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Ziva: In my professional opinion, the potential for serious injury is substantial.

Director Shepard: I agree. But there are protocols that have to be followed.

Ziva: Which are useless if it doesn't provide a tactical advantage!

Director Shepard: Don't underestimate appearances, Ziva. I have known entire missions to fail because an asset didn't button her lapel properly.

Ziva: (starts to speak but stops) I see your point.

Director Shepard: So we are in agreement?

Ziva: (nods)

(They both turn around to reveal Abby, holding a pair of heels in one hand and her boots in the other.)

Director Shepard and Ziva: Heels!
NCIS, "Bloodbath"

A trick, usually used for jokes, with a similarity to the Trick Dialogue

Several characters appear to have a slightly cryptic conversation about how troublesome and dire their circumstances are. The cameras remain close to their faces, so the viewer gets a full view of their agonization, and sees the sweat dripping down the face. However, once a decision has been painfully accomplished, it's revealed that the characters are in no significant danger, but are just taking something mundane far too seriously. Board games are possibly the most common example as they allow discussion of tactics or how to spend resources, but there are plenty of other examples.

This can require some camera trickery to pull off, and the fact that a closeup of a character's faces is the only thing shown (especially if it's near the start of an episode) should be a major tip off.

See Trick Dialogue, where the participants of the conversation aren't who we think they are. See also Reveal Shot. Compare Anticlimax Cut.

Examples of Not So Dire include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • Most The Simpsons comics open like this, with an overly dramatic title page before showing the scene from another angle.


  • In Top Secret, Val Kilmer's character is captured and put in prison in East Germany. In the next shot, we see a unshaven and clearly unwell Val Kilmer scratching a mark on the cell walls which seems to show he's been inside for 18 years. His lawyer arrives and Val Kilmer says 'Thank God you're here. It's been 18 minutes since I was put in here."

Live Action TV

  • NCIS, as shown by the page quote above.
  • The writers of Lost apparently really like the game variant:
    • Early on, before any major details are revealed, it's hinted that Locke is a skilled military man ("Colonel Locke, is this line secure?"). Although it's a few scenes later that it's revealed that he's talking to his wargaming friend.
    • Later on, Michael and Jack are seen having a troubled discussion about how their game of golf is going. (Somewhat ruined by the fact that they were last seen on the golf course only a few minutes ago).
    • In "The Shape of Things to Come" Hurley worries about how their enemy is making them fight amongst themselves, and that there's no way they'll survive. It's then revealed that they're playing Risk.
  • One episode of Babylon 5 has Ivanova and Brother Edward assessing how much trouble the Captain is in and whether his skill for tactics are up to the task. He gets checkmated one move later.
  • Occurs at various points in Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • "Hell's Bells" begins with Buffy and Willow, accompanied by Dramatic Thunder, discussing how horrible "that thing with the arms" is. It turns out they're discussing the dresses they're supposed to wear for a friend's wedding.
    • In the final episode, "Chosen", before a final attack on the evil lair, several of the gang are shown looking at a map, discussing where they're standing, and what they're planning to do. It turns out that they're not planning the final battle which may well decide the fate of the world: they're playing Dungeons and Dragons, instead.
    • In "Where the Wild Things Are", a frat house is taken over by the lingering feelings of abused children who use Buffy and Riley's sex life as a power source (really). At the end, everyone's sitting around talking about how disturbing it was...and further conversation reveals they're actually talking about Giles' singing.
    • The season 2 premiere had Cordelia complaining about her recent ordeal (captured and strung up by vampires)...because of how tough getting the stains out of her clothes was going to be. 'Band Candy', wherein the town's adults are mentally regressed to being teenagers, ends with Buffy reliving how terrifying her exams were.
    • Season 6 episode 4 began with Buffy wandering around a dark creepy area which turned out to be her basement and she's there to fix a leaky pipe.
    • In the first episode of that season, the Scoobies are preparing the Buffybot for its most dangerous trial yet. Parent-Teacher Day at school.
    • In "Doomed" Xander enters the basement but there's no sign of Spike. Then...

 Spike: Don't turn around. (Scare Chord)

Xander: Spike, what is it? What happened?

Spike: Don't look at me

Xander turns around to see Spike dressed like a Hawaiian-Shirted Tourist.

    • "The Body" has an example of this not being played for laughs. Buffy says she'll have to tell Dawn about her mother's death. Dawn is then shown in tears...about something mean a classmate said about her. She rallies herself and returns to class, only for Buffy to enter with the news, whereupon Dawn breaks down completely.
  • Angel gets its share as well:
    • In "Eternity" Wesley and Angel are panicked that there's no escape from the horror. The "horror" in question being Cordelia's acting...
    • In "A Hole in the World", Angel and Spike are having a VERY heated argument that makes everyone around them nervous. The topic of the argument is revealed to be "Who would win in a fight between Astronauts and Cavemen?"
    • There's also an episode that opens with Wesley and Gunn staring each other down and talking about "facing the odds." Turns out they're playing a board game.
    • And one where The Groosalugg takes Angel aside, very seriously reminds him of their long history as champions for everything good and the many battles they've fought together, and begs Angel to just this once consider his advice:

 Pomegranate Mist is the wrong colour for this room.

