Tragically Misguided Favor

"I know all too well what it's like to have to rely on someone not screwing up something when their defining characteristic is that they're an idiot. There's nothing like that sinking feeling you get when they say with total sincerity, "I took care of the problem while you kept the others busy." And you want to slap them and say, 'I wasn't keeping them busy! I was fixing the problem by talking! The way people do when they're fucking normal'!"

When Bob cares a lot for Alice, who has a problem in her life, and Bob decides to fix it, without asking Alice whether this is a good idea (or even despite Alice's explicit request not to interfere). After Bob's elaborate plan succeeds, however, it turns out that by doing it, he ended up ruining his relationship with Alice, or even their very lives.

A cornerstone of Romantic Comedy but can also result in a form of Tragic Hero or even Tragic Monster. Compare Rhetorical Request Blunder, Stupid Sacrifice, Senseless Sacrifice, "Gift of the Magi" Plot. Related to Poisonous Friend.

An inherently spoiler-y trope, so be warned!

Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Code Geass:
    • The Anti-Hero Lelouch starts a world war in order to make a new world where his blind, crippled sister Nunnally could live happily. In the end, it turns out that Nunnally was perfectly fine with being blind and crippled all along, as long as Lelouch was there to take care of her. This however is subverted in that midway through the series, Lelouch already realized he wanted to make a better world for everyone else as well.
    • In season 2, Lelouch ends up telling Rolo twice not to resort to killing anyone while in civilian guise to protect his identity. The one time he is not around to say no to him doing so is the most tragic: Rolo kills Shirley. Subverted in that it was because Shirley knew about Nunnally and wanted to reunite her with Lelouch, an idea repugnant to Rolo, who wanted to be Lelouch's only brother, and feared he might be discarded after the two true siblings were to be reunited.
  • Played straight and subverted in the original series and the second season of Lyrical Nanoha, respectively.
    • In the Back Story of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The MOVIE 1st, the Evil Matriarch Precia Testarossa spent so much time at work to provide for her daughter Alicia, that she couldn't be with Alicia when she died. She then does the same mistake again, mercilessly using her daughter's clone, Fate, to find means to resurrect Alicia—as it turns out, what Alicia wanted the most from her mother was a little sister.
    • Happily subverted in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, whose "villains", the Wolkenritter, carry out a ritual which they believe will save their Mistress Hayate from paralysis and which Hayate explicitly forbade them to do. It turns out, the ritual would have actually killed Hayate and the knights themselves, but thanks to Team Nanoha's intervention, the worst case scenario is narrowly averted.

    Film 
  • A less tragic variation takes place in Hitch. Hitch himself starts dating Sera, and things go fine at first. Then Hitch decides to surprise her by taking her to the Statue of Liberty, thinking it would be a nice gesture to show her the Staten Island immigration records, showing her the ancestor that brought her family lineage to America. Sera starts to cry and storm off, pointing out that just being reminded of her ancestor's name reminds her that he was an infamous serial killer. Hitch spends a good part of the movie trying to rekindle their relationship.

