Thief: Dragging [Black Mage's] limp body around will impede us less than when he does things. Red Mage: That had not escaped me. * beat* Thief: Of course, leaving the body would be even better for us. Red Mage: That had not escaped me.
Things tend to go wrong in drama; this is how drama persists and when something goes wrong, it's usually the fault of The Millstone.
The Millstone is the character, usually The Ditz, who is specifically responsible for the failure of every plan that the heroes carry out. It's because of them that Failure Is the Only Option. For some reason, they're usually given the linchpin of this week's plan... which they will then botch, forcing the heroes to try again next week. If the main characters could just get rid of the Millstone, they'd be home free... but then the show would be over; see Just Eat Gilligan.
Frequently, the villains have a Millstone on their side as well, which is how the heroes can stand their own against them. Odd if the same villains invoke You Have Failed Me to other people but not the Millstone.
The trope name comes from the phrase "millstone around my neck". For those not versed in agriculture, a millstone is a large (often 2-3 feet in diameter) stone disc used by mills to render things well pulverized, such as grinding grain into flour. A typical millstone is several hundred pounds of solid rock: hanging a smaller version around somebody's neck was a public humiliation for some lesser crimes of stupidity in medieval times.
Compare to The Load, who doesn't cause failure but is still of little or no worth, and is nothing as entertaining. General Failure is when the guy who's supposed to be in charge suffers from this. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero is when a good character causes a problem once but doesn't cause them regularly. Such a character could also turn out to be the Spanner in the Works or Unwitting Instigator of Doom. A common additional flaw of this character is to be The Klutz.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
Excel Excel from Excel Saga is an example. Granted, most of Il Palazzo's plans are rather silly to begin with, but she ensures that they have no chance of success.
Near the end of the anime series, Il Palazzo realizes this and fires her by shooting her through the chest and leaving her to die; he conquers the city two episodes later (though the city's destruction might have helped with that a little).
In the manga Excel is so much of a millstone that When Il Palazzo finally gets off his ass and does something (such as exploring outside of the lair), he only rescues Elgala and Hyatt, and leaves Excel behind, replacing her with a disguised Roppomatsu 1 he also captured, and almost immediately succeeds in taking over the city. Interestingly manga Excel is considerably more intelligent than her anime counterpart, even though her hyperactive attitude tends to make it hard to tell. Il Palazzo's success doesn't seem to be so much due to Excel's absence than it is from his own memory and competence returning to him — which was also the reason he ditched Excel.
In Axis Powers Hetalia, comically ditzy Italy spends most of his time dragging down the Axis powers.
Tonpa in Hunter × Hunter actively tries to be one during one part of the Hunter Exam when he's forced to team up with the protagonists, voting opposite the others whenever they're forced to take a vote, immediately forfeiting his match in a best 3-out-of-5 battle, and encouraging dissent between the other members of the group. He even states that he has no desire to pass the exam, and only took it so he could crush the hopes of everyone else taking it.
Ironically, Tonpa forfeiting his match actually helped the protagonists. The convicts they were up against were encouraged the delay the the group for as long as possible until the time limit ran out, getting a year off their sentence for every hour they succeeded in doing so. Kurapika points out that if Tonpa hadn't forfeited, his opponent probably would've crushed his trachea so he couldn't and then just tortured him for the remainder of the time limit.
The Running Gag of Charlie Brown losing baseball game after baseball game is possible only because his team doesn't know better. Even a 51-50 loss never stopped him from pitching. (Indeed, there's a sub-Running Gag that the team wins when Charlie Brown is at camp or some such.)
Lucy could easily be considered one as well. Even from left field, her bungling has ruined more games for Charlie Brown than seems statistically plausible. Of course, Charlie Brown always gets blamed. (That, or Lucy keeps reverting to her stock excuse of "The [X] got in my eyes!")
Around the time Peanuts ended, MAD ran their ideas for the final strip, one of which was the revelation that Charlie Brown had been taking bribes to throw all the baseball games.
