Follow TV Tropes


Hourglass Plot

Go To
Bookends of the first and last acts of the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Joker's Favor".

A Story Arc in which two characters or groups slowly, and involuntarily, swap their positions in life. These positions are usually social (who has high-status, who is popular), economic (who is rich), and most of all, moral — who is decent and who is a ruthless bastard. The swapping often leads to escalation — the new poor person is poorer than the old one was, or the new amoral one is much nastier than the old one was.

The pathos from the Hourglass Plot comes from how neither character learns from the situation — they act just the same to each other as they did before, but with roles reversed. Particularly cruel shows will create an infinite-loop Hourglass Plot, where two hostile characters keep swapping positions and treating each other as badly as ever. In rare cases, such plots will involve the characters barely interacting with each other... a pure comparison of one person's rise to another person's fall.


Lucky characters will get a "Not So Different" Remark moment and actually learn from it. Compare: Prince and Pauper, Perspective Reversal, Full-Circle Revolution, Swapped Roles, Became Their Own Antithesis for when there's only one character and now corresponding switch, "Freaky Friday" Flip for an especially literal case, Just the Introduction to the Opposites for when there is no justification for it, and Perspective Flip for when it's a retcon instead of a plot development. Compare and contrast: If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him! and You Kill It, You Bought It. Caretaker Reversal is a subtrope.

Since explaining examples of this trope requires full knowledge of a story's plot, beware of unmarked spoilers.



    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • Watchmen: Rorscharch and Ozymandias exchange positions at the end. The latter calls the former a right-wing loony and the former regards him as a liberal hypocrite. As a young man, Rorscharch wrote gushingly about Harry Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the wisdom of Well-Intentioned Extremist thinking. But he's horrified when Ozymandias comes around to it, and does it for real. Rorscharch's code is all about the rules. In his mind, Truman had authority to do what was needed, since he was President of the US and Commander-in-Chief while Ozymandias did not have any authority to do something similar.

    Films — Animation 
  • Flushed Away begins with Sid, a thuggish sewer rat, invading the wimpy Roddy's home and making a total pushover out of him. Following his experiences down the sewers, Roddy returns as a hardened, bitter rat with a foul temper and a commanding personality, whereas Sid's time living the luxurious lifestyle rubs the edge out of him and he's reduced to being an even bigger wimp than Roddy used to be, with the latter now pushing Sid around.
  • The climax to My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games reverses the roles from the climax in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls of Twilight Sparkle and Sunset Shimmer, where Human Twilight turns into a monster and Sunset ends up turning her back.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Both 21 Jump Street films have this trope in spades. In high school, Schmidt was an unassuming nerd who was bullied by the cool bully Jenko. After becoming friends and partners, they are sent undercover as high school students where they at first retain their initial behaviors from before. However, Surprisingly Realistic Outcome with their new classmates: Schmidt is now seen as cool because of his pleasing and studious nature while Jenko's care-free attitude is a turn-off for the more responsibly-minded generation he has to mingle in. In doing so, he falls in with the nerd crowd and becomes an outcast himself.
  • 22 Jump Street has flipped around the hourglass again: Jenko's alpha jock status allows him to become a popular football player while leaving Schmidt behind.
  • In the Anacleto: Agente Secreto movie, the main character is a lazy bum who wants to spend his free time watching movies at home, while his girlfriend wants to go out and have adventures, so she dumps him. At the end of the movie, the main character (who has learned how to be a super-spy) wants to go out and have adventures, but the girlfriend (who has lost an eye and ended up in several death-threatening situations during the movie) only wants to spend her free time watching movies at home... and she dumps him.
  • Bad Genius has this happen between two of its leads, Bank and Lynn. At first, Lynn freely masterminds an exam cheating scheme at school while Bank flat-out refuses to let his classmate copy off of him, even for a hefty sum. By the end, Bank is banned from retaking the STIC and expelled from the school. He tries to blackmail Lynn into stealing the answers to the GATsnote  with her role in the heist, while Lynn, who was wracked with guilt and undergoes a moral epiphany, refuses and exposes the scheme.
  • Brittany Runs a Marathon sees the titular character become more responsible and healthy while her roommate becomes more wild and less willing to accept someone who's less fun to party with.
  • The two divorcees in Woody Allen's Celebrity: Lee starts up wanting to immerse himself in celebrity journalism thinking that it will bring him success, while his ex-wife Robin is insecure on top of the neuroses the couple had. As the movie progresses, Lee doesn't get out of his neuroses and starts becoming as insecure as his ex-wife was, which wrecks numerous opportunities for him to succeed, while Robin leaves her many neuroses behind and eventually gets her own celebrity interview program.
  • In The Count of Monte Cristo, after betraying his best friend, Fernand is set up with a beautiful wife and an inherited fortune and noble title, while Dantes is locked away in a prison for 16 years. After his escape and subsequent execution of his plans for revenge, Dantes is now the one with titular noble title, beautiful woman, and nigh-limitless fortune, with Fernand's fortune completely lost, his woman gone, and under threat of imminent arrest for murder and conspiracy.
  • At the end of Creep, the female lead has taken the place of the homeless girl she saw begging at Charing Cross Underground station.
  • In the first half of "Crocodile" Dundee, New York City reporter Sue Charlton is a Fish out of Water in Australia with the eponymous Mick Dundee as her guide. The second half has Mick going with Sue to NYC, where Mick becomes the Fish out of Water with Sue as his guide.
  • Dead Poets Society: Todd and Neil's arcs. At the beginning of the film, Todd is shy, timid and hesitant to get involved with Keating's philosophy, while the outgoing Neil is the group's leader, determined to "seize the day" and is the one encouraging and supporting Todd. By the end of the film, it's Neil who is unable to stand up to the pressure on him and commits suicide, while Todd finds his voice, leads the boys to defy the school, and is ultimately the one to live out Keating's teaching.
  • DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story: The movie starts with White starring a Globo Gym ad on TV and Peter watching it and ends with Peter starring an Average Joe's Gym ad on TV and White watching it. In both cases, the person watching it looks and acts like a slob.
  • In the beginning of Dogma, Loki is portrayed as the more ruthless and reckless, wanting to go on one more divinely righteous killing spree before re-entering heaven, while Bartleby is the one who feels compassion for the humans and is more reserved. However, halfway through Bartleby snaps and becomes an Omnicidal Maniac bent on killing everyone, and it is Loki who is attempting to hold him back.
  • The Fly (1986) involves a Love Triangle in which the two male corners of it undergo this. At the beginning, Seth is sweet, timid, kind, and respectful to Veronica, while her ex-lover/editor Stathis is a Clingy Jealous Guy stalking and attempting to manipulate her into reviving their relationship. But then Seth has a Teleporter Accident (which indirectly stems from Stathis's treachery) that turns him into a human-insect hybrid undergoing a Slow Transformation on both physical and mental levels. The result is that by the end, Stathis is the one doing his best to help and protect Veronica while respecting her wishes, while Seth goes mad and becomes a literal and metaphorical monster who maims and almost murders Stathis and tries to fuse himself with Ronnie and their unborn child, whom only he wants to keep. This is a rare example of the trope in which the two men barely interact with each other; after Stathis's introductory scene they don't meet each other again until the climax/denouement, though each is aware of the other person's evolving role in Veronica's life. Moreover, Seth knows he is becoming the villain by the end but cannot stave off the Split-Personality Takeover, making matters that much more tragic.
  • Forrest Gump: Bubba's mother and female ancestors had served as cooks for wealthy white people. When Forrest gives her and her family riches from Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, she becomes wealthy enough to hire a white woman to cook for her.
  • Houseof Sandand Fog: Orignally, Behrani appears to be the villain but Kathy ends the film feeling like her alliance with the cop makes her as such.
  • Hostel Part II: Timid, passive, apparently kind, and aggressively henpecked Stuart is contrasted against his confident, alpha male friend and co-worker Todd. Todd enjoys flirting with the women and relishes the idea of getting to torture a woman to death. However, when he comes face-to-face with Whitney and is about to do just that, he has a Heel–Face Turn and immediately regrets his actions and wants out. He accidentally maims her and is horrified and tries to leave. Stuart, on the other hand, becomes increasingly more sadistic as he gets into torturing Beth, and even tries to rape her.
  • Irreconcilable Differences: After Albert divorces Lucy, he lives in a mansion with Blake while Lucy lives in a small apartment. Later, after Albert's career goes downhill and Lucy becomes a bestselling novelist, Lucy buys Albert's mansion while Albert moves into a motel.
  • Juno and Mark. She keeps going over to his and Vanessa's house to get to know them better and see what kind of family her baby will have ("I just like being a piece of furniture in your weird life"), while his exposure to her and her teenage flippancy gives him second thoughts about his adulthood and eventually causes him to bail on his wife and the coming baby, to Juno's shock and dismay. His regression triggers her coming of age.
  • In the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Thor, the titular hero starts out as a vicious Blood Knight while his brother, Loki, is much more cautious and diplomatic. By the movie's end, Thor is much more peaceful and tries to reason with his enemies rather than plunging into battle, while Loki tries to demolish an entire world to achieve his goals.
    • Tony Stark is introduced as a fiercely independent businessman who plays by his own rules and despises government bureaucracy, while Steve Rogers is a patriotic working-class kid from Brooklyn who believes in self-sacrifice and jumps at the chance to serve his country in World War II. Accordingly, when they meet in The Avengers, Tony regularly chafes at authority and almost loses his spot on the Avengers, while Steve remains loyal to SHIELD from start to finish. But as the series goes on, both men's character arcs move in opposite directions. Tony becomes much more willing to submit to authority after one of his inventions grows beyond his control and endangers the world, while Steve becomes much more willing to question authority after he discovers a massive HYDRA conspiracy within the ranks of SHIELD. By Captain America: Civil War, their roles are completely reversed: Tony leads an effort to put the Avengers under government control, while Steve is the one who rebels against the government and fights to remain independent.
    • Captain America: Civil War has Tony recruit Peter Parker to help him arrest Rogers and the other anti-registration heroes, though Peter doesn't want to go to Germany and miss school and has to be blackmailed into it. After the battle, Peter thoroughly enjoyed the experience and wants to join the Avengers full time, while Tony, horrified by the fact Peter almost got seriously injured, feels that bringing him along was a bad idea and wants him to stick to the streets. Spider-Man: Homecoming features Peter trying to prove his worth to Tony while he steadfastly refuses to let him join. By the end, Tony has decided that Peter has proven himself and wants to make him an official member of the team. However, Peter decides that he'd rather stay a street-level hero and fight for the little guys that the Avengers can't and turns the offer down.
    • Black Panther (2018) has this happen with W'Kabi of the Border Tribe and M'Baku of the Jabari Tribe. In the beginning, during T'Challa's ritual coronation, W'Kabi is the most supportive of T'Challa's rise while M'Baku is the one to challenge him for kingship. When T'Challa fails in apprehending Klaue, W'Kabi wavers in his loyalty and brings in Erik (after he delivers him Klaue's dead body), seeking to be kingmaker in his rise after defeating T'Challa. M'Baku, in contrast, has his men rescue T'Challa after falling to the rapids, keeps him alive on ice, and eventually turns around to support T'Challa in his counter-coup against Erik's nascent reign. He even takes W'Kabi's place at T'Challa's right hand in court by the end.
    • In Thor: Ragnarok, Valkyrie is an aimless mercenary who crawled into liquor bottles to escape the trauma of being the Sole Survivor of the Valkyries, while Thor is still an unabashed hero who takes his place as the rightful king of Asgard. By Avengers: Endgame, Valkyrie has stepped in to lead the remainder of the Asgardians as Thor became a reclusive drunken slob during the Time Skip due to the guilt of failing to prevent the Snap and losing his entire family. Even after restoring the universe and defeating Thanos's forces, Thor decides to join the Guardians of the Galaxy and leaves Valkyrie as the rightful Queen of New Asgard.
