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The Man in Front of the Man

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Vice: Where's your "sorry"? Look, your boss is bawling.
Orteca: "Boss"? She was just for show. A convenient puppet for cultists to gather around.

In a given story there are two villains, and they fit archetypes like The Chessmaster and the Black Knight: one frail but brilliant, the other elemental and powerful. Whatever the specifics, they're clearly working together, and all indications are that one is subordinate to the other — one is The Dragon to the Big Bad, and their respective characterizations support this.

So imagine the surprise, for both the protagonists and the audience, when the supposed guy on top is defeated, only for the second apple to appear and smugly announce that they've been pulling the strings all the while, and by disposing of their patsy the heroes have played right into their hands.

This is a variation of The Man Behind the Man in which the true villain turns out to be Hidden in Plain Sight as a mere underling. Often the supposed Big Bad thinks they are in charge, and are not nearly the chessmaster they think themselves to be. Then again, maybe they really are that clever, but their secret boss is a Manipulative Bastard who deftly pushes them in the desired direction. Or maybe their arrangement is entirely mutual, a ploy to allow the true villain to get closer to the heroes while they take them for a lesser threat.

A subtrope of Obvious Villain, Secret Villain. Compare Decoy Leader, Bastard Understudy, Reverse Relationship Reveal, Trick Boss, Apparently Powerless Puppetmaster, and various permutations of The Dragon and The Consigliere, particularly: The Starscream, the Dragon Ascendant (which eventually happens when the supposed Big Bad is taken care of) and the Dragon-in-Chief (when you don't need The Reveal to show that the underling is the Big Bad). See also The Dog Was the Mastermind, Chessmaster Sidekick, Hijacked by Ganon and King Incognito.

