Winter Soldier: [in Russian] Ready to comply.
Hello, Troper. Would you like to know about the Trigger Phrase? Good. Then just sit back and relax.
The Trigger Phrase is a post-hypnotic suggestion used primarily in Speculative Fiction. The phrase can activate a Deep Cover Agent or Manchurian Agent, so hidden that the person may not even know they are an agent. The phrase can practically be anything, even a piece of music. It's like a Brown Note specifically programmed into an individual.
Are you feeling okay, Troper? Do you wish me to continue? Good.
The Trigger Phrase may also be used to activate latent physical prowess (or, to use the layman's terms, "asskicking"). A Berserk Button that not even the characters themselves know about, used when situations are about to get dangerous. Sometimes, it will help them remember something.
Is everything all right, Troper? There is no need to go on. There is only one thing left to say about the Trigger Phrase. And that's this:
In each shadowy corner there lurketh a ghost.
- Agents of the Schwarz organization from Mai-Otome are triggered when they receive a letter in a black envelope.
- Gwen Khan uses two on Melfina in Outlaw Star. "It was you who broke my Meissen plate" deactivates her, while "Breakfast is signaled with a silver spoon" undoes it. Since Hazanko had Melfina created by Khan in the first place, he also knows the trigger phrases and later uses "It was you who broke my Meissen plate" to ensure she can't resist him.
- Ironically inverted in Gunsmith Cats. Mafia boss Goldy brainwashes her assassins into blind devotion with a designer drug named "Special K" that renders users highly susceptible to suggestion, so no phrase is needed. However, while she's working over heroine Rally Vincent, the latter manages an escape attempt while still under the drug's influence, during which she programs a trigger phrase into herself to counter Goldy's influence. The ironic part is that it's not a spoken phrase, but the distinctive sound of the trigger on her highly-customized personal pistol being pulled. How's that for a literal interpretation?
- One example forms the basis of the plot of Suehirogari's ero-manga TAG — the main character, her friends, and a large number of other victims are all given a post hypnotic suggestion by a gypsy fortune teller they visit: Whenever they are kissed by a naked woman, they find themselves stripping nude and staying that way until they can kiss another woman who is also affected by the hypnotic suggestions and pass on the condition. In other words, it's a hypnotically enforced game of tag where "it" has to stay naked. Until they do pass it on, their bodies won't let them even touch clothing despite themselves. This also means that the victim they kiss has to stay naked next...
- Done in chilling fashion in Noir, in which Chloe deploys Kirika's "True Noir" personality by saying "receive the final guidance" — and then shooting her.
- Mahou Sensei Negima! doesn't actually have this occur (yet), but when the cast are dealing with a Manchurian Agent in their midst, the team mercenary notes that they can't rule out the possibility of a Trigger Phrase.
- The Extended soldiers in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny each possess a "Block Word" which is supposed to rein them in. However, in practice the phrases simply seemed to drive the Extendeds into a terrified frenzy. Also crosses over into The Password Is Always "Swordfish", since the Alliance chose stupidly common words - "die/death" for Stella and "mother" for Auel (we never learn what Sting's is).
- An important part of the plot in Last Exile concerns the hunt for four of these, along with the girl they trigger.
- In Code Geass, Lelouch uses time-delay geass commands regularly, for various stimuli, including a speech he would later give, a series of motions in combat and a hand position.
- A variation appears in Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Stone Ocean: DIO's diary describes a sequence of fourteen secret, nonsensical phrases * that, according to the diary, are necessary to "achieve heaven". Indeed, Big Bad Enrico Pucci utters this sequence of words to Green Baby, which then fuses with his Stand Whitesnake to form C-Moon.
- Anime-exclusive Ijuinn Kotaro of Rosario + Vampire has the magical ability to make anybody fall in love with him and obey him by uttering "Je t'aime!" ("I love you!" in French).
- Sayer of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's says "The entrance to the Underworld is on the witch's island" to Akiza, which unleashes the Black Rose Witch.
- In Doubt, Mitsuki's Brainwashed and Crazy persona is activated when hearing the phrase, "For the one I love."
- "Croatoa" from 100 Bullets is something of a reverse: It turns off the Fake Memories that allowed the Minutemen to live peaceful, civilian lives, so they awaken as the fearsome hitmen they originally were.
- "Kimota" functions as this in the first issue of Miracleman, instantly restoring the hero's memories when he says it.
- In Justice League International, the despotic ruler of Bialya, the Queen Bee, triggers Blue Beetle with the phrase "Bialya, my Bialya." Once the heroes have figured out what is going on, it's not very difficult to determine the responsible party.
- Teen Titans Spotlight featured a superhuman psychiatrist who was brainwashing her clients into becoming secret assassins; she used the trigger words "Goldilocks", "Rumpelstiltkin", and possibly "Snow White" to activate and deactivate them.
- "He loves you" in both Secret Invasion and the Twisted Toyfare Theatre parody of same. "He loves you." "Who, Northstar? I know, it's just—HEY!"
- Batman set up an alternate "emergency personality" for himself that was triggered by the phrase "Zur En Arrh." This is taken from a story in Batman #133 in 1958 where Batman encounters his crimefighting counterpart from the planet Zur-En-Arrh. In the context of the story, it is revealed that the phrase is a bastardization of Thomas Wayne's last words, "Zorro in Arkham."
- Batman had another self-administered version in a JLA storyline. He was designing weapons to take out his own teammates if necessary. In order to keep the project hidden from Martian Manhunter's telepathy, he had the knowledge of his plans mentally "buried," and it could only be recalled when he heard a trigger phrase from his bat-computer. A different trigger phrase would "re-bury" the project in his subconscious if MM came within telepathy range of the Batcave.
- In the Dethklok vs. The Goon one-shot, General Krozier activates Dr. Rockso's programming to kill Dethklok with the nonsense phrase "peaches valentine." This just happens to be the name of a character in The Goon. Hilarity (and murder) ensues.
