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Unbelievable Source Plot

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This is a type of plot where the protagonist relies on a supernatural source of information to save lives or solve crimes. They may predict something bad and stop it before it can happen or they may use this ability to investigate crimes that have already happened in order to bring the perpetrator to justice.

This plot involves three essential elements:

  1. an unbelievable source of information: It could be psychic powers, time travel from the future, super-powered senses, or a secret nation-wide spyware A.I. in a world where those sorts of things are widely believed impossible.
  2. the main character acts to fix/solve/save things: This person who has this special knowledge feels obligated to do something to solve or prevent the bad things that only they know about.
  3. the need for secrecy complicates Part 2: Because the source of information is so unbelievable, the main character is at risk of not being believed, or it will be assumed that with such a far-fetched tale, they must obviously be the perpetrators, or maybe that they are crazy and should be sent to psychiatric care. At the absolute worst-case scenario, they will be captured for experimentation or exploitation should the source of their knowledge become known.

The need for secrecy may require the protagonist to lie to the police and others about how they get their information and/or why they are always in the right place at the right time. The main character must keep the secret in order to avoid becoming The Cassandra, exploited, experimented on, etc. Unlike The Cassandra, the protagonist's closest contacts and allies may have learned to trust and rely on the information, but the need for secrecy outside their circle of trust remains. The protagonist's disregard for official procedure and frequent presence at crime scenes leave their allies walking a fine line to avoid getting fired for going out on a limb without being able to justify themselves.

This trope is sometimes frustrating to the audience, because it seems that everyone would be so much more effective at solving crimes/saving lives if the police just knew the truth. Keeping the police in the dark, however, serves the purposes of the drama — it creates a template of dialogue for each episode, where the protagonist has to (again) persuade the police contact to follow some lead, investigate a certain person, or be somewhere at a certain time. It's frustrating to the audience to see that scene reenacted every single time, but it highlights anew the incredibleness of the protagonist's gift and the incredulity with which an outsider might treat the idea. The audience might start to take the protagonist's gift for granted were it not for this repeated conversation with the police.

Sister trope of Vampire Detective Series, where the unbelievable source of information comes from the main character not being human and the degree of its unbelievability depends on the strength of The Masquerade.

Not to be confused with Occult Detective, where the detective is normal and the crimes are supernatural.

Compare/Contrast with You Have to Believe Me!, where the informed character chooses the craziest sounding ways to try to get someone to believe the truth and is always surprised when others refuse to listen.

All examples provided should specifically highlight how the example incorporates each of the three essential requirements listed above.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Case Closed: The protagonist, having been de-aged to a child, ends up having to use a tranquilizer dart on someone and use a voice modulator to mimic them in order to convict the perpetrator. In this case, it's not just because nobody would believe that he's really a teenager, but also to keep the crime syndicate whose attempt to kill him instead resulted in said de-aging from finding out that he's still alive.
  • Shibatora, in which a young police detective can see spirit hands reaching out towards the soon-to-be-deceased. It's not the only thing the main character uses to solve cases, but it is a supernatural source of knowledge he keeps secret.
  • Detective Gotou in Psychic Detective Yakumo tends to keep the fact he's using a teenage boy who sees ghosts to help solve cases well under wraps. Yakumo himself, not so much, although in the beginning he does hide his ability to see ghosts... by using some tricks to make people think he's plain psychic.

    Fan Works 
  • In Grimm/Criminal Minds Crossover fic, Sobek Drowning, Detective Nick Burkhardt is working a serial killer case when the Criminal Minds profilers arrive to aid the investigation. Burkhardt is "a Grimm" with the ability to see that someone is "wesen" even when they're hiding it which often leads to important information that can help him solve his cases but he usually has the luxury of working with a partner, several expert civilian friends, and a superior officer who are in-the-know. When the FBI arrives, this is no longer the case and he and his allies have to get creative in order to present their leads without revealing that they all believe Creatures Hide Among Us.
  • Zig-zagged in NCIS/Supernatural crossover "When Worlds Collide". When Sam and Dean Winchester are set up for kidnapping Tony DiNozzo, the NCIS team take the Winchester case (the brothers are wanted by the FBI for all sorts of horrific crimes). At first, the team doesn't believe in the stories of powerful supernatural monsters and concocts a complicated theory about the Winchesters' beliefs being a pseudo-religious delusion which happened to coincide with a secret international terrorist crime syndicate's plans. Eventually though, NCIS figures out that the so-called delusions are reality and manage to convince and mobilize every higher-up in the government that they inform about this. However, they and these newly-informed officials opt to go with the original story about the delusions that coincided with and foiled the terrorist syndicate's plot as the official story because it sounds less crazy.
  • Alarm Clock: Ditzy Doo from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has True Sight and can see fairies, Eldritch Abominations, and other higher-dimensional weirdness that's invisible to most other ponies. She uses what she sees to help others with minor problems—or to save Ponyville from the Eyeless King, a particularly nasty Sealed Evil in a Can. From past experience (shown in the prequel Split Eyes), Ditzy knows other ponies will try to have her institutionalized if she ever comes clean about her sources. Because she can't explain what she's really doing, others like Twilight Sparkle and Time Turner think that Ditzy is up to something nefarious and try to stop her. But at the end of the story, she manages to win over Time Turner and Twilight Sparkle, and even earns herself a place in a secret government agency dedicated to... doing what she was already doing, more or less.
  • Hypothèses: Near the end of Tome 3, when Peter Pettigrew escapes, Snape explains that without him, no one present will be considered reliable enough for their testimonies to prove Sirius Black's innocence: The teens due to their age, Snape because of his past...

