Jax: I think we all wish you'd had this moment in private!
Communication is important to any relationship, be it between spouses, lovers, siblings, parents and children, friends or co-workers. Without clear and open dialogue, issues between two people can build up and fester. A relationship with this kind of internal pressure can be subjected to external stress, i.e. the events of the plot, to the point where lingering personal issues have to be addressed now. Probably loudly, and at length. This will happen regardless of where the characters in question are, what they're doing, or who might be stuck with them as they do.
This trope refers to a situation where some poor soul is forced to be present as other people sort out their personal issues. This person will usually be a friend of theirs, and generally rooting for them to resolve things, just not while he's there. Unfortunately, they're in a locked room, lift, bank vault or some other environment that doesn't allow for a hasty exit. Faced with Too Much Information and unable to leave, this person will suddenly develop an intense interest in his own shoelaces, the pattern of the wallpaper, or even feign unconsciousness if the situation allows for it.
However they decide to handle it, the unwilling interloper will remain onscreen as they try not to hear, possibly as a Funny Background Event. They will usually be male, because Men Are Tough and hate feelings. The people having the discussion will usually have totally forgotten their presence and carry on as if they're not there.
Contrast with Talk About That Thing, where the pair excuse themselves before having it out, and Take Five, where the third party is given an excuse to leave. Overt Operative would be a variant involving The Masquerade rather than emotional issues.
- Chapter 5 of Black Mask has Sirius getting caught by his father while he's snooping around the Malfoy Manor as a part of his mission for Dumbledore. While the two of them argue, his mother walks in the room and he is forced to transform into his Animagus form so that he doesn't get into more trouble with her. Walburga begins to fight with her husband over their Christmas plans, not realising that the dog is her son and an unwilling audience to their argument. Sirius, unable to escape from the room, hides under the table while his parents yell at each other.
- Total Trauma: In "You're Tearing This Family Apart," Cameron gets caught in a heated argument between Mike and Zoey over Zoey's sexual image. Their speech bubbles appear to fall on his shoulders, as if he's literally crushed by the weight of the conversation.
- In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk and Carol Marcus have an intense discussion about their past relationship and their adult son. In the background is a recovering Chekov, who is clearly still conscious as he's holding a bandage to his ear, but decides to keep his eyes closed as if he's asleep.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- Harry and Ron are in a train compartment together when Lavender, Ron's girlfriend, comes up and breathes on the glass pane of the door so she can draw a heart with her and Ron's initials. Harry starts examining his armrest as if he's never seen one before.
- When Ron is in the hospital wing unconscious from a poisoning, Lavender Brown (whom he had been dating) rushes to his bedside. She starts to call his name, which causes him to stir... and croak out Hermione's name. Lavender runs off in furious tears, while Hermione takes her place sitting by Ron. Professor Snape, presumably dragged to the hospital wing by Dumbledore, has a sour look on his face throughout as he watches the teenage love triangle drama. But Dumbledore finds it amusing.
Dumbledore: Ah, to be young, and to feel love's keen sting.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Harry is eating dinner with Molly Weasley in the kitchen when Molly's husband Arthur comes home. Unfortunately, Arthur insists on following Ministry-approved procedure to make sure neither he nor Molly are Death Eaters (he himself knows it's stupid, but has to set an example). When it turns out Arthur's password is "what Molly likes him to call her when they're alone together", an extremely embarrassed Harry starts slurping up his soup and making as much noise with the spoon as he can, but he still overhears her answer ("Mollywobbles").
- In Scavenger Alliance (prequel to Earth Girl), Blaze has just managed to prevent Tad from being thrown off the roof and locked herself with him and the other offworlders, Phoenix and Braden, in her apartment for their safety. Then Luther knocks on her door and proposes to her, making it clear he's only doing so for political reasons but still expecting her to be interested. She can't deal with this right now and tells him they'll discuss it tomorrow. The whole exchange is shouted through the locked door and the poor offworlders don't know where to look; Braden in particular is suddenly very interested in the pattern of the carpet.
- Janet Edwards is fond of this trope. In Earth and Air, an Earth Girl prequel, Jarra is flying an aeroplane above New York while her instructor and his long-term on-again off-again girlfriend argue over getting married. The girlfriend set this up on purpose so the instructor couldn't run away.
- Lampshaded in The Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy, where Leo and Calypso have a row while they and Apollo are doing the dishes at the Waystation. Played with as he realises they've had a few rows like this recently, but he wasn't paying attention because they weren't fighting about him.
Lovebirds arguingTrouble in Elysium?I'll just scrub these plates(Opening Haiku to Chapter 8)
- Invoked, played with and inverted in the Firefly episode War Stories. A kidnapped Mal and Wash have an in-depth discussion about Wash's marriage to Zoe, Zoe's history with Mal and the difficulties of shipboard romances... while they're being subjected to brutal Electric Torture by Adlai Nishka, a gangster they pissed off in a previous episode. Invoked in that Mal is doing this deliberately, and saying intentionally provocative things, to keep Wash going. Inverted in that it's the Therapy Session that's trapped, not their unintended audience, and played with in that their audience doesn't seem to mind; Nishka actually seems to have realised what Mal's up to and finds it amusing.
- Legends of Tomorrow: in "Left Behind", Ray and Kendra, who have lived together for two years after being stranded in the 50's, have a serious talk about their relationship while chained up in a dungeon in Nanda Parbat with the rest of the Legends minus Sara and Snart. Stein decides to play mediator:
Stein: It can't have been so easy for Raymond either, having to give up being The Atom...Kendra: I'm sorry, can we have a private moment?Jax: I think we all wish you'd had this moment in private!
- In a season 1 episode of MacGyver (2016), the team are on a mission when Jack and Riley get in an argument about Riley's recent actions and Jack's prior relationship with her mother. Since they're in a lift, poor Mac suddenly becomes fascinated with the panelling on the walls.
- Combined with Uncomfortable Elevator Moment in the final episode of Maniac: Mantleray and Fujita end up sharing an elevator with a badly-burned lab technician on his way to the infirmary. Eventually, the silence gets too much for Mantleray and he starts discussing his relationship with Fujita, including the hysterical blindness he briefly suffered as a result... and in the background, the still-smoldering technician can be seen trying valiantly to ignore the conversation, until at last the doors open and he makes a break for it.
- Played with and averted in Sleepy Hollow. When Jenny escapes from her psych ward, Abbie and Ichabod search for her, finding her hiding out in a cabin... where the sisters immediately pull guns on each other. Ichabod lampshades the awkwardness but is ignored, and allows the ensuing Snark-to-Snark Combat to continue for a minute before wading in and demanding that they behave like grownups.
- In Façade, you play as the unfortunate third wheel invited to have dinner with a couple whose relationship is clearly and painfully crumbling. Depending on how you act, the night can end all manner of ways, good or bad...but you're never fully in control of the situation (thanks to randomly-generated events). You're a pawn in their passive-aggressive game, and they never let you forget it.