As a Plot Twist trope, beware of unmarked spoilers below.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the Cowboy Bebop episode "Sympathy for the Devil", the Bebop crew tries to track down an old bounty head called Zebra, who seems to be masquerading as a paralyzed man living with a young boy. Only after searching the memories of one of Zebra's dying friends do the crew find that Zebra is really disabled and is in the clutches of the boy, who, due to a freak hyperspace gateway incident, doesn't age and is much older than he looks.
  • Doraemon films:
    • Doraemon: Nobita and the Robot Kingdom introduces the tiular kingdom's tyrannical queen, Jeanne, as its main antagonist, until the revelation that Jeanne's advisor, Dester, is the one pulling the strings behind Jeanne's decisions, from stripping robots of their emotions to having captives imprisoned and assorted atrocities.
    • Doraemon: Nobita and the Windmasters have the ancient Wind Spirit, Uranda, being revived by the Storm Tribe and awakening ther eldritch ancient dragon called Mafuga, until the last minute where Uranda was suddenly betrayed by the tribe's leader, Storm - who turns out to be manipulating the Spirit to awaken Mafuga for himself, pulling the strings behind Uranda's awakening to Take Over the World.
  • In Dragon Ball GT, the villain named Baby was first introduced as the treasured creation of the evil scientist Dr. Myuu. Then it turns out that it's the other way around; Myuu and his creations were just a front to gather the newly-scattered Black Star Dragon Balls and revive the destroyed Planet Vegeta for Baby, revealed to be the king of the Tuffles — the extinct rival race of the Saiyan main characters — to reign supreme.
  • Fairy Tail:
    • Ultear presents herself as Jellal's loyal follower on the Magic Council, and is mocked by Jellal for her foolish Blind Obedience. What he failed to realize is that she was the one who had been brainwashing him for eight years as The Dragon of Hades, the master of Grimoire Heart.
    • E.N.D. is widely presumed to have built the Tartaros guild long before getting sealed within his book. In truth, it's his so-called Dragon-in-Chief Mard Geer who's in charge, rallying other members around E.N.D.'s book and passing his own orders off as the will of E.N.D. It makes sense, considering E.N.D. is actually Natsu, the main character, which neither he nor anyone in Tartaros knew about.
  • In Future Diary, it is revealed that Anti-Hero protagonist Yukiteru is a pawn of his sidekick and Yandere Love Interest Yuno, who was manipulating him from the beginning. In turn, Deus Ex Machina, the host of the Deadly Game, was himself being manipulated by Mur Mur, his servant who had her own plans all along.
  • Gundam:
    • Late into the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Gihren Zabi bumps himself up from Dragon-in-Chief to fully being this, resulting in his father going from a largely withdrawn head of state to a figurehead who can do little other than go along with his son's ambitions even as he objects to them. When Degwin does make an attempt to defy his son, Gihren sees to it that he's killed.
    • Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: Mineva Lao Zabi is presented as the top authority in Neo Zeon, but since she's a seven year old girl, she's little more than a puppet and her regent Haman Karn is the one actually in charge, a fact that's obvious to nearly everyone.
    • Mobile Suit Victory Gundam: The Zanscare Empire nominally follows matriarchal principles, with Queen Maria Pia Armonia being presented as their messianic ruler. In practice, she's a powerless figurehead who's actions are tightly controlled by the Zanscare prime minister Fonse Kagatie, who uses her and the fanaticism she inspires to rally the people of Zanscare and make them willing to commit atrocities.
  • Inuyasha is a pretty unusual case. Early on, Naraku emerges as the main villain and orchestrates most of the plot, with various minor villains serving his ends and any setbacks are All According to Plan. His goal is to attain the Jewel of Four Souls, which will grant him a single wish, that would presumably make him invincible. Only in the final act, when he finally gets his hands on the complete Jewel, is it revealed that the MacGuffin itself was manipulating him and all others who used it towards its own ends. Even after Naraku is finally finished, the Jewel continues to be a threat until it can be destroyed.
  • In Log Horizon Indicus is apparently the maid and representative of Nureha, the leader of guild Plant Hwyaden. In truth Indicus has used psychological torment and Nureha's own self-loathing to cripple her, and now controls Nureha, the guild, and Minami as she sees fit.
  • Kinnikuman has a tag team known as the Hell Missionaries, consisting of Neptuneman and Big the Budo. Neptuneman is made out to be the duo's leader for most of the arc. Toward the end, it turns out that Big the Budo is Neptuneman's mentor Neptune King in disguise, and the team's real leader. As Neptune King despises showing his face, he wears a mask to hide his identity.
  • Naruto:
