Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering

"It was bizarre. You have to understand that there was a huge, roaring battle going on between my friends and the Hork-Bajir. And I was standing there, having just punched out a Leeran. But all the two Vissers seemed to care about was trashing each other.

Politics. I guess it's the same everywhere."
Marco, The Escape

This is a powerful organization that could have a strong impact on the plot. Unfortunately, its members are too busy arguing to do anything.

If the heroes take orders from them, their lack of a united front may prevent the protagonists from taking action. Even if there is a Reasonable Authority Figure among them, their voice rarely rises above all the bickering. The most interesting thing its members ever do will be using their fists in the debate.

Sometimes, this is a result of The Mole or Les Collaborateurs actively trying to prevent the organization from taking action. In other situations, the problem is internal: faced with insurmountable odds, the group has given up, or simply decided the issue is not their problem. Certainly, there is no Leader.

The group can range from an Absurdly Powerful Student Council that cannot agree what to do with a problematic bully to a version of The Alliance where every member country, from The Kingdom to The Republic, has a very different idea how deal with The Empire's war on The Federation.

See We ARE Struggling Together and Divided We Fall, and Jurisdiction Friction if it's not one organization but several who are having trouble reconciling their differences. Compare Orcus on His Throne and Achilles in His Tent for individual cases of people who could strongly affect the plot but do nothing for various reasons. Also compare A House Divided, Hufflepuff House, All-Powerful Bystander.

Contrast Omniscient Council of Vagueness, which is rarely seen doing anything but seems to have strong — if mysterious — impact on the plot. In the end, don't expect them to move their pieces in the Divine Chessboard at all, leaving themselves open to a checkmate by the villain's agents.

Please avoid real life examples.


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  • Axis Powers Hetalia depicts the Allied Powers of World War II in this way; each of the five (six if you include Canada) are so wrapped up in their individual agendas that they never seem to get around to actually stopping the Axis, despite the fact that they're perfectly capable. Particularly noticeable in that their arguments often have nothing to do with the actual war effort - more often they're about things like America's spotlight-hogging, England's bad cooking, or Russia's general creepiness.
    • Unfortunately Truth in Television; the Allies in real life spent a lot of time on bickering too.
    America: No need to argue, 'cause I'm right!
    Russia: I know my ideas are best because otherwise I kill them.
    China: I'm only allowed to hear my own thoughts and those are the ones I like.

  • The Monitors from Countdown to Final Crisis, who spend almost the entire series arguing if they should do something or not. It's worth noting that later in the series the main characters have to decide if they should kill Karate Kid, annihilating his disease before it will kill him and turn into a pandemic, or look for another way to deal with it. Instead of doing something, they spend the entire time bickering at each other, until it's too late.
    Linkara: (summarizing) We should do something! Should we do something? We should do something! Should we do something? We should do something! Should we do something?
  • In the origin of Superboy-Prime, the Kryptonians all agreed that Krypton was going to explode but couldn't decide what to do about it.
    • In fact, in most versions of Superman, the Kryptonian council is despicted as this trope in spades, being at best unable to believe the planet is about to explode and at worst aware of it but incapable of doing anything about it, even when Superman's father Jor-El does suggest a solution. It's not uncommon for General Zod to have very good reason for overthrowing them.
  • In Strange Adventures, the Weird has the powers of a god, and is using them to destroy the universe. Inside his head are echoes of six beings he has merged with. Together, they could stop him. Unfortunately, three of them think he should use the power for good, and three of them think he should abandon it. So they do nothing. Eventually one of them is convinced to change his mind.
  • The Moff Council in Legacy
    • Star Wars also has the Jedi Council, especially the one under Kenth Hamner, when they have to decide whether or not to let the government have its way with the mad Jedi and at Tahiri’s trial.
  • The "Illuminati" in Marvel (a secret group comprised of some of the most powerful heroes in the world), was formed so that they could pool their knowledge and head off major threats before they got worse. Black Panther and Namor, who were present for their first meeting, did not join because they saw this trope coming — and they were right. For the record, the actual Illuminati were Professor X, Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Black Bolt of The Inhumans and Doctor Strange.
  • Also in Marvel, the "Council of Godheads", consisting of the leaders of all of Earth's mythological pantheons, fits this trope to a T. A group of immortals and near-immortals, all of whom possess vast mystical power, with some so powerful that they could pop the Earth like a balloon if they really wanted to. Needless to say they are completely useless and even when multiverse-threatening menaces loom they just stand around showing off their bling and rationalizing why they cannot do anything about the problem.
  • In DC, the gods are hardly any better. The Quintessence was composed of cosmic powers Zeus, all-powerful wizard Shazam, Highfather of the New Gods, The Phantom Stranger, and one of the Guardians of the Universe. They tended to meet up to discuss major problems only to act to prevent another from acting since they could never agree on a course of action. The one time their longstanding enemy Darkseid contacted them, merely to request not to bother him while he dealt with the Emperor Joker crisis, it turned out the Quintessence had already been reduced to babbling idiots by the Joker.
  • The Mobian Royal Council in Sonic the Hedgehog. Comprised of former Freedom Fighters (Rotor Walrus and Sir Charles "Uncle Chuck" Hedgehog), Substitute Freedom Fighters (Dylan Porcupine, Hamlin Pig and Penelope Platypus), at least one mother (Rosemary Prower) with the current ruler being the tie breaker. The problem here is that the Substitute Freedom Fighters have varying views (Dylan is easily cowed, Hamlin's still steamed that he was ignored for so long that his choices are seen to be the "right" one in his view, and Penelope doesn't debate) and Rosemary is still suspicious of the crown thanks to her time in space. It got to the point where Rotor up and quit the Council when they voted to kick NICOLE out of New Mobotropolis for her involuntary involvement in the Iron Queen's rule, leading to his replacement, Isabella Mongoose (Mina Mongoose's mother), to step up to the plate and put people in their place... starting with getting NICOLE back after Rotor and his new team made a big chump out of current ruler Ixis Naugus.

