nearly every character introduced. The actual killer? Someone who drove by the main character's house during one scene and did not become relevant again until The Reveal.
  • The Italian Horror film Deep Red initially presents a minor character as the killer, but at least the killer was an established character. Then a few minutes later it's revealed that the killer is actually the minor character's mother.
  • In Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, the copycat killer mimicking Jason's M.O. turns out to be the paramedic, Roy Burns, who had only two scenes and a few lines.
  • In Galaxy of Terror, Kore, the unassuming cook, turned out to be The Planet Master who had sent the crew of the starship Quest to the planet Morganthus.
  • In The Hangover, Asian gangsters claim to have kidnapped Doug. When his friends see the gangsters, their leader turned out to be the naked guy who jumped out of the trunk of the police car they stole the night before. Worse is that the guy they saved isn't even the one they were looking for.
  • An early cut of House of 1000 Corpses had the relatively harmless Grampa Hugo Firefly turn out to be Dr. Satan. Rob Zombie decided this would have been anti-climactic and changed it.
  • In The Hunt for Red October, the spy amongst the crew who is trying to sabotage the ship so that it can be destroyed before it can fall into the Americans' hands is...cook's assistant Loginov, who appears in a single scene prior where he is offhandedly made to witness the captain taking control of the dead political officer's nuclear key.
  • The mastermind in I, Robot is VIKI, the AI that controls all the robots.
  • The entirety of Identity's plot consists of a massive build up to who the murderer will be. Upon reaching the happy ending, it turns out it was the kid all along (even after he was seemingly killed from a car explosion), and the viewer is treated to a hilarious montage that involves a grumpy looking kid walking away from an explosion and an obese maniac talking in a high voice. On the other hand, all the killings were metaphorical and not physical, given that all the events at the motel are actually taking place inside the mind of an insane, condemned murderer.
  • While the true mastermind in Inside Man introduces himself right off the bat, the innocuous elderly Jewish man turns out to be working with him.
  • The King's Man: It's ultimately revealed at the climax that the Shepherd, who has been The Faceless throughout the movie, is actually Major Morton, General Kitchener's aide-de-camp who was always in the background during key plotting scenes.
  • In the Hungarian film Kontroll, the masked killer is a welder who appears briefly in one scene. (Although that's not revealed in context; you can only find it out from behind-the-scenes information about the same actor playing both parts.)
  • Parodied in The Man with Two Brains. The Elevator Killer is actually Merv Griffin, whose show appears for a few moments at the start of the movie.
  • The multiple parody reveals at the climax of Murder by Death seem to end with host Lionel Twain's murderer turning out to be...Lionel Twain (after the obligatory The Butler Did It Red Herring). After he tells off the sleuths and they leave, completely chagrined, the killer then rips off another mask to reveal the mute cook, who then starts laughing hysterically.
  • Played straight, and somewhat deconstructed, in the German Film "Net of Steel - The witness" (Stahlnetz - die Zeugin). The murderer is the eponymous witness, a 12-yr.-old girl picked on mercilessly by her family and threatened by others because of their secrets. The deconstruction applies because the girl is not a "mastermind" - rather a desperate (but still aggressive) child - and before The Reveal she is seen just as a random girl who saw too much.
  • In No Way Out (1987), the ending reveals not only that Tom Farrell was a Soviet spy all along - though innocent of murdering his girlfriend - but his landlord was his Soviet handler.
  • Subverted in Phone Booth. At first, it looks as though the Caller was the pizza guy who only had a very brief appearance at the start of the film. However, it turned out the real Caller had the pizza guy hostage until he got caught, when he slashed his throat and left him as a decoy to escape. The real Caller only appears in person at the very end, when he reveals himself to Stu.
  • The Wolf in Red Riding Hood is Valerie's father, the village drunk Cesaire.
  • In the first Saw movie, The Reveal at the end is that the The "dead man" in the middle of the room is actually the Jigsaw Killer, and The Man Behind the Man of the previous apparent killer, Zep. He's also seen and named John Kramer in a flashback, where he's equally inconspicuous as a patient at the cancer ward. It's very hard to tell that these are even the same person on a first viewing, but there are actually a few hints. note 
  • In Scary Movie, the Scream-esque serial killer is actually revealed to be the apparently retarded officer. Then again it is a parody.
  • Scooby-Doo (2002) has a literal example, as it turns out that the mastermind is Scrappy-Doo, who, up until that point had only appeared in a short flashback.
  • Debbie Salt, the seemingly harmless journalist reporting the murders, is the killer in Scream 2. And mother to one of the previous film's killers.
  • In See How They Run, no one suspected Dennis, a seemingly harmless usher, of being the killer.
  • The killer in Se7en is the unseen "reporter" who Mills shouts at in one of the early crime scenes.
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999). The one who summoned the Headless Horseman was the seemingly docile Lady Van Tassel.
  • Source Code: Major suspicion is cast on every person in the hero's immediate area (including the protagonist himself!), and then in an interesting twist the villain turns out to be a background character who at most appears for maybe about five seconds each time the protagonist goes back into the program, during which time he gets off the train when it stops- so he can plant phony evidence of his death and detonate the bomb without killing himself in the process.
  • In the Japanese film Suicide Club, the real culprit turned out to be the 14-year-old singers of the band named Dessert, who are often shown singing songs on the television at regular intervals but not actually playing any role in the plot—until The Reveal.
  • In Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, the bored-looking open mic host (played by Paul F. Tompkins) from earlier in the movie is revealed at the end to be Satan in his human disguise.
  • All of the movies in The Thin Man series operated this way. Start with a murder, present a colorful parade of suspects, end by revealing the killer to be someone the audience had no reason to suspect
  • The Usual Suspects has Agent Kujan trying to uncover the identity of legendary crime lord Keyser Soze by interrogating Verbal Kint, a hapless, bottom-level lowlife who essentially served as the Tag Along Kid to group of hardened criminals in their dealings with Soze. It turns out that Keyser Soze is Kint himself.
  • In Victim (1961), the man behind the blackmail ring is... Miss Benham, Doe's secretary who was innocuously introduced early on. Sandy Youth acts as her dragon.
  • Parodied in the "Scooby-Doo Ending" of Wayne's World, where it's revealed that Ben is really Old Man Withers, the amusement park owner who Wayne spoke to for five seconds near the beginning of the film.
  • In White Noise (2017), a random construction worker seen for all of three seconds earlier in the film turns out to be behind the kidnapping repeatedly mentioned in the background and in league with the evil spirits.
  • In Wonder Woman (2017), Ares, the god of war, is supposedly disguised as a normal human, and apparently orchestrated WWI. Ludendorff is the obvious suspect, and the one Diana targets first. After she kills Ludendorff, Ares appears in the form of Sir Patrick Morgan. He has only a handful of appearances before the reveal, and in every one appears to be trying to stop the war. But appearances can be deceiving.
  • Played double in Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi, when the leader of the Yakuza is revealed to be the tavern keeper. Then it's revealed that even he was a decoy for the elderly busboy, who was the real power behind it all.

  • The Architect of The Gauntlet (2017) is actually the little boy that Farrah, Essie, and Alex have been giving money to in-between challenges.
  • The Harry Potter series has its own page for Chekhov's Gun and its various Sub-Tropes, so this comes up a few times. These became so expected that Rowling ended up adding a page to her website's FAQ where she asked readers not to assume that EVERY named character in the series had a world-exploding secret. In particular, fans had fixated on a random Muggle kid who appears at the beginning of book five, with many emailing Rowling and saying they had "figured out" that he was the true key to the entire storyline. In reality, he was just a random Muggle kid who was never seen again who Rowling had (accidentally) made a Red Herring by giving him the same surname as Harry's mother.
    • Philosopher's Stone: Professor Quirrell, although he wasn't really behind the Man, but working for him. In a more literal sense, the man was behind him.
    • Prisoner of Azkaban: Scabbers, Ron's pet rat, who had been around since the first book. He's actually Peter Pettigrew, the man who sold Harry's parents out to Voldemort and framed Sirius for murder, in Animagus form. The clues are rather obtuse—it's mentioned that Pettigrew was an Animagus of some variety (though there's a misleading implication that Animagi can't stay transformed for long periods of time), and Hermione's cat always hated Scabbers (which seems meaningless before the reveal because cats naturally hunt rodents). The biggest clue is that Scabbers had been in Ron's family for over a decade, noted even in this magical universe to be a suspiciously long life for a rat; real ones top out at about 3 years. Even so, virtually no one saw this one coming.