    • Similarly, in Endgame, the story of Tony Stark and Peter Parker. In Avengers: Infinity War, Peter Parker died by Thanos's Badass Fingersnap, right in the presence of Tony, who absolutely broke down into despair next we see him in Endgame. In the climax of Endgame, however, Tony is the one to do the Badass Fingersnap to defeat Thanos and his army, and partly to safeguard Peter (and his daughter) from dying again. Tony later dies due to the Phlebotinium Overload due to the Stones' powers, dying in the presence of a despairing Peter Parker.
    • Also, Age of Ultron establishes the difference between the philosophies of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Tony wants to end the fight so he can go home and start a family with Pepper Potts, which he manages to accomplish in the first half of Endgame. Steve believes that a normal life for him is impossible due to being displaced out of time and seeks to fight evil to the bitter end, even contemplating going out with a Heroic Sacrifice. By the end of Endgame, it's Tony Stark who gives up a chance for a normal life to save the universe through a sacrificial play, and it's Steve Rogers who goes home (in the past) to spend the rest of his life with Peggy Carter.
    • Initially, Natasha Romanoff committed various crimes and murders when she was working with the KGB and it is Clint Barton who offers her a chance to atone for her mistakes by joining SHIELD rather than killing her. In Endgame, Clint becomes a ruthless killer after his family's death and it is Natasha who allows him to redeem himself for his crimes by joining the Avengers in order to resurrect everyone.
  • This was part of the Character Development between Neo and Smith in The Matrix and its sequels. Smith picks up human emotions and independent goals (which he doesn't like) while Neo finds himself as a "cog in the machine" with a pre-destined goal (which also proves to be a bit of a drag).
  • In the 2011 film One Day, based on the novel by David Nicholls, the two protagonists Emma and Dexter come from completely different backgrounds and life goals, with Emma starting out as a poor waitress after graduating from university and Dexter beginning as a successful television host. Over time, Emma gains success first as a teacher and then as a writer. Dexter goes on a downward spiral and ends up a poor divorcee.
  • Pet: The film begins with a disaffected man becoming infatuated with a beautiful writer he claims to have known in high school, going from Endearingly Dorky to Dogged Nice Guy to Stalker with a Crush, leading to his kidnapping her and locking her in a cage under the animal shelter where he works. Then halfway through the movie, he tells her he read her notebook, a stylized journal detailing confessions of her murders. Plural. He wants to "save" her, but she is reluctant to change and pushes in return, telling him that somewhere deep inside, he's like her. She escapes confinement, but by the end of the movie, she seems convinced that he is her soulmate. The "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue reveals that she is happily back with her ex, Eric, and is keeping him locked up in a nearby warehouse, visiting him to with food, affection, and Cold-Blooded Torture whenever her murderous impulses rise up.
  • In Primer, Aaron starts off as a family man and rather risk-averse (note the scenes where he worries about needing eye protection and warns his wife against using the first batch of ice from the new fridge). Abe starts off unmarried and rather more devil-may-care. Over the course of the film, access to a Time Travel-powered Reset Button makes Aaron become more aggressive and willing to take risks, and he eventually leaves his family. Abe, on the other hand, becomes increasingly worried about the side-effects of time travel and oddly protective of Aaron's family.
  • Serenity has Mal and the Operative gradually trading roles in terms of their beliefs and convictions. Mal is established throughout Firefly as an idealist so traumatized by the Browncoats' defeat in the Independence War that he tries too hard to suppress his belief in self-determination — even as it keeps shining through his facade. The Operative, meanwhile, is introduced as a secular fanatic who believes so strongly in the Alliance cause, he will sink to any depths to ensure its success. Then, over the course of the film, Mal's passion for liberty and his hatred for the Alliance are reignited (specifically, by Shepherd Book's last words and then by what the crew discovers on Miranda), while the Operative's beliefs are utterly shattered when he is Forced to Watch the Apocalyptic Log from Miranda by Mal.
  • She-Devil: Ruth effectively switches places with Mary and Bob by the end of the story. This theme is even stronger in the book, where more emphasis is placed on Ruth's envy of Mary and her glamorous life than revenge on Bob.
  • Martin Scorsese's Silence features this dynamic between Fr. Rodrigues and Kichijiro. At the start the former is a brave and courageous priest and the latter is a Dirty Coward apostate pentitent who betrays him repeatedly. Rodrigues frequently feels that his duty to pardon Kichijiro repeatedly is insane, yet in the end after he has apostatized, it is Kichijiro who restores Rodrigues' (now hidden) faith by asking for confession, and on account of the fact that he's more inept at hiding crucifixes than the apostate Rodrigues, he ends up attaining martyrdom while Rodrigues dies as an apostate sellout. In effect, the seeming Judas becomes a Christ-figure while the man who starts out wanting to be Jesus, and resembling him, ends up becoming Judas.
  • Space Jam: A New Legacy: At the beginning, LeBron comes across as obsessed about playing basketball seriously and unsupportive of his son, Dom, as a result. Al-G Rhythm uses his experience being disrespected to sympathize with Dom and the two have fun together, to the point where Dom considers Al-G his friend and agrees to play against his own father. As the film progresses, LeBron realizes he's been crushing both the Tunes and his son with his expectations. He becomes more laid-back and accepting of unusual tactics. He confesses this to Dom and they hug. As the game turns against him, Al-G becomes angrier and more of a Control Freak, thus losing Dom's friendship, which only enrages Al-G even more.
