Created By: Generality on November 23, 2011 Last Edited By: Generality on November 10, 2014

Should Have Seen That Coming

An otherwise Xanatos-level plan is jeopardised because its architect overlooked something simple.

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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.
Resolution #12 on the Evil Overlord List

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.

Examples:

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.

Film
  • 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."

Literature
  • 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?"

Live-Action TV
  • 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.

Web Comics
  • In Dr Mc Ninja'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.

Western Animation
  • 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!
Community Feedback Replies: 44
  • November 26, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
    (deleted)
  • November 26, 2011
    Stratadrake
    "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." -- Resolution #12 on the Evil Overlord List
  • November 27, 2011
    Desertopa
    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.
  • November 27, 2011
    LMage
    Artiems Fowl's orignal plan was perfect except for operating under the prinable that a dwarf would never be able to tunnel under Fowl Manor beacuse it was built on solid bedrock he completly forogt about the addition of a cellar that starys onto clay and thus leaves a gaping hole in his defense
  • November 28, 2011
    Omeganian
    Pinky And The Brain have a few cases. One has the heroes trying to rob Fort Knox, only to realize Brain never considered the problem of carrying the gold out.
  • November 28, 2011
    Generality
    L Mage, you mentioned Artemis' otherwise perfect plan. Could you elaborate on what the actual goal of that plan was?
  • November 29, 2011
    billybobfred
    The Powerpuff Girls example merited a sequel, in which Mojo Jojo attempts to learn from his 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.
  • December 4, 2011
    Stratadrake
    BTW, the pothole to Batman Gambit is incorrect -- Batman Gambit means "plan based on predicting other party's reaction", not "general chance of failure".
  • December 4, 2011
    LMage
    ^^^ His plan was to ransom a captive fairy for a metric ton of solid gold.
  • December 4, 2011
    captainpat
    Example As A Thesis Cut the first part of the description an simply explain the trope.
  • December 5, 2011
    Statalyzer
    Ugh, that's such a dumb rule. Explanations by example are usually very useful, and most of the tropes that already have them ought to keep them.
  • December 5, 2011
    Statalyzer
    Ugh, that's such a dumb rule. Explanations by example are usually very useful, and most of the tropes that already have them ought to keep them.
  • December 5, 2011
    Generality
    I've considered the issue of the Example As Thesis beginning and my impression is that while it isn't necessary to sell the trope, it helps. It could probably be better written, but for now, I'm leaving it until someone suggests something better. Also, I moved the Batman Gambit pothole.
  • December 7, 2011
    Generality
    Bump.
  • December 7, 2011
    jatay3
    Sauron created the ring to dominate Middle Earth, not predicting that someone would try to destroy it.
  • December 9, 2011
    Generality
    Bump.
  • December 9, 2011
    Bisected8
    • Digital Fortress has a few; Stratmore 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 software. 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 decifered (and that a single 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.
  • December 10, 2011
    Generality
    I'm reluctant to add an example that's almost all spoiler, though as far as I can tell what you've written counts. I'm compromising by concluding that this is a Spoilered Rotten trope, and so have put in a warning to this intent.
  • December 20, 2011
    Generality
    Bump.
  • December 20, 2011
    CurlyJeffers
    Already covered by Didn't See That Coming.
  • December 28, 2011
    Generality
    No, if you read the description, you'll find it's not.
  • January 6, 2012
    Generality
    I've decided to remove the Example As Thesis only for the sake of length. Also, Curly Jeffers, it's unkind to discard a YKTTW for a reason which the write-up explains does not apply.
  • February 17, 2012
    c0ry
    The Doctor Who example should be deleted. There is no universe in which "I should have anticipated that the child I raised from birth to be a remorseless killer would fall in love with the man I programmed her to hate" is a valid statement.
  • February 17, 2012
    Generality
    ^ They didn't program her to hate him. They programmed her to stalk him. Big difference.
  • February 17, 2012
    Acebrock
  • February 17, 2012
    Generality
    No. For one thing, a Spanner In The Works is a character. This is a situation. For another, this is about failure to accommodate basic factors, not insane or unlikely ones.
  • February 18, 2012
    randomsurfer
    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!
  • February 20, 2012
    captainsandwich
    Starwars exhaust vent
  • February 20, 2012
    Generality
    ^ Firstly,please make a point of elaborating your examples, since not everyone on earth has seen Star Wars. At the very least, form a complete sentence. And in any case, that's covered by Myopic Architecture.
  • February 20, 2012
    bulmabriefs144
    In fiction, a Magnificent Bastard will often offer several equally bad choices:

    For instance, The Hero has a Mac Guffin that the Big Bad wants. The Hero can flee, but the Big Bad has a large group of horsemen. The Hero can try to give it to their friends, but as the villain has said, one of their friends is actually The Mole. The hero can also simply give up the Mac Guffin. To which, The Hero immediately says "I'll fight you." How did they overlook that one?

  • February 20, 2012
    Generality
    ^ Any examples?
  • February 20, 2012
    pawsplay
    Both Macbeth and the Witch-King both unwisely base their entire career paths on the notion that they are prophesied not to be killed by, respectively, a man of woman born and by the hand of man. Of course, neither is spared any of the other countless other ways to die, including death by rules-lawyering protagonists.
  • February 21, 2012
    Generality
    ^ Or, for that matter, Acts of God. But I think this is covered by No Man Of Woman Born. Unless that's a subtrope?
  • February 21, 2012
    pawsplay
    It's also covered by that, but fits this as well. Some cases of No Man Of Woman Born don't necessarily involve a villan with a master plan.
  • February 23, 2012
    bwburke94
    Still needs a better title...
  • February 23, 2012
    PS3D
    Spanner In The Works is for a specific character? Maybe expand it to include this.
  • February 23, 2012
    pawsplay
    It probably shouldn't mentioned Xanatos Gambit or Batman Gambit at the beginning, since in-fiction, those don't have this. The tail of the description could say, "Contrast Xanatos Gambit or Batman Gambit, elaborate plans that do not have this flaw. For audacious aversions, see Gambit Roulette."
  • February 24, 2012
    Cider
    So, this isn't Did Not Think This Through But Non Comedic? That page description doesn't seem to bar non comedic examples.
  • February 24, 2012
    pawsplay
  • February 24, 2012
    Generality
    ^^ From the Didnt Think This Through page: "A more comedic, simple version of Didnt See That Coming." I admit it's a fine distinction, and it might be easier to expand the page.
  • May 16, 2012
    TheHandle
  • July 24, 2013
    DAN004
    Isn't this Failed A Spot Check?
  • November 10, 2014
    foxley
    Brian's plans in Knights Of The Dinner Table are apt to fail because of this. For example, his elaborate scheme to take out all of the other competitors in a Road Hack game succeeded brilliantly, until it came to activate his escape plan which involved ejecting from his car and parachuting to the ground. It failed because he forgot that his parachute was not fireproof and he got caught in the fireball caused by the demise of his last opponent.
  • November 10, 2014
    DAN004
    Maybe this can be called simply Flawed Plan.
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