Villains who are thrust into a Fish out of Water
situation never seem to have any trouble adjusting to their new surroundings, frequently becoming socially important and powerful, whereas a hero similarly displaced will stick out like a sore thumb, freaking out at the bizarre customs of the alien world/future/past/whatever and asking people "What Year Is This?
" Just another day at the office for Evil Is Cool
and Good Is Dumb
, or maybe they're really just that Dangerously Genre Savvy
When there's an explicit justification
, it's that evil is universal. Particularly, when the heroes are from some distant planet or time, and the new world into which they are thrust is our
world, the justification is that we live in a corrupt and evil world where being a ruthless psychotic murdering villain is actually an advantage to getting ahead in life, whereas being good and pure-of-heart is a massive hindrance.
More subtly, it can be used on the Planet of Hats
to remind us that our moral values are superior
: the hero doesn't fit in because he has a hard time dealing with whatever character flaw everyone in this new world possesses, or can't just sit back and go with the flow on a world where everyone kicks puppies
, listens to that newfangled rock-and-roll
and women dress in navel-revealing slut-wear
Sometimes the villain just put lots of points into blending in with society - otherwise, how would they have amassed power behind the scenes anyway?
The hero often puts all his points into fighting the villain. If the hero gets
to the villain, he wins, but the villain's best defense is having nobody take up arms against him to begin with, and then delaying the hero as much as possible. Both hero and villain make pretty reasonable bets.
Or, more pragmatically, it can just be to make things easier for the villain
and therefore harder for the hero
. An extension of this is the Outside Context Villain
, who keeps all their advantages and abuses them in their new location.
As a corollary, it will generally be easier for the villains to convince the locals that they're friendly than it will be for the heroes to convince them that they're not evil. Even if the evilness of the villains is writ large enough
to be detectable from space (via Namedar
). This mostly seems to result from the hero's stubborn refusal to shut the hell up about how great it was back in their world and to refuse to take on any native culture. They will wear the same outfit they had when they came him and constantly complain about the local food. This isn't helped by the fact that the hero will usually insist on going around shouting at people near-hysterically about how they're from the past and how utterly evil the villain is, in a fashion that only makes them come across like a complete psycho
. The villain on the other hand will immediately trade in his duds for local wear and tuck into the native cuisine with gusto. He will never mention that he is from another world and be immediately accepted.
A heroic inversion of this trope is possible, but much rarer — see Like a Fish Takes to Water
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Anime and Manga
- Katushiko Jinnai in El-Hazard almost immediately becomes the supreme general of the Bugrom.
- It helps that being transported to El Hazard specifically gave him the superpower to control Bugrom.
- Except in the Wanderers continuity, where his only ability was to merely communicate with Bugrom. It is unclear whether he controlled the Bugrom or communicated with them in the first OVA series as it was only apparent that he got along with them very well somehow. In The Magnificent World however, it definitely helped that he supposedly fit a prophecy regarding a messenger who would lead the Bugrom to victory...
- In the Comic Books, Captain America had a bit of trouble fitting into the future at first, but his archenemy, The Red Skull, apparently hit the ground running as soon as he was revived. (Justified in that Red Skull actually went into suspended animation by choice (sort of), while Cap fell in the water in 1945 and woke up in... the present day.
- Unlike most Gods, Ares from the Wonder Woman comics is adjusted to the modern world, often wearing casual clothing, knowing how to use computers, operate machinery, and able to pass as an ordinary person. To be fair, the other Gods are too arrogant to see any reason to want to fit in.
- His counterpart in Marvel Universe has been able to adjust very well both before and after his Heel Face Turn – as a villain he managed to become the leader of terrorist organizations in all the world and as a good guy he quickly found a job and became a completely normal parent. Justified because he was spending all his free time between Ancient Greece and the modern Age of Heroes causing and taking a part in Earth's conflicts, so he really has time to learn.
- In Back To The Future Part II, Old Biff has no trouble fitting into 1955 when he goes back in time to give himself the almanac. Justified in that he likely remembers how things were in The Fifties, he's conservatively dressed, and he looks like an unassuming elderly man. Compare him to Marty, who always sticks out like a sore thumb upon first arrival.
