troperville

tools

toys

Wiki Headlines
It's time for the Second TV Tropes Halloween Avatar Contest! Details here

main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Brainwashing for the Greater Good

So, the heroes have finally captured Duke Diabolico, yay! ... so now what? He's repeatedly proven he not only doesn't want to reform, but will turn any such attempts into another dastardly scheme by masquerading as reformed, and the Cardboard Prison is looking especially porous right now. Plus, he's proven smart enough to defy being a Self-Disposing Villain and even if the heroes weren't too principled to kill, he's also avoided giving the heroes (and other villains) reasons to kill him.

There's only one thing to do. Brainwashing... for the greater good! This can be done with varying degrees of squick. Heroes might go the "soft" route and administer Care Bear Stares, use The Power of Love and Friendship, and in conjunction with "motivational" speeches trigger a quasi-voluntary Heel-Face Turn. However, a more extreme villain might require a more extreme method. The combination of Laser-Guided Amnesia, a new personality, and a Restraining Bolt might be in order.

Who cares about Mind Over Manners if Duke Diabolico is no longer a threat and is helping old ladies cross the street? He might even join the heroes and help capture and brainwash other villains! But why stop there? Why not paint smiles on everyone's soul? Eventually, the heroes will be dumped at the bottom of the slippery slope: a world of Grey and Gray Morality where the horrific after-effects manifest.

If Duke Diabolico doesn't spontaneously relapse and kill willy nilly in reprisal for being demeaned into planting posies in the park, his minions or allies will come by and break the brainwashing. When this happens, it might even turn out that he likes good more than evil. If so, it will cause a Heroic BSOD as he grapples with a hidden lifetime of evil. Of course, it might be that the brainwashing had the side effect of turning him Brainwashed and Crazy.

What the Hell, Hero?

Compare Heel-Face Brainwashing, and also see No Medication for Me for a trope that touches on the same ethical questions.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • This is Tobi's main goal in Naruto. He plans to cast a permanent genjutsu on the moon that will make everyone live without hatred, since he believes mankind cannot live in such a way of their own free will. Except he really just wanted to live in a dream world with Rin, his dead love interest.
    • Additionally, this is Itachi's backup plan for Sasuke. To make a long story short, he acquired a specialized Sharingan capable of rewriting Sasuke's mind to be loyal to Konoha in the event he completely betrayed the village. He stored it with Naruto, where it was eventually used to break Kabuto's control over the resurrected Itachi.
      • The other Sharingan belonging to the original owner was used by Danzo in an attempt to make himself leader of the Shinobi Alliance, in the belief that only Danzo could use that position to bring about a lasting peace.
    • Again the original owner of the above Sharingan tried to do this, presumably to Fugaku and the other leading Uchiha in order to stop the looming coup de' etat plotted by the Uchiha clan. Unfortunately for him, Danzo snatched his eye before he could even begin to put the plan into effect.
  • In the world of Neon Genesis Evangelion, it is possible to brainwash EVA pilots into fighting, but this is never actually used (presumably the results would not be pretty).
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Marik's spell to brainwash Anzu was clearly not for a good purpose. However, after his Super-Powered Evil Side dominated him, it quickly became this, as Anzu was now the only way he could communicate with anyone. For as long as he was able to, he controlled her in an attempt to seek help from others, first to tell his sister to keep Rashid hidden, and eventually to plead with the Pharoh not to hesitate to strike his dark side down (which was an issue due to the Sadistic Choice that the villain had forced the Pharaoh into).

