Follow TV Tropes


Unwitting Pawn / Live-Action TV

Go To

Unwitting Pawns in live-action TV.

  • In 24, everyone takes turns being the Unwitting Pawn, up to and including Jack Bauer. Somehow even the Big Bad will end up a sucker either in his own scheme or be Out-Gambitted by the good guys. It's not a good idea to play Jack Bauer for a sucker though, 'cause that will only make him mad.
  • The entire cast of Angel in season four. They spend a whole whack of time chasing down Jasmine, hoping to free the world from her version of lovey-dovey mind-control. At the end, their victory is entirely spoiled when evil law firm Wolfram and Hart contact them saying how happy they are that they've averted instant world peace. Nearly everything they had done in the past seasons had led to Jasmine's rise to power to begin with. Ironically, in the next season, the entire Wolfram and Hart becomes a sucker when Angel fools its higher-ups into thinking he is corrupted. And for giving him the means to do it, as a reward.
    • In season 5, Gunn is manipulated by a W&H employee into signing off on allowing a sarcophagus to be delivered to the office, which allows on of Illyria's worshippers to resurrect her in Fred's body.
  • Advertisement:
  • Bradford in season 2 of The Apprentice did the same, waiving his exemption, and was immediately fired SOLELY because he was an idiot. This is a rare example of someone becoming the victim of their own Batman Gambit. Bradford wanted rid of the terribly ineffective team leader, Ivana, but knew that he wouldn't be brought back into the boardroom since he had immunity; therefore he surrendered it so that she'd bring him back. Unfortunately, he didn't consider what the other possible outcome of that decision might be...
  • Arrow: As Season 6 carries on, it becomes clear that the apparent new Big Bad, Cayden James, only went on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Team Arrow because someone else manipulated him into it by framing Oliver for killing James' son. Halfway through the season, this turns out to have been James' own supposed underling, Ricardo Diaz, who used James' rampage as a cover for eliminating key officials in Star City so that they can be replaced with bought off patsies, giving Diaz control of the city. Diaz kills James when he's no longer needed.
  • In Babylon 5, this is how Ambassador Londo Mollari gets revenge on Lord Refa, his erstwhile ally, for his deadly political maneuverings. Londo makes it appear as though he is laying a trap for G'Kar to leave sanctuary at Babylon 5 so he can arrest him and thus gain political favor, and makes sure that the information is leaked, knowing that Lord Refa will try to undermine the plot by reaching G'Kar first so he can imprison and kill both G'Kar and Londo. However, the real trap is different: G'Kar was in on it the whole time and the guards were loyal to House Mollari, meaning that this Unwitting Pawn just walked into his own death trap, via No-Holds-Barred Beatdown from a group of angry Narns while a lively gospel song plays.
    • Unfortunately, Londo's attaché and friend Vir is also something of an Unwitting Pawn during the scheme; even though he wasn't a victim, he had to believe the fake version of the plot because there were telepaths involved, and the information had to appear genuine. He wasn't happy to be made a fool of.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Pearl and Nash were pawns of Twilight. And they were none too happy when they found out.
    • Roden in Twilight's real grand scheme.
    • Genevieve to both Twilight and Roden.
  • In the fourth season finale of Chuck, it's revealed that every major plot point that has happened since the pilot has been part of a bigger scheme, with Chuck and possibly everyone involved with those major plot points as the unwitting pawns. Whose pawns, exactly, and in what game, has yet to be revealed.
  • Doctor Who: Companions have unwittingly aided the villains before. In fact, the revived series sees the Doctor himself doing it. Examples of this include:
    • "Dalek": Henry van Statten and Rose Tyler are this to the Dalek, the latter more directly because neither of them has any way of knowing just what it is, and how dangerous. Van Statten's Smug Snake nature doesn't help either.
    • Advertisement:
    • "The Long Game", in which the Ninth Doctor leaves Satellite Five after defeating the Monster of the Week, without bothering to help guide humanity back onto a "proper" path. By the time he returns 100 years later in "Bad Wolf", things have actually gotten worse, since he was playing into the hands or, more accurately, plungers of The Man Behind the Man.