    • Tobi is introduced as not even being a member of the Akatsuki, just a particularly goofy minion of theirs. The real leader appears to be Pain. Then it's revealed Pain was only the front man of the organization and Tobi was his boss all along.
    • Most of the time, Black Zetsu seemed to be only The Dragon for Madara. But after Madara's defeated, Madara and all of the battle's spectators were surprised when Zetsu showed that he had manipulated Madara all this time in order to revive its creator, Kaguya.
  • Pretty Cure:
  • In Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, Gilles de Rais, the true antagonist who moves the plot towards resurrecting the titular dragon, executes his sinister plans while feigning servitude under the demon lord Beelzebub, orchestrating hostilities between humans, angels and devils to cover his tracks. When Beelzebub loudly declares his intent to rule the world by controlling a resurrected Bahamut, the latter quickly turns on him and proceeds to go on a rampage, revealing that Gilles used the guise of Martinet to gain Beelzebub's support and fool him with the promise of power, when in reality he never wished to control Bahamut and simply wanted to marvel at the apocalypse.
  • Sailor Moon is very fond of pulling The Man Behind the Man with its villains, except with the Black Moon Clan: initially, Prince Demande seems to be the big bad for the arc and The Man Behind the Man to Rubeus and Esmeraude, until midway through it turns out that his trusted advisor, the Wiseman, is really Death Phantom, who's been pulling the strings all along. Although the reveal plays out differently across continuities, it always results in Demande being disposed of and Death Phantom taking over as the true Big Bad for Sailor Moon to destroy.
  • Dark in Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi is introduced as a self-aware puppet serving the current Torikago clan leader who is set up to be the apparent Big Bad. When the leader is swayed by Yoichi's kind words, Dark reveals her true nature: she is the one who has been keeping the Torikago clan's hatred towards the Karasuma clan alive for generations. Dark turns against her supposed master, stating that she has no right to forgive the Karasuma clan after her ancestors devoted their entire lives to hating them.
  • The Demon King in So I'm a Spider, So What? is the absolute authority of the demons due to being the most powerful by default. In the present of the story, Demon King Ariel is the most powerful being who exists within the System, and her intent is to spark the bloodiest and most terrible war to ever grace the planet between demons and humans...except, as it turns out, that there's someone even more powerful and fearsome than the Demon King, someone whom the Demon King takes orders from, someone who is the true Demon King for all intents and purposes: Tenth Demon Army General Shiro, one of the Demon King's supposed loyal followers, who is actually the protagonist Kumoko, and a god. The duo's deception is so effective that the number of people outside of their inner circle who are aware of the truth can be counted in one hand until an outside force reveals the truth to the whole world in order to spark mayhem.
  • Eto Yoshimura/Sen Takatsuki in Tokyo Ghoul does this to herself. Specifically, the One-Eyed Owl, who Eto/Sen pretends to serve, is actually an alias of hers.
    • In :re, Furuta Nimura is seemingly just the assistant of Shiki Kijima, and a small fry in the CCG organization; as Souta, just a member of the Pierrot. Until about halfway through, after Kijima’s death- then he flawlessly executes a plan to seize control of CCG for himself, kills his father Tsuneyoshi Wasshu and takes his spot as chairman, becomes the effective leader of the Pierrot, and turns out to have been manipulating everyone since day one, making him a Big Bad who rivals Eto, and becomes the Final Boss in her absence.
  • Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle has the King of Vices, who rules the Republic of Heiburg from the shadows. To hide her identity, she poses as Calensia Hersmice, the mistreated aide of her country's top soldier, who she brainwashed to act as her proxy.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Avengers Issue 54, the Villain of the Week is the Crimson Cowl, leader of the reformed Masters of Evil, who kidnap Edwin Jarvis (who hasn't undergone any Character Development at the time). At the climax of the issue, it was revealed that the Crimson Cowl issuing orders from his throne was apparently a decoy robot, and the real Crimson Cowl was Jarvis himself. The events of the next issue reveal, however, that Jarvis was actually Brainwashed and Crazy, and the real mastermind was the robot, none other than Ultron, the Living Automation, in his Ultron-5 incarnation.
  • Batwoman (Rebirth): Nebulous Evil Organization the Many Hands of Death is under the command of Knife, its major operative.
  • Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Emperor Klamos is not only the puppet of his supposed loyal minion and current minister Grok, he's just a war robot controlled by Grok, without even an AI.

