Evil has a lot of things going for it. It feels great
, it tastes great
, it has style
, and it's just plain cool.
For most of a given story, evil can probably be expected to give the heroes a very rough time, and if the Evil Overlord
and his Mooks
are competent enough, they will come alarmingly close to victory
before the end of the story.
But for all it has going for it, Evil is just not very conductive to teamwork.
You see, for a team to really come together
, there has to be some level of mutual trust. People on the same side need to know their friends will be there to bail them out in a tight spot
, and won't sell them out to the enemy or abandon them for some selfish gain at a bad moment
. They need to know that, when the going gets tough, or when some temptation arises, their allies will still be right by their side, through thick and thin. For the most part, such willingness to put the group before oneself is inherently at odds with the whole idea of being a Bad Guy.
And so we have this trope. While the heroes cling to the Power of Friendship
and trust in their True Companions
to see them through, the villains simply cannot trust one another. Always, even when their victory seems closest, it seems to come undone because the bad guys are inherently treacherous and suspicious of one another. If the Evil Overlord
is near to victory, you can expect The Dragon
to make some bid for personal power
at the last minute that gives the heroes enough breathing room to gain the victory. And if you have a team of more or less equal Card Carrying Villains
in it For the Evulz
, expect them to fall prey to this in no time at all, with their momentary shared goals falling by the wayside the second any of them sees an advantage in turning on their old 'friends.'
In short, this is Chronic Backstabbing Disorder
, or even just chronic lack of trust, applied as a persistent Achilles heel of the bad guys. Subtrope of Evil Will Fail
. Often results in an Enemy Civil War
or Evil Versus Evil
. Compare with The Complainer Is Always Wrong
and Evil Cannot Comprehend Good
. The opposite is Evil Is One Big Happy Family
and of course, Honor Among Thieves
. Could be considered a form of PVP Balance
, to make up for the fact that the heroes aren't allowed
to cross the Moral Event Horizon
to prevent Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy
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Anime and Manga
- Sailor Moon: The third season didn't need the Senshi or a Bad Boss to off the Quirky Miniboss Squad - they ended up saving everyone the trouble quite nicely.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Placido is so rotten he even steals from his partner Lucciano to accomplish his own - unauthorized - plan. (This takes the Trope Up to Eleven and becomes far more serious when you discover later that the Three Nobles of Yliaster - which Placido and Lucciano were members of) are three embodiments of one being, Aporia, meaning Placido was so full of hostility, it even extended towards himself.)
- In Dark Empire, Han Solo tries to recruit the help of Mako Spince, the man who helped him out when Han was first getting into the smuggling business, someone he considers a friend. Mako sells him out.
- For that matter, most of Han's old friends sell him out by The New Rebellion. Even Lando had, though Lando had a very good reason and had later doubled back to help him at great personal risk. The smuggler community actually regarded Han, and Lando to a lesser extent, as unrealistically honorable and idealistic even before they went straight.
- Star Wars. Somewhat in the films, but above all in the EU, the Sith, and later the Empire, have a nasty tendency to gain the ascendancy and then lose badly when they start turning on each other.
- Darth Bane's Rule of Two was an explicit attempt to mitigate the damage that this could do to the Sith by "legitimizing" it — there were to only be two Sith, the Master to have the power and the Apprentice to crave/take it.
- Pirates of the Caribbean has Will Turner comment "No heroes amongst thieves, eh?" when Jack tells him part of the Pirates Code; "Any man who falls behind is left behind". Of course, all the good pirates ignore this for the rest of the series.
- In Tangled, Flynn betrays some fellow thieves, the Stabbington brothers, early in the movie. It is a mark of his Character Development that he tries to make amends, but by that point, they don't just want the goods, they want Revenge.
- After Gothel uses the Stabbington brothers in her plan, they end up arrested while she leaves with Rapunzel.
- The hero in Dungeons & Dragons goes to a Thieves' Guild for help and to get an artifact he needs. When the head of said guild sells him out, he incredulously asks, "What happened to honor among thieves?" Said guild leader basically laughs in his face for having such a silly idea.
