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We Would Have Told You, But...

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"You won't be offended, Watson? You will realize that among your many talents dissimulation finds no place, and that if you had shared my secret you would never have been able to impress Smith with the urgent necessity of his presence, which was the vital point of the whole scheme."
Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Dying Detective"

An episode in which a main character and the audience are kept in the dark by the character's friends or colleagues. This is to pull off a sting against someone else, never a main character.

They will be given the excuse at the end... "We would have told you, but we needed your reactions to look genuine." In settings that include telepathy it's often done to foil even that.

A character who just loves to keep others intrigued may sometimes use this as a pretext.

It's a Not Himself with the numbers inverted.

When this is done to the actors, it is Acting in the Dark. Compare Locked Out of the Loop and Friendly Scheming.

Compare Unwitting Pawn, when it's your enemy that is keeping you in the dark so they can have you unwittingly further their plans.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Code Geass: Lelouch does this to himself - he erases his own memory of making a plan and telling Suzaku how to follow it, so that Mao won't be able figure it out by reading Lelouch's mind in an episode in the middle of season 1.
    • In the second season he does it to the whole world so that his Zero Requiem would work out.
  • In Fruits Basket, the fact that Akito is a woman is kept a secret not just from Tohru, but from all the cursed Sohma save for the ones already present at the time she was born (Shigure, Ayame, Kureno and Hatori). When Kureno tells this to Tohru, she has an Heroic BSoD.
  • Edward Elric is on the receiving end of this trope (along with his brother and Major Armstrong) in Fullmetal Alchemist. Mustang and his team do a lot of investigating offscreen, and determine that they need to get Maria Ross out of prison before she's murdered by the people who framed her for Hughes' death. Consequently, Mustang pretends to burn Ross alive, while actually helping her escape and then purposely allows Ed and everyone else to believe his actions were genuine, enraging them in the process. He even punches Ed in the face and casually dismisses Armstrong's grief to keep everyone suitably riled enough to be convincing. He then sends both Ed and Armstrong off on a mission that culminates in them happily meeting a very much alive Ross.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, when Polnareff discovers that Avdol survived the battle with Hol Horse he rushes to tell the rest of the group...and they say that they already knew, but they didn't tell him because they knew he'd blab it and they wanted Avdol to be able to rest and recover without one of DIO's assassins coming after him.
  • Sailor Moon. In the Sailor Stars anime, Kakyuu was actually hiding in a small teapot that Usagi's "adoptive sister" Chibi-Chibi had all the time with her. After she finally appears to save Usagi's life, she apologizes to the Sailor Starlights and tells them that she was healing her injuries inside the teapot and wasn't able to just appear in front of them until it was time.
  • In PandoraHearts, Break and the rest of Pandora usually use Oz, Gil, and Alice as bait to see what the Baskervilles would/could/are capable of doing. Most of the time, this usually ends badly as this slowly allowed Jack to enact his plans as the Baskervilles kept trying to break the pillars binding Glen.

    Comic Books 
  • In one Black Canary miniseries, when Black Canary's adopted daughter Sin is kidnapped, Green Arrow makes it appear that the rescue attempt, badly bungled, killed Sin. He knows the kidnappers will watch Black Canary and note if she does not show grief, so he keeps her in the dark to make sure her reaction will be authentic, and he does not expect her to forgive him when he reveals the truth.
  • Captain America: When John Walker steps down as Captain America, he's shot by an assassin at the press ceremony. A few issues later it turns out John's alive. The assassination was faked by a general on the Commission for Superhuman Activities (except for the bit where the assassin was then killed by another assassin), and he hadn't told the rest so their reactions would be genuine.
  • In one issue of Impulse, Max and The Trickster pull off a plot like this to take down a pair of mob bosses. Bart is not happy to realise that his mentor was playing him, and Max apologises first for the deception, and then again for not realising how it would affect him.
  • Iron Man. The reason Tony Stark didn't tell Jim Rhodes about faking his death so he could undergo experimental reconstructive surgery was exactly because Stark wanted Rhodey's reactions to his "death" to be genuine, so Stark's opponents wouldn't come looking for him. Once Stark came back, Rhodey was pissed, and the incident left their friendship broken for a long time.
  • Judge Dredd: In the "Trifecta" arc (a Crossover with Low-Life and The Simping Detective), Judge Dredd is revealed to have been instrumental in setting up a counter-plot against the imminent coup d'etat attempt by the head of Black Ops against Chief Judge Hershey. Hershey herself and even one of Dredd's collaborators (through Laser-Guided Amnesia) were kept in the dark about this until the finale.