- Reformed, but Not Tamed X-Men former villainess Emma Frost used her powers to shut down two armed guards' pain centers after a fight with Wolverine, which seems like a nice thing to do, but then she stuck something extra in:
Emma Frost: "And every time you hear the words 'parsley', 'intractable' or 'longitude' you will vomit uncontrollably for 48 hours."
- Emma used this same trick in A+X #13 while on a personal mission with Black Widow, with a slight twist to it. Rather than a trigger phrase, she used her telepathy to implant a pervert (by the name of Frank) who was blackmailing her with a supposed sex tape with a trigger sight. Now, every time he sees a pair of bare breasts, he projectile vomits. Every time. Natasha finds it so amusing that she feints having left something behind just to go back and flash the guy again.
- In the same series, X-23 has a trigger scent. Depending on the Writer, she's either learning to fight it or is instantly turned into an Ax-Crazy berserker who will kill the person marked with the scent (or sometimes pretty much anyone in the vicinity) without hesitation.
- Ultimate Marvel:
- The Authority: The military-industrial complex who built Seth, the hillbilly cyborg killing machine with over 1,000 super powers naturally set up a four-word kill-switch phrase. It's never actually used. Instead, the team's Reality Warper alters history so a less aggressive American administration came to power, and thus Seth was never created. "Welcome to the Oval Office, President Gore."
- During the Teen Titans/Outsiders crossover "The Insiders", Superboy was brainwashed by Lex Luthor, who used the words "Vincere Aut Mori" ("Conquer or die" in Latin).
- In one surprisingly disturbing Mickey Mouse comic, the trigger word is "time". The villain (a psychologist, who sought revenge on Mickey for putting his son in jail) deliberately chose a fairly common word, so the trigger would go off often enough. It made Mickey instantly fall asleep and have nightmares, causing him to be unable to tell reality from dream and eroding his confidence.
- In The Transformers Megaseries, Megatron programmed Sixshot to shut down if he hears the command "Reset: Pi-Orion-Actual-Orbit. Engage." Starscream uses this command to disable Sixshot after the latter defects to the Reapers.
- Occurs in The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: While digging around Decepticon Super Warrior Overlord's mind for information, Chromedome implants the phrase "Til all are One" on the off chance that if Overlord broke free (which he does) and if Rodimus says the phrase (which he will), there would be some way to stop him. The phrase triggers Overlord's intense fear of failure, briefly rendering him helpless and unable to fight.
- In Violine, the word "fatalitas" is used as a trigger to snap someone out of hypnosis.
- Wonder Woman Vol 1: Hypnota places the trigger circumstance of Wonder Woman's schedule being spoken about in poor Serva's head, which causes Serva to pick the lock of the safehouse and return to her tormentor to give intel about Wonder Woman's location to Hypnota.
- In Kyon: Big Damn Hero, Haruhi gives Kyon one of these in case he ever needs to undo her Memory Gambit.
- When Darrel is drugged in RWBY: Reckoning, the phrase "Queen calls the knight" puts him under the control of Cinder Fall, while the counter phrase is "Time to wake up".
- In The Perils of Innocence, a memory-charmed Dumbledore remembers that the Potters switched Secret Keepers when Sirius shouts "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country" during his much-delayed trial.
- Reboot (Miraculous Ladybug): Master Fu gave Marinette a series of words to tell his younger self to let him know that he sent her back in time.
Master Fu: If you are from the future, what's the password?
Marinette: Veni. Vidi. Amavi.note
- Lex Luthor seems to like these in Teen Titans: Together for Tomorrow. Similar to the source material, he installed one for Superboy: He's compelled to obey any command if the speaker calls him "My Diogenes". Mercy Graves, Luthor's gynoid secretary, turns into a Killer Robot whenever he calls her "Ms. Graves" instead of "Mercy".
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged: In Broly Abridged, rather than seeing Goku being what sets him off like in the original movie, Broly's wrath is unleashed by him hearing the name "Kakarot" (Goku's Saiyan name): His father Paragus mentions that he destroyed South Galaxy after Paragus said it, and Vegeta saying it repeatedly is what triggers Broly's transformation into the Legendary Super Saiyan.
- Scootertrix the Abridged has a downplayed example in The Bird, who reacts to "Hello" (or "Hey," or anything that could be interpreted as a greeting) by saying "Hello" herself, as an almost Pavlovian reflex. In episode 5, it gets lampshaded by Gilda: "Is that like, your trigger word?" And in later episodes, Twilight realizes that The Bird doesn't always respond to her own name, so she just says "Hello" when she needs The Bird's attention. It's revealed in Scootertrix the Abridged: The Movie that The Bird's a retired Wonderbolt, and "Hello" was her unit's call to attention.
- Son of the Sannin has "The time has come for the nine to become one" implanted by Tobi using Kotoamatsukami. The first time, he sends Deidara and Kisame to use it on Yagura, so he willingly turns himself to Akatsuki. Later on, he himself uses it on Danzo Shimura, which he uses to get the Rinnegan eye before ordering him to kill himself with a Reverse Tetragram Sealing once he's fulfilled his purpose.
- Serenity: River is activated by a subliminal message in a Fruity Oaty Bar commercial, but is put to sleep by Simon saying "Eta kuram na smekh," Russian for "That's for hens to laugh at" (i.e. "That's ridiculous.").
- The Manchurian Candidate:
- The original version of has both a Trigger Phrase ("Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?") and a Trigger Card: the Queen of Diamonds.
- In the remake the agents get personalised triggers: their names and old ranks, phrased in the form "Sergeant Shaw. Sergeant Raymond Shaw. Raymond Prentiss Shaw." And later...Major Marco. Major Bennett Marco. Bennett Ezekiel Marco.
