Good doesn't have a prayer!
Good is commendable,
Evil is viable!
Good may be thankable,
Evil is bankable!
For whatever reason — someone is magically divided into their "light" and "dark" halves, or an encounter with a Sufficiently Advanced Alien — the cast and crew have to deal with a "pure good" (and occasionally an identically powerful pure evil) entity.
Regardless of the circumstances, the pure good entity will be a complete and total wuss. Militant pacifist, empathic to a ridiculous degree, incapable of defending itself, and generally utterly useless till the main cast reunites it somehow with its evil, depraved and (of course) effective and proactive side.
This probably accounts for the shock and horror with which most Media Watchdogs greet heroes who are, shall we say, less than touchy-feely about how they deal with the villain of the week. "Good," after all, is supposed to be NICE. Right?
The seeming impotence of Good in general might be because good no longer hurts evil. May explain why the Balance Between Good and Evil is needed because Evil will get things done, while the presence of Good reins in the ambition to prevent harmful and destructive actions, thus ensuring that Evil's proactivity will be channeled into things of which Good approves.
In a meta sense, this trope is used because a good character that is suddenly made extremely powerful and deadly can tip the scales too heavily in the favour of good. While this might not be so bad if the writers make it so the villains work at meeting the hero at the same level, more often it makes the good side into Invincible Heroes. On that same note, concentrating, increasing and highlighting all the positive aspects of one character without upping the ante all-round and doing the same to the other characters can only lead to a Game-Breaker].
For when Good can actually do stuff, see Holy Hand Grenade.
Compare Good Is Boring, Redemption Demotion, The Gods Must Be Lazy, Failure Hero. Frequently includes Good Cannot Comprehend Evil. Contrast Good Is Not Soft and Good Is Not Dumb. For when the impotent good is one of two or more personalities, see Helpless Good Side. A Clueless Boss may contribute to this.
- The entire series of Othello is based on this trope, albeit the "evil" Na-na is different personality and not a literal "new" version of Ya-ya.
- Dragon Ball:
- Buu's internal conflict splits him into good and evil halves. While good Buu is far from impotent, he is still bested by his evil side and is absorbed into the more powerful Super Buu. Later on, when Buu is extricated from Super Buu, it is revealed that "Fat Buu" was created when the Grand Supreme Kai was absorbed by the original, pure evil, Kid Buu.
- Earlier, Kami splits into a good and evil half to ensure that he could work as Earth's "God" (God in this series is actually a job position) without the evil in him causing him to abuse his power. The evil half that becomes Piccolo Daimaou is not, as far as the audience can see, actually any stronger than Kami, but Kami is a Non-Action Guy so it's rather academic. The 2nd Piccolo is stronger due to a combination of youthfulness and an inversion of Villain Forgot to Level Grind.
- In one Slayers made-for-video movie, a magic mirror creates opposite clones of Lina Inverse and Naga. To the villain's horror, these turn out to be simpering, useless "good" copies that won't fight. This leads to his greater horror when he realises what this must make Lina.
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are the embodiment of this trope, in one package. Hyde even explains to the rest of the League why he has been getting stronger and stronger while Jekyll had been getting correspondingly weaker: as the embodiment of Jekyll's id, Hyde has all the drive and ambition, leaving Jekyll with nothing.
- In Watchmen, the superheroes come in three flavors: sympathetic and ineffectual, sociopathic and effectual, and Dr. Manhattan, who is all over the map depending on how "into" humanity he's feeling this week. Nite Owl is the other kind of "impotent" as well and given the nature of the work, this is almost certainly intended to be symbolic.
- The Italian comic Tiramolla features a three-person variant. Applied Phlebotinum splits the protagonist into three individuals possessing all of the original's strength, cunning and kindness, respectively: the first is a brute who wreaks havoc in the city looking for an adversary; the second plays pranks on everybody he sees; the third is an ineffectual dreamer who recites poetry and does bird-watching, oblivious to the mayhem caused by the other two. The predicament is solved when the Applied Phlebotinum is used to fuse the second and third personalities together, creating someone who is both willing to save the town from the brute and smart enough to pull it off.
