...than the devil you don't.
Finally, after a long struggle, our heroes have managed to defeat the Big Bad, but wait — they can't just kill them. That would be terrible! Because as soon as you kill the Big Bad, something else will come along to take his place. Maybe The Man Behind the Man shows up, or maybe the Sorting Algorithm of Evil kicks in. Maybe the Balance Between Good and Evil means that someone else will just become the new Big Bad, or maybe it's just Inherent in the System, but the fact you've won doesn't mean it's over.
Sure, the Big Bad may be evil, but at least as long as he's around, you know what you're up against. You know his weaknesses, you know how he thinks, and you know how to deal with him. And you know what he won't do. But if someone new takes over, suddenly you're right back to square one and you have to figure out how to beat them all over again.
If the Big Bad actually does get dispatched despite this, the heroes may soon find themselves wishing for the return of the old Big Bad, and in extreme cases, may even try to restore him to power. (If possible.)
Related to We Want Our Jerk Back! (the scenarios where the resident meanie leaves will often involve an even worse jackass taking their place), Friendly Enemy (where the enemy is actually on good terms with the hero), and Worthy Opponent (where the villain enjoys having an opponent who regularly outmatches them). Bread and Circuses or Villain with Good Publicity may also invoke this trope if removing the Big Bad will cause public backlash, or the heroes may fear an Evil Power Vacuum.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann invokes this to an extent after the seven-year Time Skip: the tyrannical Lordgenome has been deposed, but his cryptic prediction upon his death comes to nightmarish reality as the Anti-Spiral invade and prove to be a far more powerful and terrifying threat than Lordgenome ever was. Lordgenome may have oppressed humankind, but it turns out he did it to protect the world from the Anti-Spiral, who seek to destroy humankind.
- Arguably, this is the World Government's feelings toward Whitebeard from One Piece. Sure he's a badass pirate, one of the strongest in the world, but he actually cares about the wellbeing of civilians and protects the islands under his banner, preventing much worse pirates from getting too powerful. The World Government knows that when he's killed, the general populace is completely screwed. This is confirmed to be true, as many of the islands which were under his protection became instant hellholes in the space of a few days when every two bit pirate crew makes a grab for his old territory, making the New World even more chaotic than before. Even the other Emperors get more active now that they know they lost some of their only real competition for the title of Pirate King. In addition, the one who killed him, Blackbeard, has since ceased hiding in the shadows, and decided to let everyone know he's the real deal. Whitebeard's last words actually exacerbated the pirate problem by giving them a reason to persevere. New Age of Pirates, indeed.
- At the finale of Transformers: Energon, Unicron was finally destroyed. However, that only spawned an even worse entity, a black hole called the Grand Black Hole (or the Unicron Singularity in the dub). It was the focus of the next series, Transformers: Cybertron, where it not only threatened to destroy existence, but the scattered pieces of Unicron's original body enabled Megatron to gain dark powers.
- Julius Caesar is ostensibly the Big Bad of the story and the Arch-Enemy of the main characters. He's also surrounded by Starscreams who have all of his ambition and none of his competence, sense of honor, or general Worthy Adversary qualities. Because of this, the Gauls have repeatedly saved his throne for him, knowing that any possible successor would be far worse for them and for the entire ancient world.
- In the same principle on a larger scale, the Gauls will occasionally do the Roman Empire's work for it by driving away barbarian factions like the Goths or Vikings that are trying to encroach on it. Since these factions usually have all the hostility and conquering spirit of the Roman Empire and none of its civilizing influence, one can understand why the Gauls aren't interested in trading occupiers.
- Alix, i.e. the more "serious" version of Asterix, similarly tends to value Caesar over his Roman rivals and the Roman Empire over its barbarian rivals. It's fleshed out the most in Les Légions Perduesnote , where Alix's cousin (and chief of his tribe) joins a plot with Gothic invaders and Roman traitors to stage an invasion of Gaul and destroy the Roman legions there... so that he can foil the plot from the inside. He explains to Alix that Roman rule has brought staggering benefits to Gaul, and he has no intention of allowing the Goths to destroy them and rule as Wasteland Warlords.
- Unusually, both of these examples apply in a Doylist sense. The writers of Asterix and Alix both draw heavily on their past studying Latin when fleshing out the ancient world... and for this time period, the main Latin text assigned to students was Caesar's own memoirs, Commentaries on the Gallic War. Being French, they still cast Caesar as a villain for patriotic reasons, but this explains why he's always the most well fleshed out and admirable of the Romans (in contrast to people like his rival Pompey or his murderer Brutus). He's literally the devil they know.
- In the Astro City story "Safeguards", Marta Dobrescu realizes that, while Shadow Hill is filled with vampires, dark creatures, and other Eldritch Abominations, at least she knows the wards and rituals to keep them at bay since she's lived there her entire life. Downtown Astro City may be a tempting and exciting place, but her ignorance of their rituals is ultimately a liability.
- Batman: Depending on the Writer, this is one of the reasons why the Joker Immunity exists. That damned clown brings Gotham to its knees once a day and twice on Sundays, but if he is gone Gotham is only going to manufacture something much worse to continue being a terrible place to live.
- This is why Doctor Doom has ruled Latveria for so long. He's evil, yes, but every time he's been replaced, the guy taking his place has been an even worse tyrant, as was the guy that he replaced originally. If nothing else, he's good at protecting the place from external threats. When he returns, the citizens are always glad to have him back.
- This is why the Marvel Universe keeps Galactus around. They got rid of him once before, only for something much worse to appear, Abraxas. His whole purpose is to act as a living seal to prevent an imprisoned Eldritch Abomination from destroying the universe. That's why he has to feed on planets; he's sort of a living generator that keeps the seal active, and his meals act as fuel for it.
- Invoked in Irredeemable a few times. First was when Qubit used the bullet made from the wax of the Nahru Visna Candle (the only known object in existence to depower the Plutonian) to kill Orian instead, as Orian had a demonic army ready to invade Earth the moment the Plutonian is defeated. The second was when Qubit fears that The Survivor is becoming Plutonian 2.0, and thus works with Plutotian's Arch-Enemy Modeus to bust him out of The Alcatraz prison he's being held in.
