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Tricked into Escaping

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Kirk: A mining accident wasn't good enough.
Martia: Good enough for one. Two would have looked suspicious. Killed while—
(Martia shapeshifts into Kirk)
Martia-Kirk: —trying to escape... now that's convincing enough for both.

It's usually in the interests of prisoners to escape their captivity, but sometimes, escaping is just the mistake that someone is trying to get them to make. Prisoners enjoying a suspiciously easy escape might find they've been set up for something not in their interests, and staying put might have been the smarter thing to do. At the least, it might have been a good idea to find their own way out rather than use one which was handed to them on a plate.

Some ways in which escape can be a trap:

People trying to trick prisoners into escaping might arrange a Passive Rescue (especially the anonymous kind, since open help might raise suspicion) or by deliberately enforcing poor security (Cardboard Prison, The Guards Must Be Crazy, etc.). The escape might not even be real — a Fauxtastic Voyage can be used instead, with the fugitives not actually going anywhere but the captors gain something from creating the illusion of it (perhaps including simple Gaslighting). If prisoners are reluctant to escape, they may be guilt-tripped by reminders that they're needed outside (Bring News Back, Protector Behind Bars, etc.). Some captors may in fact be running a Xanatos Gambit so that prisoners lose either way — whether prisoners escape into a trap or stay obediently locked up, it suits the captors just fine.

Contrast Self-Restraint, Play-Along Prisoner, and Unwanted Rescue, which may involve prisoners declining to escape for different reasons. Also contrast Villainous Rescue, where an escape is facilitated by an enemy, but isn't necessarily a trick.


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    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who: The Demons of Red Lodge: In "Doing Time", Governor Chaplain allows the force field surrounding the prison to go down while she hosting a TV crew and there is a large number of prisoners in the yard. Several of the prisoners make a break for it, but it is actually a set up to allow the film crew to capture how efficient she is at handling a crisis as part of her campaign for president.

    Comic Books 
  • In Starstruck, Galatia-9 is sent to prison for graffiti. The sentence she's given is on the harsh side to start with, but she gets a much worse one after she's tricked into escaping by a cell-mate who is in league with her stepsister.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Apache, Weddle wants Massai to escape while transporting him to the train so he will have an excuse to kill him. He removes the prisoners' leg irons so they can climb a steep hill. However, when one of the other prisoners makes a break for it, Weedle stupidly shoots him rather than immediately shooting Massai. Massai instead counterattacks while Weddle is distracted and overpowers Weddle and the other guard.
  • In Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), one of the cops trapped in the titular Precinct finds a tunnel that could help them escape. However, when they come out on the other end the dirty cops who trapped them there are waiting for them; they were sold out by the one who found the tunnel, and they've "escaped" into a worse position than if they'd not moved.
  • Batman: The Movie. While carrying the Penguin in the Batmobile, Batman has car trouble and stops. The Penguin then gasses the Caped Crusaders and escapes in the Batmobile. Batman and Robin jump up (they had earlier taken Anti-Penguin Gas pills) and Batman reveals that the whole situation had been a cunning plan to get the Penguin to lead them to the United Underworld headquarters.
  • In Flash Gordon, Flash is imprisoned by Barin, who has promised not to kill him but wants to find an excuse. An associate of Barin tricks Flash into escaping from captivity into a temple, where Flash finds that, through no provable fault of Barin, he's obliged to take part in a test which may well be lethal.
  • In Lock Up, Frank is told that his girlfriend is in danger, and he accepts help in escaping prison so that he can save her. However, it's all a trick by the prison warden, who has a grudge against Frank and knows that the escape attempt will cause Frank's prison term (which is nearly up) to be extended.
  • Marathon Man. The protagonist is captured and Interrogated for Nothing, only to be 'rescued' by a CIA agent who unfortunately is a Double Agent for the Big Bad. Once he finds the protagonist really doesn't know anything, he hands him right back to the mooks who were supposedly 'killed' during the rescue. The Big Bad then proceeds to torture the protagonist some more, refusing to accept what he's been told.
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves also has a Trick-and-Follow Ploy, with the elderly Duncan being allowed to escape so that he can be followed back to Robin's camp.
  • A variant occurs in Sin City, where Hartigan, currently serving time in prison, is led to believe that Nancy, the girl he saved before getting sent away, is in danger. He finally gives in to the demands of the corrupt police and confesses to the crime he was locked up for (which he did not commit) so that he can be released and save Nancy, only to find out that she was never in any danger and he led her attacker right to her.
  • In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the villains want Kirk and McCoy dead, not just imprisoned, but don't want to be too obvious about it. They arrange for the pair to meet someone with whom they can team up in an "escape attempt", which the commandant can then violently quash. Kirk eventually realises that the situation didn't add up.
    Kirk: She didn't need our help getting anywhere. Where did she get these convenient clothes? And don't tell me that flare is standard prison issue. It's to let them know where we are. [...] An accident wasn't good enough.
    Martia: Good enough for one. Two would have looked suspicious. (shape-shifts into Kirk) Killed while attempting escape? Now that's convincing for both.
  • Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope has Leia deduce that their escape from the Death Star was actually a Trick-and-Follow Ploy by Tarkin, who is more interested in the rebel base than in the princess. A certain amount of resistance was provided for the sake of plausibility, but not as much as there should have beennote .
    Leia: They let us go. It was the only reason for the ease of our escape.
    Han: Easy? You call that easy?
    Leia: They're tracking us.
  • The Stone Killer (1973). A criminal undergoing medical examination is provided with a pistol which he uses to disarm the police officer escorting him. His colleagues are waiting in the carpark with a getaway car and shout for the criminal to run to them; when he does so they kill him with a submachine gun.
  • Wedlock features a prison where escape is prevented by explosive collars which go off if prisoners get too far from their assigned partner (who could be anyone - they're not told). One such prisoner is allowed to learn the identity of her partner, enabling the two of them to escape together. This is what the warden wants, since one of them will lead him to a stash of loot.