  • Thoroughbreds: Former best friends Lily and Amanda. Lily is an apparently extremely empathic and kind, albeit image-conscious, teenage girl who is thrown into a tailspin when her bullying stepfather Mark plans to send her away to a bad boarding-school. Amanda is a resolute underachiever and a sociopath with a bad reputation and no feelings who is awaiting trial for animal cruelty. However, as the film progresses, Amanda learns that Lily is far from perfect - she got thrown out of school for plagiarism and is lying about her prestigious internship. While Amanda is guilty of animal cruelty, it actually resulted from a botched attempt to euthanize her horse. Finally, Lily tells Amanda that she doesn't think her life is worth living since she doesn't have emotions, roofies her, and then brutally murders Mark and frames her for it. Lily also gets away with everything and inherits Mark's vast fortune, but emerges from the experience icy-cold. Amanda, meanwhile, goes to a psychiatric hospital where she genuinely enjoys herself and is shown reminiscing with genuine happiness about her and Lily's past as kids.
  • A two-parter in Trading Places. In the first half, Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy swap lifestyles. In the second half, they team up to bankrupt the decadently rich Duke brothers and get rich in the process.
  • In What About Bob?, Bob Wiley starts off all-but-paralyzed by his various neuroses, while Dr. Leo Marvin is a psychiatrist who's just published a best-selling self-help book. Bob's interactions with the Marvin family helps him overcome his fears and learn to interact with normal society—eventually marrying Leo's sister, becoming a psychiatrist himself, and authoring his own book. Leo, meanwhile, becomes increasingly irritated and unhinged in response to Bob (in part because he feared that Bob was replacing him in his family's affections) and ends up catatonic. Though seeing Bob's and his sister's wedding apparently cures him.

  • When Anansi Boys starts, Fat Charlie and Spider are Polar Opposite Twins; Charlie is a mundane, responsible, dull Butt-Monkey — while Spider is a Reality Warper confident carefree party animal who is everything Charlie never had the chance to be and more (To the point that Spider isn't actually Fat Charlie's brother, but his magical trickster side literally severed out of him. And while Fat Charlie isn't actually fat, he is kind of soft, and Spider is slimmer than he is. As the story goes, Charlie becomes more confident and bold and more in-touch with his half-god side — while Spider learns about responsibility and caring for others and gets to experience being basically powerless for the first time in his life. By the end of the story they are on more-or-less equal footing, but with Charlie being the more confident twin and the more powerful Reality Warper (due to his affinity to Magic Music). By the end, Spider settles down and starts running a restaurant, growing fatter in the process. While Charlie becomes a singer and grows thinner. A case of Hourglass Plot where although the characters still switch places, their situation is less extreme compared to the initial one.
  • Animorphs: In #49, Tobias notes the sad irony between him and Jake: Jake is now effectively orphaned, his whole family having been infested by the Yeerks, just as parentless Tobias rediscovers his long-lost mother.
  • In Best Served Cold, Monza is introduced as a cruel and amoral borderline Villain Protagonist and in pursuing revenge on the men who betrayed her and killed her brother, enlists the help of Barbarian Hero Shivers who had left his home in the North as part of a quest to leave his old life behind and become a better man. Initially, Monza belittles Shivers' scruples and acts as The Corrupter, but as the story progresses, Monza starts to feel guilt and flashbacks reveal that she isn't/wasn't such a bad person in the first place, while at the same time, Shivers increasingly loses interest in reform and his status as Token Good Teammate is increasingly called into question. This comes to a head after the two are captured and torturers burn out Shivers' eye. Ultimately, Shivers ends up as a cruel Blood Knight who revels in violence, and betrays Monza, whereas Monza ends up as a hard but fair ruler who spares Shivers because of deep regret of her earlier contempt toward his scruples, which she now embraces.
  • The plotline of the short story "Come Back Gizmo"; after a boy mistreats his dog because the girl next door tells him to, a strange man gives the dog a gizmo that causes the boy to turn into the dog, and vice versa, until eventually it switches their brains as well as their bodies.
  • Older Than Steam: In the first part of the novel, Don Quixote is a Daydream Believer Mad Dreamer and Sancho Panza has Simpleminded Wisdom and represents realism. Both are Static Characters. At the second part, Sancho is influenced by Don Quixote and becomes more and more of a Daydream Believer, while at the end, Don Quixote will become Bored with Insanity by Sancho’s influence. They may have been the very first characters in literature to become Dynamic Characters.
  • Harry Potter:
    • As revealed in the finale book, Severus Snape and James Potter. In the beginning, Snape is the neglected, awkward outsider who befriends muggle-born Lily Evans. When they go to school, both he and Lily take a dislike to the wealthy and popular James Potter, who then bullies Snape throughout their years at Hogwarts. As the years go by, Snape falls in with a gang of Voldemort supporters and loses Lily's friendship forever when he publicly calls her a slur. The popular boy eventually wises up and matures into someone Lily could actually marry, while Snape grows more and more mean-spirited over the years, and spends his adulthood being antagonistic to most of people.
    • Another example would be Neville Longbottom and Draco Malfoy. In the first book, Neville is a clumsy Butt-Monkey who constantly bungles spells and is bullied by the Slytherins. Malfoy, on the other hand, is the arrogant top dog of the Slytherins who makes Neville's life hell. By the seventh book, Neville develops into a brave and confident leader among the Gryffindors and all the other students who revolted in the Final Battle, even distinguishing himself by decapitating Nagini with the Sword of Gryffindor. Malfoy, meanwhile, becomes a cringing coward whose former followers turn on him and who just barely manages to scrape a Heel–Face Turn to avoid becoming another Death Eater casualty in the Final Battle.
  • In Les Misérables, Cosette starts out as a child slave to the Thenardiers, who abuse her while spoiling their own daughters with expensive clothes and toys. She is then taken into the care of Valjean and nine years later is an educated, well-dressed young lady who enjoys wealth and high social status and eventually becomes a Baroness on marrying Marius, while the Thenardiers lose their inn and become destitute, forcing their daughters to beg and steal on the streets. This is lampshaded by Eponine at one point in the musical.
