Hourglass Plot

Bookends of the first and last acts of the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Joker's Favor"

A Story Arc in which two characters or groups slowly, and involuntarily, swap their positions in life. These positions are usually social (who's high-status, who's popular), economic (who's rich), and most of all, moral — who is decent and who is a ruthless bastard. The swapping often leads to escalation — the new poor person is poorer than the old one was, or the new amoral one is much nastier than the old one was.

The pathos from the Hourglass Plot comes from how neither character learns from the situation — they act just the same to each other as they did before, but with roles reversed. Particularly cruel shows will create an infinite-loop Hourglass Plot, where two hostile characters keep swapping positions and treating each other as badly as ever. In rare cases, such plots will involve the characters barely interacting with each other... a pure comparison of one person's rise to another person's fall.

Lucky characters will get a Not So Different moment and actually learn from it. Compare: Prince and Pauper, Perspective Reversal, Full-Circle Revolution, Swapped Roles, "Freaky Friday" Flip for an especially literal case, and Perspective Flip for when it's a retcon instead of a plot development. Compare and contrast: If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him and You Kill It, You Bought It. Caretaker Reversal is a subtrope.

Since explaining examples of this trope requires full knowledge of a story's plot, beware of unmarked spoilers.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Naruto: Kakashi starts as a shinobi who only cares about the mission, while Obito thinks that comrades are more important. After the battle of Kannibi Bridge, Kakashi becomes more concerned about comrades. Obito becomes eventually Tobi, who deems no sacrifice too great for his mission.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Shinji and Asuka start as the " shy failure" and the "confident Ace Pilot" and over the course of the series, Shinji racks up the most angel kills and Asuka has a breakdown because she doesn't.
  • In Phoenix: Karma, Gao begins as a ruthless bandit with a Freudian Excuse and Akanemaru is a simple artisan who winds up stabbed by him for no good reason. As the story progresses, Gao finds salvation through art while Akanemaru discovers his own ambition; by the end, both are changed men, and Gao is a sculptor whose talents outshine even Akanemaru's. The petty Akanemaru will not stand to be upstaged by Gao and throws away his own redemption, telling the tale of Gao's origins as the bandit who wounded him; Gao's remaining arm is taken as punishment and he is thrown into exile. However, Akanemaru himself dies in a fire trying to save his work, and as he dies, the Phoenix tells him that he will never be reborn as a human; Gao, on the other hand, manages to return to his art despite his disability.
  • In Macross Frontier, popular idol singer Sheryl Nome serves as a mentor to up and coming Ranka Lee, but later Sheryl becomes ill and as her popularity wanes, Ranka's soars to the point of becoming a heroine capable of using her song to scare away enemy aliens. Then it happens again when Ranka loses her will to sing and makes a Face–Heel Turn while Sheryl takes her place when it turns out she has the same power.
  • In The Tatami Galaxy, for most of the series, the Unlucky Everydude protagonist is caught in a "Groundhog Day" Loop, and in every episode, Ozu, a Screwy Squirrel (who is illustrated to look somewhat "demonic"), arranges things so that the protagonist fails to achieve (often romantic) success, and looks bad. Eventually, it is revealed that Ozu's antics are motivated by a combination of his own romantic pursuits and genuine friendship toward the protagonist, and the protagonist has an epiphany wherein he rethinks some of his own behavior and realizes that Ozu is a true friend. At the end of the series, Ozu (now illustrated as normal looking) seeks the protagonist's aid for his romantic troubles, and the protagonist assumes Ozu's former role of good-natured troll.
  • In Simoun, the power dynamic between the Broken Ace Neviril and the Naďve Newcomer Aaeru completely reverses in the course of the series. Early on, Aaeru is the energetic and driven one in their relationship, pushing constantly to become Neviril's co-pilot and perform the ultimate Emerald Ri-Majoon with her; Neviril, meanwhile, is still reeling from the loss of her previous co-pilot and lover in a failed attempt at that very Ri-Majoon, so she spends most of the time moping or passively following her orders. By the final episodes, however, Aaeru's youthful idealism is broken and she essentially loses direction in life—and it is Neviril, finally recovering from her depression (with Aaeru's own help), who gives it to her again: namely, to perform that very Ri-Majoon Aaeru wanted and she didn't from the start.
  • In Love Live! Sunshine!!, this happened with the third years; at the beginning Mari was more reserved and had to be convinced to become a school idol whereas Dia and Kanan were passionate about it. After having Performance Anxiety in Tokyo and being crushed, Kanan and Dia are more closed off and want nothing to do with school idols, while Mari enthusiastically supports Chika's endeavor.
