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Gave Up Too Soon

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So close.
"Whatever he says, let his inner resolution be not to bear whatever comes to him, but to bear it 'for a reasonable period' — and let the reasonable period be shorter than the trial is likely to last. It need not be much shorter; in attacks on patience, chastity, and fortitude, the fun is to make the man yield just when (had he but known it) relief was almost in sight."
Screwtape, Letter 30

A situation in which the characters are using the right method, at the right location, for the right motivations. Success is just around the corner... but the characters tire of what they're doing and either depart or change their tactics. Had they only persisted, they would have succeeded. Examples include: characters waiting for somebody or something that arrives seconds after they give up waiting and depart; characters who dig in the right spot for a treasure but give up before digging deep enough; or, more grimly, characters who attempt a Taking You with Me or Last Stand and are wiped out just before help arrives. Also frequently occurs when two characters are searching for each other. (In Real Life, the lost are often advised to stay in one place to avoid this trope.) Although it occurs in all genres, Gave Up Too Soon is most prominent in farce and horror.


Basically, this trope is a deconstruction of Know When to Fold 'Em and a subversion of Sunk Cost Fallacy, but it often comes off as a particularly cruel form of Finagle's Law; as if the universe itself makes sure you can never reach your goal unless you decide to give up, in which case it will always be within reach.

In cases where it is used to ironic effect, expect The Reveal to the audience that whatever the characters failed to achieve was Real After All.

Contrast You Were Trying Too Hard, Just in Time. Compare Never Recycle Your Schemes, where the bad guy comes oh-so-close but never tries the tactic again despite near-success.



    open/close all folders 

  • In one Dish Network commercial, a woman grew tired of waiting for the cable guy and decided to take a shower. While she was bathing, the cable guy rang her doorbell and she immediately rushed to answer the door, only to find a "Sorry we missed you" note.
  • In a Capital One commercial, a princess encounters a frog prince and kisses him, but he keeps transforming into other animals instead. By the time the prince is turned into a centaur, the princess gives up and leaves, but he yells out that she was only one kiss away.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Doraemon: Nobita's Dorabian Nights have Doraemon and friends crossing a Thirsty Desert after barely surviving a shipwreck (with Doraemon's Fourth Dimensional Pocket stolen). At one point Suneo exclaims he saw an oasis, prompting everyone to quickly run ahead for a mile before finding nothing, at which point it's revealed Suneo had seen a mirage. Minutes later after trudging through the desert, Suneo sees another oasis... and decide to ignore it, thinking it's another mirage. This second oasis is actually the real deal.
  • Dirty Pair Flash: Iris (a.k.a. Flare) has a grudge against the 3WA because they didn't provide backup when she called for help, which caused Molly to get killed. Or so she thought — actually, they could and would have provided backup if she hadn't thrown away her communicator device, assuming that they weren't going to.
  • In School-Live!, if Miki's friend Kei had persisted and stuck with Miki a little bit longer, she might have been rescued by the School Life club when they went into the mall and wouldn't have become a zombie, as strongly implied in chapter 30.
  • In Ranma ½ The Movie 1: Big Trouble In Nekonron, China, the Chinese girl Lychee has been waiting all her life for the legendary prince that will come seeking the legendary scroll she possesses, presumably to make its owner his bride. She waited so long, devoting so much of her life to the fantasy, she basically lost her entire childhood. When she finally gets fed up with waiting and hunts down the man responsible (Happosai) for spreading such an awful lie to her family (and giving them the scroll), she hurls her scroll at him in rage... only to have it picked up by Akane two seconds before Prince Kirin, surprise surprise, shows up. And kidnaps her, thinking she's his destined girl. From then on, Ranma and Co. (plus Lychee) have to get her back. The end of the movie implies that Prince Kirin and Lychee may be able to give one another a chance, however.
  • Pokémon:
    • In Pokemon XYZ, after losing Squishy (Z1), Team Flare put a tail on Ash and his friends, believing that they may make contact with it again after it left their group. When it looks like the trainers don't know where Z1 is, Team Flare pull their men back. It's then at the end of the episode that Ash and company are reunited with Squishy, with Team Flare unaware.
    • In episode 57 of Pokemon Journeys, Ash and Goh spend a day trying to find new Pokemon during a snowstorm, to no avail. Despite Goh's insistence on continuing, Ash convinces him to leave to go eat ramen. A herd of Lapras emerges from the river they were looking at, just as they leave.
  • Princess Sarah: Like in the original book and practically every other known adaptation, Miss Minchin mistreats her former star pupil Sara and forces her to become a servant because she doesn't expect the girl to ever become rich again. In this adaptation, Solicitor Barrow also becomes an example because he's portrayed as one of the people who invested in his client's diamond mines and is glad because he got out of the investment after said client died without finding any diamonds. Mr. Carrisford later finds diamonds there.
  • Fairy Tail: When Ultear Milkovich was sick, her mother Ur took her to a facility for treatment. Instead, the people performed torturous experiments on her and lied to Ur that she had died. Eventually, Ultear managed to escape and ran home, only to see Ur playing with her students Lyon Vastia and Gray Fullbuster. Instead of letting them see her, Ultear, who didn't know that her tormentors lied about her death, automatically assumes that Ur doesn't care about her and had already replaced her. She angrily runs away while plotting revenge against her mother. Shortly after she leaves, Ur starts talking about her daughter, whom she misses dearly and loves with all of her heart.

  • Victor Borge once made a joke that his uncle tried to invent a soft drink called 4-Up, then 5-Up, then 6-Up, before dying brokenheartedly from failure, unaware of how he close he had been to success.

