In this plot, a hero in an organization like the military is reassigned by a vindictive superior who seeks to ruin the hero by transferring him to a nothing post, in hopes that the hero's career will dead end — or worse.
However, a catastrophic crisis happens precisely at that backwater area and the hero saves the day using his skills and talents in a spectacular fashion.
To the assigner's horror, the assignment he himself inflicted to shut down the hero's career has instead given the victim a spectacular career boost with commendations, medals and promotions galore and the formerly inconsequential map dot becomes the post to be assigned to.
In Science Fiction a variation of this trope can occur when the Alien Hero is assigned to our Insignificant Little Blue Planet to get him out of the way- only to have a major adventure that impacts the whole universe take place on Earth.
Frequently overlaps with Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, since it often transpires that the rank-and-file have also been assigned to this out-of-the-way place, for similar reasons. In such cases, the hero's success largely arises from his ability to see and make use of their quirky talents.
Compare Busman's Holiday. Not to be confused with the plot of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. And some commanders may not be unhappy at the prospect of cannon fodder they wouldn't miss, but who actually get the job done.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Mihoshi from Tenchi Muyo!, who seemingly only has a job in the Galaxy Police because her grandfather is the Grand Marshall, gets assigned to patrol Earth's solar system. After all, a planet that barely even has space travel could hardly have any trouble for her to get into, and there'd be nothing to report so her superiors wouldn't have to deal with her anymore. Naturally, she promptly gets involved in taking down the most notorious criminal in the universe.
Kiyone, her partner, doesn't enjoy it in the least, mainly because being partnered with Mihoshi destroyed her career.
Noike in the OAVs on the other hand, gets assigned there when the GP brass realized that with two Imperial princesses, an Imperial prince, a former S-class criminal (statue of limitations expired), a former Most Wanted Battleship, the Galaxy's greatest Mad Scientist, a prospective heir to the throne, and their Goddess (and her sister) taking up residence there (there is some overlap), said planet that barely even has space travel just happens to now be the single highest concentration of power in the universe.
They promote Olivier Mira Armstrong to Central to keep an eye on her and separate her from her troops. Of course, being a true Social Darwinist to the core, this is happens to backfire on them.
Roy Mustang has a similar thing happen: he is transferred to the east because it is so dull. It backfires on the higher ups because they end up having to flee there because Scar was killing them in Central.
Falman, one of Roy's subordinates, got this as well. After Roy's team was split up, he got assigned to Briggs, the harsh Northern Outpost. While there he Took a Level in Badass just in time to join the other Briggs soldiers in a coup attempt on Central.
In Dragon Ball, Goku, with the pathetic power level of 10 is sent as an infant to Earth which he proceeds to save multiple times.
In Gundam Wing, Relena Peacecraft was made Queen of the World by Duke Dermail in order to improve Romefeller's image and to get her out of the way with a meaningless figurehead title. However, her idealism and charisma cause Romefeller to support her over Dermail, turning her figurehead position into one of actual authority, resulting in Dermail losing almost all of Romefeller's support and indirectly causing his death.
Pretty much the whole plot of Irresponsible Captain Tylor. Tylor's superiors get more and more frustrated as the series goes on. They start by using the Soyokaze (Tylor's ship) as bait in important operations, gradualy move to pointless suicide missions and by the end they are outright hiring pirates to kill him.
Pretty much Episode 19's plot of Martian Successor Nadesico. The higher ups got tired of Yurika and attempted to shunt her out by hijacking a contest originally made to raise morale (and was already hijacked by Yurika by changing the prize to be captain for a day). Their plan backfired when the winner forfeited out of embarrassment and Yurika got it back by virtue of being second place.
Ironically, the winner would become captain during The Movie.
This seem to be the fate of the Class E students in Assassination Classroom. Originally transfered there to become the laughing stock of the school and set an example to the other students, their situation takes a turn to the better when they are assigned the task of killing an almighty alien who properly teaches them in all regular subjects (including assassination skills). Together, they eventually become far more skilled than their "elite" schoolmates and a 10 billion yen bonus shall be given to whoever manages to kill him. However, they must do it in one year, or Earth is doomed.
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED inverts this slightly - when the Archangel arives in JOSH-A, the Earth Alliance brass reassign three crew members - Mu La Flaga, Flay Allster and Natarle Badgiruel - to other sections as they feel they have greater purposes for the war and leave the rest of the Archangel crew at JOSH-A. However, Mu has a suspicion that something's wrong and discovers that it's a trap - the brass know ZAFT is setting up to attack and have armed a Cyclops System to wipe them all out and the Archangel is the bait as they believe that, because of Kira Yamato's time on the ship, it's "tainted" by his Coordinator presence and thus the Archangel can die with the rest of them. Mu stays with the Archangel, Flay is kidnapped by Rau Le Creuset and Natarle is the only whose reassignment sticks. Oh, and those on the Archangel become a real pain in everyone's sides.
Traditionally, the origin of The Mighty Thor involves Odin sending the character to Earth in order to teach him humility before he ascends the throne as his heir. It works, but Thor ends up liking Earth so much that he is often extremely reluctant to return to Asgard, and even more to becoming its ruler.
This is due to Thor being the son of Mother Earth herself, Gaea.
When Wonder Woman died, the Amazons made her mother, Queen Hippolyta, take up the mantle in her stead, as a form of penance for indirectly causing Diana's death. Hippolyta enjoyed being a superhero so much that she kept at it even after Diana came back from the dead, and eventually abolished the monarchy entirely.
Knights of the Dinner Table: When Hard 8 reinstates Nitro's GM credentials, it is with the provision that he is only allowed to GM the Pee Wee Hackleague. Nitro proceeds to take his Pee Wee team all the way to the Garycon finals.
A variation occurs in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight. Rona thought that transferring Simone from Chicago to Rome would soften her up (though Buffy herself thought she did it simply because she didn't want to put up with Simone anymore). Instead, Andrew annoyed her so much that she ended up going rogue, becoming one of Buffy's greatest enemies.
