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Man Behind The Man / Live-Action TV

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Hidden bosses and leaders from live-action TV.


  • Joss Whedon: He really likes this trope. Here we go:
    • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 6, several monsters of the week were hired or summoned by the Nerds.
    • In Angel, it's made clear early on that corrupt Mega-Corp Wolfram And Hart is behind many lesser evils of LA, but who is behind Wolfram And Hart goes through several levels of reveal.
      • Season 1 reveals Holland Manners is behind the former face of W&H Lindsey McDonald.
      • Season 2 shows that W&H is behind the Corrupt Church that rules the dark dimension Pylea, and that true demons (the Senior Partners) are behind the mortal attorneys.
      • Season 4 has a different procession: The Beast (a.k.a. Big Rubber Satan) is in front of Evil Cordelia, who is in front of (or rather, actually is) Eldritch Abomination Jasmine (who may be behind any number of other things, as well).
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    • Firefly never got around to revealing much, but based on what we know about the show's planned Myth Arc, it appears that Blue Sun Corporation was meant to be behind most of The Alliance's evil tendencies.
    • Dollhouse is a massive cascade of Man Behind The Man moments: Adelle DeWitt in front of Rossum as a whole, then a series of fake out reveals which ultimately give way to the sudden knowledge that Boyd is the real Big Bad.


  • 24:
    • In one season, The Man Behind The Man is revealed around the middle of the "day", allowing Jack to spend the remaining episodes going after the real Big Bad.
    • In season 1, Dan and Rick (as well as Mandy and her assistant) were working for Ira Gaines, who himself was hired by the Drazens, while the Drazen brothers were working to bust their thought-dead father out of prison.
    • In season 2, Joe Wald was being manipulated by Nina Myers, who was working with Syed Ali, who was sold the nuclear device by Peter Kingsley, who himself was working under orders of Trepkos and Max. Max himself may have been the superior of the German woman talking to Nina at the end of season 1, making him the man behind the woman behind the woman.
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    • In "The Game", Max was Peter Madsen's superior.
    • In season 3, Michael Amador and Marcus Alvers were working for Stephen Saunders.
      • And before we even knew about any of them, we originally thought the villains were the Salazars. While definitely not nice people, the Salazars were bluffing when they claimed to have the virus. They tried to buy it from Amador and ended up dead for it.
    • In season 4, Navi Araz was working for Habib Marwan.
    • In season 5, Anton Beresch was working for Ivan Erwich, who was working for Vladimir Bierko, who was working with Christopher Henderson, who was working for President Charles Logan.
    • In season 6, Abu Fayed's superior, General Habib, appears in one episode, but he was already captured by the time we learn about him. Fayed was also the attempted pawn of Dmitri Gredenko, however Gredenko died and Fayed seemed to reclaim his spot as antagonist, but died in the very next episode. Latter a different conspiracy emerged when the Chinese entered the picture, led by Cheng Zi, and they are revealed to be in cahoots with Jack's long lost father Phillip. Phillip and his son Graem were also Logan's co-conspirators in the previous conspiracy, or at least until they were seemingly retconned, as Logan recieved the full blame for it at the start of season 7.
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    • In season 7, it's debatable whether Benjamin Juma's relations with Jonas Hodges count, as Hodges relationship is already stated in Redemption, and it can be interpreted as more of a Big Bad Duumvirate than Hodges being Juma's superior. On a far grander and less ambigious scale, even Hodges was merely a member of a large cabal headed by Alan Wilson, and Wilson was stated by Tony Almeida to have been The Man Behind The Man to PresidentEvil Charles Logan.
    • In Season 8 Farhad Hassan and Samir Mehran were the Men Behind the assassination attempt on President Hassan. Meanwhile, Mehran was secretly supported by Russian Minister Mikhail Novakovich, who in turn answered to Russian President Yuri Suvarov who seemed to have undergone a Face–Heel Turn. They are later blackmailed into a new conspiracy, which involved both the US and Russian governments covering up the original conspiracy, signing the peace treaty, and attempting to kill Jack Bauer. The man behind it? None other than Former President Evil Charles Logan.
  • Alias: Throughout Season One, Sydney pursues a character that the show refers to as "The Man". Sure enough, the person they thought was The Man turns out to be The Dragon:
    Sydney: What's going to happen to me?
    Khasinau: You'll have to ask my boss.
    Sydney: Your boss? I'm looking for The Man. Aren't you Alexander Khasinau?