  • In William Faulkner's Light in August, this happens to Lena Grove and Byron Bunch. Not that any Faulkner book is comprehensible the first ten times you read it, but it's there.
  • In Thomas Hardy's 1886 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, Michael Henchard is a reasonably successful grain merchant and the mayor of his hometown of Casterbridge, and when the wife and daughter he sold at auction in a moment of Alcohol-Induced Idiocy seek him out after the man who bought them is lost at sea, he is delighted to have them back in his life and re-marries his wife. At the same time, he befriends a young Scotsman, Donald Farfrae, who is well versed in the latest technology of the grain industry and seems to be just the thing Henchard needs to stabilize his business; however, he fires him in a fit of jealous anger over his growing popularity. By the end of the book, Henchard's past follies and short temper have caused him to lose his business, his fortune, his family, and his position as mayor, while Farfrae sets up his own successful grain business (at which he employs Henchard after the latter goes broke) and buys Henchard's house and most of his furniture when they are sold to pay his debts, marries first a woman who came to Casterbridge hoping to marry the now-widowed Henchard, then Henchard's "daughter" (revealed to be the daughter of the man who bought his wife, Henchard's own daughter having died in infancy), and becomes the mayor of Casterbridge.
  • No More Diapers for Ducky!: Ducky knocks on Piggy's door wanting to play, but Piggy is busy sitting on the potty. The book ends with Piggy waiting to play while Ducky sits on the potty.
  • In the Vampire Mountain arc of The Saga of Darren Shan, Darren meets Kurda, who has been elected to become a Vampire Prince. They become friends, until the end of the fifth book, when Darren has been condemned to death for failure to complete a task, and Kurda helps him escape... and Darren finds out that Kurda has betrayed all of the vampires. Darren returns to the mountain and exposes the plot, resulting in Kurda being executed, and the Vampire Princes making Darren a Prince because it's the only way to avoid executing him. It's one of the many places where this series ends up being far deeper than it looks. This is lampshaded by Darren in the manga adaptation - drawn by Takahiro Arai who would later draw a truly stellar manga adaptation of Les Misérables.
  • The Scarlet Letter features an Hourglass Plot between Hester and Dimmesdale on several levels, especially at the end of the novel.
  • Used light-heartedly in the A.A. Milne poem "Twice Times". There are two little bears, a bad one and a good one..."And then quite suddenly (just like Us)/One got Better and the Other got Wuss." Milne then reveals that he's using this as an allegory, since he just realized that his son has finally learned all his times tables, while he's getting so old that he can no longer remember where he put anything.
  • In Warbreaker, the sisters Vivenna and Siri are initially introduced with Vivenna as a well-mannered and seemingly perfect Princess Classic all set to become queen of Hallandren, and Siri as a disobedient Rebellious Princess running away from her responsibilities. Circumstances make it so that Vivenna has to play a Rebellious Princess type role and Siri has to become a Princess Classic, and over the course of the story, Vivenna's flaws and Siri's virtues become apparent. Ultimately, Vivenna becomes an Action Girl, running from her responsibilities while she figures out who she is, while Siri is all set to become queen of Hallandren, for good this time.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel: Two examples, both related to the rogue slayer Faith:
    • Her two-episode arc in Season 1 first has Angel going after Faith, and Wesley trying to hold him back, insisting she can be rehabilitated; then in the next episode, after Wesley gets kidnapped and tortured by Faith and Angel realizes her true motives, they switch roles. The arc goes even further back, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3, in which Angel's attempt to rehabilitate Faith is interrupted by Wesley getting her arrested by the Council, meaning they have switched roles twice on the subject.
    • Her return in Season 4 is a double example. She switches her role in the Good versus Evil battle with the now soulless Angel(us), as well as her outlook on life with the now cold and jaded Wesley.
  • The Narn and the Centauri in Babylon 5 are caught in an apparently endless cycle of invasion, occupation, liberation and revenge. G'Kar starts out as the arrogant jerk seeking power and advancement while Londo is humbled and accepting of his position in life and the lack of any real power. A couple seasons later G'Kar is humbled and powerless while Londo has become one of the most powerful men in the Centauri Empire with the arrogance to match it. By the end of the series they start flipping again though they lose their arrogance for good.
  • BIA: Carmín and Mara start out as the Alpha Bitch and her quiet, invisible, often ignored assistant. Carmín undergoes a Heel–Face Turn and ends up joining El Fundom, and Mara becomes the new Alpha Bitch.
  • In Carnivàle Brother Justin is a preacher who slowly turns to the darkside upon the realization that he is The Antichrist, and also suffers from an unfortunate case of Bad Powers, Bad People. Ben, an escaped criminal on the lam from the law, makes a parallel journey as he comes into his own powers as the Messiah.
  • At the beginning of Cloak & Dagger (2018), Tandy is homeless and lives in an abandoned church while Tyrone is a normal student in an upper-middle class neighborhood. By the last episode of the first season, Tandy has reconciled with her mother and moves in with her while Tyrone due to being falsely accused of killing a cop is forced to go on the run and ends up living at the very church Tandy had squatted in.
  • Daredevil (2015): In a minor example, Matt and Karen's first two kisses in Season 2 fall into this. At the end of "Penny and Dime," Karen walks Matt home to his apartment in the rain, Matt stops her, and they share a kiss. In "Kinbaku", which takes place over the events of the next day, they end their first date with Matt walking Karen back to her apartment, and then they share a makeout session on her front steps.
  • On Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, neurotic, insecure Melanie is best friends with the insensitive Kathleen. Melanie gains confidence while Kathleen loses hers, and Melanie becomes just as insensitive as Kathleen was when they started. Their problems escalate as they get older, so Kathleen is insensitive to Melanie worrying about her body, while Melanie is insensitive to Kathleen becoming an anorexic abuse victim.