    Comic Books 
  • Superman's Elseworlds counterpart in Superman: Red Son did this, to disturbing effect.
    • The Batman imitators mopping the floor still in their costumes were particularly creepy; of course, President Superman has a lot of reason to hate Batman. Unfortunately, the comic Time Skips over the stage at which Superman decided to start cyberlobotomizing his enemies so as to maintain control without having to kill anybody, so by the time we see it it's treated as normal—a good drama call, but frustrating.
  • Doc Savage used to use psychosurgery on his enemies to remove criminal tendencies. Hey, If it works, it works!
  • In the Exiles comic, at the end of the "World Tour" story arc, Proteus (who had taken over the body of Morph) was brainwashed into thinking he really was Morph.
  • Used on Dr. Light in The DCU. It opened a floodgate of crap.
  • Attempted on Magneto in his many Marvel Universe incarnations. However, due to Personality Powers and Joker Immunity, he reverted to his original mindset.
    • It was also revealed that it had failed very soon after its first use: all the Anti Heroic and just plain good things he's done since leaving the Big Bad role behind in The Seventies truly was him. (It also means he's as dangerous to piss off now as he was then. He was not happy when he found out what had been done to him, and to this day, Moira remains a sore subject.)
    • Speaking of the X-Men, in The Sixties, erasing the dangerous data from the minds of those who learned too much about the X-Men (or even just of people who rejected his attempts to recruit them to the X-Men!) was a common tactic of Professor X's. Sometimes the memory wipes didn't last, and the victims were understandably pissed.
  • World's Finest #148, Superman and Batman—Outlaws! Our heroes suggest to the good Alternate Universe Lex Luthor that he should brainwash their evil counterparts into becoming good guys. This apparently works, but the brainwashed people are seen only from behind, so one could imagine that their faces told a different story.
  • In Green Lantern, the Star Sapphires will brainwash members of other Corps that they capture to turn them into servants of Love. While not exactly good-guys, the Sapphires are far from evil and this is easily the most questionable thing they've ever done. Also, the Indigo Tribe is made up of "born again" villains and evildoers whose exposure to coalesced compassion turns them into beings dedicated to helping others. Unfortunately, they all seem a'ok with brainwashing... and it turns out they aren't fun to be around when the brainwashing drops.
  • In the original run of Marvel's Squadron Supreme, brainwashing villains and other criminals into becoming law-abiding citizens became part of their Utopian project. Unfortunately, this caused a rift in the group, and some of the rebelling heroes joined with villains, one of whom discovered how to reverse the process.
  • One Flash Gordon story centered on a tank-sized ray that could turn entire crowds into happy, good-hearted pacifists. Ming the Merciless takes control of it and use it to subjugate the opposition, until the protagonists manage to turn it on him. Flash even remarks what a swell guy Ming is when he's not evil. Justified since the ray's effect is temporary, and the rebound causes a lot of trouble later on.
  • Doctor Strange on occasion has used Laser-Guided Amnesia to make villains forget the evil magic they have learned — mostly for those who stumbled into it by accident and had no idea what they were doing.
  • The Institutes of Transformers: More than Meets the Eye serve this purpose in pre-war Cybertronian society, rearranging the personality and outlook of anyone who opposes the senate or the alt mode based caste system.
    • It should be noted that the Senate was completely corrupt during this time. With one exception, whom they pulled this on along with the Empurata ritual: Shockwave.
  • Mindf*** of Empowered habitually uses her psychic powers to do this to herself.
  • Nico Minoru of the Runaways was alarmingly fond of this type of thinking, using her magic to wipe the young Geoffrey Wilder's memory of his trip to the modern day, forcing the Yorkes to live out the rest of their lives knowing they'd be betrayed by their own offspring, and casually transforming the Yorkes' ally Maneater into a vegan. While the first two cases were probably justified, as Wilder and the Yorkes might have otherwise been able to change history for the worse, the vegan spell was just petty. She finally earned a What the Hell, Hero? speech from Molly after using a minor version ("Settle Down") to force Klara to stop crying, for no other reason than because her crying was irritating Chase. Molly compared it to the way her evil parents used to use their mutant mind-control abilities to force her to sleep.