    Comic Books 
  • One Archie Comics story has Archie accompany Reggie to the meeting place of the latter's blind date. Seeing a frumpy, awkward woman at the spot, Reggie bails, but Archie, feeling sorry for "Robin", decides to take Reggie's place. It turns out the awkward woman isn't Robin, just waiting for the bus. Then the real Robin arrives, apologizing for being late.
  • The Batman Adventures: In Gotham Adventures #9, Batman and Batgirl come to arrest Sensei for his role in the murder of Boston Brand. Tracking him down to the League of Assassins headquarters in Tibet, they battle with him. The battle is stopped by Ra's al Ghul, who orders Sensei not to kill them. When Batman refuses to leave without the Sensei, Ra's orders the Sensei to go with Batman. Neither wishing to get in the way of Ra's plans nor to spend the rest of his days in prison, the Sensei chooses a third option and quietly walks out one of the windows of his mountain hideaway, falling to his death. Ra's reveals that while he was going to let Batman and Batgirl take him, he was not going to let them keep him.
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. NNY believes that the only reason he can't go through the mirror to a world where everything is better is that he didn't stare at it long enough before touching it. Then he kills someone to take his mind off the issue.
  • Grant Morrison turns away right before Foxy, his childhood imaginary friend, signals him back from the hills at the end of Animal Man.
  • Wally West, The Flash, got in a fight with a super-villain in a department store that resulted in a fire and did a quick run-through to get any innocents out. He quit looking too soon, and a woman got horribly burned. She sued, and although Wally was acquitted of any responsibility, he blamed himself for his failure and tried to become even faster so he could be everywhere at once.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 5: During Barbara's determined search for the Amazons despite being told again and again that they were myths that would never be found she actually came within a hair's breath of Themyscira, setting foot on the island itself. The only reason she didn't go further was because the Olympians' protection over it prevented her from seeing it.

    Comic Strips 
  • Occurs in one week-long Doonesbury story arc. In a pastiche of Waiting for Godot, Mike and Zonker wait for Mario Cuomo to announce his bid for the presidency. The two finally give up out of frustration, and a beat later, Cuomo arrives in the last panel.
  • In one arc of Calvin and Hobbes, the family goes on a camping trip, only for it to rain the whole time. Finally, Calvin's father has enough and cuts their trip short. The moment they start packing, the rain stops and Calvin is asking Hobbes what the words his dad was yelling meant.
  • Garfield:
    • Similar to the Calvin and Hobbes example, Jon, Garfield, and Odie went on a camping trip, only for it to rain most of the time. Eventually, Jon figures the rain will never stop and decides to pack it in and go home. The moment he closes the car's trunk, the sun starts shining.
    • In a week-long strip set a week before Christmas, Garfield tries to find a present that Jon has hidden. Eventually, he gives up, leaning against the wall as he says so, not knowing that he's actually leaning against a very, very big gift package with a tag that says "To Garfield" on it.
  • Inverted in a The Far Side cartoon where a trio of prisoners digging a tunnel under the ocean "feel the first drop of rain".

    Fan Works 
  • It's Always Spooky Month: In chapter 15, after spending most of the day at the lake in Zardy's cornmaze, Tankman and Steve take Skid and Pump home despite the former's protests due to it getting late. Had they waited until after the sun set, they would have witnessed Lila getting thrown out of the lake. Thankfully, Zardy was watching the whole thing and guides Lila to Monster's house, allowing her to reunite with Skid.