Films — Live-Action
Ed in Shaun Of The Dead repeatedly endangers everyone else through simply being Too Dumb to Live. The worst instance occurs when the group is attempting to sneak past dozens of zombies. Ed's cell phone rings, and he answers it and begins cheerfully and loudly talking on it. Later, when they are attempting to hide from the zombies in a pub, he turns on the fruit machine. He also gets a bit too caught up in the excitement of dealing with the zombies violently, thus needlessly endangering everyone else several times for the thrills. Unlike many examples here, however, Shaun actually twigs on and angrily berates Ed for it (thus, rather amusingly, becoming something of a Millstone himself, since his spleen-venting unfortunately occurs right in front of the zombies).
Mary Goodnight in the James Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun, especially while Bond was trying to retrieve the Solex Agitator in Scaramanga's lair. She accidentally hits the giant, candy-like button with her ASS, almost setting off the doomsday thingy while Bond is inside it trying to disable it. Holy crow, maybe not the dumbest Bond girl ever, but a contender.
Man Child Alan from The Hangover causes every situation he and his friends are in to go from bad to worse. He does, however, come to the rescue in the end of both films.
The Big Lebowski: Walter Sobchak is a cross between this and a total asshole. Everything goes completely wrong for the Dude the moment he opens his mouth or comes up with a plan of his own. The kicker? Walter's was right all along.
Virtually every bad thing that happens to the protagonists in the second half of Dante's Peak can be laid at the feet of Ruth, who endangers everyone. And then, after an attempt to rescue her and everyone else at her place, she heroically sacrifices herself to save everyone from sinking into the acid lake they would never have been on if she'd evacuated when she was supposed to.
Peregrin Took in The Fellowship of the Ring, where he's responsible for, among other things: drunkenly revealing Frodo's identity to everybody within earshot, starting a fire at Weathertop that attracts the Ringwraiths, waking up The Watcher which forces the Fellowship to flee into Moria, and finally waking up everything in Moria when they're knee-deep in it.
Lockout: The Ax Crazy Hydell is one for the other villains, in spite of being the one who made their escape possible in the first place. Alex tries and fails to teach him Pragmatic Villainy and is constantly exasperated by how Stupid Evil he is. Hydell's Millstone feats include killing a guy whom Alex was interrogating, shooting down a rescue ship that could have taken everyone to safety, and trying to rape and kill their hostages. When Alex is asked why he doesn't just kill Hydell, he says it's because Hydell is his brother and he loves him.
Francois Pignon is usually The Millstone or The Load in films by the French director / screenwriter Francis Veber. His first appearance was the title character in A Pain In The Ass.
Made Man Nicky Santoro is sent to Las Vegas to make sure no-one interferes with the money-"skimming" operation the mob are running in the Tangiers casino-hotel. His own psychotically volatile nature and arrogance ends up screwing things up for everyone. The bosses eventually get tired of him throwing his weight around and make an example of him.
Before Santoro's live burial, the Mafia bosses notice that the profits from the Skim are actually being skimmed, so they send in Artie Piscano to try and get the situation under control. Unfortunately, he's even more disastrous than Nicky: not only is he an incompetent, but he ends up giving the police evidence by keeping detailed financial records of just about everything relating to the Skim.
Vicki Vale in Batman went from being a fairly competent character to being The Load to finally being this trope. She makes things more difficult for Batman when they flee the museum simply by not running when she had the chance. Some minutes later, she almost gets Batman killed - and then almost publicly unmasked - by lying to him about her weight when he tries using a motorized cord to pull them up to the roof. She does manage to rescue him, but what happened was still her own fault and Batman feels compelled to scold her afterward.
Lampshaded and avoided in Around the World in Eighty Days where Aouda fears she was Fogg's Millstone delaying him on his trip so he missed the deadline. However, Fogg firmly denies she was any problem and any concerns she may still have are dispelled by the fact that she is then instrumental instead in saving the day.