    Fan Works 
  • Invader Zim: A Bad Thing Never Ends: The Announcer intends to be this for Zim when he comes to Earth, talking his way into the position of Number Two and manipulating Zim to his own benefit while letting him stay the face of the operation to take all the heat. Unfortunately for him, Zim's ego and temper mean that controlling him from a position of comfort is virtually impossible.

    Films — Animated 
  • Mune: Guardian of the Moon: The main antagonist, Necross, sends out snakelike spirits called Evil Corruptors to brainwash others with dark thoughts into serving Necross, so we can assume that the Evil Corruptors are Necross' minions. But it's revealed in the climax that Necross himself has been possessed by an Evil Corruptor the whole time, making it ambiguous as to whether Necross was ever in control, or if all his evil plans were actually the snake's.
  • Next Gen: The Big Bad of the film, Justin Pin, is never seen without his robotic bodyguard Ares. Towards the end of the film however, Ares is revealed to be the brains behind the operation, having killed and replaced the actual Pin with a robot before the events of the film.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Batman Begins, a man is introduced as Ra's Al Ghul, looking every bit the namesake, with his adjutant, Henri Ducard. But before long, it becomes clear the big man is a Decoy Leader and "Ducard" is the true Ra's Al Ghul. "Theatricality and deception" are, after all, two of the League of Shadows' most "powerful" tricks.
  • Dragonheart has one that overlaps with mistaken blame: the prince Einon is given a heart transplant from a dragon to save his life. He then ascends the throne and becomes a tyrant. The protagonist believes that the dragon corrupted him and goes seeking for revenge, but the dragon claims that he thought his heart would save Einon and plant a seed of goodness in him. Einon eventually confirms that he was Evil All Along and used the dragon's gift for his own plans.
  • Equilibrium: The dystopian state of Libria is ruled by a mysterious figure known only as "Father", who delegates much of his authority to Vice Council DuPont, who acts as "Father's Voice". At the end, it's revealed that Father died several years ago and they've been using his image for propaganda purposes. The Council simply elected DuPont himself to de facto assume the responsibilies of Father's office.
  • In Fast & Furious, the front man for the drug running ring appears to be working for an unseen boss. The boss turns out to be a decoy and the front man is the actual boss and Big Bad.
  • Iron Man 3 is similar to Batman Begins, in which the Mandarin is just a decoy (or to be really specific, an actor), and the apparent Dragon Aldrich Killian is revealed as the true mastermind.
  • In Kamen Rider × Super Sentai: Super Hero Taisen, Emperor Marvelous and Tsukasa Kadoya, the leaders of Dai-Zangyack and Dai-Shocker respectively, turn out to have both been manipulated into killing off the Kamen Riders and Super Sentai by their supposed underlings so they could take over the world unopposed. Right after they reveal this, however, Marvelous and Tsukasa reveal that they were both well aware of what they were doing, and had only been playing along to find out what their true plans were.
  • In the 2005 Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy buddy cop comedy The Man, Samuel L. Jackson is a cop trying to track down an arms dealing kingpin, and spends much of the film dealing with the kingpin's lieutenant. Towards the end of the film the lieutenant reveals he's the kingpin himself, and poses as his own Dragon so he doesn't get targeted by cops focused on the bigger fish.
  • In Spy Kids, the apparent Big Bad is Floop, a children's show host that's also secretly running a criminal operation. Floop has a Beleaguered Assistant, a mild-mannered man in glasses appropriately named Minion. About more than halfway through the movie Floop complains that all he wanted to do was make his kids' show, and the criminal activities weren't his ideas, they were Minion's. Minion promptly says he doesn't need Floop anymore, takes off his glasses, imprisons Floop, and cements his role as Big Bad by insisting on being called "Mr." Minion. It's subsequently revealed that Minion was an ex-spy, explaining how and why he could manipulate Floop.
  • Svaha: The Sixth Finger: Father Kim Je-seok, the 116-year-old leader of the evil murderous Deer Mountain cult, is identified as an ancient man, bedridden and dying and hooked up to a bunch of monitors. The Reveal is that the old man in the bed is just a decoy, and the real evil cult leader is the henchman who spends most of his time gardening around the cult's headquarters, and who looks to be in his forties as the result of some sort of black magic.