    • The fifth season of Degrassi: The Next Generation has Emma swapping moral positions with her entire circle of friends and family. They screw up their lives one by one, Emma redeems them all — and then she snaps under the pressure, becoming worse than any of them ever were. The climax is them trying to reason with her, as Emma threatens them and says they have no moral right to criticize her. ("You take advantage of drunk girls. You are the drunk girl...")
    • Joey and Wheels as well. At the beginning of Degrassi Junior High, Joey was an irresponsible jokester as well as a bit of a bully while Wheels was his nicer and more sensible best friend. Near the end of Degrassi High, Wheels was a Jerkass whose various misdeeds involved stealing money and lying to his grandma/guardian. Meanwhile, a matured Joey disapproved of his actions and tried to help him.
  • Friends: Rachel and Monica. In the series' back story, Rachel was a Rich Bitch and engaged to marry an equally wealthy guy, while Monica was a Formerly Fat poorly-paid assistant chef who thought she'd die alone. During the series Rachel breaks off her engagement, works as a waitress and has a lot of disastrous boyfriends, while Monica works her way up the chef ranks — despite a rough, unemployed patch in the middle — and builds a stable, fulfilling relationship. By Season 9, Rachel is a single mother, working a good but not exceptional fashion job and has a series of failed relationships (and a marriage) under her belt. Monica is an Executive Chef at one of New York's most prestigious restaurants and is Happily Married to her best friend. Things do improve for Rachel by the end of the series, but the contrast is still there.
  • Game of Thrones: Tyrion Lannister, the man described by his own father as the "least of the Lannisters", ends up becoming the most universally liked of the family by the time of Season 7, the only one liked by the rival factions of House Targaryen and House Stark, and acts in the series finale in the Dragonpit Summit as the linchpin of Westeros.
  • Gilmore Girls played this with Rory and Jess. In early seasons, Rory is a hardworking, honours student, bound for an Ivy League, aiming to pursue journalism and the golden child of her family, while Jess is a high school drop out with zero life ambitions, his mom kicked him out and he's at odds with his uncle. Come Season 6, Rory has dropped out of college, abandoned her career dreams, and is estranged from her mother, while Jess is a successful author, runs a publishing house with friends, and is closer to his uncle than ever before. Luckily though, Jess's transformation is exactly what Rory needs to get her life together.
  • Iron Fist (2017): Ward and Joy Meachum. At the start of Season 1, Ward is very obstinate and outwardly unfeeling, while Joy is more reasonable and willing to listen. By the end of the season, Ward is the reasonable sibling who has made peace with Danny, while spending time in Harold's presence has corrupted Joy and made her into what Ward was at the start of the show.
  • In iZombie, the first season's Will They or Won't They? drama comes from the fact that Liv can't tell Major that she's a zombie. He finds out the truth at the very end. The next season continues to explore the relationship, but this time Major is the one keeping a secret from Liv: He is being blackmailed into working as a zombie hitman.
  • Lost: Jack starts as a Man of Science, focused on getting the survivors off the Island, while Locke is a Man of Faith, believing that people aren't supposed to leave the Island Because Destiny Says So. It goes on like this for four seasons, until the first reversal happens in Season 5: Jack gets off the Island but becomes increasingly depressed and is looking for a way to come back, while Locke is now desperately searching for a way to get off the Island, believing it to be a necessary step to save everyone. After Jack gets back and Locke is killed, his face assumed by the Big Bad, things get even better: Jack is now a strong believer in Faith, determined to stay on the Island, while Fake-Locke is a cynical pragmatist desperately trying to leave it. By the final episodes, the Survivors led by Jack are now trying to stop the Big Bad from doing the very same thing they tried to do for most of the series.
  • Over the course of Merlin, Guinevere and Morgana swap places. Gwen is shy serving girl whilst Morgana is the confident ward of the king. Gwen dislikes Prince Arthur, whilst Morgana flirts with him. Fastforward four seasons and Guinevere is The High Queen of Camelot, married to King Arthur, whilst Morgana is living in a hovel, stewing in bitterness and hate for her former family.
  • Mr. Robot: Elliot Alderson and Dominique Dipierro. Both were mentally ill people who suffered from social anxiety and depression and had difficulty developing relationships, but Elliot is a hacker who kickstarted 5/9 and struggled with his mental disorders while Dominique is an FBI agent who is determined to take down fsociety and the Dark Army despite her depression. Come Season 3, Dominique ends up getting forced into becoming a mole for the Dark Army and is headed towards a downward spiral and Elliot becomes determined in taking them down.
  • On NewsRadio, Matthew is usually the office Butt-Monkey, suffering through the cruel pranks of office big shot Bill. Dave tells Matthew to assert himself to Bill, which he does by punching him in the face. Suddenly, Matthew is the office jerk, while Bill becomes meek and passive. The Reset Button is pressed when Bill, defending Matthew, accidentally slaps him, snapping Matthew out of his ego trip.
  • This was revealed to be the back story of Regina and Jefferson in Once Upon a Time. In "Hat Trick", Jefferson was an innocent friend of Regina who trapped him in Wonderland and separated him from his daughter Grace. In "The Doctor", Regina is an innocent girl that Jefferson hurts for personal gain, many years before his daughter was born, to make her believe that she couldn't save her True Love Daniel when they could have. Jefferson's tragic back story was a result of Laser-Guided Karma.
  • On Orange Is the New Black, Piper begins innocently and is aghast at why people would be so cruel to her just for being naive. When Brooke Soso comes in, Piper is just as harsh to her.
  • At the beginning of The Orville, the Krill looked to be the biggest threat to the Union, leading them to reach out to Issac's robotic race, the Kaylon, as potential allies. In the second season finale "Identity", it's revealed that the Kaylon were Evil All Along (even Issac, at first), with intentions of wiping out all organic life in the universe. For the climatic fight, the Union gets aid from a surprising source: the Krill.