Played with in Hot Fuzz. The entire London police force is sick of Sergeant Angel's white-hot performance, so he gets relocated to a tiny country town. He discovers and shuts down a huge, awful conspiracy while he's there, but it's not his continued heroism which alarms the London office; it's the fact that without Angel, the crime rate in London has escalated out of hand and they need him back.
In Ratatouille, the jealous Head Chef Skinner learns of a finicky group of customers at Gusteau's are requesting a new dish and are so used to the founder's cooking that choosing a less used recipe will not be accepted. In an attempt to discredit the new chef, Linguini (who, unknown to Skinner, is simply a front for Remy the rat, who is a brilliant cook), he orders him to prepare an off menu dish using an obscure recipe that even Auguste Gusteau wrote off as horrible. However, Remy is able to modify the recipe dramatically and make the dish a scrumptious success that runs the kitchen staff ragged supplying all the patrons who now want to try it. To Skinner's shock, this busy night removes all doubts in the kitchen staff that Linguini is a master chef.
Kazuhiro in Gung Ho was put in charge of Assan Motors' fledgling US assembly plant, in order to fail because his bosses felt he thought too much like an American. Didn't quite think that one through... (May have been based on "Mr. K", below)
In The Pentagon Wars, Colonel Burton raises enough general hell with the design of the Bradley APC that, after circulating a massively critical memorandum to virtually the whole Pentagon, he is reassigned to the "prestigious" Alaska posting. Later, when he's called to testify before Congress, his boss on the design team arranges for his commander to be unavailable to give him permission to testify. Pity that he forgot about the reassignment; Alaska's commander is more than happy enough to let Burton testify. Didn't See That Coming.
In Morgan Pålsson: World Reporter the titular reporter is thrown away to a back-water middle-eastern country so they won't risk having to broadcast his reports. Then a coup d'état happens in that country. Unlike other examples, the coup only further highlights his incompetence.
In Spies Like Us, Emmett Fitz-Hume (who only got his job through nepotism), and Austin Millbarge (who works in the bowels of a civil service building) have this happen to them. Emmett didn't study for the upcoming civil service exam, and while Austin initially refuses to help him cheat, both end up causing a scene in the exam room. So their superiors send them to Pakistan as decoys, claiming they would be on a mission of great importance (when in reality, they were just there to keep the fire off the real agents). Except they eventually find their way to Russia, where alongside one of the REAL CIA agents, they end up saving the day.
In Down Periscope, Admiral Graham tries to torpedo CDR Dodge's career by assigning him the most screwed-up crew he can find for the USS Stingray (an old WW2 diesel submarine) hoping they would fail the naval exercise Dodge was participating in as a hypothetical rogue sub commander seeking to harm the US.
To be fair, many of them are only screw-ups in Graham's mind, who has his own views on what constitutes a sailor. E.T. "Sonar" Lovacelli may have his quirks (such as his obsession with whales), but his excellent hearing is liable to make him the best sonar technician in the service. He hears everything, even whispered from far away, and can distinguish sounds made by coins dropping on a metal floor (even knowing the difference between a quarter and a dime falling; or knowing exactly what someone in another room is eating based on sound). Instead of being assigned to the best sonar posting possible, he's relegated to this boat because his superiors don't think they can trust him. Granted, other examples are worse, but they end up being exactly what's necessary for this mission.
Also, Graham's idea to put Lieutenant Emily Lake, the first female submariner, onto Dodge's crew is clearly not only meant to screw up the mission but also torpedo Lake's career and the very idea of women on submarines.
Played with in Dances with Wolves, where The Herochooses his reassignment to the Dakotas, out in the middle of nowhere. He then actually does end up sinking his own career when his superiors learn that he's been making friends with the natives.
In Batman Begins, Lucius Fox is assigned as head of the Applied Sciences division of Wayne Enterprises because Earle wants him out of the board and in a place where he won't have any influence over the company. However, when Bruce Wayne returns from his training with the League of Shadows, Fox's military prototypes catch his attention. After Bruce entrusts Fox with supplying him all the gear he needs in order to be Batman, Earle fires Fox for asking too many questions about a certain microwave emitter that was seized by the League of Shadows. At the end of the movie, Bruce has returned to being the head of Wayne Enterprises by buying back all of his company's shares, and also gives Fox a better job: Earle's. Didn't you get the memo?
A rare villainous example appears in Captain America: The First Avenger. Johann Schmidt is reassigned by Hitler to a base in the Swiss Alps after being disfigured. This gives him privacy enough to make his own army behind Hitler's back.
Also another villainous example occurs in Battlefield Earth. Terl has been reassigned to Earth and condemned there indefinitely as petty revenge for getting involved with the daughter of a senator, which leads to the destruction of the Psychlo race.
Honor Harrington (in the series of novels by David Weber) does this three times.
At least the second time around, she was Genre Savvy enough to know what was going to happen. As for the antagonists who get her sent off, they figure on employing Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder- if Harrington does her job she will eliminate a problem for them; if she gets killed or disgraced, well, a different problem gets solved. It ends up a backfire anyway.
By the third time (Sidemore Station), even the vindictive superiors are getting Genre Savvy about it, but decide they have no choice.
Kind of played with, in that at least on the first occasion (Basilisk Station) her career would have gotten a significant boost even without the crisis. She was just plain doing a damn fine job organizing the place, something none of the previous screw-ups the Navy assigned there had managed. This had already allowed some like-thinking superiors to pull a major political coup by the time things got messy.
Robert Asprin's Phule books start off with the main character getting reassigned for strafing a peace-treaty signing; it's intended as a punishment because his new post involves taking charge of the Space Legion's losers on a backwater planet. Of course, things go much differently than planned, and this is more-or-less the last time Phule and the Omega Mob get transferred/"promoted"/etc without malicious intentions.
In The Dresden Files, Murphy's position as the head of Special Investigations is where people you really, really don't like get sent and they soon leave, disgusted with it. Murphy's the first person who's stayed long enough to warrant a nameplate.
