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"This is the third time we've pulled out the captain's chair for Riker. He just won't sit down."
Admiral Hanson, Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Best of Both Worlds: Part I"

Despite the fact that you're watching the finest CSI lab/Police Department/Emergency Room/Military Regiment in the country, no one working there can seem to move on, even though they may talk about it frequently. The New Guy whose first day may have coincided with the Pilot of the show is the only one who ever receives any sort of career advancement. There's a good reason for this: the producers don't want to rip apart the cast, but they want to exhibit professional growth in the show.

One reason that The Captain stays in his position so long (the other being that he would never give up his Cool Ship). Never mind that such activities are rather frowned on in real world armed forces, where commissioned officers who cannot or will not be promoted after a certain preset number of years are basically forced to retire.

Note that in police forces, as opposed to military, this tends to be Truth in Television. A low-level police officer has much more authority and responsibility than a military private, and retiring at officer rank is not considered a disgrace.

Contrast Rank Up, when a character does get promoted in-show, and Declining Promotion, where the character doesn't want to be promoted in the first place.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Avoided in Lyrical Nanoha, where seasons usually end with a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue that show the various characters being promoted or switching to the branches they've been striving for, even if it breaks up the entire cast. Isn't really too big an obstacle that a Time Skip and a big enough incident that requires their branches to work together can't fix.
    • Though in the epilogue of StrikerS it is revealed that Nanoha declined a promotion to remain as a Captain and a training officer. Signum, however, despite only being a 2nd Lieutenant in StrikerS, catches up to Nanoha in rank by ViVid.
  • Followed in Full Metal Panic! with Sōsuke, who, throughout the entire series, despite being incredibly competent and singlehandedly saving the day numerous times, stays a sergeant and receives no promotions. Most likely, however, he actively avoids moving up ranks and apparently prefers to simply keep a low profile and do his work. Interestingly, Mao gets promoted to SRT second in command (despite not doing nearly as much as Sōsuke).note 
  • Played straight in a canon chapter of One Piece made to promote the tenth movie: Vice-Admiral Garp refused promotion to Admiral, despite having the strength and renown for such a promotion to be possible because being an Admiral would give him less freedom to do what he wanted.

    Comic Books 
  • Captain Haddock, which is lampshaded in Tintin and the Picaros
  • Judge Dredd: Dredd frequently turns down the Chief Judge's job, as it means taking him off the streets and leaving him with a lot of paperwork.

    Comic Strips 
  • In the sixty-odd years that Beetle Bailey has been in the Army, nobody at Camp Swampy has been promoted. Though one could make the case that nobody there deserves to be promoted. In fact, many of the characters (including Beetle) appear to still be in boot camp.

    Fan Works 
  • Noted in Dreaming of Sunshine by Shikako regarding the Special Jounin rank. Justified in that they are valued experts in a specialty, and thus have more difficulty getting promoted out of it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The A-Team, the movie starts out eight years in the past with Face being a lieutenant and Murdock being a captain. Hannibal is referred to as a colonel, but it's not expressed at the beginning of the film whether he's a lieutenant colonel or a full-bird. When the movie moves to the present, apart from BA, who is now a Sergeant instead of a Corporal, they're all still the same rank.
  • In Apocalypse Now, an initial sign of Kurtz's madness is, as a highly decorated colonel groomed to be a future top general, he threatens to resign his commission unless accepted for Special Forces training — ensuring he'd never make it past colonel (the Green Berets were, at the time, commanded by a brigadier general, and since have become a major general level command).
  • In The Crossing, Washington tells Colonel Glover that he'd be a general if Glover hadn't offended everyone on Washington's staff at one point or another. Glover doesn't care, as he derives a certain amount of satisfaction from being a plain Marblehead fisherman who doesn't even wear a uniform.
  • In The Phantom Menace, Obi-wan tells his master Qui-gon Jinn that he would already be on the Jedi High Council if he would just stop arguing with them. Qui-gon doesn't mind since he prefers following his own interpretation of the will of the Force.
