Except in parodies, all villains in fiction are magically immune to the problems of bureaucracy, logistics, and bad luck. Their powers are so strong that this even transfers to their lowest minions. This trope is the opposite of the much less common (but much more realistic) Dystopia Is Hard
Let's say you want to ride in an airplane. The airline staff are always putting your luggage on the wrong plane but if an agent of the Government Conspiracy
is riding the same plane, his luggage will always be fine. Why? Somehow, the conspiracy makes everybody as competent as their masters - even the airline staff they bribe, who are barely in on the conspiracy at all.
Even stranger is that the power of the conspiracy extends to people who don't work for them. Does the airport have an Obstructive Bureaucrat
who makes people miss their planes by petty delays? On bombing day, he'll suddenly be clean and efficient, and the agent will board on time. The conspirators didn't bribe him or blackmail him - he will simply never make a mistake that could hurt them. This power does not extend to the heroes, who may be strip-searched by the bureaucrat while the bomber goes untouched.
The Government Conspiracy
isn't the only group that can do this. An army of Nazis, Orcs, Scary Dogmatic Aliens
, etc., can march anywhere, any time, without slowing down to rest or eat, while the poor heroes are tired and hungry all the time. Logistics problems - insuffficient reinforcements, food, fuel, medicine, pay, equipment, weapons, ammunition, spare parts - don't apply to them
. The villainous army never slows down because an Evil Supply Officer forgot to order enough supplies, or because a greedy Evil Supply Officer sold some for cash, or because their needs were just plain impossible to meet
. Meanwhile, any heroic army will have at least one Obstructive Bureaucrat
getting in the way.
This power extends further to inanimate objects. An evil commander's cell phone never goes out of order, but a hero's cell phone will go out of order whenever it would be inconvenient
for the author. The stupid ticket machine at the airport which ate the heroes' money will always give the villains the plane tickets they need. The villains will never fail at anything For Want of a Nail
The exception is a Spanner in the Works
, but that usually happens at the end.
This is perfect for maintaining a Masquerade
. You can have hundreds, nay, thousands
of people keeping the same secret, and nobody will screw it up. The Men in Black Cleaners
will never get the wrong address and remove all evidence of alien activity at the house next door of where they should have gone. The assassin never gets cold feet or an attack of guilt or decides he can make more money through blackmail
or writing a tell-all book detailing the conspiracy. The commanders never put their own careers
over the goals of the organization, The Weirdness Censor
fails so rarely that the Only Sane Man
is easily dismissed, and the Mooks
never form a union
The only way that an Enemy Civil War
can occur is through deliberate manipulation on the heroes' part (such as Feed the Mole
In an evil empire this is sometimes justified
because any incompetent officials were long ago executed
and been replaced with much more efficient and highly motivated employees. The Heroes on the other hand will constantly try to improve these incompetents rather than just firing and replacing them
One more thing; this trope describes (real or fictional) entities which are either realistically prone to complications or unrealistically immune. Examples of how (real or fictional) entities are protected
by the Weirdness Censor
, Mind Control
, human nature
, or integrate those complications into their plans
From a narrative standpoint, this happens because it is emotionally satisfying to see the intrepid heroes defeat the villain's Evil Plan
because of their determined efforts to overcome both the villain's schemes and random obstacles. It is considerably less satisfying to see the villain fail because the airline lost his luggage and the heroes got lucky. Also, the audience usually wants to see that the villain's plan would have succeeded were it not for the heroes, and because Villains Act, Heroes React
, the villain's first action would have to have succeeded. That said, there are still plenty of aversions and inversions in the examples below.
Supertrope to Repressive But Efficient
. Inversion of Evil Will Fail
and Fascist, but Inefficient
. Gambit Roulette
is a Sister Trope
, where all the factors that would most likely make The Plan
fail just don't happen.
