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Internal Reformist

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Atlas: Why should I stay? This place is run counter to just about everything I ever believed in.
Aluna: If what these boys have been telling me about you is true, then you've answered your own question.

When The Government or Mega-Corp is a bastion of corruption, it's time to call in La Résistance to topple it, right? Well, these people had a different idea.

The Internal Reformist, rather than going through the horrors of war to topple the government, has made it their mission to change the system from within. Often they are The Last DJ, seemingly the only honest person in a corrupt system, or at least the only one willing to do something about the problem. Such people, while sometimes effective, may however end up becoming just as bad as the bureaucracy they are trying to change. They may attempt their reforms in a number of ways:

Working the System

  • The Internal Reformist uses the system against those in power, either by guile and subterfuge to hog-tie or trick those in charge into doing what's right, or playing by the system's rules and accumulating the power to put someone with better morals in charge, who can peacefully and lawfully make the changes required. Characters who try this usually have a certain amount of authority already within the hierarchy, and/or have powerful allies and intimate knowledge of how things are done within the system. They rely a great deal on secrecy to accomplish their goals, though invariably their enemies within the system start noticing who the big trouble-makers on the inside are and start putting things in their way, even if they can't prove (or "prove") that they are up to something with any substantial evidence.

Exposing the Corruption

  • The Internal Reformist works towards bringing the worst of the conspiracies to light in ways that will make it impossible for the status quo to be continued or the corruption to be covered up. Keep in mind that creating reform has to be the intent of the person to qualify for this Type; if it's just a side-effect of solving some crime, then it is not this trope. Those with this type are usually in some kind of investigative field, such as a researcher, journalist, internal-affairs investigator, private detective, or law enforcement, and rely on an illusion of being harmless to zip about and gather evidence under the noses of those in charge. This type tends to require the most secrecy of all: particularly corrupt organizations might not have any problems with arranging an "accident" to bump them off once they're suspected of knowing too much, as these types tend to work alone or in small groups which are easy to dispose of.

Becoming An Icon

  • The Internal Reformist in effect uses Gandhi-style peaceful protest, refusing to participate in immoral or unlawful activities and continuing to do what's right no matter how much the system throws at them in an attempt to make them give in. In some ways, these types can be the most dangerous, and the most conspicuous, type of reformist, as they tend to attract a great deal of allies who come out of the woodwork once someone demonstrates that it's possible to stand up for what you believe in. Usually, these types start out low on the totem pole, though usually with some advantage that others might not have. They tend to gain authority quickly, either because their competence forces the system to give it to them, or those in charge are trying to break or cripple them under the pressure of such authority. Sometimes these types do break under the pressure or simply lose the will to openly oppose the system, and continue to live their ideals with honor but in quiet.

Usually, it is possible for an Internal Reformist to think they have a chance at changing the system because the system still has to answer to a higher authority, whether it be the public, who has no clue that this is going on, or some other umbrella organization or system that is on the straight and narrow. The governments also tend to more-or-less take care of their people in a satisfactory way, as otherwise the public would suspect all the corruption within and there would be some real rioting-in-the-street type activities, resulting in an actual Revolution.