      It's worth noting that, even in the past, absolutely nobody suspected Peter Pettigrew to be the traitor who ratted out (heh) the Potters to Voldemort, because he was seen as a meek and shy boy, having only joined the Marauders to share in their popularity. This was the reason why Sirius nominated him to be the Secret Keeper, because he was a less obvious choice compared to Sirius himself (who was James' best friend) and Lupin (whom he suspected to be the traitor).
    • Goblet of Fire: Similar to the previous book, but much more convoluted. Barty Crouch Jr., son of the Ministry official of the same name, spent the entire school year Polyjuice-morphed into Mad-Eye Moody (requiring many doses of potion every day), in order to carry out an elaborate scheme to kidnap Harry for Voldemort's resurrection ritual. His existence is barely mentioned before the reveal—Harry spots "Barty Crouch" on the Marauder's Map, but assumes it's his father—and there were no clues (or at least none that the reader would be likely to recognize as being clues without knowing this spoiler) that "Moody" was an impostor (the real one never even appears until the end).
    • The series as a whole even has a "hidden hero" example—it's revealed towards the end that Neville Longbottom, noted Comic Relief character, may have been the real Chosen One all along, and/or a sort of "backup" to Harry. The prophetic vision that convinced Voldemort to (unsuccessfully) murder Harry was slightly ambiguous, and applied just as well to Neville. Later, however, we learn the failed assassination was itself part of the prophecy—a detail Voldy was too hasty to learn in advance—so this action by the Big Bad ironically determined his own nemesis.
  • Agatha Christie:
    • One of the most famous examples from mystery fiction is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. To put it simply, the narrator did it.
    • In Crooked House, the murderer turns out to be the victim's ten year old granddaughter. Her diary reveals her to be a chilling psychopath, who killed her grandfather because he wouldn't let her take ballet lessons, with an implied heavy dose of For the Evulz.
    • 4:50 from Paddington: The motive is believed to be an Inheritance Murder to gain the Crackenthorpe family fortune. The dead woman is thought to be the long-lost war bride of a Crackenthorpe, killed in the war. Suspicion is cast on all three of the surviving Crackenthorpe sons as well as a son-in-law. The ending reveals that the killer is actually the friendly family doctor, who wanted to marry a Crackenthorpe daughter. The dead woman isn't a long-lost Crackenthorpe widow, she's the doctor's secret wife, who wouldn't give him a divorce. There isn't the vaguest hint of this before The Reveal.
    • The Seven Dials Mystery: The criminal mastermind of the novel turns out to be Jimmy Thesiger, a supposedly dimwitted slacker who has a habit of befriending nearly everyone he meets. He is revealed to be faking his reputed stupidity, laziness, and incompetence. And he uses his people skills to get people to trust him, while planning their downfall. There was barely a clue pointing to that direction in the novel.
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • Foundation Series:
      • "The Mule": Despite willingly sharing everything he knows, the obviously abused and terrified Magnifico turns out to have been the Mule all along. It turns out that many of his descriptions of the Mule were deliberate lies to emphasize his powers.
      • "Search by the Foundation": The First Speaker of the Second Foundation is the humble farmer Preem Palver. Moreover, the Second Foundation itself is masked as a farming commune in the ruins of the old Imperial capital, which had been visited several times in previous stories.
    • Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter: Out of all the people on Jupiter-IX, Lucky couldn't really narrow down who might be the robotic spy sending information back to the government of Sirius. It isn't until the last chapter that Lucky realizes the spy doesn't have to be a humanoid robot, it could be animal-shaped, too. Mutt, Mr. Norrich's seeing-eye dog, is the robot spy.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, the masterminds of Deep Thought's experiment were the lab mice that humans thought they were experimenting on.
  • In the Star Wars Legends series New Jedi Order, an evil alien race called the Yuuzhan Vong invades. Their leader is Supreme Overlord Shimrra, a God-King who truly looks the part. The last novel in the series reveals that he is actually being force controlled by his jester, Onimi, a being so far below Shimrra that he was considered as little more than a pet.
  • Star Trek Novel 'Verse:
    • In the Star Trek: New Frontier novel "Stone and Anvil", the Excalibur crew needs to find the man who created Janos' intelligence to help him extend it. To bad he doesn't exactly know how to do that...the real mastermind is his pet Gribble, a small animal no larger than a rat. Before the Gribble can do anything, though, Janos eats him.
    • A rare heroic version in Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: DTI agents Lucsly and Dulmer learn that a key part of the Temporal Cold War is the existence of a temporal defense grid that uses various exotic technologies to counteract time travel. Many unsavory factions want to erase it, but nobody knows who actually built it; the architect clearly went to extreme lengths to leave little-to-no record specifically to pre-empt future interference. Most people assume the mastermind is some famously cunning Federation scientist or politician, but the Distant Epilogue reveals that it's actually Lucsly himself, along with his counterparts in various contemporary governments. Not only does history never pay attention to unimportant bureaucrats like them, they're also in the perfect position to minimize or manipulate the paper trail without anyone suspecting a thing.
  • Charles Stross:
    • In Accelerando, everything that happened turns out to have been masterminded by the Macx family's robotic cat.
    • The Big Bad in The Jennifer Morgue is evil media tycoon Billington, the Blofeld-alike, right? Nope, it's his white Persian cat, Fluffy. Okay, it's actually a Cthonian war god possessing Fluffy.
  • Occurs in Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game—the murderer is not a suspect and is only mentioned once in passing.
  • Quentin Makepeace, a foppish playwright in the Prime Minister's company, turns out to be the mastermind of all the events in The Bartimaeus Trilogy.
  • In Murder In Pastiche, the killer turns out to be the ship's purser, who was a detective fiction fan and thought it would be a waste if there were so many famous detectives on board and they didn't have a murder to solve.
  • In the first Norby book, Ing is Fussbudget 2 Gidlow.
  • Sherlock Holmes:
    • In the story "Silver Blaze", the murderer was a horse. But the guy who was killed was trying to maim the horse, so the horse was justified in killing the victim.
    • In the story "The Adventures of the Lion's Mane", the murderer was a lion's mane jellyfish.
  • In the book version of The Bone Collector in the Lincoln Rhyme series, the main villain was the doctor, also seen only briefly at the beginning and end.
    • This pattern is also repeated in other books of the Lincoln Rhyme series. The Coffin Dancer is pretending to be a hobo taken into custody as a witness and The Ghost is masquerading as one of his own victims, as a Chinese illegal immigrant.
  • Meg Langslow Mysteries: There are some truly improbable and nearly impossible-to-guess culprits in the series.
    • The killer in Murder with Puffins is Jimmy Dickerman, a childhood friend of Meg who spends all of his time contentedly working at a power plant and who doesn't seem to have a motive until late in the book when Meg realizes that Jimmy's isolation kept him from learning that the victim's plan to shut down Jimmy's beloved power plant had been stopped in its tracks.
    • In We'll Always Have Parrots'', Alaric Steele, the blacksmith who shares a convention booth with Meg, seems like one of the only people with no history or interest in the fantasy TV series that the murder revolves around, but ultimately turns out to be the original creator of the franchise (who the readers and characters had been told was long dead) under an alias, and holding a murderous grudge.
    • In Lord of the Wings, the murderous Josiah Brimfield doesn't even appear in person until page 190 out of 307 and is quickly established as having a seemingly airtight alibi in a different city that was faked through contrived and ambiguous means.
    • The killer in Gone Gull is Marty the cook, who is one of the least appearing or fleshed characters in the entire cast and whose motive is that he was in love with a woman the victim was harassing, and who Marty was rarely if ever seen interacting with earlier in the book.
  • In Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones, we find out early on that the elusive Batu is the man behind the Diablerie, but the mystery remains: Who is Batu? It was a mortal farmer who wanted to bring back the Faceless Ones as a means of getting his own magical powers.
  • In Bridge of Birds, the true identity of the tyrannical Duke of Ch'in turns out to be the meek, perpetually-scared Key Rabbit. Oh, and his greedy peasant wife is a long-lost goddess. It actually makes perfect sense once Master Li explains it and there are many hints dropped throughout the novel, especially for the latter part, but it stunned many first-time readers.
  • In The Dresden Files, this is Molly's reaction when she is shown a photograph of the traitor on the White Council in Turn Coat:
    ... huh. Who's that?
  • In Doorways in the Sand, there's a near-literal example: the mastermind is in nearly every scene, disguised as the cat. Also, the being who was influencing Fred to steal the artifact in the first place was the artifact itself.
  • Teen Power Inc.: In "Green for Danger", the mastermind behind the two criminals involved in an armed robbery is a nice and quirky elderly flower lady, who turns out to be the mother of one of the criminals, and is also somehow related to the other one.
  • In Harry Harrison's Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, the race of Big Bads, who were mentioned throughout the book turns out to be tiny turtles with Psychic Powers kept as pets by another race.
  • In William Tenn's 1955 short story "The Servant Problem", the ruler of a future Dystopia is a Smug Snake subconsciously controlled by his education minister, an Out-Gambitted Magnificent Bastard subconsciously controlled by a Magnificent Bastard psychologist, who in turn was Out-Gambitted and controlled by a junior technician. Things go pear-shaped for this The Man Behind the Man when it turns out that he, like everyone else in the world, was conditioned to worship the ruler; this dystopia is evidently now a dog chasing its own tail.
  • In one of the Agaton Sax kids' detective books, someone who appears to be an average-looking member of the crew of crooks turns out to be the criminal mastermind boss himself.
  • In Hush, Hush, it turns out that the person trying to murder Nora was Jules. Given how he was virtually nonexistent in the story, it was rather... jarring.
  • In Gone Girl, the person behind Amy's disappearance is Amy herself.
  • Pretty Little Liars does this a few times with the reveal of each A. The first A turned out to be Mona, one of the main characters' best friends who pretended to be an A victim herself. The second A was Alison—the real one. It's revealed that all along the girl they thought was Alison was actually Alison's twin sister, Courtney. The current and third A has yet to be revealed.
  • Inverted in the Robert Cormier novel We All Fall Down. One of the two main POV characters is an eleven-year-old boy who calls himself The Avenger after killing a bully with his grandfather's gun and then killing his grandfather to cover it up. It turns out he actually committed the murders a couple of decades ago, and he is actually a seemingly insignificant middle-aged character who appeared briefly earlier in the novel. He's no mastermind, but rather a pitiful, profoundly mentally-ill man who regularly retreats into the delusion that he is still a child.
  • Kim Newman's Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha (a.k.a. Judgment of Tears) has some parallels to the James Bond series and the Bond character shoots the Blofeld character. However, Bond had misread the situation. The real villain was a vampire shapeshifter. He was the cat and the Blofeld character carrying him around was just one of his minions.
  • Often done by Fred Vargas: in quite a few of her novels, the murderer is a very inconspicuous and/or sympathetic character. Ariane Lagarde, in This Night's Foul Work, Lawrence in Seeking Who He May Devour and Louis Nicolas Emeri in The Ghost Riders of Ordebec are notable examples. The latter gets extra points for being the cop initially tasked with the investigation of the Ordebec murders.
  • In the Dale Brown novel A Time for Patriots, the Big Bad is actually Judah Andorsen.
  • In The Burglar in the Rye by Lawrence Block, Bernie Rhodenbarr has to find out who stole Gulliver Fairborn's letters and murdered Anthea Landau and Karen Kassenmeier so that he doesn't get sent to prison for the crimes. Karen, the second murder victim and absent owner of the hotel room in which Bernie hides from the police, was the thief with some help from the hotel clerk. Erica, Bernie's best friend's overly-controlling new girlfriend, is the murderer.
  • In The X-Files novel Goblins, the invisible killer turns out to be the dispatch of the local police, whose role in the story up to that point has been saying few words over the radio. She is recognized by her catchphrase.
  • The Herman Melville story "Benito Cereno" concern's an American ship captain's encounter with an under-provisioned Spanish slave ship. The Spanish captain's account of his navigational troubles doesn't quite add up, and his erratic behavior leads the American to suspect that he is a tyrant or insane. At the same time, he seems too ill and weak to be able to enforce his will at all. The explanation turns out to be that the African slaves on the ship carried out a successful uprising, and are using the captain as their puppet to win the American's trust. The captain's "devoted" black manservant is actually the leader of the rebellion, and is following him everywhere in order to keep him in line.
  • Doc Savage: In Devil on the Moon, the true identity of the Man on the Moon turns out to be this. It is Bob Thomas, a bystander seemingly killed by the Man on the Moon's mooks in the opening chapters.
  • In the first book of The Magicians, the mastermind turns out to be the paramedic attending the death of the interviewer, who is attempting to create a Stable Time Loop in which Martin Chatwin is defeated.
  • In Noob, the person who framed the Noob guild for the event leading to the third novel's Downer Beginning turns out to be Master Zen, who was so far only mentioned in the backstory and last known to no longer be an active player of the Fictional Video Game in which the story is set.
  • In Baynard Kendrick's novel "Death Knell" the killer sets up a death trap knowing that a writer likes to work on the balcony of his apartment and that his dog is terrified of the bells of a church nearby. He puts a gun pointed at the writer's chair and the triggering mechanism in a place the dog runs to hide. The bells ring, the dog hides and the gun goes off - all while the killer has an alibi.
  • Done in Young Wizards literally. The dog was literally behind everything that has ever happened before, during and after. As it turns out, he was the creator (the one) in disguise. He also apparently really likes that "spell it backwards" joke.
  • In the first All the Wrong Questions book, the sneaky villain Hangfire who's behind all the wrongdoings turns out to be the client's butler, who has no lines and appears only a couple of times. He also wasn't really a butler; the woman he appeared to serve was an actor he hired to impersonate the former owner of the house. The only clue is that he can imitate bird calls—near the end, it turns out that Hangfire can imitate people's voices.
  • Against a Dark Background by Iain Banks. There's a lot going on in the story, like a pair of mysterious twins following Sharrow, the protagonist, who are somehow able to cause her great pain at will using something implanted in her body long ago. Late in the book, it's seemingly revealed that The Man Behind the Man for everyone is a generic Diabolical Mastermind called Molgarin. But even Molgarin turns out to be an actor planted by the real mastermind: Sharrow's cousin Geis. Geis has previously been presented as first a rather pathetic admirer of Sharrow, and later, it was shown that he'd gone as far as attempted rape to consummate his "love" for her. Well, he's still an obsessed creep in the ending, but one who has also worked a very long time so that he could orchestrate almost everything that happened in the book, not solely but largely just so that she'd be persuaded to love him.
  • In "The Theft of Leopold's Badge", a story of the Nick Velvet series, the murderer turns out to be the dancer who was Mugged for Disguise and left Bound and Gagged in a closet at the beginning of the story by a thief trying to steal a rare painting. Being mugged as part of a heist wasn't the dancer's plan, but she decided that it would make a great alibi, so after freeing herself from her bonds and committing her murder, she went back to the closet and pretended to still be bound and gagged.
  • Family Skeleton Mysteries: The killer in book 3 turns out to have been a supporting character who spent most of their time in the background, namely, Roxanne Beale, the frazzled grad student who was desperately trying to finish her jumbled dissertation with help from Georgia's mother. Georgia and Sid only suspect she's the killer after discovering her previously-unmentioned sister was Driven to Suicide by the Devil's Divas.
  • One of Us is Lying:
    • One mastermind behind the conspiracy in the second book is the twelve-year-old-brother of Phoebe, one of the narrators (although he is also an Unwitting Pawn).
    • In the third book, the revenge plot is masterminded by Evie, the chipper new waitress who works with Pheobe and only has about a dozen lines before The Reveal that her father is the murdered Alexander Alton.
  • Redwall has Slagar the Cruel, the villain of Mattimeo, being revealed to be Sela Vixen's son Chickenhound from the first book.
  • In The Zodiac Series, the master turns out to be Ambassador Crompton, of all people. Who was also Morscerta. And every other Aquarian ambassador throughout history...
  • Bruce Coville's Book of... Magic: The minor demon Bellenmore summoned as a guide in Wizard's Boy turns out to be the demon sorcerer Malefestra in disguise.
  • In The Nine Tailors, the killer turns out to be the Fenchurch St. Paul church bells.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 13 Reasons Why: In season 2, we are constantly led to believe that either Bryce or Scott is the one harassing and threatening the main characters. Ultimately, it turns out to be Monty, who was basically a background character prior to the reveal and had a minor enough role that he wasn't even included on the tapes.
  • Angel:
    • In the episode "Harm's Way," Harmony wakes up after a one-night stand to find the guy dead, and though she doesn't quite remember what happened, she eventually realizes that she was set up for the murder. It turns out the real killer was...some random other vampire chick named Tamika working at Wolfram and Hart, whom Harmony had bumped into earlier. Tamika was upset that Harmony was on "the fast track" just from knowing Angel and his friends before they took over the company, and framed her so that she could take her job.
    • Season 2 had an episode where Cordelia accompanied Gunn. He roughs up a snitch named Jameel in order to find a demon named Deevak. When Deevak reveals himself, it turned out that he and Jameel are the same person.
  • One episode of Bones has the killer turn out to be the father of a friend of the victim, who was seen once in the beginning of the episode and had no lines whatsoever.
  • In Broadchurch, a boy is found dead and the main suspects are an old man with a sex-crime record, a technologically-savvy vicar who likes to volunteer at the school, and a woman who had hidden evidence from the police. In the end the killer is revealed to be Joe Miller, the husband of Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller who had been investigating the case. In the American remake Gracepoint, the reveal happens, and then there's a second reveal that the real killer is Ellie and Joe's twelve-year-old son Tom.
  • Parodied on a couple of episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
    • In "Cheddar", Captain Holt's dog Cheddar is missing, and Jake talks about him as if he's a master criminal in a cat-and-mouse game with him. Then the camera cuts to Cheddar bumbling about town doing typical dog things.
    • In "Terry Kitties", Terry recalls an old case at another precinct where he leads a raid on a burglary suspect, but the suspect is in a wheelchair. Out of desperation, he points at the cat next to him, claiming that he's somehow an accomplice. Terry's squad mates laugh at him, and they've been making fun of him ever since.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In "What's My Line?", the third mercenary hired to kill Buffy is thought to be the girl who stowed away on a cargo plane. She is revealed to be Kendra the other Slayer. The mercenary is the policewoman seen at the job fair.
    • In "Earshot", the one planning to commit mass murder at the high school is the lunch lady.
    • In "Doublemeat Palace", the monster is disguised as an old woman with a bad wig.
  • Carla, Burn Notice season 2 Arc Villain was introduced as a woman Sam helps with a crossword puzzle in the last moments of the season premiere.
  • The true leader of the Zone Empire in Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman turns out to be Zone's flagship, Vulgyre, while Empress Meadow is simply an illusion created by it.
  • Cold Case:
    • In "The Runner", the team must search for Sammy who is connected to the death of Joe Washington. When she is found, she is revealed to be Niecy who was the homeless woman who brought the evidence that reopened Joe's case in the first place.
    • The killer in the episode "Stalker" is Ed who was disguised as a male nurse who had been watching over the girl who's family he murdered.
  • An episode of Community has the study group trying to discover who among them stole Annie's pen. It turns out it was Troy's pet monkey living in the vents, who we hadn't seen since his only episode one season ago. The study group doesn't find this out until much later in the season, though. At the time, they all decide that the most logical explanation is that a ghost stole Annie's pen.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • The BAU are investigating the death of a child who was believed to have been killed by a captured pedophile. It turns out the pedophile was guilty of killing several children, but not the one they found. The real killer was the boy's older brother, who was a budding sociopath, and his parents were trying to cover it all up.
    • In the season 3 finale/season 4 premier episodes "Lo Fi" and "Mayhem," the team is investigating a series of killings by a terrorist cell, which cumulates in a bombing that injures an agent. Fearing that the terrorists will target emergency personnel, they prevent ambulances from responding to the scene until they've cleared it of suspects. The bomber is the one medic who disobeys orders to try and get the agent to a hospital.
  • A husband-and-wife double "murder" in CSI is revealed to be actually the fault of the victims' pet cat and parrot, who would naturally be at each others' throats. The owners just got caught in the line of fire.