  • In Book of the New Sun, two of the characters, Dr. Talos and Bandanders (both cases of Meaningful Name combined with Genius Bonus) are this. Talos, who clearly seems to be the leader, is a clever, glib Con Man with fox-like features. Baldanders clearly comes off as the subordinate and appears to be a Gentle Giant and rarely speaks. In actuality, Baldanders is some sort of Humanoid Abomination Mad Scientist who turns out to be a threatening villain, and Talos is an Artificial Human, who is his creation- the parallels to/subversion of Frankenstein's Monster are deliberate.
  • The Elenium:
    • At first it seems that Annias is the main foe with his bid to become leader of the corrupt church, making deals with the dark god Azash and hiring the mercenary Martel to start fires throughout the continent for the Church Knights, who want to purify the corruption, to be kept busy with. But after his main gambit fails, it comes out that Martel has been pulling Annias' strings.
    • Later it becomes apparent that Martel is taking orders from Azash, who is manipulating events to bring the Bhelliom out into the open for the taking.
    • Continued in the sequel series The Tamuli, when Martel's lowly lackey Krager claims he was the brains of their operation all along; then, he and various other rabble-rousers are in the employ of a new villain, a god called Cyrgon who had been thought extinct (while the last part is true Krager is later confirmed to have been exaggerating more than a few things in his speech, throwing doubt on his claims to have mentored Martel).
    • Later, Cyrgon is actually working for the true Big Bad, Zalasta, who has been manipulating the events of both series in his bid to get the Bhelliom for himself.
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series: To all appearances, in "The Mule", the Mule is the psychic leader of a powerful military which is derailing the Foundation's plans. However, he's actually in disguise for most of the story, as one of his own henchmen; the clown, Magnifico Giganticus. His "rescue" by Bayta and Toran allows him to sabotage the Foundation's attempts to resist his fleet.
  • In the New Jedi Order, Supreme Overlord Shimrra is always accompanied by his personal slave and jester Onimi; though Shimrra will sometimes send Onimi to act as his proxy outside his court, everyone agrees that when not acting on the Supreme Overlord's direct orders, Onimi is obnoxious and rather perverted, but essentially harmless. Then the ending of the novel Destiny's Way makes it clear Onimi is smarter than he looks and has some sort of link with Shimrra. Then the climax of the final volume, The Unifying Force, reveals that Onimi was telepathically controlling Shimrra the whole time, and is the true Big Bad of the entire series.
  • In The Sirens of Titan, the entire Army of Mars is run by underlings who command their superiors via remote control.
  • The Stainless Steel Rat makes this almost fatal mistake when he first confronts criminal psychotic Angelina. Bringing down an arrest, he refuses to believe the ditzy, hysterical, beautiful airhead he sees is anything more than a low-level Mook and gangster's moll. He therefore ignores her and focuses on arresting her accomplice - who is brooding, intense-eyed and unshaven and looks like an Evil Genius. In the confusion, she escapes, having conned diGriz into thinking she's insignificant. While he is arresting the hired help, she slays two policemen and steals an escape pod, evading laser fire and tractor beams with some skilled stunt-flying.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Trope Namer is McKenas Cole from Alias, played by Quentin Tarantino, but he is not an example as he literally works for a mysterious villain called "The Man", and then later becomes the Number Two of an evil organisation called The Covenant which also has a mystery leader, so he claims to be "The Man in Front of the Man" as a joke.
  • Arrow:
    • The Legion of Doom from the first half of Season 6 is seemingly led by Cayden James. However, midway through the season it's revealed that Ricardo Diaz is the true mastermind, and has been manipulating James to act as his figurehead until he was no longer needed, as which point Diaz takes over directly.
    • In Season 7, Oliver's half-sister Emiko is revealed to be in league with the new Big Bad, Dante, and even appears to be his Dragon. But it eventually turns out that while Dante may have been her Evil Mentor, she's since come into her own, reducing him to her Dragon.
  • Being Human (UK): In series two, Professor Jaggat is introduced secretly as the scientific mastermind behind the purging of the werewolves, with Kemp as her public face - her dragon. However, towards the end, we find out Jaggat is just the one Kemp goes to when he needs to find a method of killing a werewolf or vampire; Jaggat is in fact the dragon to him, and is dragging her feet on the verge of a Heel–Face Turn. Occasionally, she tries to take over, too.
  • Chousei Kantai Sazer X: When King Neo Descal and Barreda arrive in the past, they act reverent of their Shogun ancestors and pledge to serve them. This is just an act to manipulate them, and within just a few episodes they've brainwashed Cyclead and set him up as their figurehead to be a distraction.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the serial "The Pirate Planet", the stereotypically hammy Big Bad is eventually revealed to be a patsy of his nurse, who is in fact a holographic projection of the moribund Queen Xanxia — the "stealing planets" aspect is a way to keep her time dams from failing.
  • In Plain Sight: An assassin's go-between - played by Dave Foley - gets arrested and turns on his boss, "Lola", in the episode "Trojan Horst". While Mary and her partner transport him, Lola's goons attack to silence the assistant. Our heroes eventually realize there is no boss. He was acting as the harmless, irritating front man to a woman who doesn't exist. He deliberately got caught so he could get to a target in jail, and the goons were trying to kill the cops.
  • Throughout Jikuu Senshi Spielban, Queen Pandora communes with Waller, an ethereal deity whom she supposedly receives orders from. It's revealed in the finale that Waller is really an illusion, created by Pandora to keep control of The Empire.
  • Kamen Rider
    • Kamen Rider Gaim: Ryoma Sengoku is the real power within the Yggdrasill Corporation, keeping facts about Helheim Forest covered up from his boss Takatora Kureshima in order to coax him into doing what he wanted. The true purpose of "Project Ark" is to gather resources for what Ryoma is really planning — to obtain the Forbidden Fruit of Helheim and use it to become a god.
    • Kamen Rider Build: Blood Stalk plays henchman to the various factions Team Build goes up against, while manipulating them in pursuit of his own agenda. Once their usefulness runs out, Blood Stalk backstabs them before moving on to his next employer/pawn.
    • Kamen Rider Revice: Aguilera seems like the leader of the Deadmans at first, but it becomes apparent later on she's just a figurehead used by her supposed second-in-command and others in the cult to rally people behind. Her true purpose is to be a sacrifice for the demon they worship, Giff.
  • Squid Game: The Front Man is in charge of overseeing the games, but answers to the Host, who does not appear in person until the end. The Host is disguised as one of the players, even faking his own death to maintain his cover. Also an Exaggerated Trope; the players have to follow orders from the soldiers, who follow orders from the overseers, who follow orders from the Front Man.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "Patterns of Force", a society of Human Aliens has emulated the regime of Nazi Germany, complete with atrocities committed for racial and cultural motives. The officers of the regime carry out the orders of their Fuhrer, who they only see via television broadcast. It turns out later that the Fuhrer was drugged and under the control of his Deputy. It was the Deputy Fuhrer who was really responsible for giving orders to the Nazi forces, while the true Fuhrer had good intentions all along.
  • Stranger Things: As we find out at the end of Season 4, Vecna isn't another minion of the Mind Flayer as everyone assumed, but in fact created the Mind Flayer as an avatar, making him the true Big Bad all along.
  • Super Sentai:
    • Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman has an interesting variation on this trope. The true leader of Galactic Imperial Army Zone turns out to be, not Empress Meadow, not one of her generals, but the ship the Zone were using as their Supervillain Lair, which is actually a Botanical Abomination that created Meadow as an illusion to attract followers. When the Zone eventually do discover the ship is alive, Meadow claims it to just be another minion of hers before her illusion breaks next episode and the full truth comes out.
    • Brajira of the Messiah pulls this not once, not twice, but three times in Tensou Sentai Goseiger, offering his services to each of the antagonist organizations the Goseiger's have faced while using them for his own goals. Once they're all out of the way, Brajira reveals himself as the true instigator behind the events of the series.
  • The Wire: The crime lord known only as "The Greek" sits in on conversations with other gangsters by having his actual second-in-command Spiros do the talking and disguising himself as one of his lackeys.