Compare Velvet Revolution, Rage Within the Machine, Outside Man, Inside Man, and The Mole. Contrast The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized. A subtrope of My Country, Right or Wrong, in this case, a loyalist who intends to make things right. Invoked examples that manage to pull it off by getting to the top can be a case of Good Running Evil.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The members of the Six Houses of Kyoto of Code Geass secretly fund resistance groups.
    • Season 1 also has Suzaku, who works for the The Empire but refuses to do things like shoot his friend who saw too much. In the beginning, he doesn't really have a workable plan for how he is going to reform The Empire from the inside aside from "keep getting promoted until he reaches a position where he can make changes". He eventually stumbles into a relationship with a member of the royal family that shares his ideals, giving him a real chance to make the changes he wants.
      • Unfortunately, following Euphemia's Geass-induced massacre and Zero being forced to kill Euphemia, he eventually gives up on his hopes of reforming the general system and simply wants to rise high enough in Britannian ranks to eventually be given control of Japan for most of season 2.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Colonel Mustang and his allies within the military who are trying to make him the Führer are an example of a. Naturally the only way to be an internal reformist within a dictatorship is to become the dictator.
  • Public Safety Section 9 from Ghost in the Shell, when not taking care of terrorists and other criminals. They uncover corruption within the government, forcing it in the open where the public outcry means it will get addressed.
  • Aside from being inspired by a mobster that he saved the life of as a child, this is Giorno Giovanna's motivation for joining Passione in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind. Giorno has come to realize how much the streets of Italy have run corrupt with gangsters peddling drugs to children (to say nothing about what happened to Bucciarati's father), and so it has become Giorno's Golden Dream to become a "Gang-Star", overthrow the boss of Passione, and dismantle its narcotics division. Giorno proves successful, and the dismantling of the narcotics division is carried out in (the dubiously canon) Purple Haze Feedback by Pannacotta Fugo as a test to prove his loyalty to Giorno.
  • In Jujutsu Kaisen, that's the resolution Gojo has chosen to take: he loathes the way current Jujutsu society is run by the higher-ups who are seemly uncaring towards anything and anyone that suffer greatly with their decisions, along with their belief that all is good as long as traditions and their hold on positions of power are kept; with that, Gojo wants a new generation of people to reform their world along with him. Several characters have remarked that if Gojo wasn’t trying to be a reformist, instead a murderous revolutionary, he already would have completely overthrown the whole world as they know by now, and his past failures reveal Gojo is also hoping that he isn’t the sole strongest person in the world because even with all that power he can’t guarantee the safety of every single person he cares about; he also wants a new generation to close the power gap in the new Jujutsu society he dreams of.
  • Reinhard von Musel, later von Lohengramm in Legend of the Galactic Heroes serves The Empire's military ranks in order to reform the system and put an end to the ruling Goldenbaum Dynasty. Not only does he succeed, but he goes on to become Emperor himself.
  • The Demon Queen in Maoyu takes the identity of the Crimson Scholar, a minor human noblewoman, to introduce economic reforms in human society that will put in motion changes that allow her to stop the ongoing war with her people, the Demon Clans, with minimal bloodshed. Circumstances end up having her being raised to Saint status.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, Gaelio Bauduin is working for Gjallarhorn; while he has a Glory Hound tendency, he believes in justice and wants to reform the organization from the inside. McGillis Fareed, on the other hand, is a ruthless; his method of exposing the corruption within Gjallarhorn involves turning Ein Dalton, Gaelio's maimed friend, into a Mobile Suit and letting him cause havoc in Edmonton, sending Carta to duel Mikazuki, and in the end, he murders his Only Friend Gaelio in cold blood in order to overthrow his father and become the only heir of the Seven Stars family to take advantage in an Arranged Marriage with none other than 9-year-old Almiria Bauduin. In the end, the absolute best example of this trope is Rustal, who achieves enormous reforms at the end of the series.
  • From Shitsurakuen, Himoto Sora
  • From Team Medical Dragon, Dr. Akira Katou is trying to reform the Japanese Medical System by getting on the board of directors of their hospital.