- In the Marvel Comics storyline Infinity War, Adam Warlock has been captured by his Enemy Without, the Magus, who is minutes away from reactivating an artifact that will give him godhood. Then, they're attacked by Doctor Doom and Kang The Conqueror, who naturally want this artifact for themselves. After a moment's hesitation, Warlock begins helping the Magus against the would-be usurpers, telling himself "Better the devil you know..." And what devil could you know better than the one who's part of you?
- The Runaways taking out their parents (The Pride) led to a massive Evil Power Vacuum in Los Angeles, leading to more villains coming in.
- In issue #157 of Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), Dr. Eggman asks Sonic for help when his own life is threatened. When Jules, Sonic's father, asks why Sonic should help Eggman, Eggman states this trope as the reason, saying "At least with me, you know the devil you're getting!"
- This is one of the reasons why Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the Punisher are usually hesitant to take out The Kingpin - they know that there'll be chaos without him. In fact, in one story, the Kingpin was legitimately out of the crime business but he was asked back to New York City in order to help calm the chaos of myriad gang wars.
- In Superman: Red Son, Pyotr Roslov manages to enlist Batman in Lex Luthor's plot to kill Superman and install the former in his place as leader of the Soviet Union despite not even bothering to deny he'd be an even worse dictator by appealing to this trope: Pyotr is a human and thus will die someday while they have no idea what Superman's lifespan is. Superman could very well be immortal and his reign could potentially last forever. Given that at the end of the series, Superman is shown to still be alive a billion years in the future, Pyotr was completely right.
- Tintin features the Republic of San Theodoros in South America and the Kingdom of Khemedi Arabia in the Middle East, both nations locked in an endless power struggle between the factions of General Alcazar and General Tapioca (in the first case) and Emir Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab and Sheikh Bab El Ehr (in the second case). It's made very clear that both leaders in these wars are cruel, petty, inept, autocratic, and otherwise unfit to rule. However, no one better is coming along any time soon, and since Tintin has, through fortuitous series of events, managed to gain the friendship of Alcazar and Ben Kalish Ezab, he can usually appeal to their better nature (prevailing on them not to carry out summary executions of their enemies, for example), which is not an option when it comes to their rivals. Making this a variation, "better the devil that knows you."
- 0-8-4 at the Museum features Coulson's team discovering the secret of the Golden Tablet of Pharaoh Ahkmenrah when it reanimates a set of Chitauri armor brought to the museum as part of an exhibit. Once the tablet was identified as the source, Coulson initially intended to have the tablet taken away for security, but Roosevelt pointed out that the power of the tablet could have unpredictable consequences if it was placed with the various artefacts that SHIELD had collected over the decades. With that in mind, Coulson agrees with Roosevelt's observation that it's safer to leave the tablet in the museum, particularly with Roosevelt's assurance that Larry is a capable guardian of its secret.
- Played for Laughs in Boldores And Boomsticks when Team RWBY encounters Cassidy and Butch of Team Rocket for the first time, who introduce themselves as usual through their motto but it goes over the interdimensional teens' heads.
Blake: Did... did we just get threatened through poetry and interpretive dance?
Weiss: I... think that’s what just happened.
Ruby: Is it wrong that I kinda miss Roman Torchwick?
- In Code Geass: The Prepared Rebellion this is why Zero orders that they not kill Cornelia (though humbling her is another story) during the Battle of Port Yokosuka. Considering that Luciano Bradley the "Vampire of Britannia" or Schneizel are the likeliest choices for her replacement, Cornelia is definitely the better option, with tactics that they know that they can counter.
- In The Desert Storm, this trope is basically the reason Ben Nasade (the time-displaced Obi-Wan Kenobi) doesn't do anything about Palpatine/Sidious as soon as he arrives in the past; without knowing more details about Sidious' Sith Master, he's reluctant to move against the known Sith Lord too soon in case it jeopardizes his future knowledge, whereas leaving Palpatine where he is allows Ben to wait for the right moment to act. It's also worth noting that he sees Palpatine as bad enough, and is a little terrified at the thought of someone scary enough that Palpatine would obey them.
- The Immortal Game: This is the word for word reasoning for unleashing Discord to fight Titan. As bad as Discord is, Titan is far worse.
- All-but-explicitly stated in It's All in the Details during Crowley's first confrontation with 'Kaseva' (Castiel's new Pagan God alias), as Crowley is informed that Kaseva and his most trusted followers are aware of Crowley's ambitions to be the King of Hell, Kaseva in turn making it clear that Crowley is being left alive only because they would rather he got the job than any of the alternatives.
- Kimberly T's Gargoyles: In "Deadly Moon", Anne decides that the best option they have available for dealing with Thailog is calling upon the Were-Fox — while the latter is a potential problem, the former is definitely a threat.
- The Lament Series (ChaoticNeutral): In Marinette's Lament, faced with a Hawk Moth who's on the verge of winning, Plagg encourages Marinette to Wish that Hawk Moth never found any of the Miraculouses. She considers it, but ultimately rejects the idea, realizing that the Wish could rewrite reality so that somebody even worse found the Miraculouses instead.
- In A Monster's Nature, Caitlyn adopts this philosophy when she receives an e-mail from an individual who identifies themselves as 'K.C.' and offers to help her get away from Brandon; Caitlyn explicitly thinks to herself that she isn’t going to trust someone she's never met when she already knows that Brandon won’t hurt her.
- Not this time, Fate: While stuck in a series of Mental Time Travel loops, Jaune initially tries everything he can think of, only to find that making any big moves caused the villains' plans to change... and in the process, removed his biggest advantage: knowledge of the original timeline. After realizing this, he alters his methods, restraining himself from making any major altercations and putting himself through Training from Hell in hopes of becoming strong enough to stop the villains' more familiar plans once the time comes.
- In On the Run, Clark Kent privately muses that one reason he doesn’t kill Lex Luthor is because he wants to rescue Lex’s meteor freak captives. Any potential successor might just kill the prisoners as a possible threat, but Clark knows that Lex is too obsessed with his own vision of himself as a "savior" to eliminate potential sources of genetic material that might be useful in his future schemes.