  • In the latter half of Season 2 of Daredevil (2015), Frank Castle learns from Wilson Fisk that the real mastermind behind the deaths of his wife and children is a mysterious drug lord named the Blacksmith. In the second to last episode, we find out that the Blacksmith is Colonel Schoonover, Frank's former commanding officer from the Marine Corps that had only shown up in one prior episode.
  • Dollhouse has a brutal example of this when it is revealed in the last few episodes of the final season that the big bad head of the Rossum cooperation, who Echo has trying to remember all season, is trusted friend, mentor, and ultimate father figure Boyd. He had been our Audience Surrogate and Echo's Big Good for pretty much the entire run of the show. The outcry of horror and betrayal from the fans was overwhelming, even for a Joss Whedon show.
  • The Famous Jett Jackson: Done in the Silverstone Show Within a Show, where Silverstone travels to a small town in the middle of nowhere that is clearly inspired by the small town where Jett lives. At the end, the episode's Big Bad is revealed to be the sweet old lady inspired by his great-grandmother Miz Coretta.
  • Double Subversion in a first-season episode of Frasier. Throughout that whole season, Martin is obsessed with the one case he could never solve—the murder of a prostitute who was trying to turn her life around. He eventually reveals that the victim's mother is terminally ill, and he wants to crack the case to give her closure about her daughter's death before she dies herself. Frasier, Niles, and Daphne review the evidence that Martin's laid out on the table, and the Crane brothers come to the conclusion that the prostitute's ex-boyfriend trained his pet monkey to shoot her. They don't want to steal Martin's thunder, though, and so arrange the evidence in such a way that he'll notice the same clues. Sure enough, Martin looks over the photos and rushes out to make the arrest. The next night, he has some old friends over to celebrate, where he reveals the actual culprit wasn't the monkey, but instead a fellow cop who claimed to be the first one on the scene; said cop deliberately messed with the victim's Dying Clue to throw suspicion off himself. Frasier then comes in, thinks they're still talking about the monkey , and promptly makes a fool of himself.
  • Good guy version: In the Get Smart episode "The Mysterious Dr. T", it turned out the genius inventor Dr. T was a kid seen selling newspapers.
  • "The Case of the Libertine Belle," an episode of The Golden Girls, has Blanche arranging a murder mystery weekend outing for her coworkers. The girls tag along, but things take a turn for the serious when Blanche's boss is found dead in her hotel room, with her as the only suspect. Dorothy thinks it's just another mock murder, but when his breath doesn't appear on Sophia's hand mirror, she realizes that he really is dead. Of course, this turns out not to be the case—it was All Part of the Show—but Dorothy still wonders why the mirror didn't fog up. Then Rose, of all people, reveals that the hotel staff asked her to do so and not tell anyone, despite Blanche thinking she was going to be arrested and thrown in prison; she did it to get revenge on Blanche for borrowing her earrings without asking.
  • The Good Guys. The serial peeper was the guy with the glasses in Ruiz's yoga class.
  • Gotham. The titular vigilante Serial Killer in "The Balloonman"? He's the social worker that Gordon speaks to in the beginning of the episode.
  • In Hawaii Five-O, in the second-season episode "Most Likely to Murder" from 1970, Tom Skerritt plays Lew Morgan, an HPD cop whose wife was just murdered. Over the course of the episode, several suspects are questioned and eliminated as the murderer; Lew himself is then revealed as being the actual killer when he kills one of the suspects, Gary Oliver (Sam Melville), and when he calls Five-O to report it, McGarrett becomes incredibly angry with him, and delivers a blistering takedown that is Tranquil Fury for most of it, before ending in a "Book him!" to Danno. At the end of the episode, McGarrett tells Lew that the single count of murder two that Lew was facing will now become two counts of murder one (because Lew not only killed Gary Oliver, but also his [Lew's] own wife when he found her in an affair with Gary). This also counts as Beneath Suspicion, because in the beginning, everybody thought Lew was truly a grieving widower cop who just happened to find his wife; Danno even took Lew into his (Danno's) apartment for the night, not realizing that he (Danno) would be talking to the cop who actually committed the murders.
  • Played for Laughs in an episode of Head of the Class. Someone is sending Mr. Moore anonymous love notes, so he has to speak to each girl in his class to suss out which of them is harboring a Precocious Crush. In the end, though, he correctly determines that the "girl" writing the notes is actually the classroom computer, which the students gave a female name as a joke; all of the kids were in on the prank and composed the messages.
  • Henry Danger: In "Swellview's Got Talent", it was revealed the reason why most of the talents fainted unconsciously during the show was because they were exposed to the pet ferret of Steven Sharp, who wanted to knock out all the contestants so he can win the trophy himself. The ferret is a dangerous breed which can secrete powerful oils that cause reactions such as tongue-chewing, head vibrations and loss of consciousness, all of which the contestants experience after coming in contact with the ferret.
  • Jessie: In "Glue Dunnit: A Sticky Situation", Zeus is responsible for Mrs. Chesterfield's hairspray being replaced with glue.
  • Joan of Arcadia:
    • Occasionally Played for Laughs. The whole premise is that God gives Joan various tasks to do by assuming the forms of different individuals. Most episodes open with her having a casual conversation with someone, only for that person to turn out to be God; she then usually runs into another form of God later in the episode who tells her that she's not quite finished with her mission. Examples include a pizza delivery man, a seven-year-old girl, a newscaster, a Latina woman waiting for a bus, a heavyset girl in the school library, a Goth student, a butcher, a teen in a school mascot costume, and a street musician with a guitar. Humorously, Joan tries to become Genre Savvy about it and starts assuming that every stranger who speaks to her is God in a disguise; unfortunately, she's just as likely to get it wrong as she is to be correct.
    • It's Played for Drama in the episode "Bringeth It On." A teenage girl abandons her baby in a dumpster, and calls the police to report it. Throughout the episode, the higher-ups in the police department keep pushing Will Girardi (Joan's father) to solve the case by focusing on the "unethical" girls at the local high school. Strangely, though, once the mother is finally revealed, the D.A. declines to press charges and the whole incident seems to disappear. Will wonders what happened, and his wife Helen sadly tells him that the mother's boyfriend is the son of a city councilman; when Will asks why she didn't volunteer the information, she points out that everyone was so busy trying to determine which of the high school girls was having sex that "nobody ever asked about the father."
    • In another, lighter episode, Joan gets involved in a school musical, and the high-maintenance, flamboyantly gay director repeatedly makes her life a living hell. At the end of the episode, he turns out to be one of God's forms, helping her on her mission.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Kamen Rider Gaim: The Big Bad who masterminded absolutely everything to do with the Helheim Forest crisis is gradually revealed to be DJ Sagara, who appears first as a goofy radio host for the Yggdrasill Corporation, then as a quasi-mentor figure to Kouta and later as The Good Chancellor to the Overlord King Roysuo. Turns out he's really the embodiment of the Helheim Forest itself, and orchestrated everything to find an ideal candidate to replace the Overlords.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: The Man Behind Kuroto Dan and Parado and the one who really masterminded Kamen Rider Chronicle turns out to be none other than... Kuroto's father Masamune, who spends most of the series in jail as seemingly a hapless victim of his son's Frame-Up.
    • Kamen Rider Build: Blood Stalk's true identity turns out to be Soichi Isurugi, Sento's dandy mentor and owner of a coffee shop, although if you pay attention enough hints are dropped that you could guess beforehand. Then it turns out that Blood Stalk is actually closer to his true identity and is the one possessing Soichi. This is followed by the reveal of his true nature as an alien Planet Eater, and that he's manipulating his supposed superiors.
  • In Spanish series La Caza's season 3, the main plot has the Civil Guard investigators seeking Alicia, a bar owner that was kidnapped from her own house, and they start to unbury signs that a mysterious man known as Duarte (who leads a small mafia that all but enslaves people to make them work in local businesses for cheap) might be behind it. Turns out that the kidnapper was one of her friends, who wanted Alicia's money so she could leave the town and do what she wanted for once - money Alicia had from her dealings as Duarte.
  • In the Legends of Tomorrow episode "Ship Broken", an unknown force tries to manipulate Sara into stabbing the other Legends to death. It's literally the dog, or rather a demon in the form of a dog.
  • In Legion (2017) during David's childhood flashbacks he's shown to have played with his pet dog King a lot. And even on more recent flashbacks stray dogs are often seen near him. He never owned a dog and that's actually Shadow King in disguise infiltrating his memories.
  • In a third season episode of Lost Girl, one of the therapists at a psychiatrist office is believed to be influencing the patients to commit suicide by attempting to enact dangerous childhood dreams. The main suspects are a regression therapist who practices hypnosis and the receptionist, who is a type of Fae that feeds on despair. However, it turns out to be the regression therapist's pet cat, "Dr. Bob", who is actually a shapeshifting rakshasa.
  • A MADtv (1995) sketch about a formulaic Ashley Judd movie parodies this with one of her mentors saying "Have you found out the killer is the cop from the first scene, even though all the evidence points elsewhere?"
  • Quite literally applied in an episode of Married... with Children when the Bundys are arrested for harboring fugitive Steve Rhoades. They all accuse each other of ratting Steve out to the police, but the true mastermind was Buck, the Bundys' family dog.
  • Medici: The killer of Giovanni de Medici turns out to be the bank manager Ugo, who usually only appeared in a few scenes.
  • Merlin:
    • An unusual inversion in that it's from the POV of the dog. Merlin is Arthur's manservant, and thus while the audience sees everything he does, Arthur has no idea. So when all is revealed, it's probably going to be shocking to a lot of people that the king's clumsy, cowardly manservant has been behind everything (or at least aware it was going to happen).
    • Particularly noticeable in the Series 4 finale, where Morgana takes over Camelot and Arthur loses his belief that he can be king. Merlin guides him to the Sword in the Stone, telling him that it belongs to the rightful king of Camelot (when in reality Merlin put it there specifically for him), thus restoring his faith. Then, when everyone falls asleep, he sneaks into Camelot and leaves a Voodoo Doll under Morgana's bed to disable her powers. So, while it seems to Arthur that he was destined to retake Camelot, Merlin controls the entire situation.
  • In Monk episode "Mr. Monk and the Other Woman", a man breaks into a lawyer's office, kills him and his secretary, and then burns a file. The chief suspects are the client who's file was burned (he owed the lawyer money and had made threats to him before), or the client's next door neighbor who he was in a property dispute with and who may have murdered her ex husband. The actual killer of the week was a background character with only one scene prior to the reveal; he's been cut out of his grandfather's will, broke into the office to replace the will with one that left him with everything, and killed the lawyer since he'd know it wasn't the real will.
  • Many made-for-TV cop shows have this, but it was especially noticeable in Murphy. The killer is the bloke who is in the background of scenes. If most of the suspects are interviewed in a club it's the barman—also expect him to be a long-lost relative of a victim or chief suspect.
  • In a third season episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, Sam and Callen gun down a group of arms dealers, including Callen shooting the leader's driver in the cheek when he made a run for it. In a later episode, "The Chameleon", the driver turned out to be the mastermind, and everyone else was just hired help for that one job. The team started calling him the Chameleon after this turned out to be his standard M.O.
  • New Tricks: In "Ghosts", the murderer in a 60 year old murder case turns out to be another resident of the nursing home where the wife of the victim now lives who Gerry interviewed once to gain information about the wife.
  • Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn: In "Poo Dunnit", the person who forgot to flush the toilet turned out to be the quads' dog Squishy Paws.
  • Subverted in the conclusion of the Carver arc in Nip/Tuck. As Ryan Murphy said, "It's always a horrible cheat when it's someone like a neighbor who you met once, and they're the killer."
  • Odd Squad:
    • The conflict of the episode "Not So Splash" involves various parts of town being snowy and cold when it's the summer season. Olive and Otto initially suspect the local TV weatherman as the culprit and go to see him, and while at the TV studio, they meet Frank Tudesco and his guest, Sven Jorgenson. When the weatherman is found to not be involved in any manner, the mystery deepens...up until, while in the Mathroom, Otto offhandedly mentions how Sven must be happy while the Mathroom highlights places on the town map that are affected by the cold temperatures. As it turns out, Sven, who is a part-time inventor and professional athlete, is found to be the culprit, as he made parts of the town snowy and cold so he could do snow-related activities all the time.
    • In "Moustache Confidential", Obfusco's mustache ends up stolen, and Oprah forces Olive and Otto to work together with him to find out who took it. Early on, when Obfusco takes out a book filled with what arguments he had with which agents (on the belief that an agent who argued with him got upset enough to steal his mustache), the notion that Oprah is the one who took the mustache is shot down by Olive, who tells him to stick to agents in other departments. Lo and behold, Oprah does turn out to be the thief after the trio realize that she is the only one who has the special key that can turn off the lights, which she used to steal it. She cites the reason behind doing so as wanting Obfusco to see that he didn't need his mustache (viewed as a Good Luck Charm and a Security Blanket to him) to solve cases, as he does well even without it.
    • A more serious example occurs in "Odds and Ends", the second part of the Season 2 finale. As Oprah and Otis, who are both exiles of Odd Squad, are smuggled into Headquarters by Olympia and Oona and search the File Room for anything correlating to the rash of villain break-ins, they begin crossing off every single agent from the past 2 seasons one by one as they look through their files. However, one agent's file piques their interest: Ohlm's. The dates of the villain break-ins and the dates that Ohlm was in Headquarters turn out to be a complete match, and everyone grows skeptical...except for Oprah, who guesses that he was Obfuscating Stupidity. She turns out to be right on the money, and he is revealed as the true Big Bad of the season, wishing to take down Odd Squad as revenge for not being promoted to the position of the Big O directly after graduating from the Odd Squad Academy in order to put his genius to good use and inviting villains to break into Precinct 13579's Headquarters as part of his first Evil Plan.
    • Another serious example occurs in the Season 3 episode "Odd in 60 Seconds". Throughout the episode, Lady Bread, Wheelie Dan and the Utensiler's younger sister are all found to not be the culprits who broke into the Odd Squad security facility, and Lady Bread and Wheelie Dan state that the real culprit is powerful and made them take the blame instead. The Utensiler's sister, however, claims full responsibility and demonstrates how she was able to get into the facility unlike the previous two villains. Everyone accepts that she is the culprit...everyone except Omar. Despite consistently jumping the gun on who is the real culprit (all for the sake of wanting to play his newly-purchased board game faster), he states that while the alarm on Ono's smartwatch — which is programmed to go off whenever a door in the facility is opened or closed — went off when the Utensiler left through the door connecting the mega-computer to the third hallway just a minute ago, the alarm didn't go off at all when the Utensiler left through all three doors after she was forced to retreat due to Ono coming back earlier than anticipated, according to the case file. It's then that the real culprit reveals herself: The Shadow, who never left the facility and had the three villains take the blame so they could stall for time while she stole the names of every villain around the world, and a file on Opal as an added bonus.
  • Once Upon a Time season 4. The Author was posing as the peddler who pointed Snow and Charming to the Apprentice.
  • Person of Interest: The killer in the season 4 episode "Terra Incognita" is the hotel doorman.
  • In The Prisoner (1967), Number One turns out to be a previously un-hinted-at duplicate of the hero, Number Six. Some of the writers have also hinted that in some way, The Butler was behind everything.
  • Psych:
    • In the episode "Ghosts", one of Gus's bosses at the pharmaceutical company is experiencing a series of paranormal events at his house. The one behind these events is Shawn, the main protagonist. He's faking these hauntings so Psych can "solve" the case and the company will let Gus keep moonlighting at the agency. It doesn't work, but Shawn is able to save Gus's job by telling his boss that he knows about his affair and him reselling samples.
    • Mr. Yang is revealed as this through flashbacks when Shawn meets her at the end.
  • In an episode of Pushing Daisies, the killer was, of all people, a pig. It was an accident, so the characters promptly adopt him as a pet.
  • In The Rookie: Feds episode "The Reaper", Simone and Carver go undercover in a prison to investigate a woman who appears to be the girlfriend of hired assassin the Reaper. However, they ultimately realise that the woman in question is the actual Reaper; the man they're tracking is her accomplice.
  • In The Sarah Jane Adventures: Mr. Smith is a supporting character who gives information on aliens that land on Earth. It turns out he's a Xylok (sentient crystal) who created the computer as a host—and the most important thing to a Xylok is their purpose. Mr. Smith's purpose is to destroy the Earth's crust to free his kind—they were trapped there after their ship crashed to Earth (wiping out the dinosaurs). Mr. Smith escaped in the eruption of Krakatoa.
  • Sherlock has already pulled it twice. In "A Study in Pink", the serial killer turns out to be a cabbie, seen earlier when Holmes and Watson chased down his cab because they thought the passenger might be the killer. In "The Great Game", Moriarty is revealed to be Molly's boyfriend Jim, who showed up briefly earlier in the episode. Though this last was guessable, considering "Jim" is a nickname for "James". Also, in the third season, the bad guy in "The Sign of Three" turns out to be the one person, who never shows up in any wedding photo - the photographer himself.
  • Sleepy Hollow's season 2 Big Bad was hiding in plain sight throughout season 1: it's Henry Parish, who is revealed in the first season finale to be both the Horseman of War and Ichabod's son.
  • Smallville: In "Roulette", Oliver is put through a series of life and death games. Whoever designed it has a really sick sense of humor. It is Chloe Sullivan. (Now Harsher in Hindsight.)
  • The Big Bad Wannabe of the Brazillian Horror Spectros is a Necromancer who wants the Ashes of the Eighth Princess of Sado Khan because it will give them the power to raise and control the dead. The Necromancer is eventually revealed to be the popcorn vendor who appears in a few scenes each episode prior to The Reveal. He is ultimately usurped when his father's ghost possesses his body.
  • Squid Game: Il-nam, the sweet, frail old man with a brain tumor, turns out to have been the creator and host of the game.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In "Aquiel", the crew find out that a shape-shifting organism is behind the Mystery of the Week. Two people, a Klingon and the eponymous Aquiel, are suspected of being the monster, but it's really Aquiel's dog, which served as a minor comedic subplot during the episode.
    • In "Future Imperfect", Riker awakens sixteen years in the future with apparent amnesia. However, the details of his future life don't add up; when he question his surroundings, the Enterprise bridge reveals itself to be a holodeck, with the evil Romulans pulling Riker's strings. Seems plausible. Yet, even this reality doesn't jibe with what Riker knows to be true. The real mastermind is Riker's "son", who is present in both realities. The boy is actually an orphaned alien left behind on a desolate planet, with only a holodeck to amuse himself. When Riker came upon the cave, the boy was delighted to have a playmate and pieced together a false world from Riker's memories.
  • Stranger Things: Henry Creel, the 12-year-old boy who had a few non-speaking appearances in his father Victor's flashback? He's One, the psychotic orderly responsibe for slaughtering Doctor Brenner's test subjects, as well as his own mother and sister. Adding onto that, One is revealed to be Vecna, the monster responsible for all the atrocities in the series, and its overall Big Bad.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Sarkissian, the criminal who stole The Turk isn't the big guy who they killed. He's the little guy Sarah manhandled at the bar earlier.
  • The Thundermans: In the climax of "Blue Detective", Dr. Colosso was revealed to be responsible for turning Max's skin blue by hiding a Bolivian Blue Bean in his hoagie, because he was jealous of his relationship with Maddy and feared he would lose him as his best friend.
  • True Detective:
    • In season 1, the primary culprit of the murders, and the "Green-Eared Spaghetti Monster" ends up being the caretaker on the lawnmower from Episode 3.
    • The killer in season 2 is the cinematographer on the film set from earlier in the season.
  • In The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?", the trope is subverted—any one of the eight individuals from the bus, including the driver, are suspected of being the titular character in a human disguise. It's played straight, though, in the double-twist ending: the cheerful waiter at the diner where the characters were gathered, who stayed in the background and largely remained a non-entity, is secretly a Venusian who's part of a colonization force that's already defeated the Martians.
  • The copycat serial killer in the last episodes of The Wire is the crazy homeless man that collects business cards.
  • The killer in The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window turns out the be the nine-year-old girl across the street and not her father, or the ex-con handyman, and she almost successfully frames Kristen Bell's character for the murder of her dad's girlfriend, the handyman, and her dad as well. And it ends up she committed all those murders plus the murder of her own mother and her teacher for extremely petty reasons. This is all Played for Laughs.