  • Discworld
    • In Interesting Times, Rincewind and the Red Army are imprisoned, but soon find that their cells have been unlocked, the guards have been killed, and weapons have been provided. There's even a map to the Emperor's chambers. Rincewind knows perfectly well that this is Too Good to Be True, and that the Red Army is being set up, but the others take a bit of convincing.
    • In The Fifth Elephant, Vimes finds a particularly nasty weapon left for him in his prison cell. Thinking about it, though, he decides that whoever put it there is just trying to get him killed. Even armed, he wouldn't get far - but because He's Got a Weapon!, his escape attempt would be more likely to end in death than recapture. The weapon he's given is a miniature crossbow with only one shot; you can use it to kill somebody, but is otherwise useless (and killing a guard would be politically disastrous). He ends up throwing the weapon away but escaping anyway.
    • In Thud!, there's a similar situation. The people who've chained up Detritus the troll know perfectly well that the chains aren't strong enough, but are trying to provoke him into breaking them so that they have a justification to kill him. He doesn't fall for it.
    • A dark example is in Monstrous Regiment. Polly's squad takes an enemy soldier hostage, and their inexperienced lieutenant insists that he be treated honorably. Unfortunately they're in the process of infiltrating behind enemy lines, making the prisoner an enormous liability. So Sergeant Jackrum makes sure to put the squad's most inept member on guard duty, and sure enough the soldier tries to escape, giving them an excuse to kill him. Polly calls Jackrum out on this but can't think of a better way to handle the situation.
  • Gor:
    • In Priest-Kings of Gor Sarm, one of the eponymous Priest-Kings, imprisons Tarl but then breaks him out of his cage. While they're talking Sarm not-so-surrepetitiously and precisely damages the cage Tarl was in. Sarm claims that he's destroying the cage so that nobody will ever be trapped in it again, but it's obvious to Tarl that Sarm is making it look like Tarl broke out from the inside.
    • In Tribesmen of Gor Tarl is framed for an attempted assassination, then broken out by one of his accusers, who gives him a camel and waterbags. (Tribesmen takes place in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to Beduin-era Saudi Arabia.) Tarl's camel has been boobytrapped with a poisoned needle hidden in its hoof so that it would collapse shortly after leaving town and the water is spiked with salt; however, Tarl anticipates this and finds the needle & dumps the water.
    • In Players of Gor Tarl breaks out of a third cell at the urging of his cellmate Nim-Nim, who it turns out is in the employ of the bad guys. They wanted Tarl to escape so they could hunt him down and kill him.
  • Murder in Coweta County: In The Film of the Book, Turner initially thinks he's been released from jail by Dirty Cop Sheriff Collier for lack of evidence, until he runs into Wallace and his men waiting for him outside, and they make it clear that they're about to kill him under the protection of the law.
    Wallace: No boy, you got it wrong. You ain't been released. You're escaping.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Ramsey Snow does the Hope Spot version to Theon Greyjoy, in order to break him. He enjoys Hunting the Most Dangerous Game, so hunting down a prisoner is something he's got plenty of experience in.
  • In the first Able Team novel "Tower of Terror", the terrorists plan to blow up the eponymous tower, but their radio detonator is destroyed by a stray shot. So when it's time to escape, their leader locks the hostages in a room with a fake Time Bomb, with a tripwire on the other side of the door. When the hostages break down the door to escape, they'll trigger the real bomb.
  • In the third The Hunger Games novel, Gale and other members of the rescue party sent to retrieve Peeta and some other prisoners note it was too easy, that it was as if the Capital let them go. It turns out they brainwashed Peeta into wanting to kill Katniss.
  • The main plot of the Margaret Weis novel Hung Out is main character Xris helping some mob bosses escape from their Hellhole Prison. They think he was hired by one of their subordinates, but he was actually working for the government to get them to lead him (and by extension government investigators) to the location of their secret financial information so that the mob can be shut down for good.
