Talking Your Way Out

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
Talking might make you feel a lot better... and less homicidal...
Rhea Snaketail, Slightly Damned

One of the heroes has been captured by a group of villains, usually a group with distinct personalities and backstories, like a Legion of Doom or a Quirky Miniboss Squad, who operate on more or less equal terms with each other (as opposed to a singular Big Bad and a collection of Mooks).

The hero is well-known to the villains. They are careful not to give him any obvious openings—they disarm him, disable his powers, lock him up, and keep guards on him at all time. Escape by brute force isn't going to work, as he's seriously outnumbered and lacks access to his weapons and abilities. Without resources, MacGyvering up a solution isn't going to work, either.

How will he escape?

He sits back and pretends to accept his fate. However, he's surreptitiously conducting psychological warfare against most or all of the members of the enemy group. Engaging the villains in idle conversation, he plants the seeds of discord, playing on the ...

  • ... egos - "How can you take orders from that buffoon? You should really be the one in charge."
  • ... Greed - "What are they paying you? I'll double it."
  • ... sympathies - "These morons don't understand you."
  • ... insecurities - "It's really a shame the rest of them don't pay any attention to you."
  • ... sex appeal - "You know what I really like? A man in a cage."
  • ... and mutual distrust - "You realize he's just going to off the rest of you once he gets what he wants, right?"

... of each individual member.

The villains never stop to think that they're being played for chumps, or wonder if the hero has anything to gain by starting a power struggle. The resulting dissension and infighting allows the hero to escape in the confusion. Truly, The Guards Must Be Crazy.

Smart villains and the Evil Counterpart almost never fall for this. Occasionally the leader of the group will catch on to the hero's plan, but it's usually too little, too late at that point. Group dissolves, hero escapes, plan fails. Roll Aesop about trust.

This is the main method of escape for heroes who are locked up well and good, and contractually or circumstantially obliged to use their wits rather than brute force. Often used to give The Smart Guy or the Badass Normal A Day in the Limelight, showing how they can defeat the villains without super powers or incredible fighting skill.

Can be subverted by having the minions be too slick to fall for that trap.

Sub-Trope of Mook Face Turn.

Compare with Hannibal Lecture, which is the bad guy's version of this trick.

Examples of Talking Your Way Out include:


Comic Books[edit | hide | hide all]

  • When Quinton Zempfester is imprisoned by trolls in Thieves & Kings, he talks his way out by excitedly greeting one of the trolls as the spy sent to free him, thus creating suspicion among the other trolls that he actually is a spy, and setting in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the hapless troll finds that he is doomed to torture for his imaginary spy secrets if he does not go rogue and flee immediately. Rather than face this fugitive fate alone, Quinton offers the troll his assistance, if released, and the two make a break for it together.
  • In X-Men Unlimited # 47, Cyclops wakes up after a fight with an army of generic Black Ops Ninjas to find himself strapped down and about to have his eyes cut out by a low-on-ethics surgeon. He calmly explains to the surgeon that he'd better remember to kill him when he's done, because he's memorised the brand of the surgical equipment in the room and will be able to track him down by it. Oh, and even if he is dead, there's a telepathic redhead who will be looking for his killers. Either way, the end result will be a conversation with Wolverine. The surgeon lets him go, requesting a light beating to justify the escape. Cyclops is happy to oblige.
  • Lucifer: In "The House of Windowless Rooms", a demonic assassin is sent against Lucifer while he's powerless and mortal. The gods who sent the assassin remark that she's obviously failed, as Lucifer has had enough time to start talking to her, which is all he needs.
  • The Authority were engaged in a battle with psychotic super-soldiers engineered by the government at one point, and their resident Badass, the Midnighter, was trapped under some rubble and about to be obliterated by one of them. In a few sentences, he essentially deconstructed the soldier's life and forced him to realize what a failure he was. The soldier paused, removed the rubble, handed the Midnighter his helmet, and walked away from the fight. At the end of the story arc, the Midnighter even gets a letter from the guy, thanking him for helping him out of his self-destructive situation and telling him about his new wife and kids.
  • Subverted by Empowered, who spots a life-threatening aneurysm in the head of the Mook who's guarding her, using her suit's X-Ray Vision. The mook doesn't believe her at first and thinks she's trying to pull this, but she is dead serious and convinces him to go to the hospital; she just didn't want anyone to suffer the same fate as her father.
  • John Constantine has been known to escape from really dire dangers using this tactic. A full and almost flawless con man, he's always tricking demons, angels and monsters, and even criminals and ruffians, into distrusting each other until they kill themselves.