- In the French-English comic Requiem Vampire Knight, Résurrection is a Hell-like dimension where evil people reincarnate as hideous monsters and split into different categories according to their sins in life. The closest thing to a "good" faction in this world are the lamias, who did not commit any real crimes in life, but they are sentenced to this world regardless because they were victimized by someone else that did became a monster and the only way they can leave Résurrection is to destroy the one responsible. They are among the weakest creatures in this setting, only slightly above zombies and make up a significant portion of the slave population, with the most beautiful and not yet bitten female lamias being forced to join Count Dracula's harem. On their own, they are only capable of spooking their tormentors in their sleep and depend on mind-controlling other creatures such as centaurs and werewolves (i.e. other evil individuals - rapists and religious zealots, respectively) to really make a difference. And even then, that doesn't mean much since the vampires (Résurrection's elite made up of the most depraved individuals to ever live) are more advanced in every single way.
- Subverted in Army of Darkness. "Good, bad, I'm the guy with the gun." Better illustrated by the director's cut version of the line: "I ain't that good."
- In Superman III Superman is affected by artificial kryptonite which instead of killing him turns him evil, and eventually splits him into a good Clark Kent and evil Superman. They fight each other, with Kent taking one heck of a beating — until he gets his second wind.
- In Me, Myself & Irene, the whole reason Charlie's psyche creates his evil alter-ego Hank is because Charlie's too much of a nice guy to stand up for himself.
- In The Dark Crystal, the wise and gentle urRu and the cruel Skeksis were split from a single race of beings, the urRu retaining their wisdom, benevolence and purpose but lacking the will to take action, while the Skeksis retain their strength, force and willfulness but lose their wise and compassionate natures and devolve into a Decadent Court.
- The basic message of many of Roman Polański's movies, with Chinatown being perhaps the most infamous. This was especially the case after his wife Sharon Tate's brutal murder, although it was evident as early as The Fearless Vampire Killers.
- Done very subtly in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Most of the characters and plot are stuck firmly into a Black-and-Gray Morality setting. The few truly good characters such as the priests or the Union Commandant are either helpless to change things or relegated to standing on the sidelines while the Black and Gray characters run things.
- Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in No Country for Old Men is utterly impotent in his attempts to catch Anton Chigurh.
- Somewhat the point of Demolition Man. In the future San Angeles, society has banned everything and anything that can possibly harm or offend anybody: guns, alcohol, swearing, caffeine, sexual intercourse (and physical contact too), chocolate, speeding, spicy food... The downside to this city of Politically Correct Perfect Pacifist People is that when Ax-Crazy criminal Simon Phoenix is thawed out of cryostasis, the wimpy police of the future have absolutely no idea how to deal with his old-school brutality, and Phoenix runs amok. Hence, they need to thaw out tough Cowboy Cop John Spartan to deal with Phoenix and save the day.
- Star Wars is a deliberate subversion. At the peak of their power in the Prequel Trilogy, the Jedi were virtually helpless against the Sith's plans and wound up helping to create the Evil Empire before they were wiped out themselves. However, Luke changes tactics and manages to triumph over the Sith in the Original Trilogy. The Sequel Trilogy sees a new Dark Side order wipe out the fledging Jedi Order once again, which prompts Luke to become a mentor to Rey. Darksiders will go on and on about the weakness of the Light Side and they have some good points, but the truth is both sides evolve to meet new threats and neither can truly destroy the other.
- The Animorphs book The Separation averts this with Rachel—neither sides are explicitly good or bad. They each got half of the components of her personality at random. The "good" side was given Rachel's tactical and strategic abilities, leaving the "evil" side with just the blood rage and ability to fight. The end of the book results in the evil Rachel grudgingly having to work alongside the good Rachel because evil Rachel can't plan or strategize worth squat, so is totally unprepared for any reaction to changing battle situations other than "kill something."
- Subverted in A World Gone Mad. Wally's evil half is lazy, hedonistic, and has zero impulse control, spending all his time chasing women and watching TV. Wally's good half is proactive and driven to actually solve the problem at hand (to relieve the suffering of others). The good half probably has an aversion to violence, but since Wally's a stealthy-type "sneaker" that's not really an issue anyway.
- Played with in Il visconte dimezzato by Italo Calvino. When the protagonist is split in two halves, one good and one evil, the evil side is a ruthless bastard, while the good side is kind and generous but rather ineffectual.