- This is after the hero specifically tells his reluctant partner, a young female mage whose mentor was betrayed and killed by a fellow mage, that a thief would never betray another thief.
- The opening scene of The Dark Knight illustrates the way Joker's henchmen kill each other for a bigger share of the loot.
- The Mel Gibson movie Payback starts with Porter (Gibson) being double-crossed by his partner for his share of the loot on a job. After recovering from his wounds Porter starts tracking down his old partner to get his cut of the money back.
- The Killers, based on the Ernest Hemingway short story, has a payroll heist with double and triple crosses among the thieves.
- Carlito from Carlito's Way, believes there's a street code of honor among criminals. He even did a prison bid by not snitching on the guy who was really guilty and took over as the boss after he was jailed. Unfortunately, this way of thinking leads to his demise. After he discovered his best friend and personal attorney was a snake, not worth defending.
- The norm in 5 Fingers (1952), as it was in the real life events during World War II that the film loosely depicts. The valet turned spy codenamed "Cicero" is betrayed by his confederate and would have been betrayed by his German spymasters had he not betrayed them first. He betrays his British employer during the main part of the movie, then cheerfully defects back to the British once it becomes clear that the Germans believe he has outlived his usefulness. Then he gives the slip to both sides, taking with him the money the Nazis paid him. The counterfeit money.
- Parker: Parker refuses to throw in with his partners and pool his share of the loot with them so they can pull a second a job. His partners shoot him, take his share of the loot and leave him for dead.
- Zig-zagged in Dungeons & Dragons with Ridley telling the mage Marina that, while their ruling mages backstab one another all the time, there is Honor Among Thieves. Later, he is proven wrong when Xilius tries to go back on his deal with Ridley and tells Ridley that things like honor matter little to him.
- Blue Streak starts with Miles Logan stealing a $17 million diamond, only for one member of his crew to shoot his protégé and try to make off with the diamond. After Logan is caught and spends 2 years in jail, the traitor comes back to demand the diamond that Logan hid before his capture. Logan in turn goes back on his word to him at the end and shoots him when the guy goes for his gun.
- Edward Norton betrays his partners in crime in both The Score and The Italian Job (2003). In the latter he betrays the crew after the successful titular heist, leading the rest to come back after him one year later. in both cases, he gets what he deserves.
- The Thieves: The casino heist dissolves into a complex web of double and triple crosses, as the various members of the Caper Crew each pursues their own ends.
- In Matchstick Men, not only does Frank run a Massive Multiplayer Scam against his longtime partner Roy, but Angela later reveals that he cheated her out of her cut, as well.
- Guerrero is gunned down by the other members of the Blackwater Gang when he disagrees with Red's plan for seizing control of the town in Dead in Tombstone.
- Flint's crew (many of whom later became Long John Silver's crew) in Muppet Treasure Island; "Every man on board would have killed his mate/ For a bag of guineas or a piece of eight."
- Allen Drury's novel The Promise of Joy. The Soviets and Chinese work together against the U.S. throughout most of the book, but near the end they start a limited nuclear war with each other.
- The Wheel of Time allows just as much ... individualism among the antagonists as the protagonists. Indeed, one member of the Black Ajah speculates that the Dark One may select for treachery among his servants. Back when there were more than 13 random Forsaken, however, they had apparently worked well enough together to be on the verge of winning the war.
- The wizard-run British Government in The Bartimaeus Trilogy is vastly corrupt and falling apart, because a wizard's standard childhood and upbringing teaches them to value their own ambitions over anything else.
- In Matthew Reilly's books The Six Sacred Stones and The Five Greatest Warriors, several factions of bad guys are forced to work together to complete the tasks necessary to save the world and gain Ultimate Power. They are even forced to work with the heroes from time to time. Needless to say, they don't trust each other and try to backstab each other at every opportunity.
