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A subtrope of Cutting the Electronic Leash.

Security agents, operatives and assorted henchmen come equipped with an earpiece so they can unobtrusively stay in touch with the rest of their team. When one of them, whether he's a hero or a villain, removes it, that means he's going to disobey an order, play solo or even go rogue. In which case his teammates will urgently ask him what's going on, and won't receive an answer.

Alternatively, a character removing his earpiece signals that what is going to be said or done is intended to remain "off the record".

Examples of Removing the Earpiece include:

Comic Books

  • In Gorsky and Butch, in a Matrix spoof, Butch removes the earpiece to break the Hive Mind with the other agents and make them stop finishing his sentences for him.
  • In the Birds of Prey story "Manhunt" by Chuck Dixon, the Black Canary ditches the earrings that allow her to receive Oracle's transmissions. Fortunately for her, she keeps the transmitter, and the receivers end up with Huntress and Catwoman.


  • The Matrix: Agent Smith first removes his during his interrogation of Morpheus when he starts to reveal his very un-machine hatred of the world he's trapped in. In Matrix: Reloaded, his rogue status is illustrated by his no longer wearing the earpiece. He sends it to Neo to let him know "I'm back" ahead of time.
  • Emil Blonsky in The Incredible Hulk.
  • A secret service agent in Vantage Point did that when he goes rogue.
  • Sandra Bullock's character in Miss Congeniality -an undercover FBI agent- does this before initiating an oh-so-politically-incorrect interrogation session: clubbing, with pizza and beer. Remarkably enough, this works.
  • In the first Hellboy movie, Hellboy turns off his communicator while they're searching the subway to fight the monster Sammael undisturbed. Meanwhile The Men in Black on his team are massacred by Sammael clones and he can't be reached.
  • Wolverine does this in X-Men 2 when the rest of the team are discussing their plan and he realizes if it goes the way they're hoping it will, he won't get a chance to confront the guy who holds the information about his past. When they next look up, he's gone.


  • In the Artemis Fowl series, Holly Short shuts off the communicator in her helmet when she is about to disobey an order to stand down.
  • Ender removes his two-way earpiece in the book Speaker for the Dead during a private conversation, and accidentally causes a temporary shutdown of the galactic communication network. Yes, those two events are related.
  • Bel Thorne does this in Mirror Dance when Admiral Naismith's clone - er, brother shows up and _almost_ passes himself off as the original with a new assignment.
  • On at least two occasions in Bruce Sterling's Islands in The Net, Laura Webster pulls off her videoglasses and sets them aside so she can talk privately.
  • In Mockingjay, Katniss does this when the capitol is attacking a hospital and she is ordered to leave the area.
  • Ciaphas Cain: Ciaphas mentions that Sentinel pilots are used to operating solo missions with little input from command and as a result are even more of a Military Maverick than the rest of the troops, and usually manifests as mysterious vox failures when hearing an order they don't like.

Live Action TV

  • Every once in awhile someone on Star Trek removes their combadge to similar effect. Since it's also an emblem, it can be a sort of Turn in Your Badge. Plus, it's a tracking device.
    • Worf did this several times in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, removing his combadge to indicate that what he was doing was not Starfleet sanctioned. First when K'Ehleyr was killed, a second time when he left Starfleet to participate in the Klingon civil war, and in Deep Space Nine when he challenged Gowrons authority.
    • Picard did this in Star Trek: Insurrection with removing his captain pips on his collar.
    • In Deep Space Nine's "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges," Dr. Bashir and Admiral Ross have such an off-the-record discussion after removing their combadges.
    • Done very seriously by Chakotay in the Voyager relaunch novels--he disappears into the wilderness without his commbadge. It's not just that he's cutting ties with Starfleet--he's basically abandoning his life.
      • Of course combadges also have a tiny microphone in them, so there's a practical reason to do this.
  • In the opening credits of The Wire, you see someone putting on an earpiece and later taking it off.
  • In the Bones episode "The Fire in the Ice" when Booth is being interrogated on suspicion of murder, Agent Perotta removes her earpiece to indicate that she (not Dr. Sweets) is the one asking the questions from that point forward.
  • In The A-Team's Season 5 James Bond Homage episode "The Spy Who Mugged Me," Murdock (posing as a 007-type spy) does this when he starts making out with the villain's girlfriend. In doing so, he leaves poor Face to spend the night out in the rain.
  • Happened in the episode "See No Evil" of NCIS.

Video Games

  • Jack does it in MadWorld when he communicates with Anaya. He later crushes it.

Western Animation

  • Superman in Justice League was bound by regulations and rules he set up himself when trying to deal with Cadmus. When he found out from Huntress that The Question was captured and being interrogated (tortured) by Cadmus he decided to take her advice and do things "Off the books." No visual cue is given but the same trope is being used.
    • Though he did give her his earpiece to call the League and get Question to help, since she'd been kicked out for breaking the rules.
    • This trope was used more explicitly later in the arc when the sociopathic clone of Supergirl leads an attack on the Watchtower ordered by Amanda Waller. Waller realizes that the League was framed and tries to issue a recall order. Galatea is too eager for a chance to kill Supergirl and the League to bother with trivialities like a direct order to stand down, so she removes her earpiece, crushes it and smugly comments to Supergirl, "Wrong number."
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