The enemy imposter is the perpetual ‘other’ hiding under the assumed cloak of ‘us’; a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They may originate from another part of the world — most likely a competing nation, or rivals — they know how to play the political game: feigning friendship while, all the time, undermining our system from within. They may come from a more distant place, somewhere deep in space, another planet, and resemble hideous monsters — but, by using a devious technology they’re able to look like humans. Or, they may have been one of ‘us’, but through torture and brainwashing they have become one of ‘them’, and now they’re loyal to the enemy from outside.
In the real-world political climate of the late 19th and early 20th Century, British German rivalry became apparent when German industrial output massively increased, and Germany began to develop its own navy — putting it in direct competition with the British Empire and the Royal Navy. Stories like Riddle of the Sands (1903) and The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) depict the Germans as ‘up to no good’, secretly developing their military technology, and actively stealing our secrets via a network of secret agents covertly operating in Britain.In the The Hundred Days of The Dragon (1963) episode of The Outer Limits an asian nation has applied a mask-like technique to one of its agents so that he is able to murder, and then impersonate a US presidential candidate. The people around him begin to suspect something is wrong when the agent makes minor character slip-ups, and starts making unusual political decisions. Eventually the plan, to stealthily take over the US political establishment person-by-person, is exposed. A similar plan provides the basis for Futureworld (1976) with guests to the resort being murdered and replaced by lifelike androids, who are then sent out into the world to do the bidding of the owners. The other side of the enemy imposter is explored in The Americans (2008 – 2017), where two Soviet agents pose as US citizens — their ‘American’ children unaware of their rouse — while, all the time, working for the KGB. This creates a dramatic tension between audience empathy for the protagonists, and the knowledge they’re on the ‘wrong’ side. In They Live (1988), aliens have landed on earth and are using a special transmitter to hide their extraterrestrial features, allowing them to go about their business unimpeded. They have covertly taken over the police, politics, the corporations, and the media, and now they are syphoning off profit and wealth for themselves, and their human collaborators. The world is plastered with invisible messages, pacifying the population with mind-controlling auto-suggestions. While in Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1978) an plant-like alien life-form is replicating people one-by-one, sucking the life out of them while they sleep and producing weird personality-drained clones from cocoons. The horror of both these stories is the way in which the aliens are able to operate almost in plain sight, without anyone noticing — until it’s too late.
The enemy imposter can be one of us who has been ‘turned’, as if by some dark and troubling magic or brainwashed into becoming a monstrous weapon. In The Manchurian Candidate (1962) a brainwashed American POW returns to the US on a secret mission to assassinate the president. In Homeland (2011 – 2017), Nicholas Brody a US Marine returns from being held captive by Islamic extremists, feted as a hero, but investigated by Carrie Mathison as a potential terrorist, his loyalty, further questioned by his conversion to Islam. In the unlikely comedy Four Lions (2010) four young Englishmen are self-radicalised into becoming terrorists. Suddenly ‘our lads’ are plotting to murder British people on the UK’s streets.
The enemy impostor is seen as an underhand and devious tactic for any enemy to resort to. The enemy within, ‘our own’ who have turned into the ‘other’ are viewed as supremely treacherous and disloyal. Even in total war, combatants are expected to behave in certain ways, to obey the Geneva Convention and show common decency. In The Eagle Has Landed (1976), and Battle of the Bulge (1965) Nazi troops don Allied uniforms to conceal themselves as Allied soldiers. This subterfuge is regarded as a contemptible deception — ‘unfair’, ‘cowardly’, ‘cheating’ — it doesn’t play by the ‘rules of war’.