This is due to the fact that before Murphy, every SI head simply refused to acknowledge that anything supernatural was going on. This lead to none of their cases ever being closed, and a quick dismissal. Murphy actually decided to start believing in the paranormal and so she actually did get results.
Though in the end even she can't avoid all the problems associated with the position. In White Nightshe is demoted, and by the end of Changesher dereliction of duty results in her being summarily fired.
In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novels, Colonel-Commissar Gaunt has been living in reassignment hell for the last 15 years. The fact that such reassignments have backfired time and time again have not stopped the higher-ups whom he has offended to keep trying. The reassignments have been meant to do a little more than get his career stuck, so it's also a case of Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder.
Inverted by a fellow Commissar, Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM), who wants a nice, comfortable out-of-the-way post in order to keep himself out of harm's way. Ironically, his tendency to find himself running up against seemingly impossible odds and triumphing by sheer dumb luck have earned him the status of a Hero of the Imperium, meaning he's expected to be at the front lines, facing enemy fire.
And, as usual, it's genetic. Aral Vorkosigan had ups and downs like this. He'd do the right thing, but nobody would like it, so he'd get assigned to some punishment post...and come out of it smelling like roses. Most notably, this was part of The Plan that turned him into the Barrayaran Cincinnatus.
Also a bit of a subversion. Miles was assigned there so that he could learn to take orders. He was told that if he could manage to get through the nothing post, then his next assignment would be much-sought-after shipboard duty. But he ended up doing the right thing, but not being able to get glory or promotions from it for complex political reasons.
And then subverted again when he gets reassigned to ImpSec, as the only branch that will take him, where all of his following spectacular successes are so highly classified that he can't tell anyone about them, nor can his superiors justify giving him a promotion without the uninformed saying that he's only being advanced because of nepotism.
In The Eyre Affair (book one of the series), literary detective Thursday Next gets transferred to a Spec Ops post in Swindon (which also happens to be her quirky hometown). Her colleagues are puzzled at her seeming demotion (when she could have chosen a better post), but Thursday knows what she's doing.
In L. E. Modesitt Jr's Space Opera novel The Ethos Effect the main character, a former military spaceship commander responsible for a PR disaster (everyone knows he did what he had to do, but being responsible for the loss of a large passenger ship doesn't make you popular) ends up being the "victim" of one of these; he's given a weird assignment that doesn't match his experience, working at an embassy on a planet he's completely unfamiliar with. He ends up foiling an assassination attempt targeting diplomats from multiple interstellar nations. Which angers his superiors even more, because, as the main character eventually realizes, they were behind the assassination attempt and didn't intend for him to actually succeed at his job. In fact, they didn't even intend for him to survive the journey to the planet; the unidentified spaceship that attacked him en route was actually one of their own ships.
In The ESP Worm by Piers Anthony, the hero is the President's deadbeat cousin, who was given the supposedly meaningless job of negotiating with any aliens that ever happened to come to Earth. Humans have never come in contact with an alien before, but there's a first time for everything, and naturally, it comes as a surprise to everyone when the titular worm is the first alien to come to Earth.
In the Discworld novel Thief of Time, several of the managers of the History Monks assign Lobsang Ludd (a troublesome child) be the apprentice of Lu Tze (widely seen as a great hero, but has lots of fun annoying the other monks), on the basis that either or both will break the other. Their combined efforts end up saving the world ...
In the second Artemis Fowl novel Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident elf LEP recon captain Holly Short is assigned to guarding an abandoned shuttle port where nothing has happened in literally a hundred years. Naturally, she encounters a huge goblin smuggling program which involves the use of a human contact and illegal weapons.
Flashman is a good example of this. Harry Flashman, freshly expelled from Rugby School, joins the prestigious 11th Hussars. Within a year, he gets into a duel over a woman, and is posted to Glasgow, assisting the local militia against agitating mill workers. He seduces the prettiest daughter of the mill owner he's billeted with, and is forced to marry her. This doesn't sit well with Lord Cardigan, the commander of the 11th Hussars, and he gets posted again, this time to India (a location hated and despised by Cardigan). Flashman's skill with a horse and lance impresses the Governor General, and he's sent as an ADC to Kabul, on General Elphinstone's staff. He gains (stolen) credit with the natives as "Bloody Lance", the lone killer of five would-be assassins, and gains credit with the military and public when he's one of the few survivors of the Kabul Retreat, and "defends" a small fort outside the besieged Jalalabad - he's found surrounded by dead, clutching the flag to his chest. As the only (white) survivor, he feels free to not contradict the CO's assumption that he wasn't cowering uselessly in bed, and was in fact about to throw the flag to the attackers. He gets a hero's send-off from India, a hero's welcome upon his return, and a medal from Queen Victoria herself.
In the Dragonriders of Pern series, this appeared to be the case with Masterharper Petiron, the old harper of Menolly's repressed, backwater fishing hold. Subverted later in Masterharper of Pern, when we find out that Petiron asked to be sent there, to make a fresh start where no one knew he was other than "the harper". And he chose this over the protests of his superior, his son Robinton.
It could also be said that Petiron wanted Robinton to be his own man and not be perceived as his father's son. He deliberately stepped out of the way to allow Robinton to become a better leader.
Eh, by this time in the book, Petiron is the only harper who doesn't know that Robinton is a much better harper than he is.
Sort of subverted in Yulia Latynina's Wizards and Ministers (also, a political version): Mr. Nan's "all-powerful secretary" Mr. Shavash is suddenly sent out of the capital to a distant province. Some people think that this is an exile and a sign of disfavour. Others think that Mr. Nan is deliberately arranging this very trope. It's probably the latter, but everything goes horribly wrong for everyone involved before this plan could bear fruit.
In the third book of David Weber's Safehold series, it gets played somewhat unusually. The commander in question is in fact incompetent, but the general doesn't want to fire him for political reasons, so he puts him in command of the rear of their defense of a mountain pass. Unfortunately, the other side gets around behind them, so they have to move quickly to escape the pass and redeploy. Unfortunately, the incompetent commander has to get moving before the rest of the army can go anywhere.
