Better The Devil You Know
"You destroyed the demon! Yin and yang! Now the world is out of balance, nobody told you to destroy the demon! Now there is a void for a new, stronger evil to fill!"Finally, after a long struggle, our heroes have managed to defeat the Big Bad, but wait—they can't just kill them. That would be terrible! Because as soon as you kill the Big Bad, something else will come along to take his place. Maybe The Man Behind the Man shows up, or maybe the Sorting Algorithm of Evil kicks in. Maybe the Balance Between Good and Evil means that someone else will just become the new Big Bad, or maybe it's just Inherent in the System, but the fact you've won doesn't mean it's over. Sure, the Big Bad may be evil, but at least as long as he's around, you know what you're up against. You know his weaknesses, you know how he thinks, and you know how to deal with him. And you know what he won't do. But if someone new takes over, suddenly you're right back to square one and you have to figure out how to beat them all over again. If the Big Bad actually does get dispatched despite this, the heroes may soon find themselves wishing for the return of the old Big Bad, and in extreme cases, may even try to restore him to power. (If possible.) Related to We Want Our Jerk Back, Friendly Enemy, and Worthy Opponent. Bread and Circuses or Villain with Good Publicity may also invoke this trope if removing the Big Bad will cause public backlash, or the heroes may fear an Evil Power Vacuum.
— Uncle, Jackie Chan Adventures
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Anime and Manga
- Gurren Lagann invokes this to an extent after the seven-year Time Skip: the tyrannical Lordgenome has been deposed, but his cryptic prediction upon his death comes to nightmarish reality as the Anti-Spiral invade and prove to be a far more powerful and terrifying threat than Lordgenome ever was. Lordgenome may have oppressed humankind, but it turns out he did it to protect the world from the Anti-Spiral, who seek to destroy humankind.
- Arguably, this is the World Government's feelings toward Whitebeard from One Piece. Sure he's a badass pirate, one of the strongest in the world, but when he's killed, the general populace is screwed over. This is confirmed to be true, as many of the islands which were under his protection became instant hellholes in the space of a few days, making the New World even more chaotic than before. In addition, the one who killed him, Blackbeard, has since ceased hiding in the shadows, and decided to let everyone know he's the real deal. Whitebeard's Famous Last Words actually exacerbated the pirate problem by giving them a reason to persevere. New Age of Pirates, indeed.
- At the finale of Transformers Energon, Unicron was finally destroyed. However, that only spawned an even worse entity, a black hole called the Grand Black Hole (or the Unicron Singularity in the dub). It was the focus of the next series, Transformers Cybertron, where it not only threatened to destroy existence, but the scattered pieces of Unicron's original body enabled Megatron to gain dark powers.
- In the Marvel Comics storyline Infinity War, Adam Warlock has been captured by his Enemy Without, the Magus, who is minutes away from reactivating an artifact that will give him godhood. Then, they're attacked by Doctor Doom and Kang The Conqueror, who naturally want this artifact for themselves. After a moment's hesitation, Warlock begins helping the Magus against the would-be usurpers, telling himself "Better the devil you know..." And what devil could you know better than the one who's part of you?
- This is why Dr. Doom has ruled Latveria for so long. He's evil, yes, but every time he's been replaced, the guy taking his place has been an even worse tyrant, as was the guy that he replaced originally. If nothing else, he's good at protecting the place from external threats. When he returns, the citizens are always glad to have him back.
- The Runaways taking out their parents (The Pride) led to a massive Evil Power Vacuum in Los Angeles, leading to more villains coming in.
- This is one of the reasons why Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the Punisher are usually hesitant to take out The Kingpin- they know that there'll be chaos without him. In fact, in one story, the Kingpin was legitimately out of the crime business but he was asked back to New York City in order to help calm the chaos of myriad gang wars.
- This is why the Marvel Universe keeps Galactus around. They got rid of him once before, only for something much worse to appear. His whole purpose is to act as a living seal to prevent an imprisoned Eldritch Abomination from destroying the universe. That's why he has to feed on planets; he's sort of a living generator that keeps the seal active, and his meals act as fuel for it.
- Two very literal examples in the Shadowchasers series, explained in Shadowchasers Ascension:
- The reason the gods locked Tarizdun up instead of killing him, despite the danger he posed, was because he was a pawn of the Great Old Ones, who were worse, and they would have regained the power they invested in him if he died. To this day, Tharizdun acts as a "cosmic lynchpin" to prevent an even more destructive force.