- The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: Chapter 26 of the sequel, Picking Up the Pieces, reveals that Memorizing Gaze and his guards know all about "Father" Evergreen Road, the fraud priest from the first story, whom they leave in place (while retrieving everything he's sold off to fund his criminal habits) because they consider him useful — his presence allows them to keep an eye on a portion of Canterlot's criminal underworld — and comparatively harmless, since he's just out to make money and satisfy his hedonistic greed.
- A Rabbit Among Wolves:
- Adam Taurus may have been a murderous psychopath, but that trait made it easy to predict what Vale's White Fang branch would do under his command. Jaune's ascension to Adam's old position resets the board and leaves all other factions waiting to see what he will do. Sun joins the White Fang specifically because he wants to figure out the mystery behind the terrorist group's turn to altruism.
- As a counterpoint, Coco argues this reason to justify keeping Jaune around; Jaune's White Fang cell becomes known for their peaceful methods, so removing him would likely result in a more dangerous replacement.
- Two very literal examples in the Shadowchasers Series, explained in Shadowchasers: Ascension:
- The reason the gods locked Tharizdun up instead of killing him, despite the danger he posed, was because he was a pawn of the Great Old Ones, who were worse, and they would have regained the power they invested in him if he died. To this day, Tharizdun acts as a "cosmic lynchpin" to prevent an even more destructive force.
- The Devil himself qualifies, according to Unity-Of-Rings. As bad as Lucifer is, he is actually the best choice for Overlord of Hell. Despite being the tempter of mortals and a power of Evil, he is still a power of Law, and under his rule, the devils wage the Blood War against the demons of the Abyss. If he was replaced by someone who didn't care to do this, such as Mephistopheles, the demons' population would grow to unearthly numbers, they would slaughter the devils, then destroy the Upper Planes, then the mortal worlds, and once they ran out of places to destroy, would turn on themselves, and that would be the end of everything.
- Sonic X: Dark Chaos: This is pretty much the reason why Maledict commands such loyalty from his Demon subjects despite his actions - he's explicitly the lesser evil in a universe full of suffering and death.
- Cross's reason for letting Eneru reach the moon in This Bites! after the latter is defeated by Luffy, since he and his Rumble-Rumble Fruit will be far away and not fall into the hands of a dangerous pirate or the marines.
- Weight Off Your Shoulder: After Hawk/Shadow Moth is arrested, with Chloe and Lila's respective Karma Houdini Warranties running out as well, Alya brings this up, wondering whether their downfall is actually as good as it seems, or whether they'll be replaced by even worse threats. Her friends largely disagree, with Marinette asking her outright if she thinks superheroes shouldn't ever arrest villains for fear of what might replace them.
Max: I've heard of the phrase, and I must say with 100% certainty that I will gladly take 'the angel I don't know' over Hawk/Shadow or whatever Moth any day of the week.
- This also factors into Future!Alix's motivations, or so they claim: Marinette's actions have altered the timeline, and Future!Alix uses the spectre of potential unknown threats to manipulate Alya and the rest of the Girl Posse into trying to help her Make Wrong What Once Went Right. Mainly because Future!Alix wants to ensure that she gets to become Bunnyx, even if that means lots of people suffer due to all the villains' actions.
- A romantic example in Charly (2002). In this film Charlene "Charly" Riley needs to choose between two men. The first is her long term boyfriend, Mark Randolph, a graphic artist from New York. The other is Sam Roberts, a devout Mormon she befriends and develops feelings for while on an extended trip to Utah. Her parents do not like either suitor. But between the two men they would rather have Mark as a son-in-law. Not because they like, or even respect him, but because he has the same cultural background and worldview that the Riley's have.
- Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah sees the human cast teaming up with the Futurians, visitors from the future who claim to want to Set Right What Once Went Wrong- and what once went wrong is Godzilla, who they claim will destroy Japan completely in the next decade to the point it will cease to exist. Using the Futurian Time Machine and a firm grip on the Timey-Wimey Ball, they manage to move the dinosaur that would become Godzilla out of range of the atomic explosion that initially mutated him and successfully erase him from history. Unfortunately the Futurians turn out to be more Make Wrong What Once Went Right types, and create their own monster, King Ghidorah, in his place. After a while being stomped on by the big gold dragon, Japan finds themselves cheering for A Lighter Shade of Black when Godzilla inevitably returns.
- In Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, the inhabitants of the valley keep a huge carnivorous subterranean worm alive, because they'd already learned how to avoid it and its presence should stave off the real evil — the real estate agents!
- The Team did this once when a Yeerk inspector came to Earth to see why the invasion was taking so long, and would have taken the Visser's place once the Andalite bandits had been taken care of. The Animorphs end up killing the inspector so Visser Three stays in charge: "better the evil we know and makes stupid mistakes than the one who doesn't."
- This is also their logic for not wanting Visser One to take over the Earth invasion again—which she proves by figuring out they're humans. However this one is more complicated. Visser One wants a slow, secret infiltration of the planet while Visser Three wants to declare all-out war and kill millions or more people, so that the Animorphs have to balance Yeerk politics to get Visser One's methods while keeping Visser Three the person in power.
- Ascendance of a Bookworm: When Myne joins the temple, the attendant sent to her to spy on her for a temple higher-up who doesn't like her much goes full Overt Operative as soon as they meet. Myne's main reason to not fire the attendant in question is that she may end up being replaced by another, much more competent spy working for the same higher-up.
- Done literally in Brimstone Angels. Farideh, the heroine, gets her magic powers through a Deal with the Devil, specifically a devil named Lorcan. Lorcan, by human standards, is manipulative, arrogant, controlling, and shows a distinct Lack of Empathy. However, he's also into Pragmatic Villainy and is unlikely to commit evil acts (or force Farideh to do them) if he's not getting something concrete out of them and isn't unpleasant company if he has no reason to feel malice for you. Farideh may know her arrangement with Lorcan is far from ideal, but if he died and the pact got transferred to another devil, the resulting situation could turn out far worse, and the second book's plot in particular is heavily influenced by her understanding that this trope is very much in play.
- The Day of the Jackal: Invoked. France's Gaullist government, especially the police chiefs, deeply dislike having to ask the Corsican mafia (which controls the French underworld) for help. However, it's the lesser evil compared to so many enemies that they've repeatedly had to do it - during World War II to help prepare the liberation of France, and during the war with the OAS terrorists at the time of the book.
