Cartesian Karma

So your characters were previously brainwashed, betrayed the heroes, went on their own sort of rampage and needed saving to return to their ideals. Luckily, the good guys manage to accomplish this through laborious amounts of screaming, fighting them, and friendship power. And now that character is back to normal, yay! Everything should be all strawberries and hotcakes, right? I mean, they've clearly come to their senses and are back on the right of things.

Well unfortunately not always. There are some possible problems with characters regaining their focus that, should they occur, need to be faced.

Simple problems might be that relationships are strained, as other people might not be quite so eager to forget the character's actions off the bat. A brainwashed character who commits actions that would have crossed the Moral Event Horizon had they been freely chosen obviously won't be as easily redeemed, even with the all-forgiving power of friendship. More problematic is that the characters aren't completely back to normal, and traits from their former self may still linger on even after they've overcome their vices. Can this get any worse? It can.

The most problematic issue becomes when a character essentially has to live up to their actions and face the music, thus being dealt Cartesian Karma. After all, sure it's great that they're not trying to eat your soul, kick puppies, or burn down that orphanage any more, so what's the deal?

Unfortunately in failing that, they still managed to kick a few kittens, and rob the local grocery market. And law enforcement isn't exactly ready to take 'I was brainwashed by a Super-villain/mind-virus' as a valid legal alibi. Also anybody 'normal' seeing you in your altered state might be equally hard to work out, especially if it's not something you could explain without telling too much. The consequences of one's actions simply don't vanish when the mentality causing them does, so even mind-controlled characters have to face some sort of retribution, like it or not. Except when they don't.

What's more, who's to say you were just eating children and playing hopscotch during your brainwashed-existence, and won't have to face any serious danger or genetic experiments? Any damage sustained, bodily changes or physical alterations aren't going to go away just because you've come to your senses. Those are going to have to be faced as well. If the brain-washed you ate a few too many donuts in the baddies hideout, back-to-normal you is simply going to have to live with his/her sustained diabetes.

In cases where the dealt karma is so major the character can't persist, it often leads to death, heroically or tragically.

Can lead to My God, What Have I Done? moments, even Out, Damned Spot! if the character feels perpetually guilty by their previous actions upon being dealt Karma. A heroic or moral enough character, if determined and truly guilty, will probably try to reconcile with their past actions in order to fix their record and deal with the situation.

May result in Values Dissonance when the narrative sees fit to affix responsibility on the character, when the party responsible for the brainwashing should be called out instead.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Naruto, Sasuke's fall and betrayal of Konoha has continually been a plot point, with the eponymous character constantly hoping for his return. Obstructing this is not only the fact that he's now an internationally wanted criminal, but also had a central antagonist absorbed into his body at one point, and he had gone nearly blind. He seems to be getting better, at least in the seeing department.
  • Ga-Rei -Zero-:
    • Yomi goes through this in , with her going berserk and only having Kagura to stop her. In the anime it ends tragically.
    • The entire concept of Shissouseiki victims often plays into this.
  • In the Chrono Crusade anime, Joshua after having Chrono's stolen horns removed is able to revert back to his old childish self. The problem is, he becomes essentially 'locked' in that state, perpetually having the mind of his 12 year old pre-horn self. He fairs much better in the manga though.
  • Tacitly averted in Zatch Bell! with Koko who was sadistically brainwashed, but is later rescued by Sherry and restored back to her original, kind innocent state. It's a good thing she's not a wanted criminal now or anything and can happily go to college too, especially after (publicly) razing most of her town and kidnapping dozens of people. It would have to be inferred that her savior Sherry has some pretty good connections.
  • In Psyren, Tatsuo refuses to return to the past even after being freed from the mind-control induced on him. It's probably a factor that the artifact that was controlling him is still embedded into his body, he'll die if it runs out of energy, and it shuts down when exposed to sunlight.
  • Possibly subverted in HxH when one of the side characters get's kidnapped by the ants, brainwashed and altered to be one of them. She's eventually comes to her senses, and as Killua points out, her entrusted one Gon is not one to judge, and it helps the Hunter organization itself isn't one to persecute her just because she's now a chimera ant.
    • Also it's a pivotal point played straight with Gon. Blinded by his rage he, activates a technique that allowes him to rapidly age/grow and defeat an enemy vastly superior to himself. Unfortunately after calming down, he's stil mutated and puts himself on the brink of death.
    • Also his teacher and role-model Kaito, who is made into a living rag doll for the ants to manipulate that Gon desperately wishes to bring back. The realization that he can't do so, and Kaito truly is 'dead' is what pushes Gon into the transformation alluded to above.
  • Fairy Tail:
    • Laxus gets back to his senses after threatening to nearly wipe out the entire guild, but Makarov expels him from the guild and refuses to admit him back in a later arc.
    • Jellal manages to get back to the good side, after being brainwashed by Zeref/Ultear, but the Magic Council as well as several people whom he caused great grief refuse to forgive him.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Snapping out of the Supreme King's control is only the start of Judai's troubles.

