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Unscrupulous Teammate Tension
The heroic team includes or is joined by a manipulative, self-centred sociopath. Tension ensues.

(permanent link) added: 2012-03-31 12:24:33 sponsor: DmM (last reply: 2013-01-06 15:47:27)

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Warning: contains unmarked spoilers!

Related to Teeth-Clenched Teamwork.

A group of heroes are thrust together by circumstance or mutual interests and end up working together. They realise that one of them is a Manipulative Bastard/Sociopath. However, they stick together despite all the evidence suggesting that The Sociopath would just abandon the others because their moral qualms/lack of skills make them, in the sociopath's worldview, a burden. This tends to lead to the 'moral' characters constantly criticising the sociopath's unethical behaviour, to which the latter will irritably retort that at least they get things done. It often happens in a quest story where the heroes and sociopath both want to get the Plot Coupon/beat the Big Bad for different reasons, but need each other's help. It can also happen from a distance, where a Manipulative Bastard is watching over The Hero and protects them/helps them, only for The Hero to discover an ulterior, usually selfish motive. In this case, when the hero confronts his 'guardian angel', the latter will explain that he did what he believed was right/necessary. In both scenarios, at some point one or more of the ethical team-members will have a What The Hell, Hero? moment.

Not to be confused with Enemy Mine. If Batman teams up with the Joker to beat Darkseid, that's Enemy Mine. If the Golden Age Superman and Captain America had to work with Frank Miller's AU Batman In Name Only from All-Star Batman and Robin, that's this trope.

  • Note that the exact details differ from case to case:

    • In Harry Potter Dumbledore's manipulation is subverted by the fact that he always expected Harry to succeed.
    • In the Mortal Engines books, Hester and Tom begin as the epitome of this trope, but then they fall in love, get married and have a kid. However, this is not Love Redeems: they still fall into what might best be termed "ethical bickering" and Hester is still a stone cold killer and Deadpan Snarker who is this close to becoming a Psycho Sidekick, she just reins it in around Tom.
    • Daniel in City at the End of Time is actually an incarnation of the novel's King in the Mountain and therefore pretty much anything he does is justified by necessity.



  • Sandman: in The Doll's House, Dream and Desire both play this to Rose Walker (Dream is actually her grandfather, and thus gave some of his power to a human in the hope that Dream will kill her and bring down the Furies on himself, Dream saves Rose's life because she will only be prevented from becoming a Dream Vortex is he destroys her personally). When Gilbert and Rose confront Dream, he insists he's doing what is right (albeit inhuman) and confesses that he only protected her because he was keeping her alive to die at the right moment.
  • Mike Carey's Lucifer series portrays this during The Morningstar Option. Rachel Begai is only of use to him due to her heritage which allows him passage to where he needs to go. He deliberately lets her believe that helping him will bring her brother back to life whilst using her to destroy the means to that end.



In The Avengers, Captain America and Thor seem to have this kind of relationship with Iron Man.



  • Artemis Fowl plays bad shepherd to Holly Short in Artemis Fowl: The Artic Incident. He wants to resuce his father and when the LEP come looking for his help, he decides to use their technology to make his plan easier. He's also a Deadpan Snarker.
  • In Harry Potter: Barty Crouch Junior sort of fulfills this role for Harry in Goblet of Fire - Harry wants to survive/win the Triwizard Tournament and Crouch needs him to, so he gives him advice and helps him from afar. Played for Laughs in the same book with Bagman trying to help Harry because he has a massive bet on the outcome of the competition. In Deathly Hallows Dumbledore is revealed to have been doing this to Harry for seven books, but it is subsequently inverted in the 'King's Cross' sequence, where he reveals that he expected Harry to succeed.
    • In Deathly Hallows, it's revealed in flashback that Snape and Dumbledore are working together in this way, but the trope is slightly subverted in that at different points each one is TheHero/TheSociopath. Snape is only fighting Voldemort to gain personal revenge, not out of any deep-seated idealogical conviction, while Dumbledore uses Lily's murder to make Snape his spy. In one of Snape's final memories, he acknowledges this, telling Dumbledore "You have used me." and criticising Dumbledore's lack of ethics with regard to his plans for Harry. Although this is Snape's personal opinion, it's an attitude that's shared by Harry, and also chimes with how the rest of the Order would feel about Dumbledore's deception. For his part, Dumbledore seems surprised that "after all these years" Snape is still motivated by his love for Lily.
  • Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: Frodo, Sam and Gollum are all aware of the fact that he'll only help them as long as his 'precious' is being protected from Sauron. Sam, meanwhile, would happily kill/ditch Gollum as soon as he outlives his usefulness and both Hobbits give out to Gollum for his unethical behaviour.
  • Sam Vimes almost plays this to his younger self and the other members of the Night Watch in Night Watch. He's also a Deadpan Snarker.
  • Christ is The Sociopath and Jesus is The Hero in Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
  • Happens a lot in the Mortal Engines quartet.
    • In the first book, Hester is The Sociopath and Tom is The Hero, as is Katherine In her brief encounter with Hester. She's injured, so despite her survival skills she could use some help to get back to London. He is completely helpless, however, and will probably die if she deserts him (which she briefly considers). Before Tom realises he needs Hester, he decides to stay and help her. This leads to a number of arguments over when it's acceptable to kill someone...
      • Anna Fang pulls it on the duo in the same book. Inevitably, Tom says "You're just using us"...
    • In book two, Hester does it to Piotr Masgard and his Huntsmen (he considers her scum, she thinks he's a posturing wimp, but he needs her help to capture Anchorage and she needs him to take the city so she can win back Tom). She and Tom then team up with Freya, her goody-two-shoes rival for Tom's affections, leading to a severe case of frayed nerves.
    • Set up in the third book with Theo the angry child soldier versus Cynthia the Cloudcuckoolander and Wren (Tom and Hester's daughter), who's pretty normal. Averted because Theo's actually pretty nice while Cynthia is a trigger-happy spy and assassin for the Green Storm who makes Hester seem like a pacifist. Also when Wren gets kidnapped and Tom, Hester, Freya and Caul team up to get her back. Hester's gung-ho, all-guns-blazing mentality, her willingness to sacrifice loads of unknown children's lives to find her daughter and her tendancy to kill anything that moves come in for endless criticism. Even from her husband. Of course, when she and Tom find out where Wren is Tom takes the polite route to get her back and gets captured and enslaved herself. So Hester frees a bunch of child slaves, gives them weapons and leaves them to their own devices as a way of creating a diversion. Then she frees Tom and finds Wren by shooting at anything that moves. Unsurprisingly, by the end of the book the couple have separated, Tom and Wren head off to civilisation, while Hester becomes an assassin in the Sahara.
    • In the fourth book, Wolf von Kobald uses Tom and Wren's desire to visit the ruins of London to further his own plans to restart and win the war against the Green Storm. They think he's a git but they need him.
  • City at the End of Time, by Greg Bear. Deadpan Snarker (notice a pattern here?) Daniel Patrick Iremonk manipulates and (kind of) betrays his teammates, winding one up to go out to near-certain death because he feels like it. Funnily enough, they hate him and his methods. He also possesses his best friend and would have betrayed everybody to the Big Bad if it would have advanced his plans by half an inch. He gets away with it, too. But only because he's the King in the Mountain.
  • In what may be similar thinking, in The Prince, Machiavelli suggests a king needs to be both a 'lion' and a 'wolf' to survive and keep his kingdom afloat
  • David, so very much, in Animorphs. Where the others never use their powers for anything save fighting and transportation and never acquire humans, David breaks into hotel rooms, acquires people for his own gain, and, oh yes, tries to give them up to Visser Three.


[[folder:Live Action TV]]

  • Played for Laughs in a Season 4 episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon can't stand that Leonard is the centre of his social circle and his relationship with Priya has shifted social activity to Raj's apartment, so he hosts a party with a bunch of 'new friends'. One of these is his old enemy Barry Kripke, who freely admits that he's only there for the raffle at the end. Inevitably, Kripke is a deadpan snarker.
  • Star Trek original series episode "The Enemy Within" has Kirk split into two people, one 'good', one 'bad'. Spock suggests that Kirk needs both parts of himself to survive. (Oct, 6, 1966)
  • In Season 4 of The Mentalist, the team's new boss diagnoses Jane as a sociopath. Because he's a useful sociopath, he gets to keep his job. Since the pilot, Lisbon and the rest of the team have criticised Jane for his unprofessional/illegal/unethical behaviour. This has included breaking laws, upsetting bereaved relatives, hypnotising suspects, lying to his superiors, getting Red John to murder a serial killer who the team couldn't get enough evidence to arrest and (in the pilot), winding up the mother of a missing teenager to shoot her husband for killing the girl. At the time, there was no evidence, but the girl's diary was subsequently found and it revealed that her father had been raping her since she hit puberty and days before she disappeared, she'd told him she would never sleep with him again (and that was just in the Cold Open). In all these cases, Jane has deduced the crimninal's identity correctly and therefore insists that his way works. Jane occasionally slips into deadpan snark. Or hyperactive snark, which really needs a trope page of its own



In the Iliad, Odysseus is the Manipulative Bastard when compared to his Action Hero comrades. Which makes this trope Older Than Feudalism.


[[folder:Real Life]]

  • A case of Truth in Television: Hitler and Stalin. Their ideologies were almost diametrically opposed but they worked together to achieve mutually beneficial goals where you would think a more natural response would be for them to have gone to war with each other and then Hitler promptly threw the 10 year non-aggression pact to the winds because he thought he could get what he wanted better without Stalin.


[[folder:Video Games]]
  • Kain in Final Fantasy IV is ostensibly a good guy, but kidnaps the Distressed Damsel multiple times and frequently backstabs the other teammates out of jealousy. They keep forgiving him.


  • Vriska in Homestuck was one of the Trolls' most powerful players, who gained god powers and had good enough luck to do unbalanced amounts of damage with her luck-based attacks. She is also a bully and a 'huge bitch' who has been killing people to survive ever since she was small, and manipulates situations to make awful things happen to the protagonists because she knows they will happen anyway and she might as well be responsible for them. Meenah in Homestuck is also implied to be one of these.


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