One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.
There are a number of reasons a plan can fail: A Batman Gambit
, for instance relies upon a specific reaction from its pawns. In a Gambit Pileup
, several plotters will inevitably be Out-Gambitted
by those who are more savvy or manipulative. Sometimes Reality Ensues
because a particularly Genre Savvy
adversary does something outside of the setting's mores. Or a Spanner in the Works
comes along and does something that no one could have anticipated.
And sometimes the plan has a flaw which the planner has no excuse to have missed.
This trope comes into play when someone fails to account for known knowns, i.e. elements that he knows will interfere with his plan, or known unknowns, things which might reasonably interfere and which should thus be considered. If problems come from unknown unknowns, things the plotter could not have spotted, this is a case of Didn't See That Coming
Failure of this kind usually indicates that a plotter is somehow out of touch with reality (i.e. insane), not familiar with the society or setting in which he is trying to take control (possibly Wrong Genre Savvy
), or doesn't fully grasp human motivations (possibly because Evil Cannot Comprehend Good
Even a seriously flawed plan isn't doomed to fail, if the opposition is just as dumb, or assumes that no one would seriously leave such a flaw in place. Similarly, a plotter may ensnare the opposition by placing an apparent flaw in place, only to eventually reveal they have secretly accounted for such an event. And some plotters deliberately place failure conditions as an added challenge, to test their strength and courage, or just For the Lulz
, or because they are subconsciously unsure if they deserve to have their plan pan out.
See also Too Clever by Half
, and Didn't Think This Through
, a comedic variant in which the plotter misses something so obvious that he must be a fool to do so
Note: It's easy to confuse this trope with Fridge Logic
or a Xanatos Roulette
. Just because a plotter doesn't mention a specific threat doesn't mean he hasn't accounted for it. Please only add examples where the flaw is mentioned or exploited within the actual story.
Be warned, as a Spoilered Rotten trope, spoilers will be unmarked below.
Anime and Manga
- Several villains in Bleach have done this intentionally. Aizen, Manipulative Bastard that he is, once captured Orihime by placing her in what he called a "psychological prison", creating a scenario where she would tend to cooperate with her own imprisonment. When asked what he would do if she behaved differently, he pointed out that he could easily force her to do what he wanted; he engaged in a circuitous plan just for the heck of it. This seems to apply to almost all of his plans. A much later villain, Juugo, left a deliberate hole in his plan to absorb Ichigo's powers, just because he wanted some element of challenge.
- Loki's plan in The Avengers. With a single portal as a chokepoint, spitting out mostly single fighters at a fairly lazy pace, there's no way the Chitauri army could have conquered the planet. It probably couldn't even have held New York once the US Army was brought to bear against it. This is acknowledged directly by Tony Stark: "There's no version of this where you come out on top."
- In the James Bond book of Goldfinger, the titular villain forms (and elaborates) a complicated plan to infiltrate Fort Knox, forgetting that the sheer amount of gold contained in said bank couldn't feasibly be carried out in less than a month or so. This is defied in the film adaptation, however; when Bond smugly informs Goldfinger of this flaw, he equally smugly replies that his intention is not to steal the gold, but to nuke it, thus greatly upsetting the world economy and driving up the value of the gold already in his possession.
- Artemis Fowl's plan to hold a fairy captive for ransom was perfect except for operating under the principle that a dwarf would never be able to tunnel under Fowl Manor because it was built on solid bedrock; he completely forgot about the addition of a cellar that strays onto clay and thus leaves a gaping hole in his defense.
- In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron's purpose in making the One Ring, and his actions in retrieving it, failed to consider the possibility that someone would seek to destroy the ring rather than use it for themselves. In the end this is subverted, however, as it turns out that no one has the will destroy the Ring in the clinch. Good prevails only because of eucatastrophe.
- Also, Saruman's efforts seem to have wholly disregarded his close neighbours, the Ents, as a factor. Although he could hardly have anticipated how easily they would take him out, he surely should have put some thought into countering the shepherds of hordes of vicious trees while he was engaging in aggressive industrialisation next door.
- Digital Fortress has a few; Strathmore assumes that the presence of emails coming back into an email account meant that there really was a person involved (not considering that the guy he was watching might be sending them himself) and that a golden ring said person had, had the code needed to unlock the eponymous encryption. While Tenkai assumed he'd still be alive to call off his virtual attack on the NSA (since he only wanted to extort them into revealing the truth) and that the clue he left wouldn't be deciphered (and that a single digit number would be a good encryption key and that a computer would automatically run a piece of code it decrypted as plaintext, but that's more Did Not Do The Research.