  • Christa/Historia and Ymir in Attack on Titan start off with very specific roles: Christa is the resident "goddess", viewed by everyone as an epitome of pure altruism and selflessness, while Ymir carries herself in an utterly self-interested and cynical way, despite falling in love with Christa. As the series progresses, however, their interactions gradually bring out all the past trauma in both of them, and they both have diametrically opposite effects on each other: Historia becomes a lot more grounded, even ruthless at times, particularly after claiming the throne of the Walls, while Ymir ends up sacrificing herself for members of her squad not once, but twice.

    Fan Works 
  • In For His Own Sake, Love Hina's resident Chew Toy Keitaro decides after three years of abuse and disrespect to leave the Hinata Inn and start working towards a better future, while also recognizing and trying to atone for his past mistakes. Over time, Shinobu, Kitsune and Haruka recognize their own issues and set about improving their own lives. At the same time, several of the more stubborn residents, like Naru, Mokoto and Kaolla Suu, find themselves falling from grace as Reality Ensues and they have to face the consequences of their actions.
  • In My Mirror, Sword and Shield when Ordinary High-School Student Suzaku joins Emperor Lelouch in the past, he's surrounded by Lelouch's friends and family and finds shelter and a new identity as a royal knight and mecha pilot. When Lelouch is taken by Suzaku to the future, he's surrounded by Suzaku's friends and family and finds shelter and a new identity as a normal college student.

  • A two-parter in Trading Places. In the first half, Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy swap lifestyles. In the second half, they team up to bankrupt the decadently rich Duke brothers and get rich in the process.
  • In the film version of The Count of Monte Cristo, after betraying his best friend, Fernand is set up with a beautiful wife and an inherited fortune and noble title, while Dantes is locked away in a prison for 16 years. After his escape and subsequent execution of his plans for revenge, Dantes is now the one with titular noble title, beautiful woman, and nigh-limitless fortune, with Fernand's fortune completely lost, his woman gone, and under threat of imminent arrest for murder and conspiracy.
  • This was part of the Character Development between Neo and Smith in The Matrix and its sequels. Smith picks up human emotions and independent goals (which he doesn't like) while Neo finds himself as a "cog in the machine" with a pre-destined goal (which also proves to be a bit of a drag).
  • Juno and Mark. She keeps going over to his and Vanessa's house to get to know them better and see what kind of family her baby will have ("I just like being a piece of furniture in your weird life"), while his exposure to her and her teenage flippancy gives him second thoughts about his adulthood and eventually causes him to bail on his wife and the coming baby, to Juno's shock and dismay. His regression triggers her coming of age.
  • In What About Bob?, Bob Wiley starts off all-but-paralyzed by his various neuroses, while Dr. Leo Marvin is a psychiatrist who's just published a best-selling self-help book. Bob's interactions with the Marvin family helps him overcome his fears and learn to interact with normal society—eventually marrying Leo's sister, becoming a psychiatrist himself, and authoring his own book. Leo, meanwhile, becomes increasingly irritated and unhinged in response to Bob (in part because he feared that Bob was replacing him in his family's affections) and ends up catatonic. Though seeing Bob's and his sister's wedding apparently cures him.
  • In Primer, Aaron starts off as a family man and rather risk-averse (note the scenes where he worries about needing eye protection and warns his wife against using the first batch of ice from the new fridge). Abe starts off unmarried and rather more devil-may-care. Over the course of the film, access to a Time Travel-powered Reset Button makes Aaron become more aggressive and willing to take risks, and he eventually leaves his family. Abe, on the other hand, becomes increasingly worried about the side-effects of time travel and oddly protective of Aaron's family.
  • The two divorcees in Woody Allen's Celebrity: Lee starts up wanting to immerse himself in celebrity journalism thinking that it will bring him success, while his ex-wife Robin is insecure on top of the neuroses the couple had. As the movie progresses, Lee doesn't get out of his neuroses and starts becoming as insecure as his ex-wife was, which wrecks numerous opportunities for him to succeed, while Robin leaves her many neuroses behind and eventually gets her own celebrity interview program.
  • In the beginning of Dogma, Loki is portrayed as the more ruthless and reckless, wanting to go on one more divinely righteous killing spree before re-entering heaven, while Bartleby is the one who feels compassion for the humans and is more reserved. However, halfway through Bartleby snaps and becomes an Omnicidal Maniac bent on killing everyone, and it is Loki who is attempting to hold him back.