- Simultaneously employed and subverted in Beastmaster II: Through The Portal Of Time - neither Dar, the hero, nor Arklon, the Big Bad, grasps 1980s California all that well, although Arklon at least eventually makes an effort. Arklon's Femme Fatale Dragon, on the other hand, pretty much fits right in, and at one point observes with scorn that Arklon is "as subtle as a rabid rhino."
- Demolition Man: Though their violent natures clash with the saccharine-sanitized future equally, the villainous Simon Phoenix was given skills and background that helped him quickly rise to the role of crime kingpin in the future, while heroic John Spartan doesn't even know how to work a futuristic toilet. Justified by there being a future native who deliberately provides Phoenix with assistance and deprives Spartan of the same.
- In Enchanted, Nathaniel, the evil queen's minion, has no trouble fitting into New York. He even comes up with various disguises and gets at least two jobs while there. Oh, and he apparently knows how to drive. Queen Narissa doesn't even attempt to fit in, but she does know how to use an elevator, and can hold plausible conversations when explaining why the poor girl fell unconscious after eating an apple.
- Inverted at the end, when we briefly see Nancy marrying Edward in the animated world, and she seems to be getting along just fine.
- A strange variation happens in Just Visiting: while the medieval protagonists have to go through the standard Fish Out of Temporal Water routine when transported to the present, the utterly incompetent wizard that sent them there manages to follow them, and somehow purchase clothes, spell components and rent a hotel room with no problems. This was averted in the original Les Visiteurs by having the person helping them not be the original wizard but rather a modern descendant of his.
- In Last Action Hero, Cowboy Cop Jack Slater and hitman Mr. Benedict are action movie characters who end up in real world New York City. Jack has difficulty understanding why cars don't explode when you shoot them and becomes despondent after about five minutes of exposure to "our" Crapsack World, whereas Mr. Benedict (after spending a similar period being bemused that murdering people in the streets has no immediate consequences) is elated to have found a world where "the bad guys can win!" The Ripper has no trouble blending into a movie premiere wearing his freakish villain costume consisting of a yellow raincoat, dirty long hair and collapsible axe, but only because he's mistaken for his actor showing up in character, and even then he's quickly pulled aside by the actual actor's agent, who chastises him for his behaviour and attempts to order an emergency tuxedo for him.
- The film Time After Time shows H. G. Wells and Jack the Ripper transported to the present day by the time machine Wells actually built, inspiring his novel. Wells can't adapt, and seriously freaks out at the glorification of sex and violence in modern culture, while Jack fits in fine. For full credit, Jack gets to give a speech about the decay of society helping him fit in: in their day, he was a monster; in ours, he's an amateur.
- In the Highlander films:
- In the first film, MacLeod hangs onto the past as an antique dealer, and uses his old mentor's sword. In contrast, the Kurgan embraces the newest music and fashions, and wields a high-tech collapsible sword.
- In the third film, the villain awakens after centuries of slumber and quickly assimilates into the modern world, aided in no small measure by his magical powers.
- In Terminator, the T-800 knows exactly how to find his target, disguise, weapons etc., while Reese seems to be simply lucky. In Terminator 2, the T-1000 can look and act like any human it encounters, while the T-800 is easily recognizable to those who have already encountered one and survived, though the last bit could be quite rare apart from the protagonists.
- Played straight in Timeline. It's somewhat justified because the villain is a genius who would meet foreigners at bars and go home at night speaking their language on a fairly basic level, but with no accent. How his language ability survived severe brain damage is not explained.
- Inverted in C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. The children are always quickly accepted by the Narnians, but Queen Jadis was openly mocked for trying to take over England.
- Played straight with Uncle Andrew (not villainous, but clearly not shown in a very nice light), who arrives in Narnia and promptly has a breakdown at the thought of animals having human intelligence. His time there is generally used for comic relief, with the animals viewing him as some sort of pet.
