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The Handler

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A character type in Spy Fiction, particularly in those which lean in the Government Conspiracy direction and/or those with assassins as their protagonists. The heroes don't have access to their bosses, but instead have orders relayed to them through the "Handler" whose jobs include looking out for the hero's physical and emotional well-being and/or killing the hero should they act out of line. In cases with the hero and Handler being of opposite genders, it is somewhat common for the Handler to have Unresolved Sexual Tension with the hero as they are the "human face" of the secret organization to which the hero belongs.

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If the Handler is officially part of a government agency, the more accurate term would be "case officer", whereas the people s/he is handling are known as "agents".

See also Mission Control, Mysterious Employer. The handler's handler is The Spymaster.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Darker Than Black has the abrasive Jerk with a Heart of Gold Huang relaying orders to Hei, the Anti-Hero of the series
    • Who in turn has another higher ranked Handler... who just so happens to be a Contractor. The Syndicate's cell structure is somewhat odd at times.
  • Gunslinger Girl is centered around the dynamics of the fratellos, a pairing of a pre-teen female cyborg with an older male handler who is a police or military veteran. As each handler has total discretion over how they treat their cyborg and how much mental conditioning they receive, these dynamics vary greatly.
    • Jose Croce makes Henrietta a Replacement Goldfish for his dead little sister, doting on her constantly to the bemusement of the other handlers. This initially presents him as the most decent of the handlers, but he starts to tire of her constant need for affection and doesn't object to Henrietta being reprogrammed into an Emotionless Girl whom he treats mostly with indifference.
    • Jean Croce regards Rico as just a tool for his vengeance, treating her coldly and occasionally hitting her, though he does mellow somewhat in later years. Rico is remarkably unaffected by this as she was bedridden for most of her life before becoming a cyborg, so anything is an improvement.
    • Hilshire was forced into becoming Triela's handler and has little idea of how to treat a young girl. He gives her minimal conditioning, causing her to become mature and remarkably independent, and the two of them evolve a more natural partnership as a result.
    • Lauro has his girl Elsa heavily brainwashed and as a result she develops an obsession with him. On realising just how indifferent he is to her, she shoots Lauro and then herself.
    • Marco Toni started off as the friendly older brother-type handler to Angelica, but her increasing memory loss from the conditioning caused him to become bitter and indifferent to her.
    • Claudio Raballo is a gruff father figure to Claes, teaching her fishing and gardening as well as the required combat arts. He becomes guilty over what's being done to the girls, tries to blow the whistle on the Agency and dies in a suspiciously convenient traffic accident. As it's too difficult to reprogram a cyborg girl once they've bonded to a handler, Claes' memory is wiped and she's used as a human test subject.
    • Sandro ends up romancing his cyborg Petrushka, an older Second Generation model.
  • Weiss in Weiß Kreuz go through several of these: Manx, Birman, Botan, and Rex. Their mortality rate isn't much better than that of anyone else who comes into contact with Weiss.
  • In Claymore, the handlers of the eponymous characters (particularly Louvre) are a major feature of the plot.
  • Mr. Kim in the anime R.O.D the TV, to the Paper Sisters when they do contract work for Dokusensha. He's described exactly as a handler several times.
  • Watari is considered L's handler from Death Note - the name "Watari" was chosen because it means handler.
  • In Maiden Rose, Klaus has one in Taki's country, who supplies him with drugs among other things. When he tells Klaus he's getting out soon and Klaus should too before he dies there Klaus mocks him for getting too attached to him.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist has a rank-reversed version. Colonel Roy Mustang appoints his second-in-command, Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, to be his handler. He has even ordered her, should he ever undergo a Face–Heel Turn, to kill him on the spot.
  • Though never outright stated as such, Haruhi Suzumiya has the future Mikuru Asahina play this role, especially in the appropriately-named Intrigues light novel, where both Kyon and present-day Mikuru act essentially as cutouts, servicing dead drops and the like.note  The strict system of classification that her agency uses, not to mention her unconventional but effective way of securing Kyon's loyalty, both point to the role for her.
  • In Jojos Bizarre Adventure , Part 5's mafia gang, Passione, has handlers for their extremely paranoid boss. Polpo is one such example of a handler, and passes down information from the boss to the leaders of individual squads. Furthermore, many handlers are also in charge of recruitment and test the strength of new recruits.
  • A Certain Magical Index: Most of the Dark Side groups of Academy City have one of these who keeps them linked up on missions from the Board of Directors or the various scientists in the city. Most of them also do their business anonymously with their groups, since many Dark Side groups are not afraid to go hunting them down if they feel like they're being cheated or used as dupes.