    Fanfiction 

    Film 
  • Pretty much any Jedi who uses the "Jedi Mind Trick" (used frequently in the Star Wars continuity) to get someone to cooperate is doing this.
  • The use of the eponymous ark in the Stargate SG-1 movie The Ark of Truth to convince the Ori's followers of the error of their ways could be viewed this way. While it is justified in that A) the Ori are dead anyway, B) the Ark can only make people believe what is true, and C) the Ori's followers are on the verge of overrunning the Milky Way, it's still brainwashing. Even Daniel, who found the ark and figure out how to activate it in the first place, isn't happy that they had to use it since it does mess with free will in a disturbing way.
    • It's only programmed to brainwash the truth. While the Ark itself is hardwired to never be used for anything else, the technology could be adapted to make anyone believe anything. There's a reason the Ancients didn't use it in the first place.
  • Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. At the end Doc performs one of his personality-altering operations on Captain Seas, who ends up as a member of the Salvation Army.
  • Deconstructed in the film and book A Clockwork Orange.
  • Drop Squad. A group of black Americans kidnaps and deprograms (brainwashes) blacks who act like white people. The intent is to restore their pride in their own race (DROP stands for Deprogramming and Restoration of Pride). The movie justifies this by having the black man who's kidnapped working for a company that acts in an outrageously racist manner that would never be accepted in Real Life. Other kidnap victims include a corrupt politician and a drug dealer.
  • "My name isss nawt QUAID!"
  • In Men In Black, the organization uses a device called a neurolizer on people to cause Laser-Guided Amnesia and purge any memories of aliens (which is truly for the best, something that we are repeatedly reminded of). They even use it on their own members who retire.
  • Used in Demolition Man by the San Angeles correctional system. Criminals are reprogrammed to be unable to perform the crimes they committed, and have useful skills or hobbies implanted. It's hit-and-miss, though; John Spartan can't stop himself from knitting despite being at best indifferent about it, and while Simon Phoenix can't kill Cocteau, he still really, really wants to.

