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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 different 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.


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.


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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.
  • All of the girls of Gunslinger Girl get one, and relationship dynamics vary with each one: they can be either the sweetest guys (like Jose until he Took a Level in Jerkass) or the biggest jerkasses (like Jean who's doing it to toughen himself and keep him emotionally detached and Lauro who DIES for that). The only one that doesn't have her own handler is Claes and that's because it's hinted the Agency murdered him because he planned to tell the media about them.
  • 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.

    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.

    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.

  • 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 
  • 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.
  • Auggie is Annie's handler on Covert Affairs.
  • In Chuck, Sarah and Casey serve as Handlers 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).
  • The Invisible Man TV series had Claire the "Keeper"
  • She Spies. The title characters had two Agent Handlers in the course of the show.
  • 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.
  • Bosley of Charlie's Angels in both the TV show and films.
  • Carla in Burn Notice
    • Victor is specifically called this
  • Michael Vaughn served as the Case Officer for Sydney Bristow.
  • Boyd, then later Paul, is Echo's handler in Dollhouse.
  • Wiseguy. Frank McPike, Vinnie Terranova's Deadpan Snarker boss in the Organised Crime Bureau.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Peter to Neal in White Collar
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Benjamin Tallmadge is Abraham Woodhulls handler in Turn.

    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.
  • 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.

    Web Comics 

Alternative Title(s): Handler


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