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"Sometimes it’s easier if you just turn off the power.
Considering how much our society relies on computers and machinery, it makes sense that we have often considered the possible effects of such things being used against us
. Thus, we have many stories where a computer runs rampant
or a bomb is set to explode
, or someone
just built your average everyday doomsday machine.
But there's hope yet. Machines simply don't work unless they have a power supply. Thus, when in such a dangerous situation, even if there's no Big Red Button
available for the hero's pushing pleasure, it is still possible for the hero to escape the predicament without a scratch.
All you have to do is unplug the thing. Simple as that.
Scenes in which characters Cut the Juice usually fall into one of three categories:
- Played straight. The plug is being guarded, and it is only through struggling or with the help of a scientific expert that the device can finally be shut down.
- Used as an anticlimax. After trying everything to stop the device, everyone is about to give in when the device suddenly shuts down. Cut to someone (often a Non-Action Guy) holding the plug (or, if he/she's a Deadpan Snarker, twirling the plug from the end of the cable, pocket-watch style, with one hand on his/her hip). Or the hero tripping over the cable for extra Rule of Funny. In this form, a version of Cutting the Knot as well as the juice.
- Dramatically ignored. You can tell that this one is coming when unplugging the device is one of the first options considered (especially if it has been introduced before as a "failsafe"). Simply put, the machine's power supply cannot be compromised so easily, especially if its inventors (or the AI itself) manages to reroute power or relocate its source. Incidentally, if you are not a hero and you are ever in this situation, run.
So really, this trope is used in just about any situation where it can be effective or dramatic. Now if only we could do the same thing
with those pesky robots...
See also Have You Tried Rebooting?
, It Won't Turn Off
, and Achilles' Power Cord
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Anime and Manga
- In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Ishikawa uses this as an emergency countermeasure for a hacking attempt. Unable to stop a hacker and virus from taking over Section Nine's systems, he grabs a fire axe, pulls up a floor panel, and severs an electrical main. (Which also takes out Section Nine's power.)
- Paperinik tries this against One when he believes he shows signs of going insane. Actually the "evidence" was actually planted by Two, who wanted his twin to be shut down while he has plenty of backup generators, as he gleefully informs Paperinik.
Films — Live-Action
- Spider-Man 2 uses it twice. The first time it works; the second time subverts it, as the ongoing fusion that had previously required power had become self-sustaining.
- In 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the salvage team sent to retrieve HAL take the precaution of installing a wire-cutting device on his power cord, just in case HAL tried to kill them as well. It is not used. When they consider activating it at the climax of the plot, Dr. Chandra reveals that he disabled it because he felt it would be unfair to HAL and he didn't believe it would be necessary. On the latter point, he is proved correct.
- In Ocean's 13, Danny Ocean proposes doing this to disable the Bank Casino's ultra high-tech player monitoring system. "Why don't we just kill the power?" Roman Nagel scoffs at the idea. "That could work... failing that, you could just kick the plug out of the socket." They figure out that they could shut it down temporarily, if only they could get a magnetron into the control room. So they get a magnetron into the control room.
- In Die Hard, the FBI cuts all power to the building (and a big chunk of the surrounding area) during the hostage situation. This is exactly what the Big Bad has been relying on to deactivate the otherwise insurmountable final lock on the vault.
- The Matrix Reloaded: In order to bypass security measures at the door to The Source, the group decides to shut off the power. By blowing up an entire nuclear powerplant. Even then, there is a contingency system which has to be shut off simultaneously from an entirely different place.
- In Pacific Rim, Leatherback can specifically do this and in fact did, blacking out the entirety of Hong Kong and shutting down Striker Eureka.
- Transformers actually got this one right: when the Decepticons attack a US Military base and begin hacking into the main computer server, the commander grabs an emergency axe and severs the main power line, turning the machine off. This slows the Decepticons down considerably and forces them to find another way to finish getting the data they need (doesn't stop them from trashing the base, though).
- In the original Doctor Who series’ second serial, The Daleks, the plan to defeat the Daleks revolves around trying to unplug their city’s electricity supply. It works because the original Daleks drew their power from the floors of their city and had no internal power supply.
- The Big Bang Theory
- Wolowitz gets a robotic hand stuck on his... well... gentleman parts. The guys are told not to turn it off because it's programmed as a screwdriver, and will start to twist. The nurse in the ER, not knowing this, simply turns off the computer and it releases.
- Subversion (comedic, not dramatic) when Sheldon tries to blackmail Leonard into signing a new agreement by blackmailing him with the "self-destruct function" on his laptop (which will send an e-mail to Leonard's girlfriend's unapproving parents revealing their relationship). Leonard runs up and unplugs his computer, but... "It's a laptop with a full charge. What do you see in him?"
- In Person of Interest, Finch finds his systems under attack from a hacker. Rather than try to counter her, he just kills the power, unplugs everything, and warns Reese to destroy his phone.