    Literature 
  • The Stainless Steel Rat.
    • It works, though. Angelina turned from a murderous psychopath into a loving wife and mother... with occasional psychopathic tendencies, especially if you so much as look at her twins wrong.
  • In The Emerald City of Oz, Ozma decides this is a morally acceptable way to subdue invaders.
  • The wizard Mizzamir invented a spell to do this in Villains by Necessity. The protagonists are utterly horrified at the implications.
  • In a noncanon Percy Jackson and the Olympians side story, Percy battles the Titan Iapetus near Lethe, the River of Forgetfulness. Percy dunks himself and Iapetus in the river. Percy, being a son of Poseidon stayed dry, and Iapetus is soaked so he forgets everything. He gets renamed Bob and even helps cure some nasty wounds.
    • It is canon, or close enough. The stories have already influenced the canon books. Percy mentions in 5th book that he's seen Persephone in winter (which happened in the same story with Iapetus/Bob), and in The Heroes of Olympus, the kids use the bronze dragon from one of the other stories as transportation for their quest.
  • In the fifth Captain Underpants book, the kids do this to teacher Sadist Teacher Ms. Ribble/Wedgie Woman. Note that the first time it went horribly wrong, so the second time they had to be very careful about their wording. When Harold wonders at the end if it was right to hypnotize her into becoming nice, George responds, "Why not? She's happier now. She'll probably live longer!"
  • In the original Doc Savage magazine stories, Doc performed "a delicate brain operation" on criminals to cure their criminal tendencies. It also removed all memories of their criminal past.
    • This is a prime example of Values Dissonance. Back in the 1930s, it was believed that ongoing criminal behaviour was a result of malformation of the brain, essentially a medical problem.
  • The "demolishing" process in The Demolished Man might well qualify. The Villain Protagonist's personality is broken down to a primal level with the idea of building him back up so that he retains his intelligence and ambition without the self-serving and criminal aspects.
  • Molly Carpenter in The Dresden Files does this in an attempt to stop her friends from using drugs while one of them is pregnant (without consent from either of them.) It does not end well, and she is nearly executed for practicing textbook black magic.
  • Confessors from the Sword of Truth series work like this. Unfortunately, the recharge time is anywhere from hours to weeks, and there's usually a lot of angry soldiers between a Confessor and a big bad. This is part of why they usually had a wizard bodyguard. The Confessors were mostly used to get the confession of condemned criminals who were part of conspiracies, but refused to cooperate.
    • The Gone Horrbly Wrong is built right in, since their power doesn't actually compel truth but causes the victim to fall hopelessly in love with the confessor, abandoning essentially everything else in their lives and committing suicide immediately (or wasting away if ordered otherwise) upon her leaving them. Even the protagonists, who are high-functioning sociopaths on their least villainous days, get really uncomfortable about the fact that most people who actually request confession are essentially committing personality suicide to prove their innocence.
  • Resoundingly averted in Robert A. Heinlein's "If This Goes On". The revolutionaries, after overthrowing the Corrupt Church, vote to reject their psych experts' proposal to use Subliminal Seduction to "condition" the people to accept the restoration of democracy (after an old man who "looked like Mark Twain" made an impassioned speech on how "free men aren't 'conditioned'.")
    • Though interestingly, in the first published version of the story it wasn't averted: the revolutionaries agreed to the conditioning program with minimal discussion. Presumably Heinlein later decided this was morally very dubious and inserted the "Mark Twain" Expy as a kind of Take That against his younger self.
  • Averted in The Wheel of Time. Rand, in his confrontation with the Dark One, projects a future without a Dark One. Without his influence, though, everyone in the world was effectively Brainwashed For The Greater Good. The idea sickened Rand so much that he abandoned his plan to kill the Dark One, opting instead to reseal the prison.
  • In the sci-fi short "Between Two Dragons" by Yoon Ha Lee, a brilliant admiral arranges for his own brainwashing, knowing that he's fallen foul of jealous factions in his own government who will order him mind-wiped. By arranging it himself, he hopes to retain his strategic acumen for when his world needs him again. This is exactly what happens, but as the admiral returns to his world in triumph with his fleet, the doctor who did the brainwashing thinks that the old admiral was too loyal to act against those who caused his downfall; the admiral's new personality however...
  • In the end of Eon, when Eona is finally able to fully call on the Mirror Dragon, she counters Ido's Mind Control attempt by reversing it and probing into his mind whilst using her new abilities. This results in awakening compassion in his heart enough for him to stop. He still knows full well what's been done to him, but his newfound guilt for everything he's done — and he's done a lot of things over the book — makes him double over in agony and then decide to cover the heroes' escape.
  • Tower and the Hive: This is how the Hiver threat is ultimately ended. The Human/Mrdini alliance discovers a pheromone cocktail that switched the Hivers' temperament from The Swarm to Space Amish. One spate of dusting every Hiver colony they could find with the stuff, no more invading hordes of alien bugs. To be fair, it was the only plan they could think of that didn't involve committing genocide on the Hivers (and every Human and Mrdini attempt at communication failed, even when human telepaths attempted).
  • At the end of Agatha Christie's Passenger To Frankfurt, this has become the case. In order to counteract the mass uprising of indoctrinated young people actually working for a neo-Nazi group, a chemical that basically removes any trace of aggression or ill-intent towards another human being is massively released.