  • In Down Periscope, Dodge is a Lieutenant Commander and second-in-command of a nuclear sub. At the start of the film, he's being put forth for a promotion to his own sub command for the third and final time. Should he be denied again, he will never have another chance to move up and has to either take a desk job or retire. His main problem is an incident earlier in his career involving a collision with a Russian sub (normally, a career-ending event), followed by a drunkenly-applied tattoo on his penis. Fortunately for him, an old-school admiral has taken a liking to his Military Maverick style and wants to give him a chance to prove himself.

  • The Discworld books covering the Ankh-Morpork City Watch are largely an exception. Several characters get promoted throughout the series, but they often don't want to, and it doesn't change their jobs all that much:
    • Constable Carrot (who was a Lance-Constable while in training, but that's a temporary rank anyway) is promoted directly to Corporal, skipping Lance-Corporal, and then Captain, skipping Sergeant. In a practical sense, he's probably third in command of the city, behind the Patrician and Vimes, and that's by choice; the worst-kept secret in Ankh-Morpork is that Carrot is the descendant of the kings of Ankh-Morpork, but he doesn't want to be king. Still, being an all-around good guy whom everyone knows and likes (because he knows and likes everyone) means he can wield a lot of influence.
    • Carrot's girlfriend friend-with-whom-he-has-an-Understanding Angua advances from Lance Constable all the way to Captain; she might have been said to overcome the double glass ceiling of being a werewolf and a woman, if anyone who actually determined promotions were biased that way. Angua is arguably the purest subversion of the trope; unlike Detritus, Carrot, or Vimes himself, her promotions come with little change to her role in either the Watch or the stories themselves.
    • Even Cheery Littlebottom (despite disliking shouting at people) is made a Sergeant because she's good at thinking. Detritus the troll (despite, as he puts it, "them two short planks bein' as fick as Detritus") becomes one because he's good at shouting.
    • The (reluctant) king (and he'd refuse the title) of this trope, however, has to be Vimes himself. When first encountered, he's a captain of the three-man Night Watch, who hide from criminals. The next time we see him he plans to retire after getting married. However, intrigued by the notion of a Watch that truly matters, he accepts the rank of Commander—and, though he has to grit his teeth, the knighthood which goes with it. Later, after stopping a war (by arresting the armies involved) and demonstrating his willingness to do his duty no matter the consequences (by arresting the Patrician), he's made Duke of Ankh, rendering him the most powerful nobleman in the city (save, probably, Vetinari himself, since the evidence indicates he's from a noble family ... his aunt is Lady Roberta Meserole and he studied at the Assassin's Guild). The reason he fits the trope, despite all these promotions, is that what he actually does hasn't changed all that much ... it's just that he now has the authority to do it. Vetinari once commented that Vimes maintaining his strong anti-authoritarian streak despite all this is "practically Zen".
    • The notable exceptions to the exception, Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs, are characters you wouldn't expect to be promoted—Nobby could never rise above Corporal on merit, and there would be little point to demoting him as his behavior would remain unchanged (in his introduction, the narrator notes that every force has a Nobby, and they take care never to be promoted above corporal, since rank comes with responsibilities); while Colon is one of "nature's sergeants"—big, loud, red-faced, and a good trainer. When Colon is reluctantly made Acting-Captain, he screws up completely.
    • The Unseen University plays the trope very straight, as there are exactly eight levels of wizardry, and the number of people who can hold a rank has been fixed according to tradition for centuries. Because of this, no matter how good a wizard was, the only way he could hope to get a promotion is if a higher level wizard is promoted or dies, creating a vacancy at the next level to be filled. This ultimately created a tradition where many wizards who didn't feel like waiting for a vacancy to appear made a point of creating them via Klingon Promotion until Ridcully became Archchancellor and ended it by being unkillable. It also helped that by that point in the series almost everybody who actually wanted the higher ranks had killed each other off; the faculty had to recruit Ridcully from private life just to fill the seat.
    • Death also plays the trope straight with his apprentice Mort and granddaughter Susan. Although the two may substitute for him during an absence, there is realistically no chance of either of them rising to Death's position permanently.