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Francis the Talking Mule shows what happens when somebody with this type of information source is honest about it. Francis's information is always good (because, quite frankly, who'd believe the mule standing over there understood English?), but Lt. Sterling repeatedly ends up in the psych ward after revealing his source for (for example) a Japanese bomber attack on the base.
  • Frequency: John Sullivan, a cop, is able to communicate with his dead father, Frank, via a ham radio, 30 years in the past, due to an aurora. John gives Frank information that saves him from dying, but the change in the timeline causes a serial killer to not die in the hospital, which leads to 7 more people dying, including John's mother/Frank's wife. John convinces Frank to try helping him catch the killer in the act using forensic data, since Frank can't warn the victims.

  • In the novel Cold Fire by Dean Koontz, Jim Ironheart has psychic premonitions of upcoming disasters. Knowing that there's no way he could explain to authorities how he knows about them, he travels to the scenes of the upcoming disasters to save as many people as he can.
  • In Rivers of London, PC Grant's first encounter with the supernatural is when he interviews a murder witness who turns out to be a ghost. As the story progresses, it turns out more people in the Met are prepared to accept this than he expected, but it's still not something you can use in court.
  • In The Dresden Files, Lt. Karrin Murphy's job running COPD's Special Investigations entailed not only battling supernatural threats to Chicago, but concocting stories to account for the damage that wouldn't get her, her fellow detectives, and all the witnesses tossed into the Psych ward. The skepticism and outright denialism of other police caused her plenty of headaches throughout her tenure running the department, and ultimately got her canned because she couldn't exactly tell her bosses that she'd been rescuing kidnapped girls from Fairyland or a mass human sacrifice when she suddenly went AWOL in mid-manhunt.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Early Edition. The protagonist, Gary Hobbeson, gets tomorrow's newspaper today. He frequently asks for help from a detective on the police force, who eventually learns to trust his "intuition". Frustrating, because Gary would be so much more effective if someone on the police force just knew his secret, so he wouldn't have to persuade them from scratch to help out. They could just consider him a golden tip — but he never tells anyone, and each episode where he needs police help, he has to convince someone all over again. The detective, when he is around, usually reluctantly agrees to help based on years of experience with Gary.
  • Person of Interest. Protagonist duo John Reese and Harold Finch receive information from a mysterious machine about someone whose life may be in jeopardy (or who may be about to commit homicide). A detective on the police force always helps follow the leads, but never knows their source — and is constantly being scrutinized for the source of the "tips."
  • Continuum. Protagonist Kiera Cameron works as a consultant for the police force, and provides information based on her knowledge of the future and her communications with the smart kid through her communication implants. Sometimes it seems silly that she doesn't just tell her partner what's up so she wouldn't have to convince him to follow a lead every time she has insider information, but she is certain that no one would believe her.
    • She eventually does try and tell him midway through Season 2, but isn't least not until he sees her undeniably futuristic gun, at which point he's willing to listen to what she has to say. She still keeps it a secret from her superior though, and consequently ends up being accused of being a mole for Liber8.
  • Touch (2012). The father's autistic son communicates through numbers, and the father has to follow up on his son's prescient abilities to prevent bad things from happening, or to make good things happen. In order to accomplish this, he needs help from various contacts and allies but in order to protect his son, he has to lie to them to cover up how he knows things.
  • The Listener. The protagonist reads minds, and frequently stumbles upon crimes, missing children, etc. His police contact spends much of the first season baffled as to how he is always in the right place at the right time, and he always has to convince her to follow up his leads. After season 1, he tells her and some of their other close allies so that at least they will listen when he tells them something and he can avoid the Cassandra Did It accusations. While this improves his situation in some ways, it still leaves his allies to lie and misdirect their superiors to protect their careers.
  • Medium. Allison, a psychic, works for the district attorney, helping him discover and solve crimes. Part 3 is generally mitigated by the DA finding other ways to explain how he got his information, but it doesn't always work out.
  • Parodied in Psych where the civilian protagonist is gifted with excellent non-supernatural observational skills but when he tries to cash in on them, is not believed and opts to convince the police he is psychic note . Only one of the cops doubts his powers are really psychic and is ridiculed by his colleagues for not believing.
  • Pushing Daisies. Subverted because the investigator is on the inside and therefore knows the secret. The protagonist can bring the dead to life for a minute and interview them about their death. Sometimes, it feels like they still have to lie all the time to others about why they know so much. Not *quite* a paradigmatic example, but still showcases the endless lies necessary to cover their secret investigative trick.