Fan Fiction[edit | hide]

  • At one point in the Twilight AU fic Luminosity, sensible!Bella, still human, has been kidnapped by the evil vampire James, who's probably going to kill her because he wants to make Edward suffer. Bella's only chance to survive is to talk James into doing something stupid, and it works: she lies to him, saying that no, Edward doesn't care about her and was going to give her over to The Volturi because they give out rewards in exchange for humans with special powers. James believes her, and takes her to the Volturi. They're not too happy with James...


Film[edit | hide]

  • Pistols, cannons and swords pale in comparison to this trope's power in Pirates of the Caribbean. Jack Sparrow can talk himself into and out of almost any situation, and he seemed to have a bit of fun teaching the fine art to Will and Elizabeth. Best examples are Jack talking Norrington's sword from his throat to Will's, Jack talking himself out of a Deal with the Devil, bribing help from several of his enemies several times, and convincing Will that he should help Jack find the key to the Dead's Man's Chest "Because the finding of this finds you incapacitorially finding and/or locating in you discovering, detecting of a way to save your dolly-bell, oh.. whats-her-face?"
    • Savvy?
    • Interesting side note: Jack doesn't just use this tactic, he relies on it, and in the course of three movies, with all the great escapes he pulls off, he only escapes once all by himself, and only by forcing himself to think like Will.
  • Done by the Villain Protagonist in Natural Born Killers
  • James Bond:
    • In Moonraker, Bond uses Hugo Drax's Hannibal Lecture speech to inspire a Heel Face Turn in Jaws, who takes notice of how much he and his short, bespectacled, braces-wearing girlfriend stick out amongst Drax's future "Master Race".
    • In Goldfinger, Bond uses this to get out of Goldfinger's Death Trap. He reminds Goldfinger that there are other agents out there who will replace him if he dies, implying that his death would give the rest of MI 6 an excuse to move against him immediately.
  • Done by The Joker in The Dark Knight. After Batman and Commissioner Gordon leave, he is left alone in the interrogation room with one of Gordon's detectives ... at which point The Joker goads the policeman into attacking him by explaining his motivations for killing six of that detective's friends. At which point, he makes his escape.
    • What makes this a truly interesting case is that the detective was warned beforehand that the Joker would use exactly this tactic on him, and not to fall for it. The problem is that the Joker is just that good at manipulating people.
    • At the beginning of the film, one of the bank robbers realises that their boss has given each of them orders to kill one of the others once their part of the plan is complete, and tries to talk the last of his fellows around by pointing out that their boss will do the same to him. Unfortunately, the last robber is that boss.
  • In Cars 2, when Mater is surrounded by a pack of Mooks, he tries to invoke this by sympathizing with them as outcasts and laughing stocks. It doesn't work.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In The Three Musketeers, Milady De Winter is imprisoned by the Duke of Buckingham under the care of John Felton, and not only convinces Felton to free her, but also to assassinate the Duke. As an actual John Felton actually did assassinate George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, this is also a Historical In-Joke.
  • In Dune, Thufir Hawat, captured by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen's forces and forced to work for him, plays him off of his nephew, Feyd Rautha. Feyd makes a rash attempt (suggested by Thufir) to assassinate his uncle, and the Baron is forced to consider executing his only legitimate heir. Thufir does this more for vengeance and loyalty to his prior liege than for escape, which the Baron ensured would be a fatal endeavor; the Baron barely manages to work his way out of the dilemma by denying Feyd the governorship of the planet the Harkonnens took from Thufir's old master. Earlier in the book, Paul and Jessica use the Voice to get their Harkonnen guards to kill each other.
  • Played extremely solemly at the end of The Half-Blood Prince, when Dumbledore engineers a Just Between You and Me moment with the (presently much stronger) Malfoy, convincing him in the process that he isn't capable of murder. It works... to a given value of working.
  • In Poul Anderson's Technic History, Dominic Flandry is an Agent for the Terran Empire. Kidnapped by an alien race, who just assumes he is a decadent worthless low level agent, he soon has the entire leadership of the planet backstabbing each other.
  • Roger Zelazny's Creatures of Light and Darkness: Set the Destroyer has been taken captive, immobilized, and disarmed by his enemies. Set's gift is the ability to find the weaknesses in his opponents. One of his captors—a priest who is low on faith—is persuaded by Set that by taking Set captive, the priest is an accessory to the murder of God. The priest promptly kills his co-conspirators.
  • Mercilessly lampshaded in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in which the villain is too stupid to fall for it.
  • Next of Kin by Eric Frank Russell is the very pinnacle of this trope. John Leeming is the only human being on alien planet (inhabited by stocky reptiles and is a part of union, which is in war with Earth), imprisoned, stripped of all weapons and gadgets, he does not know their language (initially)... and he manages to talk his way out. Moreover - he manages to make all the government of this planet believe that humans have distinct spiritual companions, he is given a spaceship, he is given the means to change it for a more advanced one and reach Earth... and the planet prepares to leave the anti-Earth union and encourage other planets to do it. Such is the power of diplomacy.
  • Eli Monpress of The Spirit Thief basically has this as his power—rather than needing to form a specific bond with a spirit to gain its obedience, he can just talk to them, and more often than not they'll obey him. His first scene has him talking his way out of a dungeon by convincing the door to fall over.
  • Miles Vorkosigan runs on this. Unfortunately, some of his adversaries have grown somewhat Miles savvy. From The Vor Game:

Admiral Oser: Space them. ... Use the portside access lock, it's closest. If he, [pointing to Miles] starts to talk, stop his tongue. It's his most dangerous organ.
Miles: Aren't you even going to have me chemically interrogated?
Oser: And contaminate my interrogators? The last thing I want is to give you rein to talk, to anyone. ... Whatever your planned speech, removing your air will neutralize it. You nearly convinced me.

  • While most of the Aes Sedai are not her enemies, Egwene's capture and imprisonment in the White Tower in Wheel of Time is otherwise this trope. By the time she is made true Amyrlin of the re-unified Tower, she has not only subverted and won over all the novices and most of the Accepted, she has earned the admiration of her disciplinarian, the Mistress of Novices Silviana (who then becomes willing to stand up to Elaida and the Hall on her behalf, facing birching, death, or stilling); proven to the Aes Sedai she truly is the leader, thinker, and rallying point she claims to be until each Ajah Head wistfully wishes (or outright offers) that she had joined or would join their Ajah; gotten them to admit they had unlawfully raised Elaida (since some of their number had been Black); and out-debated and completely undermined Elaida herself. And while she doesn't turn the Ajahs against each other (in fact her main thrust is trying to undo such division as Elaida and the Black had done, bringing the Ajahs together again), she does turn a large number of them against Elaida. If she hadn't been taken by the Seanchan, she would very likely have been pulled down, tried, perhaps even executed.
  • Tyrion Lannister of A Song of Ice and Fire runs entirely off this trope. As a dwarf in a medieval society, the best he could hope for was to be made a jester or be part of a freak show, or just as likely have been left to die as a child. However, he has the good fortune of being born to the richest house in the kingdom and being one of the smartest characters in the series. The times he has talked, bribed, or conned his way out of death or worse number in the dozens.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • When Ben (or "Henry Gale," as he was identifying himself at the time) was "captured" by the main characters on Lost, he spent much of his time turning Locke and Jack against each other, a feat that took very little effort. This did lend some assistance to his eventual escape, but is more likely part of some even more complex plot.
  • Firefly: We learn in a flashback that the greed approach not only allowed Mal and Zoe to get out of a violent situation, but resulted in Jayne joining their crew.
  • Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle occasionally does this to great effect.
    • One episode involved him breaking up Hal's folk(?) band, The Gentleman Comers, pretty much only saying one sentence to each member. Note that he wasn't really trying to get out of anything, he was just manipulating them because he was bored.
  • The Doctor is also a dab hand at doing this. The Seventh Doctor in particular has a knack for it; in "Paradise Towers", he manages to escape an execution by essentially convincing his over-bureaucratic captors to let him escape.
    • Then there's this scene from "The Happiness Patrol", where he talks a sniper out of shooting him at point blank range.
    • He tries it again on the Master in The End of Time Part 2 by giving him a speech on how "stone-cold brilliant" he is. His description soon switches to "bone-dead stupid" because the Master doesn't realise his right hand man is really a Vinvocchi.
  • In a very rare instance of a villain using this instead of a Hannibal Lecture, Scorpius talking down Captain Crais' bodyguards in Farscape:

I commend your loyalty. It must be difficult to maintain for an officer like Crais... an officer on the edge and out of control. I have unconditional authority on a Gammak Base. Captain Crais will go to the Chair: to stop that, you'll have to kill me... and all my men. Are you prepared to do that? Do what you know in your hearts is the right thing: put Crais in the Chair.