  • In Always Coming Home, the imprisoned son of The Condor was killed after trying to escape due to being betrayed by the people who pretended to help him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played with Blake's 7. In "Terminal", Avon is searching for Blake when he's shot by a Tranquilizer Dart. He's then placed in a Lotus-Eater Machine which feeds him an illusion where he escapes and finds Blake, only to be recaptured. It turns out Blake was never there, but he's then taken to the Big Bad who offers a Hostage for MacGuffin trade — Blake for the Liberator. Given that he apparently found Blake on his own, Avon believes the lie.
  • In Bugs episode 2x16 "Gold Rush", Ed is caught by the bad guys while investigating their anti-gold bioweapon "thiobacillius auric oxydans". He escapes, but doesn't notice they've hidden a bioweapon charge inside his dictaphone until it's too late.
  • In the Burn Notice episode "Comrades", Michael and Co. are trying to rescue a woman from The Mafiya, and in order to do so they kidnap and imprison their lead human trafficker, Ivan. They finally find the man's safehouse and rescue the girls after Michael, undercover as Ivan's cellmate, convinces him to break out and move the girls to another safehouse.
  • Doctor Who. In "Frontier in Space", the Doctor is given a life sentence on a lunar penal colony. A political prisoner is planning an escape aided by a sympathetic guard, but it turns out to be a setup with them trapped in an airlock with the air being pumped out. Ironically it's the Doctor's Arch-Enemy The Master who turns up to save them, posing as an official sent to extradite the Doctor for other crimes. When the prison governor tries to throw the Doctor into solitary confinement for a year, the Master threatens to call for an inquiry into the 'escape' unless the Doctor is released into his custody. Later the Master allows Jo Grant to escape and send a radio message for help; it's not a Subspace Ansible so only the spacecraft the Doctor is in is close enough to respond.
  • Farscape. In "Dream a Little Dream", the villain sends someone to break Zhaan out of prison (which she was only in because they'd secretly arranged it). They don't intend her to get far—rather, they're committing a murder and want to ensure there's a "dangerous escapee" in the area who they can pin it on.
  • In Game of Thrones, Ramsay Snow engineers a fake escape for Theon Greyjoy, partly to play good cop and get information, partly for shits and giggles. He leads Theon back into his cell after he learns what he wants, and even kills some of his own men as part of the deception.
  • Get Smart: Max is captured by KAOS and brainwashed into shooting the Chief after their next chess game. A very frustrating day ensues for his captors as they try to trick him into "escaping," with Max refusing to take each opportunity for the wrong reasons.
  • In the mini-series A Man Called Intrepid a female agent is allowed to escape by the Gestapo, then secretly recaptured so they can send transmissions in her name back to London.
  • On The Mentalist, an investigator who was looking into the Blake Association, a secret organization of corrupt law enforcement officials, kidnaps Jane, tortures someone else and murders two others in his quest, and is arrested. After being driven away in a police van, it stops and he is ordered to exit the vehicle. It turns out that the man he had taken into his confidence over the investigation is a part of the Association. He is given the chance to run away, but they both know that the corrupt official is just going to shoot him down from the back while he "attempts" escape.
  • Mission: Impossible: In "The Confession", the IMF creates a Chained Heat situation by handcuffing Rollin (posing as a criminal) to a captured assassin for transport. They then provide an opportunity for an escape, knowing that the assassin will head to his backer and drag Rollin along with him.
  • In one episode of Monk, Monk's half-brother escapes from jail using a plan created by one of the prison guards. What he didn't know was that the guard was trying to frame the escapee for the murder of another guard.