    Literature 
  • In Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the Gentleman with Thistle-Down Hair sets out to find Stephan Black's true name for him. He is greatly astounded when Stephan Black kills him before the gentleman can tell it to him.
  • Non-romantic example in one of the Brother Cadfael stories. An old lady has a devoted pair of servants, who kill an Old Retainer when they think she might spill the beans on a secret their mistress doesn't want let out. She is horrified, as she never would have ordered the retainer's death and the secret is out anyway. The two run away before the law can catch up with them.
  • In the original short story "It's a Good Life" three-year-old Anthony uses his godlike powers to "help" people but since he has a child's worldview his help is more often than not a hindrance. Such as when a woman misses her dead husband, so Anthony reanimates his corpse which digs its way out from the grave. At the end of the story he makes it snow because his aunt had complained about the heat, which kills off half the crops.
  • And Then There Were None: Vera Claythorne was in love with the impoverished aristocrat Hugo Hamilton, who was second-in-line to inherit a title after his young nephew Cyril. Since Vera was Cyril's governess, she was able to kill him be deliberately allowing him to swim off to sea and pretending that he had disobeyed her. When Hugo realized what she had done he broke off with her in disgust.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Arrested Development, George Michael decides to throw a 16th birthday party for his cousin, Maeby. He finds her address book and invites everyone in it. However, she had been posing as someone much older in order to hold down a job as a film studio executive. By inviting the people from her address book, George Michael unwittingly exposed her true age to her coworkers and got her fired.
    • More broadly, whenever a member of the Bluth family tries to do someone a favor, there's a good chance it will turn out this way.
  • Downplayed in an episode of Doctor Who: River Song breaks her wrist escaping from a Weeping Angel but when the Doctor uses some of his regeneration energy in order to heal it (without consulting her) this somehow just makes her (and Amy Pond) angry at him.
    • A more straightforward (and heartbreaking) example in "Face the Raven." Clara wants to save her friend Rigsy who has been marked to die at a certain time as punishment for a crime he doesn't remember committing. Clara takes the death mark from him, assuming the Doctor will save her if they can't prove Rigsy's innocence in time. It turns out Rigsy didn't commit the crime and he was never in any real danger, but Clara's changed the rules by taking the mark so there is no way to free her and she has to die.
  • In an episode of Blackadder, the King talks to his wife about the Thomas Becket situation one of his predecessors went through. (See Real Life below for how that turned out.) Some knights just returning from an adventure walk in just as the King quotes "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest" and take it that they'd get in the King's good graces if they killed the current Archbishop of Canterbury. Unbeknownst to them the King and the Archbishop (who is also the King's son) are actually getting on very well.
  • In a Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode, Peralta and Santiago are assigned to go out of town to escort back a prisoner. Since the prisoner is only being released early in the morning, Peralta decides to invite his girlfriend along for the night, making Santiago wish her boyfriend thought of such things. Peralta, thinking to do something nice, secretly calls him to come along; unfortunately, Santiago's sentiment was meant as one of the reasons why she wanted to break up with him. This is made worse by the fact that Peralta had previously expressed romantic inclinations toward Santiago.
  • Shawn from Psych wanted to surprise Juliet for her birthday by inviting her estranged father Frank to her birthday party, which she specifically insisted he not do, claiming he wasn't "presentable". He does this anyway and tracks down her dad to a golf course, after which they converse in his very fancy house. Quite impressed, he convinces Frank to visit Jules, and he agrees. He goes to break the news to Jules, who gets really mad that he did the very opposite of what she wanted, then tells Shawn that her dad didn't own any of the things he had and was just a Con Man.
    Shawn: I know I'm in the doghouse.
    Juliet: Oh, you're not in the doghouse.
    Shawn: I'm not?
    Juliet: No, you're going to have to work really hard to make it into the doghouse.

    Mythology and Oral Tradition 
  • In Finnish, the term for this kind of thing is "karhunpalvelus", or "bear's favor", which comes from a folk tale about a man with a pet bear. One day when the man was sleeping, a fly landed on his nose. The bear tried to swat it away, but ended up smacking him in the face with its paw, killing the man.
    • This is also the plot of Jean De La Fontaine's fable L'ours et l'amateur des jardins ("The bear and the garden-lover"). A similar term meaning "bear's favour" or "bear's service" also exists in German (Bärendienst), Scandinavian languages (e. g. Swedish björntjänst) and Russian (medvezhya usluga).
    • In ancient Greece and Rome this was called a "Lichas' service", after Herakles' servant Lichas, who brought his master the shirt soaked in the blood of the centaur Nessos, which was contaminated with the poison of the Hydra. So in the belief to help him he unwittingly caused Herakles' death.
  • A joke goes that a knight comes to his king and reports that he [the knight] has spent the last year defeating the kingdom's enemies to the south, the west and the north.
    King: What?! I don't have any enemies to the north!
    Knight: Oh. Well, you do now.
    Religion 
  • The Bible arguably features this trope in the Second book of Kings. The Fifth Chapter tells us that after Naaman was cured of his Leprosy, he returned to Elisha and urged him to accept a gift. Elisha refused and Naaman left happily after declaring that he would only make offerings to the God of Israel. Elisha's servant, Gehazi thought his master had been too kind in not accepting anything from Naaman so he followed and told a lie about Elisha wanting two talents and changes of clothing for visitors that had just arrived. When Gehazi returned home with the items, Elisha asked him where he'd been. Despite telling Elisha that he hadn't gone anywhere Gehazi ended up punished for his deed by contracting Naaman's Leprosy. This example is made especially potent because not only did Gehazi contract Naaman's Leprosy, but Elisha added that it would cling to him and his descendants forever. Maybe lying to a prophet was a bad idea...
    Video Games 
  • The entire plot of Tales of Symphonia kicks off because Mithos wanted to resurrect his sister after she's killed before seeing a non-racist world and give her that world by turning everyone into angels. Once she sees this, she's horrified. She wanted a world without racism, but not via those means, and she didn't want to steal someone else's body.
  • Caius Ballad in Final Fantasy XIII-2 executes a centuries-long plan to stop Yeul's (a Waif Prophet he is charged to protect) cycle of reincarnation that leads to her being killed over and over again by her own prophetic gift. Towards the end of the game, it turns out that Yeul is Not Afraid to Die, and all she ever wanted was to spend her lifetimes with Caius and Noel—a dream that Caius himself ruined by his quest.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the Bad Boys Love route of Hatoful Boyfriend, Shuu promises Kawara Ryuji to help the his son Ryouta if anything happened to him (such as dying). After a disaster abroad, Shuu next meets Ryouta in an orphanage that just witnessed a human-sympathizer attack and decides to grant the boy one wish: to stop the fighting between humans and birds. To this end, Shuu began experimenting with a virus that would instantly kill humans without them even knowing through Nageki, and after his suicide, implant Nageki's liver in Ryouta to continue his plan to end the fighting between humans and birds... by eliminating the humans. His first victim? His childhood friend Hiyoko, a hunter-gatherer human girl.