The Twelve Chairs: Ippolit Matveyevich "Kisa" Vorobyaninov first is an employer to his Magnificent Bastard companyon Ostap Bender, then becomes The Load... and then, when they almost buy the titular jewel-stuffed MacGuffin, not only does Kisa get drunk and spend all the cash, he completely screws any possibility of them buying the chairs ever and causes the chairs to be sold separately. Throughout the story he degrades morally and ends up killing Ostap in the sleep (luckily, he got better) right before going for the final chair, only to discover that treasure was already found and taken away due to his own stupidity.
If the other castaways had resorted to cannibalism and eaten him, they could have gotten off the island the next day. He's so much an embodiment of this trope that it was almost titled "The Gilligan". To be fair, the other castaways were at least able to punish him with things like forcing him to be a cuckoo clock sounder, dive dozens of times for a telephone cable, jail him and otherwise humiliate him to their hearts' content.
Also, the episodes that didn't center around their latest attempt to get off the island (and these made up about half the series) instead focused around the latest danger on the island, and Gilligan was always the one who saved them in those cases. So no Gilligan and maybe they'd have gotten off the island — or maybe they'd have been fried by the volcano or blown up by the mine that washed ashore.
In one episode, they find a gold mine on the island, as well as a salvageable life raft from the Minnow. Everybody except Gilligan tries to sneak a bag of gold onto the raft, after being explicitly warned by the Professor not to. The raft sinks as soon as they shove off. Gilligan proceeds to lampshade the fact that he's usually the one to screw these things up.
The Mole is a Reality TV show built entirely around this trope. The players add money to a jackpot by performing tasks, which The Mole tries to sabotage. Every so often, there is a quiz that asks about The Mole (which, naturally, The Mole aces every time), and whoever knows the least is eliminated. Somewhat subverted in that the players, in order to screw with each other's knowledge and extend their own games, don't always give it their all, and thus the entire team becomes The Millstone.
Dr. Zachary Smith from Lost in Space. Especially when you compare the original pilot (before Smith was introduced) with the remade version.
Kate sabotages the outlaws' plans at least five times on Robin Hood for reasons ranging from "I can do it by myself!" to "I'm in a bad mood today!" to "Robin isn't paying enough attention to me!" to absolutely no logical reason at all. On at least three different occasions her presence among the outlaws also turns several other characters into Millstones when they mess up the plans after getting distracted by whatever stupid mess she's managed to wander into.
In The Mighty Boosh, Howard and Vince take turns. Which is the true Millstone is too close to call, as they'll occasionally switch in the same episode. (see The Nightmare of Milky Joe) Their millstoning gets more prevalent when they leave the Zooniverse after season one, as Bob Fossil is no longer instigating episodes.
KellyBundy continually fell into this role on Married... with Children. It's eventually Lampshaded by Peggy in one episode while the Bundys and the D'Arcys are being arrested by the police, when she realizes that it probably wasn't a good idea to let Kelly in on the plan of the week. Later seasons have her repeatedly teaming up with Bud, and her involvement typically turns things into an Epic Fail of Biblical proportions. (Except for that one episode where she invented Bleen.)
A typical episode of Ricky Gervais's Extras would involve his character Andy divulging an embarrassing secret to his friend Maggie, who would inevitably spill the beans to someone in a position to humiliate him over it. Yet as Millstone-ish as Maggie could be, it is eventually Andy who is considered his own worst enemy considering he never learns to keep his mouth shut.
This type of character is parodied in That Mitchell and Webb Look in the "Get Me Hennimore!" sketches, where Hennimore inevitably screws up after his boss gives him two mutually exclusive and dangerous schemes and fails to properly explain which is which, such as denoting one room with the letter I and another with the number one, rendered as the Roman Numeral I! How can Hennimore possibly misunderstand that?
