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Out-of-Character Alerts in live-action TV.


  • 24:
    • Played twice in the first six hours: Kim said "I love you" over the phone to her mother Teri after being kidnapped, and Teri said the same to Jack under similar circumstances. (Amusingly, Teri catches on immediately, while her counter-terrorism-trained husband doesn't notice.)
    • In season 5 of the series, Jack is held hostage by a group of terrorists, and (rather unsubtly) relays a code he knew when he was employed by CTU ("I'm in a FLANK! TWO! POSITION!") to indicate he is transmitting under duress. This enables the strike teams to overtake the terrorists and save Jack... But only after McGill figures out the outdated code.
  • In the sixth season of The 100, Clarke discovers too late that the residents of Sanctum keep themselves immortal by uploading their personalities into younger bodies. She ends up taken over by the twisted Josephine. The elders of Sanctum have her pose as Clarke to find out what the crew are up to. While she does a good job at first (due to the others having no idea what Sanctum does), Josephine's lack of empathy, Clarke's memories and often dark behavior is much different than Clarke's to make people suspicious.
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    • Gaia speaks to "Clarke" in her native language which Josephine doesn't understand and that confusion gets Gaia's notice. Later, Bellamy does the same with Josephine faking understanding but he still notices, forcing Josephine to knock him out.
    • Clarke's mother, Abby, notices she's writing with her right hand. However, besides being affected by drugs, Abby also is obsessed with cracking a code and since Clarke is ambidextrous anyway, she brushes it off.
    • When part of the group find video evidence of what Sanctum does, the fact Clarke defends this as "just their way of life" seems offbeat given her moral stances in the past.
    • Murphy is the first to figure it out as "Clarke" keeps calling Murphy by his first name which she has never done in all the years they've known each other. Always ready to put himself first, Murphy is willing to give Josephine details on Clarke's life for her impersonation in exchange for getting a shot at immortality.
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    • Earlier, Jordan had gotten together with Delilah and watched her undergo the ceremony. He at first assumes that her new name of "Priya" is simply a title, unaware of how it's the persona now inside the body. He's thrown when she immediately dismisses him and comes to her with a daisy, which she had said was her favorite. She accepts it and Jordan knows something is wrong because Delilah had told him her true favorite flowers were lilies.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Baited from Agent 33 (disguised as Melinda May) by Coulson. Coulson offers both to go out for coffee after a mission, to which "May" replies "I thought you'd never ask." Coulson nods with a small smile, then punches her out.
    Coulson: May hates coffee.
  • In "You Got to Have Luck", an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, an escaped convict holds a woman hostage in her house when the telephone rings. He makes her answer it, and, listening into the conversation, tells her exactly how to answer each question from her mother on the other end. Later, after the guy let his guard down, the cops come busting in and arrest him. It turns out the woman was deaf but could speak without an accent and read lips as well. She was able to repeat what the guy said, but the mere fact that she was able to hold up one end of a telephone conversation tipped off her mother that something was going on.
  • Alias:
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    • During the second season arc, Sydney and Jack's cover as agents of SD-6 is in jeopardy. Jack is in the custody of an SD-6 higher-up, ordered to bring his daughter in under suspicion of being moles. He calls Sydney, then tells her to take "surface roads", because of traffic. That's their code for, "we've been discovered, it's not safe."
    • Sydney realizes that the fake Francie is an impostor when she offers her some coffee ice cream, something the real Francie hated, and she accepts.
  • On All My Children, Julia has been kidnapped by her recently paroled rapist. He orders her to call her boyfriend and tell him everything's okay. When she does, she tells him that she's assisting a woman from her rape survivor group, a "Mrs. Elijah". Elijah is the name of her boyfriend's former neighbor. He instantly realizes that she's being held prisoner in his old apartment.
  • Andromeda had Dylan Hunt blinking a code with his eyes when he was kidnapped, his ship computer was programmed to detect it.
  • Angel:
    • Lorne appears to have pursued a career in show business and is only seen during brief telephone calls for a few episodes, and each time, he asks how Fluffy is doing. The main characters are convinced that his success is just going to his head and that he is constantly snubbing them, but when they finally show up (not even to rescue him, just for a visit), he says, "Fluffy. Fluffy the dog. The dog you don't have. The universally recognized code for "I'm being held prisoner. Send help!" Hilariously played off when they got the call originally as they wonder if it's a pet nickname for a member of the crew, and which member that is.
      Fred: You don't think he was referring to anything of mine that's fluffy do you? Because that would just be inappropriate...
    • Also played with in the episode "Double or Nothing" when an old debt of Gunn's is called in (his soul) and he tries to push Fred away with some very mean words in order to spare her the pain of his leaving/death (not clear). Although visibly upset at first, she sees right through this ploy and tell the others he must be in some VERY BAD trouble because Gunn would never really say those things unless he was TRYING to push her away to protect her.
    • During Season 4, when released to face the Beast, Angelus, having faced him before, immediately realizes this, since the Beast is actually operating with a long-term plan. Angelus explains that the Beast he knew was nothing but Dumb Muscle who was only interested in smashing things and killing people when they last met, so the fact that he's operating with any kind of plan at all is proof that he's working for someone else. He's ultimately proven right; the Beast was in fact working for the true Big Bad of the season, the fallen Power-That-Be Jasmine.
  • Ash vs. Evil Dead: In the episode "The Host", when possessed by Eligos, Kelly appears to gave a moment of clarity and begs Ash to Mercy Kill her. Ash is initially unsure... until "Kelly" asks him to make a cross for her grave. Knowing that Kelly is Jewish, Ash quickly realizes that it's nothing but Eligos being a troll.
  • Two enemy agents have a machine which will enable them to switch personalities with Steed and Mrs. Peel in The Avengers. After the man has switched with Steed, he goes to Mrs. Peel's to lure her into the trap. As they are leaving, he addresses her as "Emma", something Steed never did. She notices, but shrugs it off.