Another variant occurs in Antares Passage. Captain Drake has nothing against his Sandarian exchange officer, Ensign Philip Walkirk. However, this particular ensign happens to be Crown Prince of Sandar, and Drake is terrified of the possibility that he might get killed while under Drake's command. So he assigns him to command the Marine detachment, figuring that there's little chance they'll see any action. Later, the Marines end up boarding a Ryall transport. Fortunately, Philip survives unscathed.
Forgotten Realms trilogy Return of the Archwizards protagonist, Galaeron Nihmedu was assigned to far tomb guard due to wizards vs. sorcerers discrimination. Where he met some "grave robbers" who turns out to be something more, accidentally participated in release of Sealed Evil in a Can planned anyway, and acquired both priceless report from top Netherese spy, as well as means to put it to good use and save his home city.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, joining the Night's Watch is seen as a last resort for criminals and failures, where they will spend the rest of existence guarding a giant wall in the frozen north, far away from the war and turmoil of the seven kingdoms. However, the Night's Watch is under constant threat from the nomadic Wildlings and inhuman Others, and after their alliance with King Stannis Baratheon the Night's Watch proves to be one of the most relevant forces in the war.
A bit of a variation in Animorphs: the disgraced Seerow is stationed on the Hork-Bajir homeworld, which the Andalite superiors believe to not be in any way significant. Then the Yeerks arrive. The variation? Seerow is killed almost immediately; it's his daughter (who was stationed there with him) who becomes a heroine due to the reassignment.
A brutal inversion happens in Dune, where Duke Atreides is sent by The Emperor from his ancestral home planet to the desert planet Arrakis.....where is the only place in the universe that the "spice" that their civilization runs on is made.....and is thus actually the MOST important planet in the universe and best post possible.....Of course, the reason the Emperor relocated him there instead of playing the trope straight is that instead of wanting to sink the Duke's career he's hatching a plot to get rid of him directly, which succeeds. The backfire comes when his son Paul just so happens to be a seer and becomes a Messianic Archetype who gathers the Proud Warrior Race Guy natives together and trains them to be a Bad Ass ArmyLa Résistance, launching a coup d'tat.
Wedge Antilles in the Wraith Squadron series is Genre Savvy enough to take advantage of this trope. To create Wraith Squadron, he deliberately cherry picks skilled pilots who are about to be washed out or court-martialed. This is because it's easier than trying to cherry pick the best of the best, since rival squadron leaders would fight to keep their aces, but wouldn't care if they could get rid of an unwanted pilot. Sure enough, the Ragtag Squadron of Misfits basically Indy Ploys their way into legend.
He'd initially started with fifty candidates. He'd hoped to trim that to twelve, but for various reasons, only ten were fit to join the squadron at all, forcing him to round out the numbers by adding himself (as leader) and Wes Janson. Still, he had expected that he'd get a lot of irredeemables among the misfits, so he was still pleased that he was able to come up with anything near a full squadron.
Also applies to Soontir Fel in the Rogue Squadron comics, in which he is banished to the 181st Fighter Group - bad enough to be nicknamed the One-Eighty-Worst - and quickly transforms it into one of the Empire's most elite units.
Sort of also applies to Thrawn, he was reassigned to his old stomping ground in the Unknowns to calm his political opponents. The fact that he made Grand Admiral on his tactical prowess rather than any political links made this a foregone outcome. Although we find out later that his "exile" was a cover story for a mission to pacify and organize the Unknown Regions... which he did, to the tune of 250 sectors, one quarter of the size of the Galactic Empire at its height, and far larger than the Imperial Remnant by the time our heroes stumble upon it.
Sano Ichiro is sent to Nagasaki in The Way of the Traitor by his rival Chamberlain Yanagisawa in hopes that he will destroy his career on a difficult case there; instead, Sano successfully solves the case and adds to his sterling reputation.
Played with in Due South: Fraser was assigned liaison duty with the Canadian Consulate in Chicago as retribution for arresting a fellow Mountie — and for being, in general, just a little too good for anyone at home to feel really comfortable with. He becomes something of a local phenomenon in Chicago, but remains persona non grata at home, and the Consulate continues to function as an apparent dumping ground for misfits.
Londo Mollari was sent to be the ambassador on the station partly due to the fact that Babylon 1-4 all blew up or disappeared, and partly because it was considered a "joke" posting where it was safe to dump underperformers. He seemed to make the best of it, to say the least.
Ditto for his assistant Vir, whose progressive views were seen as an embarassment to the family. For reference, both Londo and Vir end up being Emperors at different points.
And then there was Captain John Sheridan who was installed as commander of the Babylon 5 station in season 2. Sheridan was considered an unflinchingly loyal jarhead who would keep the station running in line with Earth policy. Whoops.
Doctor Who's "The Five Doctors" subverts this, when The Doctor is made President of Gallifrey in the hopes of tying him to the the position and halting his endless gallivanting across time and space, and instead of coming quietly to rule from behind a desk, he gives an order placing the one who promoted him in command until his return and dashes off in the TARDIS with no intention of returning.
He finally showed an interest in the post in "Trial of a Time Lord" when he tried to play the 'Presidential immunity from prosecution card' only to find out that he had been deposed during his absence for neglecting his duties.
Happened in The Greatest American Hero when Bill Maxwell's boss, exasperated with his loss of government cars, assigns him a Volkswagen bug and the case of a missing circus clown. It leads to him busting a major spy ring. The bad guy even tells Bill he'll get a promotion out of the case.
Subverted in M*A*S*H in "Fade Out, Fade In". Charles is sent to the 4077th by a higher officer who owes him money. Shortly after his arrival he is able to prove his surgical skills are invaluable, ensuring, much to his chagrin, that he becomes the permanent tentmate of Hawkeye and BJ.
Played straight a few seasons later when the higher officer came back. Because of a sequence of events that would lead to trouble, he expects Winchester to cover for him so that Margaret's career would be ruined and his career would be fine, with an reward of finally going back to Tokyo. Due to Character Development making him turn from a Jerkass to a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, Winchester has enough morals to loudly call him on it.