- Used in Treasure of the Rudra. You have to deactivate Sodom's Power source for the Moonlight or you will be unable to fight it, since it will repel you every time you enter the chamber it is in.
- Used accidentally by Roger Wilco in the second Space Quest game. After being shrunk to a height of an inch by Big Bad Vohaul, he climbs into a nearby air duct and pushes a big red button marked "Stop". He then discovers that he just stopped Vohaul's life support system, killing the evil man. Whoops. I mean, hooray! That's exactly what I intended to do!
- Used frequently in Half-Life 2 as a combat-puzzle mechanic.
- Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon gives us "Punch the nuclear reactor!"
- Spoofed in an ad for an insurance company. Police cordon of a downtown block because there is a very large bomb in an office building. The only person near the bomb who could defuse it in time is a dumbfounded cleaning woman. Just as it looks like the bomb is going to blow up, the cleaning woman simply unplugs it. It is that simple and so is getting insurance from the company.
Anime & Manga
- Right before Sonia's badass-looking giant robot can smash the main characters in the second season of Hayate the Combat Butler, it suddenly freezes. Cut to a puzzled Hinagiku standing next to an oversized outlet holding an equally oversized plug. Unfortunately, Yukiji has gotten taken over by evil spirits who power the same robot with just their evil spirit-ness.
- In Dragon Ball, Goku has been completely unable to defeat the robotic Sgt. Metallic, even after blowing Metallic's head off. He seems indestructable until he suddenly stops moving. Turns out his batteries died. Goku shrugs it off and continues to the next floor of Muscle Tower.
- At the end of XIII, the protagonist must stop a military base from self-destructing, but the computer console that can abort the process has a small bomb attached that will kill him if he tries it. The solution? Trace the console's conduit up to the equipment cage it controls and blow it up! The exact same scenario happens near the end of the video game based on the comic.
- Used in the Richie Rich story, The Great Weather Mystery. When Richie's weather computer tries to take over the world by controlling the weather instead of simply reporting it, Richie finally realises he can defeat the computer with two fingers... to pull out the computer's power plug.
- Parodied with the climax of Out of Character 3, a Ranma ˝ Hentai dōjinshi. Kasumi Tendō, after having all the fun she could with a Tentacle Monster, then stops it by... simply pulling out a pair of small batteries.
A battery-powered demon? What kind of lame production is this? Ye Old Writer's Box:
Hey now, you know we're on a tight budget. What do you expect?
- Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space. Captain Proton and Martian agent TuMok are trying to deactivate a doomsday device that will cause mass flooding. TuMok states he's tried numerous technobabble solutions to no avail. Proton asks if he's tried pulling out the power cord by his foot. TuMok reaches down...and picks up a dropped weapon which he points at Proton, as he wants the device to go off to soften Earth up for an Alien Invasion.
Films — Live-Action
- The Naked Gun 2˝ features a nuclear bomb that is defused only when Frank Drebin, deciding to flee with three seconds to spare, accidentally trips over the cord.
- James Bond
- Goldfinger uses this as a subversion of the classic bomb plot. The bomb expert that arrives to stop the atomic device does so by merely hitting a switch. (You'd better believe that it stopped at 0:07.) The counter was originally going to stop at 0:03 — Connery has a line of dialogue to that effect immediately after the shutdown — but for obvious reasons, they changed it in the edit.
- In GoldenEye, Boris, having been "spiked" by Natalya to prevent him from disconnecting his computer from hers, rips apart his computer to break the connection. Considering the fact that he could have just shut off the computer, or, even easier, turned off the internet connection (pull out the ethernet cord or shutdown a router), the apparently thousands of dollars of damage he inflicts on the computer is really stupid.
- In Kim Newman's Deconstruction of sci-fi tropes, Tomorrow Town, the Big Bad's attempt to cobble together a Doomsday Device by setting the heating system to overload is thwarted by the supercomputer advising that for safety reasons, Circuit Breaker 15 should be pulled.
- In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Guns of Tanith, a squad of Ghosts are trying to figure out how to disable the force fields the enemy has wired into the city they are trying to take while in the main control room. The problem is solved by Major Kolea, who pulls one lever and shuts down the entire power grid.
- In one of the later Ender books, a MD Devicenote is on countdown to destroy a ship. The technician flips a switch and turns the Device off. When it's pointed out that disarming it was considerably simpler than originally arming it, he responds along the lines of "It's designed that way for a reason."
- In one episode of Stargate SG-1, the team infiltrates a Goa'uld ship with the intention of shutting down the Deflector Shields. Resident old guy Bra'tac states that they will have to descend many floors, defeat many warriors and security measures in order to get close to the shield generator... and O'Neill pops the pin on a couple of grenades and drops them down a shaft to the shield generator. "Hey look! Grenades."