  • On an episode of Baywatch, as Stephanie gets into her truck, she's confronted by an escaped convict, who orders her to drive off the beach. During the drive, Mitch radios Stephanie to tell her to return to headquarters. The criminal orders Stephanie to tell Mitch that she has found a lost child and is driving him around to find his parents. Stephanie complies, knowing that the criminal has just hoisted himself by his own petard—the lifeguards NEVER drive lost children around to find their parents. Policy dictates that they bring the children to headquarters. The criminal's efforts to avoid detection have resulted in him being found out—Mitch instantly realizes Stephanie's in trouble and sends the police to find her.
  • In an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210, Donna is being held prisoner in her room by a would-be rapist. When David shows up at the apartment to apologize to her (they had an argument earlier in the day), the rapist orders her to get rid of him. So from behind a closed door, Donna repeatedly yells at David to leave, but she keeps calling him "Dave", something she's never done before. David realizes something's wrong and manages to save her.
  • Blake's 7
    • In "Shadow", Blake tries to purchase the help of Terra Nostra only to be captured instead. They force him to call Cally on the Liberator, so Blake tells her to send Zen across in the shuttle with the money (Zen is actually their Master Computer and built into the spaceship). However this backfires because his captor assumes Blake came there by shuttle (he was teleported, but that's not a well-known technology) and therefore that's a Covert Distress Code — his shuttle should still be on the Space Station, not the Liberator. Blake has to bluff him into believing the Liberator has more than one shuttle. It should be noted that the crew of the Liberator never do establish a Covert Distress Code, despite several occasions where they're coerced (or their voice is faked) to get someone to teleport up a Boarding Party.
    • In "Powerplay", Avon returns to the Liberator after being forced to Abandon Ship only to be confronted by series newcomer Del Tarrant dressed as a Federation captain and demanding to know what they are doing on his ship. Avon's instinctive response is, "YOUR ship?" before pretending to be civilian refugees from the battle. As Tarrant later points out, no-one would question that a Federation captain was The Captain, unless he already knew that the Liberator didn't belong to Tarrant.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In "Enemies," the Mayor and Faith conspire to steal Angel's soul and unleash Angelus again. They seem to succeed, and when Angel addresses her as "Buff," one of his Terms of Endangerment back when he was evil, Buffy promptly goes Oh, Crap!. Ultimately subverted; Buffy and Angel had grown suspicious of Faith, and set the whole thing up to get info on the Mayor's plans and out her.
    • Occurs in "Conversations with Dead People." Willow sees a vision of Cassie, a girl who had died earlier in the season. "Cassie" explains that she's been sent by Willow's dead girlfriend Tara, who can't come herself because Willow's being punished for her Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Tara's murderer. At the end of the conversation, "Cassie" suggests that Willow kill herself so that she and Tara can be together again. Willow instantly realizes that Tara wouldn't send anyone who would suggest that, and the illusion, sensing its mistake, drops any pretense and reveals itself as the season's Big Bad, the First Evil.
  • Burn Notice:
    • In the first season finale, Sam provides a variant: in his proof-of-life photo, he makes a strange hand gesture. Michael looks through Sam's old photos and finds a matching pose, realizing that Sam is telling Michael to give up on him. Michael promptly ignores this and rescues Sam anyway.
    • In the third season finale, Madeline Westen apparently had a code phrase meaning "stay away" already established with her sons. It was originally meant to indicate that their father was in a drunken rage, but it also works pretty well when the FBI is after Mike.
    • In the fourth season episode "Out of the Fire", Michael calls Fiona 'honey' while talking to her over the phone. She then explains that this a code phrase they had during their Belfast days meaning 'something is wrong'.
  • Castle:
    • In episode "3XK": Castle is being tied up and held at gunpoint by a killer when his mother calls. The killer forces him to answer the phone and act normal. When Castle ends the call with "I love you", his mother calls Beckett and tells her something must be terribly wrong.
    • In a later episode, "Murder Most Fowl", a 12 year old boy was being held hostage, and used the proof of life video his captors took to try to alert everyone to his location. "Don't forget to feed Ace," he says, only his family doesn't have any pets. Ace turns out to be a place, a subway station where lines A, C and E all run. Thanks to Castle's quick thinking and the victim of the week's invention, the kid is rescued.
    • Beckett is forced at gunpoint to call Castle and set up a meeting. Castle apologizes for a fight they had earlier about a dinner with their parents that went badly, and Beckett suggests that they should go to a baseball game because it's "something all four of us can enjoy". Castle recognizes this as a distress signal, since the cause of the fight was his mother disparaging Beckett's father's love of baseball.
    • Actually justified in a fun way in "Dance With Death". Odette, an heiress, is killed doing a dance show. Beckett talks to people who all note that Odette was a former party girl who only cared about having fun and getting arrested. However, when she survived a train crash a year earlier, she totally changed her attitude, devoting herself to charity work. People believe the crash was a wake-up call with one person saying "It was like she was a totally different person." It turns out she was. Months before the crash, Odette met with stripper Barbara and realized that with some surgery and lessons, she could be the perfect Body Double. Thus, Barbara went about doing stuff like court-ordered community service and drug tests while Odette could continue her party life. Odette was the one killed in the crash and as they were the only two people who knew, Barbara realized this was her chance to live out a rich life for real. The crash was the perfect excuse for why "Odette" would have a new attitude and occasionally not remember things and it worked.
    • As it turned out, this also got Barbara killed. When a man from her past figured out the truth, she had to pay blackmail to him. Odette's financial manager saw the money and confronted her, yelling that he didn't help Odette kill her grandfather for his fortune just so she could waste it. When he saw Barbara's shocked reaction, he realized she wasn't the real Odette.
  • In an episode of Charlie's Angels, one of the girls has been captured and is forced to act on the phone to the others as though everything is OK. She plays along, but drops in a reference to her station wagon, something the Angels are not known for driving.