  • Hardly anyone could have expected Aji Tae, the Big Bad of Shin Angyo Onshi, Diabolical Mastermind who had already brought down a country before the series began and is stated to be an Evil Sorcerer of the highest order to be that dorky Pretty Boy healer with a pet goose who shows up to save one of the main characters and clearly plays into the role of not-so-covert sage mentor later. All exactly as planned by him. The fact that he completely changes his appearance between flashbacks and actual story helps to mislead readers.

  • The Adventure Zone: Balance has Davenport, the Captain of the Starblaster. The only reason he became the dog was because Lucretia wiped out his memories of everything save for his name.
  • The season 4 arc of the podcast Welcome To Nightvale features a very literal version of this trope. Though to be fair, the Big Bad was really an evil eldritch entity/Satan just masquerading as a cute beagle puppy to charm people.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • In one of the more infamous angles of the late 90s, The Undertaker, then leader of the Ministry of Darkness, had been terrorizing Vince McMahon and his family, going so far as to kidnap his daughter Stephanie and attempt to crucify her on a cross. During the angle, it is revealed that The Undertaker actually answers to a Higher Power, though nobody knows his/her true identity. After Stone Cold Steve Austin hits the ring to save Stephanie from being crucified on a segment of Raw, he is jumped by the Ministry and tied to the ropes as the Higher Power reveals his identity to him. Stone Cold is livid as the show goes off the air. The next week, the Higher Power is hilariously revealed to be Vince himself, who ridiculously concocted the plan to apparently get over on Austin. "IT'S ME, AUSTIN! IT WAS ME ALL ALONG, AUSTIN! YOU ALL BOUGHT IT!" It's generally thought by fans that this was pulled off amazingly well. Vince's line "It's me, Austin!" and JR exclaiming "Aw, son of a bitch!" are still quoted by fans today. Despite all that, this storyline is looked at as being stupid because there was no real point for McMahon and his cohorts to go through all that trouble just to mess with Austin. It was a great moment until you think about what just happened. It is also generally known that Vince being the Higher Power was at least a Plan C. One of the original choices was Mick Foley, but he turned the angle down because he didn't want to turn heel with no foreshadowing and wasn't in good enough shape to wrestle an angle with Austin. It's widely believed that Don "The Jackyl" Callis was another choice, as he originally managed the Acolytes and stated that he would be controlling everything from behind the scenes. This was apparently dropped when the Jackyl was released before the angle ended.
  • Hornswoggle was the anonymous RAW GM - the same RAW GM who was sending messages via computer to then-heel-commentator Michael Cole to screw with the other wrestlers. Responses to this reveal were typically negative — to the point where WWE actually felt the need to Retcon the twist away and bring back the "real" GM (i.e., the laptop) for a one-off skit later on.
  • From the early-80s to early-90s, most wrestling fans only knew Vince McMahon as one of the color-commentator guys and assumed some guy named "Jack Tunney" was The Boss.

  • Almost parodied in at least two episodes of The Goon Show- "The Spanish Suitcase" and "The Phantom Head-Shaver", where Greenslade is the villain, in much this style. For which reason it's also Narrator All Along.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ravenloft has the Night Swarm; a vast swarm of vampire bats led by a female werebat that ravages the land around Mount Gries. Except the werebat is an infected werebat, meaning she has no control over herself and no desire to lead the Swarm. The true "brains" behind the Night Swarm are a cluster of unusually intelligent (Int 6) and cruel dire bats, who have recognized that the hunting is especially successfull when the werebat is present. As a result, they seek out the unfortunate woman and force her to transform, as the cries of dire bats are what compels her to transform — a likely result of her being infected by Vladimir Nobriskov, a true werebat who was unusually adept at controlling bats and who liked to disguise himself as a vampire.

  • Late in BIONICLE's run, one of the serials revealed that a Great Being was disguised as one of the characters we already knew. About a year after the serial went on a hiatus, it was revealed that that the Great Being was not only Velika - a Cloud Cuckoolander that frequently spoke in riddles - but also that he was the one that killed Karzahni and Tren Krom. And the cherry on the top of it all? It was revealed that Velika was responsible for giving the inhabitants of the Matoran Universe sentience to begin with, making him one of the instigators of the plot of the entire franchise.

