“I couldn’t tell you because your reaction had to be genuine.”
One of my least favorite “bits” in fiction–usually espionage or police procedural, but it can crop up anywhere the protagonist is a member of some sort of structured organization. There’s a big dramatic scene where the protagonist’s boss is revealed to be working for the bad guys and betrays the protagonist.
Then people are beaten up and things explode.
Then there is a second big reveal where the protagonist’s boss turns out not to be working for the bad guys, but was just pretending because clever scheme.
And then everything’s okay!
The most heinous examples come from ongoing series, either television or novels. In book/episode four the protagonist is completely cut loose from her or his support system, believes that everyone else is turned. At the end of the book/episode it is revealed that it was all part of The Great Game.
In book/episode five there might be a heartfelt scene between the protagonist and the boss, but by the sixth thrilling installment everyone has forgotten all about it.
It’s the bureaucratic equivalent of “…and then she woke up and it had all been a dream.” It’s a sloppy writer’s trick for building tension by making the audience think that the stakes are higher than they really are.
It makes me want to write a scene where this betrayal happens and the protagonist shoots the treacherous boss in the head. Then later on someone says, “But it was all just a ruse.”
The protagonist would reply, quite rightly, that one should not play head games with a trained killer. I mean, seriously.
In a similar vein I want to write a scene where the protagonist gets taken off the case and put on suspension and, instead of doing a secret investigation, takes a plane to Orange County airport and spends two weeks drinking hurricanes on the Huntington Pier.