  • One episode of NCIS had DiNozzo go undercover as an inmate cuffed to another and then fake a jailbreak (he even pretended to suffocate the guard, who was in on it) so that they could track the other inmate to his cache of stolen goods.
  • On NCIS: Los Angeles, Sam Hanna goes undercover in prison to help a terrorist leader escape; the idea is that said terrorist will then lead Sam to his followers, allowing NCIS to attack the camp, kill the terrorists, and rescue the boy they've taken hostage.
  • NYPD Blue has a version in which the "trap" is just letting the jailers off the hook. The cops have made an illegal arrest but they don't want to tell the arrestee that. So Sipowicz goes into the holding area where the perp is locked in a cage, opens it up to talk to him, then starts acting like a crazy bad cop and complaining about the heat. He opens the window along with the locked fence covering the window (ostensibly to get some air circulation), continues to yell at the perp, and then stalks out "forgetting" to close the window or locking him up again. The perp takes the opportunity to escape out the window, which is what they wanted him to do in order to get him out of the station!
  • In Once Upon a Time, Mary Margaret gets framed for murder, but is then slipped a key. She uses it, but is then persuaded to return, since escaping from custody would add a real crime to the fictitious one. That turns out to be the motive of the person who gave her the key.
  • The Pretender: Jarod is re-captured by Centre operatives in one episode. Knowing him to be a master of escape, they anticipate him breaking out through ductwork leading to a manhole on the edge of the property and set up a cage above it. When he does indeed attempt to escape that way, they're waiting for him around the cage's perimeter. Cue him screaming, "NOOOO!"
  • The Prisoner (1967):
    • In the episode "The Chimes of Big Ben", another prisoner convinces Number Six to join her in an escape attempt. It turns out to be a ploy to make him think he's escaped so that he'll let his guard down and reveal why he resigned.
    • In "Many Happy Returns" Number 6 wakes up one morning to find the Village entirely deserted of people. He creates a raft and floats to England, but is eventually tricked into returning to the Village and being re-captured. The whole thing was a plot to make him despair of ever escaping.
    • Inverted in "Checkmate". Number Six is able to identify several prisoners who are not informers and plan a genuine escape. However, they become convinced this trope is in play and turn on him in the belief that he's an Agent Provocateur.
  • The Professionals. In "Fall Girl", Bodie is framed for an assassination by British intelligence. Cowley makes a deal where Bodie will be allowed to escape and go into hiding. However they double-cross Cowley and try the "shot while trying to escape" version. Fortunately Bodie is suspicious and evades the trap, but having been apparently betrayed by his own boss makes Bodie unwilling to trust anyone in CI5.
  • In the Red Dwarf three-parter "Back in the Red", the Dwarfers, accused of stealing Starbug by the resurrected crew, are put in a VR where they're given a chance to escape, in order to see if their actions match their unbelievable story. They exhonerate themselves, but in the process implicate themselves in reading the ship's confidential files and using them for their own gain, which carries exactly the same penalty.
  • In the episode, "Whom Gods Destroy" of Star Trek: The Original Series, Spock apparently breaks Kirk out of his cell and gets him to the communications room to contact the Enterprise. In this episode, since they were going to a penal colony, a code phrase had been arranged that had to be spoken prior to beaming anyone up. "Spock" turns out to be a shapeshifter, Garth of Izar, and the escape was to get Kirk to reveal the code. He didn't fall for it.
  • Heavily implied in retrospect in Star Trek: Discovery when Captain Lorca is captured by the Klingons, but escapes with fellow Starfleet officer Ash Tyler; it turns out that Tyler is actually a Klingon who's been physically and psychologically modified to be a sleeper agent aboard USS Discovery.
  • In the third season of Strike Back, when Dalton can't get any useful information out of Sophia, his associate Kamali pretends to help her escape so that they can try to learn something by following her.


