When the characters come up with a plan to save the day, its chances of success are inversely proportional to how much the audience knows about it beforehand.
As corollaries, you can ensure A Simple Plan's success by making it an Unspoken Plan, and guarantee failure by telling the audience the details of the Zany Scheme. Expect to hear the phrase "I've got a plan" spoken by one of the characters with no further explanation before the cut to the next scene. Explaining The Plan after it's been carried out is optional.
This, by the way, is why heroes always manage to escape a villain'sDeath Trap. The villains always insist on describing exactly what the traps do.
Admittedly, the reason for revealing only failed plans to the audience is obvious. Where's the drama in something going wrong if no one knows what was supposed to happen? Conversely, where's the drama in seeing exactly what you were just told would happen?
This may be justified if the plan must be kept secret, even from one's allies. Perhaps the enemy can read minds, and will know everything your friends know as soon as the two sides come into contact. Or perhaps they have othermethods for making people talk. Or somebody on your team might be an enemyagent. If so, the only way to keep your opponents in the dark is to lie to the people on your side about what the plan is, or don't tell them any plan at all.
Another possibility is that the plan includes a deception, and your allies aren't in on it so that their reactions to the apparent situation will be convincing.
This trope still applies if we get to see an A-Team Montage assembling Chekhov's Armoury beforehand — as long as we still don't know how the guns within will be fired until the time comes. If this trope is subverted it is probably because the story was about to wrap up, so the plan can be articulated without sacrificing much drama, or in the tension of seeing how well it goes.
This often crops up interestingly in Tabletop RPGs, where it arises from the players describing their plan in front of the GM — who will, naturally, enjoy the opportunity to botch the plan. The best way to avert this is to enlist the GM's help with the plan while keeping other players in the dark — again fulfilling the trope!
It is also the power behind the Indy Ploy: The best way to ensure that your plan does not get ruined by unforeseen circumstances is not to have a plan at all.
See also Obstacle Exposition, Gambit Roulette, "I Know What We Can Do" Cut, Despite The Plan, Impossible Mission Collapse.
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This is how JoJo's Bizarre Adventure operates. Heroes come across a bad guy with some crazy, never-before-seen power. The heroes look like they're in a tight spot. Some craziness happens which leaves the villain either dead or begging for mercy. Hero explains their brilliant plan at the end of the chapter arc. And it's all glorious.
Lupin III regularly makes use of this trope. No matter how clever the bad guys are, Lupin always one-ups them at the last minute with a new gadget or a brilliant ruse - the audience knows he always has something up his sleeve, but we're almost never told what.
This is sort of subverted at the beginning of the TV Special Seven Days Rhapsody. The special starts with, as with every special, a successful heist (this time, taking the money off the hands of some rich men during a horse race), but it turns out to be a flashforward as part of Lupin explaining the plan to Jigen one week before the heist will take place. At the end of the special, Lupin eventually gets to the tracks, but the horse race was cancelled due to weather conditions.
Episode 18 of The Wallflower has one of these plans as to how the tenants are going to save Sunako from a mob.
Yu-Gi-Oh! not only does this straight, but makes it extremely obvious where many duels go where the face down cards of hero and villain alike often go unknown until they are used much like a spectator would see. Almost every time this trope is employed the flow is broken where the character would not only completely explain his plan in a drawn out monologue, but often visualize what could have happened. This even occasionally goes for face-up cards, when their abilities go unmentioned until the point where they become relevant, even though in the real card game it's important to know all the abilities of your opponent's cards.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Every episode up till the 8th features unspoken (or even unplanned) plans, and then they spend half an episode preparing for a well-described plan. Tropers, now is the time to get nervous. The plan actually does work, but Kamina dies executing it.
Used in varying degrees throughout Code Geass, most notably with the Zero Requiem. Although Lelouch and Suzaku refer to it in nearly every scene from R2 22 onwards, its true nature isn't revealed -or even hinted at- until the climax of the final episode, as it's being executed. Naturally, it works perfectly.
Referenced in the Lucky StarOVA during the volleyball match, where Konata announces that it's time to use the "Jet Stream Attack" and Konata, Tsukasa, and Misao get in position... until Misao asks just what the heck is a "Jet Stream Attack", whereupon Konata bemoans how she wasn't supposed to say that and now the plan won't work.
Mahou Sensei Negima! pulls this off perfectly, during the festival arc. Chao's plan to reveal magic to the world is not explained until after Negi and company are forced a week into the future, where it has already succeeded. Upon learning HOW the plan goes, they proceed to go back in time using cassiopiea. This plan almost fails because it is explained, mostly, before hand, however several parts of the plan are left vague until the end... all of which succeed perfectly. Upon returning to the 3rd day of the festival, Negi and Company attempt to avert the plan. They technically FAIL, which is either a subversion because they knew the plan, or upholding the trope because it wasn't Chao who explained it to them, but Negi defeats Chao in combat, so she changes her wish. I would just like to ask why nobody brought that up before now.
In Chapters 240-248, this trope is played straight, subverted, and toyed with. Negi goes into the match with some crazy plan to defeat Rakan that only he knows. Negi reveals one new ability after another, but it's never enough to defeat Rakan. Finally, Negi tricks Rakan into using one of his insanely powerful magical blasts on Negi. It's then revealed that the entire match was planned as a set-up by Negi: during an earlier lightning-fast attack which seemed too weak to defeat Rakan, he had also set up a magic circle that allowed him to absorb Rakan's attack. Negi then uses Rakan's own insane attack against him. This still isn't enough to defeat Rakan, but both of them are exhausted, breaking it down into a mere fistfight that ends in a draw.
Played straight in the most over the top way possible later on. There's an entire chapter dedicated to explaining exactly how the plan is supposed to proceed, complete with diagrams explaining every little detail. The following chapter sees the entire plan totally ruined by a series of Wham Episodes. Good thing that most of the exposition was still relevant anyway.
Also played straight in that Negi has a plan to save the Magical World from its seemingly inevitable destruction which he has apparently explained to no one, even the people he should be convincing he can do it.
Generally played mostly straight in Kaiji, where we usually only find out the least important half of the plan in advance, such as when we see Kaiji use balance theory to win a game with scissors but don't know that he expects the opponent to discover balance theory and thus walk into a second trap, or when we see him deliberately mark the cards against Tonegawa but don't know that he wants Tonegawa to realize it's a trap. Played painfully straight in the final game; Kaiji explains his grand scheme to overthrow the chairman in meticulous detail four episodes before the end of the series. No prizes for guessing that it blows up in his face.
Used in both arcs of the second season, too. Kaiji's initial plan is explained in great detail, but inevitably fails. Kaiji figures out the trick to winning, but we only see hints of what he's thinking and have to wait until the plan unfolds to learn about his successful plans. Especially satisfying against The Bog, where there are 3-4 steps to the plan that are revealed as each one comes into play.
Played with in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, where ZAFT's strategy is to capture the Earth Alliance's three mass drivers. However, the invasion force thought (by both sides) to be used to capture the third one is instead suddenly given orders to attack the EA's HQ, which was the real plan all along. It seems that the EA is set up for an ambush when its revealed that a commander who knew about the plan is a double agent and tipped off the EA in time to set up a trap.