- In The Lord of the Rings, the Fallen Angel Sauron is busy conquering and wrecking the place up while his good counterparts are limited to guiding and influencing the Free Peoples and are forbidden to try to match him strength-for-strength. This is less because they're weaker and more because the last time the Valar took on the Big Bad directly, the resulting battle leveled a few major continents.
- In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, this is somewhat averted: the "good" people are proactive, strong, and willing to face evil, at least to give it a stern talking-to. But the wicked people are tolerated in the communities because they're better at things - one woman who is racist against Indians is the best midwife in the village, and Gedder the evil sumbitch is able to teach others how to farm.
- Most any portrayal of a stereotypical angel. Ironic, since in Judeo-Christian scripture, angels are portrayed as warriors or executioners just as often as they are as messengers, and usually have to tell any humans who recognize what they are not to be afraid.
- Lord Vetinari claims this to Vimes in Guards! Guards! ("A great rolling sea of evil ... but people like you put together little rafts of rules and vaguely good intentions and say, this is the opposite, this will triumph in the end, Amazing!"). Vimes's entire subsequent career proves him wrong.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe: This and Good Is Not Nice is what usually leads to Jedi purges. In many eras, Jedi candidates are harvested from infancy or early childhood, cut off from and forbidden "attachments" (family, love, and any close bonds) or strong emotions, cultivated in relative isolation in temples and enclaves, and restricted from anything that challenges the prevailing dogma unless they're Master rank. This is all to make it so the product of this system never succumbs to the Dark Side. Then, they're sent out into the galaxy into the thick of galactic conflict as fighters (who can't strike unless in defense), exposing them to things that would make Audie Murphy wince, while being forbidden the comforts that even a common soldier would get (like friends, lovers, or a family to come home to)...And then The Order wonders why so many of them snap and start carving up planets?
- Green-Sky Trilogy: While it's not so much "good" as "good intentions," the Kindar have done such an awesome job of banishing conflict, crime, and even words like "anger," that their society is killing itself. Their Erdling counterparts are still hippies by our standards, but their acceptance of their emotional darker side makes them more robust.
- Not Even Bones: The first good deed Nita ever does in her life turns into a The Farmer and the Viper situation, which leads to her being sold to unnatural human traffickers, locked in a cage in a black market in the Amazon jungle, a video of her using her power posted online, and her life pretty much being ruined. She comes out of the nightmarish experience firmly believing that morals and virtues are only weaknesses that cause you pain and suffering and she's better off without them.
- The classic Star Trek episode ("The Enemy Within") where a transporter accident lead to Kirk getting divided into "good" (peaceful, passive, considerate, pacifist) and "evil" (violent, resolute, egoistical, aggressive) selves. What makes this the poster child for this Trope is that the "Evil" side does learn to calm down and even assumes command for a short time, while the "Good" side remains unable to make the simplest decisions (though downplayed in that the episode doesn't call it Kirk's good and evil sides, it just ends up that way based on the division of traits). Notably, though, the episode actually plays a bit with the concept, as the "Good" side turns out have Kirk's courage while the "Evil" side is a total coward when the chips are down, falling into a useless panic at the thought of losing independent existence, something the "Good" side can calmly accept.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer subverted it: A demon splits Xander into two, but while one half is meek and the other assertive and strong, neither is "good" or "evil" (although both are convinced that the other half is the demon presumably because they've seen this plot before).
- And both sides love Anya and try to protect her from the other one. Before they get put back together, Anya expresses an interest in trying out having two Xanders
- In the Red Dwarf episode "Angels & Demons", the ship Red Dwarf and everything on it was triplicated, but into good and evil versions. The good versions, of course, not only couldn't fight, but couldn't conceive of the idea of anyone intentionally causing harm. Needless to say, they didn't survive too long.
High Kryten: Poor devil must have a faulty gun. He's accidentally shot me five times. Oh, how I love him!High Lister/Rimmer: "Apologies, brother. I seem to have stained thy knife with my blood. Allow me to furnish you with a fresh knife."