- The Devil himself qualifies, according to Unity-Of-Rings. As bad as Lucifer is, he is actually the best choice for Overlord of Hell. Despite being the tempter of mortals and a power of Evil, he is still a power of Law, and under his rule, the devils wage the Blood War against the demons of the Abyss. If he was replaced by someone who didn't care to do this, such as Mephistopheles, the demons' population would grow to unearthly numbers, they would slaughter the devils, then destroy the Upper Planes, then the mortal worlds, and once they ran out of places to destroy, would turn on themselves, and that would be the end of everything.
- The Immortal Game: This is the word for word reasoning for unleashing Discord to fight Titan. As bad as Discord is, Titan is far worse.
- In Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, the inhabitants of the valley keep a huge carnivorous subterranean worm alive, because they'd already learned how to avoid it and its presence should stave off the real evil - the real estate agents!
- In For Love of Evil from the Incarnations of Immortality series, Satan is deposed after singing a hymn during the climax of the previous novel (long story). The most evil person on Earth is automatically selected as his replacement, and turns out to be far, far worse than Satan ever was. He gorges on food, rapes the damned child souls, and bullies Hell's staff around instead of actually governing Hell and keeping track of the evil portion of the Celestial Bureaucracy, which is Satan's responsibility. Also, Satan is very Affably Evil, while this guy is a complete asshole. The other Incarnations promptly help Satan take back his office, having decided that they prefer him to be in charge of evil.
- In the Discworld novel Carpe Jugulum the old Count Magpyr was far fairer to his opponents via Contractual Genre Blindness, respected his Igor, and much preferred by the townspeople he terrorized. So, the heroes usurp the upstarts with their older, known adversary.
- Nobody particularly likes Lord Vetinari, but he's gotten the city to the point where only complete lunatics actually plot against him. This is discussed in Men at Arms, where Edward D'Eath (a complete lunatic) is trying to get other nobles to sign onto his plot and they basically say that the city without Vetinari would probably be much worse.
- The Team did this once when a Yeerk inspector came to Earth to see why the invasion was taking so long, and would have taken the Visser's place once the Andalite bandits had been taken care of. The Animorphs end up killing the inspector so Visser Three stays in charge; "better the evil we know and makes stupid mistakes than the one who doesn't."
- This is also their logic for not wanting Visser One to take over the Earth invasion again—-which she proves by figuring out they're humans. However this one is more complicated. Visser One wants a slow, secret infiltration of the planet while Visser Three wants to declare all-out war and kill millions or more people, so that the Animorphs have to balance Yeerk politics to get Visser One's methods while keeping Visser Three the person in power.
- In The Dresden Files Harry's description of 'Gentleman' Johnny Marcone tends be this. Sure he's a powerful crime lord that turns a profit on almost any crime in Chicago, but Marcone has known limits. The gang-wars that would likely replace him aren't as knowable as he is.
- And in Changes he learned that the ruler of the Red Court is not completely sane, and immediately thinks something to the effect of "I HAVE to keep this guy in charge". It is moot, as he then uses their own Bloodline Course on them, killing every single Red Court vampire in the world.
- Used in one of the X-Wing books as the reason not to execute a known spy. In typical Star Wars tradition they messed with the original idiom.
- Booster: "Better the Hutt you have tagged than one you don't"
- Another character puts it differently.
"Better the Moff you know than the Emperor's new envoy."
- Attempted in the New Jedi Order novel Rebel Dream: Wedge's plan for the Siege of Borleais is to maneuver the fairly lackluster enemy general into a series of indecisive engagements, with the overall goal of buying time for various covert plans to take effect. Unfortunately, after the Republic wins a major military victory they don't want, the Yuuzhan Vong return in force, led by Czulkang Lah, father of the warmaster and undisputed Old Master of war.
- Done literally in Brimstone Angels. Farideh, the heroine, gets her magic powers through a Deal with the Devil, specifically a devil named Lorcan. Lorcan, by human standards, is manipulative, arrogant, controlling, and shows a distinct Lack of Empathy. However, he's also into Pragmatic Villainy and is unlikely to commit evil acts (or force Farideh to do them) if he's not getting something concrete out of them and isn't unpleasant company if he has no reason to feel malice for you. Farideh may know her arrangement with Lorcan is far from ideal, but if he died and the pact got transferred to another devil, the resulting situation could turn out far worse, and the second book's plot in particular is heavily influenced by her understanding that this trope is very much in play.
- In Kill Decision this line is adapted to refer to cartel-dug illegal tunnels between Mexico and the US. The US could plug those tunnels it knows about, but that would just lead to the cartels digging more secretly. More effective to just keep the known tunnels open, monitor them for activity and catch the cartel at work.
Live Action TV
- Hogan's Heroes. Several times Hogan and his men had to intervene to save Colonel Klink from his folly, because any other German officer who replaced him would be more effective in stopping their activities.