    Film — Animation 
  • In An American Tail, Fievel's parents assume Fievel died while falling overboard on a ship, and they spend most of the movie having near-misses while Fievel is out looking for his family because Papa Mousekewitz refuses to entertain the notion that Fievel is alive. The same thing almost happened to Fievel towards the movie's conclusion, where Fievel is convinced by street orphans that his family isn't coming to look for him, and he should just accept it. Moments after he stops looking, Fievel and his family find each other.
  • In Epic (2013), just when Professor Bomba's recording equipment would have been useful (tiny MK needed him and his iPhone), he starts disconnecting them. Fortunately, he finds the needle MK moved on his map to indicate the Leafmen lair.
  • In Finding Dory, to reunite with Dory, Marlin and Nemo need the help of a loon named Becky to take them to the Quarantine Center of the Ocean Institute. However, on the way, Becky leaves their bucket on a branch while she eats some popcorn that had fallen on the ground. Marlin grows impatient and ends up accidentally catapulting himself and Nemo into a gift shop aquarium. A few moments later, Becky finishes eating and takes the empty bucket that held Marlin and Nemo to the roof of the Quarantine Center. Nemo can't help but snark about that.
  • In Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders, the villains of the story tell Fred, Daphne, and Velma about how they found a gold mine some old miners in the past were digging in, but who gave up and left only a few more feet from a gold deposit. Naturally the villains are happy to gain from their loss.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The main characters in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist spend a good chunk of the movie looking for their inebriated friend Caroline. They just lost the cell phone connection with her and decide she's not at the bus terminal, so they leave to look somewhere else. Three seconds later, Caroline emerges from the terminal bathroom.
  • In Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Kevin's mother is looking all over New York for him. After searching for him in her brother-in-law's house, she doesn't find anybody so she hails a taxi and leaves, moments before Kevin arrives on the scene luring Marv and Harry there.
  • In the modern adaptation William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, Juliet starts waking up from her coma as Romeo is drinking his poison, and he realizes his mistake right before dropping dead. This raises the drama from the original, where she merely woke up to find his corpse.
  • A ridiculously tragic version: in The Mist the main character mercy-kills his son and all his friends (he had just enough bullets for everyone but himself) moments before the ominous pounding sound drawing ever closer is revealed to be the military coming through killing all the monsters and burning up the mist.
  • Citizen Kane: Thompson, the Intrepid Reporter that has spent all the movie looking for the answer to the Driving Question (What is Rosebud?) gives up precisely in the very room the answer lies.
  • In Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Wayne Sylinzki, the creator of the Shrink Ray, gets fed up with the failure of his device not working and smashes it up in a rage, not realizing that it worked and shrunk his and the neighbors' kids. Upon finding out it worked, part of the plot revolved around him finding the kids and putting the machine back together to return them to normal size.
    Ron: We were right under their noses and they didn't even see us!
    • An especially close call happens right at the end. The kids have finally managed to make their way back into the house, but Nick ends up falling into Wayne's cereal. Wayne, lost in thought over having still not found the kids, isn't paying attention to the bowl and only avoids eating Nick when his dog bites his ankle.
  • In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, we see Bones' most painful memory - he helped his father end his life in order to relieve the suffering caused by a disease that turned out to have a cure which was discovered not long after the assisted suicide.
  • In Batman: The Movie, after their plan to lure Batman into a trap fails when their hostage Bruce Wayne escapes, the United Underworld comes to the conclusion that Batman will never come to their lair and abandon it, leaving behind an explosive surprise for the police, unaware that Batman, having learned their hideout's location firsthand, was indeed coming after them and showed up just after they had left.
  • In Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, the animals are found by people who send them to an animal shelter. Thinking it's a pound, the animals escape, unaware that the animal shelter had contacted their owners who were on their way at that moment to get them. Shadow even has a moment where he has a feeling they should go back, but he shrugs it off and the animals continue their own quest for home.
  • In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, while Superman is fighting Doomsday, with it looking like he's losing, the military jumps the gun and fires a nuke at Doomsday. Unfortunately, it was at this point that Superman was winning and nearly suffocated Doomsday by dragging it into space. When the nuke collided, it caused Doomsday to fall back to earth and undergo a transformation while Superman was seemingly dead in space. In short, all the military's interference did was prolong the battle, nearly kill Supermannote , and make Doomsday more powerful than ever.
  • Done tragically in Dragonworld, where Johnny gives Yowler the dragon a scathing Shoo the Dog in order to protect him from MacIntyre. Several moments later, MacIntyre is arrested for housing a dragon without a license, meaning that Johnny drove away his friend for nothing. Fortunately, Yowler comes back in the final scene.
  • 10: George Webber's neighbor gives him permission to spy on him with a telescope while he is having sex. At the end of the movie, the neighbor spies with a telescope on George talking with his girlfriend Samantha whom he had been having marital problems with. The neighbor angrily says he's tired of always giving George a show and getting nothing in return and goes to bed. Almost as soon as he does, George and Samantha reconcile and start having sex.
  • Lawyer Man: Gilmurry, facing a lawsuit from Anton and his client and fearing a $50,000 judgment, settles the case with Anton for $30K. Gilmurry gets upset when a juror filing out of the courtroom tells him that they would have voted for his acquittal.
  • Tusk: Stranded on a island after a shipwreck, Howard Howe is rescued by a friendly walrus which he names "Mr. Tusk". However, after days on the island and on the brink of starvation, he kills and eats his new friend, only to be rescued minutes later.
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Neal and Del's flight from New York to Chicago gets redirected to Wichita due to severe weather, so they agree to spend the night at a nearby motel instead of staying at the airport. Meanwhile in Chicago, after Neal's wife falls asleep while watching TV, we hear a news report that the air traffic at the airport Neal was flying out of has cleared up, meaning he could have gotten home a few hours late instead of two days had he just been patient.