- In H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, Nyarlathotep is able to pass off as a human surprisingly well, considering he's actually an Eldritch Abomination, whose minds typically are as alien as you can get. Later novels by other authors explained that the Mi-go, an alien race that worships him as a god, have been observing Earth for quite some time, sending him information precisely so that he could pass himself off as a human.
- He never does appear in our world in the human form in Lovecraft's own stories apart from the surreal prosaic poem Nyarlathotep that has only little to do with the deity he evolved into in later stories - unless you cound the Black Man from The Dreams in the Witch-house who never interacts with normal people (or even speaks), and is only barely human in appearance. His ability to take the guise of man is only an Informed Ability outside The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath which takes place in the Dreamlands. Only later writers have actually had him actively pretend to be human.
- In the Discworld novel Night Watch, the hero Samuel Vimes and the sociopath Carcer are both thrown into the past. Carcer assimilates more quickly, and gets a job in the local gestapo... but Vimes catches up rather spectacularly.
- Carcer actually points this out, saying that while Vimes requires others to believe he is a policeman in order to act as one, Carcer is better at being a criminal while no one believes he's one.
- In terms of "time to position of power", Vimes actually probably beat Carcer by several hours, since he had the cops convinced by the end of the scene after being let out of his cell but he got beaten up several times in the process and Carcer was ahead both of the first two times they met face to face.
- Subverted in Dune. The Harkonnens spend 80 years ruling Arrakis yet act as Evil Overlords to the native Fremen. The Atreides, however, make friendly contact with the Fremen and an effort to learn the local customs while they're still moving in, even before Jessica and Paul being cast out into the desert made assimilation a necessity. Granted, a Messianic prophecy concerning Paul had a great deal to do with it as well.
- Baba Yaga in Enchantment (one of Orson Scott Card's lesser-known works) adjusted to the modern world far more smoothly than the modern protagonist did to hers, despite the fact that he happens to speak ancient Slavonic, and she speaks only ancient Slavonic.
- Well, she was hiding the entire time, really. The only times she popped up was when she pretended to be a lost, confused old woman on a plane (she didn't speak English), when she took over a plane brutally and forcefully and when she tricked Ivan's ex fiancee into trying to poison him.
- The fact that Baba Yaga could cast spells was an enormous advantage. If she didn't want to get noticed, she didn't get noticed. The fact that she had some idea that she was going on an adventure and thus prepared for a trip also helped.
- The His Dark Materials trilogy has two characters, one villainous from Lyra's universe and one heroic from "our" universe who manage to adapt quite well to life in the other's universe while not being aware of each other, the former being Lord Boreal AKA Sir Charles Latrom and the latter John Parry AKA Dr. Stanislaus Grumman. However, this is still a mostly straight example since the latter managed to adapt mostly out of sheer luck (he became a respected academic due to his academy only requiring someone to submit a thesis and defend it to grant a title, which was quite easy for him due to the universe's lower technologic advancement) while the former somehow managed to become a knight and a senior member of the intelligence community in our universe despite his utter lack of background.
- Getting a doctorate would be the least of Parry/Grumman's problems. His lack of a daemon would have made him instantly stand out, and he only hints at how he managed to resolve this. In both cases, we see only the end result of many years of work, with little indication of how easy or hard it was for either character to begin with.
- Saint Dane in The Pendragon Adventure blends in extremely well, regardless of territory. His Voluntary Shapeshifting abilities play a part, but in some cases, he's gone as himself (Zadaa), and still assimilated fairly easily. Hero Bobby Pendragon has a much harder time no matter what the Territory.
- Count Olaf of A Series of Unfortunate Events plays this trope fairly straight (despite his general incompetence), with one notable subversion in the last book. It doubles as Adults Are Useless, since his disguises were so transparent that the Baudelaires saw through them right away while the adults remained almost willfully oblivious.
- Amaurn adjusts to Callisoria quite easily in the Shadowleague books, but his secret daughter and her partner have a harder time.