  • The UN in On Her Majesty's Secret Service seems to spend an inordinate amount of time debating whether to grant Blofeld's demand for amnesty from all past crimes and for his dubious claim to the title of count to be recognised which for a supervillain is fairly reasonable, to say nothing of the fact that he plans to unleash biological warfare if his demands are not met.
  • Ents in The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers. In the book they quickly agree to attack Isengard. In the movie they start a long, offscreen debate over what to do. It's only after they find out what Saruman did to part of the forest that they decide to attack Isengard.
    • They take several days to discuss what to do in the book as well, but it seems that once it came time to take a vote, they were more than eager to get to work. And "several days" is implied to be fairly quick work for an Entmoot.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End has the pirates holed up on an island with the English East India Company's fleet right outside. They can't decide on what to do so they have a vote to decide who becomes the pirate king despite the fact that every other time they had one, it ended in a draw because everybody kept voting for themselves. It seems to go that way this time, too, until Elizabeth sarcastically votes for herself - and Jack backs her up.
  • The UN again in Thirteen Days.
  • The Republic Senate in The Phantom Menace under the leadership of Chancellor Valorum. They respond to Queen Amidala's plea for help against the army invading her world which she herself narrowly escaped by proposing a committee to investigate whether there really was an invasion (that she saw with her own eyes). Helped by the fact that the Big Bad and architect of the invasion was a member of the senate and keeping it stalled, although it doesn't seem to take much manipulation on his part. In the end of the third movie they finally agree on something... which is to vote themselves out of power.
  • The dog council in Cats & Dogs. The setup looks like the UN, with dogs represented from each nation, to the point where the German representative (a German shepherd, of course) has a distinct accent and uses Gratuitous German. The argument over whether to hand over the cure to dog allergies to the cats in exchange for the captive human family turns into your typical barking match coupled with a few frisbees being thrown for good measure. The chairman requests a "pacifying tool" to be employed, which turns out to be an electric can opener, causing every dog to look at it in anticipation.
  • There's an United Nations expy in Batman: The Movie that the unified gathering of the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and Riddler seek to kidnap, capturing them by rendering them into powder. When they get there, they're all arguing. When an accident causes some of each other's powder to get mixed together, they end up switching personalities when they're restored, but they still keep arguing despite it.

