Surgical Impersonation

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A subtrope of Magic Plastic Surgery, this is when a person, whether by accident or on purpose, ends up with the face of another through reconstructive surgery. Usually, some kind of big accident is involved (or staged) that leads to the fateful operation, or the person might just disappear for a while and come back with the new face. However, as mentioned, this is a subtrope of Magic Plastic Surgery: it is not enough that the person has a new face, it is a specific face, the face of someone else that is known to the other characters, perhaps even a character who's a participant in the story. Also, this isn't literally having the other person's face (usually...), just having surgery to look like the other person. Bottom line is this: the person's new face is not a random or unknown one, it is a face well known to the other characters. Also, this is not the same as Latex Perfection: while that might be another way of impersonating someone, it is not at all permanent like Surgical Impersonation is, nor does it have as many dramatic options.

Many interesting phenomena can happen from a character changing his/her face like this, resulting in tropes that have good synergy with this one:

  • Becoming the Mask: The character, in adopting someone else's face, actually starts living that person's life, and might even start to enjoy it and not want to go back to his previous life.
  • Identity Amnesia: A very interesting combination: a character suffers amnesia and is given someone else's face. This can lead to a Tomato in the Mirror situation in which the character eventually finds, to his horror, that he's not the person everyone claims he is. A Conveniently Unverifiable Cover Story might also play a part here. If the author wants to hit the character with the full whammy, he might go for Amnesiac Dissonance, too.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: One of the more common tropes associated with this one: the person is impersonating a deceased person for some motive or another, usually revenge. If the impersonator caused the original's death, it's Kill and Replace. It can also be a case of My Sibling Will Live Through Me: the person receiving the surgery takes this trope to the extreme, becoming physically identical to the dead relative.

Subtrope of Magic Plastic Surgery. Compare Latex Perfection. A form of Acting for Two.

Examples of Surgical Impersonation include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Gundam Seed Destiny, Meer Campbell, a hopeless Fan Girl of Lacus Clyne, agrees to a surgery that turns her into an identical twin of Lacus, down to the vocal cords. This is later revealed to be an attempt to abuse Lacus' political influence by Gilbert Durandal, since Lacus herself refused to work with him.
  • In one case in Detective Conan, the murderer received surgery in order to make his face look like that of the protagonist's, in order to pin the murder on him and get revenge on him. He faked his voice by claiming that he was sick with a cold - ironically, The Hero actually was.
  • Black Jack has done this at least twice: once to save the life of a guy who's been sentenced to death as a scapegoat for a car accident caused by a rich guy's asshole son (by making him look like the son in question), and once to help a nurse get revenge on the incompetent boss who ruined her career (by making her look like the singer the boss is obsessed with). In the latter case, Black Jack's ability to perfectly replicate the singer's face is justified by saying that he'd done plastic surgery on the singer too.
  • In one Crying Freeman story, an organization trying to infiltrate the 108 Dragons takes two agents and reconstructs them as identical clones of Freeman, down to his body tattoos, mannerisms and even genitalia. Freeman returns the favor by managing to get one of them killed and impersonating him so he infiltrates the other organization in return.
  • In the manga Pretty Face, the protagonist is in an accident and the surgeon reconstructs his face with a picture of the protagonist's unrequited crush. His face ends up identical to the girl's long-lost twin sister.

Comic Books

  • Thomas Elliot, AKA Hush, the newest big member of Batman's rogue gallery, uses surgery on himself to impersonate people. Taken to a HUGE extreme, since he performs the surgeries on himself.
  • An old Superman comic had a story about a man who'd had reconstructive surgery after being trapped in a fire as a boy: he'd been saved from the fire by Superboy, and asked to have his new face made to look like Superboy's as a tribute. As an embittered adult, he started committing robberies disguised as Superman.


  • Probably the most literal example is Face Off, in which a policeman undergoes a special operation in which he has his face literally taken off and replaced with a crime lord's in order to infiltrate his organization... and later the crime lord manages to get the cop's face put on him to return the favor.
  • The amnesiac variant is seen in the movie Shattered: Tom Berenger's character wakes up after an accident with full amnesia, and later discovers he's not the person everyone thinks he is.
  • In Ed Wood's Jail Bait, a crook blackmails a plastic surgeon to change his face so the police won't recognize him. The plastic surgeon responds by giving him the face of his (the surgeon's) own son, who's been falsely accused of murder.
  • Diamonds Are Forever. Blofeld has two mooks undergo plastic surgery to make them look like him in order to distract James Bond.
  • Our Man Flint. Flint kills several Z.O.W.I.E. guards and is arrested.

Flint: They're impostors.
Cramden: Gridley? He's been with us...That's Gridley!
Flint: Sir, if you look around the eyes, you'll see some scars. On the bridge of the nose. Plastic surgery.

  • A subplot in L.A. Confidential involves a ring of prostitutes who received plastic surgery to make them look like famous actresses.
  • In Sherlock Holmes a Game of Shadows, part of Moriarty's plot turns out to involve having one of his underlings undergo surgery to impersonate a diplomat at an important peace conference.

Live-Action TV

  • Alias: One faction of bad guys can do this; they kill Sidney's best friend Francine and replace her with a duplicate.
  • Get Smart: In one of the many Spot the Imposter episodes, master impersonator Alexi Sebastian has his face altered to look like Da Chief.
  • In the The Man from UNCLE episode "The Double Affair," a THRUSH agent gets Magic Plastic Surgery and voice training to look and sound like Napoleon Solo so he can replace him and sabotage UNCLE affairs.
  • An assassin in 24 does this by impersonating a photographer and stealing his identity to get through security.
  • Knight Rider (the original 1980s series): As part of his Origin Story, Michael Long received plastic surgery to change his looks. It wasn't until much later that he discovered he'd been made identical to Wilton Knight's estranged criminal son Garth.


  • In Arsenic and Old Lace, one of the characters is a wanted criminal who had surgery to change his appearance; the surgeon, inspired by a horror movie he'd been watching, gave him the face of Boris Karloff. (This started out as an Actor Allusion: in the original production, the actor playing the character was Boris Karloff.)

Video Games

  • In the second case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All: the murderer is revealed to be a woman who was believed to have died in a car accident, when it turned out that the one who died was actually her sister. She took her sister's identity by presenting the girl's picture while she was in surgery in order to impersonate her to take her revenge.
  • Decoy Octopus, Foxhound's infiltration and espionage expert in the Metal Gear Solid series uses this method to impersonate people.

Western Animation

  • Jonny Quest episode "Double Danger". Dr. Zin uses plastic surgery on a man to make him look like Race Bannon so he can impersonate Race and steal a secret formula.
  • On The Simpsons episode "The Bob Next Door", Sideshow Bob trades faces with his cellmate, who was to be released the next day, in order to enact his latest plan to kill Bart.