    Live Action TV 
  • Doctor Who, The Mind of Evil. The Keller Machine removed the impulse to commit evil acts by subjecting its victims to their worst fears. Sometimes those fears would kill the people the machine's inventors intended to cure, which anticipates A Nightmare on Elm Street as well as echoing A Clockwork Orange.
    • In Underworld, the Minyan "humane" weapon is essentially a (temporary) lobotomy gun. The Doctor, probably thanks to brain-fogging species guilt because the Time Lords uplifted them before they were ready, actually praises them for this.
    • The Doctor does this to the entire human race in "The Day of the Moon" to free them from the Silence, who have been using post-hypnotic suggestion to secretly manipulate humanity for millennia. The Doctor responds by tricking one into uttering the phrase "You should kill us all on sight" whilst being recorded, which he splices into the Moon Landing broadcast, turning every single human being for the rest of time into their (unknowing) assassins.
    • In "The Savages", a villain does this to himself by accident, although the First Doctor anticipated it and let it happen. He transfers 'vitality' from the Doctor in the hope of gaining his intellect, but ends up gaining the Doctor's morality in the process, as well as some of his mannerisms and personality quirks.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures, when Mr. Smith is rebooted.
  • Sylar in Heroes had his mind replaced by that of Nathan Petrelli, the man he had just killed. Because he had a shapeshifting ability, Sylar actually became Nathan. It lasted about six episodes.
  • On Babylon 5, instead of the death sentence murderers are punished with "the death of personality", undergoing a process that wipes away their memories and gives them a new personality that will encourage them to help the community they harmed, in essence "killing" them mentally but not physically. In the episode "Passing Through Gethsemane", a character discovers that he is actually a murderer who had this done to him, and his current personality is artificial.
    • I a rather nuanced take on this trope, the character has a mental breakdown, but does NOT immediately revert to being a murderer. His new identity is that of a devout Christian Monk and he is horrified not only by his crimes, but also that the state has interfered with his duty to atone for his sins as he has had all memory of them removed.
    • But then When the brainwashed murderer is killed for revenge over one of his crimes, the killer is given the same treatment and goes on with his life, untroubled by any guilt. Much to the horror of the station commander
  • In Farscape, the Nebari ruling body "The Establishment" could subtly modify a person's mind until they no longer had any negative impulses. Unfortunately, along with things like sadism, they considered having any individual desires to be negative qualities, and would happily modify anyone they deemed necessary (aka. most of the known galaxy).
    • It also backfires horribly with Durka in "A Clockwork Nebari." And, of course, the Nebari themselves are unwilling to consider the possibility that the "mind cleansing" could be overcome and cause even greater problems.
    • It's worse. The Nebari are very advanced and very powerful. They deny having any dedicated warships. Instead, one of their "host" ships is fully capable of obliterating a Peacekeeper command carrier. It's heavily implied that they foresee a war between the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans (which does eventually happen) and plan to pick up the pieces by brainwashing everybody.
  • In an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, a ruthless amoral criminal was found to have a faulty brain connection in the part that creates guilt, which was easily repaired. After that, he felt total remorse for everything, but it wasn't enough to convince his planet's justice system to let him go scot-free.
    • May be justified, as his personality isn't changed, he just felt guilty about his actions, essentially curing him of sociopathy.
    • Another episode has a planet of psychics where having a violent thought is a crime, because it can spread and make other people act violently. The punishment is "mental surgery" of sorts that removes the offending thoughts from the person. When the local policewoman finds out the Federation puts criminals in "cages", she is horrified. Then B'Elanna Torres (a half-Klingon with a nasty temper) is arrested for having a violent thought and sentenced to the "surgery". Naturally, the crew is worried that there may not be a B'Elanna left after all her violent thoughts are removed.