Commander William Adama, assigned to the so-old-we're-using-it-as-a-museum Battlestar Galactica. We all know how that turned out. One can guess that many of the other officers and crew were sent there to get them out of the way. Tigh certainly didn't seem to be a model XO and Starbuck was the queen of insubordination. If you were competent and ambitious you probably did not get assigned to the Galactica.
Roslin was also sent to the Galactica as a way to get her out of the way for a short time. She went against the president when negotiating with the teacher's union and the party leaders had to keep her away from the public spotlight while they neutralized any political fallout.
McNulty has his own version on season 2 where he's so low on the career ladder that Rawls can't do anything meaningful in retaliation anymore.
Then there's Prez, who gets justifiably stripped of his gun and stuck on a desk. Turns out his intelligence and skill at pattern-recognition mean he's much more effective as a Desk Jockey than he was as a beat cop.
The starting situation for Major John Sheppard in Stargate Atlantis: he screwed up in Afghanistan and was reassigned to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Thing is, he not only turned out to be a fiendishly good pilot (he used a passenger helicopter to repeatedly dodge a drone weapon)...
Carson: (sees that Sheppard is sitting onto the Ancient control chair) Major, please don't!
John: Come on Doc, what are the odds of me having the same gene as these guys?
(the instant Sheppard touches the chair, it activates)
Carson: (astonished) ...quite slim, actually.
Next thing he knows, he's being offered a chance by an extragalactic expedition's leader to tag along... Let's just say, this is how he became the series' resident Colonel Badass.
In an Alternate Universe, he's drummed out of the Air Force for the same stunt and ends up becoming a police detective in Las Vegas, spending much of his time drinking and gambling. Long story short, he ends up saving the planet (by making a Heroic Sacrifice).
The X-Files: Scully was pulled out of being a professor at Quantico to debunk Mulder's work on the X-Files, to get it shut down so he couldn't find the Truth. This backfired massively when she is not only unable to debunk his work, but starts siding with him and becomes part of the X-Files herself. Plus, falling in love with your partner and having a child with him adds to that.
In Sharpe's Battle of the Sharpe's Rifle TV series, a company of Irish guard are recruited into the British army, and the high command decides to send them to a far outpost on the edge of the front lines, in a terrible position, so they'll all desert and solve the problem of having to deal with a company that doesn't like England- then sends Richard Sharpe to whip them into place, expecting him to drive them off for good. He makes them crack soldiers instead and decimates an entire enemy brigade. Oops.
NCIS had a Navy officer, Evan Dearing, being reassigned to a battleship after he violated procedures by videotaping a fellow soldier having sex and showing it to various personnel as a prank, alongside two friends of his. Said ship ends up being destroyed in a terrorist attack, resulting in Evan's death, as well as a very angry Harper Dearing, Evan's father.
The Criminal Minds episode Legacy features a Detective McGee of the Kansas City Police Department. His OCD makes him seem unstable, but his superiors feel that they can't fire him, because his dad was the captain's partner and was killed on the job. Instead they promote him to detective so that they can keep him away from the general public by assigning him to the downtown area to keep an eye on the homeless, the prostitutes and the drug users. Then, of course, his compulsion to catalogue everyone he encounters on the streets causes him to notice when 63 of them just aren't there anymore, and thus he discovers a Serial Killer who kills society'scastoffs.
A case where a character tried to do this to himself occurs in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where Commander Sisko, distraught over the loss of his wife, takes the most unimportant assignment he can get, which is a halfway abandoned space station near an unimportant planet. Then they discover a stable wormhole nearby, the aliens inside declare him as their Emissary, and that station becomes one of the most important field assignments in Starfleet.
Quark considered his bar an embarrassment, and would have abandoned it by the pilot had Sisko not blackmailed him into staying. Not long after, he was praised for his lobes in finding such a profitable location without even knowing the wormhole was there at the time.
Not to mention Rom, who wound up working for his brother after losing everything, and finished up becoming the Grand Nagus.
An interesting case concerning Power Rangers S.P.D.. After discovering SPD's elite team, A Squad, Cruger decides to end B Squad's tenure as protectors and returns them to A Squad pick up duty again. Then, A Squad ended up being evil and B Squad had to save the day.
In Exalted, the Realm's Vermilion Legion is composed of drunks, petty criminals and surplus younger sons. Tepet Ejava, one of the Realm's most formidable military commanders and a candidate for the Scarlet Throne, was given command of them and sent off to get killed in the constant low-level violence in the Southeast. Of course, she's managed to turn the Legion into a crack unit and a serious power base. Oops.
Didn't hurt Ejava's efforts that the so-called "Red-Piss Legion", being the Ragtag Legion of Misfits that it is, remains immune to the nepotism and favortism of the other Legions and actually rewards merit and skill (the rewards starting with, "you can avoid being killed by the A-1 psychos the Vermillions have to fight").
The pro-Solar Golden Faction of the Sidereals found themselves being reassigned to conventions of the Wood - the wildest regions filled with powerful, uncontrolled Essence users - and the Convention on Essence Users in general, which was more of the same. When the Solars actually came back, this put the Golden Faction in a prime position to hide and train them.
In the play and movie The Solid Gold Cadillac, the Corrupt Corporate Executives assign the heroine to be Director of Stockholder Relations at their company because they're tired of hearing her complaints at their board meetings. She soon wins the adoration of all the small shareholders like her, and this ultimately leads to the villains' undoing.
In the intro to Wing Commander II, the main character is accused of treason. There's no solid evidence against him, so the court martial only convicts him of negligence and demotes him, but the admiral remains convinced he's a traitor and reassigns him to a little backwater station. He then encounters the Big Bad Kilrathi in the area and is forced to save the day.
In Wing Commander III, he's given another crappy assignment by the same admiral. This time, however, the admiral deliberately assigned him to an unimpressive carrier so that when the time came he could use the hero in his plan to end the war without drawing too much attention from the enemy.