  • A villainous example are the Yeerk Empire's vissers in Animorphs. As the narrative goes on, it rapidly becomes clear the Yeerk Empire could have probably conquered Earth by now if the vissers weren't arguing and sabotaging each other at any given moment. And not just the Vissers; their bosses in the Council of Thirteen appear to lose a couple of members when trying to decide upon a verdict for whether the Vissers were traitors to their cause.
  • In Fred Saberhagen's Book of Swords series, every time the gods gather in council they can't agree on anything and spend their time bickering and accusing each other, even when they are in peril from the swords they created.
  • The gods in Percy Jackson and the Olympians tend to act this way, leaving it up to the heroes to get things done.
  • Every other organisation in The Wheel of Time is an example of this, but the rebels from the White Tower from before Egwene took matters in hand deserve a special mention.
    • The White Tower on its own is a great example; all of it's full members are near all-powerful, live for many times a human lifespan, and are so influential that even kings ask them for advise. They could be ruling the world, if they wanted to (and indeed, many people think they do) - weren't it for the fact that they spent almost all of their time trying to one-up, manipulate or backstab each other, either to further their own personal - and often selfish - agendas (or mess up their colleagues'), or, even more tragic, to sooth their massive egos. Trying to fix this becomes a major headache for Egwene later on.
  • The White Council of Wizards in the Dresden Files has severe and recurring problems with this, although sometimes the leadership fakes it to cover up their real plan.
    • Turn Coat (book 11) reveals a key reason for all this— the eponymous turncoat (or at least, one of the people the name applies to in varying ways) was the secretary of the Council—and had been using subtle mind-control magic on all of them. In the most literal sense, they were letting the enemy set their agenda!
  • The Sanctuary from Skulduggery Pleasant are starting to slide towards this.
  • In Katherine Kurtz' Deryni series, the Camberian Council (a Badass Crew when first founded) devolves into this trope over the centuries.
  • In S.M. Stirling's Emberverse, Corvallis's Faculty Senate is contentious, divided, and often unable to come to a decision. The Protectorate attempts to manipulate their internal politics to keep Corvallis out of the War of the Eye. They only fail because a large number of Corvallans form a volunteer regiment and go into combat without waiting for a formal declaration of war.
  • This was the type of council that Leia had to deal with in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Despite her good judgement in the past, not to mention almost always being right about a potential threat, they never seemed to look at the problem with the proper attention it needed. Instead, they focused majorly on bickering with one another. Several characters suspect the Rebels only won the war because the Empire had most of its military wrapped up in preventing all its member states from trying to kill each other, and these same conflicts bring the New Republic to the edge of civil war several times.
  • The humans' Golgafrinchian ancestors in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe had been bickering about economics, the wheel and so forth. Justified in this case as they were basically exiles who'd been kicked off their home world for being completely useless. This is what happens when you let marketing executives form committees to find out what people "want" from fire, rather than just inventing it.
  • As usual, the Honorverse has an example.
    • The government of the Star Kingdom of Manticore tend to fall into this whenever they spend too much time in the spotlight. Based mainly on the old British government, it's an intricate collection of factions and groups, each with their own agendas and philosophies - and the Big Good can't do a damn thing if he can't rally a majority. Enter Honor Harrington, who is most definitely NOT a politician, and things are almost guaranteed to degenerate to the point where the hero's own government is a greater threat than the hostile superpower bearing down on her with a fleet of warships. The fifth book, Field of Dishonor, centers entirely around this - the fearsome People's Republic of Haven barely make an appearance, and instead the time is spent trying to find a way to force a Declaration of War through the labyrinthine halls of a government filled in equal measure with Evil Aristocrats, Suicidal Pacifists and Xenophobic Isolationists.
    • The Republic of Haven goes from an Attemptedly-Omniscient Council of Murder, Mayhem, and Spying to this trope after the Theisman Coup. Mission of Honor in particular shows that, like Manticore, the genuinely good government officials (Theisman, Pritchart, LePic, etc.) are hamstrung at every turn by the requisite selfish bastards (Giancola, "that snot" Younger). They spend most of said novel getting in the way of Eloise Pritchart's attempted peace treaty with Manticore, which spurs the President to cut the knot, shanghai most of her Cabinet, and make a mad dash to the Manticoran home system, where she offers the Queen said treaty in person. The treaty itself is therefore thrashed out by the two heads of state, Honor, and the sensible portions of Pritchart's and Elizabeth's Cabinets aboard Honor's flagship. It takes them three days.
  • The Great Sanhedrin in The Kingdom and the Crown, mostly because Jews Love to Argue.
  • StarClan in the Warrior Cats series. They're supposed to watch over and guide the Clans, but especially in the fourth series they tend to be bickering too much to agree on things.
  • The Ruling Council of Krypton is depicted as this in The Last Days of Krypton. Most of the council are made up of old fuddies from the nobility who happen to have their heads up their asses, and any motion brought forward needs a unanimous vote, so even a single 'Nay' will be enough to keep things from going. Their general incompetence is such that Kal-El has no problems (initially) helping Zod take over after the Council is abducted along with the rest of Kandor by Brainiac and the other nobles prove to be no better.
  • In Brotherhood of the Rose, the Big Bad uses this as an excuse for his Manipulative Bastard actions. As a young CIA agent he'd been told that those above him knew "The Big Picture" and this explained why so many orders seemed confusing and foolish. "Eventually I gained enough rank that I was one of the men in that room, and they were just as stupid and petty as they had appeared."
  • Dave Barry Slept Here describes the two important functions of the very powerful U.N. Security Council: "(1) Pass sweeping resolutions intended to end bloody conflicts; and then (2) Veto, ignore, or walk out on these resolutions."
  • The Reynard Cycle: The nobility of the series can't seem to get more than two of them into a room without this happening. Of the two major council meetings depicted so far, one third of the participants leave the proceedings dissatisfied. At one point, Reynard reflects that if the nobles could only put as much effort into fighting their enemies on the battlefield as they do with each other, they would be completely unstoppable. This is all justified by the fact that prior to the events of the first novel, a very long and very bloody civil war had been raging, and there is still a great deal of animosity between various factions and families.