See also Hanlon's Razor
, Villains Blend in Better
, Sinister Surveillance
, Offscreen Villain Dark Matter
and Reality Is Unrealistic
. When this happens in Video Games
, it's because The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard
Contrast Harmless Villain
, Third Act Stupidity
. Not to be confused with Mobile Menace
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Anime and Manga
- Mazinger Z: Dr. Hell only has to worry about his subordinates doing how they are told and not betraying him. He has not to worry about them delaying or running in some kind of trouble or unexpected event that ruins the operation, or mishandling, losing or breaking down the technology and equipment that he hands over to them. They will always arrive at the appointed place at due time, and no operation will fail due to lack of coordination between several squads (although once, in an alternate manga version, an operation failed because one of his Co-Dragons took too long to be ready and the another lost his patience and attacked before time). His spies and moles don't run into troubles (suspicious guards, delayed flights...) either when they have to infiltrate into the Home Base to performing spying or sabotaging missions.
- The plot of Saiyuki is that our guys are going way, way west to confront the evil woman sending out the pulse that has driven all the youkai insane and destroyed the society of Shangri-la, to get the magic scroll. They are doing this in a jeep that is really a three-foot dragon. Their Noble Demon antagonist Kougaiji and his gang regularly commute from their ultimate destination to them, in their jeep on the road, and back. Enforced since Kanzeon could easily send them straight there, but she doesn't because the journey is as important as the destination.
- Averted in a gag in the Sailor Moon S season where Eudial calls Haruka's house to leave a message on her answering machine that she has found the holder of a talisman. Eudial's message gets cut off by the answering machine only allowing messages of a certain length, and then she has to call back and leaves the rest of her message, which begins with her yelling about the answering machine cutting her off in the first message.
- Averted in The Invisibles. King Mob regards the all too human workforce of the evil overlords as their greatest weakness. See the quote page.
- Interesting use of this in Judge Dredd during the reign of Judge Cal. The entire city got very efficient (what with the death penalty for incompetence and all) but this ended up helping the heroes as the postal service was efficient enough to get them a vital piece of evidence before anyone worked out that it had been copied. Of course this just led Judge Cal to see it as his master work and plans to kill everyone in Mega-City One.
- Averted in V for Vendetta (except for the fact that the government is fascist). The people who work for the Norsefire government all have their personal quirks and flaws, which V is able to exploit to bring them down. Take Derek Almond, who confronts V with an empty gun that he emptied earlier that night so he could threaten his wife without actually endangering her. And Almond's death sends his wife on the downward spiral that ultimately leads her to assassinate Leader Adam Susan.
Films — Animated
- Lampshaded in The Emperor's New Groove, when Kronk and Yzma make it back to the palace before Kuzco and Pacha in spite of having a delay.
Kuzco: Wait, how did you get here before us?
Yzma: I - How did we get here before them, Kronk?
Kronk You got me. (Displays a map that shows them having fallen into a ravine) By all accounts it doesn't make sense.
- Averted in Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent spends years trying to find Aurora to no avail, only to discover that her cronies have spent 16 years looking for an infant.
Films — Live-Action
- Subverted in Brazil. The government is not portrayed as infallible (the crippling bureaucracy makes it highly inefficient, and the driving force of the plot is the result of an insect randomly falling into a printer) but everyone thinks it is. This ranges from the mildly humorous (a civil servant calls his wife by the wrong name because his superior once mistook her name, as well as believing he has triplets rather than twins) to the incredibly dark (an innocent man is arrested, charged with terrorism, and tortured to death because of a minor printing error on the arrest warrant; when confronted, the torturer excuses the death because he had not been informed of the man's heart condition, having received the file for the actual criminal). Any mistakes by the bureaucracy, if even acknowledged, are decried as the result of terrorist sabotage.
- The live-action Death Note film has L point out that large, secret organizations have statistically increasing degrees of inefficiency, proportional to their size. He gives this as evidence for his deduction that Kira is more likely an individual rather than a conspiracy.
- Death Note as a whole averts this trope as virtually all the factions have slackers or incompetents (Matsuda, Misa, Sidoh etc.)... but loses points to the few key players being hypercompetent Chessmasters capable of pulling off Gambit Roulettes. Repeatedly.
- In Outland, the shuttle bringing the assassins sent to kill the protagonist arrives early. In the Mad Magazine parody, the hero comments that this is the first flight in the history of the station to not arrive late.
- Downplayed in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, where the bad guys are a relatively small band of Eastern European terrorists, rather than (as usual in Bond films) the well-funded personal army of a megalomaniacal multi-billionaire. One scene has the lead terrorist's accountant complaining to him about 3 vehicles destroyed by Bond in a preceding chase scene; they were rented and the rental company is going to be pissed. Roger Ebert even cited this little scene in his review of the movie while musing about where the villains in movies manage to get all their logistics so tidily.