The true Reassignment Backfire occurs in Wing Commander IV when the hero gets involved in going rogue to fight a conspiracy that turns out to be run by the very same Admiral.
According to the help file included with the registered version of Doom, the Marine was relocated to Mars, a backwater dustball whose only notable features were scientific outposts on its moons, in lieu of a court-martial for striking a commanding officer who had ordered him to fire on civilians. No, they didn't just make that up for the novel. He, of course, went on to save the world from the forces of Hell over the course of two games.
Mass Effect features Ashley Williams, whose name bears some serious stigma—her grandfather was the general who surrendered his garrison (for good reasons) to the turians during the First Contact War. She and her father were passed over for promotion many times and assigned posts with no action (and thus no opportunity to demonstrate capability). Then along comes Sovereign, the geth, and Saren—and Shepard to take her along for the ride. Needless to say, her actions clear her family's name.
Because of Shepard's ties to Cerberus and their repeated claims about the Reapers, the Citadel Council agree to reinstate their Spectre status under the provision that they restrict their activities solely to the Terminus Systems. Luckily, that's exactly where Shepard needs to be to stop the Collectors from attacking human colonies.
Super Robot Wars Original Generation: Kyosuke Nanbu is reassigned to North America's Langley Base after surviving the crash of the Wildraubiter's test flight at the Izu Far East Base. The person who reassigned him, Colonel Hans Weber, is later revealed to be a Mole for the Divine Crusaders and caused the crash. After arriving in Langley, Kyosuke is placed on the ATX Team and eventually goes on to defeat the United Colony Corps with his new friends at Langley and aboard the Hiryu Kai. When he returns to Izu, Hans is not pleased at what Kyosuke has become. Later, when Hans' treachery is revealed, he has to face Kyosuke and if the player feels like it, can be killed by the very same pilot he got rid of to make his plans succeed.
Super Robot Wars Judgment/Super Robot Wars W: As per Gundam SEED's plot, the casts of both games (well, part of the cast in Judgment; the Alaska bit is one route split choice) get reassigned to the Joshua Base in Alaska by The Federation, hoping to get rid of them in an elaborate trap set to weaken ZAFT's military using the Cyclops System since the heroes are doing too well. Like in Gundam SEED, Mu La Flaga (another case of this trope) discovers the Cyclops System and warns everyone to get the Hell out of Dodge. The heroes eventually get back at The Federation in a big way, particularly in W, where one division of Neue Warter (aka the heroes) intercepts The Federation's fleet on it's way to crush ZAFT using nuclear weapons to overpower them. And then they proceed to utterly destroyThe Federation's forces and kill the commander who left them to die in Alaska, General Colbert.
Super Robot Wars W: As mentioned above, the "Ms. Nadesico" contest from episode 19 of Martian Successor Nadesico happens here, but plays out differently. Baron Ashura, disguised as Professor Yumi (as per one episode from the Mazinkaiser OVA), gets caught up in the contest and after finding out what the contest is about, the Baron casts a vote hoping to sabotage Warter (aka the heroes). In spectacular backfire fashion, it is Ashura's vote that is the tie-breaker that gets Yurika back her old job.
Super Robot Wars Alpha 2: The crew of the Albion gets reassigned to a backwater post in space under the guise to protect the GP-02A Gundam "Physalis" (in reality, The Federation wants nothing to do with them and wants the Albion's crew far away from them). Sadly, the GP-02A gets stolen and the Albion team joins up with the Alpha Numbers to get it back and go on to stop Nashim Gan Eden, among other threats to the Earth in that game. And then, the Albion's crew gets assigned to menial tasks again in Alpha 3 (partially due to a lot of Alpha 2's story getting retconned), and once again, they take to the field and help save the day from Keiser Ephes, the Spirit Emperor.
In Suikoden III, Thomas is sent to Budehuc Castle in order to keep him out of his scheming councilman father's way. When he turns the area into a thriving Truce Zone, the Zexen Confederacy is less than pleased, and tries to force him to stop. Not only does he refuse, he winds up eventually providing the game's headquarters.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift toys with this trope a bit. Hazama, in a bid to freely mindrape Noel and Tsubaki, sends his (competent) lieutenant Makoto to the NOL branch in Ibukido as a way to keep her away from her close friends (the aforementioned Noel and Tsubaki). This crosses as a Uriah Gambit as, while he expected her career to dead-end long enough to let him do with them as he pleases, having her choke on seithr or get timefucked by the local cauldron works, too. While there are no accolades or desired reallocations to the 5th Hierarchical City in the wake of her work, to say the whole thing backfired fails to adequately describe how bad an idea this was in hindsight. note Not only did this fail to kill Makoto, but she fell into an alternate timeline and witnessed events which she could use to abort or reverse Tsubaki's intended change in alignment; acted with the interest of her friends first and foremost, which flies in the face of Terumi's ideal of despair, proceeding to balls up his plans as collateral damage; made friends with the "shitty vampire" Rachel Alucard and returned to her origin timeline; and learned the truth about beastkin and Prime Field Devices like her best friend Noel. Long story short, Terumi's options for a permanent Makoto solution boil down to Relius or homicide; she's capable of adapting to, if not already resilient to, just about everything else.
Unreal 2 played with this. The player, Dalton, was kicked out of the Marines for disobeying the order to leave civilians to die, and has been trying to get back in since. In the mean time, the only work he can find is as a Marshal in the Terran Colonial Authority, policing "...the ass-end of space." Guess where the troubles start?
The Elder Scrolls: This occurs a number of times. The hero (usually) of the game starts out in jail for whatever reason which puts them where they need to be to get involved.
Subverted in Invader Zim, the titular character's assigners make up a planet past the edge of their star map, and send Zim there. They're shocked when, six months later, Zim reports back that he has confirmed visuals on the planet and is landing. The subversion comes about because Earth really IS a backwater planet, and nothing of interest to the Invaders happens there.
The real backfire comes from the fact that in sending Zim to Earth, they tipped off the only competent enemy they had in the entire Universe to their existence.