- Although the circumstances involved are extremely rare to the point of being unique, even Voldemort later admitted that his attempt to kill Harry Potter was ill-thought-out, as Harry's mother sacrificed herself to protect him. But the magic in self-sacrifice is so elemental that he failed to take it into account. Worse, even after he knew why he had originally failed, he never properly accounted for it, and ultimately helped bring about his own downfall.
- Dumbledore's Chess Master attempt to keep Harry safe in Order of the Phoenix by restricting him from certain information, in order to keep Voldemort from abusing the connection between their minds, backfired because he didn't consider that being Locked Out of the Loop would make Harry frustrated and desperate to learn more about what was going on. This ended up luring Harry into Voldemort's trap, which resulted in Sirius' death (Sirius being in a similar state of frustration, again due to Dumbledore). In the denouement, Dumbledore directly blames himself for these results.
- Again, in Deathly Hallows the Trio, unsure of what they're doing and unaccustomed to sneak-work, miss crucial elements in their plans. When infiltrating the ministry, they focus entirely on getting into the building and not at all on what to do once they're in there. When they go to Godric's Hollow, they suspect the Voldemort might be expecting them to visit, but not that he would expect them to visit Bathilda specifically and set a trap for them there. By the time they have to break into Gringott's, Harry realises there's no point in advance planning and they should just go for it.
- Ctuchik, semi-major villain in The Belgariad, relies on his plan to wipe out the member of their party most vulnerable to mental attack once the party gets close enough to him. Unfortunately for him, the gods foresaw this move and kept her behind in a safe place. The book in which this happens is named "Magician's Gambit" for this attempt. Belgarath calls him out on his oversight: "It wasn't a bad plan you had, but didn't it occur to you to make sure that the princess was actually with us before you let me get this close to you?"
- In Doctor Who, the Silence went through a lot of trouble to engineer and kidnap Melody Pond, and brainwash her to psychopathy, then let her loose until it was time for her to try to kill the Doctor. It apparently didn't occur to them that she would probably fall in love with the Doctor and try to spare him. She lampshades this herself in the 6th series finale.
- In the 8th series finale, the Master has co-opted the dead of humanity by uploading their consciousnesses into a Gallifreyan matrix and pressuring them to delete their own emotions so that they can be downloaded into Cyberman bodies. However, she doesn't seem to have done anything to enforce their actual obedience. Since at least two characters were shown to be able to shrug off her orders with little apparent difficulty, it's probable that if she had ordered the Cyberman army to actually attack the earth's living inhabitants, many or most would have refused.
- In Dr. McNinja's "Futures Trading" arc, the good Doctor's plan to stop the dinosaurs relies on sending a distress signal to Dracula's Moon base, and only after the signal appears to get no response, with enemies closing in, does he concede that the lord of all vampires might not feel like helping humanity, or might no longer be in a position to do so.
- In Antihero for Hire, an inept villain, Dr. Nefarious, successfully executes a plan to dose the populace with drugs making them more susceptible to subliminal suggestion and send out mind control signals from a local radio tower. However, this accomplishes nothing, since he failed to account for the fact that people are not equipped to pick up radio transmissions with their brains.
- Mojo Jojo of Power Puff Girls straddles the line between this and Didn't Think This Through. A good example of the former happens in the episode "Monkey See, Doggy Do", wherein he succeeds in a plan to turn everyone in the world into dogs using a cursed statuette, does the same to the girls when they bust into his lair, and jumps onto a platform beyond their reach when they try to attack him anyway. Unfortunately, he forgot that the back side of said platform had a ramp.
- A sequel, "Monkey See Doggy Too", showed Mojo reenacting the scheme down to the exact detail, to the extent that most of the episode was recycled animation. He attempts to account for his prior mistakes, primarily by wearing a cast-iron butt shield and not turning the super-powered girls into mundane puppies. You can probably guess what he forgot to take into account there.
- Pinky and the Brain have a few cases. One, a clear Shout-Out to Gold Finger above, has the heroes trying to rob Fort Knox, only to realize Brain never considered the problem of carrying the gold out.
- The Simpsons: in the episode "500 Keys" an incident where Homer takes a shortcut while carrying a wedding cake in the car and Maggie locking herself in leads to the revelation of a years-old conspiracy to hide lost funds earmarked for Springfield Elementary. After The Reveal:
Lisa: Well there's two things you didn't count on. My dad getting a giant wedding cake, and my sister locking herself in the car.
Skinner: We planned for the wedding cake, we just didn't see the baby thing coming.
Chalmers: Well you should have.
Skinner: How could I? She wasn't even born yet.
Chalmers: People have babies!