    Khasinau: Yes. Yes, but I am not The Man.
    [The Man walks in]
    Sydney: Mom?
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does this a lot in the first season. In the beginning the bad guys are just various apparently unconnected minor conspiracies, such as the Centipede project, seemingly directed by Raina (a.k.a. "the girl in the flower dress") and Ian Quinn's evil corporation. It is later discovered that both Raina and Quinn report to a mysterious employer known as the Clairvoyant. In Episode 16, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents discovers "The Clairvoyant" in the person of Thomas Nash and kill him, but Nash himself says that name was given to him by someone else, and further analysis from Coulson makes it clear that Nash was at best a front and at worst just a decoy and another victim. The Big Bad is then revealed to be John Garret, who has not only been controlling everything from the start, but is also revealed to be Ward's handler, and both are HYDRA moles.
  • Arrow:
  • Burn Notice: In the episode "Dead to Rights", it is revealed that Larry was working for Anson — and not even Larry knew it, thanks to an elaborate plan.
  • Channel Zero: The first season spends two-thirds of its six episode run building up Frances Booth as the mastermind behind Candle Cove and all the evil associated with it. However, in the penultimate episode, she reveals that she's actually in service to the true creator of Candle Cove, Eddie Painter.
  • Chuck: Has done this twice. Fulcrum was a part of the Ring, and these two, along with Volkoff Industries, were part of a conspiracy as clients of a firm led by Nicholas Quinn.
  • Day Break: The thugs targeting Hopper are commanded by the ominous "Man from the Quarry". We learn his name — Conrad Detweiler — only several episodes later. Then he is heard taking orders from somebody else — Tobias Booth. Who in one episode even executes him for allegedly leaking information to Hopper. But Booth is actually subordinate to Barry Colburn, who is the ultimate leader of the conspiracy. Hopper eventually learns the truth, but Colburn is actually so high up in the criminal chain that all his tracks are covered and Hopper can't do anything about him, so he remains a free man.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The earliest example of the Daleks being the Man Behind the Man Behind the Man is in "Frontier in Space", in which case they were behind the Master, who was the Man Behind the Man to the Ogrons.
    • In "The Long Game", the Editor who supposedly runs Satellite 5 is revealed to work for the Mighty Jagrafess. In the season finale, "Bad Wolf"/"The Parting of the Ways", it's revealed that the Jagrafess, in turn, worked for the Daleks.
    • "Turn Left": The fortune teller and time beetle that cause the creation of the Crapsack World alternate timeline are revealed to work for the Trickster, with the beetle being described as part of the Trickster's Brigade.
    • "The End of Time" reveals that Rassilon is the Man Behind the Man to the Master, having used the Time Vortex to give him the continuous sound of drums in his head, effectively torturing him into insanity.
    • The races that formed the Alliance in "The Pandorica Opens"/"The Big Bang" were apparently manipulated by the Silence, who wouldn't even appear till the following season.
  • Falling Skies: For most of the first season, both the characters and the audience believe that the Skitters are the Big Bads. Then, near the end of the season, we meet the Overlords, and find out that the Skitters are just Slave Mooks.
  • The Flash (2014): Season 3 spends several episodes building up Doctor Alchemy as the new Big Bad. However, it's soon revealed that he's actually merely the chief acolyte of Savitar.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Tywin Lannister has twice served as Hand of the King: first to Aerys Targaryen and secondly to his grandson Joffrey. His reign as Hand is seen (in-verse) as a time of prosperity, despite "The Mad King". He was also the true architect of the Red Wedding, by guaranteeing the Freys protection from retribution.
    • Tyrion Lannister becomes this for Joffrey in Season 2 as his acting hand of the King and is notably somewhat of a good guy example. He then gets ousted from the position by his father, Tywin Lannister in "Blackwater" and even while he was the man behind the man to Joffrey, Tywin was the man behind the man to him. This causes the smallfolk of Kings Landing to hold him personally responsible for the city's ills even though Joffrey started the war.
  • Gotham has a whole chain of these spread out over its Myth Arc. Season 1 makes it clear that the Wayne murders were carried out by a conspiracy within Wayne Enterprises itself. Mid-Season 2 reveals that the order was specifically given by Hugo Strange, only for the end of the season to reveal that both Strange and the Wayne conspiracy members were working for the Court of Owls, which appears throughout Season 3 to be led by a woman named Kathryn. But then the final episodes of the season reveal that the Court is led by a mysterious man known as the Shaman, who in turn reveals with his final breaths that he was actually all along an acolyte of Ra's Al-Ghul.
