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The Reveal occurs when the writers reveal a secret to the audience. Sometimes, however, the audience already knows. The dramatic tension comes from the fact that one or more characters in the story don't know, and that when they find out, the audience knows that the ramifications will be huge.

Maybe it is the fact that one of the story's main characters is in love with another character. Or perhaps we already know who the serial killer is, or that two characters are having an affair.

The audience is on tenterhooks, waiting for the rest of the characters in the story to find out. In all these cases, the reveal is an Internal Reveal.

TV networks love this device because they can promote the hell out of them. Tell the audience that this week the truth will finally be revealed, and you don't even have to hold back on what that truth is.

This tends to happen retroactively with particularly famous plot twists: thanks to Popcultural Osmosis, the audience already knows about what was once a regular reveal, but the characters still don't.

See also Dramatic Irony, which often occurs before said reveal, and Reverse Whodunnit when applied to detective stories. Compare to, but do not confuse with The Inner Reveal.

Examples of Internal Reveal include:


Anime and Manga

  • It is known from the beginning that Baam is an Irregular, i.e. somebody who entered the Tower uninvited and thus is a terrifying existence to most. But when he boldly announces that during an assembly of most of his generations regulars, jaws drop even though you already knew that.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima: The audience knows all along that the boy Ako falls in love with is really Negi magically aged up, but she doesn't find out until over 100 chapters later. Cue Shower of Angst before Ako's Crowning Moment of Awesome.
    • Currently going on, the audience knew that the Asuna that's with Ala Alba now is an impostor long before Rakan revealed it to Negi and Chisame during his Obi-Wan Moment.
  • Bleach has a number of these, most obviously the fact that Ichigo's father is a Shinigami. Ichigo has not yet figured that one out.
    • As of now, he has. It literally hit him.
  • It was long suspected and eventually revealed that Naruto's father was the Fourth Hokage. Naruto himself didn't discover it until a Journey to the Center of the Mind nearly 80 chapters after it was revealed to the audience in a conversation between Tsunade and Jiraiya.
  • In One Piece, when the Straw Hats were brought to the Sabaody Islands, they were in search of a man who could prep their ship for fishman island. Then the readers were told that this person was the Pirate King's Number Two, which made fans eagerly await his inevitable meeting with Luffy.
  • Much of the drama (and even some of the comedy) throughout the first season of Code Geass stems from Lelouch trying to conceal his identity as the terrorist leader Zero from both his friends and his enemies, while of course the audience knows from the very beginning. The situation is made more complex by his Geass power, which allows him to erase memories, but which only works once on any given person. The major Internal Reveal occurs in the final seconds of the season finale.
    • Due to a Time Skip and some amnesia induced by The Emperor's Geass, the situation is mostly reset for the second season, with many of the characters who were previously aware of Lelouch's identity either once again oblivious or at least unsure of whether Lelouch is the "new" Zero.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, while the audience knew from the start that the master of the season's villains was the Ill Girl who was the friend of Nanoha's friend, the protagonists and antagonists didn't know this. Much of the tension comes from seeing just how soon before both sides realize just how close they actually were.
  • After a number of silhouette outlines and hints for the reader's benefit, the only person who didn't know the identity of the Leader of the West before the Scavenger Hunt Arc was Ikuto.

Comic Books

  • In Batwoman's run on Detective Comics, Katherine "Kate" Kane's cousin Bette Kane guest-starred in several issues, culminating in a three-part arc where she was kidnapped by a serial killer that Batwoman was tracking. At the end of the arc, after she has been rescued, Bette reveals to her cousin that she is Flamebird, and wishes to be Kate's sidekick. The fact that she was a costumed character had been featured several issues earlier, and her history with the Teen Titans would have revealed it even earlier to readers who were familiar with that series, but she only reveals her secret to Batwoman at the end of the arc.
  • During the Marvel Civil War, Spider-Man removes his mask at a press conference, showing the world he's really Peter Parker. The reading audience had known that for about 43 years.