  • An episode of Red Dwarf had Rimmer telling a story about how he was in a dangerous situation and needed to use all his skills to survive. He then listed the sequence of dice rolls that enabled him to win that game of Risk.
  • On episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation opened with a tense bit of dialogue between Riker and Dr. Crusher -- it turned out they were rehearsing a scene from a play. Became a sort of Chekhov's Gun later in the episode where enacting that same scene got them out of a jam.
  • In the American version of The Office, the Samford branch's boss angrily enters the room while the team is playing Call of Duty, calling Jim and Andy into a meeting to criticize them. After a few seconds, it becomes clear that the meeting is about their Call of Duty performance.
  • A M*A*S*H episode opens with the camera panning from one grim-faced character to another. It finally settles on Hawkeye, who asks for a knife (implying that some important surgical procedure is about to take place)...before the "operation" is revealed to be the cutting of a birthday cake in the mess tent.
  • One of the Doctor Who audio plays starts off with a dark, gloating monologue from the Doctor about how he has crushed all who oppose him, giving him ultimate dominion over your fate... it turns out he was just kicking Mel's ass at Monopoly.
  • On an episode of Scrubs, there is an intense argument between Dr. Wen and Turk during a crucial surgery, but it turns out they're discussing what music to listen to when they operate.
    • Also on Scrubs:

 'I've lost an engine...Oh God, I've lost another engine'

'Calm down, the engines are on the top shelf'

'Oh, there they are'

 Judge: Mr Larch, you heard the case for the prosecution. Is there anything you wish to say before I pass sentence?

Harold Larch: Well... I'd just like to say, m'lud, I've got a family... a wife and six kids... and I hope very much you don't have to take away my freedom... because... well, because m'lud freedom is a state much prized within the realm of civilized society. It is a bond wherewith the savage man may charm the outward hatchments of his soul, and soothe the troubled breast into a magnitude of quiet. It is most precious as a blessed balm, the savior of princes, the harbinger of happiness, yea, the very stuff and pith of all we hold most dear. What frees the prisoner in his lonely cell, chained within rude walls, far from the owl of Thebes? What fires and stirs the woodcock in his springe or wakes the drowsy apricot betides? What goddess doth the storm toss'd mariner offer her most tempestuous prayers to? Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!

Judge: It's only a bloody parking offense.

  • Chuck does this a lot. Some examples:
    • Pilot - Chuck and Morgan shoot each other with toy guns
    • Chuck vs. The Helicopter - Someone's pointing a gun at Chuck. It's just a kid showing him a broken toy gun.
    • Chuck vs. The A-Team - Chuck and Sarah look like they're defusing a bomb but they're just playing Operation.
  • On Weeds Nancy is talking at an outdoors family gathering when suddenly a laser sight dot appears on her forehead. It's her niece playing with a laser pointer. Subverted when we are shown that the actual sniper targeting her is using a regular sight.
  • In an episode of Sea Change, Sergeant Grey is seen on the phone arguing on the phone with someone, talking about how he's "been through this many times before" and is not putting his people through it without some serious backup - "a minimum three squad cars and some basic show of weaponry or we might as well seal off the whole bloody town and let them run riot." His subordinate, standing in the doorway, asks if he knows what the theme is for this year, to which he answers, "Latin". It soon transpires that the conversation is about the Country Fire Authority's annual dance.
  • An episode of The Munsters opened with a close up on Herman Munster monologging to himself about how nobody would ever suspect he was the killer, ending with the phrase "continued next issue", revealing that he was reading a magazine specializing in crime stories.


  • Discworld, of course!
    • In Jingo, Sergeant Colon is sweating and in a very difficult situation... as it turns out, he's playing the Discworld version of Scrabble with Lord Vetinari, and thankfully, he manages to lose.
    • In Thief of Time, War is watching a deadly battle between red and black armies... as it turns out, he's watching an anthill from very close up.
  • In Faith of the Fallen in the Sword of Truth series, one chapter, following a timeskip, has Richard and Kahlan locked in a swordfight with one another, with the narration treating it like a battle to the death...until Kahlan scores a hit and it turns out they're using wooden swords for practice.

Web Comics

  • Inverted in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.
  • One strip of Order of the Stick features Belkar groaning in anguish as the rest of the party desperately searches for something, Roy coolly informing everyone that though Belkar's the only one suffering now, if they don't find success soon they'll all be in trouble. And in the very last panel... they find the bathroom.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons features Chief Wiggum and the other cops walking into the police station with what appears to be an arrested criminal (hidden from sight). They utter phrases like 'I can't wait to get a piece of you' and 'You think you're so hot? Well, we've got everything we need on you'. It turns out that they were talking to a pizza.
    • Homer's Jury Duty episode ends with him telling Marge about how everyone was against him in that jury room, but he stood by the courage of his convictions and he prevailed - and that's why they had Chinese food for lunch.
  • In The Spectacular Spider-Man, one episode opens with the wall-crawler webslinging across town at top speed, reflecting on his dire circumstances and noting that not even his powers could save him now. Then we hear a bell ringing. Spiderman looks down on his school and says, "Man! For once, I'd like to be early to school!"
  • In the opener of one Kim Possible episode, an alligator closes in on her and snaps its jaws shut. The dreadful consequences: Kim has to resort to buying a replacement pair of pants at Smarty Mart.
    • Another episode has the opening fight end with Kim caught in a hot steam blast. Quick cut to Ron desperately asking how bad it is, and Kim's mom pronouncing the situation hopeless. Pull back to reveal that the they're talking about Kim's torn pants.
  • The Looney Tunes short "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery" has Daffy Duck dreaming that he's "Duck Twacy, the famous detect-a-tive". The dream starts with Twacy appearing to interrogate a suspect, saying "I'm gonna pin it on ya, see? I'm gonna pin it on ya!" Turns out he's playing Pin the Tail On the Donkey.
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