  • In the 2011 film One Day, based on the novel by David Nicholls, the two protagonists Emma and Dexter come from completely different backgrounds and life goals, with Emma starting out as a poor waitress after graduating from university and Dexter beginning as a successful television host. Over time, Emma gains success first as a teacher and then as a writer. Dexter goes on a downward spiral and ends up a poor divorcee.
  • In Thor, the titular hero starts out as a vicious Blood Knight while his brother, Loki, is much more cautious and diplomatic. By the movie's end, Thor is much more peaceful and tries to reason with his enemies rather than plunging into battle, while Loki tries to demolish an entire world to achieve his goals.
  • In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tony Stark is introduced as a fiercely independent businessman who plays by his own rules and despises government bureaucracy, while Steve Rogers is a patriotic working-class kid from Brooklyn who believes in self-sacrifice and jumps at the chance to serve his country in World War II. Accordingly, when they meet in The Avengers (2012), Tony regularly chafes at authority and almost loses his spot on the Avengers, while Steve remains loyal to SHIELD from start to finish. But as the series goes on, both men's character arcs move in opposite directions. Tony becomes much more willing to submit to authority after one of his inventions grows beyond his control and endangers the world, while Steve becomes much more willing to question authority after he discovers a massive HYDRA conspiracy within the ranks of SHIELD. By Captain America: Civil War, their roles are completely reversed: Tony leads an effort to put the Avengers under government control, while Steve is the one who rebels against the government and fights to remain independent.
  • Martin Scorsese's Silence features this dynamic between Fr. Rodrigues and Kichijiro. At the start the former is a brave and courageous priest and the latter is a Dirty Coward apostate pentitent who betrays him repeatedly. Rodrigues frequently feels that his duty to pardon Kichijiro repeatedly borders on Insane Forgiveness, yet in the end after he has apostatized, it is Kichijiro who restores Rodrigues' (now hidden) faith by asking for confession, and on account of the fact that he's more inept at hiding crucifixes than the apostate Rodrigues, he ends up attaining martyrdom while Rodrigues dies as an apostate sellout. In effect, the seeming Judas becomes a Christ-figure while the man who starts out wanting to be Jesus, and resembling him, ends up becoming Judas.

  • Thomas Hardy's 1886 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge.
  • The plotline of the short story "Come Back Gizmo"; after a boy mistreats his dog because the girl next door tells him to, a strange man gives the dog a gizmo that causes the boy to turn into the dog, and vice versa, until eventually it switches their brains as well as their bodies.
  • The Scarlet Letter features an Hourglass Plot between Hester and Dimmesdale on several levels, especially at the end of the novel.
  • In William Faulkner's Light in August, this happens to Lena Grove and Byron Bunch. Not that any Faulkner book is comprehensible the first ten times you read it, but it's there.
  • Harry Potter:
    • As revealed in the finale book, Severus Snape and James Potter. In the beginning, Snape is the neglected, awkward outsider who befriends muggle-born Lily Evans. When they go to school, both he and Lily take a dislike to the wealthy, popular Jerk Jock James Potter. However, as the years go by, Snape falls in with a gang of Voldemort supporters and loses Lily's friendship forever when he publicly calls her a slur. The popular boy eventually wises up and matures into someone Lily could actually marry, while Snape grows more and more mean-spirited over the years, and spends his adulthood bullying schoolchildren the same way that was done to him (except for the physical abuse, and his sarcasm is way more on point).
    • Another example would be Neville Longbottom and Draco Malfoy. In the first book, Neville is a clumsy Buttmonkey who constantly bungles spells and is bullied by the Slytherins. Malfoy, on the other hand, is the arrogant top dog of the Slytherins who makes Neville's life hell. By the seventh book, Neville develops into a brave and confident leader among the Gryffindors and all the other students who revolted in the Final Battle, even distinguishing himself by decapitating Nagini with the Sword of Gryffindor! Malfoy meanwhile becomes a cringing coward whose former followers turn on him and just barely manages to scrape a Heel–Face Turn to avoid becoming another Death Eater casualty in the Final Battle.
  • Used light-heartedly in the A.A. Milne poem "Twice Times". There are two little bears, a bad one and a good one..."And then quite suddenly (just like Us)/One got Better and the Other got Wuss." Milne then reveals that he's using this as an allegory, since he just realized that his son has finally learned all his times tables, while he's getting so old that he can no longer remember where he put anything.
  • Older Than Steam: In the first part of the novel, Don Quixote is a Daydream Believer Mad Dreamer and Sancho Panza has Simpleminded Wisdom and represents realism. Both are StaticCharacters. At the second part, Sancho is influenced by Don Quixote and becomes more and more of a Daydream Believer, while at the end, Don Quixote will become Bored With Insanity by Sancho’s influence. They may have been the very first characters in literature to become DynamicCharacters.