    Comic Books 
  • X-Men:
    • After Jean Gray has been brought back from the The Dark Side in The Dark Phoenix Saga, she's found guilty of genocide and sentenced to death by the Shi'ar empire, despite the empress' romantic relationship with Charles Xavier. Unfortunately for everyone, fighting for her life reawakens Marvel Girl's Dark Phoenix side.
    • Her beau Cyclops faces similar problems after he took over the world and killed Charles Xavier while under the Phoenix's influence. People in-universe and out hold him responsible for that.
  • In The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Cyclonus is infamous among the crew of the Lost Light for having fought for Galvatron during the war, and was involved in several atrocities. Most Autobots consider him basically a Decepticon, despite the fact that he is technically unaligned (the purple paint job can't help). In fact, Cyclonus was under the influence of The Darkness when this occurred, and thus unable to resist Galvatron's commands. He seems to not make too much of issue of it however, not caring about the Autobots' approval.
  • Thorgal: Thorgal is imprisoned by his wife Aaricia, who refuses to acknowledge him as her husband after he returns from his amnesiac stint as the pirate lord Shaigan the Merciless (which was pushed by Kriss de Valnor, who wants Thorgal all to herself), during which she and her children were branded and exiled. She only forgives him after he singlehandedly takes out a pirate invasion.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars: The realization of this was the most likely factor in Darth Vader's acceptance of his death at the end of the trilogy. He had already had the majority of his body burned off and was basically encased in an armor that, while being his life support, was also a symbol for tyranny and fear for people everywhere. It's also hard to imagine the rebels or improvised government not trying or condemning him after.
  • In the end of the The Dark Knight, this is played intentionally by the Joker in order to manipulate Dent and get him to commit enough crimes that he "falls" and has all the blame shifted toward him, thus destroying Gotham City's hope in their law enforcement. Batman is able to avert this only by taking the blame for Two-Face's murders himself.
  • Captain America: Civil War: Sure, Bucky Barnes was under mind-control from HYDRA for all of his villainous career. That hardly means he's off the hook for decades of terrorism and assassinations, forcing him to stay in hiding from the authorities at the start of the movie. And despite his reassurance to Steve that he's no longer doing these kind of things, it's easy for Zemo to put the blame on him for the bombing of the U.N. building with a cheap mask. Only Captain America (and his followers) believe he's innocent, and it's more for emotional than rational reasons. T'Challa doesn't accept the brainwashing argument as an excuse for the death of his father, and pursues Bucky as Black Panther to kill him. Neither does Tony Stark when he finally learns the Winter Soldier is responsible for the murder of his parents. He goes ballistic, and none of Cap's words are enough to calm down Iron Man in his attempt to vaporize Bucky.