    Fan Works 
  • In Before The Dawn, it would appear that Alice saw Bella arriving in Forks at least a few days before she did, giving Alice sufficient time to send new orders of clothing to the house that were suitably sized for Bella (the clothes clearly too big for Alice but not quite right for Esme or Rosalie). She explains in hindsight that she didn't call home to let Carlisle, Edward, Jasper and Emmett know because Bella would have been scared off if they were clearly anticipating her arrival, and Alice couldn't find a flight back for herself, Esme and Rosalie that would have gotten them there in time to greet Bella directly.
  • The Lucifer (2016) fic "Tragic Life Changes" opens with Chloe and Dan being killed in an apparent plane accident. Later on, Maze and Amenadiel discover evidence that the plane crash was actually the result of sabotage, but they keep this revelation from Lucifer. Maze justifies it as she'll tell Lucifer when she "can give him flesh to rip" and they have identified a target, but they also worry that Lucifer won't be able to hide his knowledge and thus tip off the real culprit. While Chloe is actually alive in Heaven, she initially agrees to God's request to keep her survival secret until they have identified her killer.
  • The Bones fic "The Beauty and the Tragedy" features an extended version of Booth's faked death in "The Pain in the Heart", where he remains "dead" for two months rather than two weeks. In canon this was a choice made by Doctor Sweets to observe Brennan's reaction, but here this was a choice made by FBI director Cullen as he felt that Brennan wouldn't be able to convincingly fake her grief if she didn't genuinely believe that Booth was dead, leaving Brennan so consumed by grief that she almost lets herself get killed while tracking a serial killer.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the movie Chicago, Billy Flynn doesn't tell Roxie that he made it seem like the prosecutor had tampered with her diary in order to keep her from screwing up his plan during her trial.
  • In The Dark Knight, Gordon fakes his death, ostensibly for his family's safety, but the reveal happens so quickly and in the middle of the film's biggest escalation scene that you might miss his reasoning on the first viewing. Or the seventeenth.
  • Independence Day. The Secretary of Defense decides not to tell the President of the U.S. about Area 51 (where the alien spaceship is being studied) because of "plausible deniability". It was established in his dealings with his family that the President was a bad liar, and if he had known about Area 51 he wouldn't have been able to effectively lie if questioned about it (e.g. by a reporter).