- In the Forgotten Realms Siege of Darkness Drizzt Do'Urden notes that while dwarves will fight tooth, nail, and beard for their brethren, dark elves have no such luxury. Their defeat is partly because they can't count on each other for cohesiveness.
- Let us not forget how The Dark Elf Trilogy opens: With the Do'Urden House outright exterminating a rival house for political gain. And the destruction of House Do'Urden in Exile.
- According to The Zombie Survival Guide, bandit groups After the End will inevitably wipe themselves out from in-fighting.
- "And he wondered, even as the sword came butchering between his ribs, how he had ever thought that the East, whose essence was treachery, could ever stand."
— Empire of the East, Fred Saberhagen
- Varies among the Death Eaters in the Harry Potter series. Their degree of loyalty ranges from Bellatrix Lestrange, who is literally insanely loyal to Voldemort, to Igor Karkaroff, who ratted out other Death Eaters to avoid Azkaban. Most of the Death Eaters would seem to fall in the middle and will turn their back on Voldemort if it's to their advantage. Mainly because he would do the same to them.
- In Lord of the Rings, Sauron doesn't dare let his orcs know he's looking for the Ring of Power (some orc would likely steal it). So he can't tell his armies, "If you find a hobbit, kill it and send any rings it has back to me." Instead, he orders them to take hobbits alive, and transport them (with all their possessions, even weapons) back to him. Naturally, this lets several hobbits escape from orcs at key moments—especially because while the orcs may not know what's so important, they do know that the captives are very valuable, so they end up fighting over the hobbits anyway.
- And of course, Saruman may have gone over to Sauron, but they both know that given the slightest chance, he'll grab the Ring for himself—which limits their ability to work together effectively.
- A common trait in David Eddings' later series, particularly The Redemption of Althalus. The protagonists are a close-knit group more like a family than anything else, they have a major goddess in their fold (who fills the role of their mother), they have full command of said goddess' extradimensional house (allowing them to go literally anywhere they want), and they have an immense army of the best soldiers the world has to offer. The villains are supposed to mirror them (including having similar supernatural abilities), but they are constantly fighting with each other for authority, their god terrifies them and offers little help, and their house is a horror filled with flames which they do not use to much effect at all. And while they have an army of their own, their commander is obsessed with stone-age culture and at best allows flint weapons, as well as only rudimentary tactics.
- In the Parker novels, many of Parker's heists go astray when one of his partners decides to betray the crew and take the loot for themselves.
Live Action TV
- In one episode of My Name Is Earl the criminal community (i.e. all) of Camden turn on Earl when he reports the theft of a car to the police, calling him a snitch. However when one of the criminals gets picked up on Earl's info they in turn accuse another member of their community who has committed a more serious crime in order to get immunity for themselves. Earl makes sure he is standing outside the police station as they get released to let them know he knows that they too have "snitched", and that all their bragging of thieves hanging together is just that, empty bragging as there really is No Honour Among Thieves.
- Earl reported the theft because it was his car and the thieves did not want to give it back. In the old days the thieves would have returned it to him as a courtesy to a fellow thief. However, since Earl has gone straight, they felt that he was no longer covered by that Honour Among Thieves tradition. The cherry on top is that Earl figured out all the thieves giving him grief were snitching themselves because he noticed they each had an item from the drawer of cheap toys the cops offered him as a reward for snitching. So he just waits outside the police station until each of them comes in to snitch again.
- In Community episode "Modern Warfare", Pierce betrays Starburns while they're stealing from the vending machines.
- Michael Westen discusses this trope in the Burn Notice episode "Seek and Destroy":
One of the problems when you're running a criminal conspiracy is that there's no way to avoid trust issues with your employees. If you steal with a man, he knows you're a thief. If you kill with a man, he knows you're a killer. *beat
, as the criminal of the week is shot by his partner.* It's a huge management issue.
- Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? would always launch into the endgame with the villain of the day ratting out Carmen to the players. One even lampshaded it with "Honor among thieves? Surely you jest!"