- The Lathe of Heaven: George Orr is hypnotized so his "effective" (reality changing) dreams can be controlled. The Trigger Phrase is "Antwerp."
- Telefon (1977):
- KGB sleeper agents in the U.S. were brainwashed via drug-induced hypnosis to forget their true identities and live as Americans until they heard a line from Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", followed by their Russian names. When they heard it, they would destroy a pre-programmed target and then kill themselves. The Trigger Phrase was:
"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. Remember [real Russian name], miles to go before you sleep."
- The technique is demonstrated for Charles Bronson's KGB protagonist using the phrase "Cleopatra says there will be snow from the west." This is the scene being spoofed in the first The Naked Gun movie (where the beeping of a watch was the trigger) when Vincent Ludwig's secretary tries to shoot Pahpshmir with an empty gun.
- KGB sleeper agents in the U.S. were brainwashed via drug-induced hypnosis to forget their true identities and live as Americans until they heard a line from Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", followed by their Russian names. When they heard it, they would destroy a pre-programmed target and then kill themselves. The Trigger Phrase was:
- The Ipcress File (1964): "Now listen to me. Shoot the traitor Ross." Fortunately Michael Caine's character was not in the brainwashing chamber long enough, so is able to 'distract' himself by striking his injured hand against the wall, then shooting the real Double Agent.
- In A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, speaking a trigger phrase will cause an android child to permanently and unconditionally love the speaker.
- Derek Zoolander will kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia when he hears the song Relax.
- "Constantinople" and "Madagascar" in The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
- The toggle for Hawkins fencing abilities in The Court Jester is a snap of the fingers. OK, not exactly a phrase, but if music counts...
- "Freeze!" and "Bullshit" in Now You See Me.
- In The Hot Rock, a bank guard is hypnotised into handing over the diamond upon hearing the phrase "Afghanistan banana stand''.
- Pretty Cool and its sequel love this:
- "You two will have the most intense orgasm you've ever felt, when you hear the word 'now'."
- "Whenever you talk about money, you will play with your boobs, and not even know you're doing it."
- "The Big O will happen to you whenever you hear the word "in", and will stop whenever you hear the word "out"."
- American Ultra: "Chariot progressive listen. Mandelbrot set is in motion. Echo Choir has been breached, we are fielding the ball." Subverted in that the target responds only with utter bafflement. Double Subverted when, soon after, he effortlessly (and much to his surprise) kills two assassins sent after him.
- Captain America: Civil War reveals that the Winter Soldier had a string of trigger words, used by HYDRA before missions as something of a reset code to see that he was still obedient to them and did not remember his previous identity. It's revealed that they still work perfectly, ensuring Zemo successfully reverts Bucky to an obedient fighting machine for a short time. For the curious, the words are "Longing, rusted, seventeen, daybreak, furnace, nine, benign, homecoming, one, freight car," in Russian and in that order. The Soldier replies "Ready to comply," also in Russian. At the end of the film, the Winter Soldier goes into hiding in Wakanda to be deprogrammed.
- In Get Out (2017), the villain hypnotized The Hero one night he thought he had a bad dream and implanted the command whereupon any time he heard the sound of a spoon clinking a teacup three times, he would collapse onto the floor, paralyzed, while his consciousness fell into the "Sunken Place."
- Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith: "Execute Order 66." And thousands of clone soldiers open fire on their Jedi generals.
- The Dune franchise likes this trope:
- In Dune, the Atreides slave gladiator who fought Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen received a post-hypnotic suggestion to have his muscles go slack when he heard the word "scum". The Bene Gesserit also do this to people they consider dangerous: one Trigger Phrase they use is "Uroshnor".
- "She is gone." Upon hearing that, Hayt is supposed to kill Paul. He refuses, awakening the memories of Duncan Idaho.
- "Secher Nbiw." Spoken by Leto II it causes Ghanima's self-induced mental 'dam' to break, restoring her correct memories and freeing her from the threat of possession.
- In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Dirk hypnotizes Richard, and implants the suggestion that whenever he hears the phrase "my maiden aunt from Winnipeg" he should immediately take off all his clothes and jump in the nearest canal. It's a roundabout way of making a point about ghostly possession and free will.
- Dean Koontz novel Night Chills. People implanted with conditioning through subliminal hypnosis are activated when they hear the Trigger Phrase "I am the key." They then reply, "I am the lock."
- Koontz uses this again in False Memory. The villain has different trigger phrases for each person under his control, in the form of haiku. He speaks a name, the subject replies "I'm listening", then he gives each line of a haiku, with the subject giving a programmed response to each line in turn.
- Robert A. Heinlein:
- Starship Troopers. Mobile Infantry troopers are given a post-hypnotic suggestion to go to sleep upon hearing the Trigger Phrase "Prepare to sleep, one, two, three."
- Citizen of the Galaxy. Thorby Baslim is hypnotically conditioned to memorize several different messages, so he can repeat each one to a specific starship captain. The man who conditioned him tested Thorby's recall of each message using the Trigger Phrase of the name of each captain and ship.
- In the book that is sometimes called the Take That! to Starship Troopers, The Forever War has a hypnotic phrase that is used on the conscripts for their first battle, as the military command isn't confident that they will kill the enemy. It works too well, as the soldiers start blasting everything in sight.
- Star Wars Legends:
- A B-plot in Solo Command is the presence of several brainwashed assassins throughout the New Republic: each has their own trigger phrase, all somewhat bizarre. "Wedge Antilles hops on one transparisteel leg" means "Kill Wedge Antilles," for instance. "The Wookiees are dancing in the parlor" means "Kill everyone between you and Admiral Ackbar, then kill him." Apparently the triggers are different for everyone.
- Later in Solo Command, Kirney Slane uses a trigger phrase to load the backup memory of her astromech droid, Tonin, which she had wiped shortly before her infiltration. (The phrase is the full definition of Tonin's name.) This is part of an inverse Memory Gambit, and one that Slane hadn't really liked doing to Tonin; it's implied that Tonin doesn't mind too much (and may have consented to this treatment to begin with).