  • Isaac Asimov's The Complete Adventures of Lucky Starr:
    • Lucky rarely tells everyone on his side what he's planning on doing. He does this to facilitate false accusations and discovering things that his enemies don't want him to learn, but even his sidekick Bigman is left in the dark. In Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury, Lucky goes into the most detail, explaining to Bigman how he is often still working his way through the problem and Bigman would otherwise run off and make a mistake or lose his temper and blab about their real plans.
    • Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn: often dramatically accusing the wrong suspect on purpose and using people's reactions to gain proof against the real culprit. The worst instance is in this book, in which Lucky allows everyone to believe he is going to betray Earth—including his best friend, who thinks Lucky is turning traitor in exchange for the friend's life.
  • Coldfire Trilogy: Done in When True Night Falls, where Tarrant's plan to gain an opportunity to try to kill the Undying Prince required Vryce's ignorance. His apology for the ruse at the end is sincere.
  • In the Diogenes Club short story "Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch", the late Mycroft Holmes' Batman Gambit to take down Colonel Zenf relies on Zenf believing that one of the four guardians of London's magic is a traitor ("a Rat amongst the Ravens"). For this to be convincing, Mycroft's successors at the Diogenes must also believe one of the Ravens is a Rat, and evidence to this effect is provided to them, in part by the Ravens themselves.
  • The Locked Room Mystery in Haruhi Suzumiya was all set up by the organization. Koizumi could have told at least Kyon what was going on, but... In the novels, it's not Haruhi who figures it out but Kyon, who then tells Koizumi that he's not as stupid as he acts.
  • Hercule Poirot pulled this one all the time (except that he rarely gives a reason). The pinnacle is The Big Four, where he explains to Hastings after the event that his plan to take the Four down required "your own knowledge and belief that there was such a person as Achille Poirot!"
  • In the last few pages of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, it turns out that Katniss' friends kept her in the dark about some pretty huge things, including the fact that District 13 really exists, because Katniss' poor deception skills and Chronic Hero Syndrome would have ruined their plans if she had known. Also, in case the Capitol captured Katniss or Peeta (and they did capture the latter), they wouldn't know anything about the plans.
  • Occurs in The Light Bearer (a historical fiction novel about ancient Rome). The male protagonist allows his aunt Arria to think her children have died in a fire in order to save them from abduction by Nero. Since Nero was in the room when the announcement was made, the protagonist knew he would not have been fooled if Arria had not expressed real shock and grief.
  • The entire plot of Mordant's Need (the first novel of which is The Mirror of Her Dreams) by Stephen R. Donaldson revolved around a king pretending to be insane to drive away his allies. He needed to appear weak.
  • Older Than Television: Sherlock Holmes does this almost constantly, to almost every single character. A fundamental part of his Insufferable Genius character. In particular, he does it several times to Watson, because Watson's basically an honest person (ie. a terrible liar).
    • In "The Adventure of the Retired Colourman", Holmes sends Watson off with the client to follow a lead that turns out to be a dead end. He admits to Watson afterward that he knew it was a dead end, but also that the villain of the story would be keeping a close watch to see if Watson knew anything, so he judged it best to make sure that Watson didn't know anything.
    • "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" (1913)
      • After faking the symptoms of an exotic disease, Holmes provides the page quote while speaking to Watson. As Holmes further explains, while he didn't have a great deal of confidence in Watson's ability to deceive, he did have a great deal of confidence in Watson's abilities as a doctor, which is why he was so insistent that Watson not touch him—a cursory examination by Watson would have revealed the ruse immediately.
      • In Bert Coules' radio adaptation, Watson fails to accept Holmes's "no hard feelings" at the end, instead calling him out not only for the deception, but for asking Watson to hide in the room as a witness, and then forgetting about him.
    • "The Adventure of the Empty House". An even more extreme example occurs after his final brush with Moriarty, after which he pretended to be dead for three years. Revealing the truth that time nearly gave Watson heart failure.
    • Zigzagged in "The Illustrious Client": After Holmes is attacked in the street, Watson visits him in the hospital. Holmes reassures him that it's not as bad as it looks, and he'd be most grateful if Watson would pass on a very pessimistic diagnosis to the newspapers. Even when he does, Watson suspects Holmes is still playing up the moribund act even to him.