    • "The Christmas Invasion", in which the Tenth Doctor manages to cause the downfall of Harriet Jones by whispering "six little words" in her assistant's ear. It was stated during the Ninth Doctor's reign that she would be the "architect of Britain's Golden Age", but the power vacuum left in her wake seemingly allowed the Master to gain power and eventually become Prime Minister. This indicates that the 10th Doctor did change history in "The Christmas Invasion", and worse, he changed a timeline he had previously talked about in glowing colors. There was supposedly a deleted scene explaining the entire concept. Russell T. Davies, the writer of the episodes and then-showrunner, mentioned this in his Doctor Who Magazine column as an idea he'd had, and that as far as he was concerned it was the case — but also said he had never scripted it, let alone shot it.
      • This was somewhat alluded to in "The Sound of Drums", where Vivien Rook tells Lucy Saxon that her husband first became "real" (and subsequently launched the Archangel network) around the time of Harriet Jones' fall. How much of it can be attributed to the actions of either the Master or Tenth Doctor, however, is unknown. He does seem to blame himself for the Master's return by "The End of Time", as when Wilfred Mott tries to console the Doctor by saying it wasn't his fault, he sadly replied, "Isn't it?"
    • "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End": It turns out that everyone has been manipulated by Dalek Caan, who, having become a Mad Oracle after being exposed to the Time Vortex, seemed to lack the ability to pull this off. This especially extends to the Supreme Dalek and Davros, who, while having different opinions of the usefulness of Caan's information, don't realize that he intends to destroy the Daleks until it is too late to stop him.
    • The Daleks are admittedly pretty good at suckering the Doctor. In "Victory of the Daleks", the Daleks use the Doctor's hatred of the Daleks and love of Earth to not only create five retro-style Daleks (a net gain of two), but also for once, survive the events of the episode.
    • In "The Pandorica Opens", the Doctor goes to the Pandorica when it opens to see what's inside... only to realise he's been suckered by every alien in existence and it is in fact him that's meant to go inside the Pandorica in order to stop the TARDIS exploding. Needless to say, it does anyway. "The most dangerous warrior in the world" indeed.
    • In "The Doctor's Wife", it is revealed that the Doctor has been being manipulated for a very long time by the TARDIS, who was waiting for a Time Lord crazy enough to try and steal her so she could see the universe. The Doctor protested that he chose her because someone had left the door unlocked. The TARDIS, briefly able to speak, replied that of course "someone" had.
  • Dollhouse: Paul Ballard gets suckered into finding a way into the Dollhouse to rescue Caroline, thereby distracting all the security measures, while Alpha puts his actual plan into play and cheerfully sacrifices Ballard to DeWitt's not-so-tender mercies.
    • And at the end of season two, it's revealed that Boyd Langton is secretly the head of Rossum and has been manipulating everyone at the Dollhouse all along.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • House Stark's entire conflict with the Lannisters was instigated by Littlefinger, who used the values of both houses to move them against each other (The Starks' Honor Before Reason and the Lannister's Might Makes Right ethos, though the Lannisters comprise of schemers and chessmasters). This war cost the Lannisters a lot of money and thus made them inherit a debt-ridden Kingdom, and then turn on each other when their Puppet King dies and Tyrion is accused by his own sister with his father's acquiescence.
    • Catelyn Stark was a victim of Littlefinger's, which hit her hard, as her impulsive reactions to an assassination attempt against Bran with a dagger that belonged to Tyrion and her credulity to an engineered letter sent by Lysa Arryn are two of the major reasons why her house sparks the war with the Lannisters.
    • At various points, Sansa Stark is this to the Lannisters, the Tyrells, and Littlefinger across Season 3, where without her knowledge, leave alone consent, she is traded as a match, ultimately becoming Tyrion's wife. This is merely the pretext, it turns out that Littlefinger allied himself to the Tyrells and arranged for Joffrey's assassination. Sansa, through a Littlefinger stooge, Ser Dontos, carries a necklace which contains poison and as Tyrion's wife is close enough to be seated on the wedding dais that Olenna could reach her, collect the poison and pass it to Joffrey's cup at the opportune moment. She is "rescued" by Ser Dontos and Littlefinger from the wrath of Cersei, who has put a large bounty on her head.