    Comic Books 
  • America Beeny in Judge Dredd was sent to the Academy of Justice by the wishes of her dead father at the conclusion of the second America series. By the time of her final assessment, she has become this.
    America Beeny: And I believe, I truly believe, that one good Judge is worth a thousand protest marches.
  • Azai Makoto, the Big Bad of Chronin, can see all too well the many failings that the Tokugawa shogunate has in 1860s Japan, so he wants to be a "working the system" sort of internal reformist. He is firmly against the movement that is growing into what we now call the Meiji Revolution because he believes that in addition to overthrowing the shogunate the revolution will bring about cultural changes antithetical to everything he knows and believes. Well, more like he knows it will, because a time traveling device once accidentally sent him to the future, and he found The Future Is Shocking, especially when he got ahold of some history books and saw the radical changes that lay in store for Japan in the coming decades. The protagonist Mirai directly confronts him with the fact that the power structures of the shogunate are too entrenched and rigid to ever accept the changes Azai would like to see.
    Azai: We can enact such changes without destroying our entire way of life.
    Mirai: You know the daimyo won't give up their power unless they're forced to. You know that the shogunate is never going to force them.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Code Prime: As in his home series, Suzaku is this, trying to work with Britannia (and later, the Decepticons) to try and reform both organizations from within. This is heavily deconstructed though, in that Suzaku is too naive to realize that both organizations are fundamentally rotten and cannot be fixed. Megatron using a psychic-corticle patch on the boy reveals that Suzaku is partially aware of this, and that he's using this line of thought to hide his real goal - to die as atonement for killing his father. As in canon, he finally seems to get a break in this regard when Euphemia admits to sharing his ideals and sets of the SAZ, only for Megatron to work this to his advantage by capturing Euphemia and replacing her with a Pretender, which turns the SAZ into a blood bath. All efforts to reform Britannia become moot when Megatron conquers the empire outright at the end of R1.
  • The Saga Of Tanya The Firebender has this as the motivation for the titular Tanya joining the Fire Nation in order to swiftly ascend the military ranks and win the Hundred-Year War in the favor of the Fire Nation, and achieving a position of power at Wars' end that she'd be in the perfect position to ensure that corruption and despotism wouldn't plague the upper echelons of the government along with laying the groundwork to phase out military advancements being the only means for change to happen. This ends up causing characters like Jeong-Jeong to rub Tanya the wrong way; due to him being a Fire Nation Admiral that didn't try sticking with his homeland to make small changes instead of running off to become a Deserter.
  • A Supe of a Man: Clark wants to be this. He can't kill Homelander or the other evil Supes, so he plans to change how Supes behave in order to end the suffering and injustice that drove people like Hughie and Lois to The Boys.
  • Professor Juniper in Dear Diary is trying to use her position as an insider in the League to reform its cruel practices towards Pokémon, like the starter breeding centers and lack of concern towards Pokémon who die in League-regulated battles.
  • Coeur Al'Aran's Dating What Daddy Hates RWBY: Weiss' desire to redeem her family name is her driving goal, as in RWBY canon. It's deconstructed when Yang points out that Weiss' father is never going to allow that to happen. Unless he dies unexpectedly, he's going to be sitting on the board of directors for the next forty years, meaning he'll be able to leverage his influence and veto any sweeping changes Weiss wants to make. Not to mention that he's proven willing to threaten Weiss with disinheritance for the smallest of offenses, and he's only going to keep using that trick since Weiss capitulated. Yang recommends Weiss give up on the company and find some way to do good in the world on her own, such as setting up a charity or using her singing career.
  • Daphne Greengrass and the Boy Who Lived sees the titular character set out to try and improve Slytherin’s reputation from the inside, ranging from establishing Snape’s reasons for being so open in his dislike of Gryffindors to encouraging some of her fellow students to be kinder to non-Slytherins.
  • Jaune in A Rabbit Among Wolves inadvertently finds himself in control of a White Fang branch after accidentally killing Adam Taurus. Having gained a reputation as a cold-blooded killer, Jaune seeks to reform the White Fang into a more moderate organization to prove to everyone he isn't evil.
    • Sun himself decides to join after seeing Jaune is sincere in his reform movements, if only so he can ensure Jaune doesn't go rogue.
  • Star Wars vs Warhammer 40K: The Skywatch are a Space Marine Chapter which has earned itself a reputation for reforming the power structure of every planet that they protect or have to put an insurrection down on, in order to ensure that the corruption, incompetency, or unnecessary cruelty that had previously led to the Chapter being summoned there does not lead to further catastrophe.
  • Kanril Eleya in The War of the Masters for Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets. For Starfleet, she's trying to get them to be more accepting of their military function and to innovate more tactically and strategically. For the UFP government, she's trying to get them to pay more attention to the needs of the border planets and colonies, which are frequently quite different than those of the major homeworlds closer to Earth.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Until his fall from grace, Harvey Dent/Two-Face from The Dark Knight, using his position as District Attorney to bring criminals to justice. Bruce wanted him to be an icon as well, but yeah, we know how well that turned out. Also, Gordon, doing the best he can in the existing system and refusing to participate in the corruption that other dirty cops in Gotham do, even if it would mean he was safer.
  • In The Informant!, Mark Whitaker starts the movie as a whistleblower. By the end of the movie, his web of lies has become ridiculously tangled, and as it turns out, he had been embezzling money from the company for years.
  • I ♥ Huckabees: Brad attempts to save the marshlands by giving the woods over to the developers.
  • Martin Scorsese's Kundun portrays the 14th Dalai Lama as one. As a young man, he is shocked to see prisoners chained at the ankles and by the fact that "Monks have guns". Upon taking power, he announces several reforms and releases all prisoners, and throughout the film, he hopes to transform The Theocracy of Tibet.
  • Planet of the Apes (1968): Zira and Cornelius urge the leaders of ape society to recognize that some of their preconceived notions about humanity are wrong but have absolutely no success in the matter.
  • Shin Godzilla: Yaguichi and Izumi are aware of the problems with the bureaucracy but work to smooth it out from within.
  • In Syriana, Prince Nasier (the elder of the Princes) wants to be this, and he believes that his father will name him to be the next King so that he can have a chance to improve the state of his country and people. When his father bows to the wishes of the Americans and oil execs and names the younger Prince to be their puppet, Nasier tries to go outside the system.