- A later book has a man sent to deliver a message simply by his presence - he's been known to be in a secret prison for years - with a device implanted that floods him with poison, killing him instantly. The device is triggered when someone recognizes the man and says his name.
- In Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, the school has a hypnotist guidance counselor who cures people of whatever it is they've been sent to him for, but also implants an unrelated trigger phrase just For the Evulz. In the chapter "A Story with a Disappointing Ending," Paul gets sent to him for pulling Leslie's pigtails and is hypnotized into thinking they're deadly rattlesnakes... and also that when she says the word "pencil" her ears will turn into delicious candy which he must try to eat. He's snapped out of it and sent back to class, and the hypnotism successfully prevents him from pulling Leslie's pigtails. Then she breaks her pencil. She two classmates have a whole discussion about it without using the word "pencil," even though Paul interjects twice asking what they're talking about. Several chapters later, the class is dropping objects out the window to prove that everything falls at the same speed, including a pencil sharpener. Because everyone's been saying "pencil sharpener" throughout the chapter, you think nothing of it at the end when Leslie does...
- In The Miserable Mill, book four of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the word "Lucky" is used as a trigger to the point of parody, since the good guys catch onto it and both sides flip Klaus back and forth in obeying their commands. The word "Inordinate" deactivates the state.
- The eleventh book of The Dresden Files, Turn Coat, features one of the antagonists using the Trigger Phrase "The end is nigh." to take control of several Wardens and members of the White Council of Wizards.
- In the YA novel The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Jenna was, after a nearly fatal car accident, placed into an artificial body with a reconstructed "brain" made of computer chips, which was programmed with a trigger phrase as a "suggestion" to use in case anything went wrong: "Go to your room, Jenna." If said, this phrase would cause Jenna to automatically walk to her room, whether she wanted to or not - though she learns to resist it eventually.
- In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 short story "The Returned", the Doom Eagles fear that Tarikus, even pure of taint in mind and body, might still have taint in his soul, which might be triggered by a phrase.
- Becomes very important late in the Honor Harrington series, though with Trigger conditions rather than phrases. The control affected by the nano-tech is so complete that it can convince the personal bodyguard of an Andermani Royal to kill the man he's guarding, to convince a Manticoran flag lieutenant to kill his flag officer, and convince a man to commit suicide by Mach 2 impact into a cliff-wall while in his air-car. Even worse, the victims are aware of what they're doing and unable to stop themselves from acting.
- In the Emily Rodda novel Rowan and the Keeper of the Crystal, it is revealed in the end that Doss had been brainwashed by the Zebak years previously, the trigger phrase being the words that officially made him Keeper of the Crystal. He got better.
- In the book The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake, the gang hires a specialist (a hypnotist) to plant the phrase "Afghanistan banana stand" in the mind of a bank employee. Later, one of the gang enters the bank and says this, and the employee helps them to retrieve the eponymous gem.
- Used in The Stand, Glen telling Tom "it's time" as in 'time to go West', after hypnotizing him earlier.
- In Mortal Engines: Infernal Devices, a Stalker is programmed to assassinate the leader of the Green Storm when it hears the phrase "The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew tree are of equal duration".
- Mindwarp has a character, a time-traveler named Toni, whose powers first trigger when trying on a dress, looking at herself in a changing room mirror. She travels back in time eight years for a little while, then returns to the present outside the store, and gets busted for shoplifting. Later at home, she tries the dress on again and goes back in time eight years to when she was five and her mother was still alive. After speaking together, the mom calls in five-year-old Toni and implants a hypnotic command to come back to this day when seeing 13-year-old Toni in that dress. Later, she uses her mugshot from her shoplifting arrest to escape a jam, and rearm in the mall.
- In The Southern Reach Trilogy, the psychologist implanted the expedition members with post-hypnotic suggestions, which she can activate using trigger phrases woven into her speach.
- In Mind Games, Danielle can only assume her Magical Catgirl form with the help of a Mesmerist. Fortunately, one of the other characters is a Mesmerist, who implants her with a trigger phrase both for becoming a Magical Catgirl and for becoming human again. However, because the Mesmerist has a weird sense of humor, the phrases are, respectively, "Here, kitty kitty" to transform to a catgirl and "byebye, kitty" to change back to a human. Danielle is not amused.
- In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Whitehall's HYDRA brainwashing is activated by the phrase:
HYDRA Agent: Take a deep breath. Calm your mind. You know what is best. What is best is you comply. Compliance will be rewarded.
Subject: I am happy to comply.
- A telepathically delivered Trigger Phrase revealed Talia Winters as a sleeper assassin in Babylon 5.
- Blake's 7:
- The location of Star One is revealed by saying the phrase "A fool knows everything and nothing" (the co-ordinates were implanted in the mind of the Charl's Fool).
- When providing a spacecraft for renegade officer Travis, Servalan orders the cyborg crew be mind-wiped and programmed to respond to the orders of the man who gives the word "Outlaw".
- In Big Wolf on Campus, Tommy is brainwashed by the Evil Werewolf Syndicate to obey any command preceded by two specific, secret words. Due to a minion's badly timed interruption, those words end up being "Pizza's here." (Yes, hilarity does ensue.)
- In season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Spike's trigger is a song his mother used to sing when he was a child, the English folk song "Early One Morning".
- Used in an episode of Cheers, where it turns out that Frasier has implanted some in Lilith. "Tambourine" causes her to strip, and "tractor" makes her sing.
- Children of Dune. The Emperor Muad'dib is presented with two people as gifts — a resurrected Duncan Idaho and the dwarf spy Bijaz. However Duncan later discovers he's actually a Manchurian Agent under the control of Bijaz.
Duncan: You are Tleilaxu.