  • In the Alliance/Union novel Merchanter's Luck the starship Dublin Again is run by the massive Reilly family and advancement is partly by seniority and partly nepotism, junior officer Allison has ambitions of command but at least fifty of her seniors would have to die in a freak decompression accident before she had a chance of coming anywhere near the bridge before she died of old age. After a one-night stand with the captain of a small tramp freighter whose family were killed by pirates she and a few of her cousins get the idea to transfer over to a ship where there's more room for advancement.
  • Star Trek: In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relaunch novels readers are introduced to the character of Elias Vaughn, a man over the age of 100 who had spent about eight decades working for Starfleet Intelligence. Despite his many years of service he remained at the rank of Commander in order to maintain a low profile, however he was on a first name basis with most Admirals and held a higher security clearance than some of them.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • X-Wing Series:
      • Wedge Antilles frequently passes up chances for advancement, preferring the rank of Commander and leading Rogue Squadron to taking a greater role. Eventually, though, he realizes he's being a bit selfish—that he could contribute at a much greater level. Ackbar also notes that for an upcoming campaign, he'll need rank to pull. That, the fact that some generals are allowed to stay on commanding elite squadrons instead of flying a desk all the time, and the fact that many of his officers are following his example and staying at their entry ranks despite being some of the finest pilots in the galaxy, convinces him. (It's notable he's a general, and one with no small influence over the supreme commander, before he's 30, though.)
      • Tycho Celchu has a weird case of it as well: he gets plenty of promotions, but always ends up one step behind Wedge, as his eternal second in command. Thus he remains a Colonel into and through the New Jedi Order so that he can be Wedge's strategist. Granted, they work so well together that it seems like a waste to split them up.
      • In Wraith Squadron, Jesmin Ackbar has been chained to a desk her whole career despite her desire to fly fighters because all of her commanding officers are terrified of getting Admiral Ackbar's niece killed. When Wedge agrees to take her into the Wraiths, she specifically instructs her uncle not to blame him if the worst should happen. He keeps his word, and is appreciative of the condolence letter Wedge sends him.
      • Invoked and subverted by Face Loran, leader of the Wraiths. As a fighter pilot, he achieved the rank of Captain before transferring with his unit to Intelligence (which goes back and forth about using military ranks vs. having a civilian intelligence agency's structure). He keeps the rank pretty much for the rest of his career because it's useful to him to have some clout, while not being high-ranking enough to actually matter, thus ensuring that he can "disappear" when need be. Since the higher ranks of Intelligence are a tight-knit community, his lack of rank doesn't affect his actual influence in the slightest. As of Mercy Kill though... his investigation and rooting out of the last of the Lecersen Conspiracy earns him the post of head of Intelligence. So there's nowhere higher to go.
    • In The Thrawn Trilogy, Pellaeon was a sixty-year-old captain of an Imperial Star Destroyer. Being unwilling to rule, he just followed the Empire's current leaders and tried to scrape it back together again whenever those leaders inevitably fell, never getting promoted. But as time went on and he outlived those superiors, one of them put him in charge before fleeing into obscurity, and so by the Hand of Thrawn duology he was Admiral Pellaeon, the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Remnant. And by the time of the New Jedi Order series, the Empire has expanded sufficiently that he was promoted again, to the same rank of Grand Admiral that his late mentor Thrawn had held.
  • In the Harry Potter series, Albus Dumbledore, the most powerful wizard alive and a shining light for the anti-Voldemort movement, is content to spend the rest of his life working as the headmaster of a school. It's mentioned that he's been offered the position of Minister for Magic a number of times, but turns it down even as it continues to go to annoying Obstructive Bureaucrats. In Deathly Hallows, it's revealed that this is because Dumbledore doesn't trust himself with power due to a tragic incident in his youth. Of course, this may also be because when an entire nation has precisely one formal school, being Headmaster there is actually a pretty big deal.
    • He was Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, which appears to be something like a cross between Speaker for Parliament and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, leaning toward the Chief Justice side. But when politics takes that away it doesn't seem to bother him much.