  • Julia in Nineteen Eighty-Four works for the Party to survive, but does various illegal things when she is not being monitored.
  • In the Deryni novels, Denis Arila. His human colleague Thomas Cardiel and his Deryni subordinate/eventual colleague Duncan McLain. Arilan is all about the rise-through-the-ranks and the secrecy all the time. Cardiel rises within the ranks but then leads the schism which helps him rise further so he goes back to working within the system (hence the cussing quotation). Duncan tries the secrecy for a while, but events and his other roles quickly prompt him to go more completely the Icon.
  • Discworld:
    • In Jingo, Vimes briefly wonders if he should have been an Internal Reformist to Rust's regime, rather than throwing down his badge and storming out, before thinking "No. That never worked." Indeed, Vimes manages to get a peek into an Alternate Universe where he did decide to play internal reformist, and it really would have led to absolute disaster.
    • Ironically, in Night Watch, he acts as an odd variant — "Let's have a bit of law around here, shall we?" Though it doesn't work, at least not for long enough...
  • The First Three Books of the Empire Series'' by Richard Weyand deals with Empress Illithya II, and later her brother Trajan getting rid of the corruption within the Sintaran Empire.
  • 1632 . Grantville in general maintains its security by the type of Realpolitik that any small state of the time would have engaged in, and mainly desires breathing room to become an economic and technological powerhouse. The Committees of Correspondance are a more radical group and have a Good Cop/Bad Cop relation with Grantville.
  • Flawed: While Judge Sanchez doesn't entirely disagree with what The Guild does, she does disagree with what Craven does, and is openly trying to get him out of power with Celestine's help, aware that things have gone too far under him.
  • In The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign, Shigara couldn't stop the Miniature Garden project (which involved the kidnapping of thirteen children so they could be scientifically studied), so she joined it to ensure that the children had at least one Reasonable Authority Figure to comfort them. This is one reason she chose to die covering a child's escape from the Garden; she may be stronger than Kyousuke, but the world needs his innocence more than her strength.
  • Forest Kingdom: The Hawk & Fisher spinoff series features the Reform party, which is working to clean up the corruption in Haven. Its members include Councillor William Blackstone in book 1; when he's murdered, it's figured that one of his corrupt rivals did it or had it done to protect their own interests. Similarly, Hawk and Fisher get assigned to act as bodyguards for another Reformer, James Adamant, in book 2 (Winner Takes All).
  • A Practical Guide to Evil: This is Villain Protagonist Catherine's plan from the beginning: to alleviate the suppression her home country Callow suffers from the Dread Empire of Praes, she plans to enter the Legions of Terror, raise through the ranks, and reform the system from within.