    Video Games 
  • In the game Art of Murder: FBI Confidential, the killer turned out to be Raches, a character briefly mentioned in a newspaper article and supposedly dead. Although this is minorly subverted because Raches is- in fact- your boss, Leon Chaser. Actually pretty obvious when you compare the two names.
  • In Asura's Wrath, the nasally, obnoxious golden spider Asura meets during his trips to Naraka turns out to be a disguise for Chakravartin, the nigh-omnipotent deity manipulating the entire planet for his own benefit.
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • In the first game, Al Mualim of all people is the true villain who is a Hidden Templar that just so happens to possess a Piece of Eden.
    • In Assassin's Creed Origins, the Order of the Ancients leader responsible for the murder of Bayek and Aya's son Khemu turns out to be none other than Flavius Metellus/The Lion, the proconsul of Cyrenica and personal aide to Julius Caesar alongside his second-in-command Lucius Septimius/The Jackal. He only appears in a few times in the game when he isn't the particular focus of any scene which makes The Reveal that he caused Bayek to accidentally kill his own son, a very big surprise.
    • In Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, the main Big Bad antagonist of the Cult of Kosmos is the "Ghost of Kosmos", who is revealed later in the game after all the cult members and cult sages have been defeated, turns out to be Aspasia, the wife of one of the secondary minor characters in the game named Perikles, who is an Athenian political leader whom she ultimately sets up the conspiracy that murders him partially causing the collapse of Athens and a partial, temporary victory for Sparta. She is treated throughout most of the game as a very minor character who only appears in a few small parts in the game at first. Once the protagonist exposes her, she explains that she became the Ghost of Kosmos specifically because she was the least conspicuous person above suspicion in Athens who could be the leader of the Cult without raising any alarms in the Peloponnessian War, and still control the war on both sides through her relationships with different political and military leaders throughout Greece.
  • In The Bastard of Kosigan, the real mastermind behind the whole plot happens to be Alexandra de Velan, your childhood sweetheart, who also happens to appear to die near the end of the second module.
  • In Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, it turns out the traitor is the one person everyone least suspected: Kalas, the player character. Not quite as ridiculous as it might seem: the game makes it clear from the start that you're not actually playing as Kalas—you're playing as his "guardian spirit". This mostly amounts to the same thing, but the player is explicitly not privy to all of his thoughts, which allows for the twist to work.
  • In Batman: The Telltale Series, the Children of Arkham's leader is none other than news reporter Vicki Vale, an otherwise tangential figure until Episode 3.
  • In Billy vs. SNAKEMAN, the main antagonist of the Hero's Quest arc (and by extension, most of the core game) is Timmy, the young kid you helped train to be a ninja during your Special Jonin exam. In fact, he's dating back to the War That Shattered The World, and he's been gathering information on how to kill you by hiding it in your Note every Loop, the accumulated knowledge turning him into quite the psychopath. Also, he's killed you several thousand times - before you started playing for the first time.
  • BlazBlue:
    • In the True Ending of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, it turns out that Hazama, Noel's superior from the Intelligence Department and a dialogue-only NPC is actually the new identity of Yuuki Terumi, who burned down Ragna's childhood home and is basically one of the most amoral characters in all of fiction.
    • At the very end of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, it is revealed that the Imperator of the NOL is Saya, who we thought was a Damsel in Distress all this time.
      • Until the reveal from a Drama CD revealing that Saya was brought forth to Relius shortly after her kidnapping and Relius made a cryptic comment that she's going to be a vessel for something, meaning Imperator Saya, for all means, could be a Puppet King manipulated by Relius and Hazama, therefore the mastermind may have been both of them since the very beginning.
      • BlazBlue: Chronophantasma: In the end, Saya backstabbed them after their failures, and left them to their fates, claiming that they have played their parts, and seized Phantom for herself. But it was because the mastermind isn't exactly Saya herself, but the Goddess of Death Izanami who was possessing her. And it turns out that she is the aforementioned 'something' that Relius modified Saya as the vessel of. A Goddess of Death is no mere 'dog', my friend.
  • In Blue Dragon, the mastermind and final boss behind it all turns out to be the friggin' blue frog thingy the bad guy carried around all the time.
  • In the open-world First-Person Shooter Boiling Point: Road to Hell, a patron in the bar at the beginning of the game turns out to be the game's Big Bad.
  • In Bravely Default, the whole crisis with the crystals, which has proven to spread between countless parallel worlds, was masterminded by "The Evil One", a.k.a. Airy, that fairy who pops up on the bottom screen reminding you what the current objective is. "where the fAIRY fLIES" note , indeed.
  • The Infocom Text Adventure game Bureaucracy (written by Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame) eventually revealed that the bureaucratic troubles the player had to navigate through during the entire game were secretly masterminded by an annoying nerd character who kept appearing at random and nagging the player to buy useless junk (and asking female characters for dates).
  • In Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, Leon Belmont's best friend, Mathias Cronqvist, who's only mentioned a handful of times throughout the game and is explicitly stated to be bedridden with grief after his wife's death, appears near the very end and reveals he orchestrated the entire plot and played everybody like a fiddle, all so he could become a vampire as revenge against God for allowing his wife to die after devoting his life to serving Him. Since this is a prequel set before all the other games, this means that not only is Mathias the Big Bad of this game, he's also the Big Bad for the entire series. That's right. Mathias is Dracula.
  • In C.H.A.I.N.G.E.D., some of the games in the Kyoto path eventually reveal that the cat Chronos owns is a lot more powerful than it lets out, and eventually is revealed to be Themis, the god of order. In the Wham Episode. "Sunk Costs," Themis reveals to Catherine that he was also the god that she met in the Wyoming timeline and has orchestrated the events of the game.
  • In Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Stalin's "advisor" (who up until then appeared once in the background and never spoke) is revealed to be none other than the Big Bad of the Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series, Kane.
  • A double-case of this with Cris Tales:
    • The Time Empress, the Big Bad the heroes had been trying to defeat since the start of the game, is actually Crisbell, the protagonist. This is not a case of Tomato in the Mirror, however, as this is an older version of her from a separate timeline where things went horribly wrong and decided she would attempt to Take Over the World in this timeline. This still makes the Time Empress an incredible threat, however, as whatever Time Mage powers Crisbell has, the Time Empress, by virtue of her identity, has stronger and more advanced versions of them, as well as time spells the heroic Crisbell hasn't even begun to learn.
    • The real antagonist, however, is Matias, the little talking frog who accompanies Crisbell around, provides her with advice on what to do next, helps Crisbell out by retrieving objects out of her reach, and manages the file save system. (Yes, another secret antagonist with this name.) His real name is Ardo, and he is the last of the Rena, an ancient race of an extremely scientifically advanced society driven to near extinction by humans, and he plans an Assimilation Plot in which he'd retrieve each and every Rena from the past and displace a human in the present with one. The Time Empress was in fact trying to stop Ardo and comes across as a megalomaniac due to her heavy-handed methods, while Ardo decided to search for a younger Crisbell and accompany her to prevent her from becoming a threat.
  • Be honest. In Curse of the Dead Gods, did you really expect Clovis Pardieux, a character mentioned offhandedly in some of the journal entries, to be one of the final bosses? Bonus points for being foreshadowed in a way that sounded like he had simply suffered a Fate Worse than Death (his sister was told that he had become "Champion of Death").
  • In this case, it's played both metaphorically and literally. In Deadly Premonition the happy go lucky Forrest Kaysen turns out to be the Red Seed Killer the whole time- and his faithful companion Willie? He INTRODUCED Kaysen to the Red Seeds. Swery65 confirmed Willie is Kaysen's "keeper" and was relaying orders from the Red Tree. If you take a closer look at the game map, it's intentionally shaped like him, part of a bigger background story SWERY left out of the game.
  • The primary antagonist of Death end re;Quest 2 is Julietta, the friendly social services worker who, prior to the reveal, did nothing of note beyond bringing Mai and Liliana to Le Choara. Julietta is actually the older sister of Lydia Nolan, the reality-warping "Observer" from the first game, and is out for revenge on the first game's protagonist for capturing Lydia's affection to the point that Lydia dooms herself to execution in order to save him and his reality.
  • Played very straight in Discworld Noir. The serial killer who has been ritually murdering the citizens of Ankh Morpork (including the main character Lewton) is revealed to be the god Anu-Anu. When his worshipers are all gathered in church praying to him, his power grows and he transforms into a large bestial monster... but the rest of the time, he's trapped in the form of a small dog, which Lewton sees outside the Guild of Tomb Evacuators shortly before he is killed.
    • This might count as a subversion, though, since Anu-Anu himself is manipulated by some members of his cult.
  • Late in Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny, the Big Bad who created the God of Destruction Zed and co. have been struggling to defeat is revealed to be none other than Cerebus, the pug that's been Zed's companion from the beginning of the game.
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, no one suspects that your ally, friend, and possible lover Solas is responsible for handing over the elven artifact that Corypheus used to create the Breach, any more than they suspect that he's guiding and using the Inquisition to his own ends - namely, retrieving the same artifact that he once gave to Corypheus - so that he can get on with his original plan. A slightly more literal example than most, since Solas is the Dread Wolf.
  • Fallen London: The vicious piratical operations hosted in Gaider's Mourn turn out to have deeper purposes to them than just looting; essentially, they try to keep the Cycle of Life and Death in motion in a place where Death Is Cheap. And who decides who lives and dies, who's overstayed their welcome and must now sink beneath the waves? The Blue Prophets. That's right: Whenever you're being relentlessly hounded by a Corsair that wants you dead at any cost, you can be certain their Pirate Parrot is calling the shots.
  • In Fallout 4, the Institute Director behind all the Synth attacks and FEV experimentation is Shaun, your missing infant son who you spent half the game tracking down. Except it's been 60 years since he was retrieved from his cryopod.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, the metaphorical dog is....YOU! Well, if you take the Independent route. You usurp Mister House, you savage the Legion, and then the pièce de résistance, you reveal to General Oliver that you suckered the NCR as well. You're initially, and throughout the game, a courier. The three great factions vying for the Mojave essentially got suckered by their mailman.
  • Fate/Grand Order:
    • In the crossover event with Fate/EXTRA CCC, the Greater-Scope Villain behind BB's sinister game is Kiara Sessyoin, the unnamed therapist who was supposedly killed in the chaos when a Demon Pillar invaded Seraphix and the workers began going insane. Furthermore, when you first meet them, they're disguised as bumbling technician Mable Macintosh.
    • In "The Land of Mystique, Oniland! The Great Oni and the Kamuy's Gold", the Greater-Scope Villain that manipulated the titular Great Oni (actually an amnesiac and brainwashed Elisabeth Bathory) and used the titular Kamuy's Gold is in fact Haku, the Non-Human Sidekick of Shuten-Douji's Magical Girl schtick that wouldn't be out of place as such a series' animal mascot, who is in reality Moshirechik Kotanechik, an ancient Ainu demon that tried to steal the sun.
  • Final Fantasy XIV has Odin, the Dark Divinity merely being a conjured or possessed wielder for the true primal, his sword, Zansetsuken. A hint is given when fighting his freeroaming FATE version, because the face of Odin is always the same as the last person to defeat him. The Reveal is shown after completing the Odin Extreme quest, when they realize his sword is always left behind after a fight unlike a normal primal. And someone has just stolen the sword.
  • In Ghost Trick, it turns out that the course of the entire game was orchestrated by an alternate future version of seemingly-irrelevant-to-the-overall-plot character and literal dog Missile — in the form of a desk lamp that has no apparent role after the tutorial for the vast majority of the game, at that — trying to prevent the death of Lynne and Kamila that would have happened if he had not convinced Sissel to interfere. In the original version of events, The Bad Guy Wins. What makes this particularly memorable is that at this point, everything is wrapped up in a neat little package; what other game waits until the end to justify the tutorial?
    • On that note, there's also the black cat that appears in the first chapter. Turns out to be the Big Bad controlling the protagonist's original body.
  • In Heavenly Sword, it's revealed that King Bohan's bird is actually The Raven Lord; a demonic warlord from the sword's backstory. The final battle is against a fused version of the two.
  • In Hotline Miami, who is organizing hitmen in animal masks to murder the Russian mafia? It's the two janitors you see briefly in one of the first few missions in the game.
  • Played with in the "Killerman" event in Illbleed. Midway through, you're asked to finger a suspect for the role of Killerman (if you're right, you win more money). Besides the proper suspects you've encountered, the choices for who may be the murderous Killerman includes...Killerman, and the player. The latter is explained that playing Illbleed drove you insane and made you go on a killing spree. (This being Illbleed, this is at least somewhat plausible.) As it so happens, Killerman is the correct answer. Turns out the ghosts of those who've died at the park possessed one of the Killerman suits and have started murdering the employees in order to get their revenge.
  • In Jak II: Renegade, Kor is revealed to be the human guise of the Metal Head Leader.
  • Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe upgrades the Master Crown, the seemingly innocuous crown sitting atop the four-headed dragon Landia's head, into the biggest villain of the story by revealing that it's both sapient and evil, intent on corrupting its victims into omnicidal maniacs and then eating their souls so it can start the whole process over again.
  • On the Homicide Desk in L.A. Noire, you are tasked with solving a string of murders, all seeming connected to the real-life Black Dahlia case. At the end, you discover the killer...Garret Mason, a bartender you had interviewed as an incidental witness in the first case, and had likely forgotten about by the third. However, Genre Savvy players can actually guess the murderer's identity once told that he's a part-time bartender who fills in for other bartenders in most of LA's bars, something the Black Dahlia murderer would find rather useful to pick his victims. Furthermore, after the first case, all the other bartenders you meet mention a temp agency which makes the connection all the more obvious.
  • In The Last Express, it turns out the thing that killed the main character's best friend, Tyler, was the very MacGuffin he was hiding: a gorgeous golden egg covered in gems. When the gems are pressed in a certain order, it turns into a mechanical falcon that sings when a whistle is blown during daytime, but kills everyone present if it's blown at night.
  • In the first Laura Bow game, Lilian turns out to be the Big Bad. You would have easily suspected anybody else but especially Rudy since they all had motive. However; it turns out that the inheritance was after all a Red Herring and the real motive was a psychological disorder on Lillian's behalf, thinking everyone was getting in between her and the Colonel.
  • The Legend of Heroes - Trails:
    • Just when you think The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky has a simple story, Professor Alba reveals, among other things, that he's Georg Weissmann, the one behind everything. In the second game's third chapter, you have to foil a planned attack on Liberl's capital. The one behind it all is Renne, the little girl you spend part of the chapter playing hide and seek with.
    • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, the last remaining member of the D∴G Cult and the Big Bad turns out to be none other than the kindly doctor from St. Ursula, Joachim Gunter. And in Trails to Azure, the one who killed Lloyd's brother and the mastermind behind the events in Crossbell is Ian Grimwood, who's also an accomplice to the Crois family.
    • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Crow is the Imperial Liberation's leader C and Misty/Vita is an Anguis of Ouroboros. Then Cold Steel III reveals the leader of The Black Workshop is none other than Alisa Reinford's father, a character who not only never appeared before, but was heavily implied to be dead.
  • Life Is Strange has Mark Jefferson, Max's amiable and forgettable photography teacher, be the kidnapper of Rachel Amber and The Man Behind the Man to Nathan Prescott, who is helping him drug and kidnap women.
  • The Big Bad of the LISA trilogy, who brought about the Flash that wiped out all women and turned Olathe into a wasteland, is eventually revealed to be a recurring NPC who can be seen playing his trumpet in the Area Crossroads ("God's Call"). He's Dr. Yado, and at first glance, he seems like a simple Easter Egg music gag-character, until one of the encounters with him pieces together the various clues lying around the game.
  • Tomator at the end of The Lost Vikings 2 turns out to be the Bratty Half-Pint that sometimes appeared in the middle of the levels to be annoying.
  • In Lunarosse, Naamari, the supposed Sacrificial Lamb that supposedly died at the end of the first act, is the Illusion Master, the true Big Bad of the game, manipulating the Empire and Faction into war, as revealed in the True End Path.
  • After spending the short four hours playing through the 12 other ranked bosses in MadWorld, you find out Rank 1 and a major accomplice in Deathwatch is none other than the man who hilariously gives tutorials for the bloody minigames. The Black Baron gets extra points for being the most challenging and epic fight in the game.
  • Subverted in MARDEK Chapter 3, as the mastermind is a major villain that everyone suspects, but he's disguised as a "dog", Clavis, an enigmatic but inconspicuous character. The persona was actually made up by the villain in order to talk some sense into Rohoph, who was sprinting towards becoming a Knight Templar hard and fast.
  • In Mass Effect, the true mastermind behind the game's evil plot turns out to be Saren's flagship Sovereign, which is actually a sentient Abusive Precursor.
  • In the Metal Gear series, you don't find out who the founder of the Patriots really is until about halfway through Guns Of The Patriots. It's Major Zero, the Mission Control from Snake Eater. It's particularly a shocking reveal, since the character in question had not been revealed to have undergone a Face–Heel Turn or have traits of a Well-Intentioned Extremist. This is expanded upon in later games, which paint him as more of a misguided, though well-intentioned, man.
  • In Murdered: Soul Suspect, the little girl that the protagonist first meets in the spirit world, after he is murdered, is the mastermind behind everything. She is originally presented as a friendly ghost who gives the protagonist a few tips about navigating in the spirit world. Then you don't see her again until the reveal that she is a witch who has been possessing the body of strong men to murder other witches, including the protagonist when he was alive. Then she sets the men up to be murdered to cover her tracks. If the player takes time to find all the collectables in the game, they'll uncover the truth before the reveal.
  • The head of the evil organization, H.A.R.M., in No One Lives Forever turns out to be a recurring background character that shows up drunk in most levels as a Running Gag.
    • The player is given one hint: he sputters an alarmed "Uh-oh!!" when interacted with on the space station. He reverts to his usual drunken behaviour afterwards. This can also be taken as quite the compliment as most everyone else has been doubting Archer's abilities the Big Bad responds to her appearance with Oh, Crap!!
  • Octopath Traveler:
    • Lyblac is the force behind most of the individual storylines and the finalenote , and yet the player's only direct contact with said character prior to the finale are a pair of sidequests where they assist a guard who has a crush on her. The sidequests do have an ominous name that emphasizes her role ("Daughter of the Dark God"), and some of the dialogue she has serves as foreshadowing for her motivations when viewed with the benefit of hindsight, but the actual content of the two sidequests is so minor and unrelated to the game's story (to say nothing of being very brief) it's entirely likely most players have long forgotten about her by the time she comes up again.
    • The Arc Villain of Cyrus's story who stole the book From the Far Reaches of Hell is Lucia, Yvon's initially nameless assistant who seemed to have no role beyond suggesting Cyrus's sabbatical in the first place and promptly vanished from the plot until masquerading as an ally of Cyrus when she appears in Chapter 3. Turns out she is a servant of Lyblac who corrupted Headmaster Yvon into doing her bidding.
  • Octopath Traveler II does it too. Of the core members of the Apocalypse Cult seeking to resurrect the God of Darkness, a few are revealed to be minor characters flying under the radar. As the game nears its conclusion, it's revealed that the spy keeping tabs on the heroes was Ori, the quirky journalist reporting on Partitio's exploits. Tanzy, the stage director of Giselle's wandering entertainer troupe, was using their travels to locate the Sacred Flames. And then, Arcanette, the leader of the cult and mastermind of the entire operation, is eventually revealed to be Mindt, the kindly cleric in Flamechurch who had maybe two minutes of screentime up to that point.
  • In OFF, the Big Bad who threatens the world is actually not the Queen, but the Player Character, The Batter. He was destroying the world, rather than saving it.
  • In Pathfinder: Kingmaker, The Man Behind the Man is Nyrissa, the helpful Guardian of the Bloom you meet early into the adventure. The Greater-Scope Villain, however, is the Lantern King, one of the Eldest, and who disguises himself as a mad prophet, a helpful gnome, and even one of Nyrissa's own underlings so that he can play with his toys up-close.
  • Pedestal: Stage 2 reveals that none of the five suspects were responsible for Shiori's death. The true mastermind is none other than Akari, heroine Aoi's aloof best friend who just seemed to be The Watson and the muscle with no connection to Shiori whatsoever, and who helped Aoi investigate Shiori's death (because she wanted to know if she succeeded in driving Shiori to suicide).
  • In Persona, they really like to play this around a lot. Usually, a seemingly inconspicuous character that is highly enthusiastic about your arrival will appear at around the first 10 scenes of the game; you can bet 99% of the time that this person will be the Big Bad or even the Greater-Scope Villain.
    • The original Persona had this trope retroactively applied because, as it turns out, Kandori's Persona, Nyarlathotep, is actually a separate entity which manipulated events to go his way.
    • Both halves of Persona 2 make use of this. Innocent Sin reveals that The Masked Circle, including Joker, were all pawns of a greater power, Nyarlathotep, who took on the form of an ideal father to Joker (real name Jun Kurosu) and modified Jun's memories to make him easier to manipulate. Eternal Punishment reveals partly through that JOKER (a contract killer meant to mimic Joker in the other reality that Eternal Punishment takes place in) is a character from the previous game Tasuya Sudou, who was King Leo of the Masked Circle in the Innocent Sin reality.
    • Persona 3 uses this trope as well, with Shuji Ikutsuki, staff director for S.E.E.S. and Pungeon Master being responsible for the Dark Hour and the creation of the Arcana Shadows as an attempt to end the world.
    • Persona 4 practically runs on this trope, in keeping with its theme of not letting first impressions or outward appearances deceive you. All three of the major players in the kidnappings and murders can be frequently found around Inaba doing absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, notably Tohru Adachi, who seems to be a harmless goofball assistant. However, the real kicker is that the true final boss, the one who set the events of the game into motion, turns out to be...the nameless, forgettable gas station attendant who you met at the very beginning of the game, who turns out to be none other than the goddess Izanami in disguise. Made even better by the fact she didn't have a character portrait, which is a good indicator of a notable character, until AFTER the reveal.
    • Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth reveals that the cause of both the Investigation Team and SEES being summoned to the alternate Yasogami High was caused by a powerful denizen of that realm: the Clockwork God, an aspect of Zen which he had sealed away to prevent the already dead Rei from being taken to the sea of souls.
    • Happens again in Persona 5 when it turns out that the real villain, Yaldabaoth, impersonated Igor, who trapped the real Igor within the Velvet Room and then took his place in order to mislead the protagonist and basically everyone else in Japan.
      • In Royal, at the start of October, Joker, Morgana, and Kasumi, arrive at the entrance of a mysterious Palace, and after helping Kasumi escape, Joker and Morgana decide to leave the area alone. Until suddenly in January the citizens of the city are placed into a Lotus-Eater Machine. Learning the Palace is involved, Joker investigates the building, discovering the ruler of the Palace is Dr. Maruki, Shujin Academy's guidance counselor.
      • Joker himself fits this role from Sae Niijima's perspective. She is certainly surprised that the leader of the thieves she's been hunting down for months was that kid standing in the background during her arguments with Sojiro Sakura.
    • A rather unique case in Persona 5 Strikers also overlaps with the series' tradition of making seemingly out of place Cloudcuckoolander characters into mentally unstable traitors. As soon as you land into Sendai, the first person you meet is not the Jail Monarch but Kuon Ichinose, a rather eccentric woman working at a nearby university and seems to be more than enthusiastic to spell out that she was behind everything. Sure enough she's actually the mastermind proper, not the right hand of the Big Bad or even a godly entity, responsible for unleashing the in-game catastrophe with help from the Lead Konoe out of a petty issue with the first AI she created.
    • Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth reveals that the entity responsible for Hikari being trapped in the cinema was an administrator of the Collective Unconscious whom had taken another form: Nagi, the friendly manager who was always by Hikari's side. It turns out that she was just merely feeding in her depression by showing her horrible movies made of pure negativity.
      • This also happens in an in-universe labyrinth which is a dinosaur movie about weak herbivore dinosaurs running away from mighty carnivores into a paradise. While the movie constantly tries to make the player think that the movie villains are the carnivores, it's the weak herbivores that are the Greater-Scope Villains whose cowardice and herd mentality directly resulted in the group discord that got them all wiped out by carnivores and one of their All of the Other Reindeer teammates going berserk and transforming into a carnivore himself to mercilessly attack the party.
  • In the indie game Pizza Delivery the real mastermind in the house was the doll.
  • Pizza Tower follows Peppino terrified by the denizens of the titular tower, owned by a massive pizza thing known as Pizzaface, who threatened to destroy Peppino's restaurant. However, Pizzaface turns out to be a machine driven by Pizzahead, who had absolutely no foreshadowing beyond being the cardboard cut outs that Peppino had been inadvertently destroying for pretty much the entire game.
  • Pokémon:
    • In Pokémon Colosseum, the diabolical Evice is none other than Es Cade, the mayor of the town you saved at the very beginning. And he promised he'd help!
    • In Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness, Mr. Verich, the rich man who buys food for the sailors in Gateon Port and whose bodyguard helps you early on, is Greevil, the Grand Master of Cipher.
    • Subverted in Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon. It turns out one of the culprits turning Pokemon into stone is Nuzleaf, the caretaker of the player character, but it's eventually revealed that he isn't a mastermind and was mind controlled by Dark Matter and goes back to being a friend of the player after Dark Matter is defeated.
    • Pokémon Legends: Arceus: Volo, the affable, laid back Intrepid Merchant who's been at your side since the beginning and always willing to lend you a hand (and Ambiguously Related to Cynthia on top of that), is revealed in the post-game as a deranged, psychopathic Godhood Seeker who's been the one behind the space-time distortions threatening the world and is so obsessed with the legend of Arceus that he's perfectly willing to put all of Hisui at risk just for a chance to meet it.
  • In the "Art Therapy" DLC chapter of Portal 2's co-op campaign, the robots are sent to kill what turns out to be the bird from Chapter 6 of the single-player game.
  • Princess Maker 5: It turns out the mastermind who leads and gives commands to the rebel forces' subleaders, the mooks and also responsible for commencing a genocide to kill all princess candidates (fortunately only one escapes and survives, which is the daughter) and the daughter's biological parents (or her whole family as the opening intro implies) is Alfort (With Steward as his alias name), the butler who is the corrupt angel from Heaven Realm of the daughter's world and he always assists Assiette Genoise (the frail girl on the wheelchair) from the first time the daughter met her in primary school.
  • Appears often in the Professor Layton series. Many seemingly innocuous, or at least well-meaning, characters, including Chelmey in The Curious Village, Flora in "The Diabolical Box", Doland the butler in "The Last Specter", and Angela in "The Miracle Mask", are revealed to really be villains wearing infinitely clever (and impossibly detailed and well-fitting) costumes.
    • It is especially prevalent in Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, which sees Dimitri Allen disguised as the bartender at the Thames Arms, and Clive disguised as Future Luke. The latter plays it particularly straight because Clive has been parading around, as Future Luke, with Layton and his friends for most of the game, and had deceived his partner-in-crime, Dimitri, into believing he was building a time machine, when in reality, he was creating an enormous robotic weapon with which he intended to destroy London.
    • The inverse also occurs in Unwound Future, when Don Paolo disguises himself as Layton as part of a plan Layton devised to foil Dimitri's attempts to trap him at the top of the Towering Pagoda.
    • In Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy, the shadowy figure behind the titular conspiracy is none other than Ernest, the absent-minded college freshman and bumbling new hire at Katrielle's detective agency who follows her along to every case as her sidekick. That being said, he doesn't oppose Katrielle at all and in fact is in full support of her; Ernest just wanted to gather all the millionaires together in one place so he could ruin them out of revenge.
  • Psychonauts 2: The mail clerk Nick Johnsmith was the one behind Truman Zanotto's kidnapping and the "revival" of Maligula, and is actually Gristol Malik, exiled heir to the throne of Grulovia who wants to take back the throne. Justified because "Nick" probably wanted to keep a low profile.
  • Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One: For most of the game, we're led to believe that the Big Bad is one Nevo Binkemyer. At the end, it transpires that the one responsible cute, kitten-like critter named Mr. Dinkles, possesed by the Loki Master, who forced Nevo at gunpoint to build all of the weapons and enemies the heroes had faced up until that point.
  • In Ragnarok Battle Offline The final boss of the game turns out to be a Kafra (member of a group of maids that in the original game provides saving, storage, and fast travel between cities) possessed by an unknown entity.
  • In Rayman Origins, it turns out the person behind the mess is the magician who gave you advices in levels and collected your lums at the end of each one. Many players barely notice his appearance through the game. This twist was a holdover back from a time in development when the game still had an actual story, namely that The Magician idolized Mr. Dark, the ever-mysterious Big Bad of the very first game, and the whole plan was an attempt to emulate him.
  • In Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, you realize the Big Bad is Creepy Child Eveline fairly early. However, you may not recognize Eveline as the catatonic, wheelchair-bound old lady you've seen all over the house; she's aged decades in only three years due to not having the medication that controls her mutations, and the previous sightings of child Eveline are hallucinations.
  • In RosenkreuzStilette, Count Michael Zeppelin is the leader of the RKS rebellion against the Holy Empire, but the person responsible for driving him to rebel turns out to be Kahl Palesch, Liebea's unseen brother who was only mentioned in her cutscenes and was supposedly captured by the Empire, but was actually an Empire spy sent to kill Michael's daughter Iris...except that Iris herself, seemingly an average Damsel in Distress, knowingly instigated the war for fun and lied about Kahl being a spy to keep him from exposing her plans. In the sequel, ~Freudenstachel~, she also instigated the church's founding of the Schwarzkreuz and the witch-hunt of the Magi (with help from Eifer Skute).
  • Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse: Beyond the Alley of the Dolls plays this to excellent effect; the true mastermind turns out to be the ventriloquist's dummy Max has been carrying around for half the episode.
    • In the beginning of the series finale, The Narrator of the series so far shows you a wall of pictures showing characters from the series, and proclaims that "one of the characters you see before you will betray Sam and Max." This sounds like an unnecessarily leading Reveal, until it's shown that "one of the characters you see before you" includes The Narrator himself.
    • As well as the Season 2 finale What's New, Beelzebub?, where it turns out that the Soda Poppers have taken over Hell itself and have masterminded the events of the season in an attempt to make Hell more efficient (even going so far as to kick out Satan).
      • Subverted, though, in that Telltale thought they were playing this trope straight, because they thought the Poppers were quite popular little schlubs, when in fact much of the fandom considered them The Scrappy, and thus thought The Reveal that they were the villains behind the entire last season was only too appropriate.
  • Parodied in the Dog ending of Silent Hill 2 (one of the game's two Joke Endings), which reveals that a female Shiba Inu dog is the Big Bad behind the entire town of Silent Hill. Said dog (named Mira) makes cameos in future joke endings.
  • Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People: In "Dangeresque 3: The Crimianl Projective", after a plot involving Dangeresque's nemesis Perducci teaming up with Uzi Bazooka (a post-Face–Heel Turn Dangeresque Too), it turns out Uzi Bazooka is a robot duplicate of Dangeresque Too and the real Big Bad is Craig, a character played by The Cheat, who had previously served as Uzi Bazooka's Right-Hand Cat and lackey.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has Sir Grodus, leader of the X-Nauts, as the supposed villain for most of the plot. But when he unseals the Shadow Queen and fails to control her, Beldam- the tiny leader of the Shadow Sirens who was a comically inept threat up to this point- reveals that she was manipulating Grodus all along. It was she who told him of the treasure behind the titular door and that he could control it, but this was a lie intended to get him to unseal her Queen.
    • Super Paper Mario:
    • Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time: The spirit of the Colbalt Star, who briefly appears to direct the heroes to the Star Shrine, is actually the Greater-Scope Villain, the Elder Princess Shroob, who tricked the heroes into putting together the shards of the Star and releasing her from her prison.
  • A few Super Robot Wars games are run by dogs:
    • Z3 has AG, a fat waddling robot who comes with the protagonist's machine, allegedly as a representative of the company that built it, but has relatively little to do with anything outside of comedy sketches. He's the final boss of the first Z game in disguise, and about two-thirds of the story were his scheme to get all his old power back and more.
    • T makes the final boss your company's president, who's rarely seen and nothing but helpful in his prior appearances.
  • In Tales from the Borderlands, the Masked Kidnapper that captured Rhys and Fiona at the beginning of the game and has been making them tell their story through flashbacks is revealed to be Loader Bot. He witnessed Fiona destroy Gortys and felt betrayed, so he took the cyborg body Handsome Jack had built, downloaded himself into it, and captured Rhys and Fiona while hiding his identity to learn the full story from them, bring the team back together, and repair Gortys.
  • In Taz: Wanted, Tweety is the mastermind behind it all. This is especially mind-numbing when you consider that he's been your tutorial and hint provider for the entire game, including the final level.
  • In Temtem, the Big Bad is revealed to be none other than The Professor Konstantinos, the very man who gave you your Starter Mon. He's the one who created the Belsoto Clan and groomed The Rival Max into joining as part of his Evil Plan to Take Over the World.
  • The Hag in Thief: Deadly Shadows masquerades as the Keeper translator Gamall, who is a little girl.
  • Tick Tock Isle has a benevolent version. You were hired to fix the clock by enigmatic "Mr. Klepsydra", who never appears in person. Though, after the Point of No Return someone unseen does help you, conveniently opening secret doors, and you catch glimpses of a mouse. If you visit the dining hall in the Playable Epilogue in 2020, put cheese in the mouse hole, leave and return, there will be a note: "Thanks for the cheese. -Klepsydra". Figures, in the Bad Future the mouse is being hunted by stray cats.
  • In Tropico 5 part of the crime safety system includes people also becoming secret crime lords in addition to their regular job. Dock workers both commonly would live in shacks near their workplace and were the most common source of crime lords. Perhaps owing to interactions with docks as one of the highest crime generating buildings and the geography often forces clustering of docks together. Insidiously, maximum throughput of docks required upon well paid dockworkers, masking a crime lord's anomalous wealth.
  • An Alternate Reality Game for ULTRAKILL culminated in a secret lore log with a major revelation that turns everything everyone knew about the game's story on its head: Hell, which was naturally assumed to be a simple Eldritch Location with no otherwise notable qualities, is actually alive and actively malicious. It's implied to be the true reason for humanity's extinction rather than the Hopeless War everyone originally assumed was the cause, and everything it does, from trapping you until you kill everything in the arena, to torturing its own residents and creations alike, is all in the name of its own twisted, sadistic amusement.
  • In Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, one would assume that Gabriel Roman was the main antagonist looking to steal the treasure of El Dorado. However, at the game's climax, when he opens the golden coffin, he inhales the dust that drove the Spaniards mad and turned them into monsters. But before he could fully transform, he was shot by none other by his lackey, Navarro, who not only reveals that he led Roman to El Dorado, but had his suspicions of the treasure and used Roman as a guinea pig. And worst of all? He planned to sell it as a weapon to the highest bidder.
  • Undertale:
    • Flowey the Flower, the supposed tutorial character who shows up at the beginning, and then disappears for most of the plot, turns out to be The Man Behind the Man manipulating everyone in the game, including the supposed villain King Asgore.
    • It's also implied that the quirky narrator who gives all the Flavor Text backstory is actually Chara Dreemurr, the cute human child that Asgore adopted and "tragically" died- except Chara is Flowey's partner-in-crime and an Omnicidal Maniac who is partly responsible for the monsters' current situation in the first place.
    • Perhaps most surprising of all is that in the Genocide route, the Player themselves turns out to also be a mastermind.
    • In more of a meta sense, the Annoying Dog that turns up frequently is the Author Avatar of the game's creator Toby Fox, and supposedly coded the game itself by whacking its face into a keyboard repeatedly.
  • In endings of Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines where the Ankaran Sarcophagus is opened, the whole affair is revealed to be a massive practical joke orchestrated by Jack and the cab driver (who may or may not be Caine).
  • Early on in Wadanohara, the characters surmise that there is a traitor within the Blue Sea Kingdom aiding the enemy Tosatsu Kingdom. A sufficiently Genre Savvy player will likely realize that Samekichi, the number one suspect, cannot possibly be the traitor. But while there are plenty of other contenders for the culprit, the last on anyone's list is Sal, the adorable minor dolphin character serving Princess Uomi.
  • In the When Gravity Fails licensed game Circuit's Edge the mastermind behind what is going on turns out to be the guy running the carpet shop who had no earlier involvement in the plot and you do not even have to meet at all when pursuing leads.
  • In Wild ARMs 3, you'll occasionally notice a purple-haired little girl. She might just walk by for a second as you enter a town or dungeon, or show up standing near a plot-important character as he begins conspicuously talking to himself. Turns out she is Beatrice, the Dream Demon who turned Filgaia into a desert planet and has been manipulating the heroes to take out her rivals- Janus, the Prophets, and Siegfried- so she can turn the world into her own twisted nightmare.
  • In The Witch's House, the Greater-Scope Villain is the savepoint black cat, who is actually the demon who gave Ellen her powers and turned her into a witch. And it turns out the protagonist was Ellen (controlling Viola's body) the whole time.
  • Wolfenstein: Youngblood: When finally meeting General Lothar, it turns out he was living by your sides this whole time, having infiltrated the Resistance pretending to be a mute wounded veteran named Jacques. He's nothing more than a butler until the reveal.
  • The World Ends with You: Okay, on the one hand, something was seriously wrong with Joshua. On the other hand, nobody really was expecting them to be the Composer.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3: In the main game, it's hinted that the City's founders who rebuilt and restarted the fight against Moebius contained a seventh member lost to history, with their only mention being that they refused to have a statue in their honour as the other six founders did. Come Xenoblade Chronicles 3: Future Redeemed and it seems that A, a mysterious individual that fights alongside the founders and is an incarnation of Alvis from the first game is the mysterious seventh founder, but the reality is that it's none other than Riku, the Nopon blacksmith that journeyed not only with the founders but the maingame protagonists over 1000 years later despite his claims that he's nothing more than a "common variety Nopon". It's implied the reason is a mixture of wanting to keep a low profile so he can travel in secret and hide the fact that he's technically immortal, and because he's actual rather modest and isn't a fan of being in the spotlight or throwing any star power around.
  • At several points in Yoku's Island Express, characters will mention that someone must have been responsible for Mokuma's curse and that it may be someone who you least expect. In the end, the perpetrator turns out to be Kickback, the creature who's been serving as your ball saver all game.
  • One of the example games in the ZZT scenario pack attempted this scenario, but thanks to the game having no identifiable character graphics (every character is represented by an ASCII smiling face), was reduced to having the Final Boss declare:

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • In the last case of Justice For All, the true culprit is your very client, Matt Engarde. Yes, the dumb TV poster boy is actually a cold-blooded Dirty Coward who couldn't even do the dirty deed himself.
    • The last case of Trials and Tribulations actually has two opposing examples: Morgan Fey from the previous game is The Man Behind the Man to Big Bad Dahlia Hawthorne here. However, the killer — and the one responsible for the Benevolent Conspiracy against their plan — is new prosecutor Godot, who disappeared entirely after the third case until literally just a while ago (and is even the one who refuses to let the trial end until the whole truth's found).
    • The first case of Ace Attorney Investigations 2 involves the attempted assassination of a visiting president. Several more murders occur that are revealed to be connected with each other. At the end, after you had apparently caught the culprits, it turns out that all of it (except the case 3 murder) was orchestrated by Simon Keyes, a clown at the local circus, and someone you had defended earlier in the game.
    • In Apollo Justice, the mastermind who orchestrated Phoenix Wright's disbarment and two out of four murders in the game is Apollo's own boss, Kristoph Gavin.
    • In Dual Destinies, "the phantom", one of the most dangerous people in the whole franchise, with an astounding score of two murders, three attempted murders, and three bombings, one of which occurred in a courtroom full of people, is none other than Bobby Fulbright. Bobby "In Justice We Trust" Fulbright, the goofy, overdramatic detective who helped you throughout the entire game. He's been impersonating the real (and Dead All Along) Bobby Fulbright.
    • Spirit of Justice has two examples:
      • In case 3, the person who killed Tahrust Inmee is Tahrust himself, as part of a plan to frame Maya and take the blame of his wife Beh'leeb for a killing in self-defense she did.
      • A major player in case 5 is Nayna, Rayfa's personal aide who occasionally shows up to briefly attend to Rayfa, then disappears, never says a word, and seemed to be an insignificant joke character. She is actually Queen Amara in disguise. However, this is actually subverted in that she is not the actual mastermind, but is covering for her sister Ga'ran, who is much more Obviously Evil.
    • The Great Ace Attorney has quite a few. While the identity of the Big Bad, the Reaper of the Bailey, is not particularly surprising since Lord Chief Justice Mael Strongheart is rather suspicious, their co-conspirators and one unrelated culprit are another story.
      • Seishirou Jigoku, the then-unnamed judge who only appeared in the first cases of both games turns out to be an accomplice and one of the culprits of the first case, as he ordered the hit on the victim. This is particularly surprising because a judge has never been the culprit before, and he seemed to be just another Suspiciously Similar Substitute of the judge from the main series.
      • Another accomplice of the Reaper is Inspector Tobias Gregson, seemingly a gruff but ultimately benevolent Inspector Lestrade who is nice to Iris Wilson and helps out the heroes- turns out he has been marking and tracking down victims for Jezaille Brett/Asa Shinn to murder, and helped frame Genshin Asogi for the Professor killings.
      • The Professor, a now-deceased infamous Serial Killer from London's past, had his true identity kept a closely guarded secret by the government. As it turns out, he was Klint Van Zieks, supposedly the last victim of the Professor, who directed the killings under orders from Stronghart and had the later-framed Genshin Asogi kill him as repentance.
      • The culprit of case 2-1 is that one random photographer who occasionally harassed Soseki Natsume.
      • In Resolve, the culprit of Case 2 who poisoned the victim is Olive Green, the victim of a prior case who survived and did not seem to have anything to do with this case.
  • Danganronpa does this in regards to their spies:
  • In The Murder of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic and his friends partake in a murder mystery LARP on a train, until Sonic is attacked for real. The culprit turns out to be the train itself, which was one of Eggman's Badniks all along.
  • In Mystic Messenger, the overarching plot across all routes concerns an attack on the RFA orchestrated by a mysterious hacker called 'Unknown', a leader of the strange cult Mint Eye. Unknown is not an example, as he is a stranger to the protagonist known only to his brother Seven and a few others, but he is working for someone whom he calls 'the Savior', revealed in the Secret Ending to be Rika, V's girlfriend who was thought to have killed herself. In fact, unbeknownst to everyone but V, she had been slowly losing her grip on reality for a long time as a result of her mental illness and trauma — when she finally snapped, her Chronic Hero Syndrome drove her create Mint Eye and believe herself to be a Dark Messiah with the goal of making everyone in the world happy and saving those who had been beaten down and abandoned by others. V chose to lie to the others and say that she killed herself rather than reveal the Awful Truth about the RFA's beloved founder.
  • PARANORMASIGHT: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo: The mastermind behind the Feast of Shadows and the Deadly Game between the Curse Bearers is revealed, after several false leads, to be Yoko Fukunaga, the cute, occult-obsessed housekeeper and Shogo's Love Interest from the prologue who got killed in one timeline, and in the other seemingly exited the plot after being saved.
  • One that's really only known in Japan is the culprit in the old mystery game The Portopia Serial Murder Case (although some may have heard about its Shout-Out in Haruhi-chan). The culprit is the one you'd least suspect, because not only is Yasu your assistant, he's also (since the main character is an unseen Heroic Mime) the guy executing the player's commands and speaking for the main character. The revelation was so out of left field that the phrase "Yasu is the culprit" is something of a minor Japanese shorthand meme for this trope.
  • Root Letter: In the Government Plot route, several seemingly innocuous side characters are revealed to be government agents carrying out the titular Government Conspiracy:
    • Professor Naoki Fumino, the caring father of Aya Fumino who has been shown to be nothing but kind to people, is the chief agent and Big Bad of the route.
    • Genkichi and Sanpei, who run the Kamiari-an restaurant that Max visits once per chapter and who treated him well, are also agents working for Fumino.
    • Yuri, Jun Omori's sweet and supportive fiancée, is another agent who was sent to steal evidence of the plot from Jun.
  • Science Adventure Series
    • In Chaos;Head, the direct perpetrator of the 'New Gen' serial murders, who is The Dragon for the mysterious conspiracy, is a strange Demon Girl that Takumi repeatedly encounters. He eventually finds out that the girl is not the actual perpetrator. The real killer is two people: Hazuki Shino, the nurse who seemed to be a minor character, and also manipulated the protagonist Takumi as 'Grim', his online MMO partner; and Mamoru Suwa, partner of Detective Ban who acted as The Watson to him and seemed to be clueless about everything.
    • Steins;Gate:
      • The SERN spies M4 and FB, who are also the leaders of the Rounders, are none other than Moeka Kiryuu, the extremely shy part-time editor who bonded somewhat with protagonist Okabe, and the even-more-completely un-suspicious Yugo Tennouji/Mr. Braun, Okarin's beleaguered landlord who had never spoken a single line about anything plot-worthy until the reveal that he is FB. Even more surprising because he had pretend to be a woman as FB. Lampshaded by Okabe, who is naturally shocked by this development:
        Moeka? She's their leader? The least imposing woman I've ever met?
      • Later on, the two Greater Scope Villains responsible for murdering Future!Okabe and Kurisu, respectively, are revealed as a future version of Nae, Yuugo's cute, Purity Personified daughter; and Doctor Nakabachi, a character who appeared in the prologue and seemed to completely disappear from the plot afterwards, and is also the father of Kurisu, Shouichi, who she sometimes talked about.
    • In Chaos;Child, the mysterious Amy and Ed Lucas, who are masterminding the New New Gen murders, are revealed as Serika Onoe and Shinji Itou, the protagonist Takuru's main love interest and best friend, respectively, who helped him out during the investigation. And the Committee of 300 members who are Serika's bosses are Wataru Sakuma and Shuichi Wakui, Takuru's goofy-yet-caring foster father and teacher, respectively, who seemed to be mostly unrelated to the plot.
  • In Sunrider, the Big Bad is Veniczar Arcadius, a masked man shrouded in mystery. Eventually he's unmasked, and he turns out to be an entire Hive Mind, controlled by multiple people. As it turns out, Claude Treillo, Kayto's bumbling, sex-crazed medic, is one of these people, The Mole who's been sabotaging his journey, and an omnipotent, time-traveling god all along.
  • Time Hollow posits the notion, in an optional extended ending, that Sox the cat was the being behind most if not all of the game's events, or at the least that he's a mightier being than he lets on.
  • In Tsukihime, the person who started the chain of events leading to the Near Side routes and was primarily responsible for everything that happens on the Far Side routes turns out to be Kohaku, Akiha's seemingly cheerful maid and one of the romancable heroines.
  • The Unforgiving Flowers Blossom in the Dead of Night: A great number of the stories pit each protagonist against Higanbana, the third-ranked Youkai in the school who wants to steal souls for herself. In the final chapter of the first half, it turns out that Higanbana is being manipulated by Reiko Osumi. Of all people, the adorable, fragile girl who constantly cries Tender Tears and is the number one target of the bullies is probably the last person you'd expect to be the mastermind behind the school's bullying problem.
  • When They Cry:
    • In Higurashi: When They Cry, this is done so well that even if the Big Bad had a creepy moment or two, you wouldn't have known who it was until The Reveal. As it turns out, the mysterious mastermind calling themselves 'Oyashiro-sama', the one behind the conspiracy enveloping the enite village of Hinamizawa, is actually the local cute nurse, Miyo Takano, who was shown in every single arc, and, as far as the viewer was concerned, had no chance of being the villain. After all, it is extremely difficult to suspect a character that looked like she was promptly killed off every single arc. Even with the very few creepy moments before The Reveal, who would suspect that it was the dead nurse faking her death every time? The only big hint was that the estimated time of her fake death was literally a day before Watanagashi, and there were plenty of witnesses who saw her alive during the festival. The mastermind knew the flaw, but used that as an advantage and added it as an extra mystery to confuse people (and the viewers).
    • In Umineko: When They Cry, the culprit behind the murders claims herself to be the Golden Witch, Beatrice. Battler's mission is to expose her as the normal human culprit he believes her to be. In the seventh arc, Beatrice is revealed to be Shannon and Kanon, two servants who are each different personas she puts on. In a reference to The Portopia Serial Murder Case (another user of this trope), her 'real' name is revealed to be Sayo Yasu'da. Then it turns out that, in reality, Beatrice/Yasu actually wasn't the ultimate culprit. In the real world, the true muderers were Battler's friendly, laid-back parents, Rudolf and Kyrie. In the witch world, the witch who turned Yasu into Beatrice is Lambdadelta, who was presented as just being silly for the first half of her first appearance. The other major witch involved, Bernkastel, originally seemed to be helping the protagonist before getting more and more villainous as the story went on, ending up as a Big Bad.
  • The Zero Escape trilogy loves to pull this:
    • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Zero, the person that planned the Nonary Game, planned the kidnapping of you and the other 8 people, blew up two people, and put you through the hellish game of life & death, is the protagonist's childhood friend and love-interest, Akane. And she herself is exacting revenge on another guy who put her and multiple other children through an even more sadistic game nine years ago- the lovable elderly group leader and co-participant, Ace, who is actually Gentaro Hongou, psychopathic Corrupt Corporate Executive of Cradle Pharmaceuticals.
    • Virtue's Last Reward manages to top its predecessor, by having the mastermind behind everything, Zero III Sr. be the main character's future self, and his partner-in-crime is the murdered old woman, who is actually Akane. Though it's inverted with Dio- him being the true Big Bad and a terrorist leader is surprising precisely because he was the most obvious suspect.
    • The web preview page for the third game in the series, Zero Time Dilemma, shows a picture of an actual dog, "Gab", underneath the Mastermind header. You can also, at one point, literally accuse him of being the mastermind. He isn't. It gets unique dialogue, although Eric doesn't see the funny side and shoots the accuser on the spot for it.
      • The actual game still continues with this tradition. It's revealed that the mastermind known as Zero II and Brother, leader of Free The Soul was actually the blind and deaf old man in the wheelchair, who was so innocuous that he almost never even appears on camera before The Reveal (indeed, the game deliberately tries to mislead the player into not noticing he even exists and misattributing his assumed name to a different character entirely). Exaggerated the one time he does appear- as Delta, Sigma and Diana's newborn baby boy, who was born during the events of the game. He exists in two places at once thanks to a Stable Time Loop, but it's still crazy that this little baby grew up to be the Big Bad. The game is even kind enough to provide you with a Red Herring to rule out that very possibility. Normally, the introduction of a new named character would be something to be suspicious of, but Sigma and Diana had fraternal twins and the girl is Phi, so the twins were obviously only sent 21 years into the past, and Brother was already an old man in 2028. No way they're the same person.

    Web Animation 
  • In episode 86 of Bonus Stage it was revealed the second version of Evil was MALCOLM, a very minor character who only appeared in one episode prior and never showed any signs of being evil. It was originally going to be revealed to be someone else, but Matt Wilson got sick of doing the series and just ended the arc on an Ass Pull.
  • The "DNA Evidence" arc of Homestar Runner. After being Arc Words in a number of otherwise unrelated shorts, we get a story about a vial of green DNA Evidence that keeps changing hands and getting stolen. Turns out that it was from Strong Sad, who doesn't want anyone to find out if he's part-elephant.
  • In Andrew Kepple/TMST's 'Colin vs. Jesus' Animutation trilogy, the evil plastic Jesus H. Christ is revealed at the end to actually have been the 'Random Pokerap Guy' from the very first Animutation, who tried to conquer the world of Animutation all because he was jealous that Colin Mochrie got all the fame instead of him.

  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja story has one such reveal in the story"There Is A Raptor In My Office". It turns out everything was engineered by the Fox News weatherman. Earlier in the story, he was all puffed up to do a story about three hurricanes in the Atlantic forming a Mickey Mouse shape only to be deflated by a lead in story about velociraptor riding banditos. The entire story sprung from his efforts to keep Dr. McNinja's latest adventure under the rug so that everyone will be interested in his story.
  • In RPG World, after Galgarion disguises himself to infiltrate the heroes, we get an extremely elaborate Red Herring Mole in the form of Eikre. Galgarion's actual disguise? A flower that Eikre had bought and attempted to give to Cherry.
    Eikre: Galgarion is Cherry's butt?! This is gonna be the coolest boss fight ever!
  • One Electric Wonderland story detailed Trawn's attempts to report on the bombing of the Nettropolis Mall. Lululu helps her find the man she suspected of causing the explosion, but he turns out to be a decoy. Who really led the attack? The cat seen sitting on the suspect's table while Trawn searched his apartment for evidence. Anyone can take on any form in Cyberspace, after all.
  • Homestuck has two key examples.
    • Betty Crocker and Her Imperious Condescension. Both of them are little more than background references until it turns out that they're actually the same person and a major villain in Act 6.
    • Everybody figured that Lil' Cal was at minimum extremely creepy. It was a bit of a shock when he's revealed to be Doc Scratch's "father" of sorts. Then it's revealed that Cal himself contains the soul of Caliborn, also known as Lord English - the primary antagonist of the entire story. ARquisprite and half of Gamzee Makara are also stuck inside his body.
  • The Roommates special titled "Mystery" would be a pretty standard Fair-Play Whodunnit, if the culprit wouldn't turn out to be (for everybody's surprise including the detective) a freaking Muppet. It was background color and didn't seem to have any life of its own (carried around by a puppeteer) until the reveal. It... she also gives a pretty awesome Motive Rant to explain why she did it (she was jealous of the Cult Classic status of some other muppets running around the comic).
  • In this Skin Horse, Ari Green, the Anasigma agent who has been undermining Project Skin Horse the whole time, is revealed to be Ira Rosenkranz, humorously forgetful security guard.
  • The first arc of Unsounded. Surely Cutter, the weird, rhyming, over-the-top lizard man, couldn't be the engineer behind the Fantastic Nuke! But he is, and a member of the Black Tongues to boot. The only real clue is that his bizarre and sadistic personality is seemingly not typical of lizard-men, though we only see a few others. He was apparently a guinea pig for the magical Mad Scientist Delicieu, and may or may not be Delicieu himself implanted into that lizard's body.
  • In the Spanish webcomic El Vosque, the human king of the eponymous realm is a fat moron who seemingly only thinks about eating and having fun, to the point that he celebrates his birthday twice a year. Yeah, guess who the mastermind of the plan for the Other Kingdom's invasion of El Vosque really is.

    Web Original 
  • A Case in Bucksville: The story gives us a wide parade of suspects before revealing that Jonathan Moore, who was barely present throughout the story and seemingly had no relevance to the plot, is the killer.
  • In Greek Ninja, the one behind the attacks at Ariadnio and the danger unlike any the world had ever faced before, turned out to be none other than a weak and bitter man from Sasha Hunter's past. Really really past life...
  • Occasionally happens in Shadow Unit—due to the nature of the anomaly, the gamma could be anybody, including the sweet little old lady, the shy teenager, a member of the team...
  • In OH GOD THE RAPTURE IS BURNING, Cockroach Jesus was meant to be a throwaway creature, the warmup to all the silly crazy creatures in the serial novel. However, by about Act III, it is discovered he is the Big Bad of the entire thing, and is the emissary to the universe-destroying Rapture.
  • Gaia Online:
    • The genocide arc started in 2010 with vampire assassin Zhivago taking out a hit on Johnny K. Gambino, then reporting back to someone. Since Zhivago's previous boss was Killed Off for Real in 2007, the forums were abuzz with speculation on who the new boss would be, with guesses ranging from a resurrected Vlad Von Helson to the de-powered demigods to Gambino himself. Finally, an update revealed Zhivago talking to his new boss...Don Luca Kuro, a side character from a half-canceled forum event the year before.
    • Similarly, the main villain in Gaia's MMO game, zOMG!? Labtech X, a character who hadn't been heard from since his apparent death in 2005. Most of the players didn't know who that was, unless they'd been very thorough in reading the plot events and comics.
  • In My Brother Died Three Weeks Ago, the Man Upstairs responsible for the suicide of Josh's titular brother Ade is their father, who barely appeared in the story, being only occasionally mentioned, so innocuous as to be unnamed, and never said or did anything plot-important until he was revealed as a Serial Killer of children who threatened Ade with death to keep him quiet, the guilt eventually driving him to suicide.