  • In Warbreaker, the sisters Vivenna and Siri are initially introduced with Vivenna as a well-mannered and seemingly perfect Princess Classic all set to become queen of Hallandren, and Siri as a disobedient Rebellious Princess running away from her responsibilities. Circumstances make it so that Vivenna has to play a Rebellious Princess type role and Siri has to become a Princess Classic, and over the course of the story, Vivenna's flaws and Siri's virtues become apparent. Ultimately, Vivenna becomes an Action Girl, running from her responsibilities while she figures out who she is, while Siri is all set to become queen of Hallandren, for good this time.
  • In Les Misérables, Cosette starts out as a child slave to the Thenardiers, who abuse her while spoiling their own daughters with expensive clothes and toys. She is then taken into the care of Valjean and seven years later is an educated, well-dressed young lady who enjoys wealth and high social status and eventually becomes a Baroness on marrying Marius, while the Thenardiers lose their inn and become destitute, forcing their daughters to beg and steal on the streets. This is lampshaded by Eponine at one point in the musical.
  • In the Vampire Mountain arc of The Saga of Darren Shan, Darren meets Kurda, who has been elected to become a Vampire Prince. They become friends, until the end of the fifth book, when Darren has been condemned to death for failure to complete a task, and Kurda helps him escape... and Darren finds out that Kurda has betrayed all of the vampires. Darren returns to the mountain and exposes the plot, resulting in Kurda being executed, and the Vampire Princes making Darren a Prince because it's the only way to avoid executing him. It's one of the many places where this series ends up being far deeper than it looks. This is lampshaded by Darren in the manga adaptation - drawn by Takahiro Arai who would later draw a truly stellar manga adaptation of Les Misérables.
  • In Best Served Cold, Monza is introduced as a cruel and amoral borderline Villain Protagonist and in pursuing revenge on the men who betrayed her and killed her brother, enlists the help of Barbarian Hero Shivers who had left his home in the North as part of a quest to leave his old life behind and become a better man. Initially, Monza belittles Shivers' scruples and acts as The Corrupter, but as the story progresses, Monza starts to feel guilt and flashbacks reveal that she isn't/wasn't such a bad person in the first place, while at the same time, Shivers increasingly loses interest in reform and his status as Token Good Teammate is increasingly called into question. This comes to a head after the two are captured and torturers burn out Shivers' eye. Ultimately, Shivers ends up as a cruel Blood Knight who revels in violence, and betrays Monza, whereas Monza ends up as a hard but fair ruler who spares Shivers because of deep regret of her earlier contempt toward his scruples, which she now embraces.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: The penultimate episode of the television series, "Principal For A Day", has Miss Brooks appointed principal and Mr. Conklin become a History (not English) teacher. Because Status Quo Is God, their respective positions are restored at the end. Neither seem to learn much from the episode. Miss Brooks enjoys herself thoroughly, and other than adding feminine touches to her office and spending some quality time with Mr. Boynton doesn't abuse her power. Mr. Conklin's temporary humility, and appreciativeness to Miss Brooks' giving him the teaching position, is cast off as soon as he becomes principal again. It helps that Mr. Conklin is a pompous Jerk with a Heart of Gold than an outright villain.
  • The TV Movie Summertime Switch revolves around a young street punk and a spoiled rich kid both named Freddie Egan. Their identical names cause the former to be sent to a luxurious summer camp for the rich and the latter to a juvenile correctional facility, though obviously the opposite was supposed to happen. Both end up learning something from the whole experience (especially the rich kid).
  • On Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, neurotic, insecure Melanie is best friends with the insensitive Kathleen. Melanie gains confidence while Kathleen loses hers, and Melanie becomes just as insensitive as Kathleen was when they started. Their problems escalate as they get older, so Kathleen is insensitive to Melanie worrying about her body, while Melanie is insensitive to Kathleen becoming an anorexic abuse victim.
    • The fifth season of Degrassi: The Next Generation has Emma swapping moral positions with her entire circle of friends and family. They screw up their lives one by one, Emma redeems them all — and then she snaps under the pressure, becoming worse than any of them ever were. The climax is them trying to reason with her, as Emma threatens them and says they have no moral right to criticize her. ("You take advantage of drunk girls. You are the drunk girl...")
    • Joey and Wheels as well. At the beginning of Degrassi Junior High, Joey was an irresponsible jokester as well as a bit of a bully while Wheels was his nicer and more sensible best friend. Near the end of Degrassi High, Wheels was a Jerkass whose various misdeeds involved stealing money and lying to his grandma/guardian. Meanwhile, a matured Joey disapproved of his actions and tried to help him.