- Zig-zagged in the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novels. Sabbath, one of the main recurring villains, manages to acquire a terribly nice house in Camera Obscura, while the Doctor and his two companions sublet 221 Baker Street. There are quite a few other instances of him managing to insinuate himself behind the scenes while the Doctor is still having trouble keeping on top of things enough to even pretend he knew everything already. On the other hand, he seems to have trouble with the fact that the English language changes after his home era of the late 18th century: the phrase "just dandy" annoys him, and he goes from attempting to mimic 21st-century slang (drowning? "Been there, done that.") to using Antiquated Linguistics to the point of incoherence.
- In Animorphs, the Yeerks can generally adapt to Earth customs much faster than Aximili, or Elfangor, thanks to their hosts' memories and Voluntary Controllers. Ax keeps getting too distracted to follow his friends' advice and blend in by cinnamon buns. Buhn-zuh.
- In Inkheart, Capricorn loves the modern world and gets along in it fairly well; Dustfinger, on the other hand, hates it.
- Doctor Who: After "900 years of phonebox travel", the Doctor is about the most conspicuous person in the universe, but he is faced countless times by aliens who have no trouble hiding in plain sight in positions of power on Earth, such as the Slitheen, who manage to take over parliament, and one of whom later becomes mayor of Cardiff, or the Master, who manages to get himself elected Prime Minister in about two years. In the Doctor's case, it's usually because he can rarely be bothered making attempts to blend into his surroundings in the first place.
- Inverted in the The Time Monster (featuring the Pertwee Doctor). The Master materialises his TARDIS in Atlantis, convinced he'll easily dupe these primitives into thinking he's a god, but the wise old king sees through his charlatan's tricks and laughs off an attempt to hypnotise him. To add insult to injury, as the Master is being led off by the guards he runs right into the Doctor and Jo Grant whom he last saw in his inescapable Death Trap. The king gives these two a better reception.
- Similarly, in The Mysterious Planet, Sabalom Glitz is convinced that with a few explosives and a machine gun, he'll easily impress the backwards locals on Ravalox that he's the guy who should be in charge and thus be able to dismantle a valuable technological gizmo they believe to be a sacred totem. Unfortunately, he didn't count on their queen being more savvy than her primitive lifestyles would suggest, or the fact that many other con-artists have had the same idea as he did and approached her giving multiple reasons why they should be allowed to dismantle the totem as well. He's soon captured and thrown in a dungeon, much to his bewilderment. However, ironically this still works to impede the Doctor; when he goes before the queen with the real reason that he needs to dismantle the totem (it's about to explode and rip a hole in the universe), the queen's so sick of hearing all these false stories that she locks the Doctor up as well.
- Subverted in an episode where Lady Cassandra possesses Rose's body and promptly makes it obvious she did so via behavior that makes it painfully clear that "Rose" has never spent a day in the twenty-first century.
- Read All About It: On Trialveron, the three human characters stick out like a sore thumb, due to having, well, more than one personality trait apiece. Conversely, however, Trialveron's tyrannical ruler, Duneedon, has no trouble getting himself elected mayor back on Earth (under the pseudonym "Don Eden").
- Reaper: the Escaped-from-hell Soul Of the Week that the protagonist Sam must capture is a thirteenth-century Mongolian warrior. Sam's employer urges him to hurry lest the Mongolian adapts to our world well enough to start conquering it. It never goes that far, but after the heroes lose the Mongolian for several days, he's wearing an expensive tailored suit by the time they catch up with him. Subverted in that he's still a roaring, raving and destructive brute attacking Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese restaurants. Doubly subverted when the heroes attempt to repeat a previously successful trick and scare the Mongolian with the ringing of a cell phone. The Mongolian grins and shows them his brand-new Bluetooth head-set.
- A plot arc of Stargate SG-1 had Ba'al living on Earth, undetected, and fairly successful. "Fairly successful" meaning running a major corporation. Of course, the good guys rarely try to pretend they're locals while space-travelling, and Vala-with-amnesia did alright on her own for a while.
- In an inversion, one episode has Daniel switch bodies with a dying alien. While the guy isn't necessarily evil, he is the antagonist of the episode, and his attempts to blend in with modern American society amounts to him all but running down the street and screaming "I'm a normal Earth native just like all of you!"