    • A third episode involves the crew having to do this to one of their own, the Doctornote , after he ends up developing a severely impeding obsession with a past decision over treatment of two critically wounded crewmembers who had an equal chance of survival with his care, but he only had time to treat one. In essence, his decision processing could handle greater-than/less-than, but not equal-to values. He repeatedly demands the blocked memories be restored when he figures out there's blocked memories, and then repeatedly has a nervous breakdown, and the crew repeatedly has to re-block the memory. [{Fridge Logic Just don't ask why they never thought about the limits having only ONE doctor for the whole ship (especially in combat situations) when they could have set up MULTIPLE holographic bodies for the Doctor to control simultaneously in such situations]]
  • In Kamen Rider Decade, there's a world where everyone is super-polite, super-helpful, and perfectly happy. That's because half have been basically lobotomized into it by having Jashin 14's cells injected into their brains, and the other half is pretending because they're terrified of having it happen to them as well.
  • A web series tie-in to Dollhouse shows that one of the scientists who worked on the precursor to Active technology used it to fix her emotionally unstable daughter.
    • In the show itself, it is stated that some of the earliest Actives were exceptionally violent criminals (such as the serial killer serving a life sentence who was Alpha's original personality) who were taken against their will with the intention of forcibly turning them into reformed citizens who could then be released back into society to help with prison overcrowding. Judging by Alpha's case, this plan doesn't seem to have worked very well.
    • It is also hinted that the technology could be used in this way for some positive applications, such as curing mental illnesses. For example, Sierra was taken against her will as a "charity case" because she had schizophrenia (the Dollhouse staff not knowing/believing that she had schizophrenia because a man she rejected was drugging her). Unfortunately, these are vastly overshadowed by the much more dangerous negative applications, most of which fall under some variation of Brainwashed and Crazy.
  • In Angel, Angel becomes the CEO of evil law firm Wolfram & Hart's L.A. branch in exchange for them altering reality to give his son Connor a well-adjusted past with a normal family, and wipe everyone else's memories. Eventually Connor gets his old memories restored...but from his perspective the implanted memories remain and they're the ones that feel "real" to him. The real memories are more like a strange dream from Connor's perspective. The rest of Angel's team get their memories back at the same time IIRC, leading Wesley to suddenly remember the role he played in Connor's abduction as an infant and the subsequent fallout.
  • Happens to the Slayers, the Branaghs and Renfield in the final episode of season 2 of Young Dracula courtesy of Vlad (though the latter two were accidents; it was the Slayers that were the target). The What the Hell, Hero? occurs four years later in season 3's The Return when Vlad finds out that the hypnosis he did ended up killing Eric Van Helsing.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Tau in Warhammer 40,000 are implied to brainwash other races for their literal Greater Good.
    • Implied, as in, Imperial scribes say they do. And The Empire is notoriously xenophobic. So there's no way to tell whether it's true or not. The only way to know for sure is to ask an Eldar farseer (who are rumored to have genetically engineered the Tau Ethereal caste - the alleged brainwashers) but Eldar being Eldar, they have no reason to tell the truth.
    • The Imperium is also known to do this. Since the galaxy is full of things that can permanently corrupt a man's soul just for looking at them, it occasionally occurs that someone you'd rather not 'save' (that is to say, summarily execute) ends up a wee bit mad. The Imperium sorts this out by brainwashing the subject and either putting in fake memories or leaving the person blank. This allows them to continue service without being a risk of heresy. The Inquisition uses this tactic more than other factions.
  • It's evil on evil, but Suthaze magically brainwashed an evil dragon into thinking he was a friendly duck named Willie. Snarf broke the spell temporarily to distract Suthaze, but it was rendered permanent by massive head trauma.
  • Dungeons & Dragons' third edition Book of Exalted Deeds contains the Sanctify the Wicked spell, which has this effect, not only changing an Evil character to Good, but also changing the victim's alignment to Law or Chaos to match the caster's.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, this is the modus operandi of the Selesnya. The Song of the Conclave, for instance, was a plane-wide spell to keep the population docile (keep in mind that it was done with "good" intentions in mind). Predictably, when the guildless found out, they weren't very happy...