  • The Small Council of King's Landing in A Song of Ice and Fire are supposed to be not just the go-to advisors of the king, but the head administrators of the kingdom's equivalent of the arms of the civil service. When they aren't trying to backstab each other, other nobles and concerns... or the king himself (or queen regent, whichever), that is.
  • In the Nightrunner series, the Aurėnfaie Iia'sidra which governs the relationships between the various clans, as well as the external affairs, of the nation of Aurėnen. As a fairly large country where a significant chunk of the population can use magic, Aurėnen could easily be the dominant power in the region, eclipsing any or all of the neighboring human-ruled lands. But the many clan divisions along with the contentious politics and strong personalities of the clan heads sitting on the Iia'sidra tend to prevent the Aurėnfaie from acting as a unified nation.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The Watcher's Council. By the time of Angel, even Wesley shrugs off their violent demise without much grief.
    • In Fray, whatever remnants of the Council that survived to the 23rd century have been reduced to a few insane zealots.
  • The Knights of the Round Table in Kaamelott. That's what you get when you put a lot of Ditzes, Cloudcuckoolanders and Deadpan Snarkers at the same table.
  • The Elders from Charmed.
  • The Time Lords in classic Doctor Who were depicted as this in "The Deadly Assassin", although later stories veered more towards Deadly Decadent Court. According to The Writer's Tale, Russell T Davies made the Doctor the Last of His Kind in the revival because the other Time Lords tended to "spout bollocks" and not much else.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The Grey Council slides into this every once in a while.
    • The Babylon 5 Security Council as well. While they are not a single ruling council, the entire point of them being there was for the major powers to work together to resolve issues. Whenever one of the five powers was the cause of the issue, they could be quickly relied upon to grind the whole system to a halt. It didn't help that the most powerful member of the council typically preferred to take no part in the debate and abstained from almost all votes and council motions, seeing it as beneath their concern.
    • Averted in Season Five, generally. Though Sheridan practically had to threaten the Alliance with a gun most of the time to get them to act in their own favor.
  • The Galactic Federation from The Tomorrow People, who will spend a lot of time talking about a problem but is reluctant to take action. Due to this one two occasions Timus had to secretly enlist the aid of the Tomorrow People to deal with two specific problems. However at the end of the final story the Federation decides to chance this.
  • The Xindi ruling council in Star Trek: Enterprise: the B5 security council on a smaller scale. The constant bickering, dithering and ineffectualness, however, was justified by the Reptilian and Insectoid Xindi going behind the other's backs to do their own thing (they themselves being led on by the trans-dimentional beings trying stop the Federation from being formed.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Most of the secret societies in Paranoia tend to spend more time bickering among each other than accomplishing any actual sabotage, but the Humanists take the cake, positively delighting in meetings after meetings after meetings debating every pointless bit of minutae in their planned revolution. (One example is setting up a meeting to select a task group whose purpose is to decide what colour the banners announcing the revolution should be.)
  • The Thirteen Lords of Decay - the ruling council of the Skaven race in Warhammer Fantasy - epitomise this trope. Like all Skaven, each council member is constantly scheming, plotting, backstabbing and breaking allegiances to further his own clan's ends and get one over on his rivals (not to mention treading on the ambitions of his underlings, who all want to overthrow him and take his place). Were they united in purpose then the Skaven would undoubtedly have overthrown the surface world long ago, but the vast majority of the council's resources are squandered in the internecine warfare that is the norm for their race.
  • The High Lords of Terra in Warhammer 40,000 take this trope and run with it: Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering, Deadly Decadent Court, Obstructive Bureaucrat, Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, We ARE Struggling Together, the whole works. The only thing holding the Imperium together seems to be inertia and massive casualties.
    • What holds the Imperium together is that all of its institutions function independently from one another on most levels. So the Planetary Governors keep their own worlds stable, and if threatened by outside forces, they can call for intervention from the Imperial Guard without involving anyone over about sub-sector level. Only extraordinarily large crises call for the High Lords to actually do anything in a timely manner (and whenever that happens, you can trust the Inquisition Representative on the council to keep them on-task). Of course, at the local level, any kind of crisis tends to result in a big meeting being called between the local politicos, the Guard, the Arbites, the Administratum, the Mechanicus, etc. etc., which devolves into much bickering until the Guard declares martial law and threatens to shoot everybody. (Such as in Caves of Ice, when Major Broklaw of the Guard "calls a meeting to order" with his bolt pistol.)
  • The Realm Deliberative in Exalted spends most of its time arguing rather than getting anything done. This wasn't much of a problem when the Scarlet Empress was in charge (she encouraged it, in fact), but when she disappeared...
    • This is also how a lot of heaven works. The gods and Sidereals could make huge, sweeping changes for the better in Creation, but instead spend most of their time playing political games or arguing over what the best way to help Creation really is, with motivations running the whole gamut from genuinely well-meaning to utterly corrupt. The Sidereals, at least, have the Great Curse as an excuse. That said, the Sidereals manage to do quite a bit to protect Creation despite the constant factional politics, to the point that it's scary to think what they might be capable if they actually acted as a cohesive unit.
  • The Old World of Darkness sees this a lot with their various supernatural sects:
    • Mage: The Ascension has the Council of Traditions, an alliance of various traditionalist mages who all agree they should be fighting the Technocracy, reversing the trend of failing magic in the world, and ultimately allowing humanity as a whole to Ascend. Now if only they could come to an agreement on how to accomplish any of those goals. No wonder they lost the Ascension War.
    • Vampire: The Masquerade has the Camarilla, which is mostly a court full of elders (and older) who plot and scheme against each other, regardless of whether there's bigger concerns they ought to be handling.