- In Carpe Jugulum the old Count Magpyr was far fairer to his opponents via Contractual Genre Blindness, respected his Igor, and much preferred by the townspeople he terrorized. So, the heroes usurp the upstarts with their older, known adversary.
- Nobody particularly likes Lord Vetinari, but he's gotten the city to the point where only complete lunatics actually plot against him. This is discussed in Men at Arms, where Edward D'Eath (a complete lunatic) is trying to get other nobles to sign onto his plot and they basically say that the city without Vetinari would probably be much worse. As it turns out, Vetinari is playing a long con to improve the city in ways no one else realizes. As the series continues, it's revealed the true purpose of the thieves' and assassins' guilds (often cited as evidence that Vetinari is corrupt) it to keep them busy so that theft and murder become less and less common, while "illegal" theft and murder are completely stamped out.
- In The Dresden Files Harry's description of 'Gentleman' Johnny Marcone tends be this. Sure he's a powerful crime lord that turns a profit on almost any crime in Chicago, but Marcone has known limits. The gang-wars that would likely replace him aren't as knowable as he is.
- And in Changes he learned that the ruler of the Red Court is not completely sane, and immediately thinks something to the effect of "I HAVE to keep this guy in charge". It is moot, as he then uses their own Bloodline Course on them, killing every single Red Court vampire in the world.
- And lo and behold, the destruction of the Red Court has allowed a new faction, the Fomor, to start muscling in on the supernatural world. They're causing so much trouble that even regular, non-magical folks are starting to take notice.
- In For Love of Evil, Satan is deposed after his noble actions at the climax of the previous novel. The most evil person on Earth is automatically selected as his replacement, and turns out to be far, far worse than Satan ever was. He gorges on food, rapes the damned child souls, and bullies Hell's staff around instead of actually governing Hell and keeping track of the evil portion of the Celestial Bureaucracy, which is Satan's responsibility. Also, Satan is Affably Evil, while this guy is a complete asshole. The other Incarnations promptly help Satan take back his office, having decided that they prefer him to be in charge of evil.
- In Death: As much as Roarke hated his father, he didn't trust the system to protect him "and had figured better the devil you know".
- In Kill Decision this line is adapted to refer to cartel-dug illegal tunnels between Mexico and the US. The US could plug those tunnels it knows about, but that would just lead to the cartels digging more secretly. More effective to just keep the known tunnels open, monitor them for activity and catch the cartel at work.
- Rai Kirah: This is why the Wardens try to vanquish demons non-lethally whenever possible, horrible as they are — the Wardens can feel the universe react to each demon death and fear what might be created in their place if they were driven to extinction.
- Inverted in Red Storm Rising. The "devil we know" is the Soviet government at the beginning of the novel (loosely based on the early years of Mikhail Gorbachev). By the end of the book, it's been replaced by a junta made of three surviving members of the old Politburo, and the Renegade Russian general who overthrew the old leaders. We have no idea if the new government will be any good at all; even the general candidly admits that he doesn't know if it'll be able to reduce the corruption and abuse in the Soviet system, though "we will try." However, the old government caused World War III out of dumb pride and bureaucratic infighting, and nearly doubled down by resolving the war through Nuclear Option when they started losing it. Compared with that, anything is an improvement.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: King Robert's reason for keeping Janos Slynt in charge of the Gold Cloaks. Better to know what kind of corruption to expect.
- Multiple examples in Star Wars Legends:
- The Truce at Bakura, set immediately after Return of the Jedi, features a planet in the Outer Rim under attack from the Ssi-ruuk, a previously unknown race of Scary Dogmatic Aliens. While their war with each other is far from over, the Rebels and Imperials agree to temporarily put their differences aside to fight the new enemy.
- Used in one of the X-Wing books as the reason not to execute a known spy. In typical Star Wars tradition they messed with the original idiom.
Booster: Better the Hutt you have tagged than one you don't.
- Another character puts it differently.
"Better the Moff you know than the Emperor's new envoy."
- Attempted in the New Jedi Order novel Rebel Dream: Wedge's plan for the Siege of Borleais is to maneuver the fairly lackluster enemy general into a series of indecisive engagements, with the overall goal of buying time for various covert plans to take effect. Unfortunately, after the Republic wins a major military victory they don't want, the Yuuzhan Vong return in force, led by Czulkang Lah, father of the warmaster and undisputed Old Master of war.
- Warrior Cats: This seems to be the Clans' collective attitude in regards to hostile outsiders. They will happily join forces temporarily to drive invaders out, so they can go back to squabbling with each other. The Clans share a common origin, religion and laws, after all. Outsiders are unpredictable and potentially extremely dangerous, because who knows what they believe or what laws they follow?
- Chancellor Jaha of The 100 willingly condones the execution of all criminals eighteen and over, no matter how minor the crime. However, he is also as much of a Reasonable Authority Figure as one can be in a society where Population Control necessitates laws like that. Even Abby, whose husband was executed under Jaha's rule because he had information that Jaha wanted kept from the public, says she prefers Jaha to his would-be replacement, Councilman Kane. She risks her own execution when she breaks the law to save Jaha's life just to make sure Kane doesn't take power.
- In the final episode of Angel, Angel recruits former enemy Lindsey for his suicide run on the Black Thorn. On the off-chance that they succeed and any of them survive, he knows someone will have to fill the Evil Power Vacuum, and he'd rather it be Lindsey than anyone else. Lindsey names the trope, then decides it's too good of a fight to miss out on. Then Lorne, of all people, shoots Lindsey on Angel's orders - turns out that Angel didn't trust him after all. Lindsey is less insulted by the betrayal than Angel not bothering to kill him in person.
- Blake's 7. Blake refuses to kill Travis. "...As long as he's alive, he'll be the one chasing me. And I know I can beat him."
- Some time after Gustavo Fring's death on Breaking Bad, Mike proclaims to Walt that dealing with their late foe was leagues better than their current situation.
- Community: In "Asian Population Studies", Jeff successfully makes this argument for inviting Chang to join the group over Rich, winning the vote, although in the end neither one is invited to join after Pierce reveals that Chang may be the father of Shirley's baby.