- On American Gothic (1995), no matter how hard Dr. Crower and Gail fight for Caleb's rights, and no matter how much Merlyn uses her angelic powers to protect him, Caleb is inexorably drawn into Buck's orbit and everyone seems helpless to prevent it, or even expose Buck's evil. It doesn't help that the sheriff is a Villain with Good Publicity and that both Matt and Gail are hardly immune to mind games or temptation, but even Merlyn is made out to be decidedly weaker than her adversary—and gaining more power to face him almost pushes her too far.
- The Constantine has the angel Manny who shows up to give Constantine cryptic advice or say how he cannot do anything that would interfere with human free will. This prohibition is so strong that he is powerless to do anything against the demonic forces terrorizing humanity and interfering in free will by possessing humans against their will. Essentially, evil can do whatever it wants and the angels cannot do squat including rescuing an innocent girl's soul from Hell forcing them to rely on a broken mortal and the threat of eternal damnation to make sure he is motivated.
- Kamen Rider Double: As is standard for Kamen Rider, the heroes and villains draw their power from the same source — in this case, the Transformation Trinket for both is the Gaia Memory. Memories are most powerful when they're inserted directly into the body, but they also carry nasty side effects like addiction. The villainous Sonozaki family, who create and sell the Memories, use special belts that mitigate the side-effects but makes them weaker; in order to make up for this, they use extra-powerful Memories. Meanwhile, the heroes use purified Memories that can't be inserted into the body at all (and look like◊ fancy USB memory sticks, as opposed to the skeleton-themed bad-guy Memories◊), but they're much weaker than the villains' Memories, only reaching full power for a Finishing Move.
- This is revealed to be the case with the beings that run the eponymous heavenly afterlife in The Good Place. Whereas the beings who run the Bad Place have no compunctions with using dirty tricks and underhanded tactics to get their way, the Good Place heads are Principles Zealots who are so dedicated to following the rules to the exact letter that they're incapable of immediately solving the glaring issue in front of them (namely, the fact that no human has been able to get into the Good Place in over 500 years), feeling the need to take at least 1000 years to form a blue-ribbon committee and suss out any possible conflicts of interest/corruption within their proposed investigative group, despite the fact that being from the Good Place, any chance the members would be unscrupulous in any way is extremely unlikely. This forces the heroes to take matters into their own hands as a result.
Committee Member: We're the good guys, we can't just do stuff.
- In Xenosaga, Chaos all too often comes across as an indecisive wuss whereas pretty much the whole series is an Evil Plan by his dark twin Wilhelm. Some people even suspect that Wilhelm's true goal was to force Chaos to make a decisive choice by attempting to make that choice for him.
- In Tales of Legendia, Grune turns out to be the opposite force to Shwartz, but is obviously weaker, from her amnesia to her lacking the power to beat her archenemy by herself. (Something obviously happened to cause this, but the game never explains it.)
- Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World plays this mostly straight, as Emil is a cowardly little runt who can barely swing a sword while his "Ratatosk Mode" is a cruel and powerful Blood Knight. Subverted in the closing act of the game when Emil seals away his Ratatosk personality and turns out to be just as powerful. In fact, his Mystic Arte has been confirmed statistically to be more powerful than Ratatosk's even without the latter's extension.
- In the Black & White series:
- Good gods are fairly restricted in the first game: they take longer to set up their power base, are much easier to impede, and have to cooperate with the villagers' desires rather than bend their godly power towards dominating the land. Moreover, evil gods get easy access to offensive miracles that are a much more efficient use of power than the defensive abilities of good gods. While evil play isn't sustainable in a level over the long term, its strategy of taking the land by force and moving on to the next conquest makes that almost irrelevant.
- Greatly mitigated in the sequel: good gods rely on impressing the enemy into switching sides, so they can focus their abilities on becoming powerful Barrier Warriors who build up an idyllic Shining City behind unbeatable defenses. Its Battle of the Gods expansion even adds a non-evil way of wiping out entire enemy armies in the form of a permanent mass Baleful Polymorph miracle, for those too pure of heart to Kill It with Fire.
- Implied in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic somewhat. In a gang war between the 'good' Hidden Beks and 'bad' Black Vulkars, the good guys are losing and they're the side you have to join. Also, the good guys are losing at the beginning of the game when the Endar Spire is overtaken by the Sith. Finally, Malak, the 'Dark Lord' and Big Bad of the game does a good job conquering most of the galaxy and has an army of loyal Mooks. Might makes wrong in Star Wars, it seems.