  • This was Gabrielle's schtick on Xena: Warrior Princess, at least until someone in charge decided she needed to Take a Level In Badass.
  • Ditto for Daniel Jackson on Stargate SG-1. He even managed to talk himself out of actually being dead a few times, but hey, that's Daniel for you. In later seasons, he comes to rely on this much less, although still proves capable of giving a great monologue every now and then.
  • Reid on Criminal Minds tries for one of these at least three or four times a season. They don't always work out, but when they do, the results can be quite spectacular. Perhaps the best example (and a Crowning Moment of Awesome to boot) comes in Season Three, when a serial killer on death row invites Reid and Hotch to interview him just before he's executed. He plans to lull them into a false sense of security and then kill them both in order to derail his trial and buy himself some more time alive. Through careful manipulation of the agents, the timing and the situation, he very nearly succeeds. Somehow, Hotch and Reid wind up alone in a locked room, unarmed, with a serial killer whose bare hands were his preferred weapon, who wants them dead, and who isn't wearing handcuffs. It never becomes important. Reid keeps the serial killer talking until the guards return from shift change. Fifteen minutes later. Not that Hotch's plan to kick the guy's ass manually wouldn't have been fun to watch, but...
    • It's awesome when it works, but the times when it fails are more interesting, and also generally awful and depressing, because you often really think he's going to pull it off this time...right before someone dies.
  • This is Standard Operating Procedure whenever a member of Team Westen finds him/herself captured.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Search, Part II" when a group of Jem'Hadar attempts to arrest Sisko and co, Garak manages to talk their way out by pretending to be The Mole and then shooting the Jem'Hadar once they let their guard down. And this was before the Jem'Hadar were allied with the Cardassians.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Deus Ex Human Revolution: "Social" boss fights are all about this. You can talk NPCs into giving you codes, standing down from a hostage situation, or letting you into restricted areas.
  • 2027: If you are stopped by the Human Horizon agent in Paris, you can lie to him about your identity, saving your life. Meeting him however, causes an ambush to be set up for you later after the Paris Lab mission.
  • Fallout is one of the few video games where you can use this against the Big Bad. In fact, it's possible to talk your way into his stronghold, talk your way up to the boss, convince him of the error in his plan, get him to commit suicide, and leg it as the base collapses around you. Ta da! Saved the world without firing a shot.
    • Fallout 2 also lets you foil the Enclave through the gift of gab, though The Dragon will try to block your hasty retreat from the base no matter how slick you are, forcing a confrontation. You can convince the Enclave Mooks to fight him for you, though; after all, he's not letting them leave either.
    • In Fallout 3 you can convince both the Big Bad and The Dragon into giving up. The former by using self-destruct code or by proving that he is not doing the right thing, and the latter after a heated debate where you convince him that his government has no authority to do what it is doing.
    • In Fallout: New Vegas both Legate Lanius and General Oliver can be talked into issuing a retreat, the former by convincing him of the unlikelihood of the Legion's long-term survivability/bluffing him into thinking that he'll be walking into a trap and the latter by convincing him that he's lost at this point or, in the Mr. House and Wild Card path, threatening him with your army of Mecha-Mooks and other allies you've made.
  • You have to do this in order to complete Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. The choices at the end pretty much boil down to death (if you don't persuade/trick the Big Bad) or victory (if you do).
  • Geneforge lets you be a real Manipulative Bastard about this. Join the Big Bad's faction, stroll into his base, convince him that you have repaired the damaged safety equipment that will let him use the Geneforge, bluff him into thinking that he needs to send his bodyguards away, laugh as he fries himself. Bonus bastard points if you then use the real safety equipment to successfully use the Geneforge yourself, and even more if you find the item that lets you break the Geneforge so that nobody else can use it.
    • Variations on what's described (breaking it after using it, or breaking it without using it) are the only two very good endings in the entire series.
  • Jade Empire The Final Boss actually tries to use this on YOU. If it works, you let yourself be killed, AND doom the world to a horrible, blighted excistance under a heartlessly brutal, immortal dictator who view people as mere things to use at whim. So DO NOT FALL FOR IT!!!
  • Mass Effect allows you to put points into Charm and Intimidate skills which allow you to talk (or threaten) your way out of some situations that would otherwise end in bloodshed. Towards the end of the game, sufficient points in these skills will even allow you to talk down the villain, Saren, on two separate occasions, the second resulting in Saren killing himself. It doesn't get you out of a final boss fight, though.
  • Planescape: Torment does this one almost all the time. Every plot-significant fight bar one can be bypassed, usually through talking; every other fight can be avoided through stealth or running away. This includes the Big Bad, who you can literally talk out of existence.
  • You can do this in Knights of the Old Republic, but usually it falls under Force Persuade.
  • In MGS3 you can talk the prison guard, Johnny into showing you a picture of his family. The picture he wrote the cell door code on the back of, lest he forget.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing 's 2009 Crimbo ended with your character avoiding death by explaining to the Penguin who bought the holiday for completely legitimate purposes that his plans to use the magic of Crimbo to steal everyone's money couldn't possibly work: because no matter how much meat they stole, the magic of Crimbo would cause all the money to be "left on the front step of an orphanage, or some equally sentimental crap". To make matters worse, whoever runs Crimbo can't keep anything. Everything he makes must be given to others.
  • It's possible to do this in Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, if you play your cards right (Or seduce/dominate/dement) you can feasably do a Pacifist Run for the biggest part of the game. Sadly, the last few parts of the main campaign has you fighting, no ifs ands or buts about it.