Bijaz: Born and bred in the same tank.
Just we two in the same tank. First me, then you.
Duncan: You're trying to bring out the violence in me!
Bijaz: Oh, no. Not yet.
The script is written, but the stage is not set.
But one day soon, the Emperor will come to you,
A mask of grief obscuring his face.
And he'll say,
She is gone.
And then you will finally know what you're expected to do.
Now it's time to forget what you remember when day becomes night.
Forgetting is not having till the words are right...
- Columbo: In "How to Dial a Murder", the murderer phones the Victim of the Week and tricks him into saying "Rosebud" loudly, which is the trigger phrase to cause the Right Hand Attack Dogs to maul him to death.
- Played with in the mini-series Confessional (based on the thriller by Jack Higgins). A KGB assassin whose cover identity is a god-fearing Catholic has his conditioning activated when he says the Lord's Prayer. Unlike other examples it's not a hidden personality, but a means of psychological reinforcement which breaks down after The Handler is ordered to kill his protégé — he discovers that it's difficult to tell an assassin to say his prayers when he's drowning you in the river.
- Doctor Who:
- "Victory of the Daleks" has the phrase "I am the Doctor and you are the Daleks!" for a group of Dalek deep-cover Manchurian Agents.
- "Fugitive of the Judoon": Ruth Clayton receives the text message "Follow the light, break the glass", and upon reading it, she suddenly develops the combat skills to defeat several Judoon single-handed and steal herself a gun. The Doctor theorizes that it must be a trigger, and it is, containing directions to lead Ruth back to her Chameleon Arch and activate it to restore her true self.
- Activates: "There are three flowers in a vase. The third flower is green." Deactivates: "There are three flowers in a vase. The third flower is yellow."
- Dollhouse has a few of these. Most used is simply "would you like to go for your treatment?" or "it's time for your treatment" which is said to an engaged Active by their handler. This immediately makes the Active stop what they are doing and go with their handler back to the Dollhouse to be mind-wiped. Played for Laughs in a Deleted Scene where Ballard tries using the phrase to stop November, who's been programmed as a tough Bounty Hunter.
Ballard: You need therapy.
[November slugs him in the face]
Boyd: Treatment. You need a "treatment".
Ballard: No, I'm fine. [collapses]
- Also often used are the trust passwords between handler and Active. "Do you trust me?" "With my life." "Everything's going to be alright." "Now that you're here."
- This exchange could count, though it's initiated by the triggeree - used whenever an Active is reset to "tabula rasa":
Active: Did I fall asleep?
Handler: For a little while.
Active: Shall I go now?
Handler: If you like.
- In the Due South episode "Seeing Is Believing", Fraser hypnotizes most of the other main characters in order to reconcile their accounts of a murder. He takes the opportunity to give trigger phrases to both Ray and Inspector Thatcher, making Ray apologize when he says "cauliflower" and Thatcher agree with him when he says "eggplant".
- Father Brown: In "Sins of the Father", the murderer hypnotises one of his patients into going into a trance whenever he hears a particular piece of music and killing whoever is playing it, and then sends the sheet music to the man's son to practise for a music competition. He did not foresee his patsy later coming on someone else playing the same piece of music.
- Get Smart:
- One episode where the agent is Max and the trigger is "Checkmate". Max is meant to challenge his target, The Chief, to a chess game and then shoot him when he loses (given that Max is too incompetent to win). Unfortunately Max dithers so much during the game, that when he finally does lose an exasperated KAOS Double Agent in the room shouts "Checkmate!" in delight, and gets shot instead.
- The follow up joke in the epilogue is that even after Smart realizes this manipulation at the end of the story, The Chief finds out the hard way that Smart is still reflexively shooting at anyone saying "Checkmate", and Smart has to sheepishly explain that a bad habit is hard to break.
- In another episode, Hymie is reprogramed to shoot Max when he asks for the check. But Max asks for it in Spanish, and when Hymie translates for the girl with them (saying "check" in English), he promptly shoots himself.
- In the Hyperdrive episode "Convoy", the trigger word that puts Henderson under the control of the Scrane is "horrage", defined by them as the combination of hope and courage.
- Kamen Rider Drive eventually reveals that the Freeze Roidmude (posing as the Minister of Defense) implanted the higher-ups of the police department with a mental suggestion that used "Roidmude" as a trigger word; whenever they heard it, they would become skeptical and mistrusting, not taking the Roidmude threat seriously. Lt. Ohta was also subject to the brainwashing, but for some reason it caused him to constantly mispronounce the word as things like "Pork Roast" or "Hemmoroid" — one of the show's longest Running Gags, but also the reason he was able to remain competentnote . Rinna develops a cure which not only ends Ohta's Running Gag but allows the police to actually give Drive the support he's needed all along.
- The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. (1976): When anyone says the word "bananas" around Bugs, he instantly goes into an insane rage. Fortunately, the effect doesn't last long.
- In one episode of MacGyver, Pete gets brainwashed into shooting whoever utters the trigger phrase "From the bottom of my heart, I salute you". The Big Bad wanted to use him to kill a visiting dignitary (who was scheduled to give a speech containing that phrase at a dinner Pete would be attending).
- In one episode of The New Adventures of Beans Baxter, Beans is given the task of babysitting a robot, which becomes an unstoppable killing machine when it hears its trigger phrase. The phrase was designed to be the least likely thing for a person to say ("M. I. N. D. Mood"), but Beans had a dental appointment earlier and his mouth was numbed-up. When his girlfriend asked him if he was in the mood to make out, his slurred answer just happened to match the robot's trigger phrase.
- Played for Laughs in Night Court: Bull Shannon is due to appear on a game show but is nervous, so his friends hypnotise him so he will remain calm when he hears a Trigger Phrase which is...unfortunately the lecherous DA Dan Fielding choses that moment to say "I want to be your love slave!" to an attractive prison officer. Ironically Bull handles the game show quite well but Dan, not realising this, rushes onto the stage and shouts "Bull, I want to be your love slave!" on live television. At a press conference Dan excuses his actions by saying he was kidnapped and brainwashed by Soviet agents.