- Supernatural: In season 7, the Leviathans start killing off the other monster races, since they don't feel like sharing their food supply (namely humans).
- Played straight and averted on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In general, vampires and demons will abandon or backstab each other all the time. There were, however, exceptions, usually taking the form of cults. The best example was the Order of Aurelius, the vampire cult that served as the main antagonists in Season One. In one episode, three vampire warriors offer their own lives in penance for failing to kill Buffy. They proved to be the exception, as shown when Spike, rather than offer his own life in penance for failing to kill Buffy, killed the Anointed One, and took over what was left of the Order.
- In season 3 of Necessary Roughness as soon as it looks like the FBI investigation is not going away, Cameron and Taylor turn on each other and try to set things up to make it look like the other one was behind the entire scheme. Cameron had the lead since he was Genre Savvy to let Taylor do all the things that could be traced and Taylor is desperate to turn the tables and get Cameron to incriminate himself.
- While the team itself falls under Honor Among Thieves on Leverage, many of their adversaries fall under this, especially Chaos who has Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
- In one episode of Power Rangers in Space, Storm Blaster managed to escape from Divatox's minions (having been taken prisoner along with Lightning Cruiser in the previous series. Divatox called Astronema, and asked (nicely) for her to keep an eye out for it, only for the current Princess of Evil to tell her straight out that she would keep it if she did find it. (This turned into a case of Nice Jobfixing It Villain, because Storm Blaster quickly found Justin who attracted the current Rangers, who were able to rescue Lightning Cruiser too, despite Astronema's attempts to catch the escapee; if the two villains had cooperated, it might have been harder for the heroes.)
- Warhammer 40,000. Orks and Chaos, especially Chaos. The Dark Eldar avert this: although backstabbing your superior is the only way to advance in Dark Eldar society, they're Genre Savvy about this trope and won't risk compromising a raid to get a personal advantage. Once the raid is over, though, they're fair game.
- Warhammer. Chaos, Orcs and Skaven especially.
- Titan Avatars in Scion are frequently at loggerheads. Muspelheim's avatars (Prometheus in particular) all plan to waylay Surtr once Ragnarok is over. The Drowned Road's two strongest avatars, Mami Wata and Ran, act aligned but will someday go for each other's throats, while Nu sits in the background and makes its own plots. Terra is led by Gaia, but the other avatars are open to offers. Sobe-no-Kumi is led by Mikaboshi... only because he arranged for Erebus to be pinned down in a deep part of the Titan. The list goes on; the only Titan without avatar issues is Akhenaten, and that's because Aten is its only avatar.
- Why is Aten the only avatar, you ask? That's because he ate all the rest. No honor among thieves doesn't begin to describe that.
- Exalted pretty much says flat-out that even if the Yozis' grand attempt at the Reclamation is successful in any way, the Ebon Dragon is going to turn on the other Yozis and try to keep them permanently locked up in Malfeas while he alone escapes. Why? Because he's the Ebon Fucking Dragon.
- In Dungeons & Dragons this is pretty-much a staple of drow society, whether your a thief, mercenary, ruler... basically anything. It's hard to find a drow who hasn't double-crossed an ally in order to get ahead. (In their society, a drow who isn't good at this is just going to be killed by someone it is. Their goddess actually encourages it.)
- In the Planescape campaign, the yugoloths are a race of greedy Lower Planar merchants who work for both sides of the eternal Blood War (or pretty much anyone else who will pay them) and they show no loyalty to anyone. A yugoloth is willing to betray his employer at the drop of a hat if the employer's enemy offers more money, and would abandon the mission in a heartbeat if its life was threatened. The worst part is, this is hardly a secret, but the demons and devils keep hiring them, mostly because no-one else is willing to be their suppliers agents, and hired troops. (Some stories and sources hint that the leaders of the yugoloths do this because they are engineering the entire Blood War and prolonging it on purpose as a grand experiment to discover which type of Evil is superior.)