- Zig-zagged in Eagle Eye. We still see things like jurisdictional disputes between agencies, but the government's computers have no problem with bandwidth limits or loading times, can interface instantly with any device even remotely connected to "the grid" (including power lines) without needing to install drivers, and operate all manners of technology from mall security cameras to heavy construction equipment way beyond the abilities of the actual hardware. It borders on hilarious to anyone who knows a little bit about how these devices function - it doesn't matter how sophisticated the software you cram into your Ford Model-T is, you're not gonna get it to function like a modern Bentley, much less to fly or go underwater.
- Averted in American Tabloid. A plot to kill JFK in Miami falls apart, with Dallas being a hastily kludged together but successful back-up plan.
- The Draka are an exaggeration of this trope. They are founded by loyalists fleeing North America after the Revolutionary War and they somehow turn South Africa into a productive, industrialized slave-owning state within ten years. By 1900 they control all of Africa and have the second-largest economy in the world. By 1950 they control almost of Eurasia as well. They're technologically a generation ahead of everyone else and less than 10% of their population isn't a slave. They never fail, they always win, and the world's other nations never do anything about it until it's too late. When they know the Draka are planning a first strike against them, they delay their own in the hopes they can negotiate peace. This is despite the fact the Draka's ideology is "enslave the strong, crush the weak, torture/rape the rest". Nuclear holocaust is preferable to Drakan rule. The entire trilogy is S.M. Stirling handing Social Darwinist slave owners an "I Win" button.
- It is worth noting, though, that Stirling intended to create a truly awful dystopia.
- One way of knowing that the Royal Military of Markerterion in Stationery Voyagers isn't too evil is that they DO have to worry about mass incompetence in their ranks. While not themselves entirely immune to the Idiot Ball, most of Astrabolo's Yehtzig Pirate League plays this trope straighter and if they DO fail to accomplish something the easy way...they seem to always have a rocket launcher handy to compensate.
- The Party of Oceania in Orwell's 1984 is somehow able to monitor all Outer Party members at all times, maintain the Thought Police, operate multiple fronts for false recruitment into a resistance, and so on, despite the economy being perpetually in shambles.
- This was parodied by British humorist Alan Coren in a short story entitled 'Due To Circumstances Beyond Our Control, 1984 Has Been Unavoidably Cancelled...' which depicted Winston Smith in a world filled with the apathetic, the lazy, the bloody-minded and the incompetent. The telescreens are broken, Room 101 contains a single wheezing stoat because they can't get rats at this time of year, etc. The author's note at the start of the story states that it is intended to prove 'that totalitarianism could never work in Britain. Nothing else does, so how could it?'
- As Isaac Asimov pointed out in his review of 1984 (which he thought was overrated), while the economy of Oceania is in shambles, the television sets (which always have to be switched on) seem to work all the time.
- Though in fairness, as revealed/explained away in the Goldstein book that Winston reads in the novel, the three super-nations each create artificial inefficiency and stagnation, since it keeps the population in a constantly deprived state which makes them more easy to manipulate and control. After all, does telescreen repair have to happen within the perception of the main characters in order for it to happen?
- Also noted by Terry Pratchett in Hogfather; paraphrasing "considering their track record in every other area, governments seem rather remarkably competent in the field of hushing things up".
- C. S. Lewis played with this. The Lowerarchy in The Screwtape Letters is largely held together by fear of retribution, because demons hate everything good, including efficiency, but acknowledge that their plans rely (for the moment) on certain "good" qualities remaining in play. Every so often something Goes Horribly Wrong...or awesomely right, if you're one of the good guys.
- Lewis acknowledges this again in The Chronicles of Narnia book The Horse and His Boy (set during the reign of the kids). The Evil Prince Rabadash is angered when Susan rejects his marriage proposal but knows that his country's massive armies can't cross the desert to reach Narnia. He decides to collect 200 horsemen in an attempt to kill the King of Archenland(Narnia's neighbor) and gain a foothold. Even then it takes the better part of two days to get the men ready.