- Brought up in the Dollhouse episode "Needs". The song that closes the episode (called "Lonely Ghosts) mentions this trope by name, suggesting that as horrible as the Dollhouse is, the alternatives are even worse.
Like lonely ghosts, at a roadside crossWe stay because we don't know where else to go
- This is the ending of the Dinosaurs episode "Getting to Know You." Charlene's fourteenth Birthday Party Goes Wrong when her mother Fran gets sick with the flu and father Earl organizes a Shoddy Shindig involving his co-workers, a game of poker, and some dubious birthday presents. Charlene, who can't take anymore of this lack of appreciation from her own family, joins the species exchange program and ends up with a family of prehistoric birds who watch a dinosaur version of Jerry Lewis on TV, feed her worms all the time, and taunt her and her culture mercilessly. In the end, Charlene can't stand living with what boils down to a family of distasteful French stereotypes for even three days, so she returns home to her family. This comes off as an incredibly Broken Aesop about justifying and even embracing stereotypes as an excuse for refusing to try anything new.
- The Dukes of Hazzard: This is why the people of Hazzard County keep electing Boss Hogg as county commissioner and Roscoe as sheriff. The first episode itself had the Duke boys get Roscoe good publicity before the next election specifically because of this trope.
- El Chapulín Colorado once helped a woman who invoked this trope to justify accepting his help instead of Supersam's.
- The Expanse in the Season 3 episode "Fight or Flight" Amos quotes this while imploring Holden to take the Rocinante back to Tycho.
- Game of Thrones:
- Littlefinger lampshades this trope in "The Mountain and the Viper" asking if that's why Sansa decided to stick her neck for him. After being betrayed by Joffrey and Cersei, her Aunt Lysa, and having her entire House be wiped out by betrayal, Sansa has decided that a treacherous and murderous yet politically astute creep who has an obvious crush on her is her best chance to survive.
- This also seems to be Arya's rationale for not escaping from the Hound.
- Hogan's Heroes. Several times Hogan and his men had to intervene to save Colonel Klink from his folly, because any other German officer who replaced him would be more effective in stopping their activities.
- Ditto in keeping Schultz as their regular guard.
- On Jack of All Trades, Jack and Emilia often wind up helping Governor Croque to keep his job, mostly because his likely replacement would be much more competent.
- Deconstructed on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in the episode about Medicare For All, as John discusses the reluctance of many Americans, including many American politicians, to substantially retool the American healthcare system into a universal healthcare system similar to those like the UK's National Health Service, pointing out how this reluctance only exacerbates the problems with the current system.
John: I get that big change is scary. It is human nature to prefer the devil you know over an uncertain alternative. But the devil you know is still a devil.
- In season four of Person of Interest, Team Machine allies with mafia boss Elias, an Affably Evil Noble Demon, when he's targeted for a takeover by Dominic and his organization, the Brotherhood. In addition to Elias being a not-that-bad option (one of the major episodes of the arc is called "The Devil You Know"), he's figured out enough about the Machine to hide his operations from her, so to the Machine, it looks like Dominic's the sole aggressor. In the end, both Elias and Dominic are taken out by someone even worse than both combined: Samaritan.
Artie Lynch: The thing about organized crime? It was organized. Things worked. Trains ran on time. This new guy... he knows the rules.
- Elias is very good at eliciting this response. In the first season, his rise to power was similarly embraced by the corrupt power structure of New York City (embodied in the Dirty Cop organization HR), who see him as a return to the old ways; competent, businesslike, and willing to bribe all the right people, in contrast to the more flashy, pointlessly violent, and Stupid Evil criminals that they see as dominating the modern underworld.
- Power Rangers Zeo: This happened twice, in succession. In "Mondo's Last Stand", after the Rangers defeated King Mondo, they believed they'd no longer have to face monsters for a long time. Their peace only lasted until another villain took over the Machine Empire. The first guy was Louie Kaboom. He likely wasn't a better villain than Mondo was, but he was far more obnoxious, so much so that even the other members of Mondo's court (with the sole exceptions of Klank and Orbus) hated him. Then Mondo's exiled son Prince Gasket showed up, disposed of Louie, and took over.
- The old Robin Hood TV show (in black and white) had an episode that was titled this trope. It involved the Sheriff of Nottingham being replaced with a much more cunning and immoral man. Robin commented on the fact that they had been able to depend on the regular Sheriff being only so evil and still following the law when pressed. The new guy? not at all.
- Scrubs: This is why Dr. Cox eventually agreed to support the attempt to confront the board to get them to give Dr. Kelso his job back.
- In Sons of Anarchy, the whole reason Chief Unser aids the Sons is because they're a lesser threat to Charming than other gangs in the surrounding areas. Even Deputy Chief Hale, who is otherwise incorruptible, is willing to cooperate with them against the League of American Nationalists, specifically referring to Ethan Zobelle as "the greater devil" than Clay Morrow.
- Stargate SG-1:
- This is philosophy of Tok'ra. It explains their lack of progress over the millennia and also why crises like those in the series rarely happen. They're right. When one Goa'uld starts to get power over the others (like Anubis and Ba'al), things get much, much worse for our heroes...and the galaxy at large.
- Once they try to sabotage the meeting between Apophis and his nephew Heru'ur, both of whom are powerful System Lords, and accidentally cause Apophis to kill Heru'ur and absorb his armies and fleets. In retrospect, an alliance between the two would've been preferable, as each would constantly try to off the other, due to their Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
- After the Replicators, led by Repli-Carter start taking over the galaxy, the free Jaffa who had defected from the ranks of the System Lords returned back to them, feeling they at least understand the evil System Lords while the Replicators just want to destroy everything.
- In the TV movie Stargate: The Ark of Truth, the IOA invokes this trope by attempting to recreate the Replicator threat and harness it against their newer enemies, the Ori. That this is an insanely stupid and suicidal idea is immediately lampshaded by the main characters, who are promptly ignored, just as promptly proven right, and then forced to clean up yet another of the IOA's messes.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Inverted during the Dominion War. While the station is occupied by Cardassian and Dominion troops, Kira and Odo try to play Gul Dukat and Weyoun, commanders of the two factions, against each other. Kira explicitly notes they're better off trusting the devil they don't know — because the one they do know is Gul Dukat.