  • In The Red Vixen Adventures, Ali is arrested for the crimes she committed as a slave, but is acquitted of most, though not all of them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons will sometimes require characters to receive an Atonement from a cleric even for actions that were performed under magical mind-control, due to trickery, or otherwise involuntarily or unwittingly.
  • The Forgotten Realms have a lot of this.
    • Including Laeral Silverhand donning a relic of the local evil death-god and catching a bad case of artifact possession. Of course, as a semidivine being herself, she recovered after the crown was destroyed, but people threw suspicious glances for some time. Eventually this died down to lame taunts about bad luck with headgear from a political opponent, though.
    • Elminster Ecologies appendix II is narrated by a rather grumpy druid, so the approach is rather simple, and not quite unreasonable:
      Bara: ...moldering ancient spells and magical items of great and obnoxious power. More than once have I come upon some mess caused by adventurers only to have them tell me that they couldn't prevent an incident's occurrence because their mage was "under the control of an ancient and malevolent artifact of evil". If you must come to the High Moor and you must hunt treasure there, be careful. Check things for curses before you pick them up and play with them. Being mind-controlled doesn't give you free rein to come in and muck up the region I protect.

    Video Games 
  • A subtle one in Starcraft I: the main reason Mengsk abandons Kerrigan to the Zerg is that when she was still under Confederate control, she was the Ghost responsible for the murder of his father, mother and sister. That she has no memory of it or that she hates the Confederacy for their experiments doesn't matter to him, and ends up causing the plot of Brood War and the next two games when she finally gets her revenge on him.

    Web Comics 
  • Done so in Homestuck, to a more general sense.
    • Vriska is controlled essentially by her civilization's violent culture and expectations, her own insecurities/ego, self-destructive actions, and the rules of paradox space itself. She 'over-comes' it eventually, but by then it's rather to late for her to change. She even acknowledges she can't change what she's done by any means, but accepts it and any karma facing her because she believes she needs to do the right thing.
    • After being brainwashed by the Condesce into turning evil, Jade is eventually killed by Aranea, and Paradox Space declares her death just, nullifying her God Tier immortality. It must be noted that Aranea has a hand in that decision, using her abilities as a Sylph of Light.
  • In Dominic Deegan, Jayden renounced her faith by reciting a Heresy while under mind control and lost her white magic as a result. It takes a while for her magic to return.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • After Zuko's Heel–Face Turn in Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Gaang didn't exactly accepted him with open arms. While it's partially justified, considering all the things he did to them, several of them (particularly Katara and Sokka) went out of their ways to treat him like dirt and kick him out, dismissing certain moments he aided them (like during the Blue Spirit episode) as little more than Wants a Prize for Basic Decency. It took him many episodes to fully gain their trust, and only after many efforts, fights, appeasings, insults, humiliations, and even death threats. The overall process is Lamp Shaded by Toph later, when she complains that she was the first to welcome into the group but the only one who didn't get to have a special bonding adventure with him afterwards.
  • Family Guy:
    • Although more just a product of Peter's usual shenanigans than direct mind control, he has been "changed" temporarily an untold amount of times for the period of single episodes. Despite this, it's subverted as the rest of the cast usually don't see anything periodic about it and never reprimand him beyond the individual change. To date, he has been "brainwashed" into becoming feminine, "rich", Jewish, a bully, Mexican, African-American, a redneck, and a homosexual, all of which is forgotten about by the next episode.
    • Also the fact that both Mayor Adam West and Meg are apparently unwilling sleeper-agent Russian spies, the former of which has been outed. No consequences of this have come up so far, but it's hard to question it when one ponders how someone as suspicious and incompetent as Mayor Adam could have become Mayor in the first place.
  • One-shot villain Mr. Mime in The Powerpuff Girls is a clown who was turned evil by being covered in bleach. The girls eventually manage to change him back to normal... and then beat him up anyway.
  • In Young Justice, the Light manages to take control of the Justice League, and sends some of their strongest members through a Boom Tube to an alien planet called Rimbor to wreak havoc for sixteen hours. As a result, Earth suddenly stops being an Insignificant Little Blue Planet and gets a lot of hostile alien attention, especially in light of this whole "superpower" thing. Furthermore, the League members involved feel obligated to go to Rimbor and try to clear their name, which puts the League at a disadvantage against the Light's new plans.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, the sole truly evil things Trixie has ever done were while she was under the influence of the Alicorn Amulet, which turned her into a megalomaniac. Otherwise, she's just a rather harmless braggart. Nonetheless, the inhabitants of Ponyville (including Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship herself) are still distrustful of her despite the regrets she expressed.