- You can actually discuss this with Carth, who points out that Malak hasn't won yet and probably was only winning because of the foundation Revan built. note It's also known that Revan was defeated, costing the Sith their competent leadership - Malak is so Stupid Evil that his tactical sense only goes as far as "burn the whole planet." Carth also remarks in the tomb of Ajunta Pal that the Dark Side's weakness is that it eventually consumes itself.
- It also factors into the backstory, especially if The Exile is arguing with Atris or one of the other lost Masters. The Jedi were busy navel-gazing while Mandalore the Indomitable was leading his people on a rampage that got as far as Duro. Had Revan not disobeyed the Council by going to war, then the whole galaxy would have either speaking Mando'a, and/or been a satellite state for the True Sith.
- Subverted come the sequel Star Wars: The Old Republic. Yes, the Empire managed to catch the Republic with their pants down (because Revan and Exile had a masterful grip on the Idiot Ball and the Republic had no idea that they even existed). But then, there's a treaty that's about as strong as toilet paper that both factions treat with the same amount of respect. Still, it allows the Republic necessary time to regroup while the Sith predictably start infighting. The Republic has a bigger population, better developed infrastructure, rule of law (Senators can be crooked, but they can also be removed from office and sent to jail), and are smart enough to keep the wizards out of government for the most part. The Empire is "run" by an Omnicidal Maniac, "administered" by a theocratic cabal of Ax-Crazy sorcerers (with the only qualification for advancement is "I stabbed the other guy first"), has the infrastructure of a Third World backwater, relies on slave labor (and wastes the talents of anyone who isn't human, Sith species, or Chiss by sending them to the auction block), lower population, etc. An individual Imperial is probably a little tougher than their Republic counterpart because of Had to Be Sharp, but overall? The Empire ends up doing more damage to itself than the Republic, and is on the verge of collapse come the Makeb arc. The Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion reveals the Empire was deliberately constructed to collapse under its own weight after sufficiently weakening the Republic as part of a larger plan.
- There is a comic where a guy gets split into not two, but four parts of himself. Thus, there were two 'goods' and two 'evils'. But while one 'good' was indeed, rather wimpy, that part also had his rage. The other 'good' fought for justice, but had no sense of mercy. Of his 'evils', one was just a jerk, but was also the one with all of the humor, while the other 'evil' was bloodthirsty, but was also rather protective of his friends.
- In Polandball, the European Union, United Nations, and the League of Nations are generally well-meaning, but completely ineffective at stopping Ax-Crazy countryballs like Nazi Germany. The UN is armed with a squirt gun to punish those who misbehave. This is deconstructed tragically in this comic.◊ The UN doesn't see itself because it doesn't need to exist in a peaceful world.
- The Disney Afternoon cartoon Darkwing Duck featured an episode of this: Darkwing was hit by a beam that divided him into his "positrons" and "negatrons", resulting in him dividing in two. The "good" version was treacly, cloying, and so nonviolent he refused to even step on bugs... and of course useless in the effort to round up the evil version. However its arguably Downplayed, as the Good version proves to be a Badass Pacifist, who manages to single handily save himself, Gosalyn and Launchpad from his evil Counterpart's death trap. On top of that, the episode in question eventually averted this. Negatron-Darkwing gets hit with the splitter beam, which rather than splitting him again results in his evil getting even more concentrated, and suddenly he can shoot lightning bolts out of his fingers, throw cars with his mind, and cause earthquakes without even trying. It looks like he's given up on merely robbing banks and is about to destroy the city just to laugh while it burns, when in desperation Goslyn decides to zap the useless Positron-Darkwing with the splitter. What happens after that looks like stock footage from Sailor Moon, but it works.
- Inverted in Xiaolin Showdown, where the good Jack Spicer is far more effective at fighting than he was when he was evil. Too bad he also annoys the hell out of the monks.