    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dark Eldar of Warhammer 40,000 occasionally do this, so as to track the escaping prisoner to his base, then show up and slaughter everyone, just to see the look on his face.

    Video Games 
  • In the Myst novelization The Book of Ti'Ana, after Veovis has been arrested for insurrection, he finds a linking book that seems to lead to an escape route, but eventually takes him back to his cell. It was a test to see if he would try to flee.
  • In Rimworld, this can be used to get rid of a troublesome or unproductive colonist without upsetting the remaining colonists with an execution or banishment. Simply throw the colonist in prison, then leave the door open. They will inevitably try to escape, and then... they're gone, and nobody objects.

  • In The Order of the Stick, Miko Miyazaki thinks she's escaping from Xykon, but in fact, Xykon wants her to return to Azure City so that he can magically track her to the thing he's after.
    Xykon: So? Did she escape yet or what?
    Redcloak: She's riding off into the proverbial sunset as we speak.
    Xykon: Well it's about time! I was starting to think that I'd researched that "Xykon's Moderately-Escapable Forcecage" spell for nothing.
  • Rusty and Co. has a prisoner a She's about to try the fake emergency exit. So many bees!!!

    Web Original 
  • In Zap Dramatic's Ambition, Ted manages his multiple escapes because the villains arrange it. They want to frame him for their murders, and need him loose for that.

    Western Animation 
  • A spectacular one is pulled by David Xanatos in Gargoyles, who uses a ridiculously human robot Coyote to break out the group known as the Pack, sans Fox as the former can no longer stomach the gang's villainy and stays behind. Of course, Xanatos doesn't care about the prisoners, who are pawns in a test of the combat mechanics of Coyote. He's not even concerned about Coyote's devastating loss... the true purpose of the jail break was for Fox to stay behind, impressing the parole board enough to grant her an early parole. To sum it up, Xanatos used this to effect a real (and more importantly, legal) jail break.
  • Jonny Quest. In the episode "Dragons of Ashida", Dr. Ashida arranges for the door to the Quests' cell to be left open so they can escape. He plans for his dragons to be released to hunt them after they escape.
  • The Loonatics Unleashed capture Ophiuchus Sam easily while he was trying to rob a runaway train. The Loonatics deduce that Sam couldn't have masterminded the heist, so they make it easy for him to escape. Sam is such an idiot that the Loonatics have to set him out at the curb while he's asleep to effect the Trick-and-Follow Ploy.
  • Transformers has tried this scheme more than once.
    • In The Transformers "More than Meets the Eye Part 3," the Autobots develop a plan to lure the Decepticons into a trap by seeming to blab in the presence of their current Decepticon prisoner, Ravage, about a base full of fuel they need. They then arrange for Ravage believe he has escaped on his own to send that bait to Megatron. Unfortunately, Megatron figures out the ruse and prepares a plan of his own to keep the Autobots busy while his own followers raid the real base.
    • Transformers: Prime episode "Partners": Arcee is guarding Starscream who is imprisoned with multiple stasis cuffs but Starscream cannot help shooting his mouth off about killing Arcee's previous partner, Cliffjumper, so Arcee tosses him the key to his cuffs knowing with a bit of goading back Starscream will make a break for it and give her a reason to execute him during his escape attempt. Unfortunately for her, Bumblebee stumbles upon her trying to frame Starscream's murder as an escape attempt.
  • In season six of Ninjago, after Jay has been kidnapped by Nadakhan the Djinn (who needs him to make his third wish in order to properly capture him), Jay believes he has convinced one of Nadakhan's underlings to help him escape and join the rebellion, but it turns out to be a Hope Spot designed to break his spirit. Nadakhan even says he can't believe Jay was naive enough to fall for it.