- Scrubs: This is why Dr. Cox eventually agreed to support the attempt to confront the board to get them to give Dr. Kelso his job back.
- Stargate SG-1:
- This is philosophy of Tok'ra. It explains their lack of progress over the millenia and also why crisi like those in the series rarely happen. They're right. When one Goa'uld starts to get power over the others (like Anubis and Ba'al), things get much, much worse for our heroes...and the galaxy at large.
- Once they try to sabotage the meeting between Apophis and his nephew Heru'ur, both of whom are powerful System Lords, and accidentally cause Apophis to kill Heru'ur and absorb his armies and fleets. In retrospect, an alliance between the two would've been preferrable, as each would constantly try to off the other, due to their Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
- The Thick of It
- Invoked word-for-word by Stewart Pearson, when Cal "The Fucker" Richards descends on the Opposition.
- Implied when Malcolm Tucker is forced out by Steve Fleming.
- Blake's 7. Blake refuses to kill Travis. "...As long as he's alive, he'll be the one chasing me. And I know I can beat him."
- Some time after Gustavo Fring's death on Breaking Bad, Mike proclaims to Walt that dealing with their late foe was leagues better than their current situation.
- On Jack-of-All-Trades, Jack and Emilia often wind up helping Governor Croque to keep his job, mostly because his likely replacement would be much more competent.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Inverted during the Dominion War. While the station is occupied by Cardassian and Dominion troops, Kira and Odo try to play Gul Dukat and Weyoun, commanders of the two factions, against each other. Kira explicitly notes they're better off trusting the devil they don't know — because the one they do know is Gul Dukat.
- The old Robin Hood TV show (in black and white) had an episode that was titled this trope. It involved the Sheriff of Nottingham being replaced with a much more cunning and immoral man. Robin commented on the fact that they had been able to depend on the regular Sheriff being only so evil and still following the law when pressed. The new guy? not at all.
- Power Rangers Zeo: This happened twice, in succession.In "Mondo's Last Stand", after the Rangers defeated Mondo, they believed they'd no longer have to face monsters for a long time. Their peace only lasted until another villain took over the Machine Empire. The first guy was Louie Kaboom. He likely wasn't a better villain than Mondo was, but he was far more obnoxious, so much so that even the other members of Mondo's court hated him. Then Mondo's exiled son Prince Gasket showed up, disposed of Louie, and took over.
- El Chapulín Colorado once helped a woman who invoked this trope to justify accepting his help instead of Supersam's.
- In the final episode of Angel, Angel recruits former enemy Lindsey for his suicide run on the Black Thorn. On the off-chance that they succeed and any of them survive, he knows someone will have to fill the Evil Power Vacuum, and he'd rather it be Lindsey than anyone else. Lindsey names the trope, then decides it's too good of a fight to miss out on. Then Lorne, of all people, shoots Lindsey on Angel's orders - turns out that Angel didn't trust him after all. Lindsey is less insulted by the betrayal than Angel not bothering to kill him in person.
- The Dukes of Hazzard: This is why the people of Hazzard County keep electing Boss Hogg as county commissioner and Roscoe as sheriff. The first episode itself had the Duke boys get Roscoe good publicity before the next election specifically because of this trope.
- Brought up in the Dollhouse episode "Needs". The song that closes the episode (called "Lonely Ghosts) mentions this trope by name, suggesting that as horrible as the Dollhouse is, the alternatives are even worse.
Like lonely ghosts, at a roadside crossWe stay because we don't know where else to go
- Chancellor Jaha of The 100 willingly condones the execution of all criminals over eighteen, no matter how minor the crime and in some cases when no crime has been committed. However, he is also as much of a Reasonable Authority Figure as one can be in a society where Population Control necessitates laws like that. Even Abigail, whose husband was executed under Jaha's rule because he had information that Jaha wanted kept from the public, says she prefers Jaha to his would-be replacement Councilman Kane and saves Jaha's life (risking her own execution by doing so) just to make sure Kane doesn't take power.
- Supernatural has Crowley, the King of Hell. He works with the heroes more than the angels do. The boys only agree to work with him because of this trope. Abaddon was a horrible person, even for a demon, which is why Sam and Dean would rather see her dead than Crowley. Crowley also, at least at first, is a Reasonable Authority Figure. He punishes a demon who kills their customers to steal their souls earlier than the contract says because it will scare off future customers. The heroes also intentionally summon him for help almost as much as they do main angel Castiel.