  • In the Tinker series, advancement opportunities among the sekasha aren't so much limited as they are virtually nonexistent. Rank is determined entirely by seniority of service to one's chosen domi, so the only ways to get promoted are for either more senior sekasha to die or for the domi to die and the sekasha to get a new position with another domi with fewer sekasha already in service. And since elven lifespans are measured in millennia, neither of these happen very often. This is the reason why most domi only have one Hand (five men) of sekasha - anyone hired into a lesser Hand will likely stay there for the rest of their lives, so only those domi who are important enough that being in their service holds enough prestige to offset not being in their First Hand are able to attract men after the First Hand is filled.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga novels, rank among the Imperial Auditors is entirely due to seniority, so one only increases in rank when a more senior Auditor dies or retires. Of course, even the most junior Auditor outranks everyone else in the Empire other than the Emperor, and Auditors generally work independently, so relative rank among them doesn't mean much.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: At work with the adults characters. Miss Brooks, from near the start, is after the position of Madison High School Head of the English Department. She never gets it; obstructions include blabbermouths sharing the "Party Line" and a nervous nerve-specialist claiming she's overwrought "Noodnick, Daughter of Medic". At least once, Mr. Boynton suffers from this trope; his attempt to be hired as a college professor ends with Miss Brooks trying to masquerade as his mother ("The Wrong Mrs. Boynton). Even Mr. Conklin can't get a promotion; he's the subject of a false scandal in "The Little Visitor", and otherwise embarrassed in "Project X". In the penultimate television episode, "Principal For A Day", Miss Brooks' leadership of Mrs. Nestor's Private Elementary School is short-lived. Miss Brooks does achieve her actual Series Goal, marriage to Mr. Boynton, in The Movie Grand Finale.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: After season one, Geordi and Worf receive promotions in what is best described as a series reorganization. After that, almost no cast member gets a promotion over the seven years the show spans because Status Quo Is God. Troi is promoted from Lieutenant Commander to full Commander by taking a command exam but this doesn't significantly change her role or position in the Enterprise's official chain of command as Data remains second officer. It's frequently made a plot point and lampshaded in the case of Picard and Riker:
    • Picard is offered desk jobs as an admiral several times, but he rejects the opportunities because of his love of exploration. This is a major part of his characterization, and one episode focuses on how he could have been an accomplished archeologist if he hadn't decided to pursue a career in Starfleet instead.
    • Riker is offered captaincy on several ships, but he turns them all down. He explains that he finds it more satisfying to serve as first officer on Starfleet's prestigious flag ship than to captain some anonymous ship doing tedious transport missions. He also sees Picard as a mentor and believes that he has more to learn by serving under him.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
    • The producers had the foresight to introduce Sisko as a Commander, just so he could have a dramatic promotion to Captain later on. By the end of the series this trope still applies, since he's doing the jobs of pretty much the entire admiralty and representing the Federation during planning with their allies. Kira Nerys also had a promotion in-series, from Major to Colonel. In her case, it was a promotion in the Bajoran militia, rather than Starfleet. Kira was also temporarily given the rank of Commander in Starfleet (which is technically lower than her Bajoran rank, but given Starfleet's far greater size, power, and importance, it's effectively a promotion anyway), when she was sent to Cardassia as part of a covert team and assisted the Cardassian underground against the Dominion, since working with a Starfleet officer is politically more palatable to them than working with a Bajoran soldier.
    • Miles O'Brien is brilliant as an engineer, and a hero many times over—and yet we never see him offered a promotion to Master CPO, let alone officer, even when he takes a teaching position at the Academy. This is especially noticeable because he would hardly be promoted away from the setting, the rest of the main characters being officers; rather, his role as the designated NCO and "working man" had to be maintained. In fact, as senior enlisted advisor to Captain Sisko, O'Brien is effectively the de facto Command Master Chief of DS9. And Master to tack onto that Chief? Senior Chief O'Brien is an especially weird case in that the TNG episode "The Enemy" established that he was once the tactical officer aboard the starship Rutledge, is frequently seen in Deep Space Nine's wardroom, and stated that he would have assumed command of the Defiant if Worf had been killed in "Rules of Engagement". This is justified as O'Brien clearly states that he has no interest in being an officer, and loves his position as Chief Engineer of DS9 (a promotion from his time on the Enterprise). His short stint as a tactical officer may have been out of necessity more than anything, as this was in the middle of the first Cardassian war.