Web Original[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Batman uses this method to escape the Injustice Gang in the Justice League episode "Injustice For All". Features a very rare instance of the Joker being the voice of reason, as he anticipates Bats's strategy but is unable to convince Luthor to let him kill Batman. Even more interesting: Batman actually plays several cards at the same time, playing on Solomon Grundy's insecurities, playing the sympathy and sex appeal cards with Cheetah, and eventually delivering a massive bribe to the Ultra-Humanite (which Humanite donates to PBS). And then, because he's Batman, he reveals at the end that he could have escaped any time he wanted to.
    • Batman also used this in Batman the Animated Series, when Harley Quinn singlehandedly captured him and put him in a Death Trap he actually couldn't escape from. He played off her infatuation with the Joker and convinced her to call him so that he could "witness" his death, knowing that his ego wouldn't allow anyone else to off the Batman.
    • And when caught and held defenseless by Scarface's gang, Batman convinces Scarface that the one who sold them out was Arnold Whesker, aka The Ventriloquist. Scarface angrily orders his men to kill Whesker, and when they hesitate think they are traitors as well. Batman escapes in the chaos and bring the gangsters down. The twist? Scarface is Arnold Whesker - he is just a ventriloquist's doll that Whesker uses to manifest his psychotic Split Personality.
  • Teen Titans: Batman apparently passed this skill onto his protegé, as Robin spends an entire second-season episode convincing Atlas' sidekick, Spike, to turn on his master, who treats him like dirt. He succeeds, helping Cyborg save the day when Spike refuses to give Atlas an unfair advantage in their final battle.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Genre Savvy Sokka manages to pull this off when the gaang is captured by pirates and Zuko, convincing the pirates that they'd get a better deal personally handing the Avatar over to the Fire Lord instead of trading him to Zuko for their valuable scroll. Zuko sees right through it, but the pirates take the bait, a fight breaks out, and the gaang escapes during the chaos.
    • Perhaps this inspired Aang to try this on Zhao four episodes later... but it didn't work.
  • Re Boot. This is Bob's only option to deal with Hexadecimal in the early episodes, since Hex is far more powerful than Bob. When she succeeds in turning the entire city to stone Bob has to convince her that petrifying the city goes against her nature as a chaos virus. To be precise, petrified city is the opposite of chaotic- it's quiet, predictable, the same forever. This works and she reverses the effect and lets Bob go.
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. In the "Dog and Pony Show" episode, Rarity gets taken captive by a pack of diamond obsessed dogs. She puts up absolute minimal (physical) resistance. But she coerces/complains/whines the whole time. By the end of the episode, just as The Cavalry arrives, the Dogs are begging to be RID of Rarity.


Real Life[edit | hide]