    Live-Action TV 
  • That '70s Show: Hyde meets a girl as rebellious and anti-establishment as he is, but she leaves because she wants to go to college so she can get a job in the government to do this.
  • In the fifth season of Angel, Angel Investigations take over the LA branch of Wolfram & Hart and attempt to use the firm for good purposes.
  • During the late stages of the arc revolving around trying to depose President Clarke in Babylon 5, we meet one or two of these.
    • First is William Edgers, Garibaldi's new boss and a powerful corporate executive. Edgers feels that Sheridan's rebellion does more harm than good since it both gives Earth an external threat to focus on and allows Clarke to consolidate his power and use Martial Law to crack down on any dissent and reform. Edgers is part of a group of powerful behind-the-scenes players, and his plan is to bring down Psi Corps, since it's the main base of Clarke's power, knowing that without it, Clarke will soon fall.
    • A slightly more orthodox example is Susanna Luchenko, the head of the Russian Consortium. Like Edgers, she appears to have been part of a group that wanted to take Clarke down, only consisting of politicians instead of businessmen this time. She grudgingly admits that what Sheridan did was probably the right thing, but he "did it in a way that was inconvenient" because it resulted in a Civil War that damaged much of the Earth Force Navy, and showed instability and vulnerability to alien governments.
  • Ted from Better Off Ted, often reluctantly. He is a company man but is often guilted by his daughter into doing the right thing. His main job is to keep his morally dubious boss Veronica in check and protecting the people in his division from any wrong-headed corporate decisions, which are quite frequent. Linda is a more enthusiastic example.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Uncle Phil was once a radical 60's activist, who since became a successful lawyer. When an old friend from the movement visited, she made it clear that she did not approve of Phil's current life. Once she started having a bad influence on Will, Phil finally let her have it.
    Phil: You talk as if I wasn't there with you in Birmingham facing dogs and fire hoses. This is me, Olfame, the same Olfame that was with you the night Harlem went up in flames. But now I have a family, and I choose not to fight in the streets. I have an office to fight from, and I have fought and won cases for fair housing, affirmative action, healthcare, and I am not ashamed to write a big fat check for something I believe in and that doesn't make me any less committed than you, so don't you dare look down your damn nose at me, Adabola.
  • Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation is an interesting case. A card-carrying Libertarian, he is opposed to the government butting in on the public's personal affairs and does his part by not engaging in any government activity, letting his subordinate Leslie Knope, who genuinely cares about the public (almost to a fault), do all the work. How he expects accepting a government paycheck while not doing the work he's paid to do to improve a government that he views as wasteful and inefficient is not addressed.
  • Master Bra'tac advises Teal'c to be this when the latter takes over as Apophis's First Prime in Stargate SG-1. In a flashback that takes place well before either of them thought the fall of the Goa'uld was even possible, Bra'tac tells his student that while he may not be able to save everyone he wishes to, he can bend and guide Apophis's will and blunt his oppression and cruelty.
  • Internal reform is defied with depressing regularity on The Wire. Both the official Baltimore institutions (such as the Police and City Hall) and Baltimore's criminal underworld are in desperate need of change, but anyone on either side of the law who tries to change things is inevitably crushed, co-opted, or forced aside. This is part of a Central Theme to the show: that institutions and systems inevitably forget their original purpose and are used by the people inside them for mostly selfish purposes. If someone tries to change an institution from the inside, that institution will inevitably "protect itself" from change by lashing out at the person trying to reform it.
  • Renee from 'Allo 'Allo! has strong moments, although he is much less selfless than most.
  • Jericho (2006): After the flaws of the ASA become apparent, Gray still goes to serve in their Congress, hoping he can call attention to their more extreme methods and get people to rethink them. The series finale reveals that he's failed miserably, and he's quick to give up on the new government.
  • In Tyrant (2014), Bassam tries to be this to the government of Abuddin, attempting to steer his Stupid Evil brother Jamal towards creating a democracy. While his efforts sometimes succeed, in the end, Abuddin is even worse off than it was when he started,
  • Lyta Zod from Krypton disagrees with the brutal oppression of the Rankless, and fought an Honor Duel in order to make sure a mission would go on with minimal brutality. She also suggests bringing iron-clad proof of an alien presence to the Council; note that the very first scene of the show had someone be executed and their family stripped of all rank and privilege because they said there was an alien threat coming.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Red Snow", KGB Colonel Ilyanov has spent his entire adult life working within the Soviet system to try and save lives where he can. However, for every person that he saves from execution, two more are killed. Ilyanov eventually agrees to be made a vampire so that he can create more and they can destroy the Soviet Union from the inside.