Fan Works

  • Played straight but also played with in With Strings Attached. The reader knows early on why the four are on C'hou—they've been sent by alien undergraduates as subjects in a psychology experiment—but the four don't find out who sent them until halfway through the book, at which point they intermittently interact with the “Fans,” as the four dub them. However, the Fans lie to them as to why they're there, and the four never do find out the truth.

Film

  • Halfway through Vertigo, the audience learns that Judy, who initially only seems to be a woman with an uncanny resemblance to Scottie's dead love Madeleine, actually is Madeleine. More accurately, the "Madeleine" Scottie met was only Judy impersonating as her. The audience's knowledge of Judy's secret makes her eventual giving in to Scottie's demands to make her into his lost love's image even more ironic.
  • The ending of Kill Bill Volume 1 reveals that the Bride's daughter is still alive. She herself doesn't find out until the end of Volume 2, during her final confrontation with Bill.
  • If you watch the Star Wars films in number order (as Word of God supposedly intended it), The Reveal in The Empire Strikes Back becomes this.
    • Then again ...
    • The scene in Return of the Jedi where Luke tells Leia that Vader is his father and she is his sister was this already, as well as the scene later on when Leia tells Han.
  • The Shop Around the Corner and its inferior remake You've Got Mail are built around this trope, with two Internal Reveals. Half-way through Alfred/Joe finds out that rival Klara/Kathleen is actually his secret sweetheart, and the rest of the film sees the audience waiting for Klara/Kathleen to find out the truth.

Literature

  • In the ninth Alex Rider-book, Scorpia Rising, the audience finds out about Scorpia's plan to manipulate the MI 6 to send Alex to Cairo in the beginning of the book. The rest of the book revolves around showing the MI 6 falling straight into the trap, and Alex finding out about Scorpia's true plan.

Live Action TV

  • Eastenders has made this its main strategy for driving ratings over the past 10 years (or even longer). Examples:
    • Grant Mitchell finding out about the affair between his wife Sharon and brother Phil.
    • Kat Slater telling her "sister" Zoe that they were actually mother and daughter.
    • Bradley Branning finding out on Christmas Day that his dad had an affair with Bradley's wife Stacey when the two of them briefly split up.
    • Phil Mitchell finding out that his ex-girlfriend Lisa's daughter was also his daughter, not her new husband Mark's.
    • Phil finding out - on his wedding day - that his fiance Stella was psychologically abusing his son Ben.
    • Bianca Jackson finding out that her boyfriend Tony was sleeping with her 14-year old step-daughter Whitney.
    • Ronnie Mitchell finding out that Danielle Jones was the daughter that she gave away as a teenager.
    • The audience found out who was blackmailing Syed before anyone in the story did. it was Lucy Beale.
  • Friends had "The One Where Rachel Finds Out" that Ross has a crush on her, followed by "The One Where Ross Finds Out" after Unrequited Love Switcheroo.
    • Monica and Chandler's relationship was treated like this a bit, too.
  • The Lost audience found out Claire was Jack's half-sister more than a season before Jack did.
    • Not to mention Richard's immortality, the extent of the Smoke Monster's abilities and influence, and characters like Christian Shepherd and Libby having met various Losties before their arrival on the Island. Mostly they're due to the flashback/flashforward structure of the story and the characters inability to communicate whatever new information they've learned (seriously, half the mysteries on the show would've been solved in season 1 if people had just compared notes).
    • What were they supposed to do? "Hello, fellow survivor of an airline crash, this is a list of all the people I've ever met. Anyone seem familiar?"
      • After the fifteenth time two strangers turned out to have a connection relevant to their current situation? Yeah, maybe.
  • Heroes: The audience finds out that Nathan is Claire's father before Claire does.
    • Don't forget most of the second season, like Hiro finding out that Adam killed his father when it was already incredibly obvious in Peter's storyline.
  • Lois and Clark had the episode where Lois Lane finally figures out that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person.
  • Niles was in love with Daphne on Frasier for years and years before she finally found out.
  • Boomer was revealed to be a Cylon sleeper agent at the end of the Battlestar Galactica Reimagined miniseries. Most of the cast, including Boomer herself, didn't find out until the end of season one.
  • In the fifth season of Angel when Lindsey shows himself to Spike and calling himself Doyle, any viewers who followed the show know something is up because the real Doyle did the same thing for Angel.
  • Done to a frustrating level in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When will Joyce learn that Buffy is a Slayer? When will Buffy learn that Riley is working for The Initiative? When will the cast learn that Willow and Tara are romantically involved? When will the Scoobies learn Ben and Glory are the same person? And so on. One of the things that "Once More With Feeling" is notable for is revealing just about every secret the characters had to each other. Of course, by the next episode there was another half dozen drama-sustaining secrets put into place.
    • Ben being Glory was played with, in that it was revealed that a spell stopped people from remembering the fact that they inhabited the same body. So even when they did find out, they didn't know.
    • Buffy having been in heaven prior to her friend "saving her" through resurrection was one of the internal reveals in "Once More With Feeling", and was one of the most emotional of the lot.
    • Spike kept his soul secret from Buffy for a couple of episodes, making for quite a powerful scene when she finally realised.
  • Doctor Who has done this several times, often using viewers' knowledge of the show before it was brought back.
    • The first season episode "Dalek" for example, has two for anyone who knew the episode title - first when the Doctor realises that there is a Dalek, and then when the rest of the characters realised how dangerous Daleks are.
    • Any time there are reasonably knowledgeable alien life forms in the show, we wait eagerly for them to realise that this is that Doctor.
    • Done to powerful emotional effect in the episode "Vincent And The Doctor". The episode features the Doctor meeting Vincent van Gogh, who is portrayed as full of self-doubt and insecurity. After the Monster of the Week has been defeated, the Doctor takes Vincent to the Musee D'Orsay in the present day, and leads him up to the van Gogh collection. There, he asks a tour guide, in earshot of Vincent, where he thinks van Gogh rates in the history of art.
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  Mr Black: Well... big question! But to me, van Gogh was the finest painter of them all. Certainly he is the most popular great artist of all time. The most beloved. His command of colour the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. To portray pain is easy, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world... no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world's greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.