- Justified in Codex Alera. At first, the obstreperous Obstructive Bureaucrat in a position of authority in the valley garrison looks like a Contrived Coincidence, making things harder for the heroes and easier for the villains for no good reason. Later, though, we learn that the bureaucrat is an innocent if incompetent guy, but the Big Bad Friend was so Crazy-Prepared that before the story started he spent weeks sabotaging the valley garrison, including getting incompetent people reassigned to important places.
- The Cold War-era political thriller Pentagon is an Author Tract against the U.S. military procurement system, and Anviliciously examines the bureaucratic infighting and interservice rivalry that paralyzes America's military response to the chillingly efficient Soviet invasion of a Pacific island to use it as a nuclear missile base.
- Massively averted in The Belgariad and The Malloreon series, for the protagonists (which could have, say...large numbers of cultists hidden within a country's power structure) and antagonists (the heroes even rely on or induce bureaucratic incompetence and greed to get ahead). Hell, even the Prophecies themselves are technically susceptible to random chance (though they're also infinitely more knowledgeable and powerful, and have mostly been able to avoid or swiftly deal with unexpected problems).
- When Torak invaded the Eastern Kingdoms, he did so with what ought to have been massive numerical superiority; he had the Malloreans, millions of 'em, an entire continent to throw against the disunited and underpopulated eastern kingdoms. But his Mallorean army tried to march up to meet him through the desert of Rak Cthol, and got foundered by a massive blizzard on the way; they never showed up to the final battle, and Kal Torak was defeated. note
- The Swiss crime story The Pledge revolves around subverting this trope: A cop spends years analyzing a serial killer's MO, finding out who the next victim will be and and builds a relationship with the victim's family to use them as bait - but the killer never strikes. After several years, the cop's gone mad and refuses to believe he was wrong. He actually was right, but the killer died in a car accident on his way to the crime. Wah wah waaaaaah...
- Repeatedly subverted in the Honor Harrington series, where the heroic Star Kingdom of Manticore is a dynamic, powerful, stable and competent force - at least when its government is out of the hands of anyone Honor disagrees with - while their various enemies are incompetent, disunited, or struggling to do some good despite the system's corruption, and generally only prove a threat because of their massive numbers. The subversion is particularly noticeable with the Solarian League, who were long talked up as being a powerful, advanced and professional outfit until Manticore actually engages their ships, and we realize they're corrupt, unimaginative plodders who can't get anything done because they're too busy saving face.
- Some critics have pointed out that the Sollies somehow have all the disadvantages of a loose federation of individual states, and the disadvantages of a huge bureaucratic superstate. And they somehow managed to miss a war taking place on their doorstep, involving a nation which they are critically dependent on for most of their trade. There's strong indications Weber didn't really think through what they were.
- The Honor Harrington series, it should be noted, changed when Weber decided not to kill Honor off. But the main reasons the Sollies get caught so short is 1)that they are being manipulated by Mesa, and 2) that they've been so powerful for so long that their contempt for all non-Solarians has mousetrapped them. There are strong indications that some critics didn't really understand what they were reading in the Harrington series.
- In Fight Club Tyler Durden is so charismatic that he manages to brainwash hundreds, if not thousands of guys (including cops) into carrying out his plan and all of his minions are super-competent. The only thing that could bring him down was himself.
- The heroes in Tom Clancy's novels are subject to this from about Red Storm Rising on. The US military and intelligence agencies are staffed with supremely competent agents from the lowliest grunt to the most senior general or administrator. All these agencies cooperate well and share information, and the infamous real-life rivalry between the CIA and the FBI, or the fights for funding between the army, navy and air force, are nowhere to be found. Agents are given experimental equipment that works perfectly as advertised the first time out in the field. When the villains inevitably make a small misstep in their master plan, the protagonists are on them like white on rice.