Con man Alexander Fitzhugh in Land Of The Giants. He tends to panic and act selfishly and often ends up drawing the attention of the title giants when the humans could have readily escaped notice. Fitting in that he was an attempt to replicate the success of Zachary Smith from Lost In Space
Inverted in Merlin. Merlin plays this role in his more Genre Savvy moments to keep Arthur's ill-informed plans from going through. For example, Aithusa, where Arthur decides to seek out and smash the last dragon eggnote Dragons in this series are intelligent and this could be considered infanticide, but because Arthur's father raised him to hate magic Arthur is convinced they are mindless monsters who need to be exterminated, Merlin decides to go on ahead and nearly kills himself when the tower collapses, so they can't search through the ruins for it. Well, at least the egg is probably destroyed... or it would be, if it wasn't in Merlin's backpack.
Neelix from Star Trek: Voyager caused nothing but trouble for Janeway and her crew. He destroyed a diplomatic gift Voyager gave as a way to please some violent natives, the Kazon (causing them to seek revenge and chase Voyager for several seasons), failing to find food and getting a crew member killed when he was placed in charged of food gathering after the crew was marooned (even though Janeway found food in the cave they were sleeping in), since he said he was a survival expert. Poisoning the ship (not the crew, the actual ship) with his cooking. At one point, he even committed boni-fide, premeditated treason, with not even a slap on the wrist. Janeway not only made him morale officer, ship cook, but also a DIPLOMAT.
Jesse from Breaking Bad, at least for the first few seasons.
Fallout 2 has the Pariah Dog, a random encounter that can join over the party limit, drops your luck to 1, and gives you the Jinxed trait. The only way to fix this is to get the dog killed, but the damn thing has loads of HP and runs away the moment a battle starts.
The Council for the most part. Despite the fact that you are Spectre, ostensibly with carte blanche from said Council, any action you take is second-guessed and vital information or resources are often withheld. Even after a galaxy-wide invasion, the Asari councilor delays telling you about a Prothean beacon until its location is all but overrun with Reapers.
In Metal Gear Solid 3, Eva actually lives up to the quote at the beginning of the page, since knocking her unconscious and dragging her limp body is both possible, and usually preferable to having her follow you while constantly eating up your rations. Also, if you are spotted, she often chooses to stand her ground and engage the limitless army of enemy troops, rather than attempt to hide like a good agent.
AnyEscort Mission where a Too Dumb to Live escortee jumps in your line of fire, walks instead of running (or runs so fast you can't catch up with them) or even attacks every enemy in sight to guarantee mission failure.
In Ghost Recon your own teammates tend to get themselves killed, by getting themselves shot by the enemy, moving themselves out in the open, or getting in your line of fire.
Ben from The Walking Dead shows this to such a degree that he even realizes his status as one.
First, he made a deal with bandits to trade them supplies in exchange for not hurting his friend - when he realized they didn't have his friend, he continued giving them supplies because they'd threatened to kill him.
Second, his not confessing to the paranoid Lilly about his guilt winds up in getting an innocent person killed.
Third, as a result of his pissing off the bandits to such a degree, Duck winds up getting bitten, and Katjaa is Driven to Suicide as a result.
Fourth, when he and Clementine are cornered by zombies in Savannah, he runs away rather than stay and help her, which ends up getting Chuck killed when he comes in to save her instead.
And finally, he removes an axe keeping zombies out from a doorway to use to open another door. Too Dumb to Live barely begins to describe the guy, but lord knows he tries...
Though its worth noting for the last one that the zombies had stopped trying to break through the door he took the axe out of and the windows were completely covered in blood by that point. You actually walk past the doors on your way back to where everyone else is before Ben shows up with the axe that was used to keep the door shut.
Grif from the Red army fits the trope perfectly. Being a conscript, he is unwilling to work, has terrible stamina and practically is Red Team's Butt Monkey. More to the point, he regularly shirks his duty — during one battle, he forgot to bring the spare ammo. In another scenario, he sold all the spare ammo to the Blues. In Grif's own defense, he's intentionally The Millstone; he's trying to get discharged by any means possible, up to and including criminal negligence. In the rare occasion when he's actually trying, he's a lot more useful.