  • Charmed (1998):
    • In "Chris-Crossed", Chris is forcibly taken to the future, and tells the sisters right beforehand, "Looks like Leo's going to have to fix that floorboard without me." They initially misinterpret this to be his final words of defeat, as it seemingly has no relevance to the situation and he hates Leo, until they figure out Chris is trying to get them to put a power-restoring spell underneath the floorboard for him to use in the future.
    • Another Charmed example has Piper being possessed by a demon. Piper warns the demon that her sisters will eventually figure it out, "Or if they don't, my boyfriend Tom will." Piper's fiance (the aforementioned Leo) comes in just then and immediately becomes suspicious when the demon in Piper's body calls him Tom.
    • A demon once tried to impersonate Cole, but made the mistake of telling Phoebe the safest place he knew was in the mausoleum. Cole's real "safest place" is with her.
  • Chuck: In "Chuck versus the Santa Suit", Shaw has taken over Castle and is holding Sarah hostage. In getting an important file, Chuck apparently gets a call from Sarah, but as he's able to deduce, it's just Shaw using a voice modifier. How? Chuck concludes that Sarah would never call him "dear".
  • Criminal Minds:
    • Reid does this in the episode "Revelations" when he's being held hostage. The killer forces Reid, on a video feed, to pick a member of the team to die. Reid picks Hotch, and mentions a few character flaws and a relevant Bible verse. Hotch realizes that the personality Reid is describing isn't him — it's a profile they had been discussing earlier. (To prove it, he has everyone on the team list his worst flaws, and none of them agree with what Reid said.) Hotch then looks up the Bible verse, and realizes that the quotation was incorrect. Since Reid has an eidetic memory, he would never quote something incorrectly. The actual passage is a clue to where Reid's being held.
    • In an earlier episode, Hotch was uncharacteristically frustrated with Reid's earlier difficulty in the shooting range after they had both been captured. He eventually convinced the UNSUB to let him kick Reid before they both died, which gave Reid a chance to grab the gun in his ankle holster. Later Reid said he'd figured out the plan at the very beginning, making the drawn-out scene unnecessary.
    • In the DVD commentary for "Revelations", the writers mused on this swap and eventually agreed that Reid and Hotch have "a very effective spite-based communication."
  • In an episode of CSI, Riley calls Greg Sanders by her own name to alert him to the fact that she and Langston were being held hostage (a technique established at the beginning of the episode in a training roleplay). He replies "Okay, Sanders" to let her know he understands the message.
  • In Dallas, Pam signals to Bobby that something is wrong by telling him on the phone that she plans to spend the evening playing backgammon with J.R. Bobby knows Pam and J.R. hate each other and would never willingly spend the evening together, so he hurries home to find the whole family is being held hostage.
  • Dark Angel uses this in the episode "Rising". When the villains tries to use Original Cindy as bait, she warns Max by referring to her new boyfriend. Original Cindy is a lesbian.
    • However, since Viewers Are Morons, they included an earlier scene where she spent like five minutes listing some of her old girlfriends and how she would never ever ever date a man.
  • In Defiance Nolan catches on that Datak Tarr is being held hostage when he is perfectly polite to him and freely offers to help with their investigation for no reward. It's unclear if this was an intentional hint on Datak's part or if he was just afraid for his life and not in the mood for their usual arguments.
  • On Designated Survivor, Hannah is among a Congressional group taken hostage by rebels in Cuba. While trying to escape, Hannah sees that Congressman Cross is talking with the rebel leader, revealing they're in cahoots. The rebels do a live video with the White House, threatening to kill Hannah, who crosses herself. Emily tells Kirkman something is up as Hannah isn't Catholic and figures she's trying to warn them about Cross, leading them to find the "rebels" are actually working for the Cuban President as part of a larger scheme.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Day of the Daleks": The Third Doctor tells the Brigadier to "tell it to the Marines" over the phone, alerting Lethbridge-Stewart to the danger.
    • "The Time Monster": The Master impersonates the Brigadier in a telephone call to Sergeant Benton. He imitates his voice perfectly, but Benton is not fooled because brigadiers don't call sergeants "my dear fellow".
    • "The Android Invasion": The Fourth Doctor realizes Sarah Jane has been replaced when the android accepts the ginger pop he offers her, because he knows she hates ginger pop. In fact he figures it out the moment he sees her, because, as he put it, "The real Sarah wasn't wearing a scarf." Him giving her ginger pop is just his way of checking to make sure he's right.
    • "The Masque of Mandragora": The Doctor figures out that Sarah is under hypnotic control when she asks him how it is that she can understand the local language. He reveals this to her later (after he's broken the hypnosis), explaining that, "It's a Time Lord gift I allow you to share." (This is expanded upon further in the New Series, where it is explained that the TARDIS translates languages through the Doctor's head.) The implication is that it's supposed to seem so natural that the companions don't question it. The fact that Sarah does question it is what alerts the Doctor to the fact that her mind is being controlled by an outside force.
    • "New Earth": Cassandra pulls a Grand Theft Me on Rose. The Doctor doesn't initially suspect anything, even when Rose suddenly kisses him and starts speaking a little strange. However, when they find out that the hospital is making clones and infecting them with diseases and Rose doesn't react with horror, the Doctor knows something's wrong. In this instance the Doctor likely knew all along that something was wrong from all the clues she dropped, but assumed that the problem was related to the strange hospital he was investigating rather than a separate entity coincidentally appearing. He mostly plays along with the ruse to keep things going, and only openly admits he knows something is wrong when he has exposed the hospital's secret and is talking to someone with answers.
    • "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood":
      • The first episode very effectively shows that John Smith, the persona created by the TARDIS and the Chameleon Arch when the Doctor turns himself into a human to hide from a group of villains, is not the Doctor by having him casually do things that go against the Doctor's morals, such as exhibiting typical 1913 values. Most memorably, Smith, who is a teacher at a military boarding school, agrees to supervise machine gun class and gives a bully permission to beat up a kid he's been picking on.
