Created By: DawnWarrior on August 3, 2011 Last Edited By: Arivne on October 26, 2014

Worst Case Nightmare Scenario

The hero experiences the worst possible scenario where the bad guys win, but hits the reset button just in time so it never happened.

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Trope
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One character, usually the hero but occasionally a sidekick, finds themselves zapped to a parallel timeline, a Bad Future, or witnessing a chain reaction that causes everything in their life to violently unravel. While trying to set things right, many major characters will brutally die or be captured, including the hero himself. A Reset Button will be employed at the last possible moment, often just before everyone dies, that will render the whole scenario nonexistent as if it never happened or was All Just a Dream, with only a couple of characters remembering it at all.

Most Nightmare Scenarios involve the villains running the world, or at least the hero's hometown. Some good guys will be working for the enemy, and some bad guys will have joined La Résistance.

Sometimes overlaps with It's a Wonderful Plot, For Want of a Nail, and Set Right What Once Went Wrong (and probably others.)

If it's one episode or issue of a series, expect tons of cameos from B and C-list characters (some of whom have already died in the regular timeline), making this a small dose of Continuity Porn.


Examples

Comics
  • The X-Men have visited this well often, starting with the classic "Days of Future Past." "Age of Apocalypse" is an epic example.
  • "What Ever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow" is a borderline example for Superman, with the reset button being the John Byrne reboot.
  • This was the premise of the JLA story "Rock of Ages," by Grant Morrison. Some of Metron's dialogue further suggests that this kind of thing happens on a regular basis in the course of Darkseid's attempts to rule the universe.
  • At the tail end of Heroes Reborn, each of the four titles added one additional issue that teamed up the exiled Marvel heroes with WildStorm, collectively titled "World War 3" where the human race was on the brink of losing a war with a Skrull/Daemonite alliance led by Doctor Doom. The final battle involves destroying the machine Doom was using to keep this hellish intersected reality in place.

Film

Live-Action TV
  • "The Wish" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
  • "All Good Things" from Star Trek: The Next Generation is a partial example, as is "Yesterday’s Enterprise."
  • "…And Jesus Brought a Casserole" from Dark Angel is an inversion; the ending where everyone lives happily ever after turns out to be a dream, and the season ends with our heroes suffering massive failure and death that can't be undone.
  • "Five Years Gone" from Heroes
  • "Year of Hell" from Star Trek: Voyager has elements.
  • "Pandora" from Smallville.
  • Subverted in Dollhouse: After getting a glimpse of a Bad Future caused by the brainwashing technology being weaponized by the Rossum Corporation, the heroes think they've accomplished this in the final episode of Season 2 when they blow up the Rossum mainframe and kill the founders. Unfortunately, the Time Skip in the Lost Episode "Epitaph One" had already made it clear that they can't. Once the technology exists, it will inevitably be recreated and deployed.
  • Initially Inverted and then played partly straight in Doctor Who with the episodes "Utopia," "The Sound of Drums," and "Last of the Time Lords." Initially, the villain transports beings from a far distant Bad Future through time to create a monstrous present-day with himself as ruler of the Earth; later, the Doctor and his allies manage to undo the villain's manipulations and revert time to moments before he conquered the world. Interestingly, the more distant Bad Future is implicitly left uncorrected, suggesting its inevitability.
  • The M.A.N.T.I.S. episode "The Eyes Beyond."

Video Games
  • Depending on the player's knowledge of the game and choices — or with the help of New Game+ — encountering and preventing this can be achieved in various ways in Chrono Trigger.

Western Animation
  • "Over the Edge" from The New Batman Adventures.
  • "Future Tense" from Gargoyles.
  • "Armageddon" 2-parter from Mighty Max.
  • "Once and Future Conan" from Conan the Adventurer.
  • Justice League
    • The story "Hereafter" is built on this idea, with a time-displaced Superman being sent to the future where a belatedly repentant villain who destroyed the world works to send him back to the present to thwart his own ruinous schemes.
    • And arguably used again in "The Once and Future Thing."
  • A Darkwing Duck episode had Gosalyn being abducted to the future by Megavolt and Quackerjack's Time Top; her disappearance turned Darkwing into a monstrous Knight Templar dishing out Disproportionate Retribution to all of St. Canard, and only her return to the present could fix things.
  • This is the end goal of the protagonist of Samurai Jack. If he can go back in time, he can preclude Akuma's global rule in the show's Bad Future.