    Video Games 
  • In Tales of Vesperia, this was Flynn's motivation for joining the Imperial Knights. He's a strange blending of in style of reformist and icon which ultimately settles as reformist when he gets pushed into the Commandant role due to the previous one turning out to be the Big Bad.
  • In Suikoden Tierkreis, Erin is a woman who works in the corrupt Order of the One True Way, which shocks her father until she tells him and the main characters that she is actually working to bring it down from the inside.
  • In Deus Ex, this is the initial view of (former) General Carter, who believes "The only way to save the agency is for the good people to stay." Upon finding out just how deeply the corruption in UNATCO really is, however, he eventually drops that view and leaves.
  • Captain Gen in RPG Shooter: Starwish, it isn't really clear which. Unfortunately, he is killed before he can make any lasting changes.
  • Reeve Tuesti from Final Fantasy VII, starts out as the only member of Mega-Corp Shinra's board who isn't a complete psychopath, but largely goes along with their wishes. As he pilots the robot Cait Sith, which becomes part of your party, he increasingly gets convinced of the righteousness of your cause and becomes The Mole, helping the party against the threats of both Sephiroth and Shinra.
    • The fact that he (in his Cait Sith form) aids you in slaughtering your way through an army of corporate soldiers even before his Heel–Face Turn, seemingly without the rest of the company questioning his mode of action, just testifies to how reckless the other board members are.
  • Final Fantasy XII has Larsa, young prince of The Empire, whose goal is to grant its subjugated province Dalmasca their independence without a war, prevent another war with neighboring Rozarria, and undo the deceit and oppression wrought by his older brother Vayne.
  • Fire Emblem Fates gives a very interesting twist on this trope; the central conflict of the game is between Hoshido and Nohr, with the Avatar being a child of both worlds. If the Avatar chooses to side with Nohr, they not only do it out of objection to Hoshido's xenophobia but largely because they couldn't bring themselves to betray the family that loved them for all these years. Despite his noble intentions to reform Nohr, the situation eventually becomes untenable, forcing the Avatar to go along with an invasion of Hoshido in order to get people to see Garon's true, possessed self, whom is a Villain with Good Publicity thanks to his massively populist policies. This leads to a lot of suffering for both factions, and the Avatar's character arc has him finally gain the strength alongside his foster siblings to stand up to tyranny and change Nohr for the better. Change for the better is always good, but it doesn't mean it comes easy.
  • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, two of the three Lords of the titular houses are this. Dimitri, prince of the Kingdom of Faerghus, and Claude, presumed heir to the Leicester Alliance, both have various different things they want to change about their homeland and want to reform when they ascend to leadership. Edelgard, heir of the Adrestian Empire, is of the belief that there is too much corruption and too many powerful behind-the-scenes factions for reform to work, and that all the current structures have to be torn down.
  • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance: reveals that Big Bad Senator Steven Armstrong is this: having grown sick and tired of how the U.S. Economy had become too entangled into the business of war, to solve this problem he decides to use it as a means of becoming elected as the next president by triggering a False Flag Operation in order to create another "War on Terror" that he could profit from.
    "I'm using War as a Business to get Elected, so I can End War as a Business."
  • Persona 5: Invoked by the heroes, who use Heel–Face Brainwashing on corrupt adults in positions of power within society to force them to confess their crimes against society and reform the institutions they have exploited. Which works great, until they make enough of an impact to tick off the Government Conspiracy, which promptly abuses their power to suppress the confessions and enacts The Masquerade to maintain their power. Eventually, the 'reformation' of the government leads to a power vacuum which the supernatural Big Bad promptly takes advantage of, just as he planned by sponsoring both sides.
  • This is part of the character arc for both the Sith Warrior and Sith Inquisitor if they follow the Light Side in Star Wars: The Old Republic. The Warrior acts through their apprentice, Jaesa, who secretly contacts other light-sided Sith and starts building an alliance. The Inquisitor also acts through their apprentice, Ashara, who seeks out Grey Jedi and an understanding between the two sides. How much success they pull off is debatable, but the Empire is a nicer place to live by the time of Fallen Empire.
  • In The Spectrum Retreat, Cameron Worrall's logs mention that they eventually only stayed at Spectrum to try and get them to start behaving more ethically towards their customer base.
  • In Cyberpunk 2077, Yorinobu Arasaka went from being a rebellious biker boss opposing his father Saburo Arakasa in Cyberpunk to a member of the Arasaka Corporation's board with the intent on reforming it from within. In the ending path where V sides with Hanako Arasaka, it's revealed that his end goal was to eventually destroy Arasaka via killing the rest of the board and instigating a world war focused against the corporation itself.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Phoenix Wright himself manages to become one via a Batman Gambit after being unfairly disbarred, (which has a bit of exposure as a side effect, allowing him to clear his name).
    • Miles Edgeworth, meanwhile, following the events of Ace Attorney Investigations 2, picks this as his reason for remaining a prosecutor; he recognized that the Big Bad's actions were born from distrust of the courts, as other antagonists were using loopholes and personal influence to further their agendas. As of Dual Destinies, Edgeworth has become Chief Prosecutor and is working to clean up his department. A Surprisingly Realistic Outcome ensues - by Spirit of Justice, the prosecutor's office is so short-handed that they need to call in transfers from other districts; thanks to the anything-goes nature of the legal system before Edgeworth took over, there were simply that many corrupt prosecutors.
  • Princess Evangile has the reformation faction of the board of directors, led by Chairwoman Rousenin, who believe that subverting their One-Gender School is the way to survive into the future. To this end, her granddaughter, Rise, makes it a point of spreading this idea by being elected head of the White Lily Society. And it's through here that she manages to get several other open-minded people into joining the Association, namely the protagonist and his Childhood Friend, who are both shunned by the rest of the school due to their gender and social status.