- Star Trek: Voyager: In the two-part episode "Scorpion" When confronted with Species 8472 in the Delta Quadrant, Capt. Janeway decides to side with the Borg in their own confrontation with 8472.
- Star Trek: Picard: Hugh informs Picard in "The Impossible Box" that any Borg who is liberated at the Romulan Reclamation Site are prisoners of the Romulan Free State. Although neither of them are happy that the former drones have essentially traded one villainous overseer for another, both Hugh and Picard consider assimilation to be a Fate Worse than Death, so letting the xBs regain their individuality, even if it means they have little to no personal freedom under the new Romulan government, is still better than the alternative. Between the Borg and the Romulans, the latter are the Lesser of Two Evils — at least it's possible to negotiate with the Romulans, especially now that they no longer have a homeworld. Hugh even puts aside his terror of being on a Borg Cube to be the Executive Director of the Borg Reclamation Project so that he can offer support to the patients during their recovery.
Hugh: The outcomes are far from ideal.
Picard: What you're doing is good, Hugh. There's no need for it to be perfect. After all these years, you're showing what the Borg are underneath. They're victims. Not monsters.
Hugh: Still, we remain the most hated people in the galaxy. Just as helpless and enslaved as before. (whispering to Picard) Only now, our Queen is a Romulan.
- Supernatural has Crowley, the King of Hell. He works with the heroes more than the angels do. The boys only agree to work with him because of this trope. Abaddon was a horrible person, even for a demon, which is why Sam and Dean would rather see her dead than Crowley. Crowley also, at least at first, is a Reasonable Authority Figure. He punishes a demon who kills their customers to steal their souls earlier than the contract says because it will scare off future customers. The heroes also intentionally summon him for help almost as much as they do main angel Castiel.
- The Thick of It:
- Invoked word-for-word by Stewart Pearson, when Cal "The Fucker" Richards descends on the Opposition.
- Implied when Malcolm Tucker is forced out by Steve Fleming.
- On a first season episode of The West Wing, this is why President Bartlet says he's won't back a candidate managed by Joey Lucas who's running against a Congressman that represents everything Bartlet hates; that, and the fact he think Joey's candidate is someone who's only running for Congress because they think it's a cool gig.
- Zorro (1990) has an episode where Zorro tells Alcalde Luis Ramone this word for word, after outing the latter's brother as an impersonator.
- "Better the Devil you Know" by Kylie Minogue is about going back to the guy who treated you badly because of this.
- During the Invasion storyline, Vince McMahon Lampshaded this trope by name in an attempt to coax The Rock into staying with the WWF.
- The International Wrestling Cartel ran an angle where Daizee Haze was a nervous wreck, after learning someone was stalking her and beating up men who got too close to her, not even leaving her alone at Ring of Honor's Dojo. But once she figured out it was Sami Callihan, Haze recorded a message saying she and Delirious were going to beat him up. Turned out she hadn't figured out as much as she thought...
- Played rather literally in Old Harry's Game. Scumspawn (a demon) tries to persuade Thomas (a condemned soul) to help get Satan and the Professor out of hot water with the angels, as Satan's replacement could be even worse. "Better the devil you know!" Thomas retorts that people who say that haven't met him. "I have! He's a shovel-happy little git!"
- BattleTech: Attempted by the Thomas Marik Impostor on himself. After being outed as a Body Double slipped into place of the original Thomas Marik by ComStar after the bombing which killed Thomas' father Janos and his brother Duggan, Thomas attempted to hold on to power in the Free Worlds League by pointing out that yes, he might've not been the real Thomas Marik, but he was an effective (and more importantly, sane) leader. Unfortunately that didn't take, and the real Thomas Marik reappeared to assert his power... as the Master of Word of Blake, kicking off the events of the apocalpytic Word of Blake Jihad, an event that left billions dead, several worlds utterly ruined, and shattered the Free Worlds League into half a dozen broken sub-states from 3071 through 3139. Maybe they should have taken the Fake Thomas up on his offer.
- Defied in Baldurs Gate 3: Asterion, after having spent two centuries as the thrall to a brutal and sadistic vampire lord, is fine with the potential of making himself a slave to a literal devil because it can't be any worse than what he suffered through at the hands of his old master.
- The first half of Brütal Legend sees Eddie Riggs help out rebel leader Lars Halford, who's trying to free his people from the tyrannical rule of General Lionwhyte. Lionwhyte claims his enslavement of mankind is the only reason why Emperor Doviculus hasn't made them extinct - tribute does not flow from a dead race. They call him out for being a nation-wide sell-out and impale him on his own crumbling palace, but soon after Doviculus turns up, kills Lars effortlessly, and terrorizes the rebel army for the rest of the game with an army of drug addicts and his gameplay-strange army of Squick, both of which fight very differently than Lionwhyte's human-faction.
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty has this as a plot point when the player first learns of the Patriots. The President says that even though their existence is a stranglehold on the true ideas of American freedom, if they cease to exist (according to him), the ensuing political power vacuum can wreak massive, unforeseen danger to current American society if not the world.
- In Path of Exile in the Siege of the Atlas expansion the Exile seeks out and aids the Maven, an eldritch being obsessed with conflict who adds powerful beings to her collection of living toys. While this is obviously unpleasant, she's been around for a while and the damage she's caused is relatively limited, but there are two other encroaching entities whose victory would result in an And I Must Scream situation for everyone. The protests of mortals are meaningless to them, but she is of the same order of being as they and so long as she claims Wraeclast's portion of the Atlas they can't overwhelm it.
- Portal 2: GLaDOS may have been an unhinged, immoral AI that made life miserable for those that entered her facility, but she still had a genuine purpose behind her "antics", unlike Wheatley who who was MUCH worse than GLaDOS ever was. With Wheatley in charge of the Aperture Science facility, the very semblance of "balance" in running things was practically non-existent.
- Shantae and the Pirate's Curse has a villainous variation. When push comes to shove, Risky prefers to allow the titular heroine to regain all her magic powers and keep her as a rival than allow the Pirate Master to have his way.