    Video Games 
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II: Valeria Garza acts as the personal sicaria (female hitman) for the elusive El Sin Nombre, leader of Las Almas Cartel, while in reality, she's El Sin Nombre herself who assume the secret identity after taking over the Cartel's leadership by killing their old boss in Bodyguard Betrayal.
  • In the original Baldur's Gate, you are led to believe that Sarevok is The Dragon to the leaders of the Iron Throne company (specifically, to his father — the "CEO" of Iron Throne), but in reality, he has been the real mastermind all along and they are actually his pawns.
  • Breath of Fire IV has both Ryu's party and God-Emperor Fou-lu menaced on all ends by the latter's own empire, because of Ryu's power and the current emperor not wanting to abdicate his throne, respectively. However, Emperor Soniel is only an Unwitting Pawn at the hands of Mad Scientist Yuna, the real mastermind, and it is implied he set Soniel up to die at Fou-lu's hands in the end.
  • EarthBound: Porky/Pokey has shades of this as it is implied that he's the one using Giygas instead of the other way around, if only because by the time you face him, Giygas is completely and irrevocably insane.
  • Escape from Monkey Island features the return of regular villain LeChuck in a bid to con the feckless inhabitants of Mêlée Island into voting him the new governor, plus the introduction of amoral land-grabbing entrepreneur Ozzy Mandrill. It's obvious they're working together, but only in act 3 when they have a confrontation with the Guybrushes does it come out that LeChuck is working for Ozzy and not the other way around.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: The Shadows of Mhach storyline revolves around various demonic entities trying to resurrect the Void Queen. However, after she is slain by the heroes, Diabolos reveals that he orchestrated these events over several thousand years so that he could eventually kill the Void Queen himself and claim her power as his own.
  • Final Fantasy XV: Iedolas Aldercapt is the ruler of Niflheim, who orchestrates the invasion of Lucis and orders his forces to murder the entire Lucis lineage on sight. Chancellor Ardyn, by contrast, is far less antagonistic, as he mainly just bugs you through the first five hours of the game and even takes a selfie with you. Needless to say, he's the real Big Bad.
  • Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade: While the player has already been informed, to the lords, Marquess Laus seems to be the enemy in charge. Once the party learns of Nergal and Ephidel, however, the surprise quickly turns on Marquess Laus himself, the only person who didn't know he was the victim of the trope.
  • Subverted in Jade Empire. It is widely believed that Deaths Hand is corrupting Emperor Sun Hai and is the true power behind the throne. Eventually, it's revealed that Sun Hai has bound his soul to his armor and was really controlling him. Then it’s revealed that the Emperor isn't even the real Big Bad. His brother, your former teacher Sun Li, is.
  • A long-reaching example in the Kingdom Hearts series which finally comes to a head in the epilogue of Kingdom Hearts III. It turns out that all of Xehanort's plans for the last few decades have been manipulated by someone else: Luxu, the final apprentice of the Master of Masters and original owner of Xehanort's Keyblade, No Name. Everything Xehanort has done was part of Luxu's plan to create a new Keyblade War, which was apparently necessary to allow the other Foretellers to return. And where exactly has Luxu been all this time? He's been right here for a while. We just didn't recognize him because he was calling himself Xigbar.
  • Kukoo Kitchen has Fred, the Mad Scientist's Robot Butler who seems to merely be his boss's helpful servant who has to point out the latter's Blind Mistakes when the player is first introduced to them. The scientist at first seems to plan on taking over the galaxy with Edible Ammunition stolen from Chill-Li and Matt's kitchens to get revenge on the galaxy's president (and his former friend) for sending him an e-mail that he misread. However, around 80% of the way into the game, it's revealed Fred was the one with that plan, having altered this message to spread hate and mistrust, and taken the batteries out of his boss's remote control so his robot army won't respond to any commands, so he could rise from the chaos and reign supreme without any opposition.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: The Skull Kid, lonely and frustrated, found an ancient and powerful mask, and uses it to play cruel tricks, culminating with summoning the moon to fall toward the earth it seems. Somewhere along the way, the evil mask started calling the shots; in the final confrontation, Majora's Mask throws the Skull Kid away like an useless puppet, and carries on with its plan as if nothing had happened.
  • Mass Effect: Saren, a rogue SPECTRE agent, appears to be the main villain of the game who's working to summon the Reapers from dark space for vague reasons that may have something to do with his racism against humans. Throughout the game he rides around in Sovereign, a spaceship so advanced that it's assumed to be a Reaper invention. Then comes the big reveal that Sovereign is not a mindless Reaper spaceship, he's an actual Reaper, and the true mastermind of Saren's plot.
  • In the first Mega Man Star Force game, Gemini is the most dangerous of Mega Man's opponents and de facto leader of the FM Alien Invasion, but was supposedly just The Dragon to FM King Cepheus. He was also the first to be permanently destroyed, just before the final dungeon and obligatory Boss Rush. However, once Mega Man confronts Cepheus himself, it's revealed that Gemini was the true instigator of the plot all along, playing on Cepheus' paranoia to manipulate him into ordering the invasion of Earth.