  • In Neverwhere, Door agreed to meet up with the Marquis at the floating market. They could have touched him, had they known where he was. Dead. By the time he recovered, they had already left.
  • The book Gold and Silver, Silver and Gold, about buried treasure, mentions that treasure hunters should be persistent because "You could dig four feet down, find nothing, and give up when the treasure is buried five feet down."
    • Interestingly, there's a real-life instance of this subverted to ridiculous levels. The exact location escapes me, but following a rumor of gold on an island, decades of treasure hunters have dug over a hundred feet down looking for the loot, because "If the previous guy didn't find it, maybe it's just a little bit further!" Considering that the shaft is now deep enough to be prone to flooding, and the gold was supposed to be from the 19th century... Chalk this one up to not knowing when to quit. How would the original owners have put gold hundreds of feet down?
      • Do you mean Oak Island?
      • Long story short: Due to finding man-made obstacles, they know something is buried down there but no one has been able to get to it (or, nowadays, even figure out where the original pit was).
  • Lighthearted example where it's Zigzagged (the character gives up too soon, but succeeds by doing so) in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry has to get into Dumbledore's office, but he doesn't know the password. He does know that the password is always some type of candy, so he rattles off the names of every popular brand he can think of, like "Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans" (then remembers that Dumbledore doesn't like those, so that's clearly not right), "Chocolate Frog", and "Sugar Quill", before throwing up his arms in desperation and shouting, "Cockroach Cluster!". And that is the password, which causes the bemused Harry to say “Cockroach Cluster? I was only joking …
  • A Little Princess: Had Miss Minchin not given up on the hopes the late Ralph Crewe's investment would generate profits, she wouldn't have mistreated his daughter to the point the girl would gladly leave her boarding school as soon as she had a place to go.
  • The Reversal: After the defense's last strategy fails, Jason is so certain he'll be convicted he decides to flee and ends up dying without learning that one of the jurors would vote for his acquittal, thus forcing a mistrial. Prosecutors Mickey and Margareth believe that the District Attorney would rather let him go than attempt a third trial.
  • Vin's thieving crew at the start of Mistborn teams up with another crew to rob a boat full of Ministry acolytes, knowing it secretly holds Ministry funds. Vin's crewleader betrays the other crew by claiming the down payment early, which would bring suspicion down on the other crew. Two books later, it turns out that the hidden Ministry funds in turn hid atium, a metal so valuable that a single bead is worth more than the down payment. If thieving crews weren't in the habit of backstabbing each other, they would have been the richest people in the Empire.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Disney Channel shows Austin & Ally and Shake it Up both had a treasure hunt episode where the protagonists search for buried treasure only to later find out that the map was a fake, thus driving them to give up the hunt, only for the treasure to be found after they leave.
  • The Atlanta episode "Value" revolves around Van smoking pot for the first time in years, then going to extreme lengths to pass a mandatory drug test the next day to keep her job. After her final attempt fails, she confesses to her boss, who informs Van that the quarterly tests are a sham — they can only afford to test each employee once, when they start. She also doesn't really care if employees get high when they're outside of work. However, Van lost her Plausible Deniability by admitting to taking illegal drugs, so she's being fired anyway. The only benefit confession gave her was a few extra days to get her things together.
  • Part of the backstory of Walter White in Breaking Bad. He was one of the 3 founders of the tech company called Gray Matter. Convinced that their venture was a mistake, as well as envying one of the other two for contributing most of the capital, Walt sold his share for 5000 dollars and left the group. He can only watch with fury and envy as he saw the company soon grow into a billion-dollar enterprise, which Walt still regards as his greatest failure.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead": Donna Noble lives a highly compressed life in a virtual reality system, meeting "the perfect man", falling in love with him, and having children with him, all in the space of a few real-time minutes. Once she leaves the system, she hangs around to see if he really existed or if he was just a computer illusion. She gives up and leaves, just as he shows up. It doesn't help that the man has a stutter (which he'd been able to work out in the simulation but not in real life) that prevented him from calling out to her, or that the name he was given in the simulation wasn't his real one.
    • Zig-Zagged in the prequel to "The Bells of Saint John". The Doctor is sitting in a swing set, despondent because he has been unable to locate Clara Oswald. A little girl approaches him and offers advice, which convinces him to keep at it. Subverted because this is what prevents him from giving up, but played straight because if he'd thought to ask her name, his search would be at an end.
  • Subverted in one episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where Will accidentally sets off a car alarm when he walks to close to a vehicle and a cop comes up to him getting the wrong idea. Will tries to set off the car alarm by actually touching the vehicle, which naturally it doesn't. Will resigns to his fate and goes off with the cop, only for the warning to go off as they leave. When Will is returned home he's apparently on good terms with the cop implying he did in fact hear the warning from the car, vindicating Will.
  • Friends: Joey spends an entire episode looking for a hot girl he saw across Monica's window but is unable to find her apartment. He finally reaches her apartment towards the end of the episode, but when Ross (who met the hot girl and was invited over to her apartment) opened the door, Joey thinks he got the wrong apartment again and runs off.
  • In the "Subway" episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, a man (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) falls in front of a subway train and gets pinned between the train and the platform. When told he will most likely die within an hour, he asks them to find his girlfriend, who's out jogging. They don't find her and at the end of the episode when the paramedics were taking him away, she's shown jogging by.
  • How I Met Your Mother has the "Curse of the Blitz". Anyone who holds the curse will hold the nickname "The Blitz" and forever (or at least until they pass it on to someone else) miss exciting and once-in-a-lifetime events due to leaving too early.
  • In one episode of I Love Lucy, the Ricardos and the Mertzes purchase an oil well from a Texas millionaire. However, when the well's oil doesn't come in, Lucy believes they had been swindled and used a crazy Engineered Public Confession method to force him to buy it back from them. Afterwards, the Ricardos and the Mertzes are congratulating Lucy on getting them out of the scam when a man who just happened to buy the well they just gave back used their phone to call his wife and tell her that the well finally came in as a gusher. The episode ends with Ricky, Fred, and Ethel silently and menacingly surrounding Lucy and leering down at her.
  • Season 2 of Jeremiah; Mr. Smith convinces Jeremiah, Kurdy, and Markus that God is going to finally, overtly, come to Earth and grant one wish to each person in a selected place. Each character discusses what their wish would be; Mr. Smith says only to have his broken arm, which the doctor's said had little chance of healing, repaired ("That's it?" shrug -"I travel light"). Long story short, they all wander off except Mr. Smith—then the next morning, they are throwing a baseball around, and Mr. Smith appears and catches it—with his theretofore broken arm, saying sadly, "You guys shoulda stayed..."
  • In one episode of Jonathan Creek, a man goes into a drunken rage and crashes his boat, leading to him drowning after he received a letter from his girlfriend, supposedly telling him that her estranged husband refused to give her a divorce. Turns out that what he thought was a comma was actually a fly, and the letter was actually said that the husband had agreed to the divorce.
  • The Murdoch Mysteries episode "Murdoch and the Temple of Death" includes a hunt for the Holy Grail. After much effort, including defeating several traps in the titular building and pursuing a man who killed for it, Murdoch and Dr. Iris Bajali retrieve a ceramic cup. Murdoch and Brackenreid consult a local museum expert about the find, and there's a bit of disappointment when it is shown to have a hidden Christian symbol, making it too new to be the actual Grail. Constable Crabtree suggests the apparent first-century pottery exterior conceals the real Holy Grail, and Murdoch dismisses the idea of breaking so ancient an artifact just to test Crabtree's theory. The cup is donated to the museum, and later a staffer is shown accidentally knocking it to the floor, breaking the clay exterior to reveal a metal cup inside. The episode closes with the metal cup back on a shelf suggestively bathed in a shaft of light.
  • Zigzagged in one Night Court episode, where the courtroom is dealing with an infestation of roaches, due to a construction project on an adjoining floor. Art the janitor tries everything, but even breaking out the extra-extra-professional-strength "Roach Nuke" fails to work, and he's sobbing at his own incompetence. Then Harry reads the label on the stuff and notices that it has a four-hour incubation. Seems the stuff did work when he used it, and now it seems Art will need a broom and a lot of overtime.
  • In one episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Sabrina is invited to Josh's book club the same night as Harvey's football game, so Sabrina gives Dreama a pager to let her know when Harvey will be in the game so she can zap herself there to see it. After a few false alarms with the team losing and only thirty seconds left on the clock, Sabrina decides to turn off the pager. Harvey is then put in the game so the team can save face. Not only does Sabrina miss Harvey's touchdown, but he breaks up with her when he finds out she was with Josh.
  • Seinfeld:
    • The quartet spends the entire episode waiting for their table to be available at a Chinese restaurant. Just after they leave... "Seinfeld, 4?"
    • One episode involves Jerry and George buying some stock on a tip from an acquaintance of George's. Throughout the episode, the stock continued to drop until Jerry decided to sell it before it was too late while George 'decided to go down with the ship'. The next day, Jerry finds out that the stock had risen dramatically and George ended up making $8,000.
  • In an episode of Sliders, the characters only have a few seconds to decide whether or not to stay on the latest parallel Earth they've landed on. To see if it's their home or not, Quinn tries a fence, knowing it is always squeaky (something he does in the pilot), and it doesn't squeak. After they leave, a gardener with an oil can comes into view.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959)
    • The series had a rather disturbing example of this trope. In the episode "Mr. Garrity and the Graves", a con artist scams an entire village into believing he can raise their dead. After being paid not to (the villagers having different reasons for not wanting them to come back), the con artist apologizes to the graveyard for not being able to do what he claimed before leaving with his partner for the next village to con. The moment they're gone, the dead start rising.
    • The episode "I Shot an Arrow into the Air" involved a space ship crashing onto what the astronauts think is a distant desert planet. One Jerkass member of the crew, determined to survive, kills the rest of the crew one by one so he can steal their water canteens. Shortly after killing the captain, the crew member finds out they were on Earth All Along, not far from a freeway leading to Reno, Nevada.
  • An ambiguous case in an episode of The Twilight Zone (2002): a group of college students travel through a forest and discover a cave of an ancient tribe. They disturb a large chalice containing blood and the sun unexpectedly goes dark, much to the confusion of scientists on the radio. Realizing that the blood was an offering to a sun god by an ancient culture, the group believes that in order to bring back the sun, they must replace the offering so they kill one of their group for her blood. Immediately afterwards, the sun returns, but then they hear over the radio that scientists believe that the event was caused by a natural occurrence, leaving them to wonder if they killed their friend for no reason.
  • Twin Peaks: When Ben Horne is being falsely held for the murder of Laura Palmer, Catherine (who he was with at the time of Laura's death) reveals to him that she was Faking the Dead and promises to exonerate him if he signs the mill back over to her. Ben does so immediately, which was actually unhelpful (Catherine brags that she can withhold her testimony anyway) and unnecessary (Ben's blood does not match that present on the scene of the murder; the cops were just holding him longer as part of a Batman Gambit to catch Leland/Bob).
  • The X-Files episode "Quagmire" was about the deaths of several people around a lake where a lake monster is purported to live. The killer turns out to be an alligator that Mulder shoots. Right after he and Scully leave, the real lake monster surfaces.