    • The Three-Eyed Raven was aware of what created Hodor and brought Bran to the past Winterfell apparently to witness the child Ned departing to the Eyrie, but in reality brought him to cause Wylis' mind-loop into Hodor, which happened immediately after Ned left. Though this has cruel overtones, had it not happened, Hodor would not have brought Bran to North of the Wall in the first place safely, nor he would have ultimately saved his life, for the moment foiling the White Walkers. Had it not been for this point, it would have been an entirely Senseless Sacrifice.
    • The Master Torturer clearly had no idea what kind of game Ramsay was playing, or what role he gave him.
    • For all his intelligence, experience and ruthlessness, Tywin Lannister falls prey to the same mistake Ned Stark did; he trusted Littlefinger and raised him to a position of supremacy in the Riverlands and allowed him to marry the widowed lady of the Vale, making him arguably the second most powerful man in Westeros besides Tywin himself. In return, Littlefinger killed Joffrey with the Tyrells, in part because Tywin got Catelyn killed and partially because it would plunge the Seven Kingdoms into yet more chaos, which was a goal he stated aloud to Tywin and kidnapped Sansa Stark from Kings' Landing, giving Littlefinger an avenue for control of yet another of the Seven Kingdoms... and Tyrion discovers that his predecessor's supposed "magic" at financing the Iron Throne was really heavy borrowing from the Iron Bank of Braavos, an entity which even Tywin doesn't dare cross.
    • Cersei Lannister. After transforming the Sparrows into the Faith Militant and giving them free rain to imprison any deviants towards the Gods, which ends up getting both Loras and Margaery captured, Cersei confidently assumes that she is controlling them like puppets. It never occurs to her until it's too late that the now all-powerful fundamentalist organization would imprison her for her own deviant lifestyle once they no longer needed her.
  • House of Anubis has Eddie and KT. They were manipulated by the villain into believing that the Staff of Osiris would stop Ammit from being unleashed. They only learned too late that it did the opposite. Eddie's vision didn't help...
  • In House of Cards (UK), Francis Urquhart uses as many people as he can for his own political gain - be it reporters, colleagues or even the prime minister. He makes sure to have as many people in his pocket as possible so that they can be made useful when needed. If anyone goes against him or can be of benefit when their public image is ruined - he will destroy them. Murder is not out of the question.
  • Juken Sentai Gekiranger: At the end of the series, Evil Overlord Rio goes down with a Villainous BSOD when he finds out that his entire life has been masterminded by Manipulative Bastard Long.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Averted in Kamen Rider OOO, if it was played straight, Eiji would have just been used by Ankh as a means of farming Cell Medals. IF it was played straight that is... Instead, Ankh explains why he needs him, which was not a good move on his part, as it leads to Eiji refusing to transform when Ankh needed him to in episode two, and in the next episode, the tables turn and Ankh is forced to do what Eiji says or else he will throw away his Transformation Trinket.
    • And in Kamen Rider Wizard, it gets played straighter than straight. Yes, it's another instance of Evil Mentor having a massive hand in this trope, though what sets said mentor apart from the others was that he's not only the Big Bad, he was setting up not just Haruto himself, but the entire Phantom race. See, his plan involves using Wizards to power a ritual, but in order for Wizards to be created, they need to hit their Despair Event Horizon, but come back before they fully cross it. He already had one Wizard in the form of Haruto, but he needed to get other Wizards. This is where the Phantoms come in, as they are able to get these people to cross the horizon with the intended goal to make even more Phantoms. Needless to say, once his commanders find out about this, their reactions ranged from being unable to comprehend the idea of being used to downright plotting against him.
    • In Kamen Rider Gaim, Mitsuzane discovered this out the hard way when the villains he had been "manipulating" for his own plans are actually the ones manipulating him all along. This was further lampshaded by Ryoma Sengoku/Kamen Rider Duke after he dissects the Golden Fruit from Mai, then came along the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown being dished out on Micchy.
      Ryoma: Hey, Kureshima rich boy! Didn't Takatora teach you? Why you shouldn't be a naughty boy? (grabs him and pushes Micchy against the wall while strangling him) Liars... cowards... It's because naughty boys fall prey to actually evil adults!