- Vampire: The Masquerade occasionally suffers from this. While the Camarilla is desperate to keep humans from finding out about the existence of vampires, the Sabbat apparently gets a free ride - government agencies and police forces are apparently totally oblivious to them, even though they actively work to undermine the Masquerade. This was noted and explained in the Sabbat Splatbook - while the Sabbat officially scoffs at the thought of hiding from humanity, its own elders have come to the same conclusion as the Camarilla: Humanity knowing about vampires would be Bad News, which is why any Sabbat packs engaging in too obvious activities are told to turn it down and clean up after themselves in no uncertain terms. The difference between the sects is mostly in the clean-up: The Camarilla hides its skeletons in the closet with media manipulation and memory-rewrites, the Sabbat simply puts any witnesses right into the closet as well. The only time the Sabbat actively works at breaking the Masquerade is when fighting the Camarilla, reasoning that the other sect will believe the Sabbat doesn't care about humans finding out about them and thus spend its own resources to clean up, essentially making the whole thing into a game of Chicken.
- The real winners for making the trains run on time in the Old World of Darkness were from other games though. Werewolf had Pentex, an evil corporation with Bond Villain resources at its disposal that was absolutely ruthless in covering its tracks. And Mage took the cake with the Technocracy, an international high-tech conspiracy with near limitless funds dedicated to eradicating all evidence for (and belief in) the supernatural.
- For the Technocracy, when the powers in your docket include altering reality, it's a bit easier. Phrased differently, when a train's about to be late, the Technocracy makes time match the train. This makes it a lot easier to run a conspiracy. Many players of the Old World of Darkness wondered why the Technocracy hadn't eliminated all other supernaturals yet. Several explanations were offered, including a metaplot event where the Technocracy exhausted a good third of its manpower and resources against a single vampire antediluvian. Most were acceptable to Vampire and Werewolf fans while Mage fans remained unconvinced.
- Averted in the New World of Darkness with Mage: The Awakening. Several of the mage factions run conspiracies amongst the Sleepers, and one of them works towards the purpose of actively ruling the world. However, one of those factions organizes itself in a highly decentralized manner, the world ruling one is far less efficient than it makes itself out to be, due to incompetence and politicking at every level (and largely attributes its success to divine providence), and another is devoted to creating an incomprehensible mess of conspiracies which don't really do anything, as a means of misdirecting the Sleepers from the real secrets. The overall ability to maintain secrecy is largely aided by the Sleepers' tendency to destroy magic when observing it and then forget all about it. Nevertheless, mages are capable of complicated scheming, considering the powers they possess (including the ability to manipulate luck).
- Played relatively straight in Hunter: The Vigil. While none of the conspiracies are strictly "evil", the Cheiron Group is a thoroughly amoral corporation dedicated to harvesting supernatural body-parts for profit, and very keen on performing painful and potentially lethal modifications on their field agents (sometimes with consent, but always without explaining the downsides). On the other hand, the government-run agencies such as Task Force Valkyrie and VASCU are generally dedicated to protecting the general public from monstrous enemies, fighting the good fight, and so on. Guess which factions are frequently hampered by bureaucracy, infighting and budget cuts?
- Then again, Valkryie and VASCU actually have these moral scruple thingies that prevent them from using mind control implants on their own employees, or selling monster parts on the black market for ridiculous profit...
- In Rifts, the Coalition States pretty much never has to worry about the little things that bring other nations/militaries to a grinding halt. During the Siege on Tolkeen, the largest amassing of soldiers since the Great Cataclysm, the Coalition had no worries about supply lines or any other kind of logistics. Incompetence is unknown to them. Even the Sorcerer's Revenge, a massive assault carried out by Tolkeen forces that completely routed the enemy and sent them back to behind their own borders, was more or less a distraction (albeit a rather large one). The greatest example is probably the army of General Jericho Holmes, who during the Sorcerer's Revenge was driven into Xiticix territory, and then ignored because it was a safe assumption the Xiticix would wipe them out. Unfortunately for Tolkeen, General Holmes had studied the Xiticix in great detail, and worked out a strategy to move his men through their lands and back out on the other side of Tolkeen with 3/4 of his army still intact. The question of how a General cut off from his army and all his allies managed to keep 400,000 soldiers fed (not to mention other battlefield necessities) is never addressed.
- In Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium is the largest aversion to this trope. The galaxy spanning empire is rife with corruption and bureaucracy (in fact, there are entire PLANETS of Obstructive Bureaucrats). If a planet or system falls under attack, it can take years to organize a sizeable relief force and get to the front lines, assuming there aren't any freak Warp storms to delay or outright destroy the fleet. It's so bad that entire planetary systems are lost and armies rerouted to the wrong place due to rounding errors. The only faction that seems to play this trope straight are the Forces of Chaos, if only because by their very nature they sneer and heckle such fool concepts as logistics and casualty.