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  • Supernatural first reveals to the audience that Sam's been powering up by drinking demon blood. Dean is the last person to know.
  • Fringe: Peter finding out that he is Walter's Replacement Goldfish from the Alternate Universe. The reveal to the audience happens at the end of the first season, but once Olivia figures it out in the middle of the second, the audience knows it's only a matter of time until the beans are spilled, and the writers milked it for all the tension they could. Peter's reaction to the reveal does not disappoint (well, it may have been a What the Hell, Hero? for some people, but it was so worth the wait).
  • Power Rangers RPM: Doctor K creating Venjix. The Rangers don't find out until a few episodes after the audience did, and General Truman and co don't find out for quite some time after that.

Theater

  • Othello: The audience knows from the beginning that Iago is a Manipulative Bastard, but the majority of the other characters don't find out until the play's climax.

Video Games

  • An interesting and common variation on this trope is to have the big secret hid from the player character, typically by means of showing a cutscene from elsewhere. For example, in The Legend of Zelda the Minish Cap, Link and Ezlo don't find out until near the end that Vaati has been impersonating the King since they had headed off toward the swamp.

Web Comics

  • In El Goonish Shive, the build-up of one particular relationship mess. The fans had diagrams. To quote a recap:
Cquote1

 Nanase likes the ladies, and knows that Elliot and Susan know.

Elliot knows that Ellen knows, very likely knows that Susan knows and may know that Justin knows.

Ellen knows that Elliot, Susan and Justin know.

Susan knows that Ellen and Justin know.

Justin knows that Susan and Ellen know.

Sarah knows that Grace and Susan know.

Grace knows that Sarah and Susan know.

Tedd is completely clueless.

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Western Animation

  • In American Dragon Jake Long, the audience finds out that Jake's crush Rose is actually the secret identity of his archenemy Huntsgirl quite early on in the series, but Jake doesn't find out until near the end of the first season.
  • In Dog City, the cartoonist drawing Ace's story was fighting with another cartoonist on whether or not to reveal the villian's plan to the viewer. They re-painted over the scene a few times.
  • The identity of Mr. E in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is revealed to the audience in episode 21, but as of the season finale the gang still hasn't figured it out.
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