      • In [1], Miles O'Brien is at long last promoted to Command Master Chief Petty Officer.
  • In Star Trek: Voyager, the show's premise has a built-in excuse for why everyone stays at the same rank: there are no new crewmembers coming aboard, and nowhere for the crew to transfer to. Tom Paris is the exception, given his unique situation, but even though several crewmen die over the course of the show poor Harry Kim never makes Lieutenant, despite being the Operations officer and defacto Science Officer and part of the senior bridge crew.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise takes the cake. In the (not so) Distant Finale (which was actually a holodeck simulation), we see that everyone has remained at the same rank. The crew of humanity's first-ever Warp-5 ship, that basically opened up the rest of the galaxy for Earth, saved the planet numerous times, made a ton of allies, and intimidated both the Vulcans and Klingons and NO ONE has gotten a single promotion. The only mention we get is that Archer has been ear-marked for Admiral.
  • This has been (partially) avoided on Stargate SG-1, in that Captain Samantha Carter was promoted first to a Major, then to Lieutenant Colonel — though throughout these promotions, she stayed with the same team. In an attempt to decrease Richard Dean Anderson's screen time (he's slowly retiring), his character was promoted to Brigadier General for season 8 and he started running Stargate Command rather than going on missions. In seasons 9 and 10 he heads up Homeworld Security in Washington as a Major General, which leaves him to appear once or twice a season as a guest star. In fact, only two regular cast members have not been promoted: Daniel Jackson (a civilian) and Teal'c (technically also a civilian, officially a Private Military Contractor).
  • The titular characters of The Rookies stayed wet-behind-the-ears new kids on the beat for the entire four-year run of that series.
  • In CSI: NY, the only career change in the entire show was Sheldon Hawkes' transfer from coroner to field agent which is frankly ridiculous. The two jobs require very different skill sets and training. It's akin to saying "He's an excellent neurosurgeon, so let's make him the CEO of the hospital." The producers of the show admitted that they only made Hawkes a field agent due to his unexpected popularity.
    • Then was Grissom lying on the original CSI when he offered Ray Langston the open CSI Level 1 slot, saying that as a medical doctor he was totally qualified for the position?
    • At the end of the 2010/11 season, Danny Messer took and passed the Sergeant's exam. At the beginning of the following season, Danny had obviously decided to take the position, leave the lab, and become Sergeant Messer. However, after an incident in which one of his subordinates shot an unarmed man and blamed her actions on Danny, he decided to go back to being Detective Messer and rejoin the lab.
  • Justified in Criminal Minds: This is due to deliberate interference by the tyrannical new boss as revenge. In season five, though, Morgan temporarily replaces Hotch as team leader because of the whole Reaper fiasco. Hotch voluntarily stepped down because he wanted the Reaper to think he was losing control.
  • Long-running soaps can avoid this by following the progression of the characters as they grow. Home and Away's Sally Fletcher appeared in the show's pilot as a nine-year-old schoolgirl; by the time she left twenty years and four thousand, six hundred and nine episodes later she was the school's principal.
  • NCIS
    • The series nods to it by having Gibbs temporarily retire and promote Tony to lead. Gibbs comes back, demoting Tony although he still got something of a promotion being the Director's personal agent handling covert operations stateside.
    • In another episode, Tony is offered his own team away from Gibbs and the others, but denies the opportunity out of concern for Gibbs, who had just come out of yet another coma.
    • McGee starts as a Probationary Agent and it is a big deal for him to get promoted to full agent (although Tony still calls him 'probie' for a while). Timothy McGee has been promoted twice after that, first to senior field agent after Gibbs left and Tony became supervisor. The other was when Vance took over and made him head of cyber-crime. However, he willingly to a demotion back to junior agent when he had the chance to. Since then he worked his way back up to being the Number Two agent on the team by virtue of seniority after Tony and Ziva left.