- Star Trek: The Original Series
- Inverted in the episode "Mirror, Mirror", in which our heroes manage to bite their tongues and play evil in the brutal Terran Empire, while their alternates were unable to pretend to be civilized. As a result, Mr. Spock, preeminent Smart Guy that he is, instantly realized what is going on and has them hauled to the brig.
- If memory serves Spock himself points this out, saying something to the effect of "It is easier for a civilized man to appear barbaric than for a barbarian to appear civilized."
- Inverted in "A Piece of the Action". Captain Kirk proves to be the most formidable gangster of all.
- The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Future's End" - from his perspective, Captain Braxton is the protagonist, trying to stop the Voyager crew from destroying the future. Naturally, when he's dumped into 1960s San Francisco, he's branded a lunatic and ends up as one of those "The end is nigh!" homeless guys. In contrast, the Voyager crew beam down in period outfits, stay quiet about their true intentions and are able to move around with no trouble at all.
- Partially used in Vampire Diaries with the vampires released from beneath the church, most of whom start fitting in pretty fast. However, they are seen being instructed in using modern technology, and some of them are too interested in feeding to bother learning much. And of course, the ability to mind control your way through most problems would help.
- One would also assume that vampires who are bad in adapting to changing circumstances don't survive for long.
- In Angel Holtz took to the 21st century pretty well for someone transplanted from the 18th century, at times seeming better adapted than Angel, who actually lived through the intervening period. It probably helped that he quickly gathered a group of modern people who could help him deal with the things he didn't understand (cars, styrofoam) by using the same, fairly timeless motivations - desire for revenge over vampires killing those close to them.
- Inverted by the final season of Smallville: Lionel Luthor's nicer counterpart from Earth-2 is transported to the main universe and easily settles in, despite the fact that on Earth-1, Lionel Luthor's been dead for three years. He claims his cover story is that he faked his death, which is pretty believable for Earth-1 Lionel and he has Earth-1 Lionel's journal to fill in the details.
- In Supernatural, most demons, even ones who had been sealed away like Lilith, seem to have a pretty good grasp on modern life. Angels, on the other hand, especially the "good" ones, especially Castiel, stick out like a sore thumb.
- Fridge Brilliance: Well of course, demons used to be humans and have much more "intimate" contact with the humans that get sent to hell. Most angels, on the other hand, try to spend as little time with the "mud-monkeys" as possible!
- Demons, once they possess people, become completely aware of all the host's memories and emotions, making fitting in that much easier.
- There's also the Leviathans who, despite being locked in Purgatory since the dawn of time, blend in very well and are soon practically running the country. Justified by the fact that they absorb the memories of the people they copy.
- The villain Silverthorn in The Girl From Tomorrow traveled from the year 2500 to 1990 and fit in better than Alana, who lived in the year 3000. Justified in that Silverthorn was older and Alana just a teenager and that Silverthorn had access to technology from the year 3000 that he used to his advantage, but it was also due to the fact that Silverthorn lived in post-apocalyptia and the selfish instincts he developed there aided his rise up the corporate ladder in 1990, whereas in 3000 the world was most of the way into being rebuilt into a utopia.
- In Once Upon a Time, Regina (the Evil Queen from "Snow White") casts a curse which brings all of the fairytale characters to our world. They all adjust because the curse gives them new memories, but Regina herself is not subject to the curse's effects. She still manages to adjust quite quickly. Cora manages to adjust to Wonderland and goes on to become the Queen of Hearts.
- An episode of Danny Phantom involving Time Travel had Vlad integrate himself into colonial Salem and setting Sam up for a Witch Hunt.
- Invader Zim has an interesting take on this: the title character, while he's been able to disguise himself as an Earthling, only succeeds because most of the people around him are too stupid or self-absorbed to notice him. His efforts at fitting in actually seem rather pathetic when you compare him to the more evil (and competent) Invader Tak, who manages, within a short time of arriving on Earth, to install herself as the heiress to a multi-million dollar weenie corporation.
- Made even more interesting when you compare him to Dib, who is from Earth. The kids think Zim is weird, but they think Dib is completely insane... basically because he realizes that Zim is an alien. (He didn't figure out Tak, though.)