    Video Games 
  • The High Council of Democratus in Anachronox has incredible technology at their disposal, but almost never uses it due to their insistence on debating everything to death.
    • When the planet becomes a member of the party (yes, the planet. It Makes Sense in Context, sorta), the player can use its Tractor Beam system to procure out of reach items. The mini-game to activate it plays a bit like Whack-A-Mole, with the player was the Only Sane Man (relatively speaking) on the council shouting down everyone who stands up to object to using the tractor.
    • In fact, the one time in the game when they do come to a unanimous decision, it's treated as something of a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • The Jedi Council (again) in Knights of the Old Republic I and II.
  • The High Council of the Covenant in Halo 2 though a lot of it happens off screen.
    • The Halo novels pretty much show that the Prophets are cutthroat, power-hungry politicians to the point that their names (ie. Truth, Regret) are the exact opposite of their personalities. Truth ends up killing off the other two Hierarchs. Regret predicts this but he isn't fast enough.
  • Used offscreen a couple of times in Tales of the Abyss, to explain why Reasonable Authority Figure Emperor Peony can't give the protagonists more help than he is.
  • Commander Shepard of the Mass Effect franchise has very, very bad luck getting any governing body to believe their warnings about rogue Spectres, killer robots and genocidal sentient spaceships. The Citadel Council is infamously reluctant to take a proactive stance on anything, and the Alliance top brass doesn't come off that much better (excepting Hackett and Anderson, of course).
    • Surprisingly, in the third game it's the turian councilor (Mr. "Air-Quotes" himself) who turns out to be the most reasonable out of the bunch.
  • The Commonwealth in Love And War, after three hundred years of rule over Terra, is shown to be on this road in a series of clever cut-scenes.
  • The scientists from Fallout: New Vegas' DLC Old World Blues

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    Western Animation 
  • In Ben 10: Alien Force, Ben unlocks the power of Alien X — the most powerful alien in Omnitrix, who can bend reality to his will — only to find out he is composed of two beings that cannot agree upon anything, even simple things such as movement or returning back to Ben's human form. That's the reason Ben never uses him. When Alien X and its species the Celestial Sapiens appear in Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, this is shockingly averted when the beings inside Alien X notice Paradox. Thanks to a Noodle Incident in the distant past they have a restraining order against Paradox. Thinking that he's violated the arrangement, the two immediately agree to destroy him.
  • South Park has many in-universe organizations that act like this, and portrays many real-life organizations as acting like this as well.
  • Futurama has the Robot Elders, who constantly interrupt each other with a shout of "Silence!", even when they don't have anything to interrupt with, and they readily admit that their own corruption and incompetence are among the biggest problems their planet faces.