  • Star Trek: Voyager, "Equinox": The Voyager crew comes across their Evil Counterpart: the lost ship Equinox, whose crew are murdering and enslaving their way across the Delta Quadrant. The villainous Equinox captain slowly becomes paralyzed with guilt, just as Janeway becomes just as ruthless as he used to be in her quest to get him.
  • The Narn and the Centauri in Babylon 5 are caught in an apparently endless cycle of invasion, occupation, liberation and revenge. G'Kar starts out as the arrogant jerk seeking power and advancement while Londo is humbled and accepting of his position in life and the lack of any real power. A couple seasons later G'Kar is humbled and powerless while Londo has become one of the most powerful men in the Centauri Empire with the arrogance to match it. By the end of the series they start flipping again though they lose their arrogance for good.
  • Outnumbered': Jake and Ben have shades of this. At the beginning of the series, Jake is the serious, geeky older brother who is much closer to his parents, while Ben is the rebellious, outgoing son. As the series continues, Jake becomes a lot 'cooler' and distances himself from his family, while Ben embraces his geekier side and is a lot more affectionate.
  • Smallville:
    • Lex and Lionel Luthor. At the beginning of the series, Lex was Clark's friend and ally and Lionel was the Magnificent Bastard. Overtime, Lex begins a descent as Lionel redeems himself.
    • In the early days, Chloe is One of the Boys who ended up tangled with the Luthors, at one point allying with Lionel, prying in Clark's personal life, threatening his secret, and Lana is the pretty girl Clark is crazy over. In the middle seasons however, Chloe learns Clark's secret and becomes a supportive sidekick, gets as far away as the Luthors as possible, Clark subtly demonstrates possible romantic feelings towards her, and her femininity becomes more pronounced (just look at her hairstyle change); Lana marries Lex and becomes something of a Dark Action Girl, and starts poking into Clark's secret, not to mention starting Isis.
  • Friends: Rachel and Monica. In the series' back story, Rachel was a Rich Bitch and engaged to marry an equally wealthy guy, while Monica was a Formerly Fat poorly-paid assistant chef who thought she'd die alone. During the series Rachel breaks off her engagement, works as a waitress and has a lot of disastrous boyfriends, while Monica works her way up the chef ranks - despite a rough, unemployed patch in the middle - and builds a stable, fulfilling relationship. By Series 9, Rachel is a single mother, working a good but not exceptional fashion job and has a series of failed relationships (and a marriage) under her belt. Monica is an Executive Chef at one of New York's most prestigious restaurants and is Happily Married to her best friend. Things do improve for Rachel by the end of the series, but the contrast is still there.
  • Gilmore Girls played this with Rory and Jess. In early seasons Rory is a hardworking, honours student, bound for an Ivy League, aiming to pursue journalism and the golden child of her family, while Jess is a high school drop out with zero life ambitions, his mom kicked him out and he's at odds with his uncle. Come Season 6, Rory has dropped out of college, abandoned her career dreams and is estranged from her mother, while Jess is a successful author, runs a publishing house with friends and is closer to his uncle than ever before. Luckily though Jess's transformation is exactly what Rory needs to get her life together.
  • In Carnivŕle Brother Justin is a preacher who slowly turns to the darkside upon the realization that he is The Antichrist, and also suffers from an unfortunate case of Bad Powers, Bad People. Ben, an escaped criminal on the lam from the law, makes a parallel journey as he comes into his own powers as the Messiah.
  • Supernatural brothers Sam and Dean swap positions on moral limits in season 4 - Sam's demon blood leads him to kill humans for power, whereas he previously was always insisting they avoid "means to an end" sacrifices. Dean, previously a hedonist who expedited the hunt with an apathetic battleax approach, starts setting limits to the point that he'd rather let he and Sam both die rather than be possessed and possibly injure others in a blunt force strategy of the angels.
    • In a wider sense, at the start of the series Sam has almost managed to escape his hunter upbringing in favour of a normal life, when he's dragged back to the hunt by Dean, who idolises their father and argues that a normal life is for chumps. Over the course of the first five seasons (which is to say, the arc of the show as originally plotted), Sam gets increasingly militant in the fight against evil, while Dean gets increasingly heartsick and tired of the whole thing. The Series Fauxnale at the end of Season 5 sees Sam giving up not just his life but his eternal afterlife to put Lucifer back in his cage and averting the apocalypse, and Dean retiring to a peaceful life with his girlfriend and her son. Since the series didn't end there, neither of those things lasted for very long, and by season eight the brothers had arguably switched places again, but that's another story.