- Of course he didn't figure Tak out; she had a holographic disguise, while Zim just has a wig and contacts. And she doesn't resemble a human child, which helps. She's not more competent. She's just better equipped.
- Tak is roughly about as well-equipped as Zim himself is and has about the same amount of support from The Tallest (which is to say 'none'). She's just smarter about how she uses her equipment; Zim could easily rig up a holographic diguise - he just doesn't see the point when he gets along just fine. (Also note that Tak's plan is thwarted only by Zim. If not for that, she would have succeeded. Zim's plans are, if Dib or GIR don't interfere, thwarted by his own ego and overconfidence.)
- Both played straight and subverted in Justice League Unlimited — when Luthor and Flash trade minds in a Freaky Friday Flip plot, the majority of the Legion of Doom, despite Flash's rather poor acting skills, never catch on and merely presume Luthor has gone brain damaged. Luthor, meanwhile, is instantly exposed by Doctor Fate, who was in Flash's mind at the time, and spends the rest of the episode on the run from the rest of the Watchtower's inhabitants — unfortunately for them, Luthor is quick to adapt to his new-found superpower and uses it in ways that the normal Flash refuses to.
- Lilo & Stitch - While Stitch causes havoc around the island attempting to overcome his programmed genetics, his Mad Scientist creator and a hapless government agent, who are both aliens with non-human body shapes and numbers of eyes, get along just fine Strangely Effectively Disguised as tourists.
- One episode of Super Friends had Superman switch with his duplicate from a Mirror Universe; Evil Superman figured the whole thing out within fifteen seconds of coming to in the Hall of Justice, while Good Superman kept going "What's happening? Batman, why do you have a goatee? Why did you just say 'Hall of Kicking Puppies'?" until the bad guys figured it out and Kryptonited him.
- Subverted in Batman The Brave And The Bold. A thrill-seeking Batwoman Expy switches bodies with Batman and does a horrible job trying to fit in with the Batfamily, speaking and acting in an exaggeratedly feminine manner. Batman does a much better job convincing her accomplice, Felix Faust, that he's her, even though he should logically suspect that she'd already gone through with the body swap. When Batman finally meets up with Nightwing and Batgirl, he doesn't have much trouble convincing them who he is.
- In the Teen Titans cartoon, Starfire's villainous sister Blackfire is well-adapted to Earth cultures, and even has a normal pattern of speech compared to her more awkward sister.
- Speaking of Transformers, it ought to be surprising how often the Decepticons manage to persuade humans that the Autobots are evil. The Decepticons. The DECEPTicons. The unsubtly-scary-looking Decepticons.
- And similarly, Cobra managed to pull this one on G.I. Joe, despite Cobra being a well-known international terrorist organization, and GI Joe being the US Army.
- In Transformers Beast Machines we find out what happens to the Beast Wars cast as when they arrive on Cybertron. The Maximals wake up de-upgraded, missing two members, and plagued by a virus. Megatron? He returned to the Predacon underground, developed and deployed a planet-crippling virus, captured all the souls of the entire planet, and now acts as sole ruler with armies of mass-produced drones. All this happens before the first episode.
- Well Megatron did exit the transwarp field early enough to arrive on Cybertron long before the Maximals got there. It's likely Megatron had years to put his plans into action while the Maximals were attacked immediately on arrival and had no chance at all to adapt like Megatron did.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Princess Luna is a Fish Out of Temporal Water, due to having been trapped in/on the moon for 1000 years. As such, her way of speech and knowledge of royal tradition is 1000 years behind the times, leading to, among other things, a lot of use of Antiquated Linguistics. Oddly enough, when she first returned, it was in the form of the villain Nightmare Moon, who had a modern, if grandiose, way of speech, and didn't have Luna's problem with having No Indoor Voice.
- However she was talking to her sister not her subjects.
- Meanwhile, Discord, a different villain who has been trapped in the form of a statue for even longer than Luna was on the moon, has no trouble with modern speech patterns at all. However, when he first breaks out, he seems to know a lot about the main cast, implying that he was aware of his surroundings while he as locked into his statue, which would explain that.