Community Feedback Replies: 20
  • August 3, 2011
    Bisected8
    Expect a Comic Relief character (especially the Lovable Coward or Dirty Coward) to have become The Quisling, not having had The Hero to show them how to grow a backbone. By extension expect The Sixth Ranger to have become a complete sociopath (possibly by choice, possibly because they have been converted into one by the villain) or leader or The Lancer of La Resistance.
  • August 3, 2011
    TwinBird
  • August 3, 2011
    DawnWarrior
    Yeah, the Bad Future overlaps pretty heavily (possibly too heavily I'll admit), but I wanted to cover scenarios that also include the present day going completely wrong, as well as the alternate present (which I guess overlaps with Bad Present as well). Basically the parts I'm interested in are: Tons of cameos, everyone dies (including and especially the hero), and the Reset button.
  • August 3, 2011
    DragonQuestZ
    The name does fit a trope, where we see what could happen if the bad guys win.
  • August 3, 2011
    TwinBird
    A Bad Future can still be "present-day," I think... if something has happened that hasn't yet happened in the present, it is, by definition, the future, regardless of where society stands.
  • August 4, 2011
    Koveras
    Bad Future and Bad Present all have the element of Time Travel in them. This trope proposal doesn't.

  • August 4, 2011
    TwinBird
    "A Reset Button will be employed at the last possible moment, often just before everyone dies, that will render the whole scenario nonexistent as if it never happened or was all a dream."

    Sounds like time travel to me, or so close it's not worth splitting hairs.
  • August 4, 2011
    DawnWarrior
    "Brave New Metropolis" and "A Better World" I don't think really count. They're both just parallel universes, and the stakes aren't as high because nobody dies (except Lex in BNM), and when it's over everyone goes home, leaving those parallel earths to carry on.
  • August 4, 2011
    OmarKarindu
    Comic Books
    • This was the premise of the JLA story "Rock of Ages," by Grant Morrison. Some of Metron's dialogue further suggests that this kind of thing happens on a regular basis in the course of Darkseid's attempts to rule the universe.

    Live Action TV
    • Subverted in Dollhouse: After getting a glimpse of a Bad Future caused by the brainwashing technology being weaponized by the Rossum Corporation, the heroes think they've accomplished this in the final episode of Season 2 when they blow up the Rossum mainframe and kill the founders. Unfortunately, the Time Skip in the Lost Episode "Epitaph One" had already made it clear that they can't. Once the technology exists, it will inevitably be recreated and deployed.
    • Initially Inverted and then played partly straight in Doctor Who with the episodes "Utopia," "The Sound of Drums," and "Last of the Time Lords." Initially, the villain transports beings from a far distant Bad Future through time to create a monstrous present-day with himself as ruler of the Earth; later, the Doctor and his allies manage to undo the villain's manipulations and revert time to moments before he conquered the world. Interestingly, the more distant Bad Future is implicitly left uncorrected, suggesting its inevitability.

    Video Games
    • Depending on the player's knowledge of the game and choices -- or with the help of New Game Plus -- encountering and preventing this can be achieved in various ways in Chrono Trigger.