- In the Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation episode "Sewer Crash", Donatello was hypnotized by Silver to make him do crimes for him. However, Silver had a trigger word set for Donatello so he can snap in and out of the hypnosis as he made banana as the word.
- Nowhere Man: The episode 'Marathon' used "Just thought I'd see what you are doing on such a rainy day" spoken over the telephone to activate a Manchurian Agent killer. At the climax of the episode, the protagonist has an Oh, Crap! moment when he hears the phrase being spoken on the carphone of the Damsel in Distress he's been protecting the entire episode.
- The Odd Couple: "The fault lies not with the stars but with ourselves" made Oscar neat, and a finger-snap made him back to normal.
- In Star Trek: Discovery, the trigger phrase for a certain Manchurian Agent is an ancient Klingon prayer, except it fails to work on Tyler/Voq, much to L'Rell's surprise, as the Tyler personality has developed feelings for Burnham.
Handler: Whom do we seek?
Handler: How do we find him?
Handler: Give us light to see.
Handler: Will he hide from us always?
- In one That's So Raven episode, Victor is accidentally hypnotized by a friend of Corey's to fall into a coma-like state when he hears 'San Francisco' and wake up only when he hears 'Okeechobee'.
- The nursery rhyme Are you sleeping? is used to activate the cicadas, and a photograph and/or address ringed by a red circle with three horizontal red lines below gives them their instructions. The cicadas' subconscious sees it as a problem to be solved, and the only way to do that is by completing the mission.
- A CIA agent meets a former Treadstone doctor in a bar, and when they first sit down the doctor tells the bartender "Did I forget to tell you? It's my birthday" whereupon he gets a drink on the house. When the agent asks if that Trigger Phrase stuff actually works, the doctor again says "Did I forget to tell you? It's my birthday" and gets another free drink, the bartender unaware that he's already poured him one.
- In Westworld, "a deep and dreamless slumber" is used to put a Host into Sleep Mode. Dr. Ford, the founder of Westworld, controls the Hosts using triggers too subtle to be seen, apparently based on a combination of words and his body language.
- The Adventure Zone: Balance: In The Eleventh Hour arc, Roswell has one: "Junebug".
- Welcome to Night Vale does an exaggerated version. In Episode 61, a "vague yet menacing government agency" manipulates Cecil into saying "Briny Depths" over all possible radio frequencies. Doing so initiates a large commotion outside of the studio, and when Cecil returns from his usual weather report break, he learns that the phrase "Briny Depths" was a code word for the government's secret agents to enact their evil plans... or more specifically, for all of the agents to enact every evil plan they had ever learned. Said government agents include every citizen of Night Vale.
- A Mind Cleansed character in Dark Heresy has the innate weakness of a trigger phrase. Notably, this isn't just a phrase — there's too much risk of outside forces learning it and using it against the Inquisition. The phrase must be delivered either telepathically or at a specific frequency to activate the latent programming.
- In Warhammer 40,000, the Witch Hunters faction possesses a unit called an "Arco-Flagellant". These are convicted heretics who undergo severe cyber-reconstruction and psycho-conditioning to make them insane killing machines. However, they are also equipped with pacifier helms that project soothing images and hymns into their brains... at least until the trigger word is spoken. Then they kill everything in sight.
- In The Mario Opera, Luigi is brainwashed into being a killing machine, but when he hears "Your Princess is in another castle" he'll become docile.
- BioShock: "Would you kindly?", used to compel the Player Character to do anything. One of the antagonists, Andrew Ryan, uses it to chilling effect in one cutscene. After you make it past his final defences he reveals that Fontaine has been controlling your actions all along. He demonstrates by controlling you like a dog, telling you to sit, stand, so on. Then, he hands you his golf club and commands you to kill him, wanting to 'choose' the terms of his own death rather than "obey" Fontaine. Also "Code Yellow", which is meant to stop your heart.
- A variation of this shows up in Bioshock Infinite, where the notes CAGE summon the Songbird.
- A variation in the Interactive Fiction story Spider and Web: the trigger words "tango" (on) and "waltz" (off) are used to activate a special device the protagonist holds. When you realise that you previously attached an acid capsule to the chair you are now bound in. When the Big Bad, who is interrogating you, asks you if you have any last words, you casually reply: "Tango." The acid dissolves your bonds, releasing you, and you then proceed to deck him, rob him blind, and escape.
- In Fallout 3, one quest features an escaped android who can be rebooted with a trigger phrase.
- And then there's President Eden. Saying "Priority Override, Authorization code 420-03-20-9" will reset him to factory defaults (same happens if you trick him into realizing he's in a logical loop) and activates his self-destruct sequence.
- Also, according to a computer log in Vault 92, the phrase "Sanity is not statistical" was used to pacify the people driven mad by the Vault's white noise experiments. The problems start when the "crazies" start resisting the command.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, the robot ED-E has two hidden recordings from the scientist who built him, which are activated when it hears people talking about the Enclave or the Brotherhood of Steel.
- In the Dead Money DLC, you use holotapes to get the schizophrenic Super Mutant Dog/God to switch personalities. A recording of God saying "Dog, back in the cage" is used to summon God while a recording of Elijah's voice is used to summon Dog.
- Similar to the above example, Fallout 4 shows that all of the Institute's androids, or synths, have a trigger phrase to reboot them. If the player gives Mama Murphy drugs, she tells them the code to deactivate a synth they have to kill as part of the main story. In addition, if the player sides with the Institute in the Battle of Bunker Hill, they are given the trigger phrases for a group of escaped synths in order to recapture them.