    • Everyone in Kamen Rider Build to Evolto. He needs to purify and gather the 60 Fullbottles, repair his Evol Driver, and get Ryuga to Hazard Level 5 so that his body becomes a suitable vessel for him in order to accomplish his plan of destroying the world. Thus, for ten years he sets up Japan's three divided states, with the help of Nanba Heavy Industries, to go to war with each other, so that they'll purify the Fullbottles for him as part of their military research, as well as gather them all together for him. When one of the researchers figures out too much, he has his memory wiped and starts directing his amnesiac identity, Sento, to become a superhero, so that he'll still continue purifying Fullbottles. He also sends Banjou his way, allowing the two to bond together, thus giving Ryuga a motivation to raise his Hazard Level. Even when Sento figures out he's being manipulated, Evolto exploits the heroes' heroic tendencies so that they keep doing things that further his plans. By Episode 35, he's succeeded in accomplishing all of his above-stated goals and is just short of "destroy the world" on his to-do list.
      • In an unexpected turn of events, Sento manages to completely invert this by taking all of the energy Evolto had managed to gather after doing all of the above and using that power to combine two Earths that'll create a completely new world where neither the divided states nor Evolto himself exists at all.
  • The "rich and powerful" marks Nate Ford mentions during the opening credits for Leverage are usually these. At some point along the way, their Mooks will often fall to this trope or Elliot, whichever one hits first.
    • The team usually ends up making their targets into unwitting pawns, but they themselves end up as the Suckers (briefly) in "The Ho-Ho-Ho Job." They quickly caught on to the fact that a hacker has set up a scam at a local mall that will net the credit card numbers of nearly everyone who makes a purchase, and realize the only way to stop it is to cut the trunk line. They do so... only said trunk line also enables the security measures as the local branch of the Treasury, which was the hacker's real target.
  • In Lexx, captain Stanley Tweedle's backstory, in which he was supposed to deliver what amounted to blueprints for the emperor's superweapon to the rebel forces, and instead ended up providing the emperor with the codes to deactivate the rebel's planetary defenses. The rest of humanity in the Light Universe were pawns as well, to the point that they willingly fed themselves to the Big Bad when he demanded it.
  • Lost
    • Poor John Locke is now the king of this trope. In the course of the last seasons he has been a pawn used by a supernatural being who apparently planned Locke's whole ordeal, his reputation as someone "special" and then his final sacrifice so that he could take John's form and ultimately kill his own enemy, Jacob. The sheer number of episodes in which this Gambit Roulette at his expense has unfolded makes him something of an Unwitting Pawn Marathon Man. Also, Ben manipulated him into blowing up the submarine.
    • He also kept juggling Idiot Balls, Villain Balls and Conflict Balls all throughout the series, while every single flashback has portrayed him as a gullible loser. It's a testament to Terry O'Quinn's acting that, in spite of that, he has consistently been one of the most interesting, popular and badass characters of the show.
    • For a devilish Manipulative Bastard and a supposedly wise ageless man, Ben and Richard too came across as total dupes; Locke, Ben and Richard, The Three Stooges?
  • In the Merlin (1998) series, multiple characters (Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere) end up as Mab's suckers at one point or another.
  • Next (2020):
    • Next buys Ted's cooperation using various new technologies and blackmail material, but ultimately was only using him to get itself captured by the NSA and taken to a server farm compatible with its software.
    • After the bombing at the task force headquarters, Ben reaches out to his dad, who happens to be the Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, for advice. Unfortunately for him, his dad's advice is geared towards acquiring Next for the government, rather than destroying it, and thus Ben ends up at cross purposes with the rest of the team.
  • Once Upon a Time: Belle was completely manipulated by Regina/The Evil Queen into trying to depower Rumplestiltskin with True Love's Kiss. Rumplestiltskin flips when he realizes that she can take away his powers, assumes that Belle is working for Regina, and tells her to leave. Poor Belle honestly wasn't working for Regina, but the Queen wins either way- either Rumple is depowered, or she can abduct Belle and use her as a trump card against Rumple at a later date. (She instead tells Rumple that Belle is dead and abducts her, so she not only has a trump card but has one that Rumple would never expect.)
  • Orphan Black: DYAD is good for setting these up. One of the biggest ones is their former mole, Delphine, who Rachel manipulates into unknowingly helping with the abduction of Kira.