- In the Doctor Who episode "School Reunion", Mickey pulls the plug on the Evil Computer Cluster of Doom. He looks around first, clearly expecting the solution to be a bit more dramatic, then does it anyway. Because sixty-odd computers are plugged into a single socket, it unexpectedly sparks back at him.
- Gibbs in NCIS: A hacker is determined to hack the NCIS computers and McGee and Abby are just as determined to stop him. They are typing on the same keyboard once, and just as it seems as the hacker is going to win, the screens go black. They think that they managed to do it but when they all look to Gibbs, they see him holding the plug with a "duh" look on his face.
This could be a great example of "even when they get it right, they get it wrong." If the hacker's attacking the NCIS mainframe, and Gibbs just unplugged a terminal... In any case, Gibbs has the right idea, in that the best way to stop an intrusion into a system is to get the system off the network (by either pulling the cord or the ethernet cable). Indeed, many governments actually isolate computers with sensitive information from the internet for this exact reason.
- In Castle, a dirty bomb is counting down. Castle and Beckett are the only ones on-scene and neither of them know how to defuse a bomb. The music swells dramatically as the timer counts down until Castle rips all the wires out at once, separating the bomb from the power source.
- Inverted in "The IBM Computer", a comedy song to the tune of "Mary Ellen Carter". After hours of frustrated and increasingly-strained attempts to get an office's out-of-order computers working, one small voice finally suggests: "let's plug the damn thing in!"
- In Mass Effect, a subquests pits you against a suicidal A.I., who has decided to take you along for the ride. Now, you can try to figure out the shutdown override code for its self-destruct system by trial-and-error before the timer runs out... or you can take out your shotgun and blow up a nearby fusebox. Brute-force hacking at its best.
- In EarthBound, the Monotoli building is guarded by a clumsy robot with a particularly unusual moveset. After the heroes survive its attacks for a while, The Runaway Five bursts into the room in a Big Damn Heroes moment... and flips the switch on the robot's back. Success! If you use the power shield to bounce its missile back at the clumsy robot, you get to see the same scene twice.
- This is used again in MOTHER 3. Lucas, Boney, and Dr. Andonuts are being chased by the nigh-unbeatable Ultimate Chimera. As it pounces for its meal, Salsa runs in and hits the button on its back, effectively killing the power. The duck on its back flips it back on long after you've left, which should explain why it appears later on in the Empire Porky Building.
- Minor Robots (in Thunder Tower) are also vulnerable to the effects of this trope, as their batteries tend to run out after a few battle rounds, rendering them motionless... Unless, of course, they're being accompanied by a Battery Man, who, if one is still alive when the Minor Robot runs out of power, will remove itself from the battlefield to repower the Robot.
- In Nicktoons Unite, the heroes have just defeated the Big Bad Duumvirate, only to find out that their doomsday device is still set to go off. The majority of the heroes are stumped as to how to stop it...and then Spongebob pulls the plug at the last second.
- Girl Genius: "The controls are fused! I can't shut it down! He's going to FRY— AND NO POWER ON EARTH CAN STOP IT!"
- Bigger Than Cheeses: Oh crap! HACKERS!
- Sluggy Freelance: The entire 4U city arc leads up to the big confrontation between Riff and the enigmatic dictator of the eponymous dystopia, known as His Masterness. When it's revealed that His Masterness is actually well intentioned, and any actually bad things attributed to him were actually done by a rogue AI, Riff instantly solves all problems by pulling the computer's plug, rebooting it only for a short time to ward off a mutant invasion before pulling the plug again.
- In the Flander's Company episode "Unlimited", resident Mad Scientist Caleb screws up while working on a machine, which subsequently makes everybody's superpower uncontrolable in the whole building. Hippolyte attempts to use his pain-powered Hand Blast to destroy the machine, but it is protected by Some Kind of Force Field. Comes Cute Bruiser Cindy, whom they ask to try too, in the hope the forcefield would be weak to brute force (her power being Super Strength). Instead, Cindy just unplug the whole thing.
- South Park
- An episode that parodies 24 uses an amusing version. The bomb inside Hillary Clinton (don't ask) is set to explode once the 24 clock hit 1:00. Just before it reaches then the power goes out, leaving the timer flashing 12:00.
- Also in the Season 12 episode "Over Logging", where Kyle restores the broken-down Internet by un- and replugging the giant modem that apparently is the Internet. Of course, after Adults try to communicate with bullhorns, bullets and music.
- In the Men In Black animated series, one episode featured an evil Time Traveler assassinating founding MIB agents, resulting in a Rubber-Band History where the eponymous agency uses "unreliable" human technology. Agent J stops the antagonist from finding the location of his last victim by pulling the plug on the PC being used as a database.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Parodied in one episode of the 1987 cartoon: an alien "toy" threatens the existence of Earth and as it powers up, things look hopeless for our heroes... then it stops. As it turns out, April knew that "every toy has batteries", showing a massive cylindrical battery to the turtles.