    • When Ziva left Mossad and applied to join NCIS she had to go through the application process and then starts out as a probationary agent even though she has been part of the team for years. The fact that she was not a US citizen complicated things even more. She passed the citizenship test in late season seven.
    • NCIS Directors Shephard and Vance both started out as field agents and were at one point equal or junior in rank to Gibbs.
    • Gibbs could have been director but hates the paperwork and politics involvednote . He regularly becomes acting-director when the regular director is away for an extended time or incapacitated.
  • In the eleven-season course of M*A*S*H, only Mulcahy and Klinger get promoted, despite having an episode where Hawkeye, B.J., and Charles serve as the promotion board. Mulcahy actually spends an(other) episode lamenting the lack of advancement opportunity. This is largely Truth in Television. Klinger makes Sergeant at some point, which is as high as he can expect to go since outside of very unusual circumstances, non-commissioned officers are rarely promoted to commissioned officers. Not to mention that the main characters are almost all draftees, who wouldn't expect to be promoted to high rank only to lose it in a year's time. This was discussed in an episode where the staff learn of a new MASH unit being prepared and they are afraid that they will be split up, even if that presumably came with promotions for the gang. When the evaluator for the staff finally learns of this concern, he makes clear that the 4077th staff is considered too valuable in its current composition to break up. They did an episode where Hawkeye and B.J. got Radar promoted as a joke/gift; in the end, Radar begged them to get him busted back down.
  • JAG: Several characters go without promotions, but these were either due to seniority (Chegwidden), being in a billet with no further advancement (Chegwidden and Cresswell; the post of Judge Advocate is a 2-star terminal appointment), being late additions to the series (Turner), being unpopular with their coworkers (Cmdr. Lindsey, Lt. Singer), or being murdered (Lt. Singer, by Cmdr. Lindsey).
  • Major Dad had in its final season made the 'Up or Out' system an important plot point. The Major was up for promotion the second time. There is no third time. Lieutenant Colonel Dad doesn't have the same ring to it.
  • When Jerry Espenson found out that there was no chance of him ever being promoted to Partner he snapped and tried to kill Shirley. A few seasons later he does get promoted.
  • This is technically justified in the case of Gregory House, as he IS a genius doctor, but also batshit insane, and no one besides Cuddy would hire him. As well, his position as "Chief of Diagnostics" means he's as high up in that hospital as he can get, "answering" directly to Cuddy.
  • Rimmer from Red Dwarf, prior to the titular ship's crew being wiped out, holds the rank of Second Technician after fifteen years in the Space Corps. Rimmer is outranked by the ship's service droids and "the man who changed the bog rolls" and every attempt to get a promotion ends in abject failure. Lister, on the other hand, despite being the only person that Rimmer has any authority over, has no interest in being promoted whatsoever. He did toy with the idea of earning a promotion to Ship's Cook once, just so he could technically outrank Rimmer. (Yes, even the cook could order Rimmer around.)
  • Blue Bloods avoids this trope by having most of the characters start out as high up the promotion ladder as they can reasonably get.
    • Frank is already the police commissioner and the next step in advancement would be for him to run for mayor.
    • Henry retired as police commissioner.
    • Danny is too much of a Cowboy Cop to ever get higher than his current position as a Major Case detective.
    • Erin is an assistant district attorney prosecuting major cases and working closely with the District Attorney.
    • Jamie is just a rookie cop but given his intelligence and he could be police commissioner himself one day. His family connections haven't helped much though - he's still a beat cop while his Academy classmates are making detective because Frank is adamant in not showing his sons any favoritism which unfortunately means while Jamie is deserving of one, he can't get it because Frank knows people will think it's because of nepotism. Finally averted as of Season 9, where he gets promoted to Sergeant — something which was long overdue.