Happens a lot in Eyeshield 21 when the Devil Bats use a trick play. Interestingly, the memorable onside kick against Shinryuji was literally an unspoken plan - Hiruma never spoke the plan to the rest of the team, but they picked up on it anyway. The plan succeeds despite being revealed to the audience directly before its execution.
Can frequently act as a spoiler in battle in Naruto. If we're hearing the Inner Monologue of someone thinking up a plan it's pretty guaranteed to fail unless they had some failsafe we didn't hear about.
On a broader strategic level, the discussed plan to capture Sasori's spy (Kabuto) in Orochimaru's men fails when Kabuto attacks Yamato, who is disguised as Sasori, instead of Orochimaru when he comes to interrupt the meeting, a possibility Yamato had not accounted for at any point in the discussions or his internal monologues.
During the Sasuke Retrieval Arc, Shikamaru is facing off against a kunoichi that is able to control a group of monsters through flute-playing, and Shikamaru can't fight three opponents at once. He takes cover behind a tree and then goes over the inventory of the tools he has in his pouch. That's it. Next he's just throwing things at her...in a way precisely calculated to get her into the optimum position for him to use his final tool, a flash bomb that allows him to use his Shadow Controlling Jutsu to take control of her monsters and control them the way she does.
Inverted in Tokyo Mew Mew; the group discusses a plan to deal with a school of fish chimera anima, and the plan is successfully executed exactly as discussed. Then again, the threat they dealt with was a diversion (which the reader already knew about, as part of Pai's discussed plan to pollute Tokyo Bay, which fails). Most other combination attacks are discussed before being executed.
Chapter 41 of Pluto has Professor Roosevelt about to go into his plan on a surefire way to kill Gesicht, but the chapter ends before he can do so. The plan works and Gesicht dies.
Played straight in both variations in One Piece. During the civil war of Arabasta, Zoro comes up with a plan to tell each other apart, just in case the one guy that can copy people's bodies tries to interfere. They all wrap bandages around their left arm. When the time comes, the body-copier also has the bandages on his left arm. The kicker? Beneath the bandages was an X on their arms, which we were not told.
Saki managed to subvert this while maintaining the suspense: At times, multiple characters' secret plans would be revealed to the audience, but the plans would directly conflict each other, some being plans to out-gambit an opponent. (For example, Koromo trying to use her luck manipulation abilities to win with haitei raoyue, while the others catch on and try to call tiles to affect the turn order in a way that would make it impossible for Koromo to do so.) So several fully-described plans (such as Hisa's bad-wait strategy) would work perfectly, as the suspense came not from whether or not a single plan would work, but rather from the question of which gambit in the Gambit Pileup was going to win out.
Spice And Wolf ("Wolf and the Biggest Secret Scheme") features a plan by Horo to repay Lawrence's debt, and cuts away just before she explains it.
Inverted and then played straight in Digimon Xros Wars, with Yuu's plan on how to defeat team Xros Heart. It's only over the course of the battle that we learn the plan was to counter the tried and true strategy of Taiki leading the front line, Nene providing reinforcements, and Kiriha striking out on his own to flank the enemy. A pity Kiriha had his own unspoken and unmentioned plan consisting of swapping their digimon, completely outmaneuvering him and shooting for the ultimate goal of defeating the opposing general.
Subverted in Tiger & Bunny, where Kotetsu's awesome, unspoken plan to Clear his name and get his fellow heroes to remember him turns out to be not very awesome at all. Conversely, the plan that does work is the one he explains onscreen to Barnaby, just with one critical detail left out to fool Barnaby's telepathic opponent: that sonic grenade Kotetsu gave him was actually a flash grenade.
Wedding Peach: Played with in the first piano episode. First Parodied: Yuri's plan consists of invoking the ghost of a friend's dead sister with piano music so she will encourage the friend to resume practicing piano. Both Momoko and Hinagiku think this plan is ridiculous. Played straight in that their real plan, have Momoko pretend to be said dead sister, is interrupted by a devil attack, but ultimately subverted as the plan never actually goes into motion because the real ghost actually shows up, just as in the original conception.
Zigzagged in Mobile Suit Gundam 00, where Aeolia Schernberg's unspoken plan doesn't necessarily succeed or fail, just that it's hijacked and changed halfway through by the Big Bad. Even after the plan is put back on track by the heroes and eventually does succeed, the details of what the original plan was supposed to be are never revealed.
Although this is usually in full effect with Kurama's plans from YuYu Hakusho, one notable subversion has him attempt a suicide plan to defeat his opponent, which he completely thinks to himself. It goes completely according to plan, except for Kurama dying.
Tam Lin inverts this: he describes in great detail exactly what she is to do — and then we are told, in one verse, that she did exactly that. (Does prevent the repetition problem just as well.)
In Fause Foodrage, also inverted; the queen tells Wise William that if they exchange children, they will each raise the other's child properly and when they meet, exchange code words to ensure that they can tell that the child is doing well without being caught. Then it cuts to the time when Wise William tells the queen's son Secret Legacy.
Subversion: In The Sandman #22, Morpheus announces to the population of the Dreaming his plan to go to Hell. He mentions that he has "made certain plans" in case he is captured, but not what they are. However, he isn't captured, and the subject doesn't come up again.
In the Marvel Fear Itself crossover, we have yet to be told what Loki's plan for defeating the Serpent is (outside of the fact that he seems to be the only person with a plan at all and that it's a brains-over-brawn plan). Since we have no clue, it is therefore likely to succeed, according to this trope. And the fact that Loki is a reincarnated Magnificent Bastard.
Likewise, Odin's "wipe out earth to stop it" plan is not going to happen now that they've mentioned it (and because it would end the comic).
Iron Man also has some sort of a plan here, and was last seen going to explain it to Odin in an effort to get him to not destroy Earth. We have yet to see the outcome of that, but there is supposedly a plan there.
X-Men teams frequently use telepathy to communicate privately; the "Breakworld" arc of Astonishing X-Men gleefully takes advantage of this to have them set up an entire plan without cluing in the reader at all. Not until after most of the plan has taken effect do we get to hear what they were really saying in that scene.
In the Jackie Chan Adventures fic Queen Of All Oni, this is played with in Operation:Steel Lighting, we only know the most basic part of it (that it involves getting a mask on Jackie and somehow using that to steal the masks from Section 13, due to Dangerously Genre Savvy Jade remembering what happened with Jackie Dark in season 1). The first part doesn't go as planned, with the mask ending up on Captain Black instead, but the plan goes ahead, NEARLY succeeding, and Jade getting a Consolation Prize out of it.
In Curious George Goes To Paris, The Man in the Yellow Hat discusses a plan to save the British soldiers with Corporal McFluffin, which the reader never hears about. The plan goes well until Nazi tanks show up.
In Fallout: Equestria, the plan for defeating the Goddess. Notable in that this trope applies in-story as well; after coming up with the plan, Littlepip tells each member of the party their part in the plan and ONLY their part, and then has her own memories removed. The reason is that the Goddess is telepathic, and Littlepip herself will be facing the Goddess directly. Letting your opponent read your mind and figure out your plan would kind of put a damper on it.