    Comic Books 
  • Frank's only real connection to the world in Red is his handler, Sally. The equivalent character in the movie isn't an example, as for various reasons her role was both changed and expanded.
  • While continuity was rather fluid during The Golden Age of Comic Books when Wonder Woman was essentially an extremely unique asset/agent of the USAAF her "boss" was General Darnell, but her handler was Steve Trevor. This was an odd case as she worked with the military and was someone Darnell would direct Steve to deliver missions to but, as Wonder Woman, wasn't technically on their payroll. Instead she was on their payroll as Diana Prince, Darnell's secretary, but it was implied Darnell and Trevor didn't know or pretended not to know about her identity. This may have had to do with her unorthodox methods, which included refusing to kill enemy agents.
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • Sidney was the title character's handler in The Killer, who acted as a Blood Brother to him.
  • Nicky Parsons of the Bourne movies fits this trope word for word.
  • Miss San Antonio in Machete Kills gives the trope by name when Machete takes on a job for the American government. She takes her beauty pageant cover a little too seriously.
  • Bob from the original Nikita.
  • Manchurian Agent Mike Howell in American Ultra has one. It's his girlfriend, Phoebe, though it turns out that she all but abandoned the CIA after falling in love with him.
  • Subverted in The Recruit. James Clayton fails his CIA training and is dismissed, but then Burke reveals that it's all a cover for the agency to keep the dirty work that he'll be doing for them off the books, and that Burke has been assigned as his handler and only source of contact. In truth, Burke is a double agent who is using Clayton as an Unwitting Pawn.

    Literature 
  • In the Quiller novels by Adam Hall each Bureau "shadow executive" has a director-in-the-field who organises safehouses, communication, transport, identity papers, liaison with government officials — in short, anything the agent needs for the mission; especially since Bureau agents are never told what the mission is about, the idea being that the agent should not get distracted by any larger political implications. Agents have a right to refuse to work with a particular director, given that trust between the two is so important. Quiller's preferred director is Ferris, even though he's slightly creepy (he's rumored to strangle mice).
  • Due to its small size, a common methodology of Special Circumstances from The Culture novels is to employ or manipulate non-SC or even non-Culture agents to do the dirty work, with SC operatives acting as handlers. Examples include Diziet Sma in Use of Weapons and Flere-Imsaho in The Player of Games.
  • Given that John le Carré was actually an intelligence officer for MI-6, unsurprisingly his work contains example of this trope:
    • George Smiley is described as having run agents during World War II.
    • Andrew Osnard (played by Pierce Brosnan in the film) of John le Carré's The Tailor of Panama is a classic example, recruiting title character Harold Pendel (Geoffrey Rush) as a spy and applying so much pressure to him that he makes up information that when acted on majorly destabilises the region
    • Ned, from Le Carré's The Russia House and The Secret Pilgrim.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: From A Civil Campaign on, it is strongly hinted that Lady Alys Vorpatril is the handler for the ImpSec domestic spy Byerly Vorrutyer.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alias: Michael Vaughn served as the Case Officer for Sydney Bristow.
  • The Americans features a number of KGB handlers working (for) Soviet illegals in 80s USA, most notably "Claudia" (Margo Martindale), who is ruthless and curt and "Gabriel" (Frank Langella) who has more of a fatherly approach.
  • Mr. Morden in Babylon 5, to Centauri Ambassador Londo Molario and Lord Refa.
    • Sheridan was shown to have one or two of these in the show's second and third seasons, due to his association with various Earth Force officers who had... doubts... about the circumstances between President Santiago's tragic death and the subsequent rise to power of President Clark.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In theory, the Watcher plays this role for the Slayer. Whether Buffy or Faith chose to follow the Watchers Council's orders is another matter.
    • In spinoff series Angel: Doyle (who gets visions from the mystical Powers That Be) attempts to be this in the first episode, giving Angel the relevant information from his visions and just stepping back to let him do the grunt work (arguing that he's just the messenger), but Angel isn't; having it, and drags him along to fight evil, which Doyle comes to like.
  • Carla in Burn Notice when Michael is briefly stuck working for the bad guys.
    • Her subordinate Victor is specifically called this.
  • Bosley of Charlie's Angels in both the TV show and films.
  • Auggie is Annie's handler on Covert Affairs.
  • In Chuck, Sarah and Casey serve as Handlers (and at times fellow field agents) for the title character.
    • The reason why Chuck has two handlers is because they represent two different agencies collaborating on the Intersect project: CIA (Sarah) and NSA (Casey).
  • Boyd, then later Paul, is Echo's handler in Dollhouse.
  • In The Dresden Files, Ebenezer McCoy was assigned as a troubled teenage Harry's handler (unbeknownst to Harry) in case he ever went nuts and needed to be eliminated.
  • Michael (or Bob in the movie) filled the same role for La Femme Nikita, and in the case of the former, there was definite UST.
  • The Invisible Man TV series had Claire the "Keeper"
  • Now and Again: Dr. Morris was Michael Wiseman's handler and keeper, tasked with both setting up Michael's missions and preventing him from interacting with the outside world (especially his widow).
  • The Pretender: Sydney was Jarod's handler at the Centre from the time Jarod was a child, who gave Jarod the simulations to do and recorded the results.
  • In Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Scarecrow is in some ways more like a handler then a partner. At the least if a veteran agent ever worked with a housewife turned spy (actually not impossible in Real Life though it would probably be less Hallmark-like) he would probably be a handler even if he told her he was a partner. In this case both the handler and the handled are heroic characters.
  • She Spies. The title characters had two Agent Handlers in the course of the show.
  • Star Trek: Picard: Narissa is Narek's handler; she's the one who approved (and has the authority to unapprove) his plan to seduce Soji for information. He must report his observations about their target directly to her.
  • Benjamin Tallmadge is Abraham Woodhulls handler in Turn.
  • FBI agent Peter to Boxed Crook Neal in White Collar
  • Wiseguy. Frank McPike, Vinnie Terranova's Deadpan Snarker boss in the Organised Crime Bureau.