  • New Amsterdam (2008): The main character is an immortal early American colonist that works as a police detective. He uses his hundreds of years of experience to solve homicides in present day New York. Everyone assumes he's a Bunny-Ears Lawyer since he does get the job done, they just don't know how.
  • This trope is Played With in Sherlock where Sherlock is a civilian consultant for Scotland Yard who uses his observation and reasoning skills to solve difficult crimes. He is given an unusual amount of leeway with evidence and crime scenes which Lestrade has to continually fight for with his colleagues and downplay to his superiors. Sherlock's skills aren't supernatural and he never lies about them, but many who dislike him don't believe skills like his are possible and want to believe he is lying and only revealing information he learned through other means (including possibly committing the crimes himself). His criminal counterpart, Moriarity, exploits this in the "The Reichenbach Fall" episode as part of a plan he hopes will bring about Sherlock's demise.
  • Averted in Warehouse 13 with Agent Steve Jinks, formerly of the ATF, who has an unexplainable ability to always know when he's being lied to. But rather than keep this a secret because it can't be explained, he openly uses it, even on cases, and everyone who knows him for any length of time is aware of it. If a new acquaintance is skeptical, he demonstrates by letting them test him until they believe him.
  • Ghostwriter: the main cast is a bunch of teen Amateur Detectives who are helped by a ghost who can cannot see anything but words and can only interact with the world by reading said words and then rearranging letters and words elsewhere to show what he read. The team uses the information from Ghostwriter to solve crimes but they also have to collect conventional evidence to get adults to believe them since telling them that a ghost gave them the clue is not gonna help the kids or the victim.
  • Awake (2012): Detective Michael Britten lives simultaneously in two separate realities; when he goes to sleep in one he wakes up in the other. He does not know which universe is real and which is a dream, but information he learns in one universe has strange connections to cases in the other. He cannot tell his partner or captain how he gets his information for fear he will be kicked off the force for psychological reasons.
  • IZombie: In an odd variation on this trope, Liv, a medical examiner tells the police she has psychic powers and has visions about the lives of murder victims. It still fits this trope because her psychic powers aren't the result of general clairvoyance; she has those visions after she eats their brains, because she is a zombie. But that would scare people and get her treated like a monster, so she lets her Friend on the Force think that it's a result of more "normal" psychic powers.
  • A rare non-supernatural variant comes up in one episode of Chicago P.D., when the source of some important intelligence turns out to be an NSA employee who was running a wiretap operation on an unrelated matter and overheard an apparent narcotics delivery being arranged. This has to be written up as an anonymous tip-off, and a covert surveillence operation has to be hastily organised to find some evidence that would be admissible in court. Then what they thought was a narcotics bust turns into a homicide investigation when the suspect vehicle is searched, and a corpse turns up instead of the expected drugs.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mutant City Blues: Subverted in an example of Fantastic Legal Weirdness: people who obtain knowledge of criminal activities through superpowers such as mind reading are believed by the police (because people having superpowers is an acccepted part of life), but it's illegal to arrest people only on the accusations of said mind reader - you must procure solid evidence to support them.

    Video Games 
  • Persona 4's Investigation Team uses a supernatural television program called the Midnight Channel to identify who the next murder victim is going to be, then hops into the TV world to rescue them by beating up the embodiment of their suppressed urges and guilt. Failure results in said embodiment killing them and hanging their corpse upside-down from a telephone pole in the real world. Though, this is played with a bit, as the culprit is also using the Midnight Channel to predict the next victim, and is being manipulated to try and protect them by putting them in the TV world. The protagonist has a number of opportunities to explain all of this to his uncle, a police detective, but is never believed. Naoto, too, has difficulty believing them until she intentionally gets herself captured and brought inside the TV as part of a Batman Gambit.

  • Think Before You Think is about Brian, a psychic who can read everybody's surface thoughts with ease. Fortunately, he has a cop best friend, Isaac, who knows his secret, so this trope is often averted. However, this trope is also played straight much of the time, for example, when Isaac isn't around, or when Isaac has to explain to his superiors where he's gotten his information.

    Western Animation 
  • Inverted in an episode of South Park where Cartman gets a head injury and now thinks he's psychic, so the police want him to help solve a series of murders. Kyle, who does some independent detective work and manages to get physical evidence, finds the murderer but can't get the police to pay attention to him because he isn't psychic - so he recreates Cartman's head injury so he can pretend to also be psychic so the police will pay attention to his information.