In Game Theory, Precia does not reveal to anyone that she has found a way to revive Alicia without traveling to Alhazred, and that she intended use the battle on the Garden of Time to fake their deaths, which works flawlessly. The justification was that if Nanoha or Fate were captured by the TSAB, they could not give her real plans away if they were ignorant of what they were.
In V for Vendetta, V had an iron vest underneath his clothing near the end, although he was fatally wounded.
Ocean's Eleven (at least, the modern remake) - in fact, this is a tool of most con genre stories, since you'd lose a lot of tension if you knew exactly what the plan was to begin with - the tension relies on the appearance of it all going wrong, when it's actually going to plan, after all
Ocean's Twelve too. What the audience believes to be "the plan" is shown to fail miserably. In fact, the real gambit is carried out successfully and silently in the middle of the movie, unannounced, and everything from there on is just a ruse to fool the antagonist.
Ocean's Thirteen: The unspoken portion of the plan is focused solely on screwing over Benedict when he tries to screw them.
The Godfather: Michael's scheme for wiping out all of the Corleone Family's enemies at the end of the movie. He never spoke of it and actually continually gave away details of planning to do the exact opposite to cover himself. Needless to say, the plan works perfectly.
A classic plan that's destined for disaster occurs, complete with visualization in Shaun of the Dead. If the heroes could really "wait for all this to blow over," it wouldn't be much of a horror movie...
The Joker's train of Gambit Roulette in The Dark Knight succeeds so well precisely because the only time he reveals a hint of what he's about to do is when he's either completely lying through his teeth, lying about the bit that's going to make you walk right into it, or telling you the bit that's going to make you walk right into it. 99% of the time Batman, the police, and the audience have no freaking clue what to expect next.
In The Sting we are led to believe that the spoken plan is doomed to fail because we are not told that the man we think is an FBI agent is actually part of the scam. By the same token, we are not told two other important things: Salino's first name is "Loretta", and Gondorff hired a bodyguard for Hooker.
The Heist, directed by David Mamet, is basically this trope extruded out for 90 minutes. Thankfully, all the double-crosses and surprises make sense at the very end.
Shows up in The Dirty Dozen, as the Dozen go over their infiltration plan multiple times, including a mnemonic for memorizing all 16 steps. Of course, the plan starts breaking down almost immediately but they have enough redundancy to compensate. When halfway through the mission things really go wrong, the plan falls apart and they have to improvise the rest of the way.
The Home Alone franchise typically shows a series of brief clips of the protagonist child preparing his traps before the climactic showdown, with the intent of the traps not being fully revealed until they've each been sprung on the Bad Guys.
Justified in Push: the Watchers can only predict your future by decisions, i.e., they can only know what you're going to do next if you make a decision to do something and they can see how that interacts with other people's decisions. So to get the better of the bad guys the hero writes letters to each of his team with what to do next, which they open at specific times. He also writes one to himself before having his memory erased.
Race to Witch Mountain: Jack Bruno relays his plan to Sarah via telepathy, so that the government agents won't know how they plan to get away.
Carefully laid out plans are made for the overthrowing of Emperor Commodus in Gladiator involving the release of Maximus and a coup against the empire. The plan fails when they are betrayed by a Senator.
The Matrix Reloaded spends a good five minutes describing the plan and showing it being executed in the intercuts. As soon as all details are established, things get wrong.
In Inglourious Basterds Shoshanna's plan to burn down her theater while it was full of Nazis goes off perfectly, but she doesn't live to see it. However, it's hinted that she wasn't planning to survive the fire anyway.
Pulled at the end of 2 Fast 2 Furious. All we know about the plan Brian and Roman are hatching is that 1)they need two more cars, 2)said cars need to be outfitted with something made from nitrous tanks, and 3)they need a nearby warehouse. When the plan is pulled off, everything works perfectly. However, Carter Verone has an Unspoken Plan of his own that also works.
Sherlock Holmes: Lestrade arrests Holmes, and seems to enjoy the thought of turning him in to Lord Coward. However, he was shown to be working with Holmes the entire time, even slipping him the key to his handcuffs to facilitate his escape.
In Daybreakers, when Edward and Audrey are captured, cured Edward is pushing Bromley to feed on him because Frankie was cured after biting cured Elvis. We aren't told this until quite a bit after the scene.
Used in All the President's Men when Woodward and Bernstein plan out a conversation they will have with a reluctant informant. (Basically, they say that they know things they really only suspect and wait for her to confirm them by saying "How did you know that?") Justified because it's necessary for the audience to understand why they spoke to her the way they did.
The Boondock Saints: several times we see the brothers about to embark on some plan or other, then the movie cuts to the scene of the crime and we learn how it was done as Agent Smecker narrates how it must have happened. Usually, he gets it right.
Played both ways in The Boondock Saints 2; in an early scene, the brothers discuss their plan for assaulting some gangsters, complete with voice-over cinematics. In the next scene, the police mention that "whatever happened, it was a botched plan", with voice-over cinematics showing exactly how it was botched. Much later in the movie, they are about to discuss the plan when the camera focus leaves the group; Cut to the police discussing the precision and deftness with which the attack was carried out, as a voice-over to them succeeding.
Bialystock: "Step One! We find the worst play ever written! Step Two! We hire the worst director in town! Step Three! We raise two million dollars - one for me and one for you! Step Four! We hire the worst actors in New York, and open on Broadway, and before you can say Step Five! We close on Broadway, take the two million, and go to Rio!"
Unfortunately, their play somehow becomes a hit, and Step Five never happens. For Max Bialystock, at least.
Played straight in A Bridge Too Far. Immediately after the outline of Operation Market Garden is given to the Allied generals, the first sign that it will fail is given when the Germans send an SS Panzer Corps to one of the target cities to refit by sheer coincidence.
Averted awesomely in True Lies when Harry Tasker, handcuffed and stoned in truth serum, explains to his captors in great detail exactly how he is going to kill every one of them and escape. They laugh it off until he reveals that he has already escaped the handcuffs. He does exactly as he said, but it's way better to see it than to hear it.
Nodded to in Watchmen. The quasi-villainous antagonist tells the heroes about his morally questionable plan to unite the world by faking an attack by a superhuman force. When the heroes state their determination to stop him, he pauses as if puzzled and says, "Why would I be telling you this if I hadn't already done it?" He had already set events irreversibly in motion.
In The A-Team this is part of the plot. When we see the team planning the mission to steal the counterfeit plates early in the film, we are not told the whole plan. Why? Because B.A. isn't supposed to hear it either, since it is necessary for him to not know that he's going to end up locked in a cargo container being flown away by a helicopter piloted by Murdock as he would not agree to it.
In Richard Adams' Watership Down, not only is the audience never informed beforehand of Hazel's plan to steal does from Efrafa, he doesn't even tell the other rabbits, realizing that if any of the rabbits are captured "They'll make you talk, all right."
Happens in every damn book in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files. Most notably in Turn Coat, when the reader and Molly only find out about Harry's contingency plan after it looks like the main plan has completely failed.