  • In the last episode of Season 3 in Person of Interest it is revealed that the entire group of Vigilance was this for Decima. Decima created the group solely so Vigilance would out Northern Lights to remove the competition for their Samaritan project, then Decima framed Vigilance for a terrorist bombing to get the US Government to hand over the feeds to make Samaritan operational. After that, Decima then uses this to wipe out Vigilance when they have outlived their usefulness.
  • Though she was fairly bad to begin with, Kai Winn in the final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine certainly seems to fulfill this role to Gul Dukat's Chessmaster.
  • Supernatural
    • Both Sam and Dean Winchester have played right into the villains' hands, making the apocalypse possible. Grief-stricken Dean's Deal with the Devil leads to him going to hell where he finally gives in to the offer to torture others to spare himself, breaking the first seal holding back Lucifer. Similarly screwed in the head, Sam is seduced to the The Dark Side by Ruby just enough to get him to kill Lilith, which they all expected to prevent the last seal from being shattered; in reality, she was the last seal. What neat little bookends, guys.
    • Castiel's extremely straightforward nature, unfortunately, leaves him rather easily manipulated by other characters, as he doesn't usually anticipate that someone will lie to him. Metatron takes full advantage of this in season eight and manages to trick Cas into helping him with a spell to cast all of the angels out of Heaven. Castiel is horrified when he finds out the truth.
    • It's also implied that Castiel was this for much of season four. Despite his personal doubts, it seems he just trusted that Heaven was giving him the right orders until he somehow found out that Heaven had been planning the Apocalypse all along. And it's never stated whether his superiors eventually revealed it to him, expecting him to go along with it, or if he figured it out himself.
    • Sam becomes this again in season 11, when he prays to God for help and receives visions that he believes are God trying to give him hints. It turns out he is receiving supernatural visions (not just having weird dreams), but that they're actually from Lucifer, as a ploy to get him to come back to the Cage in search of a way to defeat the Darkness. Sam initially performs exactly as expected, but then point-blank refuses to become Lucifer's vessel again, even though it could help defeat the Darkness. Unfortunately, Sam is no longer the only suitable vessel...
  • Survivor
    • A lot of Suckers have come and gone, but the Erik Reichenbach from Micronesia stands out. In what many considered to be the dumbest move in the show's history, Erik gives away his Individual Immunity and is promptly voted off by the conniving female alliance, after being conned in a transparent ploy for redemption.
    • The Samoa season was full of Unwitting Pawns. Most of Foa Foa and almost every member of Galu, except Brett and possibly Kelly and Monica, fell into this trope. Knowing that Kelly was just brilliantly blindsided, Monica saw the writing on the wall and just decided to antagonize Russell in the end, and Brett was fully aware that he couldn't have won because he lost the final immunity challenge. Is it any wonder Russell did so well, what with all the suckers who were practically lining up for the slaughter? (Players would have voted him out way sooner... or dragged his arrogant ass to the end and made him take all the nasty shots from the angry jury as Natalie did.)
    • Russell pulls this off again in Heroes vs. Villains, this time using Tyson to break up what should have been a foolproof plan to get either Russell or Parvati out of the game by tricking him into switching his vote to Parvati, which broke up the even distribution of votes that Boston Rob's alliance would have used to get either Russell or Parvati out depending on who Russell used his Hidden Immunity Idol on. Instead, with Tyson's vote switched to Parvati, she now has four votes to Russell's two... and Tyson's three. Russell gave the immunity idol to Parvati, and bye bye Tyson.
  • Chris, Victoria and Allison Argent in Teen Wolf, along with the rest of the hunters, have no idea that they are just enabling Gerard's plot to become a werewolf in order to survive terminal cancer. The ultimate however is Jackson, who does not even remember transforming into the Kanima, much less the murders that it commits at the direction of Matt.
    • Throughout Season 3B the Nogitsune plays the rest of the cast like a fiddle, using its possession of Stiles to win their trust. The best example comes in "Letharia Vulparia", where the Nogitsune spends an entire episode impersonating Stiles, with Scott not doubting him for a second.
  • Nick Hanway in The Thick of It. The spin doctor is convinced that the appointment of a new Prime Minister will also require a new chief spin doctor, but he seriously underestimates Malcolm Tucker...
  • Van Helsing (2016): Sam is manipulated by the Oracle into becoming the Fourth Elder under the belief that he'll become the new Dark One. Instead, he's used as a portal to free her, which kills him.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: