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The Dog Was the Mastermind

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"Scooby-Doo—it's always that character who had one scene you forgot about."
Doctor Hack, The Nostalgia Critic

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.

This trope is named after Silent Hill 2 and its secret joke ending in which a female Shiba Inu dog named Mira is revealed to be the Big Bad behind the entire town of Silent Hill.


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 spoilers!


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: While their character design was a big hint, nobody could think of the 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 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 Danganronpa 3 Side:Future, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (both manga and Brotherhood series): The Homunculus Pride is little Selim Bradley, the son of King Fuehrer 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 diary holder 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 example is the 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. This should tell you everything you need to know about the series.
  • 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, 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, 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 seem 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 attack and kill said crew before it comes to light that the orangatan 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.
  • 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 catch... is that the cat is the android.
  • 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.
  • Naruto: The mysterious leader of the Akatsuki ninja terrorists is neither Pain nor Orochimaru nor Madara, but the Plucky Comic Relief Tobi aka 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Adorkable 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.
  • Shugo Chara! has one. Who is Gozen, the true leader of Easter Company? Hikaru Ichinomiya, the little kid.
  • Detective School Q has an epic "Whaaaat!?" moment when the high priest behind five murder cases 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.
  • In Detective Conan, 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 a case of The Dog Was the Mastermind 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.
  • Time Bokan series: "Zenderman". Oddly enough, it was the Trio's pet this turn around who turned out to be the Big Bad.
  • In chapters 6-7 of Zodiac PI, 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.
  • In Mushoku Tensei 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.
  • 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 Adorkable 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 Katekyō Hitman Reborn!, 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.
  • 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 Pokémon XY, it first 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In One Piece's 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, an easy-going bartender, and that they are in fact government spies finishing up a very long infiltration!
  • 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.

    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 Comic Book/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.
  • 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 ever 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 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's 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 comic book, 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 Lex Luthor of the Marvel Universe). 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.
  • A variation in Jonathan Hickman's Avengers comic book. The Starbrand 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 first chapter 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, 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' enemy Ultron).

    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 when Jason and his friends are acting out a murder mystery. The murderer turns out to be the boat captain, Eugene, who hadn't been seen for several strips in the series by that point.
    Jason: Of course! The innocuous secondary character!

    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.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Lemon 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 viewer.
    • 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, which led Evil!Martin to use Valentine's equipment to regress all the scientist's intelligences to those of dogs. Evil!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. This twist is often considered much too unbelievable, leading among other things to a very comical reaction of The Nostalgia Critic: "WHAT ? MARTIN's the BAD GUY ? THIS IS THE DUMBEST TWIST I'VE EVER SEEN ! The MOUSE… is a MAD… SCIENTIST ?!?". (However, Timmy gets his brother to reform in the end after saving him from a fire).
  • 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 Blood Work, the serial killer turns out to be the protagonist's drunkard fisherman friend from the same marina.
  • In Cube 2: Hypercube, the supposed superhacker 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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 first Saw movie. The "dead man" in the middle of the room (John Kramer) is also seen in a flashback, where he's equally inconspicuous as a patient at the cancer ward. There is a hint, though. When someone starts loading the revolver the guy on the floor supposedly committed suicide with, it's empty. Revolvers don't eject spent cartridges. You can't kill yourself with an empty revolver...
  • 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 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 the previous film's killer.
  • Source Code: Major suspicion is cast on every person in the hero's immediate area (including The Hero 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 The Bone Collector, the killer is Richard, the technician from the beginning of the movie.
  • 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
  • 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, 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.
  • 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.
  • In Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, the copycat killer of Jason Voorhees turns out to be the paramedic, Roy Burns.
  • The Wolf in Red Riding Hood is Valerie's father, the village drunk Cesaire.
  • The killer in I, Robot is not a robot but VIKI, the AI that controls all the robots.
  • The Bodyguard. Rachel's sister Nikki hired the hitman who's been hounding her the whole movie.
  • Played with in The Hangover. The three guys' friend is kidnapped. The one who did it was Mr. Chao, 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.
  • Sleepy Hollow. The one who summoned the Headless Horseman was the seemingly docile Lady Van Tassel.
  • 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.
  • Assassins. Robert's contact who betrayed him, and Miguel's contact who sicced him on Robert 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.
  • 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 killer in Se7en is the unseen "reporter" who Mills shouts at in one of the early crime scenes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In No Way Out, 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.
  • 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.
  • In Searching, Margot's disappearance turns out to be the work of Rosemary Vick, the detective helping David solve the case, and her son Robert. While Robert was the one responsible for Margot's fall down the ravine, it was Rosemary who was the true villain, wasting no time in helping her son cover it up, including tampering with evidence, engineering a False Confession from an ex-con (and then killing him and making it look like a suicide), and attempting to divert Margot's father David with false leads.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

  • 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 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.
    • 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).
  • 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.
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • Foundation and Empire: 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.
    • Second 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.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the masterminds of Deep Thought's experiment were the lab mice that humans thought they were experimenting on.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Isaac Asimov's 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 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.
  • In Harry Harrison's Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, the race of Big Bads, who were mentioned throughout the book turn 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 Man Behind The Man Behind 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 (aka 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 Uncle Pennybags 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 learn she's the killer after discovering her sister was Driven to Suicide by the Devil's Divas.
  • Redwall has Slagar the Cruel, the villain of Mattimeo, being revealed to be Sela Vixen's son Chickenhound from the first book.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • The second example also incorporated a subversion—for a moment or two, before the real mastermind appeared, the audience is led to believe that Watson is Moriarty.
  • 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.
  • Mr. Yang in Psych is revealed as this through flashbacks when Shawn meets her at the end.
  • In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Makes the Playoffs", it is revealed that Monk met Bob Costas after helping him out with a matter of a cat salesman who sold demented cats. In particular, Monk proved that Costas's cat planned to kill him with a squeeze toy.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In "Aquiel," where the crew finds 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.
  • 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 Monster of the Week Deevak was disguised as Jameel, the snitch.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Person of Interest. The killer in the season 4 episode "Terra Incognita" was the hotel doorman.
  • 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."
  • In The Prisoner, 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.
  • In 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Good Guys. The serial peeper was the guy with the glasses in Ruiz's yoga class.
  • Once Upon a Time season 4. The Author was posing as the peddler who pointed Snow and Charming to the Apprentice.
  • 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.
  • 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 killer in the Cold Case episode "Stalker" was disguised as a male nurse.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in an episode of Frasier. Marty has been working on a cold case, and Daphne and Frasier come up with a theory that a monkey committed the murder. Marty cracks the case and reveals the real killer before Daphne and Frasier make fools of themselves.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The copycat serial killer in the last episodes of The Wire is the crazy homeless man that collects business cards.
  • 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.
  • Medici: The killer of Giovanni de Medici turns out to be the bank manager Ugo, who usually only appeared in a few scenes.
  • Occasionally Played for Laughs in Joan of Arcadia. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • A MADtv 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?"
  • In Legion 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.

  • 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 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.

  • In one Global Guardians PBEM Universe story, the mastermind behind the assault on a bank was the ten-year old boy the bank robbers released as a "good faith" gesture to the police.


    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 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 suspected least: Kalas, the player character.
  • In Batman: The Telltale Series, the Children of Arkham's leader is none other than news reporter Vicki Vale, an otherwise tangential figure until the reveal in 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.
      • In BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma, this turns out to be triple subverted. 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. "fLYING fAIRY", indeed.
    • The Spiritual Successor Octopath Traveler does this as well, but even more so. Airy the fairy was at least a character who played a more-or-less prominent role; The Witch, who orchestrated the events of the separate storylines, is revealed to be Lyblac, a sidequest character who Alphas was in love with.
  • 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 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.
  • In Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, the ones behind the army of Monokumas attacking Towa city are Monaca Towa, supposedly the wheelchair-bound Token Good Teammate of the Warriors of Hope, and Junko Enoshima, who is in disguise not only as Shirokuma, the soft-spoken ally to La Résistance, but also Kurokuma, the seemingly incompetent advisor to the Warriors of Hope.
  • In this case its 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. SWERY 65 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Fate/Grand Order's 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.
  • 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.
  • Kiseki Series:
    • 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 the little girl you spend part of the chapter playing hide and seek with.
    • This series loves this trope so much that "Kiseki Paranoia" became a thing. In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Crow is C and Misty/Vita is an Anguis of the Ouroboros. Cold Steel 3 takes this Up to Eleven by revealing that Giliath Osbourne's Dragon is none other than Alisa Reinford's father, a character who not only never appeared before, but was heavily implied to be dead!
    • This also stays true for Zero no Kiseki. 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 Ao no Kiseki, we find out who killed Lloyd's brother. It's Ian Grimwood, who's also an accomplice to the Crois family.
  • 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 a certain sequence is entered and a whistle is blown, it turns into a mechanical falcon that comes to life and kills everyone present.
  • 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.
  • Life Is Strange has Mark Jefferson, Max’s amiable and forgettable photography teacher, be The Man Behind the Man to Nathan Prescott, who is helping him drug and kidnap women.
  • The LISA trilogy's Big Bad (and Greater-Scope Villain of the first two games) turns out to be a recurring NPC that can be seen playing the trumpet song in the area crossroads ("God's Call"). He's Dr. Yado, and he first just seems like an Easter Egg music gag-character, unless one pieces together the various clues lying around.
  • 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 Sacrifical 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 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!!
  • 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.
  • In the indie game Pizza Delivery the real mastermind in the house was the doll.
  • Pokémon:
    • In Pokémon Colosseum the diabolical Evice is none other than 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.
    • In Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon it turns out one of the culprits turning Pokemon into stone is Nuzleaf, the caretaker of the player character. It's eventually revealed that he was mind controlled by Dark Matter and goes back to being a friend of the player after Dark Matter is defeated.
  • In 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.
  • 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 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 leading to a Shocking Swerve. 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 wheelchair-bound senior citizen who you never see move or speak; she's aged decades in only a few years due to not having the medication that controls her mutations, and the previous sightings of child Eveline are hallucinations.
  • In Rosenkreuzstilette, the person responsible for instigating RKS' rebellion against the Holy Empire turns out to be Iris Zeppelin, the biological daughter of Count Michael Zeppelin whom we all thought as just an average Damsel in Distress, who is also revealed to be a reincarnation of Rosenkreuz. 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.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: 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.
    • Persona 2 both halves of the game 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 P2: Eternal Punishment takes place in) is a character from the previous game Tasuya Sudou, who was King Leo of the Masked Circle in the P2: Innocent Sin reality.
    • Persona 3 Uses this trope as well, with Shuji Ikutsuki, staff director for SEES and lover of awful puns 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 whom 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 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 Dead All Along Rei from being taken to the sea of souls.
    • Happens again in Persona 5 when it turns out that the real villain is Igor, or rather, his evil impersonator Yaldabaoth, who trapped the real Igor within the Velvet Room and then took his place in order to mislead the protagonist and basically anyone else in Japan.
    • 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.
  • The Dog ending from Silent Hill 2 is the trope namer and a literal example, although it's really a parody. 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 Paper Mario:
  • 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 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.
  • Done in more of a meta sense in Undertale, as 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. 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. She is Beatrice, the Big Bad Manipulative Bastard.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, a one-case Villain of the Week from the previous game entirely, is The Man Behind the Man to Big Bad Dahlia Hawthorne here. However, the killer — and the one responsible for the Big Damn Villains (or Big Damn Heroes, depending on your point of view) 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 your 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) Bobby Fulbright all along.
  • Danganronpa does this in regards to their spies:
  • 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, the kind, gentle, and loving boyfriend of V who was thought to have killed herself. In fact, she treated V like crap and created Mint Eye in part to ruin him. V lied to the others, telling them she died, to shield them from the Awful Truth about the RFA's beloved founder.
  • 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.
  • The Science Adventure Series often uses this trope.
    • In Chaos;Head, the direct perpetrator of the 'New Gen' serial murders, who is the muscle 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.
    • In Steins;Gate, it turns out that 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?
  • 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.
  • When They Cry does this often.
    • 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 a Split Peronality of her. In a reference to The Portopia Serial Murder Case (another user of this trope), her 'real' name is revealed to be Yasu- or rather, Sayo Yasuda. 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 witches who turned Yasu into Beatrice are Bernkastel, who seemed to be Battler's ally and mentor, and Lambdadelta, who seemed to just be a silly minion of Beatrice.
    • Higanbana no Saku Yoru ni: 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.
  • 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 it's 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. Taken Up to Eleven 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 even 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.

    Web Comics 
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • 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 teacher, 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.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • The trope name comes from the episode "Beyond Blunderdome" where 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. 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 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]
  • The deer in the Adventure Time episode "No One Can Hear You".
  • 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.
  • 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 a captain named Dirtbeard that begins to pillage the town. In the end its 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 its 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.
  • 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 s/he can be seen several times in the background when the crime was committed.
  • 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 mini-arc 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 Big Bad of ¡Mucha Lucha!'s movie is a random girl that appears at the beginning.
  • The episode "MMMystery 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
    • 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, who wanted to protect an archaeological site.
  • 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.
  • South Park:
  • 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 screwy that everyone acts like this makes perfect sense, except Billy, who is, for once, understandably confused.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • "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.

Alternative Title(s): The Dog Is The Mastermind


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