    Western Animation
    • The Justice League story "Hereafter" is built on this idea, with a time-displaced Superman being sent to the future where a belatedly repentant villain who destroyed the world works to send him back to the present to thwart his own ruinous schemes.
      • And arguably used again in "The Once and Future Thing."
    • A Darkwing Duck episode had Gosalyn being abducted to the future by Megavolt and Quackerjack's Time Top; her disappearance turned Darkwing into a monstrous Knight Templar dishing out Disproportionate Retribution to all of St. Canard, and only her return to the present could fix things.
    • This is the end goal of the protagonist of Samurai Jack. If he can go back in time, he can preclude Akuma's global rule in the show's Bad Future.
  • August 5, 2011
    Ryusui
    Does this only apply if the character who ends up seeing the Bad Future or alternate timeline is the "nail" that would have prevented it from happening in the first place?
  • August 5, 2011
    pinkdalek
    • Played with frequently in Homestuck, which is heavily dependent on Doomed Timelines:
      • A version of Dave from a doomed timeline decides early in the comic to travel back in time and convert himself into Past Dave's Exposition Fairy, offering advice to the remaining kids as to how to avoid ending up in the situation that he did, with two of their players dead from the get-go. (And also preventing Dave from having to put up with the Demonic Dummy that was the only candidate that he had for Exposition Fairy-dom.)
      • At one point, Vriska decides to challenge Jack Noir in person, but she leaves a trail of insect scales that leads Jack back to the trolls's hiding place, where he slaughters Karkat and Terezi as well as all the other remaining trolls. However, this is a doomed timeline, and after the Reset Button, Terezi apprehends Vriska and kills her.
  • August 5, 2011
    DawnWarrior
    Thank you, Omar. Now we're getting somewhere.
  • August 7, 2011
    Prime_of_Perfection
    I believe Avatar the Last Airbender did variation with this in the Nightmares episode where Aang kept dreaming of losing to Ozai.
  • August 19, 2011
    DawnWarrior
    Pinkdalek: what category would Homestuck fit under?
  • August 19, 2011
    ZombieAladdin
    This could also have some overlap with Groundhog Day Loop if it happens repeatedly in one story. A couple of cases:

    Anime And Manga: In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, a character has the ability to turn back time. She has repeatedly tried and failed to stop the villain from annihilating the human race and uses this to try again. When the series begins, she is on her 6th attempt.

    Video Games:
    • The Legend Of Zelda Majoras Mask gives protagonist Link the reset button. By playing the Song of Time, he can time travel back to 72 hours before the Moon falls on the country. Because of this game mechanic, the designers were not averse to allow the player to ruin people's lives or leave them for dead (though Link can't directly kill any townsfolk himself). If Link finds himself in an Unwinnable situation or things get too hairy, or if the Moon is about to land, he can play the Song of Time.
    • In the first Blaz Blue game, the world has been caught in a Stable Time Loop due to the actions of two people: Terumi (to try to Take Over The World) and Rachel (to stop Terumi). Both subtly manipulate a number of other characters to achieve their goals. Each time, Rachel seems to successfully foil Terumi's plans, and Terumi responds by initiating a chain reaction that ends up resetting the world to several centuries ago so he can try again. (Rachel seems unable to stop the chain reaction once it begins, with one exception--the ending of the game.) What makes it this trope is that each cycle results in a number of characters dying except the last one working for both sides, and that Rachel tries something different each time.
  • August 19, 2011
    lalalei2001
    The Mega Man cartoon has Mega encounter a Wily-run future made in his absence. He erased it by going back to the past.
  • October 25, 2014
    Arivne

    All of the Film examples and most of the Live Action TV and Western Animation examples are Zero Context Examples and need more information about how they're this trope.

    The second Justice League is a Zero Context Example and violates Examples Are Not Arguable.
  • October 26, 2014
    Fredda
    Titles: Reset Button Of Doom. Postapocalyptic World Saving. Five Past Twelve Rescue. Disasters Are Cheap.

    For the examples (maybe) (Literature) In Walter Moers' Zamonia Books there's a race of dinosaurs who consider it as their destiny to save people in the last second. This includes situations that may SEEM already hopeless to others.

    Also, Terminator. Kind of. Well, even though they failed to save the world in the third movie, the plot still centers around it until then.
  • October 26, 2014
    Loquacia
    I might be wrong, but isn't the whole gameplay of Majora's Mask a repeated version of this?
  • October 26, 2014
    Skylite
    More Comic examples:

    • Justice League of America: The Nail explores a world without Superman.
    • House of M explores a universe where the Magneto dynasty took place, and led to "No More Mutants" and the Decimation. The reset button was NEVER reset. They Took A Third Option to set things back to rights in A vs. X.
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