  • The song "Zangra" by Jacques Brel is about an officer stationed in a frontier fort who looks forward to the enemy attacking so he can become a hero. But years pass and the enemy doesn't come. Finally, he retires, and that's when the enemy shows up.
  • The song "Stan" by Eminem focuses on the relationship between the artist and an obsessive fan who, furious at his idol for not writing back, kills himself and his pregnant girlfriend. In the final verse of the song, Slim Shady does write a reply encouraging Stan to seek professional help so as not to end up like a suicide victim he heard about on the news and then realizes Stan, himself, was the victim.
  • Benny Hill's "What a World" ends with the lone survivor of humanity jumping off the Empire State Building After the End due to loneliness. On his way down, he hears a telephone ringing inside the building.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the backstory of Warhammer, Malekith, soon to be the Witch King, considers it his birthright to be Phoenix King, ruler of all the High Elves of Ulthuan. He plots his way to the throne, but the last step is to endure the Sacred Flame. Malekith steps into the flame, confident of his right. He is however maimed and burnt by the flame, just like his father Aenarion was. Unlike his father, however, he collapses and gives up. Thousands of years later, and after leading his own faction, the Dark Elves, and conspiring to take Ulthuan by force, he learns in a particularly eyeroll worthy Retcon during the End Times, just before the end of the world, that he was the Chosen of the gods and all his injuries would have been healed had he lasted but a moment longer, just as Aenarion's had been.

  • Eurydice uses this trope sequentially and tragically in its ending. Eurydice's father assumes she went back to be with Orpheus and immerses himself completely in the Lethe, only for her to return later. Then, assuming Orpheus will find someone else and be happy, Eurydice immerses herself in the river before being forced to marry Hades. Immediately after, Orpheus dies and arrives in the Underworld himself, unable to recognize Eurydice or read what she wrote.
  • This trope would sum up the ending to Romeo and Juliet quite well. Specifically, Romeo thinks that Juliet is really dead and kills himself shortly before she wakes up from the effects of the potion used to fake her death. Finding him dead, she then follows suit.

    Video Games 
  • Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny: The whole reason the God of Destruction exists is because Misual gave up too soon. He spent countless times Super Reincarnating to save his beloved Releiza and kept failing, and eventually believed Super Reincarnation can't change destiny and decided to take out his anger at fate by creating Gods of Destruction to destroy the universe. Zed proved him wrong by succeeding in saving Releiza, and if his incredible persistence is anything to go by, Misual could've eventually saved her if he had just kept trying until he succeeded.
  • In the Puella Magi Madoka Magica series, Sayaka is in love with Kyousuke but never tells him and, thanks to both that and her Break the Cutie process, she becomes a witch and dies. The PSP game has a path where, had she actually given him a Love Confession and willingly told him that she was a Magical Girl, he would've accepted her feelings and even compose a song inspired on her.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda: A pair of krogan scouts on Elaaden can be found searching for the rumoured source of water on the moon, or more accurately having just given up searching when Ryder finds them. They're actually sitting right on top of the source's front door.
  • In Dark Souls 2, one of the sidequests has you meet with a swordswoman called Lucatiel, who, like you, suffers from the Undead Curse that is ravaging the entire setting, and has traveled to Drangleic to both find a cure as well as her brother Aslatiel, who made this journey a while earlier. As you meet her, she grows increasingly more hollow and panicked, until you find her in a small shack in front of Aldia's manor, giving you her armor while begging you not to forget her as she loses her last bit of hope. Step into the manor, however, and you are almost immediately invaded by Darkwraith Aslatiel.