      • On the flip side, in the second part, Smith suddenly speaking in the Doctor's voice while holding the pocket watch containing the Doctor's personality and Time Lord nature horrifies him and Joan Redfern at the sudden realization that there really is an alien inside him.
    • "The Sound of Drums": Martha Jones figures out that her parents are speaking under duress when her mother tells her that her father is in the same room without so much as a raised voice. Subverted in the same scene when Martha asks her father to just answer "yes" or "no" if there's someone else there. Unfortunately, the someone else can hear both sides of the conversation.
    • "The Poison Sky": Inverted when the 10th Doctor spouts phrases against clone Martha, (such as "Avanti!" instead of his usual "Allons-y!"), leading to no response. A few times during the episode he can be seen eyeing her as a result of this.
    • "Nightmare in Silver": The Cyberplanner impersonates the Doctor in an attempt to steal the planet-destroying bomb's remote detonator from Clara. When she asks him to tell her something only the Doctor knows, he begins to charm her, telling her how funny and pretty she is, and how he's starting to like her "in a way that is more than just–", only to be interrupted by Clara smacking him across the face, which brings the Doctor's personality to the foreground again.
      The Doctor: AH! Ow, ow, yes! Ah, it's me! That really hurt! How did you know that was him?!
      Clara: 'Cause even if that was true — which it is obviously not — I know you well enough to know that you would rather die than say it.
    • "It Takes You Away": Though the alternate-universe Grace has all the memories of the original, she reveals herself as a fake when she tries to talk Graham out of helping Ryan. The real deal would make that her first priority.
  • One episode of Elementary has an example that refers back to a Chekhov's Lecture during the Cold Open. Namely, Watson complaining she can't read Holmes' texts because he uses too many weird abbreviations. After the Killer of the Week kidnaps Holmes, she sends a text to Watson from his phone so she won't worry. Watson recognizes it as fake because it didn't read "like a teenager on a sugar high." After Holmes is rescued, he tries to take credit by claiming he deliberately provoked the killer to text Watson.
  • Eleventh Hour, "Miracle": Patrick Stewart's character realizes that the apparent suicide of a doctor he'd been working with isn't what it seems when, in her suicide note, she bequeaths to him her "geiger counter". At an earlier meeting, she had made a point of her aversion to that term (on account of Hans Geiger's naziism), insisting instead upon calling it a "radiation detector".
  • On ER, as Sam is supposedly escorting a patient and two attendants to an ambulance, she calls Abby "Abigail", something that she (nor anyone else) has never done. In reality, Sam is being abducted by the trio — they're her sleazy ex-husband and his two accomplices. Abby's confused, but she manages to realize that something's wrong.
  • Eureka:
    • When Jack's smart house takes him hostage (along with several other characters), he responds to his deputy's concern with, "Sorry, false alarm. But thanks for coming down, Josephina." Since this is the only time he or anyone else has called her anything but "Jo", she realizes pretty quickly that something's out of the ordinary.
    • And in the season 2 finale, Taggart can tell that the Eureka computer is faking Fargo's voice because it calls him "Teg", something Jo called him.
  • On Family Matters, Urkel was being threatened by a criminal, causing him to be placed in witness protection, guarded day and night by, among others, Carl. At the end of Carl's shift guarding Urkel, Carl's partner shows up, holding a large handkerchief in front of his face, telling Carl he has a cold. Carl's suspicions aren't raised until he says "see you later" and the criminal replies "yeah, see you" instead of the actual partner's trademark "not if I see you first". Carl then mentions some money he owes him, slides it under the door, then kicks the door in when the criminal bends down to pick it up.
  • On Farscape, episode "I Shrink, Therefore I Am". Crichton is returning to Moya, which unbeknown to him has been hijacked. He messages the ship; after hanging up Crichton says "something's wrong".
    Pilot: Ka D'Argo is currently... helping Rygel with his... laundry. And Aeryn's writing some... poetry.
    Crichton: Uh-huh. What about, ah... Chiana and Sikozu?
    Pilot: Enjoying each other's company. Preparing a meal for... everyone but Rygel. He's... not hungry.
  • On Firefly, in River's backstory, she sends Simon and his family several odd notes referencing events that never happened, which actually contain a complex code intended to alert them to her mistreatment at the hands of the Alliance. Unfortunately Simon is the only one who can understand it.
  • In the pilot of the Flash Gordon TV series, Flash receives a call from his mother asking him to come home. The viewer is shown his mother being obviously mind-controlled by an alien cyborg in the room. Flash realizes something is wrong when his mother calls him "Flash", which is a nickname that his father gave him, which his mother never uses, instead calling him by his real name Steven. He does come home, but he's planning for a trap.
  • In one episode of Flashpoint, Parker was held hostage by an ex-cop who had tried to join SRU but failed the psych test, causing his life to spiral down. The ex-cop told Parker to misled his team to a certain room, which Parker complied but added "stay frosty" alerting his team that he was under duress. However, the ex-cop realized it was a distress code when he was watching the security cameras and noticed the team wasn't heading towards the given room.
  • Game of Thrones: The generally accepted story at the beginning of the series is that Jon Snow is the son of Ned Stark and an unknown woman he knocked up during Robert's Rebellion. However, Stannis, referencing Ned’s honor, remarks on this story, "Perhaps, but that wasn’t Ned Stark’s way," which casts doubt on Jon's true parentage. Season 6 reveals that Jon is actually Ned's nephew — he is the son of Ned's sister Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. Ned promised Lyanna on her deathbed that he would take care of Jon and not reveal his true parentage to anyone, including Robert Baratheon, who would have probably killed him. Ned keeps his word, raising Jon as his own and spending the rest of his life protecting him.
