Once one dismisses
the rest of all possible worlds,
one finds that this is
the best of all possible worlds.
"The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true."
— James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion (1926)
Ever wonder what would happen if something in your favorite series changed
? Do you wish The Scrappy
had never been born, the Big Bad
would get his comeuppance, or that The Adjectival Superhero
and his love interest would just get married already
Look! It's an Alternate Universe
, in which all of these "problems" are fixed!
Let us see what happens:
Oh noes! This other universe is a terrible place
! Tropeman's enemies have discovered his secret identity by hacking the internet
, and now they've horribly murdered his wife
. Since the Big Bad
is in jail, the power-vacuum caused by his absence
has resulted in an even worse villain stepping up to the plate
, and now Cthulhu is running for president. Also, The Scrappy
was somehow responsible for preventing World War III.
There now. See how terrible change can be? But don't worry, we can fix it: at the last moment, a magical imp shows up and changes this universe into an almost perfect copy of the original one
. Now Tropeman and his girlfriend are in an unsatisfying quasi-dating relationship, the Big Bad
is causing trouble, and The Scrappy
is getting plenty of screen time. Everyone's happy!
In other words, the canon is treated like the Best Of All Possible Worlds
for the characters, and an Alternate Universe
/ What If?
has two options: have a Downer Ending
, or revert to match the original canon. Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act
often runs on this.
See also: Because Destiny Says So
(which generally runs on this trope); Rubber-Band History
(the general tendency for alternate histories to end up more like the "real" history); It's a Wonderful Plot
(a specific history change that almost always makes things worse). Contrast Screw Destiny
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Anime and Manga
- Inverted (so far) in Rebuild of Evangelion. It is by no means a happy place, but (so far) no main characters have died, making it markedly happier than the original Neon Genesis Evangelion.
- Deconstructed and back in the series Noein. Haruka has the ability to jump dimensions, and spends an episode or two observing possible parallel or future time lines. One is 'perfect' in a Stepford Smiler kind of way, one is seriously post-apocalyptic, and most are pretty average, but after all of it she comes to decide there really isn't a best world, and even if there was, it's really not where she belongs.
- Pick a DC Elseworld. Any DC Elseworld.
- And throw in the old "Imaginary Tales" for good measure. Superman and Lois Lane get married and have kids? Something goes horribly wrong. And the moral of the story, dear children, is that Superman should stay single forever for the safety of himself and others.
- Averted in the Imaginary Story "Superman Red and Superman Blue" after accidentally splitting himself in two, Superman not only fixes all of his personal problems (now he can marry BOTH Lois Lane and Lana Lang!) he also turns the world into an Utopia (thanks to the Super Intelligence he also conveniently gained) curing all diseases and turning ALL criminals good.
- This was the heart of the original Marvel Comics What If? series. Only one or two stories ever came out happier than Earth-616's story. (Ironically one of the few that had a happy ending was a version of the original Clone Saga years before The Clone Saga came to be rued in the minds and hearts of fans.)
- Averted in the Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk. There's a scene where Cap and Tony are seen playing table tennis, one of the characters states they had an awful dream in which Civil War took place. Both of them laugh and assure everyone that it would never happen.
- In Matt Fraction's The Defenders, the entire 616 universe is what it is because of the miraculous intervention of gods, who used strange "Concordance Engines" to ensure that the world would be populated with superheroes (and that futures with bad outcomes, like the What-If universes, never come to be).
- DV8's Freestyle has this as her superpower. She can see what will happen if she takes a certain course of action, choosing the best outcome from dozens of parallel universes and making it a reality. It puts a lot of strain on her; a task with a lot of variables, like bypassing a security door with a combination lock, will cause her to age rapidly, though she will revert back to normal after a while.
Live Action TV
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer Alternate Universe where Willow and Xander were vampires and its Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies at the end would qualify. Though given the point of the episode wasn't so much that the world they had was good as that Buffy had done a lot less harm than good over the course of the series, the bar is set low enough to be highly reasonable.
- Anyanka invokes this, or possibly its inverse, in the climax, by saying she doesn't even know what the original universe was like; Giles responds "it has to be better than this." Smash.
- In Doctor Who we have the alternate universe created when Donna turns right in "Turn Left", which causes the Doctor to die at the Thames Barrier when he defeats the Racnoss, and several contemporary attacks on Earth to cause mass casualties, and/or wipes out several of the Doctor's allies (including Martha, who he never met here). Naturally, Donna set her timeline back on its proper course at the end of the episode.
- Played with in Fringe after Peter is erased from history. While many things have changed, the bad things and the good things changed are sprinkled evenly across both universes, and no Reset Button seems forthcoming.
Philosophy and Theology
- This is one of the answers to the argument of the Problem of Suffering, particularly suffering created by nature: Designing creation any other way would lead to other, more destructive consequences. No one actually supports this as a theological theory anymore due to two serious problems with it. One, as the page quote shows, was soundly mocked by Voltaire in Candide with the character of Pangloss: one could call the universe in which we live the best possible no matter how hellish it is, because we are naturally incapable of knowing what other universes could be like. The other is that, granting that this is the best possible world, since it apparently requires so much evil why should God have made it in the first place?
- Inverted in Schopenhauer's philosophy, who was rather pessimistic and tended to the opposite idea.
- The Family Guy episode "Stewie Kills Lois" deals with Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Stewie finally carries out his long running threat to kill his mother. Over the course of the episode and the next he takes over the world, culminating in an action movie style showdown between him and his parents (Mom was Not Quite Dead), which results in his death. The we see it was all just a simulation, and Stewie concludes he's not ready to kill Lois yet. Brian lampshades the cheapness of this ending.
- Most of Futurama's "Anthology of Interest" episodes are like this.