- Spider-Man (PS4):
- Discussed early on. Jonah curses Spider-Man for his takedown and arrest of Wilson Fisk/the Kingpin, pointing out that a gang war to fill the void will inevitably happen; he's proven right when Mr. Negative and the Demons move in and cause far more damage to the city than Fisk's men ever did. Fisk himself declares as such as he's being taken away, shouting that he kept order in New York and that Spidey will be wishing he was back within a month.
- Spidey will later snark to himself that he is beginning to miss Fisk since he's no longer around to keep his goons in line. And then when the Demons start to become completely unhinged in their attacks on the city, Spidey notes that as bad as Fisk was, he never let his villainy get this out of hand and actually cared about order in the city.
- Lampshaded in Starcraft to explain why the heroes of the story were working with Kerrigan ("Queen Bitch of the Universe," in her own words, and The Leader of an alien locust swarm) of all people to fight the UED. - a dictatorship lead by Space Russians from Earth, who's only contact with the heroes so far have involved bullets.
- Daily Grind: The Devil is an actual character, and everyone hates him with a passion for being petty, self-centered, and sadistic. That said, Daily Grind hasn't tried to usurp Scratch. Not because they couldn't, mind you, but because Hell currently has millions of opportunistic wizards, and without an evil overlord to keep them all depowered and in line, they'd quickly march on the Earth via plane shifting and take over or wage war on each other, whichever pisses the world off more.
- The "War in Hell" storyline of Dominic Deegan sees Dominic fighting on behalf of the Demon Lord Karnak. Not because he wanted to, but because his family knew Karnak before his demon days, and as a result knew how to handle him. Any other demon lord securing power would have meant a lot of trouble.
- Welcome to Night Vale: Plays with this. Night Vale is ruled by a questionable government which has been both incompetent (with it's terrible bridge building plans and wasting lots of money pointless projects) and corrupt (one can get brainwashed or taken away to be tortured by the Sheriff's secret police, and all the creatures and dangers present do nothing). It's even stated that any old corrupt law can be enforced by a thug with a gun. That said, the attitude to the town seems to be "It's not perfect, but nothing is," and people seem fine, when they're not cowering. Cecil himself happily reports the creepy and macabre happenings. Strex Corp is notably more evil: they've killed people to splatter blood on walls, tried to have people arrested or enslaved to function for the company, and sold orange juice that could teleport people to other possibly fatal dimensions. Part of the reason they're hated is because they're worse than the old administration, but the other part is because they are trying to erase the original evil, corrupt, nature of the town, and that's against town pride.
- Adventures of the Gummi Bears has a story where Big Bad Duke Igthorn is deposed by Toadie's cousin, Tadpole, who because of an unpleasant earlier encounter with the Gummi Bears, orders their valuable gummiberry bushes destroyed en masse. The Bears help Igthorn reclaim his dukedom because however dangerous he is, at least he values the gummiberry crop himself for his own ends.
- On the CatDog episode "Harasslin' Match", Winslow's niece and nephew, Brat and Runt, come visit so Winslow can teach them how to harass CatDog like he does. Brat and Runt start out nice to CatDog, but after they kick Winslow out, they become even worse than him to the point that they want Winslow back.
- The Fairly OddParents!:
- The episode "No Substitute for Crazy" featured a substitute teacher named Ms. Sunshine. When she sadly reminded the students that, as a substitute, she'd have to leave as soon as Crocker got back and suggested the only way to stop that would be someone with a magic wand making her the new regular teacher, Timmy wished for that. In the next day, she revealed her true colors: she's a fairy hunter named Ms. Doombringer and so much more competent than Crocker that Timmy ended up wanting Crocker back.
- When Timmy managed to get rid of Vicky by publicly humiliating her so she's too miserable to work, the new babysitters his parents hired turned out to be three hooded death cultists who clearly wanted to murder him. It didn't help that his parents are horrible judges of character.
- In Futurama, Zoidberg uses this as a reason to support Nixon for reelection, even though he's "the worst president in history...and alternate history!"
Zoidberg: I'll stick with the evil maniac I know, thank you very much!
- Jackie Chan Adventures:
- Season 1 focused on the demon, Shendu, as the Big Bad. At the very end, Jackie defeats Shendu, putting him in statue form, and Jade blows him to pieces with one of his own talismans. This is apparently a bad thing as Uncle tells him that now Shendu's been destroyed, a new, much worse evil must take his place.
- The second season then deals with the spirit of Shendu, after taking over Valmont's body, trying to reopen several demon portals so that his demon siblings can escape and wreak havoc on the mortal world.
- Jimmy Two-Shoes: This is why you don't defrost the old leaders of Miseryville. Lucius Heinous VII might be the literal devil, but compared to his dad, grandfather and great-grandfathers way back down to Lucius Heinous I, he's the best of a bad situation.
- In one episode of Jumanji, Van Pelt explained that he hunts because, in Jumanji you either hunt or are hunted. Peter, Judy and Alan then decided to hunt Van Pelt. When it seemed they got rid of him for good, Jumanji turned Peter into a new Van Pelt. The episode ended with Peter going back to normal and Van Pelt coming back.
- Potsworth & Company episode "When Bubba Rules" featured the Nightmare Prince's mother demoting him and hiring another villain. Despite knowing they'd have to face a new enemy, the heroes were happy they'd no longer have to worry about the Nightmare Prince. However, once they tried to stop the new villain, the heroes decided to trick The Man Behind the Man into firing the new villain and reinstating the Prince.
- Randy Cunningham: Ninth Grade Ninja: In the episode featuring Hannibal MsFist's brother Terri, the Ninjanomicon lampshaded the trope by bringing up the possibility of the unknown ally being more dangerous than the known enemy.
- ReBoot. After Daemon is stopped Megabyte comes back to Mainframe. Dot and Bob refuse help from the Supercomputer because they have dealt with Megabyte before and know how he operates. This bites them in the ASCII when Megabyte doesn't operate like he used to, giving up on conquest and going for personal revenge instead. He takes over the Principal Office in one episode.
- The Rugrats episode "New Kid In Town" had the babies befriend an older boy named Josh after they get tired of Angelica's bullying. But after Josh starts manipulating them to do his bidding and threatening them with violence if they don't obey, the babies realize they prefer being bossed around by Angelica and they beg her to rescue them.