  • On General Hospital, when Mac was kidnapped and replaced by a double, he fed him incorrect information about his personal life, resulting in him treating his fiancée like dirt and basically sexually harassing his coworker who had no interest in him.
  • Gotham: In the second season finale, Barbara spots the fake Jim Gordon when that person shows no fear or distrust of Barbara, instead flirting with her, and bad-mouths his beloved Leslie.
  • The Great British Bake Off: The contestants can act considerably different when the stress gets to them.
    • Constantly chill Selasi often admits he's making it up as he goes along, plays with his ingredients and spends a lot of time joking with fellow competitors. In the series 7 semi-final he paces around frowning and actually admits he's worried.
    • Engineer Andrew was famously exact in his baking, often drawing stencils and to-scale diagrams of his cakes, and even making an excel spreadsheet timetable for the series 7 finale. When he fills his Victoria Sandwich blind in the finale and mutters "screw measurements", it's clear that he's short on time.
  • House of Anubis:
    • Patricia being polite over the phone was enough to let everyone know that she wasn't alone.
    • Mara realized something was wrong with Trudy, when in the letter she wrote, she mentioned a relative that Mara knew didn't exist, because Trudy had said before that the students were basically her only family. It turns out the letter was literally asking for someone to help her.
  • In the JAG episode "Secrets" in season 2, Admiral Chegwidden is being held at gunpoint, and tells Bud over the phone to get him a specific file. Harm and Mac realize the file the Admiral asked for is about a sailor who held his CO hostage, tipping them off.
  • In a first-season episode of Jericho, Johnston uses this technique to flush out a group of desperate con-artists posing as Marines, by mixing Marine and Army mottos to see if they'd recognize the wrong ones.
  • On Justified Boyd Crowder calls up his new business partner, Hot-Rod Dunham to finalize the details of a major drug deal. At the end of the conversation, the Hot-Rod tells Boyd that he hopes everything goes as smoothly as the last time he, Boyd and Dickie Bennett did a drug deal together. Boyd instantly realizes that Hot-Rod is under duress and the drug deal is a trap. The last time Hot-Rod bought drugs from Dickie Bennett, things went far from "smooth" because Boyd ambushed them and stole Dickie's money. This was followed by a Mob War that saw many people die.
  • Used quite a bit on Knight Rider, usually to indicate something very wrong with KITT.
    • In the episode "Killer KITT", KITT snapping at Michael was an indication that his programming was being messed with.
    • One episode of the new series had a hilarious variation when Mike is impersonating a member of a group out to steal from a Vegas casino. The leader figures out something is wrong because Mike is too competent.
  • On Laverne & Shirley, when Shirley needs help after being handcuffed to an escaped bank robber, she calls Mr. DeFazio at his restaurant requesting "extra BBQ sauce" on her chicken. Naturally, Mr. DeFazio fails to note Shirley's "code"... although Laverne immediately understands that Shirley would never order extra BBQ sauce, because it would get under her fingernails.
  • In the MacGyver episode "Countdown", Mac cues Pete in on the fact that he needs to speak to him on a private channel by 'reminding' him that they are due to play golf when he gets back. Mac has never played a round of golf in his life.
  • The Magician: In "The Vanishing Lady", a kidnapped singer uses the phrases "chin up" when allowed to speak on the phone to prove she is alive. Blake thinks it was an odd thing for her to say and is sure it is a clue. Dennis' research skills eventually turn up a meaning.
  • Merlin:
    • Rather terrifyingly inverted once. The setup is that Morgana has convinced King Uther that his son Arthur has been enchanted by Guinevere. Convinced that Arthur is under a spell Uther orders Guinevere to be burnt at the stake, at which point a panicking Arthur tells his father that he'd be willing to renounce his claim on the throne if only Guinevere is spared. Unfortunately, Uther takes this as "final proof" that Arthur is under a spell, claiming that it's something that he would never say. Except of course, he does.
    • Played straight in a later episode: Gaius is being controlled by a goblin. Arthur suspects as much and tricks the goblin into revealing itself by discussing Merlin's imminent execution. When goblin-Gaius does not show the least bit of a negative reaction to this, Arthur knows that Gaius is not himself, so to speak.
    • Similar to the Angel episode with Fred and Gunn, when Arthur breaks up with Guinevere in season 4 on the advice of Agravaine, Gwen immediately asks if someone talked him into it and she doesn't buy for a second that he made the choice on his own.
  • Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: In "Death at the Grand", Aunt Prudence is held hostage and forced to call Phryne to lure her into a trap. Aunt Prudence says that she has decided to stay for lunch because Mr Butler is making shepherd's pie and Phryne knows how much she loves it. Phryne immediately realises something is wrong as Aunt Prudence hates shepherd's pie.
  • In an episode of Monk, Adrian realizes that a man who claims to be the brother of a missing person isn't really his brother, since they used different terms for soft drinks (pop vs. soda).
  • In the My Babysitter's a Vampire episode "Guys and Dolls", Jane brings her favourite doll, Debbie Dazzle (a parody of Katy Perry, to life with Benny's spellbook. Ethan then dresses up as Debbie Dazzle's male counterpart, Dazzle Dan (a parody of Barbie and Ken), to distract her so that Jane can turn her back into a doll. Unfortunately, he accidentally gives himself away when he asks her to take a ride on his speedboat, which Dazzle Dan doesn't have.
  • NCIS:
    • "Bête Noire".
      • Kate attempts this when she brings a box of evidence down to the autopsy room on Abby's request only to find that Ducky has locked down the room and won't let anyone in. She pretends to be Abby, providing Ducky with the opportunity to confirm that something is amiss by playing along. Unfortunately the terrorist holding Ducky hostage realizes what they're doing, and Kate ends up a hostage as well.
      • Also in the episode when Ducky orders Abby to bring him the evidence ending with "stat!" "Stat!" is medical slang for needing something quickly but only used in hospitals with living patients. It isn't something a coroner should use. Realizing this alerts Gibbs that there is trouble and a possible hostage situation in autopsy.