  • The Order of the Stick:
    • During the climax of the Azure City war, Miko destroyed the Azure City Gate, believing she was fulfilling the will of the 12 gods. The only problem with that was it was unnecessary as the ghost of Soon Kim was winning against Xykon and Redcloak. Even worse, it was because of her actions that the two were able to get away before Soon could finish them off.
    • When the Order is forcibly split into two groups, the wizard Vaarsuvius searches with increasing desperation for a way to contact the other half of the party. Eventually tiring of the unproductive distractions they faced, Vaarsuvius leaves; once he/she gains the power to reunite the party, he/she finds that the others have already gotten together in his/her absence.
    • The Order spends a day searching the desert for leads on one of the Gates or its guardian, finds nothing and leaves. Moments later, a scrying sensor appears. Subverted when it's revealed that it was the villains, not the sorcerer they hoped to find, spying on them.
    • When Nale and his companions are hunting a dungeon for Girard's Gate, they leave in frustration upon finding a stone block with a taunting message in its place. Roy and Haley, being more familiar with Girard's brand of paranoia, shatter the stone to find the Gate hidden inside.
  • In Sandra and Woo Sandra, Cloud and Larisa are searching an abandoned factory for a hidden treasure but give up after the only thing they find is a bag full of dirt and bugs. However after they give up and leave Cloud's mother Ye Thuza sneaks in and figures out that the actual treasure was hidden underneath the hiding spot of the bag that they found.