    Web Animation 
  • Weiss Schnee of RWBY intends to reform the Schnee Dust Company, which under her Corrupt Corporate Executive father Jacques has become noted for its use of cheap, unsafe labor and cut-throat business dealings to maximize profit. Her father suddenly disinheriting her throws a wrench in those plans, though.
    Weiss: My father was not the start of our name, and I refuse to let him be the end of it.

    Web Comics 
  • Spoofed in the Girl Genius audio dramas; one introduction suggests that Agatha Heterodyne fights evil Mad Scientists with giant machines and monsters with… bigger machines and stronger monsters "because sometimes you have to work within the system."
  • Paz from Gunnerkrigg Court.
    Paz: The Court isn't a big monster that does as it pleases. Es a collection of people. Working to do what they think is right. And, over time, other people see what is wrong, what mistakes were made, and work hard to fix them. I cry too, when I find this place. But I ask to help. To change things and make them better.
  • The Order of the Stick: As seen in the prequel story "How the Paladin Got His Scar," the Sapphire Guard used to be filled with nothing but stuck-up nobles with a twisted idea of what was "good," to the point of slaughtering entire goblinoid villages and then insisting that when the goblinoids retaliated, it had nothing to do with themthe goblinoids are responsible for their own sins, and the army is responsible for protecting the villages from the goblinoids. When O-Chul manages to stop the unnecessary war the Sapphire Guard almost started, he asks the lord of the city to disband the Guard. When informed that is not possible, he instead asks to join them. By the time of the story, the Sapphire Guard is a shining beacon throughout the world — all thanks to O-Chul.
  • PS238: Atlas, Earth's champion, discovers that his home planet of Argos was not destroyed as he thought. When he returns, he is crowned king, but quickly discovers that it is a backstabbing pit of vipers that is elitist, racist, fascist, and militaristic. When he rescues his son from kidnappers, he wants to leave with him, but a group of rebels try to convince him to stay as king.
    Atlas: Why should I stay? This place is run counter to just about everything I ever believed in.
    Aluna: If what these boys have been telling me about you is true, then you've answered your own question.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! has implied that Princess Voluptua is trying to be this for the Nemesite Empire. The fact that she spent part of her youth involuntarily having to live as a commoner affected her perception of things.

    Western Animation 
  • In a Deleted Scene from The Simpsons episode "Mother Simpson", Homer's hippie mother Mona resurfaces, and Homer mentions he works at the nuclear power plant. When she's disappointed, Homer claims he's working to get the place shut down. In truth, he's just incompetent at his job, in a way that makes the plant much more dangerous (he'd later get the plant temporarily shut down as soon as he did it right).
    Mother: Do you still work for NASA?
    Homer: No, I work at the nuclear power plant.
    Mother: Oh, Homer.
    Homer: Well, you'll be happy to know I don't work very hard. [quietly] Actually, I'm bringing the plant down from the inside. [nose tapping]