Donut is arguably worse than Grif in this regard, as evidenced by the time Donut and Grif were sent out on a spying mission together. Donut treated it like a game and wound up getting himself captured almost immediately.
Caboose is definitely the millstone of the Blue team. He has a tendency to kill his teammates (especially Church, whom he has killed in some fashion at least three times) and is otherwise unable to function in battle (in one scene, he manages to get a grenade stuck to the wall his team is hiding behind). In fact, he is best directed to fight the team's enemies by asking him to help the other side.
Luckily (for him) he's lovable enough that he's turned into the Team Pet.
The famous Leeroy Jenkins Video plays this trope for laughs, but actually subverts this on further inspection: in this video, the entire party — or at least the leader — is a Millstone. The overly complicated plan made no sense at all and was not appropriate whatsoever for this encounter. Leeroy did nothing but speed up their demise. Leeroy actually followed one major part of the plan exactly*
Use the ability Divine Intervention on the mages to protect them as they cast their area spells
but it didn't work because the leader of the group apparently did not even read the description for the ability he asked for*
It plainly says the protected player cannot attack while under the effect
Villainous, borderline example: Rich's commentary tells us that Nale often needs Thog because of his sheer power, but his stupidity foils his plans half the time.
Originally, Roy considered Elan to be this and when the latter was kidnapped, Roy was hesitant to go and save him. However, he later decided that this was a jerk move and goes to rescue him. Elan eventually Took a Level in Badass in a class that lets him use his Genre Savvy more efficiently, though he still occasionally had his moments.
The real Millstone of the Order is certainly Belkar. His sociopathy and frequent refusal to listen to orders ruin the party's planning several times — for example, leaving the spellcasters undefended to kill goblins, putting the bandit camp on fire because he couldn't wait, or killing the Oracle, or getting Durkon vampirized. He has somehow grown out of it after his Vision Quest, though.
Duck Dodgers: The title hero is a bit of a subversion. While he often causes the trouble of that particular episode (or makes it worse), he's also usually the one who saves the day in the end, and can be quite competent when he's not screwing up.
Ed. One time the Eds built a rollercoaster that worked perfectly, and Ed destroyed it with his teeth, for absolutely no reason.
He was trying to use his teeth as makeshift breaks to stop said roller coaster.
They've once tried not including Ed. It went badly.
Eddy himself seems to fit the mold even more than Ed. Many, many of the Eds failures come from Eddy's impatience, arrogance, and greed taking the scam far beyond their capabilities. Truthfully, without Eddy, the other two would probably be easily accepted by the other kids.
Deconstructed, harshly, in The Movie in which Eddy admits that he is nothing but a selfish loser and that Ed and Edd are pretty much his only friends. All three Eds are eventually accepted by the other kids after they learn that Eddy's behavior stems from being abused by his utterly cruel older brother. In other words, Eddy being The Millstone in the movie is rather important to his Character Development.
And then, every once in a great while, the Eds will do something right without any one of them screwing it up. In those cases, one of the other kids screws it up. Most commonly Kevin, Sarah, or the Kanker Sisters, but Johnny and Rolf do it a lot, too.
The Fairly Oddparents: Timmy tends to be this, to himself. A lot of the wishes he makes that go wrong are actually pretty decent wishes, but usually it's something he does in his own stupidity that brings out the bad sides of the wishes and sets up the plot of the episode. This is occasionally lampshaded, as some episodes feature Wanda confronting Timmy about his thoughtless, reckless, fundamentally flawed wishes.
Cosmo, as well. Many of the problems that occur in the series are due to his sheer stupidity. Granted, he is a loving godfather and he means well, but that doesn't excuse the number of problems he's caused including essentially being the one who caused Mr. Crocker to lose both him and Wanda as a child but also indirectly causing Crocker to become the fairy-obsessed lunatic he is today. Oh, and he does this twice (due to Timmy time-traveling to prevent said incident).