    Western Animation 
  • In the American Dad! episode "The Vacation Goo", the Smiths' vacation goes drastically wrong when Francine (convinced it's fake) jumps off the cruise ship, forcing the rest of the family and a member of the staff to go after her. They end up on a jungle island and get chased by hunters, eventually getting trapped in a cave by an avalanche that also kills their companion, whom they're forced to eat to survive. Shortly afterwards the hunters find them and it turns out they're just playing paintball and the "jungle" is part of a super-ritzy resort. Disturbed by the truth of what they did for nothing, the family decides to make it one of their dark family secrets. Poor Steve had it even worse since their companion was an attractive woman who openly stated that she wanted to sleep with him.
  • In one episode of Bonkers, Al Roach is searching for a notorious gangster's hidden treasure, but his only clue to its location is the 29th page of a book, so he and his boys steal the 29th page of every book in the city. After tracking down the hiding place, they discover a book of poetry written by the gangster, leading Al to believe that his treasure was just his own poems, and so he and his men leave in disgust. It's only after they do that Miranda and Bonkers look at the 29th page of the poetry book, which is actually instructions on revealing the actual treasure's hiding place behind the wall.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: In "Operation T.R.I.P.", the Interesting Twins from Beneath the Mountain need to find the Japanese Kids Next Door's hiding place and then call in the ninja squad (and only then, because, according to Father "ninjas charge by the hour and I'm not made of money!") They find the hiding place, call the ninja squad, then discover it's not the hiding place, but Numbah 3's grandmother... so they call the ninjas off, and the sister smashes the radio in despair. Then they learn they've been tricked — Sector V disguised themselves as her Grandma! After a Villainous Breakdown and the Brother of Interesting Twins vowing they will return, they jump out the window while the Brother remarks their day can't get anymore worse. Cue the Japanese Kids Next Door giving them an ass whopping!
  • In Craig of the Creek episode "Alone Quest", Craig has a Potty Emergency and races home. However, when his little sister has a hard time figuring out which way to turn the doorknob to let him in, he gets anxious and races off to find another bathroom. A second after he leaves, his sister has managed to open the door, but he's long gone.
  • The Origin Story of Danny Phantom is that Danny's parents built a portal into the Ghost Zone, but when it didn't immediately work, they just wandered off in a sulk. Danny got it started by inadvertently pressing the 'on' button... which was mounted on the inside, which is how he got his powers.
  • An episode of Dexter's Laboratory had Dexter visiting his grandfather, and was convinced that he has a secret laboratory like him. He searches the entire house for it, only to find out it's actually a garage with random tools. Dexter returns home, and immediately afterwards his Grandfather's tools create an energy element, which is the exact element Dexter tried to create at the start of the episode.
  • In Ducktales 2017, this is the main contribution to Della Duck's Missing Mom backstory. After she gets lost in space while flying the Spear of Selene, Scrooge launches an all-out effort to find her that nearly depletes his entire fortune, but was forced to call it off by his board of directors when the search proved useless. Turns out that Della had crash-landed on the moon and wasn't as far away as everyone believed. To make it even more egregious, two of Scrooge's search rockets actually had passed close to the moon's surface, but wrote off checking and just flew back home.
  • The Fairly OddParents:
    • In "Genie Meanie Minie Mo", Timmy makes a wish to Norm the Genie that Trixie will kiss "Timmy Turner", thinking he Out-Gambitted Norm with the wording, but Norm uses Exact Wording so that Trixie will kiss every Timmy Turner in Dimmsdale (there are apparently quite a few). Later on, Trixie finally comes down to Timmy's name on the list, but it's at that moment when Timmy finally undid all of Norm's tricks, preventing Timmy from getting kissed. He naturally face palms in frustration.
    • In "Crocker of Gold", Mr. Crocker, fed up that his hunt for fairies continuously led to failure, decided to hunt leprechauns instead. Later on, he sees Wanda and Poof, out in the open and without their wands. As he put it:
      "That's so not fair!"
      • Then later, when he finds out that Cosmo (whom he had successfully captured and then let go after making him give him a pot of gold) was actually a fairy instead of a leprechaun:
        "That's even more so not fair!
  • At the end of one episode of The Flintstones, the Flintstones and the Rubbles come across a man digging an oil well who offers to sell it to Fred. After spending the entire episode on a broken-down carnival that Fred had bought, Wilma, Barney, and Betty convince Fred not to fall for it. The moment they drive away, the man's well erupts into a gusher, resulting in him becoming rich. Furthermore, Fred and the others don't even find out that the well was real, the episode ending with Fred thanking the others for convincing him not to fall for what seemed to be another scam.
  • In Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Bloo tries to get Herriman to order him not to partake in a dinner that would serve Madam Foster's terrible food. After his recent actions failed at getting Herriman's attention, Mac suggests jumping on the bed, which Bloo tried earlier and leaves for another solution, unknowingly that he previous attempt caused pieces of the ceiling to fall into Frankie's food setup which got berated by Madam Foster. Frankie arrives to the room and assumes Mac was the one jumping on the bed, and she has him sent outside.
  • In one episode of Goof Troop, Pete wins ownership of a race horse. Unfortunately, he finds it's not a fast runner, so he decides to make money by giving away ownership shares with every car on his lot, giving away more shares than he's allowed. It's at that time that Goofy finds out the horse's problem was a broken nail in his horseshoe. Upon fixing it, the horse becomes a race champion, which unfortunately causes Pete's scam to be exposed and him to get thrown in jail.
  • Gravity Falls: The "Dipper's Guide to the Unexplained" short "The Hide-Behind" involves Dipper and Mabel investigating a mysterious creature who is never seen and can only be heard. When Dipper thinks he found the Hide-Behind, it turns out to be an owl shaking a maraca. Dipper then concludes the Hide-Behind is just a myth and gives up, but it's that moment the Hide-Behind is actually real and stalks on him, hiding every time Dipper turns around. And if that weren't enough, the camera used for the series left behind actually caught proof of it...
  • In one episode He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), Orko tries to hint to everyone that it's his birthday, without much success. By the end of the episode, he comes to the conclusion that nobody remembers, and so decides to celebrate on his own, snacking on a bunch of sweets. He then discovers that everyone had actually planned a party for him, but due to him eating too many snacks, he's too full to have any birthday cake.
  • In a Game Show skit on Histeria!, Toast continued to give a bizarre answer that ended up being wrong (and resulted in him being injured as consequences). When asked the final question, Toast gave a different answer, only for it to be wrong while the answer he had been giving previously was correct.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • In "Aqua Duck", Daffy is lost in the desert, dying of thirst, and hallucinating. He finds a huge chunk of gold, but it's pretty worthless right now, as he can't spend it. Then a mouse shows up, tempting him with water in exchange for the gold. At first, Daffy refuses, unwilling to give up the fortune, but eventually, he gives in and gives up the gold in exchange for the water. Then, when he's about to drink it, it starts raining so hard he's flooded up to his chest. Comically Missing the Point, he says, "Boy, when I buy water, I get my money's worth!" before the cartoon ends.
    • At the end of one Sylvester and Tweety cartoon, after going through hell and failing to catch Tweety (again), Sylvester swears off eating birds ever again. As soon as he makes this declaration, half a dozen birds start fluttering around and roosting on him.
      Sylvester: Sufferin' Succotash. What a fine time I pick to go on a diet!
    • In one "Wile E Coyote And The Roadrunner" cartoon, one of Wil. E's plans involved using a makeshift outboard motor to catch the Roadrunner. Unfortunately, he can't control it and it ends up driving him over a ledge over a deep ravine. Panicking, Wil. E fumbles to remove the motor before it causes him to fall, not noticing that it's still moving forward. After getting the still-going motor off, Wil. E is relieved...until he remembers he's hanging in midair. Even worse, he sees that the motor made it safely to the other side of the ravine while he endures another splat.
    • In "The Million Hare", Bugs and Daffy were chosen to compete in a race on a television program for a prize worth a million. After a harrowing race, Daffy actually beats Bugs and crosses the finish line at the studio an inch before him. The host then presents Daffy with his prize called 'the Million Box': a large crate containing a million little boxes. Believing the prize is worthless, he gives it to Bugs instead...right before the announcer said that each little box contained a crisp dollar bill, resulting in Bugs winning a million dollars and Daffy feeling like a jackass.
    • In "Bedtime for Sniffles", Sniffles tries to stay up late on Christmas Eve in order to see Santa, complete with making coffee and playing loud music on the radio. Unfortunately, he soon experiences Caffeine Failure while the majority of the radio's music is lullabies before it eventually signs off. As a result, he can't resist falling asleep (especially with a vision of himself coaxing him to lay on his bed). Three seconds after Sniffles falls asleep, Santa's sleigh is seen flying by Sniffles' window.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • In one episode where Candace is teleported to Mars, the person working the Mars rover at NASA goes into a rant on the futility of the project, saying there is no life on Mars and shuts down the project, just when Candace was trying to get his attention. Even moreso, the citizens of Mars come out of hiding just after the rover shuts down.
    • In the episode "This Is Your Backstory", Phineas and Ferb are briefly shown playing table tennis. Believing there's more to this, Candace watches them and waits for something extraordinary to happen. During The Stinger at the end of the episode, they're still playing, and Candace, having watched them all day, comes to the conclusion that this was an ordinary game and walks off. Three seconds after she leaves, Phineas announces to Ferb that their tennis ball invention had been charged enough and it activates.
  • One episode of Pinky and the Brain involved the duo attempting to join a club of world leaders (in order to learn the secrets of ruling the world). After going through a humiliating initiation, Brain gets fed up and quits. However, the world leaders then mentioned that he was just about to join the organization. As a result, Brain gets kicked out while Pinky is allowed into the club.
  • Pippi Longstocking: In "Pippi Entertains Two Burglars", the burglars are so tired of Pippi's "entertainment" that, when she says she's got a surprise for them, they flee in fear and never learn the surprise was a gold coin for each of them.
  • Recess:
    • In "Omega Kids," the entire school gets sick except for the Recess Six. While they initially enjoy having the playground to themselves, they quickly get bored and are told to bring their classmates' homework. T.J. gets the idea for them to fake being sick so that they'll get sent home until everyone else gets better. However, Gretchen accidentally makes it look like they have a major disease and they are quarantined...right as all the other kids return to school.
    • In "The Teachers' Lounge", the Recess Six become curious about the eponymous room, and wonder what goes on inside, having several Imagine Spots of what the teachers do in there. After successfully sneaking in, they find it's plain and ordinary like a real-life teacher's lounge, resulting in them leaving while feeling a bit anti-climatic. A second later, the teacher they had tricked out of the room to get in comes back and opens a secret panel in the wall...revealing a hidden activity room that was as incredible as the kids believed.
  • In the first season finale of Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, when the Turtles are captured by Baron Draxum, Splinter reluctantly hands over the helmet of the Kuroi Yori armor, the last piece needed to resurrect the Shredder. Unbeknownst to Splinter, however, the Turtles had managed to free themselves, with the four busting into Draxum's throne room just as he was putting the helmet in place.
  • In the Rugrats episode, "Chuckie Vs the Potty", when Chuckie was being potty trained, when he felt like he had to go badly, Stu and Didi set him up in the bathroom and waited for hours for him do his business, eventually falling asleep. Chuckie, believing that it was just a false alarm, got off the potty...and immediately experienced Potty Failure.
  • Samurai Jack: At the end of "XCVI", when the blue-furred children who were being mind-controlled collapsed into unconsciousness after Ashi took out the Controller, Jack assumes that they had died. Having had enough of innocent lives suffering because of him, he finally goes with the Omen to commit Seppuku. It's only after Jack leaves that the children wake up and are shown to be unharmed.
  • The Simpsons:
  • In Spongebob Squarepants episode "Artist Unknown", after repeatably failing at getting Spongebob to recreate a statue, Squidward proceeds to destroy everything in the art studio while mashing several stone blocks together. After his meltdown, the art director shows up and upon seeing the "mess" asks who is responsible for it, with Squidward pointing out it's the janitor's responsibility and leaves without bothering to notice that he ended up making the exact same statue Spongebob made, if not even better than before.
  • Star Wars Resistance: "Rendezvous Point" opens with the Colossus fighting off First Order forces while awaiting a rendezvous with a pilot Captain Doza's set out a signal beacon to summon. Doza insists on staying for as long as possible, but when it becomes clear that the station's deflector shields are close to failing and the Aces can't hold off the First Order forces for much longer, the Colossus flees... right before the pilot's arrival.
  • Steven Universe: Lapis Lazuli, who has been through a lot of trauma, flees the Earth in "Raising the Barn" after finding out that Steven escaped the Gem Homeworld and the Diamonds might potentially retaliate. In "Can't Go Back", Steven finds her hiding out at the Moon base using a surveillance device to watch everyone, having begun to think that she overreacted earlier. Then Steven falls asleep and has a dream about the Diamonds, and when Lapis finds out, she panics and flies off, taking it as a sign that an invasion is imminent. Hours later, in "A Single Pale Rose" (warning: major Wham Episode), Steven finds out conclusively that that is not the real reason he's been having those dreams. Then the Diamonds end up attacking Earth shortly after to retrieve the Cluster, making Lapis Right for the Wrong Reasons.
  • Timon & Pumbaa:
    • In one episode, Timon is put on trial where he endures continuously crazy tests to prove if he's guilty or innocent. Eventually, Timon has enough, snaps, and admits to the crime that he was accused of. Then the judge reveals that Timon was going to be pronounced innocent before his outburst.
    • In another episode, Timon becomes convinced that a group of flamingos on a small island were hiding something from the way they were just standing still. After spending the episode getting to the island and then failing to get any answers out of the silent birds, he gave up and left convinced that Pumbaa was right that they were just standing around. Turns out he was actually right as the flamingos were waiting until he was gone before going back to the party they were having.
  • The Weekenders: In "The Crevasse of Dreams", Tino convinces his friends to help him find an old awesome hangout spot they used to go to called the "Crevasse", even though Lor, Carver, and Tish have no recollection of the place existing. After the search becomes difficult and fruitless, it causes some friction between Tino and the rest of the group; they want to abandon the search because they're exhausted and have lost interest, but Tino thinks the real reason they want to leave is that they still think the Crevasse doesn't exist and want to prove him wrong. In the end, the group comes to the conclusion that their friendship is more important than who's wrong and who's right, and they agree to just return home and drop any discussion about the Crevasse altogether. After his friends exit the scene, Tino confides with the audience that he did manage to find the Crevasse while he was searching alone, just a few steps from where they all just were. However, Tino decides to not ruin the heartwarming moment he just had with his friends and doesn't tell them.