    Real Life 
  • In groups seeking radical change in society (be they communists, fascists, anarchists, or any other ideology), the issue of “reform vs. revolution” is often a very heated debate. Those favoring reform generally argue that changing the system from within is more realistic and likely less bloody than trying to topple the system in a revolution. Revolutionaries, on the other hand, typically argue that internal reformists are too easily co-opted by the system and wind up reinforcing it. Some historical examples of this debate in action:
    • This was one of the causes of the Bolshevik-Menshevik split. Essentially, Bolsheviks favored seizing power for the Soviets immediately and crushing all opposition, while the Mensheviks wanted to work within the framework of a pluralist, democratic republic.
    • The Nazis initially tried to seize power in a coup. After the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch, they began attempting to gain power through the electoral process. Eventually, the Nazis were able to win enough seats (though still not a majority) in the Reichstag for Hitler to be appointed Chancellor with the support of other far-right parties. He then proceeded to rapidly tear down the democratic Weimar Republic from the inside and transform it into a totalitarian fascist state.
    • After nearly fifty years of armed combat, the Colombian insurgent/terrorist group FARC signed a peace deal with the government in 2017, whereby FARC laid down its weapons, became a political party, and resolved to work within the democratic system. Some FARC rebels, however, refused the deal and split off into new groups to continue armed rebellion.
  • The Protestant Reformation:
    • Desiderius Erasmus wanted to change the Church internally, but when Martin Luther launched his own campaign, he was forced to retract many of his previous reformist statements to avoid being associated with Luther's more radical position.
    • Martin Luther initially tried to do this peacefully, but eventually took a populist approach. The resulting spark lit by Luther started the Protestant Reformation in full and the very violent and bloody Wars of Religion. Luther played this straight later on when his faction got the support of local Lords and nobility, and he turned against the more radical Thomas Muntzer and others, who wanted a more egalitarian basis for organizing society.
    • Within England, Thomas Cromwell, as per recent historical tradition, saw his activity as reforming the Court Administration and introducing reformation policies from the top-down so as to prevent the movement from fracturing society. It did work for a time, and it wasn't until the English Civil War nearly a hundred years later that the situation he tried to contain burst out.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev tried to be this to the Soviet Union. Things didn't go as planned, and eventually it came down to implementing Stalinist-Communism or letting "Real Existing Communism" reform itself out of existence. He chose the latter, though some people in government didn't like that and tried a coup. It ground to a halt when thousands of people showed up outside the residence of Yeltsin's government as a living roadblock for the coup's tanks. Yeltsin then ended up rescuing Gorbachev from his house arrest… and then dissolving the Union altogether, removing Gorbachev from power.
  • Nikita Khrushchev's "thaw" fulfilled this trope to a lesser extent, what with his Destalinization reforms, as well as being able to keep his lips zippered until he had enough of a power base to keep his momentum after giving the Secret Speech at the CPSU's Twentieth Party Congress. In practice, his reforms were short-sighted and didn't have as much of a constituency as he envisioned, as proven when he was ousted in The '60s.
  • Deng Xiaoping did this with China’s economic system after Mao’s death. While the CCP maintained control of China's political power and would brook no resistance in that area, as demonstrated by the PLA's crushing of the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Deng's economic reforms away from Mao's command economy ideas was super-effective in jump-starting China's economic growth.
  • When Francisco Franco, the reactionary dictator of Spain, began considering who would run the place when he died, he selected a member of the exiled royal family. The young prince seemed to be a loyal reactionary and Franco groomed him to take over as leader, setting up a revived Spanish Crown that would operate according to Francoist ideology. Almost as soon as the old goat was buried, King Juan Carlos I started, supported, and in one foiled coup attempt, personally saved, reforms that more or less peacefully transformed Spain into a democratic constitutional monarchy. It's generally believed that Juan Carlos was planning this the whole time and had some serious ideological commitment to democracy — he was not the first-in-line to the Spanish Crown according to usual monarchist rules when he acceded to the throne as his father, the Infante Juan, was still alive, but Franco had skipped over Juan because he had been a vocal critic of Franco and supporter of democracy, and it seems from everything we know about the man that Juan Carlos was/is (he's still alive, although he abdicated in favor of his son Felipe) privately very much in the mold of his father, but just better at holding his tongue. That said, Juan Carlos was not entirely without a personal stake in this: his actions made the previously very controversial existence of the Spanish monarchy much firmer, and although the institution is still not as popular as the other remaining European monarchies, it has weathered many crises surprisingly well in a country with such a strong republican movement — possibly because people remember the role of the monarchy in protecting Spanish democracy.
  • People of this principle often invoke the 30th stratagem. As indicated in the trope description, the reformist is aiming to redevelop the system from within, whether or not using the Bavarian Fire Drill, by becoming a trusted adviser.
  • Within the National Rifle Association in the US, executives such as Chris Cox and many discontented rank-and-file members have (so far unsuccessfully) sought to remove current CEO Wayne Lapierre, who is seen by many as mismanaging the organization while lining his own pockets.
  • Likely the reason PETA bought a controlling share of Sea World. They've already enacted some reforms.

Alternative Title(s): Internal Revolution