  • The Night of the Rabbit has four lizards who make deals with innocents to put them under the Big Bad's spell, and initially seem to be a Quirky Miniboss Squad to the Big Bad. But it's revealed at the end that they are just four of an evil, nebulous organization called Consortium Squamata, and they came to visit the Big Bad, Zaroff, at his lowest point, making a deal with Zaroff to help him get the revenge he wanted in exchange for showing them how to enter the various portal worlds so that they could corrupt those worlds.
  • Paper Mario:
    • Dimentio from Super Paper Mario poses himself as a minion of Count Bleck in order to use the Count to bring about the Chaos Heart and the Void, after which he manipulates the heroes into defeating Bleck and solidifies himself as the main villain of the game by seizing the Chaos Heart out from under him.
    • Beldam from Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door appears to be just a minion of Grodus, the supposed Big Bad of the game and he doesn't seem to think much of her or her sisters, but it's then revealed that she was only manipulating him in order to further her plans of reviving the Shadow Queen - whom she is actually a loyal underling of. She had told Grodus that the Shadow Queen was bound to serve the one who releases her from her imprisonment. It can't be further from the truth.
  • Halfway through Pokémon Black and White, N tells the player that he is the king of Team Plasma, meaning that the Seven Sages all defer to him. However, at the end of the game it's revealed that one of the sages, Ghetsis, has been orchestrating everything and had been manipulating N all along and only let him believe he was in charge.
  • Scooby-Doo: Mystery Mayhem at first makes it look like Corrupt Corporate Executive Travis Sherman is the main villain with ShermanTech employee Dr. Selena Drake as his Dragon, but Drake eventually turns on her boss while revealing that she intends to use her alpha wave modulator to conquer the world on her own terms rather than support her boss's agenda of brainwashing people into only buying ShermanTech products.
  • In Xenogears, the supposed ruler of the Sacred Empire of Solaris, Emperor Cain, is revealed to be a Puppet King controlled by three of these.
    • The Gazel Ministry, the head of the Ethos state religion, are publicly servants of Cain who manages them. But ever since Cain turned against Ethos, the Ministry took control of the empire from him, reducing him to a figurehead while they carry out the wars and genocides. Ironically, they themselves have their own "minions", Miang and Krelian, manipulating them in turn.
    • Miang Hawwa initially appears to just be Commander Kahran Ramsus' Hot Consort, while also helping Grahf and the Gazel Ministry on the side. She's actually been manipulating Ramsus since his birth, and is the human interface of Greater-Scope Villain Deus who created both Cain and the Ministry to serve her plans to reawaken Deus.
    • Krelian, a scientist who apparently serves the Ministry, is the one who revived them in AI bodies in the first place and used them to help his and Miang's Assimilation Plot. He makes it very clear who's really in charge when he deletes them after they've done their job.
  • In Shadow Hearts we are introduced to Roger Bacon and Dehuai Li - Bacon is our tutorial-boss-fight going on what seems like an unstoppable rampage to kidnap Alice for some purpose. Post-Tutorial he heads to Dehuai to break the bad news he found him the perfect ritual sacrifice for the doomsday rite he was planning but alas she got away, and we get Dehuai as our mastermind. Dehuai refers to Bacon as a rival charlatan mage that he thinks was going to use Alice for his own rite, so Bacon comes off as one part Evil vs. Evil and one part The Starscream planning some agenda of his own while still functioning as Dehuai's elite henchmen standing off to the side while Dehuai takes over. During the doomsday ritual, Dehuai pours the last of his life-force into the rite to have his revenge on the heroes... and it does nothing. With a sigh of relief that the rite failed the heroes wonder how he got his hands on such a complex ritual if even he couldn't activate it, at which point Bacon pops in to take credit and express disappointment his Unwitting Pawn was so close but couldn't quite cause Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever, but just decides to complete it himself now that Dehuai has set it up for him. The later half of the game is trying to find out exactly what Bacon was preforming test-runs for and stopping him; Dehuai isn't even the last Arc Villain Bacon does this too, but the heroes are wise to the play now even if his pawns aren't.
  • Downplayed in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Malos might officially be the second in command of Torna, but it's implied relatively early on that he's manipulating his boss, Jin. It's gradually shown that their relationship is more of a Big Bad Duumvirate with a strong Villainous Friendship to boot, with a flashback revealing that Malos recruited Jin in the first place. Malos is content to have Jin officially be in charge because he has a stronger sense of purpose, and the other members of Torna have a stronger loyalty to Jin anyway. In the end, Jin sacrifices himself to stall the heroes, while Malos ends up as the Final Boss.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: In Seasons 11-13, both the New Republic of Chorus and the Federal Army of Chorus are being manipulated into waging war with each other by the bounty hunters they hired, Locus and Felix, who are, in turn, revealed to be working for someone else looking to claim the planet for his liking.
  • RWBY:
    • The first episode gives the impression that Roman Torchwick is the main villain and that the mysterious woman who flew his airship and fought off an enemy huntress on his behalf is another one of his minions. Later on the woman is revealed to be Torchwick's boss, Cinder Fall.
    • Later on, Corsac and Fennec, two twins who work for the White Fang and have been allied with Adam for a while appear to be only the spokesperson for the Menagerie faction of the White Fang and silent supporters of Adam. When alone, they speak of replacing Adam if he becomes too unhinged and hard to control, with implications they were the ones to have given him as much powers as he has now.