  • Our Miss Brooks: The penultimate episode of the television series, "Principal For A Day", has Miss Brooks appointed principal and Mr. Conklin become a History (not English) teacher. Because Status Quo Is God, their respective positions are restored at the end. Neither seem to learn much from the episode. Miss Brooks enjoys herself thoroughly, and other than adding feminine touches to her office and spending some quality time with Mr. Boynton doesn't abuse her power. Mr. Conklin's temporary humility, and appreciativeness to Miss Brooks' giving him the teaching position, is cast off as soon as he becomes principal again. It helps that Mr. Conklin is a pompous Jerk with a Heart of Gold than an outright villain.
  • Outnumbered: Jake and Ben have shades of this. At the beginning of the series, Jake is the serious, geeky older brother who is much closer to his parents, while Ben is the rebellious, outgoing son. As the series continues, Jake becomes a lot 'cooler' and distances himself from his family, while Ben embraces his geekier side and is a lot more affectionate.
  • In the Season 5 finale of Seinfeld, "The Opposite", George, after realizing how terrible his life is, decides that, since his instincts have always been wrong, going against them should be good for him. By doing so, he suddenly has a girlfriend, is able to move out of his parents' house, and lands his dream job for the New York Yankees. Meanwhile, Elaine, for whom things had been going great, suddenly finds herself unemployed, homeless, and in a romantic slump, realizing to her dismay that "I've become George!". Jerry lampshades the trope with his subplot of how he always manages to break even.
  • Shadow and Bone: Nina and Matthias's subplot. They meet aboard a ship where Matthias's people have taken Nina captive; Nina is justifiably spiteful towards him. When the ship capsizes in a storm the two are thrown together by a need to survive and develop feelings for each other. However, at the end, Nina has claimed that Matthias is a slaver to stop him from being executed by Grisha, and so the two end up on a ship bound for Ketterdam. This time however, it is Nina on the other side of the bars, and Matthias reacts with hatred and anger when he sees her, believing that none of their interactions were real.
  • Smallville:
    • Lex and Lionel Luthor. At the beginning of the series, Lex was Clark's friend and ally and Lionel was the Magnificent Bastard. Overtime, Lex begins a descent as Lionel redeems himself.
    • In the early days, Chloe is One of the Boys who ended up tangled with the Luthors, at one point allying with Lionel, prying in Clark's personal life, threatening his secret, and Lana is the pretty girl Clark is crazy over. In the middle seasons however, Chloe learns Clark's secret and becomes a supportive sidekick, gets as far away as the Luthors as possible, Clark subtly demonstrates possible romantic feelings towards her, and her femininity becomes more pronounced (just look at her hairstyle change); Lana marries Lex and becomes something of a Dark Action Girl, and starts poking into Clark's secret, not to mention starting Isis.
  • Star Trek: Voyager, "Equinox": The Voyager crew comes across their Evil Counterpart: the lost ship Equinox, whose crew are murdering and enslaving their way across the Delta Quadrant. The villainous Equinox captain slowly becomes paralyzed with guilt, just as Janeway becomes just as ruthless as he used to be in her quest to get him.
  • Stranger Things: In Season 1, Mike befriends and develops a crush on Eleven, a young girl who Escaped from the Lab, and welcomes her into the Party over the objections of Lucas, who distrusts the mysterious new arrival. In Season 2, Lucas befriends and develops a crush on Max, the new girl at school, and Mike is the one who dislikes her and refuses to let her join the Party, due to feeling that she's taking the missing Eleven's place.
  • The TV Movie Summertime Switch revolves around a young street punk and a spoiled rich kid both named Freddie Egan. Their identical names cause the former to be sent to a luxurious summer camp for the rich and the latter to a juvenile correctional facility, though obviously the opposite was supposed to happen. Both end up learning something from the whole experience (especially the rich kid).
  • Supernatural:
    • At the start of the series Sam has almost managed to escape his hunter upbringing in favour of a normal life, when he's dragged back to the hunt by Dean, who idolises their father and argues that a normal life is for chumps. Over the course of the first five seasons (which is to say, the arc of the show as originally plotted), Sam gets increasingly militant in the fight against evil, while Dean gets increasingly heartsick and tired of the whole thing. The Series Fauxnale at the end of Season 5 sees Sam is giving up not just his life but his eternal afterlife to put Lucifer back in his cage and averting the apocalypse, and Dean retiring to a peaceful life with his girlfriend and her son. Since the series didn't end there, neither of those things lasted for very long, and by season eight the brothers had arguably switched places again, but that's another story.
  • An episode of The Twilight Zone (1959), "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville," has the janitor for a large corporation talking with the CEO of the corporation about how he's just gotten a watch for his 40th year with the company, along with a few words about what it's like at the top versus the bottom. One botched trip to the past and several deals with the devil later, not only is the janitor now the CEO and the CEO the janitor, but each now has the personality of the other as well, and the watch gets a mention too.
  • Why Women Kill has this in spades with the characters of Rita and Alma. At the start of season 2, Rita is an immoral Villain With Bad Publicity who has good looks, money and shallow but numerous friendships with rich socialites like herself. She does wish her rich, emotionally abusive husband would die so she could move with her gigolo, whom she worries may not truly love her. Meanwhile, Alma is a dutiful and frumpy middle-class housewife who lives a life of boring drudgery but her husband and daughter love her deeply and she quickly makes a real friend when she tries to get out. By episode 9, Rita is The Scapegoat for the murder of Rita's husband and revealed her affair, meaning she's ostarcised by all and she loses her money, status, FalseFriends and fancy clothes. However, Rita has changed worldview and both her gigolo and her maid/cousin have proven that they actually love her, which she now values and wants to reciprocate. Even if that realisation might have come to late and she may lose them both, she at least has solid moral basis on which to rebuild her life. Meanwhile, Alma has gotten everything Rita once had. At the cost of her Only Friend, her husband and now either her daughter or her daughter's marriage. And the cops are onto her.