    • In the episode "Bait", Gibbs is being held hostage by a teenager wearing a suicide bomber vest and demanding to see his mother. When the team finds out that the boy's mother is considered dead, Tony tells Gibbs that "Special Agent Caitlin Todd" is looking for her. When one of the local LEO's asks why Tony didn't reveal the mother's death, he says he already has. Special Agent Caitlin Todd is dead.
    • In "Detour", the two characters in danger even do this inadvertently. When Gibbs notices that Jimmy and Ducky haven't returned from the crime scene (they've been abducted by people seeking something from the murder victim), he asks Abby to call them. Gibbs realizes something is seriously wrong when Abby fails to reach them, noting that it's odd that Ducky's phone has been turned off as he never does that and that Jimmy has removed the battery from his, asking, "Why would he do that?". Gibbs responds that "He wouldn't", and the next shot is of the team frantically scrambling to find them.
  • NCIS: New Orleans:
    • In "The Insider", Loretta is being held hostage by a gunman. When Pride asks her about the victim on her slab, she says that he died from "Larrabee's syndrome". Pride recognises this as a Quiet Cry for Help because Captain Larrabee was an officer who was killed working a hostage situation with Pride years before.
    • She also attempts this with a security guard who tries to stop her and the man from leaving by cheerfully declaring "Everything's fine, Darryl". Unfortunately, the guard's "Huh?" reaction, plus the guy getting glimpse of his name tag, which reads "Lowell", tips him to what she's trying to do.
    • Percy alerts LaSalle to the fact that she's in danger by declaring "Everything's fine, City Mouse". Aside from the fact that they'd just decided to retire their pet names for each other, that's HIS nickname for HER.
  • One Life to Live:
    • When Rebecca is kidnapped by escaped rapist Todd, she manages to tip her friends off to where she's being held (he lets her make one phone call to assure them that she's all right) by referring to a Bible verse that they had been discussing shortly before she was abducted.
    • Andy and Antonio have gone to New York for a romantic weekend, unaware that they are being stalked by a hitman who's pretended to befriend them. When Andy figures out what's going on, she quickly reminds Antonio that he needs to call his sister so that they can have an excuse to get away without arousing the hitman's suspicions. Antonio doesn't have a sister. Unfortunately, his brief moment of confusion before he realizes what Andy's trying to do tips the gunman off to the fact that they're on to him.
    • When Todd terrorized a blind Nora at the beach house where she and Bo were spending Christmas, Bo showed up. Todd ordered her to get rid of him while he hid. Nora did so, but told Bo not to "Wait Until Dark" to return. After driving away, Bo suddenly remembered that he and Nora had been discussing the movie shortly before he left the house to run errands, and recalled the plot — a blind woman being terrorized by an assailant. At that, Bo realized that Nora had been trying to tell him that Todd was there in the house.
  • Power Rangers:
    • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers:
      • In the episode "The Wannabe Ranger", The Primator monster disguises himself as Trini. The Rangers have trouble distinguishing between the real one and the fake at first, so Jason suggests that both of them fight him, so he'd be able to tell by both of their styles who's real and who's not. But as Jason was counting on, the real tip-off is that the real Trini refuses to fight him at all because he's her friend, while Primator disguised as Trini enthusiastically jumps at Jason with daggers poised to strike. Jason promptly orders the other rangers to shoot Primator down. Primator is screws up again when Jason is able to see through the monster's impersonation of Tommy when he suggests they give up, something the real Tommy would never say.
    • During Power Rangers in Space the villain Astronema uses a monster's disguise ability to disguise herself as the Yellow Ranger. During the episode, the real Yellow Ranger returns to help the team, but loses her Morpher, which the Red Ranger retrieves. Then the Red Ranger has to figure out which one is the real one. Only the Rangers would know how to activate the Morphers, thus he says the morphing call to both of them, and Astronema doesn't know.
  • Psych:
    • Lassiter gets a text message from "Shawn" and follows it right into the trap the killer set. When Lassiter gets there, a captive Shawn says, "I can't believe you thought that text was actually from me. It lacked all nuance, was lacking my signature mocking tone, and was totally devoid of emoticons."
    • In a later episode, Shawn has been kidnapped. He calls Juliet, ostensibly to tell her that he believes he's going to die and wanted to talk to her one last time. He ends the call by saying, "Goodbye, Abigail," cluing her in to the fact that there was a hidden message in what he said. She can't figure it out, but she repeats the conversation to Shawn's father, who does.
    • Still later, Shawn is in the hospital and being held at gunpoint while Face Time-ing with Gus, Juliet, and Lassiter. Shawn gives them a false lead at the insistence of the bad guy. Gus realizes that something is up since Shawn didn't make any obscure analogies or use over-the-top theatrics as he normally does.
  • Quantum Leap:
    • About Once per Episode, Sam's mannerisms will leak through, or a conversation with Al will be overheard, causing the people who know the leapee to do a double take. However, no-one suspects anything, and Sam gets pretty good at playing it off.
    • The episode "The Boogieman" has numerous in regards to Al: He's dressed in a conservative suit, his handlink never lights up nor does he ever really use it, he's never seen walking through any objects, and he never opens the Imaging Chamber door. It's finally revealed in the final act that he's been Satan in disguise.
    • It does come back to bite Sam in "Return of the Evil Leaper", when evil hologram Zoey notices "Arnold Watkins" talking to thin air, including an utterance of the name "Al". A quick scan by Lothos confirms that Sam is indeed there.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • In the episode "Psirens", the crew is trying to figure out which of two Listers is a mind-reading impostor. The two act alike, until the crew has one of them play Lister's guitar. Because Lister sincerely (but utterly incorrectly) considers himself a brilliant player, the fake reads this, belts out a few power-chords, and goes down in a hail of laser-fire.