  • Kamen Rider:
  • The Big Bad of the first season of Legend of the Seeker is Darken Rahl, an Evil Sorcerer/Emperor of the D'Haran Empire. He dies during the season finale, but his death also opens rifts to the Underworld, and the true Big Bad is revealed to have always been the Keeper, whose goal is to unravel the world of the living as a spite to the Creator. Darken Rahl's spirit serves the Keeper by recruiting the souls of the recently deceased to be sent back as Banelings (who must kill someone every day to stay alive). Rahl later admits to Richard that he made a deal with the Keeper many years ago, becoming the first Baneling. Hence, all the deaths caused by Rahl were partly to sate the Keeper and allow Rahl to stay alive. At the end of the second season (and the series), Rahl uses Loophole Abuse to get back to the world of the living and be free of the Keeper, while the Keeper is once again imprisoned in the Underworld with the rifts closed.
  • Lost:
    • Has done this several times. In the second season, it looked like Tom was the leader of the Others, until the finale when we learned of Benjamin Linus, who then revealed himself to be a pawn of Jacob, who is then murdered in the Season 5 finale, leaving the Man in Black to take the stage. And in all this mess, we still have Charles Widmore to worry about.
    • Averted Trope in that the Man in Black was "seen" in the very first episode and has been popping up throughout the series, seemingly in various dead guises. Also Jacob is not presented as an antagonist when he is finally revealed, and it is unclear just how much he has been ordering the Others around (though he probably could have stopped a lot of their worst actions) and hence how responsible he is for them, particularly since he spends a lot of time travelling.
  • In the NCIS episode "Dead Reckoning", an accountant for a powerful crime boss turns himself in and offers information to bring down said crime boss in exchange for immunity. During the investigation, Team Gibbs discovers that the crime boss has been in a coma for months; the one with all the power is the accountant.
  • Person of Interest:
    • Pennsylvania Two/Special Counsel is this with respect to Weeks. Then it turns out that Pennsylvania Two is working for a woman known only by the name "Control".
    • The team's fight against HR, a group of Dirty Cops, is complicated by the fact that very few people know who the actual head of the group is. The heroes have to work their way through HR's hierarchy until they finally discover that the person behind it all is not a cop at all but the mayor's political adviser.
    • In the season 3 finale we find out that Vigilance, a group of pro-privacy terrorists, are actually manipulated and controlled by Decima, a group trying to bring their own version of The Machine online. The irony is that Decima's goals are actually everything Vigilance hates and is fighting against.
  • Power Rangers:
    • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Prime-Time Premiere of the second season reveals that Lord Zedd was Rita's Big Boss, by imprisoning her in another dumpster but he was only the trope to the humans (viewers or in-universe). Zordon and Goldar (and it's implied the same to the other non-humans in the series) already knew Zedd was Rita's "lord and master" and was just too busy conquering other worlds prior to his debut.
    • While a vague allusion to a United Alliance of Evil in Zeo's premiere seems to imply a grander villain hierarchy than just Rita and Zedd, it isn't until the premiere of Power Rangers in Space that we learn Dark Specter had been the man behind the man for EVERY SEASON until then. Then Rita and Zedd's son tries to make himself into the man behind the various villain factions during the middle of Power Rangers Operation Overdrive. Doesn't last long but it was impressive for what is technically a nine-year-old.
    • Power Rangers S.P.D. also has Emperor Gruumm revealed to be serving something called Omni.
  • Profit: Jim Profit is a rare protagonist version, as he eventually becomes this for the entire Gracen & Gracen corporation. Officially, Profit is simply the boss Charles Gracen's right-hand man and advisor as Vice President of Acquisitions. However, by the finale he controls the Gracen family so thoroughly through his relationship with Charles and his brother and the backdoor manipulation of Bobbi as Charles's lover that Profit effectively runs the company. As he puts it, his goal was to control one of the largest economic groupings in the United States, and he achieves exactly that.
  • Pulsaciones: The person who was paying the killer to kidnap people to test BN23 on them turns out to be Carlos Meyer, a character who was marginally relevant to the plot up to that point.
  • Invoked on the ABC series Reef Break as Cat brings in a supposed underling at gunpoint, telling the gang of gunmen holding some rich guys hostage to put down their guns. Bo, the rich man's son who's working with the gang, is startled when they seem ready to do it as it turns out the guy is the real leader.