Happens five times in every book in Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series. Most of the time it's due to scene cuts or chapter breaks, but there's at least one instance where it happens in-universe as well. Faced with an enemy with some degree of mind-reading powers, Tavi uses a fiendishly complex series of nested written orders, including multiple orders for each contingency imaginable. If people don't know the plan they're following, the mind-reader can't find it out. Tavi muses later that the best part of the plan is he doesn't have to explain anything to anyone.
Played with in Dune. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen reveals all the details of his plan to the reader to annihilate the Atreides and their forces, and it goes only partially as planned: Duke Leto is captured and his army destroyed, but Leto's woman and heir escape due to a co-conspirator defecting. Later, Paul's plan for revenge is outlined in the middle of the book and goes exactly as planned at the end.
The sequels contain the two of the greatest examples anywhere: Paul and Leto II use their prescience to plan out millennia, without revealing the plan to anyone.
Outright subverted in Dune Messiah. The Tleilaxu, Qizarate, Fremen naysayers, Bene Gesserit, and Spacing Guild hatch (a) plan(s) to remove the Atreides from power that seems to revolve around a clone of dead Atreides retainer Duncan Idaho. It turns out that the plan was much more complicated and the clone only played a minor role, but for all the plotting it only ends up making Paul blind and by the end of the book all the conspirators are dead save for a High Heel Face Turn. What's strange is that even after the plan fails it still remains largely unspoken, especially strange since each group of the conspiracy had different agendas, meaning that each group, save for the Tleilaxu who put it in motion, was an Unwitting Pawn.
Played straight in Children of Dune, as the book covers in excruciating detail the plans of everyone conspiring against the children, but Leto II's plan remains a secret until the very end and completely trumps everyone else's.
In Terry Pratchett's Going Postal, Moist von Lipwig and the Smoking Gnu work out a plan to destroy the semaphore company by blowing up the signal towers. The reader is told exactly how this plan will work. Just before they do it, though, Moist realises this would cause more problems than it solves, and comes up with a plan to destroy the company but leave the system in place. We aren't told how this one works until the payoff.
In James White's early Sector General novels, Dr. Conway did this frequently at the end of a story, when he'd finally correctly diagnosed what was wrong with his latest patient-from-an-unknown species. Somewhat Justified Trope in that the situation was by its nature time-critical by that point.
Hospital Station, "The Trouble with Emily": In this case, Dr. Conway figures out what Dr. Arratepec is trying to achieve with the titular character but will not reveal the information to the Chief Psychologist (and thus to the reader). Justified Trope in that he does not reveal his deduction to the rest of his colleagues because he may have reached his conclusion on the basis of privileged information, since the telepathic Arratepec had touched his mind. He also does not reveal his conclusions to Arratepec, whose people have been keeping quiet about the purpose of the Emily experiment for fear of public ridicule if it doesn't work out.
Star Surgeon, "Resident Physician": When Conway deduces what is wrong with Lonvellin, who is suspected of murdering and eating his personal physician after an argument over the latter's treatment, Conway doesn't explain to his colleagues why he has called for a wooden stake and is very slowly pushing it against the patient's skin. The personal physician was actually a symbiotic organism who was isolated and removed from Lonvellin while trying to defend its "employer" from the stake by concentrating itself into a hard bony plate. Sector General's staff resolved the quarrel between the patient and the symbiote by giving the latter more information on the physiology of the former.
Timothy Zahn's Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Outbound Flight features an interesting use of this trope. Protagonist Car'das, a guest/captive of Thrawn, escapes and sets into motion an unspoken plan that enlists the aid of the Planet Looter villains. It appears to go pear-shaped, until we learn that Car'das' plan was actually part of Thrawn's plan, which we didn't even know existed. It would have worked out perfectly except for Jedi Master Jorus C'baoth's final descent into megalomania.
It worked, but Thrawn wasn't happy with how it ultimately ended. Some Vagaari escaped, and fifty thousand innocent people died.
Star By Star is another example of this. Anakin and the other Jedi's plan to infiltrate the Yuuzhan Vong headquarters goes horribly, tragically wrong. Justified in that is was a suicide mission from the get go and everything worked to get them to the worldship.
Edge of Victory: Conquest averts this as Anakin's unspoken plan to escape Yavin 4 with Master Ikirt (size of a small dog) in his X-wing fails when other jedi apprentices stay behind to rescue him.
Both played straight and averted in The Salvation War. The battle plans of both the human armies and the forces of Hell are laid out in exquisite detail. The deciding factor, in this case, is who applies the most dakka- and Hell doesn't have guns.
Sherlock Holmes regularly arranged sting operations to catch culprits red-handed, without letting Watson or the police in on what he was up to. Lampshaded by Holmes himself in The Valley Of Fear, where he admits that it's mostly his own taste for drama that makes him keep his associates in the dark about such plans.
Double-subverted in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Lisbeth comes up with a plan to get revenge on her abusive guardian, which we don't get to hear about. When she arrives, the narration informs us that, "The plan began to go wrong almost immediately." However, it turns out later that if anything, the plan worked better in the long term than expected; she wanted blackmail material, and she sure as hell got it.
In Freedom, we don't get to learn what instructions Loki/Gragg gave Oberstleutenant Boerner in order to save him after the Major mutilates him or catch the Major using his biometrics, but both work out. Similarly, how the Major gets into the darknet to hijack Pete's quest thread never gets revealed and succeeds. In contrast, the other villains go into some detail about their plans, which get foiled.
Animorphs: The team needed to figure out how to stop David, a rogue Animorph. They sat around discussing how to do it, while David was actually hidden nearby, listening. When they enact the plan, it seems to fail... but then they reveal that they knew he'd be listening, and while they discussed the "plan", they were passing notes around, which detailed the real plan.
That said, it's fairly obvious to an attentive reader that the spoken-aloud plan is fake, as they refer to Tobias as dead when discussing it. He's not, but David believes that he is. But the real plan is only revealed to the reader while it's progress either way.
Subverted in Vampire High. Cody and Justin talk in extensive detail about their plan to find jendi students who can survive in water to save the save the water polo team, and the entire thing works perfectly. Played straight in the sequel, when Cody and Turk plan out the opening night of the gadji/jendi art museum and, after things start to go well, someone sets the building's basement on fire.
Justified in Jeeves and Wooster: Bertie, the first-person narrator, is kind of a fool, while Jeeves, who keeps things to himself, is a genius. Therefore, when Bertie comes up with a Zany Scheme, the reader will automatically know all about it, but since we don't see Jeeves' thoughts, he's able to keep Bertie—and therefore the reader—in the dark about what he's plotting until the last possible second. Another common setup is for Jeeves to explain his plan beforehand: the plan appears to fail, then succeeds due to some factor which Jeeves didn't mention in his initial explanation.
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress: A whole-book version. The plan for the revolution is planned out in an early scene, without it being revealed to the reader. The rest of the book is the plan coming to fruition without a hitch.
Live Action TV
Every episode of Mission: Impossible employs this. But in an unusual way: They show the last part of the team's discussion of the plan, so we know what equipment they're going to use, but we don't know what the equipment is for until we see it in action.
With the slight twist that after the first couple seasons most IMF's plans requires some quick improvisation halfway through the episode, due to some unexpected factor.