    • Played straight earlier when Dave realizes that the "Kryten" that saved him was not really Kryten, since Kryten never calls Lister "Dave".
    • In series one, Rimmer once tried to trick Lister out of taking a test that would have made him Rimmer's superior, and allowed him to replace Rimmer with a hologram of his crush Kochanski. He does this by taking on Kochanski's appearance, and telling Lister that she would never be interested in him. However, his performance is pretty lousy; "Kochanski" repeats some phrases Rimmer often uses, is easily bluffed when Lister mentions a fake tryst they had, and then tries to cover up her weird behavior by saying she's "having a woman's period".
  • Rescue 911: In a chilling episode, a woman is told by a rapist to call in sick to her workplace. She promptly dials a male friend and tells him, "I can't come in to work today," thus alerting the friend that she's in trouble and he needs to stop by PRONTO. A few seconds later, she does the same thing again with 911, and the dispatcher immediately works out that there's something wrong and sends the police.
  • I Survived: When a woman's crazed ex-husband broke into her house and threatened her, she managed to stall him by telling him that her friend was coming to take her shopping and that she needed to cancel her plans. Amazingly, he let her call. When the friend answered, the woman proceeded to cheerfully tell her that she couldn't make it and not to bother coming. Initially confused—because they did NOT have plans to get together—the friend quickly realized that something was wrong and asked if the woman's husband was there. Upon being told "yes", the friend immediately called 911.
  • Scorpion: In "Shorthanded", Toby tells the rest of the team they can pick him up at a location in the desert directly under the belt of Orion. He does this to tip them off that they are walking into an ambush, as they will know that that constellation was not visible in that hemisphere at that time of year.
  • In Sherlock, John is kidnapped and forced to fool Sherlock into thinking he's Moriarty. There are many, many indications that something is obviously not right, such as John blinking SOS at Sherlock, speaking in an unusual monotone, and wearing a thick jacket (with a bomb-strapped vest underneath) that he was a) not wearing when he left Baker Street and b) according to Mrs. Hudson, would never wear anyway. There is no indication that Sherlock picks up on any of these hints, which is a pretty big Out-of-Character Alert in its own right, showing how deeply shaken he is at the prospect of John's friendship being a lie.
  • Smallville:
    • When Clark's on red kryptonite, he always refers to himself as "Kal". Although his offensive and sexually aggressive attitude should tip you off quick.
    • Lionel in Clark's body has cruel comments for both Lana and Chloe, but the most obvious alert comes when he referred to Chloe as "Miss Sullivan".
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • A variant is used in an episode where Daniel, trapped behind enemy lines, is relaying a battle plan to the SGC via radio through what sounds like small talk, mixing in Goa'uld words to let them know what his plan is. If the message was translated, it would sound something like, "Oh, and could you have Teal'c water my coordinated pincer attack?"
    • A straighter example would be when O'Neill and Teal'c are stuck in a time loop, but everyone else's memories are reset. O'Neill tries to prove it by explaining why the planet they're visiting is important before Carter has a chance to. Later, Carter and Hammond have the following conversation:
      Carter: Besides, when was the last time you heard the colonel use words like "geomagnetic"?
      Hammond: You have a point there.
      Carter: And he was using them correctly. More or less.
    • Also from that episode:
      O'Neill: Now, how did I know you were going to say that?
      Carter: Maybe you read my report?
      Daniel: [skeptically] Maybe he read your report? [raises eyebrows]
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • In "Heart of Stone", Odo spends a lot of time with Changeling!Major Kira. He only realizes it is a double when "she" says "I love you".
    • Subverted in "Armageddon Game": an alien government has faked the deaths of O'Brien and Bashir (while trying to hunt down and actually kill them) in an attempt to destroy all knowledge of a dangerous bio-weapon. They send a recording of a faked lab accident to Deep Space Nine, using security footage from earlier on. But O'Brien's wife notices him drinking coffee, which he would NEVER do in the afternoon, and her suspicions along with the shady explanation of the accident itself is enough to get Sisko and the others to investigate further. At the end of the episode, O'Brien is recovering at home and asks for a cup of coffee after lunch, explaining to his shocked wife that sure, he drinks coffee in the afternoon sometimes...
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • In the episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of". A robotic double is made of Kirk, with the robot having a duplicate of his mind as well. Kirk foils the plan during the procedure by mentally focusing on a racist insult toward Spock, something he would never normally say but which is consequently implanted into the double.
    • There's another one in "Whom the Gods Destroy," when the villain tries to bluff his way out of failing a Trust Password test by telling Scotty that he was just testing to make sure that he wouldn't let anyone beam up without the password. Given how long Kirk and Scotty have known one another, and how much they trust one another, Scotty immediately figures out that the "just testing you" story is bogus.
    • Before them was "The Enemy Within". Kirk is split into his good and evil sides by a transporter accident, which leaves several of the Enterprise crew stranded on a hostile planet. Spock feels a bad vibe when the evil Kirk, passing himself as the good one, walks onto the bridge. Then he declares that the men can't be saved and orders the ship to leave orbit, at which point Spock knows it's not the real one — since when would James T. Kirk leave his crew to die?
    • In "Turnabout Intruder" (essentially Star Trek meets Freaky Friday), numerous things, actually. First, "Kirk" hits "Lester" hard enough to knock her down. Then he disintegrates into screaming hysterically at Spock and accusing him of mutiny. When he orders the "traitors" executed, it completely cements the suspicion in every officer's mind. Sulu and Chekov flat out refuse to follow his orders after a while. Scotty even tells McCoy while trying to convince him to side with Spock that he has seen Captain Kirk in all sorts of moods, but never "red-faced with hysteria".
    • And of course, "Mirror Mirror". Neither Kirk can keep up the charade of being the other for long. Fortunately, they're both dealing with Spock.