    Real Life 
  • The Burke and Wills expedition of Australia is a sad example of this. They and their team were to travel from the southern to northern coast of Australia and back. They had left part of the team at a halfway point and took two extra teammates with them to the coast. After waiting for several weeks, the other team gave up waiting and left only nine hours before Burke and Wills returned, which eventually led to their deaths.
  • The prospector who first discovered what would turn out to be the Comstock mine sold the rights to Comstock. Once somebody thought to test the tailings for silver content, the Comstock mine was discovered to be the single largest silver-ore deposit in the U.S.
  • A prospector during the gold rush found a mine, and immediately began working with a pickaxe and dynamite, getting deeper and deeper into the mine each day. However, as he failed with each excursion to find even a trace of gold, at last the prospector threw down his tools and left the mine, never to return. Many years later, a modern company with upgraded digging technology found the mine and immediately began to dig... and they found a rich gold vein six inches from the point where the original prospector had stopped.
  • Neverminding the extent to which Benedict Arnold's problems were his own fault, had he put up with them a bit longer, he could have taken Washington's offer for him to command a wing of his army in battle. Sadly, he had gone too far by this point and requested West Point.
  • When Germany was divided into East and West after World War II, Bonn became the "temporary" capital of the western half. By the mid-1980s, the West German government finally accepted that the "temporary" solution was going to be permanent, and so commissioned the construction of a proper government sector. Then in 1989, just as work on the government quarter was nearing completion, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunified a year later. To this day, many government ministries have their offices in Bonn instead of Berlin.


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