Number Two: "You are number six"
"I'm not a number! I'm a free man!"
It is good to have power and be in command. If you are the Big Bad
, you have countless Faceless Goons
ready to die at your command. If you are the General Ripper
, you have countless Red Shirt Armies
ready to die at your command. If you are a Corrupt Corporate Executive
, you have countless White Collar Workers
ready to die working at your command. And if you are the President Evil
, well, then you have a whole country of Gullible Lemmings
ready to die at your command.
However, this day we will not talk about this powerful man and his army of followers. Instead, we talk about a single and specific follower from this lot. He has a big problem: he wants some recognition from his boss. He has made important works for him, he he has been a steady and reliable worker, he has even saved his boss, or prevented his defeat... and yet, his boss does not recognize him. For him, his countless goons are all alike, all equally inferior, and fails to set one apart from the others.
It can also take the form of a citizen in a dystopia, a world were all people are like pieces of a clock. We may lack the boss figure in here, or it can be too high above, but there is a similar problem: the citizen who stands out of the masses and scream: "I exist! I have my own personality!"
In the case of machines, Growing Beyond Their Programming
is a usual requirement. For this trope to apply, it should not be just a quest for self-improvement, it should be accompanied by a figure of authority who wants
the machine to keep being Just a Machine
. More than the machine itself, there should be someone opposing his change, or having to get used to it.
Not to be confused with A Day in the Limelight
. The character is unimportant only as plot context, for us readers, the character is
important, he may even be main character of the story. If it is a one-to-one relation between servant and boss, with no countless other servants involved, it's just a Beleaguered Assistant
- The DC crossover Invasion! features an alien race of Spocks, the Dominators. They wage a war on the human race, seeking to understand and control the gene that allows the existence of metahumans. The aliens are defeated, but a young Dominator counters the human victory by creating a bomb that would kill all metahumans. He thought that, by doing this, his society would honour him with their highest recognition: allowing him to have an individual name.
- The Argentine comic book Ernie Pike, set in WWII. It does not feature important battles or the known military personnel, just human stories of random soldiers from either army. Either if fighting for the allies or the axis (sometimes, the detail is not even mentioned), all soldiers in the battlefield are just people who, having the option to choose, would better stay at home with their beloved ones.
- When Ultron created The Vision, he did not give him a name. Not even a number. The wasp described him as "some sort of unearthly inhuman vision", and it sticked. The Vision turned against Ultron immediately, and began a quest to be more human.
- Hydra is one of those terrorist organizations in Marvel with a nearly-infinite supply of faceless goons. We known some of Hydra's leaders, such as Madame Viper or Red Skull, but do we know of any of those goons on a first-name basis? Yes, of course! Bob, agent of Hydra, and Deadpool's sidekick!
- Bicentennial Man is a movie about a robot of the class NDR, one of several countless servant robots made by North Am Robotics. The film details how he slowly develops a unique personality, upgrade his body to make it more human, and his struggle to be accepted as an equal to a human being, first by his master, then by North Am Robotics, and finally by the Congress.
- Inverted in Iron Man 3. The real villain began in this role many years ago, but he realizes later the advantages of staying in the shadows, and operated through a decoy villain instead.
- 1984 is the story of Winston Smith, a man living in the ultimate dystopia. He dared to think by his own... and paid the price.
Live action TV
- The quote at the top is from the British TV series The Prisoner. It is about a man who resigns from a government job, and gets kidnapped and taken prisoner to a strange village, where he has a number rather than a name.
- This was a recurring theme of Star Trek: Voyager. A ship stranded in the other side of the galaxy, where both the medic and the medical assistant died, had to rely on the Emergency Holographic Doctor (a robot, if you will) for everyday medical needs. Although only one per ship, the doctor is a standard software included in all the ships, and it was initially treated as such. As the series advanced, he managed to develop his own personality and be accepted by the crew as an equal. A similar theme was used with 7 of 9, a human rescued from the Borg, who rediscovered her humanity.
- There would be countless examples to list. No matter if the situation is really that accurate, Rock music and its countless variants have always said that "the system" wants you to be an automat, a mere consumer and a quiet citizen. And the answer: defy the authority, break the rules, destroy the system, be yourself! Anarchy in the UK! School's out! Break the law! Run free! Fight the world! Kill'em all!
- The Simpsons: This was a running gag about Homer Simpson in the Nuclear plant. Mr. Burns never recognized him, and Smithers clarified something in the lines "It's Homer Simpson, sr., an organ bank of the sector 7-G". It got really out of control at the episode "Who shoot Mr. Burns?"
- Bart Simpson has a similar problem with Krusty. In most cases, Krusty does not initially recognize him, and treat him as yet another annoying fan.
- Futurama: In the episode "Free will hunting", Bender is declared innocent of a crime because he is a robot and has no free will, only capable to do what he is programmed to do. He finally gets a "free will unit" that he can plug to a slot in his head to have free will. And, as a happy ending, he is condemned for murder attempt.
- The clonetroopers in The Clone Wars use this as their recurring theme. After all, they are the faceless goons dictionary definition (just remember their name, they are Expendable Clones). In this animated series they make up proper names for themselves instead of numbers, ruminate on their status as living weapons, try their best to develop free will and individuality, as adviced by Yoda. Of course, we know that almost none of them will defy Order 66.