- Another time, she stops a generator from overloading by pulling the power plug. She stops a GENERATOR by UNPLUGGING it.
- Played straight in the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, where Serling stops a toy robot from killing the Turtles by removing its batteries.
- Inverted in Turtles Forever, where cutting the juice almost results in the multiverse getting wiped out.
- One episode of Batman: The Animated Series has Harley Quinn sending Catwoman down a Conveyor Belt-O-Doom. When Batman turns up, Harley claims that he doesn't have enough time to beat her and save Catwoman. Cue the camera panning out slightly to show Batman standing right next to the master switch, which he promptly flips.
- Used in Xiaolin Showdown, with one episode having Jack Spicer attack the heroes with a massive robot made of junk in a landfill site type area, except he had the thing plugged into the mains via an extension cord, so before a proper battle got underway, the thing just moved slightly forward, the plug came out and it immediately lost all power.
- Played with in the "Megadoomer" episode of Invader Zim when The Tallest accidentally send Zim a Megadoomer X-3 Combat Stealth Mech. The giant mech was incredible, but it came without batteries and had to be plugged into an outlet at all times in order to function. As a result, it loses power mid-rampage when the extension cord gets yanked out of the socket. Afterwards, Zim has GIR plug it into a new outlet each time it powers down.
Anime & Manga
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Pulling the plug on an Eva is one of NERV's main failsafes. It doesn't go well when you charge the Eva's internal batteries, giving it anywhere between thirty seconds and five minutes to destroy your headquarters.
- Cutting the juice to Bardiel is useless.
- Not to mention both times they try to shut down Magi.
- A Spider-Man comic subverts this. In a brief display of bravery, J. Jonah Jameson unplugs a device that he believes is keeping Spidey from using his powers. Peter doesn't have the heart to tell him that Jameson merely unplugged the coffee machine.
Films — Live-Action
- Superman III: Subverted. Gus Gorman, geek-for-hire, has built a supercomputer with a self-defense arsenal capable of taking down even Superman. As Superman crumbles under the computer's assault, the boss triumphantly congratulates him on building the machine that Kills Superman. Gorman has an Oh, Crap (despite this not being the first time in the movie it was made clear to him that this was the goal) and tries to Cut the Juice (which somehow can be performed by removing a single ordinary screw with a single pocket screwdriver from a panel. Apparently giant knife-switches or Big Red Buttons weren't dramatic enough, or at least wouldn't have given the boss time to realize his henchman wasn't all the way on board with this plan and try to keep him from disabling the computer before it can finish). This works for a few seconds. Then, although supposedly without power, the supercomputer restarts and creates its own reroutes straight to the nearest power lines. Gus shouts in horror, "It's feeding itself... it wants to LIVE!"
- The backstory to The Matrix trilogy. The machines were solar powered, so the humans took the logical (if horrible) step of blackening the sky. The machines retaliated by switching to a much nastier power source.
- WarGames. If power to the master computer is cut, the silos would assume that Cheyenne Mountain had been nuked (since they are at Defcon 1), and launch their missiles in response.
- Del's execution in The Green Mile (book and film) goes horribly wrong when Percy Wetmore deliberately fails to soak a sponge in brine before putting it inside the electrode cap. As a result, Del catches fire in the electric chair and suffers a drawn-out, agonizing death. Paul Edgecombe orders his men not to shut off the current, as it would be even more cruel to have to do the execution all over again.
- The novel version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman contemplates cutting HAL's powersupply, but since HAL also controls the ship's life support, Bowman realizes that he can't simply cut off the power. In addition to the fact that HAL is powered by a nuclear reactor.
- In 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Floyd has the engineer Curnow install a device on HAL's main power supply to let them shut him down remotely, if he goes nuts again. Dr. Chandra knew that they'd do that, and disconnected it.
- In the James P. Hogan novel The Two Faces of Tomorrow, an A.I. is constructed (on an isolated space station) in order to test whether or not it can learn to defend itself from attempts to Cut the Juice if it goes out of control. The A.I. learns to defend itself all too well. Eventually, it also learns to peacefully coexist with humans despite their initial attempts to destroy it, so things work out in the end.
- The Star Trek episode "The Ultimate Computer". The computer finds a way to draw power directly from the engines (that it controls) while killing the Red Shirt who tried it. In the end it took one of Kirk's patented Logic Bombs to do it.
- Most of the time you hear someone in the Stargate Verse say "Shut it down", the response is invariably either "I can't" or "I already tried to". In that universe destructive things seem to have have an uncanny ability to power themselves. The Stargate is capable of drawing power from just about anything, so the justification will usually be that it's being fed constant power by whatever's causing the problem.