  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Tarquin has set himself up as The Dragon to the Empress of Blood, who is literally a large red dragon. It soon becomes clear, however, that the Empress of Blood is not only a figurehead but also a pawn in Tarquin's plot to rule the entire continent from the shadows.
    • Redcloak was Demoted to Dragon after Xykon became a lich, complete with a rather nasty "The Reason You Suck" Speech. To Redcloak, though, Xykon is just a powerful and very dangerous tool for accomplishing his goals. Xykon is a lazy goofball of a villain, and Redcloak has been controlling him through several strings to keep him moving in the direction that Redcloak wants him moving in, as he explains to Tsukiko at one point. Sometimes Redcloak's control slips a bit, as emphasized by Xykon banning him from regenerating his eye. Or at least, that's how Redcloack sees it; whether he's as successful as he thinks in manipulating Xykon remains an open question. Xykon is lazy and has a short attention span, but he's decidedly not stupid and can at times be shockingly perceptive. The reality of their relationship may be closer to a Big Bad Duumvirate than either will publicly (or personally) admit. They both manipulate each other (Xykon more overtly, Redcloak more covertly) and both expect the other to ultimately betray them when their plan reaches the endgame, but both need the other in order to reach that endgame.
  • In Spacetrawler, Kuu-Drahc is initially presented as the big bad, as he's the highest official authority in the known galaxy. In the senate scenes, an unnamed character stands just behind Kuu-Drahc, looking for all the world like a secretary or advisor. Turns out he's actually Qwahntoo, the real power behind the galactic government and the true big bad of the comic.

    Western Animation 
  • The final episode of Project Gee Ke R sees the heroes sent into a Bad Future where the Big Bad Moloch succeeds in his plan to take control of Geeker and uses him to conquer the galaxy. When they destroy Moloch, he turns out to be a robot duplicate. The real Moloch had actually taken control of Geeker by switching bodies with him and masqueraded as his own underling.
  • In the Rick and Morty episode "Close Rick-counters of the Rick Kind", Evil Rick turns out to be a cyborg remotely controlled by his supposed lackey, Evil Morty.
  • Toffee from Star vs. the Forces of Evil manages to be this and then The Man Behind the Man in two different story arcs and towards the same guy as well. In season 1, he poses as Ludo's Hypercompetent Sidekick, kicking him out of his castle and taking over the spot of main villain for the series' finale. Season 2 has him as a consciousness stuck within a "wand" found by Ludo, secretly guiding and manipulating him so that he may conquer Star's kingdom.


Video Example(s):


Super Paper Mario

Dimentio attacks Nastasia and openly betrays Count Bleck, using the Chaos Heart to destroy the multiverse and create a new one in his image.

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Example of:

Main / TheStarscream

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