    Web Videos 
  • The identity of the butcher in There Will Be Brawl turns out to be a duo: Ness and Lucas, who were seen briefly in an early episode. This was so effective that nobody in Wild Mass Guessing correctly guessed it. Word of God near-explicitly denied the possibility beforehand, claiming that Ness or Lucas wouldn't play a large part in the series, since child actors were too hard to work with. While not technically false, since they only appeared in those two scenes and had no speaking parts, this was a highly misleading statement that helped to divert suspicion from the culprit(s).
  • Atop the Fourth Wall:
    • Used/Parodied in a "Previously on…" that had nothing to do with the comic.
      Linkara: You! You're the secret manipulator behind everything! [pulls out a stuffed bear] BEARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!
    • Later in one of his serious storylines, it was revealed that The Entity had actually taken the form of 90s Kid for months without anyone realizing it.
  • In Becoming Human, it turns out the killer is Mr. Roe, the mild-mannered, helpful teacher who was the only character to never be a suspect. A second more minor example is the janitor, who spent a lot of time in the background before being believed to be an accomplice, but eventually turned out to be a Red Herring...or was he?
  • Phelous has some fun with trope while reviewing The Amityville Horror 4. Why? The big villain is a demon-possessed lamp. No, really.
  • Le Visiteur du Futur: When confronted to the Big Bad, who so far only had been shown in the shadow, the Visitor asks him who he might be, successively suggesting a future or past version of himself, a future version of Raph or even a future version of their idiotic henchmen. Turns out they were...a future version of two of Raph's friends who had only appeared briefly in the first episode of the season at this point.
  • In the finale of MangoTango's Yandere Middle School, the main villain and one responsible for Mr. Love's death and Sabre and Khloe's disappearance is none other than "Can only say Yeah" RicherKidRichard.
  • In the 6th episode of Jreg's Centricide, Jreg reveals the true leader of the anti-centrist movement is JReg Gaming, the same name Sitcom Arch-Nemesis of the channel. However, it ends up being subverted when Jreg admits he only used JReg Gaming as a means of delaying Radical Centrist until Tankie can arrive.

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: In "Crime Sheen Investigation", Sheen's Ultra Lord action figure had been stolen by one of four potential candidates who were also at the park: Cindy, Judy, Nick, and a squirrel. The first three were innocent, but Jimmy eliminated the squirrel at first; turns out, the squirrel was indeed the culprit, using the figure to crack nuts, and Jimmy learns this from Carl drawing squirrels and realizing the answer is what he'd least expect.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Beware the Gray Ghost", the Hidden Villain Mad Bomber is the young toy collector that bought Simon Trent Gray Ghost memorabilia earlier in the episode.
    Simon Trent: What did you find?
    Batman: Fingerprints on the toy car. And they belong to you, Simon Trent.
    Simon Trent: That's not possible.
    Batman: Your prints are on this car. You had the only copy of the show. The Mad Bomber followed the show step by step.
    Simon Trent: But I'm not the Mad Bomber, Batman. I'm not. I sold my Gray Ghost cars months ago to pay for my...No, it can't be him.
  • In the Batman Beyond episode "Payback" the eponymous villain turns out to be Dr. Stenton's neglected son Kenny, who believed that his father would have time for him if he could get rid of the people troubling his patients, removing their need to see him.
  • The Season Finale of Season 5 of Dragons: Race to the Edge ends with Viggo and Krogan, previously presented as the leaders of the dragon-flyers, reporting to their actual boss... Trader Johann, whose greedy but well-meaning Lovable Coward act turns out to have been just that.
  • In Ed, Edd n Eddy, one episode has the Eds track down someone who went to great lengths to frame them for various crimes. It ultimately turned out to be Jimmy - the person that Double-D immediately wrote off - who was angry at Eddy for casually giving him a wedgie earlier that day.
  • One episode of The Fairly OddParents! has Timmy accidentally wish for a crew of pirates led by an unintelligible captain named Dirtbeard that begins to pillage the town. At the end it's revealed that Dirtbeard is NOT the leader, his parrot is. Dirtbeard got a chicken bone stuck in his throat decades ago, and the parrot has been interpreting his unintelligible screeching wrong on purpose to lead the crew from behind the scenes.
  • In the Ten Little Murder Victims episode of Family Guy. James Woods invites the core cast, "Family, friends and neighbours" to his mansion during a storm and people start getting killed off one by one. Turns out it's Diane Simmons; Tom Tucker wanted to replace her with a younger, sexier co-star which would cost her her job so she started murdering people in order to frame him. Another twist, is that Lois is the only one who knew she did it, so she was going to kill Lois. But Stewie from the mansion roof kills her first, saying no one kills Lois but him. The twist about this is that several seasons back he gave up trying to kill her and turned from the psychotic murdering child, into a giddy cheerful (possibly) homosexual, so it was unexpected to see Stewie acting like his old evil self.
  • In Fangbone!, at the end of the two-part episode "The End Of The Beginning", it's revealed that Venomous Drool's toe orchestrated the events of the episode to have Drool defeated so it could be free to implement its own plans.
  • Futurama:
    • The climax of the movie, Into the Wild Green Yonder, involved Fry trying to figure out the identity of the Dark One, who was the only individual whose mind Fry wouldn't be able to read. After he's able to read the mind of seemingly everyone else there, he comes to the conclusion that he himself has to be the Dark One. He isn't. The Dark One is the leech that Leela saved at the beginning of the movie, and which has been attached to her neck more-or-less ever since.
    • In "That Darn Katz!" Amy finds out the professor who failed her doctoral presentation was an elaborate marionette worked by his cat, who sabotaged her so he could steal her idea to use it to sacrifice Earth to save the cat home planet.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy:
    • The true mastermind behind the events of the second movie was a spider-minotaur that was imprisoned in a carton of chocolate milk. It Makes Sense in Context, sort of.
    • An even stranger example occurs in one episode where Billy and Mandy are taken by a demonic circus troupe to be performers. The episode ends with an obvious spoof of Scooby-Doo-esque unmaskings when everyone is trying to figure out who was really the one behind the circus. The culprit is revealed to be disguised as many random characters, including Eris and Billy's mom, but it turns out that the real culprit was a common earthworm. It's only made even more Mind Screw that everyone acts like this makes perfect sense, except Billy, who is, for once, understandably confused.
  • An early Hey Arnold! episode has a Whole-Plot Reference to 12 Angry Men, as Arnold tries to defend Eugene from the accusation of having pulled the school fire alarm. The evidence for his innocence piles up and eventually Curly, one of the other jurors, confesses. This was the first time the culprit had any sort of characterization, but sure enough he can be seen several times in the background when the crime was committed.
  • Parodied in an episode of House of Mouse, where all the club's guests are mysteriously disappearing, and Mickey gets a clue from Ludwig Von Drake's "Detect-o-Matic Crime-puter". It turns out to be a straight example, though: it was someone so incredibly Beneath Suspicion that even Mickey would seem obvious in comparison: the Crime-puter itself, which as it turns out, was being controlled from within by Mickey's old enemy, The Phantom Blot.
    Mickey: Look, "the criminal is the person you least suspect".
    Goofy: MICKEY! I would have suspected I didn't suspect it was you!
  • Infinity Train: One-One. Who knew that the little robot looking for his mother was the actual conductor of the train?
  • Spoofed in an episode of Invader Zim: Zim is plotting in his lab, and we get several establishing shots of his surroundings, including an inexplicable cooked turkey with flies buzzing around it. A few minutes later it suddenly bursts open to reveal his robotic servant, GIR.
    GIR: It was MEEEE! I was the turkey all along!
    Zim: (Beat) I was wondering what that turkey was doing there.
  • At the end of Johnny Bravo Goes to Bollywood, it turns out the mastermind behind the whole evil plot was Johnny's helper monkey Jeeves.
  • The villain from the Justice League episode "Legends" taking place in a parody of Silver Age comics was actually the Jimmy Olson Expy that had only appeared a few times before that and had actually created the false reality with his mind.
  • The Loud House: In "Silence of the Luans", the prankster targeting the family that year was Lily, inspired by Luan's previous April Fool's Day chaos. For bonus points, she disguises herself as Charles, the family dog, to follow Lincoln and Luan around while they search for clues, while the real Charles is with the rest of the family, disguised as Lily.
  • At the end of the ¡Mucha Lucha! movie, El Maléfico is unmasked to reveal he was actually Jenny Perkins, a random girl that appears at the beginning in a quick gag.
  • The episode "Mystery on the Friendship Express" of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, which ends with the reveal of Everybody Did It, in a show about being truthful and unselfish. Any resemblance to a famous mystery novel is wholly intentional.
  • In the ending montage of Over the Garden Wall, it's revealed that the leader of the village of skeletons in pumpkin costumes is actually a black housecat. Though if you're paying attention to the opening montage, it may not be as surprising.
  • The three-parter "Brainwashed" of Pinky and the Brain has several false leads behind the mastermind heading the plot to dumb down the world. Turns out it's the cat belonging to the scientist responsible for genetically modifying the eponymous mice.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls episode "Cat Man Do", the girls defeat a villain and adopt his Right-Hand Cat — only the cat was the real criminal, using hypnosis to make his "master" do his bidding.
  • "Close Rick-counters of the Rick Kind" of Rick and Morty ends with the reveal that Evil!Rick was nothing more than a cyborg puppet and ends with his Morty removing the controlling transmitter and blending in with the other Mortys to escape.
  • A throwaway scene in the third Robot Chicken Star Wars Special reveals that Jar-Jar engineered the events of both trilogies, as he was a powerful Sith Lord.
  • Scooby-Doo:
    • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated uses this a fair bit — usually, of the named characters, the culprit is the one who seems secondary, is introduced completely outside the course of the mystery, and doesn't seem to have anything to do with it at all. The biggest examples are probably the Trickel's Triquids mascot from "Revenge of the Man Crab", who only appeared for 10 seconds, and the Minner brothers from "Battle of the Humongonauts", who didn't appear at all before the unmasking and were only mentioned in radio ads and one scene on a billboard. "Wrath of Krampus" still beats them though; the gang are behind the Krampus attacks, using them to trick the original Mystery Inc.
    • Appears in an episode of What's New, Scooby-Doo? that took place in Greece involving a series of centaur attacks. At the end of the episode, Velma explains all the evidence that suggested that the criminal was the archaeologist, then unmasks it to reveal...a woman that she doesn't know. The mastermind was the archaeologist's partner, who appeared in the teaser before the gang showed up. The trope is even lampshaded when Velma complains that this should not count as her being wrong because she'd never seen the woman before and begins to sulk. Ironically, that episode is paired with another episode that took place in New Mexico involving attacks by a large bird. The culprit didn't even appear as himself before the unmasking and only appeared in a disguise!
    • The A Pup Named Scooby-Doo episode "Chickenstein Lives" had the monster be an unidentified man, who was actually "Granny Sweetwater" without the wig and dress. And one-upped in "Wrestle Maniacs" where the monster was really an unidentified man, who was really "The Coolsville Comet", who looked different because he wrestled with a different mask on that made his face look completely different! He was however mentioned for 2 seconds when they found his cancelled check.
    • Older Than They Think. In the original series episode "A Clue For Scooby Doo" no one recognizes the unmasked monster at first, until Shaggy of all people puts a beard on him. The ghost of the dead Captain Cutler was actually...a very much alive Captain Cutler.
    • In Camp Scare the culprit ended up being Deacon who was really Babyface Boretti and Velma actually said "I did not see that coming."
    • In an earlier movie, Where's My Mummy?, the villain was Velma herself, who wanted to protect an archaeological site.
  • The Secret Show: At the end of "World Savers", Professor Professor's temporary coworker at World Savers Inc., Assistant Assistant, turns out to have been the one responsible for setting up the robot attacks so the World Savers can advertise their superhero-related products. He only appears in a couple scenes prior to this revelation.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In the episode "Beyond Blunderdome", Homer produces a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in which the villain is replaced by a dog, made obvious (to Homer) because "the dog has shifty eyes". The exchange is below, courtesy of SNPP:
      Mel Gibson: You want me to replace the villain with a dog? I mean nobody will know what's going on.
      Homer: They will if you set up that the dog is evil. All you do is have to show him doing this. [lowers eyelids and glances around in shifty-eyed fashion] The people will suspect the dog.
    • The two-part episode "Who Shot Mr. Burns?". The culprit was Maggie, a one-year-old who can't walk or talk. Funnily enough, there's a "shifty-eyed" moment that lets you know it: in Part 1, Mr. Burns asks the angry mob who's actually brave enough to stop him. Watch that scene and notice the one person who just keeps glaring without looking away. This twist ending gets a call-back a few seasons down the line, when a Mob gang that has come to punish Homer are all taken down with precise, non-life-threatening shots from an unseen sniper. Who shot Fat Tony? Who do you think?
    • When Bart tells Lisa he wants to be reincarnated as a butterfly, Lisa asks why. He has an Imagine Spot after telling her, "Nobody ever suspects the butterfly..."
      Principal Skinner: I didn't burn down the school. It was the butterfly, I tell you! The butterfly!
      Chief Wiggum: He's crazy boys. Get the taser.
      [camera pans to Bart-reborn-as-a-butterfly holding an incredibly obvious and large gas tank, laughing maniacally]
  • South Park:
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks season 4 had an overarching plot about a mysterious ship that's been supposedly destroying non-Starfleet-affiliated ships. In the second to last episode of the season, "The Inner Fight", we find out the mastermind is Nick Locarno. "Who?", you might ask? Oh, no one special, just a disgraced Starfleet Academy cadet from an infamous episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He's only mentioned on a view screen with an old younger picture of himself and we don't see him until the end. Even more, we see Seven of Nine and Beverly Crusher's names on the list and we known where they were at this time, which left him and Thomas Riker, who was last seen as a member of the Maquis, as the last two people on the list and Riker would have had a more obvious reason.
  • Steven Universe has an in-universe example: Steven and the Gems are watching a kung-fu movie, and the bad guy turns out to be the janitor. Pearl says it was obvious, since he had been in the background of every previous fight and was also on the DVD cover.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003): When Savanti Romero tried to steal the time scepter, his demonic pet was revealed to be Ultimate Draco who was using Savanti to steal the scepter for himself.
  • Yin Yang Yo!: When Yang becomes the spokeskid for GreedCo, Yin tries to convince him to stop selling dangerous toys for obscene prices. She only succeeds after an adorable child tearfully asks Yang to do the right thing. When Yang does, said adorable child angrily reveals himself to be the CEO of GreedCo, and that the "right thing" was to tell Yin to stuff it and keep advertising GreedCo's products.
  • Young Justice (2010): A plot-point in the first season was that there was a mole on the Team. The most prominent suspects In-Universe were Superboy (a clone that could have been programmed by Cadmus before being freed), Artemis (who was hiding her villainous parentage), and Miss Martian (who had snuck onto her uncle's ship to Earth). The real mole was actually Red Arrow (who was the most determined to weed out the mole), who was actually a Cadmus clone of the original Speedy, programmed with a desire to join the Justice League so he can put the League under their control.

    Real Life 

  • Paris, 1908: A Newfoundland dog rescued a drowning toddler from the River Seine, and was given a beefsteak as a reward. Two days later, the same dog rescues another child from the River Seine, and is rewarded with a beefsteak. More and more children fall into river, and are rescued by the dog. Officials feared a criminal throwing children into the river and investigated - only to find the dog actually was the mastermind. The dog had learned rescuing a drowning child meant a beefsteak, and had been pushing children in and pulling them out for the reward.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Dog Is The Mastermind


Deacon is Babyface Boretti

One of the camp kids, Deacon, reveals himself to be none other than the notorious gangster Babyface Boretti in disguise. Even Velma admits she didn't see it coming.

How well does it match the trope?

4.94 (17 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheDogWasTheMastermind

Media sources: