Created By: DmM on March 31, 2012 Last Edited By: DmM on January 6, 2013

Unscrupulous Teammate Tension

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

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Page Type:
Trope
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.

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[[folder:Comics]]

  • 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.

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[[folder:Film]]

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

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[[folder:Literature]]

  • 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.

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[[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

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[[folder:Mythology]]

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

[[/folder]]

[[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]]

[[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.

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Webcomics]]
  • 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.

[[/folder]]

Community Feedback Replies: 39
  • March 31, 2012
    nman
    I think this is covered under Token Evil Teammate.
  • March 31, 2012
    DmM
    I'm not sure, because the trope page seems to suggest that the Token Evil Teammate cannot successfully betray the team (he'll be caught and punished). Daniel in City..., for example, manipulates and (kind of) betrays his teammates, winding one up to go out to near-certain death because he feels like it. 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.

    Another example: Dane in China Mieville's novel Kraken
  • March 31, 2012
    LondonKdS
    See also Psycho Sidekick
  • March 31, 2012
    LondonKdS
    Or Poisonous Friend if the hero is oblivious.
  • March 31, 2012
    DmM
    hmmm... Psycho Sidekick comes close, but no. There's no friendship, and the hero isn't oblivious. Their interests coincide, and while a Baptism By Fire may bring them together, both are aware that the hero may eventually outlive his usefulness and get backstabbed.
  • March 31, 2012
    Alvin
    Maybe Live-Action TV: 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) Maybe Literature: 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.
  • April 1, 2012
    DmM
    @ Alvin : that's exactly the kind of thing I'm thinking of. It's somewhere between the Evil Twin, the Psycho Sidekick and a little bit of Token Evil Teammate, but with a twist on these tropes that makes it a bit different.
  • April 1, 2012
    Desertopa
    Non indicative name. This sounds like a counterpart to Good Shepherd, referring to a corrupt priest.
  • April 1, 2012
    DmM
    Isn't that Dark Shepherd?
  • April 1, 2012
    azul120
    Dark Shepherd is different.

    This sounds a little like Enemy Mine. Could be related.
  • April 1, 2012
    DmM
    @ azul120: The example of Cissy Malfoy on the Enemy Mine trope page ties into what I'm thinking about. Maybe it's a subtrope? It's generally not a case of mortal enemies, just an extreme, non-comedic Odd Couple where one member is good and one utterly amoral who are working together because they have to.
  • April 2, 2012
    troublegum
    This does seem a lot like Enemy Mine / Dark Shepherd. The Enemy Mine trope page addresses the likelihood of the bad part of the partnership double-crossing the Hero or backstabbing him as soon as the Bigger Bad is dealt with:

    ''Frequently, if it is a goodie-baddie partnership, the baddie will look for opportunities to pull something that gets them a profit (or, in the case of really bad baddies, allows them to stab the goodie in the back).

    Of course, the Status Quo is usually maintained by the end, with the villain having returned to his evil ways after pitching in to defeat the external threat.''
  • April 2, 2012
    DmM
    Ah, but what about Han Solo? He needs money, so he helps Luke and Leia (of course, he ends up good...)

    Or Mortal Engines, where Tom and Hester end up madly in love, marry and have a kid?

    The point is that the amoral partner will not backstab because they're bad, but only because the returns are great enough (i.e.; they can get the Plot Coupon or beat the Big Bad or finish the quest or get what they want without the hero's help, so they dump him/betray him to advance/wander off)

    Tends to be Played For Laughs, even in a serious work, because of the tension between teammates over their different moral outlooks . Of course, amoral guy tends to get things done...
  • April 2, 2012
    troublegum
    Han Solo isn't amoral. Immoral, certainly. But he doesn't completely disregard morality or have no morals at all.

    I don't think that Enemy Mine has to backstab "because they're bad." They backstab because it's in their nature (amoral/selfish).

    What I think the distinction you're aiming for is: Enemy Mine has people who're already hostile towards each other joining forces to deal with a common foe, and what you're looking at is wherein two sides who're thrust together by circumstance, one of which is a The Hero type while the other is more The Sociopath, end up working together despite all the evidence suggesting that B would just abandon A because A is, by their worldview, a burden.

    Han Solo, Elsa, the Allies in WWII, Darkseid, are not very good examples of this. The latter two are definitely Enemy Mine. Elsa was working for the Bad Guys All Along. Han is Only In It For The Money.

    Gollum is a better example. You'd expect either a) Frodo and Sam to kill him or b) Gollum to betray them at the first opportunity. Of course, he's bound by his promise on The Ring and the certain knowledge that as soon as he took it, Sauron would be down on top of him.

    Dream doesn't really play this to Rose in The Dolls House. He appears and saves her, and then later is happy to nullify her existence, but they never worked together.

    Lucifer in Mike Carey's Lucifer series portrays this better 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.
  • April 2, 2012
    DmM
    The Allies were not Enemy Mine during WW 2, the USA-USSR Mortal Enemy thing only happened afterwards, and it's very American-centric to assume that the UK shared the USA's agenda during the war.

    "Dream doesn't really play this to Rose in The Dolls House. He appears and saves her, and then later is happy to nullify her existence, but they never worked together."

    Hopefully my new description will elaborate on this. He makes sure she stays alive until he can kill her, because only his killing of her can stop her being a dream vortex. Compare to Snape angrily asking Dumbledore "So you've kept him alive so that he can die at the right moment?"

    "What I think the distinction you're aiming for is: Enemy Mine has people who're already hostile towards each other joining forces to deal with a common foe, and what you're looking at is wherein two sides who're thrust together by circumstance, one of which is a The Hero type while the other is more The Sociopath, end up working together despite all the evidence suggesting that B would just abandon A because A is, by their worldview, a burden." Pretty good! Hope you don't mind me putting this in the description :)
  • April 2, 2012
    troublegum
    Not at all, it's pretty much the point of it.

    I know what you mean about the Allies and the break up coming after the war. Certainly the UK didn't share exactly the same goals with the US. But, I don't think you should focus too much on the Mortal Enemies aspect of Enemy Mine. Remember that Enemy Mine can be invoked by a Worthy Opponent as well. Or really, anyone who is opposed in some way to the hero.

    Stalinist Russia was not too far away from being an enemy power from the perspectives of the UK and the US. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, for example, made them very suspicious of Stalinist Russia. Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia were signing treaties to each others benefit as late as January 1941, only months before Hitler broke the pact and invaded.

    Hell, you could argue that Hitler and Stalin actually illustrate the trope even better. Their ideologies are almost diametrically opposed but they work together then to achieve mutually beneficial goals where you would think a more natural response would be for them to go to war with each other and then Hitler promptly throws the 10 year non-aggression pact to the winds because he thinks he can get what he wants better without Stalin.

  • April 2, 2012
    DmM
    Yep, Hitler and Stalin it is :) Thanks!
  • April 2, 2012
    DmM
    So, I think we can agree that this trope exists. Does anyone have any more examples? Is the title ok? Any other comments?
  • April 3, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Some of the examples are confusingly worded and/or in the wrong place. The introductory bit about Dumbledore and Snape - where's that from? The bit about "Barty Crouch Junior both sort of fulfill this role for Harry in Goblet of Fire." How can one person "both" sort of fulfill this role? and it's a Zero Context Example; in what way does Barty fill the role?
  • April 3, 2012
    DmM
    Better? The "both" was a typo from when that example also cited Snape. My mistake!
  • April 3, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Yes it's better, but the stuff about Harry Potter, Sandman, and Hitler & Stalin should be saved for the examples section. Also, formatting. Read Text Formatting Rules. Admittedly folders don't work in ykttw but you should use bullet points and de-doublespace the paragraphs.
  • April 3, 2012
    Duncan
    I think this may be Teeth Clenched Teamwork.
  • April 3, 2012
    DmM
    Maybe a subtrope? Unlike Teeth Clenched Teamwork, it's either a Manipulative Bastard watching over a hero or its a group with one amoral guy who's the odd one out. So the group as a whole doesn't bicker, it just constantly nitpicks at him

    @randomsurfer: better? thanks for the feedback!

    Edit: hopefully the edited description clarifies the differences between this and Teeth Clenched Teamwork... I think it's a subtrope of TCT. Any thoughts?
  • April 4, 2012
    DmM
    Bump! Actually, this is a serious post... do people think this qualifies as a subtrope?
  • April 5, 2012
    McKathlin
    I don't think this is Token Evil Teammate, but the two are related, enough to need the distinction spelled out.

    For Unscrupulous Teammate Tension, does it need to be clear to all teammates from the get-go that the one teammate is bad news, or does it still qualify if only the hero suspects it? If it's the latter, then we'll need to draw a clear line between this and The Mole or Sixth Ranger Traitor.
  • April 5, 2012
    sigh824
    Comics
    • During the Infinity Gauntlet Storyline, the Avengers are joined by all sorts of heroes...and Doctor Doom
      -Captain America: I'm beginning to wonder if the tension your presence creates doesn't negate your usefulness
  • April 5, 2012
    DmM
    @Mc Kathlin: all the heroes know that he/she is good/on their side but unscrupulous/psychotic/manipulative
  • April 5, 2012
    Chabal2
    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.
  • April 5, 2012
    DmM
    Thanks! I'll add that as soon as I have time :)
  • April 6, 2012
    sigh824
    Video Game: Jimenez of Strange Journey is definitely this:
    -Jimenez: "Hey man, you pay me, and I'll do any mission you put me on... Long as it doesn't get me killed"
    Doesn't help that he's the leader in the Chaos ending.
  • April 6, 2012
    sigh824
    Can't find a better qoute at the moment but I guess I'll just replay it later.
  • April 6, 2012
    DmM
    Thanks!
  • April 11, 2012
    pinkdalek
    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.
  • April 11, 2012
    DmM
    Thanks!
  • April 22, 2012
    DmM
    bump
  • April 22, 2012
    Bisected8
    Kain's not really an example, since he's being subjected to More Than Mind Control and might well be outright Brainwashed.
  • April 23, 2012
    DmM
    hmmm, should I take him off the list then?
  • January 6, 2013
    Xtifr
    Greg Bear can be made a blue-link now (needs the namespace).
  • January 6, 2013
    StarSword
    TV:

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=ds2ul8ap389p4wh1kx4072m3