    Videogames 
  • Revan AKA the protagonist in Knights of the Old Republic
    • It is suggested in the sequel that Revan was never really brainwashed by the Jedi. He just lost his memories and changed methods, but his motivations and goals never really changed. All he really did in the first game was clean up the mess he made by his backstabbing apprentice, then before the start of the second, he left to continue where he left off to find and destroy the true Sith.
      • Seeing as you have every opportunity to turn to the dark side again if you choose, they only wiped the slate clean and hoped to carry out the overarching plan properly i.e. finding the star maps.
      • In the novel Revan, it's a plot point that Revan doesn't actually remember being a Sith lord or meeting The Emperor on Dromund Kaas. After the Exile gives Revan back the Sith mask, it triggers a flood that returns all the memories. Additionally, it increases Revan's power Up to Eleven, allowing him to easily beat a powerful Sith lord. Unfortunately, even that is not enough to beat the Emperor.
  • Starcraft: Much of the Terran military is made up of 'resocialized' criminals. The training process of Ghosts involves this as well, though they aren't necessarily criminals; The program will take anyone with enough potential. One would hope this statistic doesn't apply to the higher command.
    • Interestingly, Nova (one of the most powerful, if not THE most powerful, Terran psychics ever) actually chose to have her memory wiped, unable to cope with the memory of her parents being murdered in front of her and living a year as a slave to a psychopath.
  • In Megaman Battle Network 5, the antagonist Dr. Regal gets his memory erased and becomes a nice guy. No repercussions. Less of a What the Hell, Hero? since it was done by Wily not the heroes.
  • In Legion's loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2, the heroes find out a way to turn the Heretic Geth against the Reapers by introducing a computer virus into their network, essentially overwriting their thoughts. Given that the 'verse features several villains (including the Reapers) and Well Intentioned Extremists trying or succeeding in doing the same for their less-than-noble purposes, the parallels are made quite clear.
    • Interestingly, this isn't treated like the obvious good option, with several characters pointing out that if you alter the geths' thoughts, you're still "killing" who they used to be. The alternative is to kill all those geth outright, but...it's still a strange moral issue.
    • Legion makes the point that the Geth are not a race of individuals like most other races, but a Hive Mind collective of inter-networked AIs. To equate their concept of morality- and attitude to the "brainwashing" option- to that of humanity is racist.
    • In Mass Effect 3, the Illusive Man is vocally of the opinion that he a) can and b) should take control of the Reapers, the Big Bad Eldritch Abomination robot capital ships, for the "good of humanity" (or his own good, as Shepard can remark on several occasions). This puts him in conflict with Shepard and the Systems Alliance, who want to Kill 'em All. As the game progresses, it becomes clear that he only thinks this because he's indoctrinated, and the Reapers want to pit him against Shepard, fracturing the organic defense in the process. However, this turns out to be possible after all — Shepard can choose to take control of the Reapers and end the war by fiat, although his/her corporeal form is destroyed in the process. In fact, if the player's War Assets are low, and they preserved the Collector base in Mass Effect 2, this is their only option. However, it's explained that the Illusive Man, being indoctrinated, could never have taken control for himself.
  • In Xenosaga, criminal justice involves multiple levels "personality reconditioning." Cherenkov was sentenced to and underwent high level "personality reconditioning" thrice—one that saw him stripped of human status and permanently assigned the status of a Realian—for three separate murders.
  • In the Dragon Age universe, mages can be made 'Tranquil', robbing them of the chaotic influence of emotions and thus rendering them slavish, robotic, atonal and altogether compliant to The Greater Good.
    • Or for... less savory purposes. Really, how much the Rite of Tranquility falls under this trope depends on the morality of the people using it, and whether the mage in question was willing (or at least beyond saving) or not. The morality issue is brought up frequently, and the ritual remains extremely controversial, both in-universe and out.
  • Deconstructed in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. When the Chaotic Evil members of Jack's Crew leave the Red Sprite with little choice outside of kill or be killed, Zelenin tries to Take a Third Option by appealing to the angel Mastema for help. He offers to turn her into an angel so her hymn can turn their hearts back to God. It worked extremely well.
    • Later, a demon refuses to let you anywhere near Mother Maya unless you slaughter Jack's Crew. Zelenin offers to use her song to brainwash the demons as well. The problem here is that if you accept the demon's terms, you're killing people who can't really fight back... but the demons are survivors of Jack's Crew's vicious experiments, so they're kind of in the right. The third option? Kill the demon who's sealed off the gateway, and only that demon.
    • In the end, the fate of Jack Squad is only foreshadowing the Law faction's true plans: should they have their way, they will end the Eternal Recurrence of the Schwarzwelt once and for all by having you kill its creator, Mother Mem Aleph, while they take over the Schwarzwelt to "eliminate" all unworthy humans and have the survivors brainwashed into the eternal, mindless, God-praising thrall of Zelenin's song. But hey, all the damage mankind has done to Mother Earth will heal, and nature will flourish once again, so that's a good thing, right?
    • The MK Guns are an earlier version of this. It's implied they were designed to force altered states of consciousness. While they are excellent against Demonic Possession, that's not to say there are not repercussions for the higher-ups when they are confronted over the possibilities of what amounts to portable brainwashing equipment and the extent of what they expected the crewmen to do.
  • This is how criminal rehabilitation functions in Startopia. Apart from removing all current criminal impulses from the subject it appears to have no other side-effects and allows the ex-criminal to fully re-enter society (and re-offending is possible if the peep gets enough of a soul hit later), making it one of the less problematic instances of this trope. Besides, you get paid 1000e per rehabilitated subject.