      Spock: It was far easier for you as civilized men to behave like barbarians, than it was for them as barbarians to behave like civilized men.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In the episode "Allegiance", Picard is replaced by a double who has his memories but doesn't act like him very well—basically doing the kinds of things Picard would do if he weren't an incredibly reserved man (one of the weird things the doppelganger Picard does is go into Ten Forward, order drinks all around, and start singing). When the real Picard asks Riker what the giveaway was, he is told: "Well, sir, I find it hard to believe that you're that good a singer." The aliens who abducted Picard reveal that this was really part of their experiment to study the concept of hierarchy, which was alien to them because they were a Hive Mind. In Picard's case they wanted to test how far the crew's respect for the Captain's authority would go with his increasingly erratic behavior. The bridge crew draw the line only when the duplicate gives a suicidal order for no reason.
    • In "The Most Toys", Kivas Fajo almost perfectly faked Data's death. He messed up in one key area, though; Data's final transmission, fabricated by him, was phrased incorrectly. The crew had been ferrying materials between their two ships, and Data had robotically repeated the exact same status report each time. The last one was missing the notification that he was launching the shuttle—Data had been incapacitated before the shuttle launch.
      • Even then, that alone isn't enough to alert them to the truth, only to make them question the cause of the accident. But then they find out that the situation requiring the shuttling of said materials was artificially engineered, and when they combine that with the transmission error, they realize what's happened.
    • In "Datalore", an android physically identical to Data named Lore incapacitates Data and impersonates him, but slips up in subtle ways. He gives himself away to Wesley by using a contraction, something that Data never does.
    • "The Schizoid Man" has another Data impersonator, a dying scientist named Ira Graves who uploads his consciousness into Data. Graves is egotistical and contemptuous of authority, and the Enterprise crew knows something is wrong almost immediately when "Data" starts displaying those qualities, but just not exactly what. He tells Picard he's "as strong as a Regellian ox", which Picard doesn't pick up on because he wasn't there when Graves said it earlier, but looking back, he realizes pretty much everything Graves said should have been a dead giveaway.
    • In "Future Imperfect", Riker figures out he's trapped in a simulation, and asks the crew questions they can't answer so that whoever is running the simulation will stop trying to fool him. Geordi can't justify running a level 1 diagnostic for over a day, which is in fact a Hand Wave for the simulation's imperfections; Worf can't recall where he got a scar; Data can't make anywhere near trillions of calculations per second, and, like Lore, uses contractions.
  • Supernatural:
    • In Hunted when Gordon uses Dean as bait and forces him to call Sam, Sam instantly knows that something's wrong because Dean used the codeword "Funkytown". Subverted: Gordon knew that Dean would find a way to alert Sam and was leading him into a trap.
    • Done several other times. Once by a shape-shifter. Another time the body of another supernatural hunter was possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins. In "The Great Escapist", Kevin Tran realizes that two people who look and sound just like Sam and Dean are impersonators because they are being too patient and helpful. The irony that a pair of demons would be too nice to convincingly pass as the heroes does not go unnoticed.
    • A plot point in season six, when Sam has been behaving a little out of character. Turns out his body had no soul in it. Played with because it took Dean a third of a season to notice, so this trope was invoked for viewers as much as characters. What caused Dean to realize something was up was Sam letting Dean get turned into a vampire, as Dean saw that Sam didn't seem bothered by it and was actually smiling rather than trying to save him.
    • An early and depressing example is the end of the first season when they realize their father is possessed by a demon because he tells them he's proud of them, while they believe the real John would just have been angry that they'd "wasted" a very limited resource.
  • Super Sentai:
    • Double Subverted in Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger. When the Monster of the Week disguises himself as White, both Whites (who conveniently wear different clothes thanks to the event that happened earlier) ask Red to hand her Transformation Trinket. He holds it out to the one dressed in black, who walks up to him, treading on a flower along the way. The one who accidentally treads on a flower is the impostor? No, they both do. The one who does not feel sorry for the flower is the impostor.
    • In an episode of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, the Monster of the Week assumes the form of Yellow Ranger Luka. Near the end of the episode the rest of the team reveals that they were aware for some time, since at dinner the monster ate broccoli, a food Luka absolutely despises.
  • Switched: How does Ayumi's childhood friend deduct that Ayumi-as-Umine is right about the body switching? He talks with Umine-as-Ayumi alone, turning off the lights and closing the blinds. While the real Ayumi is terrified of the dark, Umine is not, and this is a dead giveaway to Koshiro.
  • An episode of Tales from the Crypt had the bad guy threatening the protagonist with his wife's gun, which she normally keeps in her purse for self defence. With the husband taken hostage using the gun, he attempts to lure the wife in by telling her that the husband is threatening to commit suicide with the same gun he's holding. Unfortunately for the bad guy, both husband and wife know that the wife doesn't keep any bullets in the gun.
  • In one episode of Teen Wolf, Stiles, Scott and Allison have to kidnap Jackson. To throw off suspicion, Stiles sends a text from Jackson's phone to his father that says: "Stayed at friend's house last night. Everything fine. Love you." Jackson's father immediately knows that something is wrong, because Jackson hasn't been able to tell his parents that he loves them since they told him he was adopted, eleven years ago.
  • Inverted on Without a Trace. An abducted woman is forced to call her husband and assure him that she's fine and that's she's merely hanging out with an old friend, rather than being kept there by force. Not believing her claims of being all right, her worried husband tells her to ask about their children if she's in fact being held prisoner. When she manages to cheerfully ask how the kids are, he realizes she's in trouble.
  • On The X-Files, this happens with a twist. In the episode "Small Potatoes", Mulder is kidnapped by a shape-shifter who decides to steal Mulder's identity... literally. In "Dreamland", Mulder and an MIB switch bodies. Both non-Mulders try their hand at seducing Scully. The MIB was so sleazy about it that some of the things he said were a big sign to Scully that Mulder was Not Himself. Plus, they both called her "Dana", which Mulder never does unless things are really bad.


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