- In Magic: The Gathering, The Orzhov Syndicate (or any White/Black pairing, really) tries to marry Black's greed and individualism with White's selflessness and collectivism by having having a counsel of ghosts running the guild, but keeping that counsel small. In theory, this group of individuals each view the other members as an extension of themselves, and act that way in kind. In practice, however, you get this trope; Each individual would gladly backstab the group and strike out on their own, but they can't handle the sudden loss of their power base coupled with having the rest of the group unified against them. So the guild continues on in this mockery of teamwork, because they can't afford not to.
- In The Emperor Jones, the title character tells his stooge Smithers, whom he can barely hide his contempt for: "Dere's little stealin' like you does, and dere's big stealin' like I does." Smithers, in Jones's absence, has nothing but hatred for him.
- Knights of the Old Republic. The Sith are rife with this problem throughout both the game itself and the backstory. Of particular note: the encouraged Chronic Backstabbing Disorder of the Sith leads to Malak attempting to kill his own master Revan, which deprives the Sith of their previous Magnificent Bastard leader and starts the chain of events that finally leads to Sith defeat.
- In the sequel, the Sith Triumvirate nearly succeeds in wiping out the Jedi. Then Darth Traya's apprentices, Darth Sion and Darth Nihilus, turn on her and then on each other. This allows Darth Traya to help the player in hunting them down.
- Warcraft. In game, merely used as an excuse for Civil Warcraft, the later backstory makes it clear that the Orcish Horde lost the second war because Gul'dan and Orcish clans loyal to him abandoned the Warchief at a decisive moment in favor of Gul'dan's own plans to find Sargeras.
- To be fair, Gul'dan never planned to stay loyal. He was always the true power behind the previous Warchief Blackhand. Orgrim betrayed Blackhand and then threatened to kill Gul'dan. Gul'dan swore loyalty, planning on breaking his oath the moment he saw fit.
- In fact, it was Orgrim's own sense of honor that doomed the Horde more than Gul'dan's betrayal. Not wanting Gul'dan to escape unpunished, he sent a huge chunk of his own forces to hunt him down. Not only did it force him to lift his siege of Lordaeron, but the forces sent after Gul'dan suffered heavy losses killing the traitor clans and were then further obliterated on the way back by a surprise attack at sea by Admiral Proudmoore, leaving only a few thousand warriors. Had Orgrim chosen to continue the siege instead of seeking revenge, he would have razed Lordaeron, likely winning the war.
- In Mega Man Star Force 3, none of the members of the Dealer syndicate have any real loyalty to their boss Mr. King. They all readily betray him as soon as it suits their own purposes.
- Quest for Glory IV has a literal version of this. The Chief Thief has been turned into a giant cockroach monster, but you can earn his gratitude by finding the Artifact of Doom that did it, making him human again. At that point, you're free to kill him (try when he's a bug and he'll spit acid on you). You suffer absolutely no consequences - except for the fact that your Honor stat drops to 0 immediately. The narration even drops the trope name afterwards.
- Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (go figure). From the get-go there's all kinds of back-stabbing and betrayals going on, even from our hero, Nathan Drake. Good thing Elena shows up to set him straight.
- Mass Effect 2 has a classic case of this when Shepard encounters the "MSV Strontium Mule", which has been recently invaded by a group of Blue Suns mercs. When the commander takes down the group's leader, Captain Vorhess, we soon find out Sergent Bootis deliberately held back his men, so Vorhess would be killed, leaving him in charge and more loot for the survivors. "The fewer men left, the bigger the prize for each of us". Needless to say, not combining all your available forces against Commander Shepard is essentially suicide. His betrayal only grants him a swifter death. This is made into an even stupider move when he notes how big of a threat Shepard is in a datapad.
- Also shows up with Zaeed's Backstory. His business partner for the private military company the two started had this mindset. He hired terrorists and such, leading to a case of Even Evil Has Standards from Zaeed, resulting in said criminal further cementing his belief in this trope by hiring Zaeed's own men to kill him.