A whole episode even centers around him helping Timmy with his homework. His "help" includes creating super-intelligent cockroaches that want to take over the world.
Single episode example: "Berry Scary": Berry convinces Bloo that Mac is The Millstone in his attempts to set a world record at something, and he actually falls for that, even though it's her who's been sabotaging Mac and Bloo's efforts.
Which is ironic as Bloo is generally The Millstone for everybody else at Foster's in just about every other episode. That is, for every episode not involving Cheese, the show's resident Ditz.
Although he does prove useful now and again, one could wonder why Zim of Invader Zim kept giving GIR such a crucial role in his plans to conquer Earth. Most likely because Zim is his own Millstone. When he finally fixes GIR, the robot declares almost immediately that Zim's the Millstone to their mission and tries to kill him, forcing the alien to revert him back.
Alexandra in Josie And The Pussycatsin Outer Space. Whenever the group figured out some way to get back to Earth, she'd invariably muck it up, ensuring that they'd have to continue wandering the galaxy and saving the universe one planet at a time.
Ozu: You make a goood point... Perhaps we should start holding Mikey accountable for his actions? (brief pause, then Ozu, Guano and Yes Man all burst into riotous laughter) Ozu: That will be the day...
Pinky always manages to screw up Brain's plans to Take Over the World. This is partly averted in that frequently Brain's plans fail of their own accord or due to bad luck, and not through any fault of Pinky's. The Brain is sometimes too stubborn to listen to the plan's legitimate flaw that Pinky points out, which naturally occurs at the climax.
Subverted in another episode when Brain builds a device to increase Pinky's intelligence, so that Pinky will no longer impede the success of his plans. Pinky then reviews all of Brain's plans and points out that they were all flawed to begin with. Thus Brain is really his own Millstone.
Also played for laughs in one episode where Brain gives up and decides to let Pinky make all the decisions for the next plan. This results in actually going through with several of Pinky's crazy comments (opening up a clam petting zoo, requiring everyone to wear shiny pants) which put them much closer in taking over the world through sheer luck (one of the clams had a valuable pearl, the shiny pants blinded a pilot whose famous passenger thought it was a religious breakthrough and proceeded to give everything to Pinky, ect.)
Regular Show Rigby, who is almost always the cause of all the bizarre stuff that happens to everyone, and getting him and Mordecai into trouble. If Rigby is part of something mundane he would slack off, or do something that would escalate it to something beyond weird and life threatening.
Subversion: Shaggy and Scooby always botch the plan to catch the Monster of the Week... and in the process of botching it succeed at catching the monster.
Daphne is a straighter example, with some Lampshade Hanging from Freddy. She is the one who is constantly tripping traps, or getting kidnapped — usually getting an exasperated "Danger-prone Daphne's at it again!" when it happens. What makes her a Millstone rather then a Distressed Damsel is that it's usually her own vanity that causes problems.
And, as much as we may want to, we can't forget about Scrappy-Doo. He would constantly make things worse by trying to fight the monsters himself and need Shaggy and Scooby to go back and rescue him.
In the The Simpsons episode that parodies Lord Of The Flies, Milhouse. Pretty much every bad thing that happens after they get stranded on the island happens because of Milhouse.
He's even the primary reason they got into the accident that left them on the island in the first place.
In the South Park episode "Crippled Summer", Mimsy is the villainous version of this trope. He screws up all of Nathan's plans, mostly by interpreting the instructions too literally.
The Spectacular Spider Man: Electro is this for the villains. Every time Doc Ock plans out a clever scheme, Electro is responsible for it falling apart. He's so insane and readily prone to rage that invariably, Spider-Man will piss him off and he'll start recklessly throwing lightning bolts around and will destroy whatever phlebotinium Doc Ock was relying on.