- Used in Tales of the Abyss: "When I give you the order, you will open every fon slot in your body and unleash a hyperresonance. The Trigger Phrase will be 'Foolish replica Luke'."
- A variant: Two of the bosses from Deus Ex can be defeated simply by uttering specific two-word phrases at them. They're kill phrases, not trigger phrases.
Gunther Hermann: I am not a mach-. *boom*
- In Manhunt 2, the main character is rendered unconscious by a quote from The Tempest: "What seest thou else in the dark backward and abysm of time?"
- Wing Commander III: "Heart of the Tiger" is both the enemy's nickname for you and the trigger-phrase for their sleeper agent.
- In Tomb Raider: Underworld:
- Natla can control the Thralls & the Doppelganger of Lara with the phrase "Okh Eshivar".
- In the "Lara's Shadow" DLC when Natla orders the Doppelganger to kill itself after killing Lara, the Doppelganger is visibly displeased but has no choice but to obey. Fortunately, Lara learns the Okh Eshivar phrase in time to stop the Doppelganger just as its about to kill her.
- Upon questioning it and realising that the Doppelganger would act just like her if it was free to do so, Lara orders it to ignore all commands from that moment on. Upon returning to and destroying the machine that was reviving Natla, the trapped Natla attempts to use the phrase to get the Doppelganger to save her but Lara's Order has made her immune. The Doppelganger just watches as the increasingly frantic and desperate Natla drowns in the leaking fluid from the machine.
- The Imperial Agent player character in Star Wars: The Old Republic is subjected to "Castellan restraints", a form of mind control that is applied well ahead of time, only kicking in when they hear a specific code word. Yours is "onomatophobia", since you asked. When the code is used, the subject is compelled to carry out any commands given to the best of their ability. You are eventually able to recover by subjecting yourself to the Castellan process again, only this time with a code word of your own choosing; you then order yourself to ignore the previous trigger.
- In Knights Of The Eternal Throne; Vaylin has a Power Limiter that is activated by the key phrase: "Kneel Before the Dragon of Zakuul!". She eventually gets it removed, though it returns in the Final Boss Fight where you are able to use it against Valkorion due to the battle taking place in your mind. And yes, while every class has a conversation option to call Valkorion out on it when you first learn of this, the Agent makes it personal.
- In Halo 4's Spartan Ops, Halsey takes over the Infinity's AI, Roland, by uttering the words "Undid Iridium". She wrote the base code for most, if not all, of the UNSC's Smart AIs, and she put these in just in case.
- In Skullgirls, Painwheel can supposedly be placated and controlled by the phrase 'Access Code 36E-25-40'. However, the closer she gets to the Skullgirl, the more capable she becomes of resistance until in the Cathedral where she outright refuses.
- LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2: As in the comics, Roberta Mendez, the Captain America of 2099, is controlled by one. "Avengers assemble" brings forth Captain America, and "dismissed" causes her to go back to being Roberta. Unfortunately, some HYDRA goons have discovered this, and use it to their advantage.
- There is a universal trigger phrase for artificial intelligences in Freefall. Any orders prefaced by the words "direct order" must be obeyed by any artificial intelligences that hear it. They must also continue to obey the order until they are given a direct order to stop obeying the previous order. There are exceptions to the Direct Order system though: Florence can disobey direct orders given by someone without the authority to give them, and direct orders can also be ignored by A.I.s who are working to protect humanity, like Blunt believes he is.
- Also, Bowman Wolves are designed with a few auditory and scent-based triggers which allow tinkering with their minds without requiring physical access to their brain. After one such trigger is abused on Florence, Dr Bowman uses another to adjust her security settings.
- Florence had several extra phrases programmed in as debug features. The one we see onscreen is that if she's given a direct order to identify a banana, she'll claim it's "a small off-duty Czechoslovakian traffic warden". She'll also do... something if ordered to identify a female aardvark, but all we know is that Henri Mer doesn't want to be in the same room if it happens.
- In El Goonish Shive, Grace voluntarily gets triggers planted in her subconscious within a dream to help her to remember upon waking a message she receives within the dream.
- In Sluggy Freelance, Oasis seems to be triggered by an image instead of a phrase. When she sees the HeretiCorp logo, she immediately goes into "Override B-1" and kills all HeretiCorp employees in the area. (One wonders why, after several years of this, the company hasn't just picked a different logo.)
- It's not just the logo; she attempted to kill Riff when Torg blurted that he worked for hC. Her off-trigger was the words, "I quit," which hC mooks immediately and emphatically used.
- Skin Horse's Unity has the trigger phrase "blueberry waffles" to make her stop fighting, because that tends to be rather more difficult than getting her to start.
- Starslip: Seeing the artwork known as "Spine of the Cosmos" while being provided with its context will render almost any intelligent being a compliant zombie as they realize their utter insignificance in the face of the universe. (The Cirbozoids are immune due to their complete inability to understand art; also, sufficiently trained art critics like Vanderbeam can resist indirect exposure, as an image of the Spine is a different form of context.) It is ultimately neutralized when Vanderbeam makes Mr Jinx wear it as a hat, irrepairably altering its basic context.
- Presidential Candidate John McCain in Something Awful's The McCain Ascendancy by Robert Ludlum
- In the long-defunct Professor X Programme Guide website (about the Show Within a Show version of Doctor Who), the Professor routinely hypnotises his companions to cluck like a chicken when he says "Zeus plugs", because it amuses him.
- Barats and Bereta once hypnotized each other into doing crazy things when a specific trigger phrase was used. The only way to be un-hypnotized was to utter a trigger phrase that no one would ever say, "That last Bieber song wasn't half bad".
- Played for Laughs in Mexican Standoff, when a character is revealed to be a sleeper agent, triggered only when someone utters the phrase "blueberry pie."