    Web Comics 
  • The Legion in MSF High used to do this. A lot. Or, at least they saw it like that. Most people saw them as the 'Heels', at times, and Legion transformations can have this effect, if done unwillingly. One of the reasons people don't like them very much. Generally, they don't do it now, though.
    • Threatened in the forums, to this one guy, Dracon, by a Legion NPC. He HATES said NPC now, with a passion.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Justice League Unlimited, the alternate universe Knight Templar Justice League, the Justice Lords, brainwashed dangerous villains like The Joker. Or rather, Superman lobotomized them with his heat vision. (When Doomsday - freaking Doomsday shows up, this makes for a Curb-Stomp Battle with the Justice Lord Superman. Instead of fistfighting to their mutual destruction, brain-fry ensues and it's a done deal. Of course, He got better a couple seasons later, and when the prime Superman is desperate enough to use his darker version's tactic, Doomsday, via his Adaptive Ability, is now immune.)
    • Amusingly, when we get to see the alternate Arkham Asylum and the various lobotomized supervillains, The Ventriloquist has no lobotomy scars, but Mr. Scarface does. note 
  • Subverted in one episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, where this strategy is used via Jedi Mind Tricks, but tortures the villain so much that he agrees to tell what he knows before the brainwashing actually does its work.
  • In Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, criminals who are captured are all put in a machine that removes their desire to commit crimes. The series kicks off when a Mad Scientist finds a way to protect himself from this and starts committing crimes again, including cloning Professor Moriarty.
  • In one Sponge Bob Square Pants episode, Spongebob and Patrick brainwash Man-Ray into not doing evil stuff anymore, by tickling him when he does. And it works, too.
  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles once somehow managed to get Shredder thinking he was Michaelangelo. Cue wrath when the spell is broken.
  • In Street Sharks, after the police capture Repteel, Dr. Paradigm says that if they hand him over, he'll brainwash him into being harmless. Of course, given that Repteel's one of his henchmen, this is just an excuse to get the mutant out of prison.
  • In an episode of Megas XLR, Coop and the gang land on a planet to ask directions, only to discover that all the worker robots inhabiting it are in fact prisoners of a facility that seemingly removes their free will to make them their slaves. Like usual, Coop demolishes everything, and after getting the directions from the newly awaken robots and leaves, we see the robots he just "freed" destroying all traces of life on this planet very violently, with the "evil overlord" being in fact the prison warden who had transformed killer robots into docile sheep to rehabilitate them, the episode ending with one robot saying he'll repay Coop by destroying Earth.
  • Miss Martian starts too get a little too fond of this technique in Young Justice, and Superboy breaks up with her over it. It comes back to bite her in the butt again when she puts Aqualad into a permanent coma, mistaking his Fake Defection for a real one.
  • Though not seen, in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Twilight mentions "reformation spells". If they couldn't convince a character to turn good the old fashioned way, Twilight had every intent of using it.
    • This is the series that gave us the Want-It-Need-It spell and the love poison. Brainwashing effects canonically exist and even seem rather easy to create, yet at the same time aren't ever taken lightly; that Twilight was ready to use a "reformation spell" as a fallback plan in Discord's case only underscores his potential threat level.
    • Hello anyone! Even if Word of God says that Nightmare Moon was an external corruption, there is enough opinions in fanon maring cleansing of Luna from Nightmare Moon as this.
  • The very first Ren and Stimpy cartoon, "Stimpy's Invention" had this with the Happy Helmet. Stimpy genuinely believed that Ren needed to be happy and created the helmet to do just that. Once Ren is freed of the helmet, all bets are off.


Brainwashed and CrazyMind ManipulationBrainwash Residue
Beware the Honest OnesMorality TropesBuy Them Off
Blank SlateDeath of PersonalityClone by Conversion

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
84090
21