Transformers Animated plays with this. Optimus is assigned the unglamorous job of Space Bridge maintenance, but circumstances conspire to place him and his crew in the middle of events that could change the course of galactic history (and yes, this takes him to Earth). The thing is, Optimus wasn't assigned the crap job out of malice. It's just that with the disaster that lost Elita-1, Ultra Magnus had to make an example out of someone, and with Optimus taking the blame, Ultra Magnus was bound by protocol to do that to him (him getting the assignment was Ultra Magnus pulling strings for Optimus). Played more straight with Bumblebee, as him taking the blame for Bulkhead's clumsiness led to him being sent to work for Optimus. Subverted with Bulkhead, as although he was given the crap job like Bumblebee, because Bulkhead loves Space Bridges, any excuse to work on them makes him happy. Being elevated to the heroes of Cybertron was just a bonus.
At one point, the captain sends a ship full of dangerously stupid robots, who Turned On Their Masters and then for an encore went on to accidentally commit genocide, directly into the path of General Xinchub because they don't want to waste the ammo on killing them. They expect that to be the end of them. It is... but Xinchub ends up being acclaimed as a hero for saving Earth from them, counteracting his previous popularity nosedive that threatened to get him out of their hair permanently.
Happens again later also involving Xinchub. After his plot to blackmail them into betraying some old friends eventually backfires, they have Xinchub and his minion in their brig. Rather than kill him, they sell him into slavery (somehow this is less illegal) as a military consultant on a planet in the middle of a brutal civil war. The plan is that he'll be kept as a prisoner and/or killed by one side or the other, getting them paid for disposing of him. Within a year, he's betrayed his would-be masters to the opposing side and been crowned king of the entire planet for bringing peace to their world.
Theodore Roosevelt was selected as Vice President by the powers that be of the Republican Party (who were sick of his crusading/grandstanding as Governor of New York; Roosevelt was from the Progressive wing of the GOP, while the party leadership was predominantly from the Establishment/Business wing) with the reasoning that as Vice President, he would have a much less active role in things and would be out of their hair. Less than a year later McKinley was shot, and TR was the youngest president in US history. Given that this wasn't the first time such a thing had happened (see below), you'd think they would've found a different way deal with TR.
It wasn't completely lost on the Republican Party. Republican National Committee Chairman Mark Hanna famously said "Don't any of you realize there's only one life between that madman and the presidency?" Apparently his warning fell on deaf ears. Understandably, his words on hearing of the ascension are said to be, "I don't believe it! The goddamn cowboy's President!"
Furthermore, TR was the first "Accidental President" to win a second term in 1904 on his own merit, as an extra insult to injury. To rub it in futher, it was Roosevelt's Bull Moose party that got more votes than Republican William Howard Taft (his successor, who TR felt was doing a bad job) and caused the 1912 election to go to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. This left Taft with the dubious distinction of being the only Republican candidate and the only incumbent president in US history to finish third in a presidential election.
John Tyler was selected as Vice President, which was then pretty much worthless. A month later, the President was dead, and "His Accidency" was in charge.
A little bit before then, Andrew Jackson had appointed James Buchanan Minister to Russia, chiefly to get him out of the way (saying that "If we kept a ministry at the North Pole, I would have sent him there," bearing in mind that to a man of the 1830s, the North Pole was about as inaccessible as the Moon). This led to a long diplomatic and political career for Buchanan, in which he was appointed Minister to the Court of St. James's (the UK), then a Senator from Pennsylvania, and finally Secretary of State before being elected President (in large part because his decades of political experience made him look well-qualified for the job, plus being out of the country during the vote for the Fugitive Slave Act meant he hadn't alienated anyone), where he effectively set the stage for the Civil War.
Pope John XXIII, elected after the lengthy (nearly 20 years) reign of Pope Pius XII, was expected to be a "stopgap" Pope. His age (he was almost 77) and health were such that it was expected that he would quietly reign and pass on in several years, freeing the Papacy up again. While his reign was short (less than five years), he was also incredibly influential in the Church, responsible for major changes which were brought about by his calling of the Second Vatican Council.
His predecessor to the name, Pope John XXII, possibly Planned his way to the papacy by playing on this trope. After the death of Clement V, the cardinals failed to elect a new Pope for two entire years, because their votes were terminally split between three factions: the Italian bloc (who wanted the Papacy to return to Rome), the Gascon bloc (who were perfectly cool with the Avignon Papacy, as long as they enjoyed the same privileges as under the previous Pope), and the French bloc, which opposed both. Lots of corruption and votes for sale all around, and no resolution in sight. Eventually, the King of France had enough of waiting - he needed a Pope doublequick so he could divorce his first wife—and forced a conclave, locking the cardinals up inside a convent with rationed food and water until they made up their minds. According to one story, the future John XXII (then still Monsignor Duèze) waited until his peers were weak with hunger, then pretended to be on his deathbed. He was 72 at the time. The rest of the cardinals promptly elected him, figuring he'd last a few months tops, and then they'd happily be back to the lucrative statu quo. Not only did John's reign as Pope last for 18 years after that, but he was one of the most activist Popes in history, heavily involving himself in European politics and reorganizing the entire Church.
"Mr. K" (Yutaka Katayama), president of Nissan USA in The Sixties and The Seventies, was Put on a Bus away from corporate in Tokyo because of his "rogue" attitude. Which led to things like being able to talk to American car salesman as equals, renaming the "Fairlady" sports car 240-Z (legend has it he personally swapped the badges over on the first cars on Long Beach docks), and exponentially raising awareness and sales of Datsuns in the US to the point that they've never really recovered from the name change to "Nissan" after his retirement.
When Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser died in 1970, his supporters settled on Vice President Anwar Sadat as a temporary caretaker-successor—to whom the presidency devolved by operation of law anyway—assuming he would be easy to manipulate and force out should it prove necessary. Six months later Sadat purged them in the "Corrective Revolution." His eventful administration included the Yom Kippur War, negotiation of peace with Israel, and his assassination in 1981.