    Cat: I've spent my whole life dancing on the wrong side of the law and that's how I know the guy you deal with is never "the guy."
  • Revolution: Throughout the first season, Randall Flynn seemed to have a mysterious agenda going on. Then in the first season finale, it turns out that he wanted to get the power back on so he could launch Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles at Atlanta and Philadelphia. Then he kills himself after his mission is accomplished. Not only that, but it turns out that he was working on behalf of the American government, which had stationed itself in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for a long time. Now that Randall has accomplished his mission, the government is planning to go in and take back what's theirs.
  • Smallville: In the eighth season, Lex is The Man Behind The Man to Tess Mercer, while Faora and Zod are The Man Behind The Man to Doomsday, although they don't retain control of him for long. In Season 10, Darkseid is The Man Behind The Man to Granny Goodness, Desaad, and Gordon Godfrey, as well as Slade Wilson and the Vigilante Registration Act.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: While it was not exactly a secret, Weyoun served as this with Damar in the last two seasons. While Damar became the leader of Cardassia after Dukat's capture, he was little more than a puppet for Weyoun. Also from DS9, Quark's mother Ishka becomes this for Grand Nagus Zek.
    • It's also revealed in the series that this is the way Ferengi are supposed to seize power. They really frown on just killing the leader for a Klingon Promotion. They're supposed to undermine the current leader's power base, and accumulate power and wealth behind the scenes until they can financially humiliate the leader and depose them.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: In Series 3, the Xindi race's attack on Earth made them the arc villains - however, as the ship searched for them in their home space, it happened across mysterious giant spheres warping reality, and then their architects, the extradimensional Sphere Builders. In the end it turned out the Xindi had been manipulated by the Sphere Builders into attacking Earth as part of a Batman Gambit to prevent them joining with humans against the Sphere Builders in the future, and the Sphere Builders were the real villains.
  • Stranger Things: The Demogorgon, the main threat from the Upside Down in Season 1 is revealed in Season 2 to have merely been an attack dog of the true threat, the Mind Flayer.
  • Super Sentai:
    • Two thirds of the way through J.A.K.Q. Dengekitai, it's revealed that Boss Iron Claw, the man initially thought to be the leader of CRIME, is actually The Dragon to a mysterious entity called Shine.
    • In Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan, it's revealed in the last few episodes that the leader of Black Magma, Fuhrer Hell Saturn was receiving orders from the Omnipotent God, the deity of the Black Magma cult, all along. The Omnipotent God had previously popped up before in episode 5, but its influence wasn't revealed until towards the end.
    • It's revealed in Chikyuu Sentai Fiveman that the leader of the Zone Empire, Galactic Empress Meadow, is actually an illusion created by Zone's flagship, Vulgyre. The real Meadow whom the illusion was based was never evil.
    • In Gosei Sentai Dairanger, Lieutenant Colonel Shadam was the one responsible for the Gorma Tribe's reemergence, having remade all their members out of clay dolls. It's also revealed at the end that Shadam is himself a clay doll created by the original Shadam.
    • In Gekisou Sentai Carranger, Exhaus is the one behind the Bowzock's ambitions to destroy the Earth, having told their leader Gynamo that he could amass good luck by blowing it up.
    • Mirai Sentai Timeranger reveals Captain Ryuya to be the true Big Bad, having masterminded the events of the series and allowed the Londerz Family to escape to keep himself from dying.
    • In Engine Sentai Go-onger, it's revealed some time after Yogostein's death that he was receiving orders from his father, Yogoshimacritein, all along.
    • Brajira in Tensou Sentai Goseiger manages to be this to all three of the series' villain organizations, having manipulated all of them to further his own goals.
  • Timecop: Ian Pascoe reveals that he was this to Al Capone, as he gave Alphonse the resources and advice to become a bootlegger and mob boss in the first place. Pascoe quickly presses Capone back into his service when he's back in town with a few days to kill.
  • Twin Peaks: Although Agent Cooper encounters BOB in season 1 and Windom Earle in season 2, Windom Earle would be The Dragon, while BOB (who is never truly defeated) is the Big Bad.
  • Utopia: At first, the leader of the shadowy cabal known as The Network appears to be Letts; but after he's captured his assistant is revealed to be in charge. And then it turns out that even he is a Decoy Leader
  • White Collar: For the first season and a half, it seemed that Garrett Fowler was the man running things. Halfway through the second season, in "Point Blank", Fowler reveals he's being blackmailed by Neal's old boss, Vincent Adler.


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