    • Averted with Sid Gormley, who is a Detective Sergeant (Danny's boss) for the first four seasons. In season 5, he impresses Frank and is transferred to 1PP to work directly under him, as his previous Chief of Department has been forced to resign due to certain events coming to light. Since Gormley isn't a captain, he can't officially take the post, so Frank instead names him "Special Assistant to the Commissioner" and tells him he'll be doing the job but without the pay grade and the perks. He's promoted to lieutenant some time later.
  • Donald Cragen of Law & Order and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has been a Captain in the NYPD for a quarter of a century. By the later seasons, it's clear that he's never going to advance because of his unit's tendencies to bend the rules and his unwillingness to do favors for politically-connected suspects. He finally is forced into mandatory retirement due to age in Season 15 of SVU.
    • His replacement on the original series, Anita Van Buren, never rose above the rank of Lieutenant in her seventeen-year tenure, which actually becomes a plot point: she had applied to become a Captain but, despite having seniority, was passed over for a white woman. She then sued the NYPD, which unsurprisingly has limited her prospects.
    • None of the detectives or sergeants at the 2-7 ever get promoted, even as a way for their characters to exit the show. Greevey was killed in the line of duty, Cerretta took a desk job after he was shot, Briscoe stayed a Detective until he retired, Logan was effectively demoted to Staten Island after punching out a bigoted councilman, Curtis took a desk job to be with his ailing wife, Green eventually left the force after being caught up in illegal gambling, Fontana retired as a Detective, Cassidy was most likely fired or reassigned, and Lupo and Bernard weren't around long enough to be promoted.
  • On Law & Order: Criminal Intent despite being 50, having spent two decades on the force and being one of the most brilliant officers at One PP, Robert Goren is still the junior in his partnership to Eames despite being a Detective First Grade himself. This was lampshaded by a Corrupt Bureaucrat that was in cahoots with a Corrupt Corporate Executive, she said that because of his instability he would never be promoted to senior partner and that Eames would never make captain because of him.
    • Eames is actually offered the position of captain but ends up declining partly because it was a bribe and partly because to accept it she had to throw Goren off the force. She does eventually show up as a Lieutenant in SVU, but she had to transfer out of One PP to an Anti-Terrorism Task Force to get it.
  • The Office (US) has few opportunities for promotion. They try to subvert it a few times but most of the time it does not stick. Michael will not get promoted past branch manager and while he has that job nobody else is really moving up. Most of the other people have specialized individual positions with only Michael above them.
    • Pam gets a promotion by essentially creating the position of office administrator herself and then bullying and conning everyone else into accepting this.
    • When Ryan and Jim manage to get promotions, it does not stick for long
    • When Michael leaves the company for good, the new manager is brought in from the head office. When that fails Dwight is given a shot at the job but also fails spectacularly. A wider search is conducted and Dwight, Andy, and Darryl compete for the position against outsiders. Andy is promoted
    • This is completely inverted with Robert California. He is about to be hired as the new branch manager but to everyone's surprise manages to talk his way into becoming the new CEO of the whole company.
  • Suits plays with this. In the pilot, Harvey is promoted to Senior Partner which highlights his rapid rise through the firm's ranks. It is clear that he aims to become a Named Partner and might even challenge Jessica for Managing Partner. At the same time, Louis is still stuck as Junior Partner which is a major source of frustration for him with various factions using the promise of promotion to lure him to their side. Mike's prospects at the firm are initially presented as being unlimited as long as he does not screw up but then Surprisingly Realistic Outcome and it becomes clear that the lies that allow him to practice law also make him unpromotable. He needs to keep a low profile unless someone decides to dig into his past and discovers the truth. However, without winning high profile cases he will never make partner. Louis eventually becomes Named Partner after finding out the truth about Mike and blackmailing Jessica with it.
  • Justified on The X-Files, especially with Mulder. Though he was advancing quickly up the VC's career ladder, once he became involved with the X-Files he was shut away in the basement just to get him out of everyone's hair. And since he runs that department, there isn't really anywhere up he can go. Not to mention he doesn't really give a damn whether he even keeps the job, let alone get promoted. However, he does often lament that Scully's involvement with him on the X-Files essentially kills any opportunity she has for advancement since it will be seen as a dark mark on her record. However, Scully never seems to express any desire to climb the ranks and eventually becomes just as invested in the X-Files as Mulder.