    Web Comics 
  • Blindsprings:: Harris "rescues" his childhood friend Tammy from the spirits of Wickwold forest shortly before she could complete the 300 years' service she owed them, breaking their friendship and forcing her to make a new, much more dangerous contract to make sure the spirits kept preserving and protecting her older sister. His roommate and lover Ewan later points out that Harris is an inveterate busybody who has made a lifetime habit of providing unwanted and often unwelcome help. It turns out there are reasons for this that Harris himself isn't fully aware of.

    Web Original 
  • Discussed by SF Debris:
    I know all too well what it's like to have to rely on someone not screwing up something when their defining characteristic is that they're an idiot. There's nothing like that sinking feeling you get when they say with total sincerity, "I took care of the problem while you kept the others busy." And you want to slap them and say, "I wasn't keeping them busy! I was fixing the problem by talking! The way people do when they're fucking normal!"

    Western Animation 
  • On the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "The Lost Mattress", Mr. Krabs has trouble sleeping because of his lumpy mattress, so SpongeBob and Patrick buy him a new one and throw the old one away. Unfortunately, the reason the mattress was so lumpy was because Mr. Krabs had all his money inside, and he goes into a catatonic shock while SpongeBob, Patrick, and Squidward (who took all the credit) look for the mattress at the dump.
  • The Simpsons: In "Hurricane Neddy", Ned Flanders' home gets destroyed by a hurricane, and Homer leads Springfielders in rebuilding it. Unfortunately, it's shoddily built all around, and it's easily undone by just patting it. Already depressed, this pushes Ned too far, and he launches into a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to the townspeople.
    Ned: Now, calm down, Ned-illy-diddly-diddly, they did their best, shoddily-iddily-iddly... Gotta be nice, hostility-iddly-diddly... AW, HELL, DIDDLY-DING-DONG-CRAP! CAN'T YOU MORONS DO ANYTHING RIGHT!?!
  • There was an episode of ChalkZone that revolved around Rudy misinterpreting what would happen to drawn characters and "fixing" them before they're washed away, only for him to have made things worse once those drawings make it to Chalk Zone. One example is him thinking a sea monster is gonna eat a boat and chaining him to a rock, only for the sea monster to actually want to eat the popsicle that the boat ends up crashing into. Another was him thinking a moose was gonna fall off a building and splat on the ground, prompting Rudy to draw a rubber ball around him so he bounces instead, only for it to be a production of "The Moose Who Could Fly" that is now ruined. The episode ends with him learning his lesson and not intervening on a drawing of a teddy bear being lowered into a volcano by a crane, only for the Iris Out to zoom in on the bear as it screams expression, implying that this was one drawing he should have edited.

    Real Life 

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TragicallyMisguidedFavor