- At the opening of an episode of The Simpsons, a billboard with an ad for Quimby's campaign describes him as "The Devil You Know" for 18 years.
- In the episode "American History X Cellent", Mr. Burns goes to jail, leaving Smithers in charge of the plant. At first, he acts as a Benevolent Boss until overhearing his employees discussing how his benevolence is something they can take advantage of. After that, Smithers becomes a Bad Boss to the point that Homer, Lenny, and Carl consider him worse than Mr. Burns, and they try to break Mr. Burns out of jail.
- Slimer and The Real Ghostbusters episode "Out with Grout" featured Mr. Grout, the bossy manager of Hotel Sedgwick, leaving the job to become the manager of the new Uptown Hotel, much to the (temporary) relief of Slimer and Buddy. When wannabe ghostbuster Professor Dweeb became the new manager, they decided to bring Mr. Grout back, since he ignores the ghosts rather than trying to bust them.
- Lampshaded in The Spectacular Spider-Man. After Spider-Man takes down mob boss Tombstone, Captain Stacy tells him that he's just created a power vacuum in the underworld, and that "nature abhors a vacuum". It's filled by the Green Goblin, who set the whole thing up for precisely this purpose.
- When the Stunt Dawgs dispatched Fungus away, they didn't expect Airball to take over and make things so worse they'd bring Fungus back.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003): Following the chaos resulting from "killing" the Shredder the turtles temporarily ally themselves with Shredder's adoptive daughter to ensure that the Foot Clan gains dominance in the gang wars. Leonardo, invoking this trope word for word, reasons that as bad as the Foot may be, putting them back on top would end the wars and get some order in the city.
- A Tiny Toon Adventures episode had Buster and company fearing this trope when Acme Looniversity Vice Principal Yosemite Sam applied for a job at another school. Out of fear a more competent person would take the job, the Tiny Toons sabotaged Sam's efforts.
- Many animals have a defense that is designed to cause severe discomfort to their natural enemy but rarely kills (for example a skunk or porcupine). The result is the predator remains in the area, and they keep other predators out of their territory, but the predator remembers what happened the last time, so the skunk can now feed in peace.
- Even before Fidel Castro, this was the United States's attitude towards his predecessor. In 1934 Fulgencio Batista took over the Cuban government in what became known as "The Revolt of the Sergeants." For the next twenty-five years, he ruled Cuba with an iron fist, and the full blessing and endorsement of the United States government, who feared a social and economic revolution and saw him as a stabilizing force with respect for American interests. (The general policy towards him was, "He may be an S.O.B., but he's our S.O.B.") This is of course, why they had a hard time accepting Castro.
- Josef Stalin was perfectly aware of each and every occasion that Adolf Hitler visited the Russian Front. He scrupulously refrained from launching any attacks, even when Hitler was only a mile or two behind the front line and extremely vulnerable. He explained later that the last thing he wanted was for a rational leader, one who trusted his generals and left them free to decide strategy, to take over in Germany. This was the sentiment shared by every country near WWII's end and the reason that assassination attempts ceased. Hitler was such a raving, paranoid lunatic that his "leadership" did as much if not more harm to the Nazi government than every military loss combined.
- Saddam Hussein in and immediately after The Gulf War. As numerous American statesmen explained at the time, they intended to slap down Saddam's government hard enough that it would no longer be a threat to America's Persian Gulf allies like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia - but not so hard that he could no longer be a buffer between these allies and other hostile nations like Iran and Syria. For this reason, American and coalition forces kicked the Iraqi army out of Kuwait, but were unwilling to support the revolts against Saddam that immediately followed in the north and south of the country. Given the amount of strife that happened in Iraq when American troops did remove Saddam a decade later, and the fact that Iran has indeed become arguably the most influential foreign presence in Iraq, a great many people have argued that America's original calculation was entirely correct, and that Saddam should have been left alone.
- One reason people stay in abusive relationships and/or go through the Relationship Revolving Door. In their minds, it's better to be in a relationship with someone who's familiar than to leave and face loneliness and/or the prospect of dating again.
- According to her sister Lana, Natalie Wood remarried Robert Wagner because, in her words, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know".
- The First Chechen War saw the Chechens winning their (partial) independence from Russia after being in its control for centuries, but the land soon began to splinter between warlords that promoted radical Islamism. When Sharia law became enforced, several Chechens became disillusioned with the independence and soon began to support the secular Russians to fight the radicals when the second war broke out.
- Also one reason Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell. Especially now that we have The War on Terror.
- One of the reasons why Algeria did not participate in The Arab Spring. Back in the '90s, they had their own attempted revolution that turned into Civil War when the Islamic Salvation Front (also known by its French acronym FIS) was about to win elections until the army staged a coup to prevent them from getting into power. While the FIS was quite popular with the Algerians in no small part due to the government at the time being corrupt and inefficient, many were alarmed by their fundamentalism and desire to establish an Islamic state that repressed non-Muslims, women and outlawed un-Islamic establishments. Eventually, the secular populace come to fear an Islamist takeover way more. So when the fighting broke out, they sided with the army who won the war and installed a President for Life who has been in power to this day.
- Certain tourists often gravitate towards global fast-food chains like McDonalds or Burger King while looking for a place to eat while travelling, their reasoning being that while these chains' food isn't particularly good, it's pretty much the same everywhere so they know what they are going to get as opposed to potential Foreign Queasine.
- According to legend note Confucius and his followers happened upon a woman sobbing by a grave. He asked her what was wrong, and she replied, "A tiger killed my son. Later, the tiger killed my husband. Then it killed my father as well." Confucius then asked her why she is still in the area with this dangerous man-eating tiger still running amok. She replied, "Because there are no cruel leaders here."
"Know this: a cruel leader is more fearsome than any tiger."
- In Spanish, the saying goes "Más vale lo malo por conocido, que el bueno por conocer.". Translated, it means "Better the evil you know, than the good to be known.".
- The old Arab saying "One night of anarchy is worse than a hundred years of tyranny" has the same reasoning. Most of the population can live under basically any regime (even Revolving Door Revolution) their entire lives, but no one truly benefits from anarchy.