- Jackie Chan Adventures ultimately subverts this. When the Tiger Talisman splits Jackie into two sides, Jackie's light side certainly seems like this at first, considering his even more extreme aversion to violence than normal, being reduced to crying in guilt after stepping on a bug, and apologizing even more than usual. However, once he's finally convinced that fighting is, in fact, necessary, he'll hand out a beatdown just as effectively as his dark side, even if he does still apologize afterward. Amusingly, it's arguable that his dark half is actually the less effective one, considering his impulsiveness, overconfidence, and how his Blood Knight nature makes him easy to manipulate.
- In one episode of the Mork & Mindy animated cartoon. You know the drill.
- Played with in The Ren & Stimpy Show. Ren's two halves were evil and apathetic.
- Done in Disney's Aladdin: The Series, but not with the main characters. Instead, they go to China and meet two identical twins, Zin and Zang, one evil and aggressive and the other good and meek. The twist is that neither has actual power until they merge into a dragon, and the alignment of the dragon depends on who forces the merge. When the evil one causes it, the dragon rampages and burns villages. When the good one finally grows a spine and takes control (which frightens the evil one for some reason), the dragon fixes everything.
- Played with in Johnny Bravo when the villain of a Star Trek episode challenges Johnny to a battle between good and evil. He is assisted by two intimidating mooks, while Johnny is paired off with a choir boy who immediately runs away. Johnny still wins however, because the mooks are dumber than he is, and the villain is a wimpy geek who can't even slap him without hurting his wrist. What makes this weirder is that this episode happened after Johnny was turned into a bumbling idiot who screams like a girl and is beaten up by little boys on a regular basis.
- Done in an episode of Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness where Po, in his usual shenanigans, splits himself into his Yin and Yang half after glimpsing into the Mystical Mirror of Ying and Yang. While Bad Poe was ruthless, powerful, and even cunning (as when he sneaked up and imprisoned Shifu during his monologues where he realized Po's bizarre behavior was the result of the mirror), Good Po was overly flattering, nonviolent, extremely gullible (Bad Poe tricked him into trapping himself into a pillory just by asking him nicely) and even a little dumb (he thought he couldn't escape even though the keys Bad Po dropped were right in front of his feet and the pillory wasn't even locked in the first place as Good Po demonstrated when he retrieved them). Subverted in the end where Good Po intentionally undergoes multiple Amusing Injuries to weaken Bad Po so that the Furious Five will be able to make him gaze into the mirror again and reunite the two halves (since both Pos share each others' pain), then tricking him into destroying a replica while thrusting the real mirror into his face, regaining his old self.
- It's implied that this is the reason why Ron is a Bumbling Sidekick in Kim Possible. The few times he's hit with a Mirror Morality Machine, he becomes focused and dangerously competent. So competent that the established bad guys who encounter him, respect him.
- Also comes up in an episode where one of the aforementioned Mirror Morality Machines starts being used randomly on a superhero team, causing the good and evil members to fight each other. For some reason, whenever one of the heroes is returned to being good, they immediately either start losing or try to run away.
- In the Justice League episode "A Better World", an alternate universe President Luthor taunts Superman with that fact that Supes will just throw him in jail for the crimes he's committed, Lex will break out, and they'll start the whole mess all over again with no closure or end in sight. Unfortunately for Lex, Superman agrees and murders him, leading to the heroes becoming the Knight Templar Justice Lords.
- The Talmud teaches that without the "evil impulse", mankind would spend all of its time praying and studying God's Torah. Evil is therefore necessary, even good to a certain extent, because it makes people do good things like marry, build houses, and start businesses, which are all good because God wants human beings to create things on Earth.
- This is something scorned in Islam. It's not enough to claim to be faithful: God shall test His servants. The test can come in many form: hunger, poverty, war... This is one of the reasons why Sufism (and the zuhud life-style) is derided. A Muslim can't simply lock himself in his home and spend all his time praying that God will solve all his problems. Amongst the very first verses of The Qur'an is about not wrapping yourself in a Security Blanket (in Muhammad's case, he was cowering in fear after the first visitation by Gabriel).
- The United Nations is almost universally recognized as an organization with noble aims, but is often criticized for being unable to get anything of substance done.
- In some schools of revolutionary thought, it is argued that peaceful protest held up as a strict moral principle rather than acknowledged as a strategy actually doesn't achieve very much at all and leads to few (if any) of the protest's goals being fulfilled.