  • Angel: Faith's return is a double example. She switches her role in the Good versus Evil battle with the now soulless Angel(us), as well as her outlook on life with the now cold and jaded Wesley.
  • Over the course of Merlin, Guinevere and Morgana swap places. Gwen is shy serving girl whilst Morgana is the confident ward of the king. Gwen dislikes Prince Arthur, whilst Morgana flirts with him. Fastforward four seasons and Guinevere is The High Queen of Camelot, married to King Arthur, whilst Morgana is living in a hovel, stewing in bitterness and hate for her former family.
  • This was revealed to be the back story of Regina and Jefferson in Once Upon a Time. In "Hat Trick", Jefferson was an innocent friend of Regina who trapped him in Wonderland and separated him from his daughter Grace. In "The Doctor", Regina is an innocent girl that Jefferson hurts for personal gain, many years before his daughter was born, to make her believe that she couldn't save her True Love Daniel when they could have. Jefferson's tragic back story was a result of Laser-Guided Karma.
  • On Lost Jack starts as a Man of Science, focused on getting the survivors off the Island, while Locke is a Man of Faith, believing that people aren't supposed to leave the Island Because Destiny Says So. It goes on like this for four Seasons, until the first reversal happens in Season 5: Jack gets off the Island but becomes increasingly depresing and is looking for a way to come back, while Locke is now desperately searching for a way off the Island, believing it to be a necessary step to save everyone. After Jack gets back and Locke is killed, his face assumed by the Big Bad, things get even better: Jack is now a strong believer in Faith determined to stay on the Island, while Fake-Locke is a cynical pragmatist desperately trying to leave it. By the final episodes, the Survivors led by Jack are now trying to stop the Big Bad from doing the very same thing they tried to do for most of the series.
  • An episode of The Twilight Zone (1959), "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville," has the janitor for a large corporation talking with the CEO of the corporation about how he's just gotten a watch for his 40th year with the company, along with a few words about what it's like at the top versus the bottom. One botched trip to the past and several deals with the devil later, not only is the janitor now the CEO and the CEO the janitor, but each now has the personality of the other as well, and the watch gets a mention too.
  • In the season five finale of Seinfeld, "The Opposite", George, after realizing how terrible his life is, decides that, since his instincts have always been wrong, then going against them should be good for him. By doing so, he suddenly has a girlfriend, is able to move out of his parents' house, and lands his dream job for the New York Yankees. Meanwhile, Elaine, for whom things had been going great, suddenly finds herself unemployed, homeless, and in a romantic slump, realizing to her dismay that "I've become George!". Jerry lampshades the trope with his subplot of how he always manages to break even.
  • On NewsRadio, Matthew is usually the office Butt Monkey, suffering through the cruel pranks of office big shot Bill. Dave tells Matthew to assert himself to Bill, which he does by punching him in the face. Suddenly, Matthew is the office jerk, while Bill becomes meek and passive. The Reset Button is pressed when Bill, defending Matthew, accidentally slaps him, snapping Matthew out of his ego trip.

  • The play Pacific Overtures has two friends, one a samurai and the other a peasant with knowledge of the West, who wind up exchanging places. The samurai is made an ambassador of sorts with the foreign powers as Japan is forcibly opened to trade, and he becomes increasingly westernized in his dress and actions. Meanwhile the peasant, angry at the way Western powers are exploiting Japan, becomes a hardcore anti-West reactionary after being promoted to the samurai class. Tragedy ensues.
  • Macbeth: Initially, Macbeth shows more scruples/hesitancy to kill Duncan than does his wife, and she pushes him into doing it. Afterward, however, while Lady Macbeth goes increasingly mad from guilt, Macbeth's reaction to guilt is to seemingly lose all emotion and scruple and he far surpass his wife in villainy.
  • In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Antonio saved Sebastian's life after a horrific storm, when they were both mired in a strange country. Antonio grew very close to Sebastian, and even got into a duel in Sebastian's defense. When Antonio was placed under arrest by Orsino, his old rival, he expected that Sebastian would help him out — only for Sebastian to act like he's never met Antonio before. Antonio is heartbroken — but fortunately he had really met Sebastian's Half Identical Twin, and the real Sebastian is perfectly happy to help Antonio once he finds him again.