- Game of Thrones. Littlefinger lampshades this trope in "The Mountain and the Viper" asking if that's why Sansa decided to stick her neck for him. After being betrayed by Joffrey and Cersei, her Aunt Lysa, and having her entire House be wiped out by betrayal, Sansa has decided that a treacherous and murderous yet politically astute creep who has an obvious crush on her is her best chance to survive.
- On a first season episode of The West Wing, this is why President Bartlet says he's won't back a candidate managed by Joey Lucas who's running against a Congressman that represents everything Bartlet hates; that, and the fact he think Joey's candidate is someone who's only running for Congress because they think it's a cool gig.
- "Better the Devil you Know" by Kylie Minogue is about going back to the guy who treated you badly because of this.
- The "War in Hell" storyline of Dominic Deegan sees Dominic fighting on behalf of the Demon Lord Karnak. Not because he wanted to, but because his family knew Karnak before his demon days, and as a result knew how to handle him. Any other demon lord securing power would have meant a lot of trouble.
- Welcome To Nightvale: Plays with this. Night Vale is ruled by a questionable government which has been both incompetent (with it's terrible bridge building plans and wasting lots of money pointless projects, and corrupt (one can get brainwashed or taken away to be tortured by the Sheriff's secret police, and all the creatures and dangers present do nothing). It's even stated that any old corrupt law can be enforced by a thug with a gun. That said, the attitude to the town seems to be "It's not perfect, but nothing is," and people seem fine, when they're not cowering. Cecil himself happily reports the creepy and macabre happenings. Strex Corp is notably more evil: they've killed people to splatter blood on walls, tried to have people arrested or enslaved to function for the company, and sold orange juice that could teleport people to other possibly fatal dimensions. Part of the reason they're hated is because they're worse than the old administration, but the other part is because they are trying to erase the original evil, corrupt, nature of the town, and that's against town pride.
- Jackie Chan Adventures
- Season 1 focused on the demon, Shendu, as the Big Bad. At the very end, Jackie defeats Shendu, putting him in statue form, and Jade blows him to pieces with one of his own talismans. This is apparently a bad thing as Uncle tells him that now Shendu's been destroyed, a new, much worse evil must take his place.
- The second season then deals with the spirit of Shendu, after taking over Valmont's body, trying to reopen several demon portals so that his demon siblings can escape and wreak havoc on the mortal world.
- Lampshaded in The Spectacular Spider-Man. After Spider-Man takes down mob boss Tombstone, Captain Stacy tells him that he's just created a power vacuum in the underworld, and that "nature abhors a vacuum". It's filled by the Green Goblin, who set the whole thing up for precisely this purpose.
- ReBoot. After Daemon is stopped Megabyte comes back to Mainframe. Dot and Bob refuse help from the Supercomputer because they have dealt with Megabyte before and know how he operates. This bites them in the ASCII when Megabyte doesn't operate like he used to, giving up on conquest and going for personal revenge instead. He takes over the Principal Office in one episode.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003: Following the chaos resulting from "killing" the Shredder the turtles temporarily ally themselves with Shredder's adoptive daughter to ensure that the Foot Clan gains dominance in the gang wars. Leonardo, invoking this trope word for word, reasons that as bad as the Foot may be, putting them back on top would end the wars and get some order in the city.
- Jimmy Two-Shoes: This is why you don't defrost the old leaders of Miseryville. Lucious von Heinous the VI Ith might be the devil, but compared to his dad, grandfather and great grandfathers way back down to Lucious von Heinous the Ist, he's the best of a bad situation.
- Slimer and The Real Ghostbusters episode "Out with Grout" featured Mr. Grout, the bossy manager of Hotel Sedgwick, leaving the job to become the manager of the new Uptown Hotel, much to the (temporary) relief of Slimer and Buddy. When wannabe ghostbuster Professor Dweeb became the new manager, they decided to bring Mr. Grout back, since he ignores the ghosts rather than trying to bust them.
- Potsworth And Company episode "When Bubba Rules" featured the Nightmare Prince's mother demoting him and hiring another villain. Despite knowing they'd have to face a new enemy, the heroes were happy they'd no longer have to worry about the Nightmare Prince. However, once they tried to stop the new villain, the heroes decided to trick The Man Behind the Man into firing the new villain and reinstating the Prince.
- In one episode of Jumanji, Van Pelt explained that he hunts because, in Jumanji you either hunt or are hunted. Peter, Judy and Alan then decided to hunt Van Pelt. When it seemed they got rid of him for good, Jumanji turned Peter into a new Van Pelt. The episode ended with Peter going back to normal and Van Pelt coming back.