    • In The Hound of the Baskervilles when Watson is guarding Sir Henry, he thinks Holmes is back in London tying up the loose ends of another case. In fact, the detective is close by, camping out in one of the neolithic huts on the Moor, so he can observe the goings-on without his presence affecting the villain's behaviour. When he finds out, Watson is indignant that his regular reports have been for nothing, but Holmes reassures him that they have been redirected from Baker Street and he has read them all.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Babylon 5, Londo leads Vir to believe he is planning to kill G'Kar, when in actual fact it was part of a greater scheme to make rival Lord Refa (who has a telepath on his payroll) think that was the plan and go after G'Kar first, so that G'Kar could kill Refa for Londo. Vir, of course, isn't happy about being used in this manner, and is further angered when Londo states that Refa would believe him too unimportant to kill (as it implies that Londo also thinks that, even if the truth is quite different).
  • In season 5 of Better Call Saul, Kim, uncomfortable with her assignment of evicting the stubborn Mr. Acker so that Mesa Verde can build a call center, comes up with a plan: Jimmy/Saul will take on Mr. Acker as a client, and throw up as many roadblocks to the eviction as possible. When Kim's law partner begins to suspect coordination, Kim decides to cut their losses and calls Saul off. Instead, Saul goes rogue and escalates the conflict with Mesa Verde, reasoning that he can still save Mr. Acker from eviction, and that Kim's real shock and anger will place her above suspicion. He's right, but seems genuinely surprised when Kim's anger doesn't just evaporate.
  • The Bones episode "The Pain in the Heart" opens with Doctor Brennan attending the apparent funeral of her partner, FBI Agent Seeley Booth, but it's swiftly revealed that his death was faked to lure out a convict he failed to arrest years ago. Brennan was meant to have been told he was alive, but Doctor Lance Sweets, the duo's FBI-appointed psychologist, decided to conceal the truth, officially because he thought it would better sell Booth's faked death but really because he wanted to observe Brennan's reaction to the notion that Booth is dead for real.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Enemies" uses this as well; Angel fakes turning evil to trick Faith, and really punches Xander (who was clueless) in the face during the masquerade. Whether the pleasure he took in doing so was real is left ambiguous.
  • Cheers did this a lot, such as the episode in which Coach and Harry the Hat conspired to recover Coach's money from a con by Harry pretending to betray the coach. Diane whined that they would have helped, but Harry replied, "Coach and I didn't think you weren't smart enough to pull it off."
  • The first episode of Hustle with Danny (and the audience) only let in at the end.
    • Happens a great deal in Hustle actually, due to a combination of the Unspoken Plan Guarantee, in-character Enforced Method Acting (as in the first episode, where the realism of Danny's reactions to the unfolding situation were vital. It was also a trick to test his loyalty, as in the next point) and, in some cases, the characters tricking each other (as in the Season 3 episode where Mickey and Danny get dumped naked in Trafalgar Square for a contest to determine the leadership of the crew, which was actually just Albert having bet that he could get the two to agree to be released into the heart of London naked).
  • Stargate:
    • Stargate SG-1 uses this at least three times:
      • "Crossroads": SG-1 is kept in the dark by the Tok'ra as part of a plan to trick a Goa'uld symbiote into thinking that it has successfully infiltrated the Tok'ra when they intend to Feed the Mole.
      • "Shades of Grey": Everyone is kept in the dark by Hammond, O'Neill and a couple of alien races in an effort to discover spies who are stealing advanced technology.
      • "Dominion": Vala is kept in the dark about her own plan (thanks to a memory-altering device) to fool her mind-reading Big Bad daughter Adria.
    • Stargate Atlantis: O'Neill does it again in order to fool the Asuran Replicators, whom he knows have the ability to Mind Probe people. He and the team give a bogus plan to Woolsey, knowing the Asurans will get it out of him, while they enact their real plan behind everyone's backs.
  • Star Trek: Voyager did this with Tom Paris - during the second season he became a much more shady and Jerkass character (gambling, mouthing off at Chakotay, showing up late for duty, etc.) until he finally asked to be put off the ship. It turned out that it was a ruse cooked up by Janeway and Tuvok to try and find the crewman feeding information to Seska, and Chakotay was kept in the dark in case the spy was one of his former crewmen. Needless to say, Chakotay was very unhappy when he found out he'd been played yet again.note 
  • In the third season of S.W.A.T. (2017), Street goes undercover after a public falling-out with the rest of the team. When they're brought in on the plan in the next episode, Hicks explains that he and Hondo kept them in the dark so that their reactions would be genuine and help to sell the deception.