    Tabletop Games 
  • So common in Delta Green that its version of "You All Meet in an Inn" is "You are all called into the briefing by the Handler". As well that Intelligence Case Officer (the official name fors a handler) is one of the possible professions for the PCs, in toher words, you are the Handler of someone else, a resource you can exploit in your investigations for Delta Green.

    Video Games 
  • Diana filled this role for Agent 47 in the Hitman series. Before the events of Absolution, she went rogue and got replaced by Ben Travis, an ex-army Neidermeyer. After the events of the game Diana returns to the ICA and resumes her duties.
  • Any shadowy government types who serve as quest-givers in a GTA game, notably Mike Toreno in San Andreas, and "United Liberty Paper" in Grand Theft Auto 4.
  • Alpha Protocol takes this Up to Eleven; there are eight handlers used throughout the various missions. And yes, Mike and his primary (female) handler Mina have Unresolved Sexual Tension.
    • Mike can have UST with all four of the potential female handlers, if you play your cards right with the dialogue options.
  • Admiral Steven Hackett in Mass Effect serves as the face and voice of the Alliance Navy for the audience and is Shepard's primary contact in the Alliance command. In Mass Effect 2, Miranda arguably takes on this role, though Shepard spends rather more time tending to her emotional well-being than she does to Shepard's. In the case of a male Shepard, there is also way more sexual tension in the second case than in the first.
    • Admiral Hackett picks up additional shades of this when he contacts Shepard to retrieve an Alliance researcher who claimed to have found evidence of an impending Reaper invasion while operating covertly in Batarian Space - at the time, Shepard was on the outs with the Alliance due to his/her involvement with Cerberus, and Hackett needed someone both skilled enough to succeed and in a position to be disavowed easily if s/he failed.
  • It's never stated but it is apparent that Leone J.B. is Yuuya's handler in Hatoful Boyfriend. They're the only two Dove agents at the school, and Leone is the senior one who gives younger, actually-goes-out-and-does-stuff Yuuya advice, orders, and sometimes gadgets.
  • As the Inquisition's spymaster Leliana operates in this role for her various agents, including you should you take up doing spy missions for her. Otherwise she acts as The Creon with Cassandra, technically perfectly capable of leading but helping you do so instead.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Morrowind, the Player Character is a prisoner released to the eponymous land on the orders of the Emperor himself on the condition that he/she report to the local Blades Spymaster, Caius Cosades. Caius welcomes the newcomer into the organization and acts as his/her handler throughout the first half of the game's main quest. It is clear that Caius genuinely cares about the PC as well as the other Blades agents under his command. Later, he is recalled to the Imperial City, leaving the PC as the new Blades Spymaster in the region.
    • In Oblivion, the retired Grandmaster of the Blades, Jauffre, takes up the mantle once again as the titular Oblivion Crisis unfolds. He gives the player character the initial missions of the main quest and is the one to offer him/her official induction into the Blades if he/she desires it.
    • Come Skyrim, the Blades have been ravaged and officially disbanded as a term of the White-Gold Concordat with the Thalmor-led Aldmeri Dominion. Only two are known to still be alive early in the game, one of whom (Delphine) contacts the Dragonborn and has him/her seek out the other (Esbern). Delphine then assumes the title of Grandmaster while Esbern serves as Chronicler. Depending on the player's actions, the Blades can be rebuilt in Skyrim with fresh recruits to resume their ancient duty of dragon slaying.
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    Web Comics 

Alternative Title(s): Handler

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