Used a lot in Alias Smith and Jones. If Heyes verbalises his plan, it is guaranteed to fail, to the point where people wonder how on Earth he managed to get his reputation as the most successful outlaw in the West. Unspoken plans, especially those which he doesn't even tell the Kid about, are guaranteed to succeed. He tends to placate his annoyed partner in these cases with the assurance that he "wasn't sure it would work and didn't want to get your hopes up."
The Season Three finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer demonstrates this perfectly. Two enemies make plans; one of the plans is fully detailed to the audience, while the other one is kept vague. The vague one, of course, is the one that succeeds.
This one is particularly noteworthy, since the planning processes are superimposed over one another. Buffy will be just about to go into the details of her plan, and it then switches to Wilkins giving instructions to his vampires, then back to Buffy making vague allusions, and so on.
And in Season 5, where they talked in vague terms about what they might have in the way of weapons, but never go into detail about all the parts of their plan. Meanwhile, the Big Bad has been getting pretty specific. And so...
And again in Season 7. You always know what the Big Bad is going to try to do, but it's not until almost the very end, when the action is well under way, that you find out Buffy is having Willow use the scythe to activate all the potential Slayers into full ones.
In Season 7 we also have a literal unspoken plan, made via telepathy.
In the Red Dwarf episode "White Hole", Lister is trying to knock a planet into the white hole, using the principles he's picked up playing pool. It misses. After every planet in the system has been knocked against each other and one of them has sunk, he explains he was going for a trick shot. This is, of course, what anyone who gets lucky in pool will tell his friends even if it's blatantly obvious that it isn't.
Almost every episode of Hustle features a moment when it looks like the plan has failed, but it turns out that either the real plan was something else all along, or there was some brilliant improvisation that we weren't shown at the time.
The best one is where Danny and Mickey go head-to-head to see whose methods work better. While Danny works a series of Short Cons, Mickey tells Ash he's got a Mark he's been saving for a rainy day, and begins elaborate preparations including preparing a forged stamp, and arranging a series of meetings. Towards the end Danny figures out Mickey's con, swoops in, buys the stamp from the forger, and attempts to take over, only to discover the supposed mark has no idea what he's talking about, and doesn't even collect stamps. Flashback to Mickey saying to Ash "I do have a mark I've been saving for a rainy day ... Danny." And then it turns out the whole thing was a con by Albert to win money from Ash and Stacie, by betting he could get Danny and Mickey naked in the middle of London. (The terms of the contest were they both started out with nothing).
A notable subversion happens in "Picasso Finger Painting," when the team goes to steal a painting and they begin describing their plan in what looks like a straight set-up of this trope. The plan does end up needing to be aborted, as expected; the subversion happens when later in the episode they end up in the exact same situation, with the exact same mark and use the exact same plan with great success.
Used in the seventh-season Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Badda-bing Badda-bang", in which the plan is detailed to the audience throughout the fourth act, not only with explanations but being acted out on-screen; of course, this is only so that the audience knows what's supposed to be going on in the fifth act, when everything goes wrong.
The entire plot of the sixth series episode "In the Pale Moonlight" rests on this trope. The episode unfolds as Sisko tells the "computer" (i.e., the audience) what happened when he tried to engage in underhand and even quite illegal methods to bring the Romulans into the war on the Federation's side. As it unfolds it seems like a Zany Scheme gone horribly wrong that brought the Romulans into the war on the Dominion's side. Actually, it turns out Garak pulled this trope on Sisko (who then pulls it on the audience) by hiding his real plan from Sisko from the outset. What Sisko thought of as their plan going horribly wrong actually goes (from Sisko's point-of-view) horribly right. Justified in that Garak knew all along just what it would take to bring the Romulans into the war on the Federation's side and he also knew Sisko would never have had the stomach to go through with it had he known from the start what it would take. When Sisko realises the truth, he also ends up accepting Garak was right all along... and is deeply troubled by the fact he can accept it.
Similarly, the Voyager episode "Dark Frontier" involves a raid on a Borg cube, which we see the characters rehearse on the holodeck first. They actually fail, but not by much, and something very different goes wrong when they try it for real.
On the other hand, the second-season Voyager episode "Resolutions" averts this trope. Tuvok goes into painstaking, on-screen detail about his plan to beat the Vidiians and get the medicine Voyager needs. It then goes off without the slightest hitch.
Not quite. The Vidiians do try to double cross them, and they require the covert assistance of a friendly Vidiian for the plan to succeed, plus a means of eliminating pursuit that wasn't mentioned beforehand.
An example of the telepathic enemy example can be found in Star Trek episode "Return to Tomorrow". A good alien makes Kirk think that Spock's mind has been destroyed and McCoy think that a hypo contains a deadly poison so a telepathic Big Bad will read their minds and be tricked into leaving Spock's body when in reality the hypo was harmless and Spock's being was installed into Nurse Chapel.
NCISloves this trope. If you hear a plan, it will fail; but if they don't show us the plan until the last minute it will be a massive and awesome success.
Both ends are in play in the Greek episode "The Great Cappie". The Simple Plan, detailing a secret Prohibition drinking party under a rule-following Great Gatsby theme party, is described in great detail...and is derailed when the dean shows up as an unexpected guest. Said party is saved by Plan B, which isn't known to the audience until it's put into motion.
Averted somewhat in Firefly, like in "Ariel." The whole plan was described in minute detail, complete with scenes of the characters rehearsing their parts, and except for the temporary arrest, both the heist and River's diagnosis are completed as planned. Same with "The Train Job," except for the Captain and Zoe getting trapped. And the opening scene of the Big Damn Movie, except for the Reavers. However, "Trash" and "Objects in Space" are perfect examples of unspoken plans going perfectly (almost). Also, this line from the movie pretty much sums it up:
Mal: I don't plan on any shooting taking place.
Jayne: Yeah, well, what you plan and what takes place ain't ever exactly been similar.
The aversion in "Ariel" is very much the exception that proves the rule. The plan was described in minute detail and worked (almost) exactly as planned, with all possible external threats perfectly anticipated. The suspense came from internal threats (like Jayne betraying the Tams), and suspense aside, it was funny or at least fun to see how the ragtag crew of "Serenity" handled a plan organized to the last detail.
And it's worth noting that it was Simon who planned the heist in Ariel, rather than Mal, who is usually the one making the plans.
"Trash" double-subverts the trope: the detailed plan for removal of the Laser goes off almost without a hitch (and is ultimately successful) and the unspoken backup plan in case of treachery is pulled off successfully.
In "The Message", the regular crew have an unspoken plan to pretend to surrender and spring an ambush which would have worked flawlessly, except they didn't tell the guest star who thought they really were going to give him up to the cops and takes a hostage. It doesn't end well for him. The Fridge Logic gets pointed out by the cast in the DVD commentary (i.e. "Why didn't we just tell him the plan?")
The cast carries this same Idiot Ball briefly in "Bushwhacked," when Mal tells Simon he's getting all the contraband out in the open and giving the Confederate inspectors free access to the ship, without mentioning that River and Simon would be well hidden outside the ship at the time. Of course, it would not be out of character if Mal was just deliberately screwing with Simon.
And since "Bushwacked" and "The Message" are actually comparison episodes with Simon in "Bushwacked" and Tracey in "The Message" playing the same roles, it's actually very in-character for Mal to have handled the two situations in the way he did to test the character of both Simon and Tracey's ability to trust his leadership given their presences on his ship both created wild card situations for him to have to deal with. Simon, who barely knows Mal, passes the test; Tracey, who knows Mal well, fails the test.
In the episode entitled "Norman" of the vampire detective series Blood Ties, the heroes Vicki and Henry are forced to give a magic dagger to the demonic villain Norman when he kidnaps Vicki's secretary and holds her hostage. Norman needed the dagger to complete a spell to release the uber demon Asteroth into the world. However, unknown to the audience, Vicki and Henry had first taken the dagger to a priest to have it blessed before they gave it to Norman, so that when he used it, his spell of summoning failed and he was sucked back down to Hell.
In Prison Break Season One Michael's first attempt (mid season) at the breakout fails. Everything goes as planned until it turns out a corroded pipe has been replaced making it impossible for them to break it and escape.
The Ori actually pull one of these on the good guys in the episode "Beachhead" of Stargate SG-1. Because the Ori Prior refuses to tell them the plan, they end up playing right into the Ori's hands.
"The Return" in Stargate Atlantis uses this trope masterfully. In one episode, the audience is misinformed about the protagonists' plan of liberating Atlantis. When all seems lost and the plan (as the audience knows it at that time) has been countered, their true plan immediately works out and only then is explained.
Subverted in Torchwood: Children of Earth, "Day 4" where the unspoken plan fails miserably, resulting in Ianto's death, along with the deaths of almost everyone else in the building and the government's decision to go ahead and give the children to the alien threat.
Nearly every episode of Leverage involves this trope. Almost always their stated "Plan A" fails or was a deliberate bluff. When everything works out, a flashback shows the intermediate scenes that were not previously revealed to the audience.
In the first episode of Season 2 of Babylon 5, Sheridan doesn't bother to explain his order to hold fire until afterwards, starting with a "Just as I suspected ..." At least a pilot is later seen complaining about this.
Sheridan does it again later on, when he orders his staff to do several strange things, such as sending a White Star to destroy some completely normal asteroids, and asking Ivanova to report on the news that that absolutely nothing happened in a specific area of space. In fact, his plan absolutely hinges on him not telling anyone what it is!
Battlestar Galactica. Played straight in several episodes, but the two-parter "Resurrection Ship" averts this spectacularly. Both the plan to destroy the Resurrection Ship, and the plans of Cain and Adama to assassinate the other, are set out beforehand. The action then jumps right into the middle of the attack, witnessed from a detached POV (Lee drifting in space after ejecting from his craft) as the suspense is provided by us wondering whose assassination plan will succeed.
And then, of course, Cain and Adama both decide to call off each other's assassinations at the last moment, with both of them realizing exactly what almost happened. And then she gets killed by a third party..
This trope is used every time Jim Rockford plans a con. The only time the plan is described at the beginning, everything goes south and turns into a game of Xanatos Speed Chess.
Parodied on The Young Ones, when Mike proclaims he has a plan, gets into a tight huddle with the other lads, and the psssh psssh psssh sound of muffled conversation is heard. When the huddle breaks up and he asks if they all know what to do, Neil replies: "Yeah, we all go 'psssh psssh psssh'."
Averted in the Live Action version of Going Postal. Moist von Lipwig describes his plan, and yet it works.
The Monty Python's Flying Circus bit about "How Not To Be Seen." The announcer tells the subjects to stand up after they've been concealed, only to be gunned down.
Often employed by Sam and Dean on Supernatural. Pretty much any hunt that is explained beyond what has to be done to kill the Monster of the Week is going to go awry. Perhaps best exemplified by the episode "Mommy Dearest", where the heroes are shown discussing both a Plan A and a Plan B. Both are easily foiled by the episode's villain. Dean then kills her with a previously unmentioned but obviously thought out beforehand Plan C.
Subverted in "The Rapture" Sam and Dean have to figure out a way to rescue Jimmy Novak's wife and daughter from a group of demons holding them hostage. Dean says he has a plan. We never find out what this plan was, but apparently it didn't work to well, because in the next scene they're captured and Sam is telling Dean "Nice plan."
Subverted in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, when the guys plan to neutralize a 15-year-old prodigy by getting him to a party with a bunch of teenage girls. Once the party starts, they spend several minutes coming to the realization that the whole thing actually has no chance of working, and are totally flummoxed when they realize it worked exactly as planned.
Played totally straight in an episode of Castle: Castle appears to be captured by the villain while trying to plant a bomb as part of his father's plan, not spoken, to break Alexis free from said villain's hideout. The kidnapper announces that his father has 10 seconds to come out as well, or he'll shoot both Castle and Alexis. His father responds, that's not going to happen, because the kidnapper will be dead. The kidnapper looks confused, and then the bomb, which had actually been planted exactly according to plan, explodes and kills him. His father was actually just waiting for the kidnapper to stand in the right spot.
In Romeo and Juliet, Friar Lawrence's plan involving the faked death of Juliet is described to the audience. So naturally, it ends horribly.
One of the main differences between Shakespeare's tragedies and his comedies is that the tragedies are more likely to play this trope straight, whereas the comedies are more likely to avert it. For example, the second half of Much Ado About Nothing centers on another false death gambit, also hatched and explained in detail by a friar, but in this case the gambit actually succeeds.
Mostly averted in the Sly Cooper series, where Bentley describes in detail what must be done in each mission, and the mission usually goes just as planned. Not all of them, mind you, but exceptions are the exception rather than the rule. After all, it's considerably more fun to play through something you've heard about than to just watch it.
There is a straight example of this trope, though, in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves. In the final mission against Pirate Captain LaFwee, Bentley's plan appears to fail due to LaFwee's counter-planning, but it turns out to be much more elaborate than the plan described to the player.
Honestly, this trope just doesn't happen very often in computer games. How would the player carry out an elaborate mission that they hadn't been informed of?
However, it shows up in Psychonauts. The plan Shegor's talking pet turtle comes up with that goes off without a hitch and very nearly solves everything is blanked out when discussed, then carried out in a cutscene.
This does, however, happen all the freakin' time in the Ace Attorney games. Often his assistant or even Phoenix himself will mention that they've finally figured out the case, give some vague clue as to what conclusion they've reached, yet it's still up to the player to figure it out. Largely justified, since combining evidence to solve cases is basically the entirety of the gameplay, so having the whole thing spelled out for you at the last minute would kind of defeat the purpose of the whole thing.
Played straight in Kira Kira at d2b's first concert, before which Shika and Murakami have some kind of secret plan they talk about but never clarify until it actually happens onscreen. There's at least one example of the trope going the other way too, where a concert is expected by all characters to go fine but winds up going horribly wrong when Kirari falls victim to a Heroic BSOD onstage.
Tohsaka refuses to elaborate on her plan to defeat Caster in Fate/stay night. Shirou assumes it's because it's some sort of plan that won't work as well if he knows about it. While this may be true, the real reason is obviously so that Tohsaka can surprise us with her hand to hand combat skills and utterly floor Caster. The plan actually works because Caster didn't know Magi had picked up martial arts skills, but it's not enough to win. It was only enough to distract her until Archer showed up.
Used superbly by Eggman in Sonic Adventure 2. Eggman hints that he has some sort of plan made, and proceeds to go through his last level. When he arrives he almost kills Sonic, exposing the Fake Chaos Emerald and obtaining the real one. On Sonic's side of things, he states his Evil Plan out loud, where it proceeds to blow up in his face spectacularly. This scene is practically scrapped in Sonic X.
Averted earlier in the game. About midway through the dark story, Eggman explains to Shadow and Rouge his plan to steal the Chaos Emeralds from the military and destroy their command base at Prison Islans. The plan hits a few snags due to Rouge slipping up and the arrival of Sonic and Tails, but ultimately succeeds, gets the villains three more chaos emeralds, and effectively cripples GUN's ability to interfere with them further.
Subverted in the Assassin's Creed franchise; the main characters often undergo a series of investigations including eavesdropping, pick pocketing important items, and interrogating people close to the target. Then they announce a plan they've used those details to come up with in broad strokes, allowing the player to determine the actual plan of attack. Although some targets spring surprises that simply can't be avoided and force the character into an Indy Ploy.
Subverted in Call of Duty: Black Ops, where all the prisoners in Vorkuta are familiar with Reznov's plan for everyone to riot and escape:
Reznov / Prisoners: "Step One! Secure the keys! Step Two! Ascend from darkness! Step Three! Rain Fire! Step Four! Unleash the Horde! Step Five! Skewer the winged beast! Step Six! Wield a Fist of Iron!...Ah-hahaha! You know what to do! Step Seven! Raise Hell!"
This turns out to be a Double Subversion when Reznov and Mason break into a garage and reveal the eighth step of their plan: Freedom.
In the Sword of the Stars novelization, the Tarka commander uses an unspoken plan to win against a race of telepaths: She gives her Human and Hiver allies a straight-forward battleplan and has a conspirator in the fleet (who the telepaths can't mind-read) 'betray' them. She then backstabs the telepaths while they're gloating over their victory, with their captives being unable to give them any useful information because they have no idea.
Final Fantasy VIII features a long and involved plan to capture Deling. One part of the plan goes better than expected (the heat sensors the guards were supposed to use didn't work)... and the plan still fails because Deling was swapped with a body double ahead of time. Then came the planned assassination of Edea, explained once again in great detail, which (despite almost failing for umpteen other reasons) almost makes it through, only to fail at the last minute because Edea blocks the bullet Irvine fires, and in the direct attack, she defeats Squall. But then, later in the game, a much more convoluted plan averts the trope (Odine's plan to have Ellone trick Ultimecia into a partial time compression actually works and helps the heroes reach and defeat Ultimecia.)
Terror Island subverts this trope with the first time Demon-Jame possesses Jame. First Folio describes the plan clearly to Stephen and Sid, and the plan goes off without a hitch.
Not that this webcomic needs in-universe explanations other than "it is a narrative trope", but still this is justified in that Lien knows Elan is dumb as a brick and can't bluff so telling him WOULD be a sure way to ruin the plan.
Elan: Everyone knows that plans only work if you keep them a secret first! Roy: What? That's not true at all! Elan: Sure it is! If you talk about them and then they happen exactly that way, there's no tension!
Shadehawk: I've got a Plan. With a capital P and everything.
Inverted in Penny And Aggie with Aggie's big plan to take down Karen. She doesn't tell the plan in panel (and in fact the last panel before the scene cut is a frazzled friend insisting she "tell us already!") Then it turns out that the real reason the author was hiding the plan was because the audience would say "that'll never work!" Which it doesn't. The plan after they regroup is much better.
Later played straight when Sara teams up with Rich (and blackmails Martin) to take charge of the "drama" on her reality show, rather than becoming its victim.
Robotnik: No, because if we tell you now, Doppleganger will overhear it and won't let it go as planned.
Also note thesetwo strips and the commentary on the latter.
Played straight and inverted in at the end of Act 5 of Homestuck. Rose's plan, which had been discussed at length, goes about as awry as it's possible to go, whereas Jade's plan, which had been arranged mostly off-screen, succeeds better than anyone had hoped (despite some minor complications). However, WQ's plan, the most mysterious of the three by far, is quite firmly dashed by outside circumstances. To clarify:
Rose's plan was to fly Derse's moon and the Tumor to the Green Sun using her dreamself, using the Tumor to destroy it. Instead, both she and Dave died and transferred to their dreamselve. Then DD attacks a defenseless Rose while she's trying to fly away unnoticed. Finally, both she and Dave get the Tumor to the place it's supposed to be, only to discover that the Tumor isn't what destroys the Green Sun, it's what created it in the first place. It's not all bad, though; Rose and Dave got God Tiers out of it, and the Green Sun is now powering two of the heroes as well.
Jade's plan was to escape through the fourth wall at the last moment, to ensure that the Scratch goes off without a hitch. Not only does this succeed, but she ascends to God Tier due to an unforeseen attack and manages to take their planets through the Fourth Wall too.
WQ's plan was to use the transportalizer in WV's station to escape to the troll's session, then blow up the stations once they arrived so that nobody could follow their trail. It would have worked, if only Jack hadn't been hiding in the frog temple the entire time, and was released a mere ten seconds after the White King arrived...
Played with by way of No Fourth Wall in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Dr. Horrible's plan fails because it turns out that Captain Hammer and the police have been watching the video along with the audience. (Something of a subversion, though, since the audience doesn't even know his target until his recap of the failure.)
Also subverted with his revenge plan - we are told nothing, save that it will be both vicious and final. It... almost works.
In Unforgotten Realms, Schmoopy at one point refuses to tell his allies his plan for this very reason.
Subverted once more in Red vs. Blue: All Caboose says during the team huddle with Sarge is "whisperwhisperwhisper". He just wanted to be the guy with the plan for once.
In the Potter Puppet Pals episode "Trouble at Hogwarts", Voldemort is invading the school but Dumbledore, Harry, and Hermione are all stumped on how to respond. It's Ron who runs in and says "I have a plan!" and then the scene transitions. Turns out the solution is to Just Shoot Him — not with magic spells, but submachine gun bullets!
"Ayla and the Networks" of the Whateley Universe. The Masterminds lay out a careful, detailed plan, which only appears to work perfectly while leading them right into the jaws of a trap. The Spy Kidz lay out a detailed plan to catch the Masterminds, and it goes humiliatingly wrong. The Lit Chicks lay out a plan to catch She-Beast in the middle of her nefarious plan, and it goes seriously wrong. The Three Little Witches lay out as much of a plan as they're capable of, and it goes well... for about thirty seconds. Ayla never discusses his plan until afterward, and it works beautifully because he laid out the pieces two books earlier.
Any episode of Scooby-Doo where the plan to capture the monster is spoken out loud will be ruined, usually by Scooby and Shaggy's incompetence, though it will invariably succeed in a different way because of this.
Subverted in The Movie, along with most other Scooby-Doo cliches, by having the spoken plan... actually work after it almost fails.