  • This is a big part of the plot of Shaw's The Devil's Disciple. Richard Dudgeon is introduced as a n'er-do-well who has his opposite in the Rev. Anthony Andersen, a philanthropic clergyman. The plot is set in motion when British soldiers come to arrest Andersen for treason and Dudgeon takes his place. Ultimately, Dudgeon's nobility and Andersen's weakness are revealed, and at the end of the story, Dudgeon is established as heroic (and much less seedy than he initially appeared), and Andersen has renounced religion and become a Blood Knight revolutionary. The trope is exaggerated, as Andersen asserts that since he has taken Dudgeon's place, Dudgeon must become a clergyman and take-up with Anderson's wife.

    Video Games 
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker features one of these; a rich man and a very poor man both have their daughters kidnapped, and the circumstances surrounding their return swaps them over, including general level of nastiness: The one who starts poor stays nasty and unsympathetic after gaining wealth, and the one who starts rich stays likeable after losing his wealth.
  • Suikoden IV has this with Lazlo and Snowe Vingerhut. The worse off one gets, the higher the other rises. While Lazlo copes with whatever hand he's dealt, Snowe never learns from his mistakes. Eventually, though, he finally makes his Heel–Face Turn and starts learning from his experiences in retrospect.
  • Delita and Ramza in Final Fantasy Tactics, who serve as foils to each other throughout most of the game. By the end of the story, Ramza has abandoned his ties to the nobility entirely, while Delita has assumed the highest position of power within the aristocracy.
  • Between Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr, Mario and Donkey Kong switch roles, the antagonist capturing somebody the protagonist cares about and holding them hostage. They must have worked things out though, as by the time Donkey Kong Country was released, each were the hero in their own respective series.
  • In World of Warcraft, Jaina Proudmoore started out as the Only Sane Man desiring peace between the Alliance and the Horde while Varian started out as a warmonger who wanted the Horde destroyed. Cue Mists of Pandaria and the destruction of Theramore at Garrosh's hands. Now Jaina is the one who bitterly wants revenge on the Horde while Varian is trying a slightly more diplomatic approach. Jaina even screws up Varian's attempt to bring the Blood Elves back into the Alliance by exiling them from Dalaran. At the end of the expansion Jaina is the one itching to wipe out the Horde even after Garrosh is overthrown while Varian is willing to leave the Horde in peace with nothing more than a stern warning.
  • In King's Quest III, Manannan is an evil all powerful Wizard. Gwydion/ Prince Alexander is his tragic slaveboy who is constantly tormented by the Wizard every day of his life. Though by breaking into his secret lab, Gwydion teaches himself Manannan's spells and becomes a novice wizard ultimately turning Manannan into a cat. So at that point, Gwydion is the one with all the magic, and Manannan is powerless and at the whim of his once slave.
  • In Portal 2, Wheatley begins as Chell (the player)'s friend, guiding her along, and helping her to defeat GLaDOS, the computer in charge of the facility, who is trying to kill Chell. Halfway through the game, though, Chell replaces GLaDOS with Wheatley and Wheatley subsequently decides to try to kill Chell, and GLaDOS, running off a potato, accompanies Chell and helps her defeat Wheatley.

    Web Animation 
  • Throughout the course of Inanimate Insanity, Apple had grown a fond distrust and anger towards Marshmallow. When he finally explains the reason why he was so angry to her in the beginning of Inanimate Insanity II, the two become Vitriolic Best Buds, with Apple wanting to make friends with Marshmallow and Marshmallow wanting to get away from Apple. When Marshmallow finds out Apple is faking their friendship in order to get closer in the game, she is the one hating on Apple, showing no remorse over him getting eliminated.

    Web Comics 
  • The arc of Band Vs Band where they get sick roughly follows this structure: when confined to her room with a broken ankle, Honey Hart slowly finds her plucky persona slipping, whereas gothic hellraiser Turperntine finds she can't raise hell half as well when she's lost her voice. They both come out of it with newfound respect for each other.

    Western Animation 
  • The plot of Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders episode "Dreamfields." Kale and Gwen are hit with some magic that causes them to hallucinate they've swapped places. It's enough to almost get Kale to Heel–Face Turn...but not quite.
  • This happens in Avatar: The Last Airbender episode aptly named "Crossroads of Destiny" between Aang and Zuko. Aang is The Chosen One who up to that point had successfully fought off The Empire, while Zuko was a banished, disgraced prince abandoned by his father, the Evil Overlord of said empire, after repeatedly failing to capture Aang. The episode finally sees Aang defeated with Zuko's help, and the following episode brings out that Zuko is now accepted as a prince again in his home country with the approval of his father and famed for killing The Hero, while Aang is thought to be dead after having failed to defend the capital of the one country that could fight against The Empire.
    Aang: I need my honor back.