- The Fairly OddParents
- The episode "No Substitute for Crazy" featured a substitute teacher named Ms. Sunshine. When she sadly reminded the students that, as a substitute, she'd have to leave as soon as Crocker got back and suggested the only way to stop that would be someone with a magic wand making her the new regular teacher, Timmy wished for that. In the next day, she revealed her true colors: she's a fairy hunter named Ms. Doombringer and so much more competent than Crocker that Timmy ended up wanting Crocker back.
- When Timmy managed to get rid of Vicky by publicly humiliating her so she's too miserable to work, the new babysitter his parents hired turned out to be an Eldritch Abomination. It didn't help that his parents are horrible judges of character.
- A Tiny Toon Adventures episode had Buster and company fearing this trope when Acme Looniversity Vice Principal Yosemite Sam applied for a job at another school. Out of fear a more competent person would take the job, the Tiny Toons sabotaged Sam's efforts.
- When the Stunt Dawgs dispatched Fungus away, they didn't expect Airball to take over and make things so worse they'd bring Fungus back.
- At the opening of an episode of The Simpsons, a billboard with an ad for Quimby's campaign describes him as "The Devil You Know" for 18 years.
- In Futurama, Zoidberg uses this as a reason to support Nixon for reelection, even though he's "the worst president in history...and alternate history!"
Zoidberg: I'll stick with the evil maniac I know, thank you very much!
- Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja: In the episode featuring Hannibal MsFist's brother Terri, the Ninjanomicon lampshaded the trope by bringing up the possibility of the unknown ally being more dangerous than the known enemy.
- Adventures of the Gummi Bears has a story where Big Bad Duke Igthorn is deposed by Toadie's cousin, Tadpole, who because of an unpleasant earlier encounter with the Gummi Bears, orders their valuable gummiberry bushes destroyed en masse. The Bears help Igthorn reclaim his dukedom because however dangerous he is, at least he values the gummiberry crop himself for his own ends.
- The Rugrats episode "New Kid On the Block" had the babies befriend an older boy after they get tired of Angelica's bullying. But after the boy starts bullying the babies and manipulating them to do his bidding, they realize they prefer being bossed around by Angelica and they beg her to rescue them.
- Lampshaded in Starcraft to explain why the heroes of the story were working with Kerrigan ("Queen Bitch of the Universe," in her own words, and The Leader of an alien locust swarm) of all people to fight the UED. - a dictatorship lead by Space Russians from Earth, who's only contact with the heroes so far have involved bullets.
- The first half of Brütal Legend sees Eddie Riggs help out rebel leader Lars Halford, who's trying to free his people from the tyrannical rule of General Lionwhyte. They succeed, but the instant they do Emperor Doviculus turns up, kills Lars, and shatters the rebel army. Turns out Lionwhyte was the only guy able to convince Doviculus not to Kill All Humans.
- Villainous variation in Shantae. When push comes to shove, Risky prefers to allow the titular heroine to regain all her magic powers and keep her as a rival than allow the Pirate Master to have his way.
- Many animals have a defense that is designed to cause severe discomfort to their natural enemy, but rarely kills (for example a skunk or porcupine). The result is the predator remains in the area, and they keep other predators out of their territory, but the predator remembers what happened the last time, so the skunk can now feed in peace.
- Allegedly a factor in the Russian revolution: because foreigners were supporting the white army, support grew for the red army, which wasn't influenced by unknown, foreign powers.
- A factor in Cuba's revolution. When your choices are a homegrown dictator or a "president" in the back pocket of The Mafia (Cuba being a paradise for drugs, gambling, contraband, and money laundering by American organized crime), the homegrown option starts looking like a good one.
- Josef Stalin was perfectly aware of each and every occasion that Adolf Hitler visited the Russian Front. He scrupulously refrained from launching any attacks, even when Hitler was only a mile or two behind the front line and extremely vulnerable. He explained later that the last thing he wanted was for a rational leader, one who trusted his generals and left them free to decide strategy, to take over in Germany. This was the sentiment shared by every country near WWII's end and the reason that assassination attempts ceased. Hitler was such a raving, paranoid lunatic that his "leadership" did as much if not more harm to the Nazi government than every military loss combined.
- One reason people stay in abusive relationships and/or go through the Relationship Revolving Door. In their minds, it's better to be in a relationship with someone who's familiar than to leave and face loneliness and/or the prospect of dating again.
- According to legend note Confucius and his followers happened upon a woman sobbing by a grave. He asked her what was wrong, and she replied, "A tiger killed my son. Later, the tiger killed my husband. Then it killed my father as well." Confucius then asked her why she is still in the area with this dangerous man-eating tiger still running amok. She replied, "Because there are no cruel leaders here."
"Know this: a cruel leader is more fearsome than any tiger."