  • Young Sheldon: At the beginning of "Cowboy Aerobics and 473 Grease-Free Bolts", Sheldon keeps pestering Dr. Linkletter to make him his assistant. By the end, Linkletter is the one pestering Sheldon to tell him what is wrong with his experiment.

  • Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" is narrated by a man who is too busy with work to spend time with his son. At the end of song, the now grown-up son has become too busy to spend time with his retired father.

  • This is a big part of the plot of Shaw's The Devil's Disciple. Richard Dudgeon is introduced as a n'er-do-well who has his opposite in the Rev. Anthony Andersen, a philanthropic clergyman. The plot is set in motion when British soldiers come to arrest Andersen for treason and Dudgeon takes his place. Ultimately, Dudgeon's nobility and Andersen's weakness are revealed, and at the end of the story, Dudgeon is established as heroic (and much less seedy than he initially appeared), and Andersen has renounced religion and become a Blood Knight revolutionary. The trope is exaggerated, as Andersen asserts that since he has taken Dudgeon's place, Dudgeon must become a clergyman and take-up with Anderson's wife.
  • In Hadestown, Orpheus and Eurydice swap viewpoints by the end of the show, as the formerly idealistic Orpheus grows more cynical from learning Eurydice went to Hadestown willingly and is beat up for his efforts, while the formerly cynical Eurydice grows more optimistic after seeing all Orpheus goes through to rescue her.
  • Hamilton portrays Alexander Hamilton's relationship with Aaron Burr this way. At the start of the play, Hamilton is a fiery idealist who's often impertinent in expressing his beliefs, while Burr is a cool-headed pragmatist who generally tries to avoid choosing sides. Over the course of the story, though, Hamilton gradually becomes more shrewd and calculating (culminating in the Compromise of 1790), while Burr becomes progressively more rash and emotional. This ultimately leads to the Burr-Hamilton duel when Burr lets his personality animosity toward Hamilton get out of control; in the ensuing duel, it's Hamilton who plays it safe by aiming his pistol at the sky, while Burr impulsively shoots Hamilton in the chest.
  • Macbeth: Initially, Macbeth shows more scruples/hesitancy to kill Duncan than does his wife, and she pushes him into doing it. Afterward, however, while Lady Macbeth goes increasingly mad from guilt, Macbeth's reaction to guilt is to seemingly lose all emotion and scruple and he far surpass his wife in villainy.
  • The play Pacific Overtures has two friends, one a samurai and the other a peasant with knowledge of the West, who wind up exchanging places. The samurai is made an ambassador of sorts with the foreign powers as Japan is forcibly opened to trade, and he becomes increasingly westernized in his dress and actions. Meanwhile the peasant, angry at the way Western powers are exploiting Japan, becomes a hardcore anti-West reactionary after being promoted to the samurai class. Tragedy ensues.
  • In Harold Pinter's "A Slight Ache" a middle-class couple invite a tramp into their home; by the end of the play, the husband and the tramp have exchanged places.
  • Alma Winemiller and John Buchanan Jr., two main characters of Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams, swap their views on sexual freedom. Prim and neurotic minister's daughter Alma ends up desperately propositioning to the young doctor John, with who she's been in love since childhood, but he, having grown out of his hedonistic ways, rejects her. At the end of the play he's engaged to Alma's young pupil and she's about to go to the seedy casino with a traveling salesman that she just met.
  • In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Antonio saved Sebastian's life after a horrific storm, when they were both mired in a strange country. Antonio grew very close to Sebastian, and even got into a duel in Sebastian's defense. When Antonio was placed under arrest by Orsino, his old rival, he expected that Sebastian would help him out — only for Sebastian to act like he's never met Antonio before. Antonio is heartbroken — but fortunately he had really met Sebastian's Half Identical Twin, and the real Sebastian is perfectly happy to help Antonio once he finds him again.

    Visual Novels 
  • In The Great Ace Attorney, the second game's second case begins with Soseki Natsume being accused of the attempted murder of his neighbor, William Shamspeare. The case ends with Shamspeare being hauled off for the attempted murder of his neighbor, Soseki Natsume.
  • WILL: A Wonderful World has Chang Gyeong-Min and Kang Baek-Ya, a recently-hired policeman and his superior, respectively. Kang has been jaded ever since his old Unit was slaughtered, but gets his passion reignited by Chang. Meanwhile, Chang's been passionate about justice ever since a hero (Kang) saved his life in childhood, but one outcome of his plotline has him disillusioned and choose to retire early.

    Web Animation 
  • Throughout the course of Inanimate Insanity, Apple had grown a fond distrust and anger towards Marshmallow. When she finally explains the reason why she was so angry at her in the beginning of Inanimate Insanity II, the two become Vitriolic Best Buds, with Apple wanting to make friends with Marshmallow and Marshmallow wanting to get away from Apple. When Marshmallow finds out Apple is faking their friendship in order to get closer in the game, she is the one hating on Apple, showing no remorse over her getting eliminated.

    Web Comics 
  • The arc of Band vs. Band where they get sick roughly follows this structure: when confined to her room with a broken ankle, Honey Hart slowly finds her plucky persona slipping, whereas gothic hellraiser Turperntine finds she can't raise hell half as well when she's lost her voice. They both come out of it with newfound respect for each other.
  • In General Protection Fault, this happens with Nick and Ki when it comes to trusting others after the events of Surreptitious Machinations, in which Trudy manipulates Nick into helping her in her attempt to take over the world, but is foiled when Ki helps Nick see the truth. Some time later, a woman named Trish(or rather, her Evil Counterpart from a parallel universe) tries to seduce Nick, and when he and Ki later meet up with the real Trish, the fake Trish tries to kill her and claims that she has multiple personality disorder. Nick, having come to regret his gullibility, is now the one who's rightfully suspicious of Trish. Ki, however, has come to realize the value of trusting others after realizing that Trudy isn't entirely bad (since she couldn't bring herself to kill Nick), and decides to give Trish a chance.