Warning, this piece contains so many spoilers. It’s pretty much all spoilers and then some more spoilers.
I don’t know about you, but I love it when a show can pull one over on me so skillfully. In a world where casting announcements or leaked footage or even well-structured fan theories can ruin a twist long before we see it unfold (was there a Game of Thrones fan alive that didn’t know R+L=J?) it only makes it that much more satisfying when creators can actually get something by us. Here, then, are some of our favorite examples of times that modern genre fiction actually managed to pull the wool over our eyes.
The Lorca reveal on Star Trek: Discovery
Love it or hate it, Trekkies all across the universe shared a legit clutching the couch cushions while screaming variations of “Whaaaaaaaaat?” and “Noooooo!” at the reveal that Jason Isaacs’ Captain Gabriel Lorca has been from the Mirror Universe this entire time. With a blink of light into the sensitive eyes of a Terran Imperial, all of his Federation bending moves and decisions made perfect sense. Hints peppered in throughout the shows first half season suddenly stood out like massive red flags, teasing us with their blatantness.
The Ward/Hydra reveal on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Very similar in nature to the Lorca reveal on Discovery, what made the Ward flip such a shocker on the MCU’s first TV outing was the way it played off of the audience’s expectations. We’d been presented with what S.H.I.E.L.D. was over the course of several of the film universe’s movies, and the show seemed like it was on track to just be a fairly episodic spy thriller set in a world that happened to have superheroes. The beauty of AoS’s reveal is that it could only have happened at that one specific moment in time when the presence of Hydra within the ranks of the agency was being revealed not just on the show, but in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a broad stroke that the showrunners deviously worked towards right under our noses for the entire first season.
The fake Mandarin in Iron Man 3
Speaking of the MCU, I know many people who are still furious at Marvel for their gamble at faking us out with Ben Kingsley's Mandarin in the third Iron Man movie. The twist that the terrorist leader was actually an actor serving as a front for real villain Guy Pearce's clandestine government takeover ruffled enough feathers that Marvel ended up copping out with the All Hail the King one shot, implying that there's a real Mandarin out there and he's ticked off about the usage of his name. Despite the retcon, it was a brilliant move that exemplifies exactly the kinds of risks Marvel should be taking with their universe.
Angel faking losing his soul on Buffy
A short con that began and ended within a single episode, Buffy still managed to play with the trust of the audience in season three’s “Enemies.” Playing off of the previous season’s major arc of good vampire Angel losing his soul and reverting to the demonic Angelus, “Enemies” felt like it was simply building a pantheon of villains for the ‘big bad’ evil Mayor to put in Buffy’s way as we headed towards the season finale. As traitorous slayer Faith falls into the same trap as the audience, revealing her heel turn with taunts of being the best actor, Angel’s utterance of “second best” remains one of the greatest oh, sh*t moments of the entire series.
The Final Five Cylons
If like me, you started the Battlestar Galactica reboot series later in its run, this probably got spoiled for you. Like, perhaps you were bored online one night and read the Wikipedia page for Cylons, thinking it would just be broad strokes about the cybernetic race of antagonistic monotheistic beings, not knowing that at the very very top of the article listed all five characters who would be revealed as Cylons in the near future. Still, even reading it before the show showed it to me, the Final Five reveal threw everything I understood about each of these characters out the window and made me watch them all with one eyebrow firmly arched until the show caught up with my knowledge.
Fringe’s Peter Bishop was from the other Earth the whole time.
Another one that shares some DNA with Lorca, what made the reveal of Peter's alternate reality origins in Fringe’s third season such a shocker was that like BSG’s Cylons, the character himself had no idea either. Sometimes big reveals without the character’s knowledge can feel like recons or cop-outs, but Fringe had done such an excellent job of peppering in tiny details of the alternate universe and of Peter’s origins, even leaving clues in the show's ever-changing opening splash screen, that this one felt totally earned.
Robot Alicia Vikander leaves Domhnall Gleeson to die in Ex Machina
Anyone who watched the 2016 Oscars prior to seeing Ex Machina might have gotten one major detail of the movie spoiled for them: that Sonoya Mizuno’s Kyoko was also one of the robots created in Oscar Isaac’s secret villain lair. But that was nothing compared to the actual ending of the movie, which felt like it was going to be a predictable happy, possibly even romantic escape with Vikander’s Ava and Gleeson’s Not Hux. Instead, Ava leaves him behind, trapped to certainly starve to death in a high tech prison. This flipping of the popular trope of the lovestruck robot woman was completely unexpected, and one of many reasons Ex Machina stands out as a film.
Sansa and Arya working together against Littlefinger on Game of Thrones
There are many reasons why the internet gets our feathers ruffled by Game of Thrones, some good, some bad. But you have to give it to them for this big moment of Season 7, they trolled the internet hard and it paid off. Never has a single line of dialogue sent so many scrambling to their keyboards to hit the delete key on furiously written tweets and think pieces as the moment that Sophie Turner turned her head and said “...Lord Baelish?”
Frankly, when didn’t Westworld fake us out? From the devious use of nonlinear timelines that hid the reveal that Jimmi Simpson was indeed the younger version of the Man in Black, to the revelation that Bernard was himself a Host, designed after Ford’s enigmatic and deceased partner? Or that the monster of Teddy’s haunted past was, in fact, Dolores fulfilling Ford’s genocidal "new narrative?" The first season of Westworld did such a good job making us question everything that happened during it that who knows what will happen as we continue on in Season 2.
I don’t remember exactly when it clicked for me. The end of this movie felt so jumbled and confusing, and then suddenly, completely clear, and utterly, utterly devastating. The revelation that Amy Adams’ character had begun to sense her life nonlinearly, and that the death of her child from cancer at the start of the film was not a past event but rather a future one, was so completely heartbreaking. It was also a solid and beautiful reminder of the preciousness of every moment of joy, and the value of experiencing every moment you can with the people and things you love even when you know it won’t last. Shut up, you're crying.
The entire first season of The Good Place
Possibly the single best long con of any modern TV series, The Good Place season one big reveal was so massive that it legitimately led to doubts, as unfounded as they turned out to be, that the show would be able to sustain itself in the second season once the truth was revealed. The mark of how massive the impact of the reveal was is how dedicated the fanbase has been at not spoiling it for anyone, ever. Even now in this piece filled with spoilers, I feel like telling you that if you haven’t watched The Good Place yet, go watch it now and don’t talk to anyone about it at all.