- The novels can play this a bit straighter, however. Especially with regards to the forces of Chaos... it essentially always falls to the heroes to intervene to actually stop the plots of The Enemy, they're never thwarted by not knowing their way around Imperial bureaucracy, failing to corroborate intel, or improper maintenance of their ships.
- Alpha Complex in Paranoia can be an example of this, depending on GM whim: a glittering engine of menace where puppets flawlessly dance at the end of Ultraviolet strings, or a sputtering wreck held together with spit and bailing wire. Either way, it's a dystopia, and the player's characters are hopelessly screwed.
- Invoked in the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting, Eberron. The empire of Riedra is ruled by the Inspired, ruthless overlords who keep the nation oppressed under an iron fist and keep things running more or less smoothly, due to very hard work on their part (mostly involving cultural manipulation and mass psychic brainwashing that keeps the populace docile). Another evil group, the Heirs of Ohr Kaluun, is made up of insane cultists who want to overthrow the Inspired, but it's clear that if they took over Riedra, everything the Inspired worked so hard to maintain would come crashing down on them.
- The Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation TRIP" is based on this. Two spies chasing Numbuh Three are plagued by horrible coincidences, like bumping in to a rabid dog, getting on the wrong train, and so on. In the end, it turns out that every accident they had was arranged by the heroes.
- Subverted in an episode of Jackie Chan Adventures. The episode's antagonists, a well-organized magical cult, plan to harness the Stonehenge's magical power. These cultists had planned for every possible event and had Jackie and Jade in a tight spot for most of the episode. They ultimately complete their ritual, only to discover that the Stonehenge really wasn't magical. Hilariously, a UFO lands at the site after everyone has left.
- South Park spoofed this in "Mystery of the Urinal Deuce", by explaining that the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists are in fact employed by the government to make people think that they're actually capable of doing such a thing.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: This tended to happen a lot in the second season with Azula. She was always wherever she wanted or needed to be. Unlike Zuko, who ran into constant obstacles and troubles, Azula's pursuit of the Avatar is carried out with the implacibility of a machine. Azula herself is ruthless and smart enough that it is fair to think she brooks no delays, but all of her minions seem to be granted the same magical immunity to inconvenience.
- In her first real appearance at the start of season two, Azula is told that the tides will not allow them to dock the ship, so they'll have to wait for a more favorable time. She threatens to kill the captain, and he presumably manages to fight the tides, so she definitely does everything she can to invoke this.
- Though the episode also features an inversion, when one of her crewmates casually refers to Zuko and Iroh as prisoners, tipping them off (though Iroh was already suspicious) and allowing them to escape. She's absolutely livid, and the crewmate clearly fears for his life.
- Deconstructed in the Family Guy parody of Star Wars, wherein Darth Vader (played by Stewie) is wary of cost accumulations in building the Death Star, and a snarky comment from one of the Imperial officers in response to an order to hold his fire returns an angry retort from his supervisor that it's easy for him to joke when he has no budgetary responsibilities:
Imperial Officer 1: Hold your fire. There's no life forms aboard.
Imperial Officer 2: "Hold your fire?" What, are we paying by the laser now?
Imperial Officer 1: You don't do the budget, Terry. I do.
- Similar to the Family Guy example, The Venture Bros. shows that the minions of the supervillains often question the order of their bosses, have very human failings, have a union of their own and will bring their negotiating demands to their bosses who themselves constantly struggle with budgetary contraints. This show loves taking the demolition ball to any trope it can find.
- Subverted and exaggerated in Invader Zim. Both Zim and Dib run into numerous problems every single time they try to execute their plans. Whenever Zim tries to conquer and/or destroy Earth, it is ruined either by Dib, Zim's own incompetence, or random disasters. Whenever Dib tries to expose Zim, the evidence is ruined by Zim, Dib's own incompetence, random disasters, or simply ignored by everyone else due to their own stupidity. Zim commonly expresses paranoia about being found out, but fails to realize that the humans are too stupid to notice even after he has gone running around in public wreaking havoc numerous times himself.