    • This happens to Zuko and Azula as well. Azula had always been in her father's favor; a remorseless, sadistic killing machine, expert chessmaster, and flawless fire-bender while Zuko was The Unfavorite Noble Demon whose conscience made him too much of an outcast in the family. Zuko is eventually exiled from the Fire Nation and left longing for his father's acceptance, turning into a Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain after his many failures to catch Aang. Zuko's character development helps him get over his torment over being neglected by his father, and an expert in fire-bending, and with Aang's help he winds up taking the throne to end the war and become a celebrated leader. Azula, meanwhile, is brushed off by her father and tossed aside when he begins his ploy for global conquest, and after being confronted by her deeply repressed conscience, manifesting as a hallucination of her mother, Azula regresses into a pitiful, insane child. She's eventually confined to a madhouse, tormented by her deeply delusional belief that her mother never loved her as much as Zuko. Even when her mother later apologizes for abandoning her children, Azula still refuses to acknowledge her mother's love for her.
  • Samurai Jack; the episode "Jack Learns to Jump Good" starts with Jack rushing for a time portal which he believes will lead to his goal, only for Aku to appear out of nowhere, grab it, and mock the hero as he futilely tries to leap for it. End of the episode, the same thing happens, but now that Jack can "jump good", he interrupts Aku's gloating by doing so with his sword drawn straight for Aku's face, to the villain's utter horror.
  • On Gargoyles, the three-part "Hunter's Moon" arc has three siblings acting as the current Hunters. Jason, the oldest and leader, hates gargoyles the most; the youngest, Jon, was willing to believe gargoyles other than Demona might be innocent. When it seems like the gargoyles are responsible for Jason's death, however, Jon snaps and turns fully against them; Jason, meanwhile, actually survives and realizes the gargoyles are good. When Jason tried to defend them against Jon, the latter accidentally shoots and paralyzes the former, which he quickly blames on the gargoyles (in a Not So Different moment with Demona).
    Jon: What have I—what have they done to you?!
  • Batman: The Animated Series: The episode "Joker's Favor" begins with the Joker threatening to kill Charlie Collins after Charlie yelled at him for cutting him off in traffic, and ends with Charlie threatening the Joker with an ignominious death "blown to bits in an alley alongside a miserable little nobody". Charlie is perfectly content to prank The Joker, leaving him terrified and gibbering in Batman's custody, while the satisfied Everyman himself goes home to a possible meatloaf dinner.
  • The Looney Tunes short "Tree for Two" begins with Bully Bulldog Spike being fawned over by smaller dog Chester. The two encounter Sylvester and chase him, cornering him in an alley. Unfortunately, an escaped panther is hiding there, and whenever Spike tries to get Sylvester, the panther attacks him. Neither Spike nor Chester are aware of the panther, so Spike thinks it was Sylvester who beat him, while Chester, who is able to beat Sylvester easily, doesn't understand why his hero can be defeated by a puny cat. By the end of the cartoon their roles have been reversed, with Chester as the tough guy and Spike as the adulating fanboy.
    • In an early Daffy Duck cartoon, "Daffy Duck in Hollywood," Daffy plays the Screwy Squirrel tormenting the snobby director. By the end of the cartoon, Daffy is the snobby director while the snobby director is the Screwy Squirrel.
  • The climax to My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games reverses the roles from the climax in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls of Twilight Sparkle and Sunset Shimmer, where Human!Twilight turns into a monster and Sunset ends up turning her back.
  • In the Wander over Yonder episode "The Day", Wander is asleep and Sylvia has to find a way to escape Lord Hater and his Mooks while also keeping Wander asleep. This causes Sylvia to feel tired and needing some much needed rest, while Wander has a lot of energy after being asleep, leading into the events of "The Night", where Sylvia is asleep and Wander has to make sure she stays asleep, first from mundane things such as crickets to three of Lord Hater's Mooks trying to capture the two (who are also kind enough to keep Sylvia asleep).
  • In the Muppet Babies episode "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Dark", Beeker, having seen a slime monster movie a few nights ago, is scared of the dark and can't sleep (keeping Bunsen awake in the process), so Kermit and the others help show him there's nothing about the dark that's scary. In the end, Beeker conquers his fear of the slime monster and is able to sleep that night, however, Kermit, after all the encounters with the monster throughout the episode, is unable to.
  • In The Ren & Stimpy Show episode "Nurse Stimpy", Ren has gotten sick and Stimpy takes it upon himself to nurse him back to health. After enduring Stimpy's well-meaning but humiliating treatments throughout the entire episode, Ren is healthy again, but Stimpy has spent so much time watching over Ren that now he is sick, and Ren is all too happy to return the favor Stimpy gave him.