This brings us to his successor, Hosni Mubarak. Nasser had chosen his various Veeps on the basis of loyalty, pliability, and consistency: note that neither intelligence nor competence was a qualification, and indeed they were something of a drawback. Sadat carried on the tradition with Mubarak. Thus when Sadat was assassinated, the whole government was sort of scared about what the idiot at the top might do; it's likely that if he had started any Sadat-style Machiavellian games, the senior officials would have begun to push back. However, Mubarak proved to care little for radical plans or purges or anything: he was content to let Egypt run itself...into the ground, as it happened.
Erwin Rommel proved a very capable general in Africa, but never got along well with his superiors. Adolf Hitler decided to transfer him to a less important position (albeit after Axis forces in Africa surrendered) - inspecting the fortifications on the French coast, as the High Command thought the Allies wouldn't ever try something as crazy as an amphibious assault on France. Which, of course, they did. Rommel wasn't enough to stop the Allies, but certainly made their job a lot more difficult.
This is a bit of an urban myth. Rommel actually had a good relationship with Hitler, and was only reassigned because - as aforementioned - his previous post ceased to exist.
Rommel's relationship with Hitler wasn't quite good enough to persuade him to warn Hitler about the July 20th Plot, which he knew about, although didn't participate himself.
Speaking of Hitler, the German government tried to keep him in line by handing him the job of Chancellor. It ended badly.
He did see through a second attempt to do that to him by offering him the Presidency after Hindenburg's death. As President, he would have been required to uphold the constitution, so instead he gave the Chancellor the powers of the President until he felt like filling the position.
World War II German General Manstein spent much of 1939 arguing that the plans drawn by the General Staff for attacking Belgium and France were badly flawed, and for all his troubles, he was assigned to command an infantry corps that was not given anything important to do during the campaign. However, he had a chance to meet Hitler and explain his ideas directly at a reception for new corps commanders during the winter of 1940. The kicker? The chief of the German General Staff, General Halder, was an opponent of Nazism and would have been happy to produce a plan leading to a stalemate, as the original plan (which was anticipated by the Allied Command) would most likely have. Instead, Manstein's ideas led to Germans decisively defeating the French in 1940.
Julius Caesar was sent over to Transalpine Gaul, a far-flung province mostly composed of constantly rebellious barbarians, so that Pompey in Rome wouldn't have to deal with him. Unfortunately, Caesar ended up conquering the rest of Gaul (modern day France), which made him so popular back home that he was able to gain enough support to overthrow Pompey.
Caesar was quite happy to be assigned to Transalpine Gaul as:
He couldn't be taken to court over his massive debts while employed by the republic.
He was allowed to pacify much of North-West Europe.
He was originally allotted Italy by the Senate as his proconsular province, which would have given him nothing to do, no way of making money to pay off aforementioned debts, and no way of making a name for himself.
He also got Illyria and Cisalpine Gaul.
Caesar had originally been assigned to look after the local province but this was in reality an insult, known as looking after the "woods and country paths". It actually took a lot of political skill to secure the impressive Transalpine, Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum for five years. Pompey was influential in Julius Caesar securing it, but it was because he was allied with Caesar at the time.
Napoleon's entire republican career was this; Italy was a sideshow just to keep the southern border vaguely covered, but it ended up winning the war while the rest of Europe went "huh?". Egypt was a sideshow and an attempt to get rid of him; he came back at the perfect time and position to hasten the fall of the Directoire and take over.
Although Napoleon didn't consider Egypt a sideshow, and, indeed, was furious when the combined efforts of Royal Navy officers Horatio Nelson (who destroyed his fleet at the Battle of the Nile and forced him to leave his army to British prison hulks) and Sidney Smith (who trained a force of Ottoman irregulars, British sailors, and Royal Marines into a formidable unit that repulsed Napoleon's attack on Acre) prevented him making anything useful of his African campaign. Indeed, their successes are what inculcated his lifelong hatred of the Royal Navy, and he later commented of Smith: "That man made me miss my destiny".
The 332nd Fighter Group from World War II, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen, were trained by racist instructors who washed trainees out for the very smallest of mistakes, in an attempt to prove that African-Americans were unsuitable to be fighter pilots. It backfired spectacularly, and the result was a hand-picked elite that wiped the floor with everything it met. Their fighter group held the best bomber protection record of all USAAF fighter groups in the European Theater in WWII, with a loss rate of roughly half the average. That is, they lost 25 bombers to enemy fighters while the average loss rate for USAAF fighter groups in Europe was about 50.
A political example: Joseph R. McCarthy was on his way out of the Senate after allegations of bribery arose in 1948. He most likely was looking at impeachment or at the very least censure, but either way, his political career was over. Realizing what an embarrassment McCarthy was to the Republican Party, the party leaders, in their doling out of speaking spots for presidental campaign stump speeches, assigned him to speak in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1950, mostly as it was the most obscure place they could think of sending him. The speech he delivered was the speech that gave us the infamous "I have here in my hand a list of 52 members of the Communist Party in the State Department" and seven years of McCarthyism. The stunt served as a political life preserver, and the subsequent witch-hunt atmosphere actually made the job of finding Soviet spies harder. By waving the anti-Communist card the way he did, he was effectvely bulletproof until 1954 (when the Army–Mc Carthy hearings resulted in his approach being discredited).
While not so much a "backfire," there are many examples of troops sent for a rest or for training to a "quiet" sector and then being exactly the right men on the spot to deal with a surprise attack. Two from the Nazis with Gnarly Weapons alone are the 352nd Division, which just happened to be practicing anti-amphibious tactics at Omaha Beach, and the 9th and 10th SS Armored Divisions which were sent to Arnhem to regroup, right where the unequipped-to-deal-with-tanks 1st Airborne Division was about to drop. In both cases they were exceptions to the "teenagers and old men" the Allies expected to meet.
"Bad" Vlad Putin became Prime Minister in 1999. At the time, it was a thankless, mostly useless position, during a time of Russian turmoil. It was expected to ruin his career like it had done to so many before him. It... didn't.