Similarly, in Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated Fred's traps may or may not work, in the intended way or otherwise, and may fail even if he hadn't explained exactly how they would work.
Another subversion in an episode of Whats New Scooby Doo, where Fred's trap on the vampire monster worked within the first few minutes of the episode. Daphne and Velma are surprised by this, but it turns out the case wasn't over because while he was kept in captivity, his twin kept the mystery going by being the vampire in his place.
Subverted in an episode of Kappa Mikey, where part two of the plan turns out to be...
Mikey: And now we just have to stay in this room for the rest of our lives!
Used straight in Jem's first episode, "The Beginning". After summarizing the gifts from her late father, Jerrica states, "I know how to stop Eric Raymond." We don't get the plan—until we learn who Jem is!
One of several reasons the invasion plan in Avatar The Last Airbender was doomed from the start. The heroes spend almost a whole season talking over it, culminating in an on-screen briefing. Unfortunately, the bad guys knew about the invasion and had several off-screen meetings, preparing a trap for the protagonists.
Playfully averted in the second season of Star Wars: Clone Wars. Obi-Wan and Anakin are leading the siege of a city when Anakin discovers a secret way inside past the shields. In a deadpan voice, Obi-Wan says, "So your plan is to sneak in through the sewers, under the shield and into the main generator, destroy the generator and have our troops swarm in?" They then do exactly that.
Pay close attention whenever Ben 10 goes for the Omnitrix. If he specifically says which alien he is becoming before slapping it, odds are he's about to turn into the wrong alien. (There are exceptions, but they make up fewer than 15% of all transformations.)
Sounds like The Law of Conservation of Detail - if Ben mentions which alien he intends to become, rather than just letting us see which one he becomes, it must be because his intention is relevant - which means that his intention and what actually happened are different.
Double Subversion in a grand fashion in an episode of Codename Kids Next Door. We're given a step-by-step breakdown of the team's plan for infiltrating an assembly of villains complete with accompanying imagined footage of them enacting the plan. Numbah 4 expresses his doubts about the plan... and then says how it worked perfectly. The double subversion comes when Numbah 1, who was missing during the plan, was actually captured by said assembly, forcing the team to rush in to save him.
And Drakken's most successful plan to defeat Kim (in "So the Drama") was the one where he didn't even tell Shego what he was planning until Kim was safely captured. Specifically justified in this case because Drakken was keeping Shego in the dark to test whether the plan was clever enough that Kim wouldn't figure it out until too late.
Subverted in The Powerpuff Girls where Mojo Jojo whispers a plan to defeat an alien invader. Although it initially works, its eventually failure leads to him having a break down that fuels an unstoppable beatdown of rage against the enemy.
Danny announces such a plan in a Danny Phantom episode. Though Danny didn't suspect Walker to use the Fenton Thermos against him, he didn't suspect Danny's plan, so it all works out in the end.
Subverted in Transformers Animated the first time the Autobots fought Starscream: After a short The Power of Friendship speech, Sari quips in by saying "Okay, here's my plan...". Cue the next scene, where Sari is running after the Autobots, asking them to hear her plan.
Played with in the South Park episode "The Succubus". Kenny tells the other boys his plan to get rid of the succubus in detail on screen, but it's Kenny, so the audience doesn't understand a word he says.
And the classic episode "Scott Tenorman Must Die", where Cartman is constantly trying to get revenge on the episode's namesake. He tells Stan and Kyle (and thus the audience) a fairly ridiculous plan to get a donkey to bite Scott in the penis; this plan already seems likely to fail. Furthermore, Stan and Kyle warn Scott of this plan just to spite Cartman. This all turns out to be steps in a larger, unspoken plan by Cartman that does work spectacularly.
Averted in The Land Before Time, where Little Foot explains in detail how they're going to kill Sharptooth and things work out more or less as advertised.
Burns: We're getting screwed. There must be something we can do about this... Wait! Yes, I think I know just the thing. [Burns laughs, and the screen fades to black. After a few seconds, it fades back in the same room] Smithers: Uh... Sir? You have to tell me what your plan is or... or nothing will happen.
In Toy Story 3, there's the entire plan Woody makes to have the toys escape from Sunnyside. The only detail we get to hear is that they will use the garbage chutes to escape, and of course, everything works perfectly up until that stage of the escape.
Woody's rescue of Buzz Lightyear (and cause Sid to become scared of his toys) in the first Toy Story wasn't elaborated upon until the plan was executed. It went off without a hitch.
Finn: It's a lightning shaped door—and we're gonna smash right into it! Hold on NEPTR, I have a plan. (Finn slides up the ice wall and the beast shatters smashing down the door) NEPTR: That was a great plan. Finn: Nah, that wasn't my plan. We got lucky.
Invoked by Finn in "Morituri Te Salutamus" when he doesn't mention his plan to his sidekick Jake so that he won't mess it up.
Subverted in "Reign of Gunthers", where Finn keeps his plan to distract Gunther and his army with a huge pile of glass bottles a secret for the sake of being "mysterious". Unfortunately, while Finn, Jake, and Princess Bubblegum try to figure out what to do next, the Gunthers break all the bottles and go right back to rampaging.
Averted in Chaotic. Kaor's plan to steal Maxxor's new battle gear is one of the first things the audience learns in the episode. It goes off without a hitch.
Later played straight by Amy Wong in "Viva Mars Vegas". she intentionally and willfully doesn't explain how the crew is going to pull off a casino heist until they're already doing it!
Played with in Storm Hawks. One episode has a character narrate a plan beforehand over what looks to be an Imagine Spot of the plan actually playing out. The narration continues even when everything starts going wrong, and the spot is shown to really be a flash-forward.
On Family Guy, Lois asks Peter to stop the toad licking problem. Peter announces he has a plan, then we cut to Peter saying "And that's my plan," in the principal's office of the local high school. The principal's response is, "What plan? You just came in here, sat down, and said, 'And that's my plan.'" We get a similar cut, and the principal now knows the plan. The problem is soon stopped.
Mad Mod takes over and absorbs Robin's youth in the Teen Titans episode "Revolution". The remaining Titans each have their own strategy on how to save the day, which all fail. Starfire then says that they need to combine their ideas into one plan. The unexplained one works at first, but it seems Mad Mod is going to win again as he catches Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire. When Mod asks where Beast Boy is, Starfire explains he was the plan, leading to victory.
British Blood Knight, Four Star Badass and inspiration for Jack Aubrey and Horatio Hornblower Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane drafted the "secret war plan", a strategic or tactical maneuver that he declared capable of destroying any fortress, city or fleet in the world. It was referred to the British Admiralty and a "secret committee" of Parliament, which agreed that it was "infallible, irresistible, but inhuman." When he entered foreign service he pledged never to use it except for his own country. It was considered several times throughout the early 19th-Century, and each time it was agreed that it would work but each time it was rejected as being simply too amoral and shocking too use. To this day, nobody knows what it actually was, but speculation has included poison gas, incendiary bombardment, psychological warfare and biological attack. All that is known for sure is that it involved rockets. Ultimately, it was averted. Despite the remarkable confidence placed in it, it was never tried for the aforementioned humanitarian reasons.