Adrien The Liar
wait. don’t go. I promise this isn’t salt. I have not been hacked. It’s me.
Hear me out.
I’ve seen a lot of speculation, in the wake of Gang Of Secrets, that Chat Noir might get to tell someone his secret identity in turn, or, if that doesn’t happen, that someone might find out anyway so that balance between our two protagonists can be restored, at least from a storytelling perspective. I love all of these theories, but I think we are missing a crucial point. If Adrien were to gain a secret identity confidant of his own… that would not really change a thing for him. Because being Chat Noir is not the only thing Adrien lies about. It’s not even the most important one.
Adrien lies all the time. He lies to everyone, for all sorts of reasons, in all sorts of situations. He lies in front of the camera. He lies in interviews. He lies to his fans, when he meets them in the streets in both his civilian and superhero persona. It’s not that he doesn’t genuinely appreciate the attention, it’s not that he hates his job. He likes it all well enough. He doesn’t mind. But he can never be completely *genuine* with people, and in fact… the vast majority of the people he interacts with don’t even want him to. They are not expecting to meet a person, but a celebrity. The same, to a lesser but not much lesser degree, goes for his teachers and classmates, to whom Adrien also tells a different kind of lies. “Father’s just overprotective,” he says. “He’s still grieving,” he says. “It’s fine that he couldn’t come. It’s fine he won’t let me celebrate my birthday with you guys. It’s fine he won’t let me out. I don’t mind.” He tells these lies to his closest friends too, and even when he doesn’t, even in the rare moments when he lets them see his sadness, he still can’t bring himself to admit what the root of it is.
Adrien knows, on some level, that Gabriel is not a good man. Not a good father. The proof is that he keeps making excuses for him. If he really were entirely unaware of the fact that Gabriel is an asshole, he wouldn’t feel the need to defend him in front of others, to make up arguments for why his behavior is forgivable in his own head. Adrien wants to believe so, so badly that his father has redeemable qualities. That his father loves him. That when his father says he only wants what’s best for Adrien, he’s telling the truth. So he lies, to everyone, and most importantly to himself. He doesn’t want to hear Nino tell him that this is wrong. He doesn’t want to give up on the fantasy of having a good, caring family, because the fantasy is all that he has. If he lets go of it, what is he left with? And what could he and Nino do anyway? Realistically speaking? They are kids. Adrien can’t leave his home. Plenty of adults see how he’s treated and don’t bat an eye. They are all too eager to handwave a powerful, obscenely rich magnate’s parenting failures as no big deal.
Of course, Adrien lies to his father. Gabriel is the one who taught him to do it. Who has shown him time and time again that he will not accept from his son anything other than the lies he wants to hear. That the right lies at the right moment are the only thing that can unlock a morsel of love, sometimes, if the planets align just right. And that the right truths at the right time, somehow, in even rarer occasions, can win Adrien a sliver of affection too.
Adrien lies all the time, and all of his lies are deliberate, because when he chooses to, he is actually capable of being honest. He will show glimpses of vulnerability, he will even open up to an extent, when it’s safe or strategic to do so.
Kagami is one of the very few people whom he’s let peek at his soft, squishy, frightened core. This is why, by the start of s4, Kagami really believes that she knows him. That she sees and loves the real boy behind all the masks. And that boy? He is just like her. A kindred spirit. Someone worth lying for. So she lies to spend time with him. She shows him her drawings. She wants him to know all of her, just like she thinks she knows all of him.
“Art never lies,” Kagami says. The poses people choose for themselves always reflect their personalities.”
Then she asks him to pose for her. She wants to see his true self.
Adrien’s immediate response?
“What pose do you want me to make?”
He sounds so polite and genuinely eager to please that it’s easy to miss he is refusing her request. (Later that night, he will refuse Ladybug’s implicit request to elaborate on the state of his civilian life, and sidestep her explicit request to rethink his self sacrificial tendencies, just as smoothly.)
Kagami seems initially unfazed. After all, she does know him. She knows he is a chronic people pleaser. She’s remarked on this in the past. “You always do what other people want you to,” she had told him disapprovingly at the end of Frozer. Adrien had replied “It makes me happy to make people happy.” It wasn’t a lie, so Kagami had accepted his answer. But it seems obvious, with the way the conversation in the art room is going now, that Kagami still thinks Adrien can and should aspire to more. She doesn’t want him to strike a pose of HER choosing. She wants him to “feel comfortable and at ease” with just being himself.
That’s all the direction she gives him at first. Just be comfortable. She trusts that he’ll be able to do it with her. She trusts that he wants her to see him and know him, like Kagami wants him to see and know her. So she tries to draw several of his poses, despite clearly sensing that they are not quite right. Maybe he just needs to loosen up a bit? She gives him chance after chance to open up, all the while still chatting about her own secretly guarded forbidden passions. But he won’t do it.
She starts getting impatient. “These are model poses,” she tells him. “Try something more natural. More you!”
The saddest thing about this moment is that this IS, in fact, a big show of trust on Adrien’s part, because it really could give away his secret identity. He DOES feel more comfortable with Kagami than he does with most people. Comfortable enough to get carried away. He seems to actually realize this, a second too late, in part thanks to Kagami’s stone cold reaction, and he tries to downplay at least the pun as best as he can.
“This is not at all natural,” Kagami points out. She’s right. Adrien knows that she is right. But if Adrien isn’t Adrien, and if Adrien isn’t Chat Noir, then who is he? Adrien does not want to ask himself that question.
“I promise this is really me!” he says, with a hopefulness and sincerity verging on desperate.
This is a lie. Like all the best lies, it does have a grain of truth in itself, and Adrien, like all the best liars, really does believe it, at least in the time it takes for the words leave his mouth.
But he knows it’s not true. I don’t even need to cite all the times in the past he’s explicitly referred to his Chat character in the third person. Just look at his face immediately afterwards. He’s already started to retract that statement. It’s not even a statement anymore. It’s become a question.
Suddenly, all the ease and comfort of before have dissipated. Kagami is standing her ground. She is refusing to let him sell her an act of her choosing, and in doing so, she has disarmed him in a way nobody before ever had. She moves toward him, she takes his hand between hers, and we don’t even see her push, because she doesn’t. He is backing away from her of his own accord. This isn’t an attack on Kagami’s part, she is trying to be helpful, in her own usual blunt way. Adrien knows this. But he feels the urge to run and cower anyway, because he can’t stand to have her look at him and actually SEE HIM.
“This is the real you,” she says.
And then goes in for a kiss, and then they get interrupted and Adrien is very quick to jump at the chance to leave the room.
But he does so with a smile. A real one, because it stays on his face even after he’s turned away from her. Threat averted! Now he knows what Kagami wants, and it’s something that not only he is happy to give her, but also does not require him to bare his soul to her. A win on all fronts!
Kagami doesn’t let it go.
She doesn’t just want some kisses. She wants to actually BE WITH HIM. The real him. The one he won’t show to the rest of the world. She keeps creating occasions for the two of them to be alone and Adrien doesn’t know how to escape because all of his usual tactics aren’t working on her.
“Oh wow the cars aren’t here yet”, he says, sweating profusely at the thought of more Truth Time With Kagami. “Gosh darn, we would have had time to replay the song at least once! Maybe we can still do it, let’s go back RIGHT NOW IMMEDIATE--”
“I just want to spend some time with you,” Kagami tells him, as always honest and to the point.
“And we can totally do that at prince Ali’s hugely crowded party tonight!” Adrien replies.
Here’s the crucial difference between Adrien and Marinette. Adrien does not want to be seen. He does not want to be figured out. He does not want to be understood.
Unlike Marinette and Kagami, Adrien doesn’t hate lying, and he is not bad at it. He, in fact, excels at it. He likes it, even. He LOVES to perform. He wears all of his masks with at least some degree of fondness and genuine enjoyment. He’s crafted them well enough that they all contain a nugget of his true self, and none the whole of him. The masks are comfortable. They are useful. They feel like home. He does not want to put them down.
To an extent, this is because he isn’t quite sure what really lies behind them. He is, after all, a 14 year old boy who’s never been allowed the luxury to dream of a life entirely of his own choice and making. But this isn’t the full story.
The truth is, on a fundamental level, Adrien does know who he is. “Just be yourself!” Nino told him on that fateful first day of school, encouraging him to go give Marinette the chance to give him another chance. Adrien was worried, yes, but he wasn’t confused. He knew what that meant. He knew what to do.
The only thing Adrien never lies about is his desire to be loved. He wants to be loved so, so badly. He is absolutely terrified of being known. He does not believe the two things aren’t mutually exclusive. As far as he knows, he’s never been given a reason to think so.
Marinette wanted so badly to be able to stop lying to her loved ones. She knew that they were all starting to see through her increasingly improbable excuses, and their hurt pained her. She’d have told everybody the truth if she could have. It’s no wonder that the moment she finally was alone with Alya, she let the dam break. But even before then, when Luka confronted her, she tried to give him the most honest answer she could: “I can’t tell you.”
Adrien lies as easily as he breathes. His lies are always simple, smooth, and perfectly believable. Nobody ever sees through them, and so nobody has ever been hurt by them. Until now. But Adrien is a really, really good liar. So even Kagami still wonders, up until the last minute, if she’s not just imagining things. She can’t do like Luka did, and just ask Adrien what the truth is. She knows that Adrien is fully capable of weaselling out of giving her a direct answer, and he’ll do it so well she won’t be able to protest it. So, her heart heavy with grief and hope, she sets a trap for him.
“I hope you found that thing you were looking for,” she says, hiding the bracelet behind her back.
“Of course, I have it right here,” Adrien lies, sealing his fate.
But that isn’t enough to blow his cover. He is far too good at this game. So much better than Kagami could have ever imagined. As soon as he realizes he does not, in fact, have the bracelet on him, he has another lie ready to go. “Oh no, I must have lost it again!” It’s simple. Believable. Perfect. If Kagami weren’t holding the bracelet in her hand right then and there, she would have absolutely no reason to doubt him.
“Don’t get soft, don’t get caught by surprise,” Tomoe had told her daughter what now feels like ages ago, at the beginning of the episode. “This is the only way you’ll be able to keep up with Adrien.”
“Don’t worry, mother,” Kagami had said. “I have all I need to succeed with him.”
Kagami was so, so sure she had Adrien all figured out. “I think we’re really similar,” she’d tried to tell him. She felt a kinship with him like nothing she had ever experienced before. Now, at the end of the episode, she looks at him and sees a stranger.
“We are both liars,” she tells him. “but I lie to be with you. And you? You lie not to be with me.”
The problem is not that Adrien can’t tell her the truth. It’s that HE DOES NOT WANT TO.
“I’m sorry for hurting you,” he tells her the next day. “I want you to know that all the good times we shared… those weren’t lies.” He knows what he did. He knows what the real problem is. He knows it has nothing to do with him being Chat Noir.
And he wants her to understand, but at the same time… he doesn’t.
So he can only try to reassure her, as best as he can, that his love for her was never fake. Adrien, professional liar that he is, knows when it’s time to deploy the truth. And this is the truth.
“I know,” Kagami tells him. And she does. She knows him, after all. Just not enough.
And this… this casts a rather dark shadow on Chat Noir, that same night, telling Ladybug “There’s no one but you that I can have this much fun with.” Because what is the difference between the time Adrien spends with Kagami, and the time he spends with Ladybug? It’s not that he loves one more than the other. It’s that Ladybug doesn’t want to know who he really is. She doesn’t even really notice that he is putting on a show. She is perfectly happy to take his lies at face value.
“You know what the difference is, between us and the rest of the world?” Chat Noir asks her at the end of the episode. And then he doesn’t wait for her answer. He explains. “We can’t tell each other everything. We even lie to each other. And that’s ok. Because in the end,” he concludes, offering her their trademark fistbump, and waits for her to join him in reciting their mantra, “we trust each other anyway.”
There was a time, long ago, when Chat Noir wanted Ladybug to know him. But now? He’s not just resigned to the necessity of secrets anymore. He’s counting on it.
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