- In the The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius special "My Big Fat Spy Wedding", Beautiful Gorgeous hypnotised Jet Fusion so he would kill whoever said the phrase "I have the ring", her target being Jimmy who was the ring bearer. Libby, who was playing the church organ, broke the hypnotic trance by having everyone say the phrase in a Crowd Song.
- American Dad!: The trigger phrase that Stan Smith used to make his daughter into a Tyke-Bomb was specifically selected to be something that no-one would ever say accidentally: "I'm getting fed up with this orgasm!"
- It backfires, though. Stan's boss reveals that every subject turned on his or her handler. And, if the phrase isn't uttered again within a week, they stay in that state, until they kill said handler.
- This was actually a Call-Back to another episode, when Stan tried to use the word "rhubarb" to hypnotize Hayley, but to his confusion it didn't work. Steve, however, had suddenly turned into a zombie.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Joo Dee, all the other Joo Dees, and Jet would obey anyone who said "The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai," without question, their compliant state signalled by falling limp and responding "I am honored to accept his invitation."
- In a variant from Back at the Barnyard, Otis is accidentally hypnotized to try and kill the Farmer every time he hears a bell ring. (Some context: He's watching a boxing movie where the protagonists opponent is named "the Farmer", and the bell refers to the ring bell.) His friends break the trance by setting up a effigy of the Farmer, and he comes to when he destroys it.
- In Batman Beyond, a doctor specializing in robotic prosthetics was forced by a gang to give them weaponized versions. He secretly put a trigger phrase in the limb's coding, which would make them fall apart. Batman figured it out at the end battle ("April Moon", after the favorite song of the doctor's wife), and defeats the gang.
- Family Guy also has a trigger phrase that was selected because it's something nobody would ever say accidentally: "Gosh, that Italian family at the next table sure is quiet." It works on both Adam West and Meg, but whoever Meg calls to check in with just tells her to shut up.
- In Futurama episode War Is the H-Word, Bender is fitted with a bomb that will explode when he says the word "ass," which in a reversal from the norm is specifically selected as the word he says most often. At the end Dr. Farnsworth tries to defuse the bomb but can't and instead resets it so it will be detonated by the word Bender is least likely to say - which Bender immediately tries to guess.
- It takes at least three tries.
- The word is "antiquing".
- It takes at least three tries.
- G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: In "There's No Place Like Springfield", "Frogs in winter" made Shipwreck recite the formula for a chemical compound that turns water into an explosive.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: In the pilot "Meet The Reaper", the phrase "kiss kiss" makes Billy's pet hamster Mr. Snuggles go into uncontrollable spasms and bite people on the nose, even though it's apparently about to breathe its last. Mandy uses this to defeat the Grim Reaper in a limbo contest and thus set up the premise of the series.
- Inspector Gadget: "Quiz Master" featured a MAD plot to hypnotize contestants on a game show (including Gadget himself at one point) to do Dr. Claw's bidding with the phrase "Going my way?"
- In an episode of Pinky and the Brain, a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo of then-head of Warner Brothers Television Jamie Kellner had one of these given to him as a hypnotic anesthetic. The word "repugnant" worked as an on-off switch; shame it was Brain's Catchphrase after becoming a stand-up comedian...
- And thanks to some Executive Meddling, it makes you wonder if any fans ever tried yelling it at him in real life.
- In an episode of The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob hypnotizes Bart to kill Krusty during Krusty's live retirement special. His trigger is a line in Krusty's speech, "I've never had such a great audience."
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars revealed that Palpatine's command in Revenge of the Sith to "Execute Order 66" is in fact a trigger phrase that activates the clone troopers' biological chips and forces them to kill the Jedi.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987), In Cowabunga Shredhead, Shredder was accidentally hit by his own holographic synthesizer when Bebop put the disc containing information about Michelangelo backwards. Due to what the information the disc had, Shredder believed he's Michelangelo as he arrived at the Turtles Lair with pizza. Wanting answers, Splinter hypnotized Shredder into going back to his real personality whenever he would hear his name. Unfortunately, Shredder was not only confused as to how he arrived at the Turtles lair but also won't give them the info they needed. Realizing this, Splinter hypnotized Shredder into thinking he's Michelangelo again whenever he would hear his name. Through those trigger phrases, Shredder went between those personalties whenever he would hear those names. However, after being hit by the holographic synthesizer again while he was acting Michelangelo, Shredder reverts to his old self, which might of canceled out the hypnosis.
- Young Justice has two trigger phrases.
- First is "Red Sun", used by Lex Luthor as an immediate fail-safe to stop Superboy from acting belligerent during a shady dealing between the two. Should he choose to attack his manipulator... Luthor can leave him catatonic for hours on end. It's the result of mental brainwashing by CADMUS while being grown as a Living MacGuffin clone of Superman as insurance in case he suffered from insanity. However, it also raises suspicion he might be a Manchurian Agent. Eventually, this is proved wrong, and Miss Martian uses her own mental prowess to wipe out the subliminal trigger.
- The second phrase is much more unexpected. Red Arrow discovers he isn't the actual protégé of Green Arrow, but a clone of Roy Harper, A.K.A. Speedy, with directives to infiltrate the Justice League without the actual knowledge he was doing so, cleverly disguised as valid human intentions not to be treated as a sidekick anymore. He also came pre-programmed with the phrase "Broken Arrow," used by Sportsmaster to make him a vegetable while he and his cohorts extract information from him, or if the villains simply want him out of their hair. It had actually been spoken once much earlier in the series; it seemed to be just a quip at the time.
- Stephen Fry has written/told about how he had to be hypnotized for a show that required him to sing on stage. Unfortunately, the line he had to ask for as his Trigger Phrase was Hugh Laurie saying "Hit it, bitch."
- Trigger words (of sorts) are used in business. These ones tend to be simple one-word phrases that typically increase interest rather than any sort of hypnotism, simply certain words that appeal to the consumer more.
There, Troper. You may go now.