  • Star Wars Radio Dramas: The radio drama of Return of the Jedi contains one of these, though it wasn't explained in the film. C-3PO was deliberately kept in the dark about Luke's complicated plan to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, so that when Jabba had Threepio's data files scanned and found no trace of the stratagem, he accepted the droid's story at face-value.(R2-D2, meanwhile, was in on the whole thing). Leia later apologizes to Threepio for the deception.

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect 2:
    • Done by The Illusive Man quite often when he gives missions to you. This is partly done because he doesn't know how player character Shepard would react, and partly to throw off The Collectors.
    • Also done by the Shala'Raan during Tali's trial by not informing Tali that her father is dead so that the court could see her shock.
  • In Persona 3, Mitsuru knows more about Tartarus and the Dark Hour than she initially lets on.
  • Persona 5: When Sae asks why the Phantom Thieves didn't upfront tell her that Goro was working for a conspiracy that was using the Palace to commit crimes, the Thieves reply that 1) Sae wouldn't have believed them and 2) they needed Sae in the dark for their plan.
  • Star Wars Legends: In Knights of the Old Republic, Bastila would have been ready to tell the player character that s/he is Revan but the Jedi Council forbid her, for they feared that evil would be let loose on the universe again. Depending on the player character's reaction, this may bring on the very nightmare their actions were intended to prevent.


    Western Animation 
  • In Iron Man: The Animated Series, Tony does this twice. The first time, a fake marriage to Julia (the goal being to convince Mandarin that Tony Stark and Iron Man are different people by having Iron Man show up to rescue Tony when the Mandarin attacks after the ceremony), is played for laughs (Apparently it was important that Wanda's jealousy be realistic). The second time, in which Tony fakes his death, does NOT amuse the team — they kick him out and relocate. The second season also treats the fake-marriage stunt a bit more seriously.
  • In the Men in Black: The Series episode "The Out to Pasture Syndrome", Zed decides to retire and puts K in charge of MIB. When Alpha returns more powerful than ever, he captures J and uses a Mind Probe to discover Zed's location. After he leaves, Agent L rescues J and reveals Zed had not retired: every last one of J's fellow agents (and Frank the Pug) had been in on a scheme to capture Alpha, J being kept in the dark so that Alpha's probe wouldn't learn the truth. Downplayed in that it doesn't work. J was still savvy enough to notice that Zed didn't show the usual response to mind-wiping, which allowed Alpha to realize that there is a trap regardless.
  • In Scooby-Doo in Where’s My Mummy?, Velma and Prince Omar don't tell the rest of the gang about their plan to scare off the treasure hunter Amelia von Butch with a Cleopatra ghost—as Velma later explains to her friends, she ultimately did it to try and protect her friends, feeling that what she and Omar had in mind was too dangerous for them.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In season 4's "Deception" arc, Anakin and Ahsoka are not told about Obi-Wan and the Jedi Council's plan to fake his death so he can go undercover as his own killer to foil a plot against the Chancellor, so their reactions will be genuine. Anakin is furious when he finds out, and Palpatine uses the opportunity to first try and trick him into killing the disguised Obi-Wan, and then as part of his efforts to turn Anakin against the Jedi.
  • In Teen Titans, Robin did this in the episode "Masks".
  • An episode of Transformers: Beast Wars had Rattrap switch sides, which was set up by Optimus and himself so they could find out how the Predacons were tapping their transmissions.
  • Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?: Zack and Ivy actually try to tell their AI Chief about something they're doing, but then Carmen brags about how she's hacked the Chief, and they realize they can't tell him that Ivy is pretending to be "The Tigress", a rival thief to Carmen, as part of a plan to catch her once and for all...a plan that almost works.
  • In the Xiaolin Showdown episode "The Return of Master Monk Guan", Raimundo is bullied and humiliated by the titular Monk Guan (and Omi), with the experience prompting him to quit for the sake of his friends and his dignity, after which the Big Bad offers him a job. The whole thing turns out to be a setup planned by Raimundo and Monk Guan to get the Treasure of The Blind Swordsman that the others weren't made privy to, with Raimundo being chosen due to having defected before.