- This seems to be one of the main themes of Mafia II, with the various intrigues between the 3 major crime families and the many betrayals committed by pretty much every Mafia member against each other and the player character. This is in sharp contrast to the much more idealized vision of The Family seen in the first game.
- In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Tommy Vercetti believes that among the family nothing is more important than honor and loyalty. However as the story progresses he soon realizes he was very much alone in this belief as Sonny has screwed him at every turn.
- In the intro, Sonny pretty much states that he intends to come in and take over after Tommy has managed to establish himself in Vice City.
- It's brought up in Diablo III as possibly the reason the forces of Evil have never managed to defeat the forces of Good. And why all the hosts of heaven can't stop Diablo when all of the Great Evils are contained within him.
- In episode 303 of Sam & Max: Freelance Police, General Skun-Ka'pe and Monsieur Papierwaite team up over a mutual hatred of Sam. Max can talk to them both individually and find that there's a bit of tension bubbling under the surface. Exploit this and...
Skun-Ka'pe: I can't believe I've allied myself to a snivelling irritant like you!
Papierwaite: Irritant? Do you think I enjoy having my schemes yoked to an uncouth half-naked space-fascist who can't even capture a six foot tall dog in a suit?!
Skun-Ka'pe: I assume you can do better, you half-witted conjurer?!
Papierwaite: Watch me.
- Inverted with Malva in Pokémon X and Y, who claims she does possess such honor. It's why she helps you post-story in the Looker quest, she claims.
- Inverted in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Second Chance". The Penguin clearly does possess honor among thieves, as he tells Batman when the hero suspects him of ordering Two-Face kidnapped.
Penguin: True, he cheated me out of jewel encrusted statue of a two headed roc... It was worth millions. But my dear Batman, I would never snatch a fellow rogue from his sickbed. Is simply isn't done.
Batman: Honor among thieves?
Penguin: Precisely. If I wanted to attack Harvey, I'd do it face to face... To face, as it were.
- Superfriends: Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show had one episode titled "No Honor Among Thieves". In that episode, Lex Luthor created a device to steal powers from the heroes and asked for Darkseid's help. Luthor tried to doublecross Darkseid but Darkseid was Crazy-Prepared enough to cover Luthor in kryptonite dust since, with Superman's powers, comes his weakness. Luthor still managed to use El Dorado's powers to send the powerless heroes the means to escape death. He then got a Title Drop.
- In The Simpsons episode "Lisa's First Word", it is revealed that Grandpa won his house in a rigged 60's game show, and he proudly says, "I ratted on everyone and got away scot-free!"
- In one episode of Samurai Jack, the brutal bounty hunter Ezekiel Clench decides to call a truce with his ex-wife Josephine to bring in Jack. Amazingly, they are actually able to subdue the hero, but it turned out to be a very bad idea on Zeke's part; she double crosses him, and this gives Jack the opportunity to pull one on her too and get away. (In fact, seeing as Zeke is the one who had a restraining order against her, it's likely that she did something like before.)
- The Nazis often ran into a lot of trouble because everyone in the government was trying to carve out their own little fiefdom at the expense of everyone else, even when the war was clearly being lost.
- The Nazis and basically every regime ever in power.
- It did happen particularly often with the Nazis since Hitler actively encouraged this sort of behavior. His motivation was a mixture of "divide and rule" and an odd form of social Darwinism.
- Happens with a LOT of criminal groups in the real world. If they think they can make more money by killing a "friend", or simply need to throw someone to the wolves to save themselves, they'll do so without a second thought. Many criminal organisations are often brought down by snitches who will turn informant the moment they face time behind bars for their crimes.
- During the Enron hearings, after years of corporate fraud was discovered, both Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, tried to put all of the blame on their third partner in crime, Andrew Fastow, who himself was putting a lot of money aside and was planning on abandoning Enron. He instead pleaded guilty to a lesser sentence in exchange for testifying against both Kenneth Lay and Jeffery Skilling.