  • Discussed on Barney Miller when Captain Miller chooses to withdraw from candidacy for a promotion to Deputy Inspector, having been passed over twice before. His detectives talk him into trying since as long as he's stuck "in there" (his captain's office) they're stuck "out here" (the squad room) - "and Levitt is stuck waaayy down there." They convince Barney to go for it, and in the Grand Finale he gets promoted.
  • Largely played straight in The West Wing with a number of characters who remain in the same jobs for years, even when doing so is unrealistic (e.g. CJ is Press Secretary for 7 years when real-life Press Secretaries tend to have much shorter tenures). Begins to become a plot point late in season 5, primarily for Donna (who everyone has noticed is staying in her job much longer than she should due to her devotion to Josh, who in turn isnít promoting her or helping her career due to some mixture of dependency on her and lack of respect for her potential), but also for Charlie, who is reluctant to finish law school because he knows the President will force him to look for a new job when he does, and CJ, whose promotion to Chief of Staff is a significant arc in season 6. For the most part, where promotions/career advancement did happen, the show either moved focus to include characters who changed jobs (e.g. the focus on election campaigns in season 6 and 7 allowed characters like Josh to stay involved), or just had the character hang around without explanation (e.g. Will, who moves from POTUSí staff to be VPOTUSí Director of Communications, in an entirely different building, and yet is still always around the White House, and attends all the same senior staff meetings the main cast do despite his predecessor very definitely not attending them)
  • Flashpoint: Sergeant Parker warns a new member about this when she first joins Team One. Team Leader Ed Lane has been a Constable for almost a decade when the series starts, and he's only a Sergeant in the finale because Greg was medically retired from SRU, which freed a slot for him to move into.
  • Castle: The core quartet of Beckett, Castle, Esposito, and Ryan remains constant throughout the show's entire eight-year run. Castle is a civilian who theoretically tags along to use Beckett and her team as source material for his Nikki Heat novels, but the other three should've been promoted at some point. Beckett spends a couple episodes at the start of season six working as an investigator for the attorney general but gets fired for political reasons, and in a couple season seven episodes is heard complaining about her lack of advancement (though the What If? universe shown in "The Time of Our Lives" has her as the squad captain, and stuck investigating her desk all day). Eventually Beckett does get promoted in the last season, while Ryan and Esposito decide to take the Sergeant's Exam.
  • Nobody gets promoted in Hogan's Heroes, but this is understandable. All the major Allied cast members are POWs, who generally would not even be considered for promotion until they either escape, get exchanged, or get rescued (and they don't want to escape or be exchanged because they can do more good for the war effort at less risk to themselves by running an intelligence/sabotage network out of the camp). As for the German cast members, Hogan's people go out of their way to make certain they stay right where they are because if Klink or Schultz got promoted or demoted out of their current jobs, they might be replaced by somebody competent. (The feeling is evidently mutual, neither Klink nor Schultz wanting to be sent to the fighting war or put in a position where they'd be on the hook when something goes wrong respectively.)
  • Last Man Standing has Kyle starting work at Outdoor Man shortly before the first episode as a stock boy, but quickly endears himself to upper management for being a good kid and his bright optimism. He tries out almost every position in the store and basically becomes the personal assistant and sales floor advisor, which they make into an official job since they didn't realize how useful he was in that position. After a couple years they realized a completely made-up position like that meant he had zero opportunity for advancement and a salary ceiling, and they could only attach so many titles like Executive Floater to make it seem fresh. They ended up encouraging him to try out different management positions like personnel and human resources.

  • The Navy Lark both averts and plays this straight. Certain characters are introduced at the same rank they finished with (C.P.O. Pertwee, Sub-Lieutenant Phillips), but others such as Commander, then Captain, then Commodore Povey and The 2nd Number One Cmdr. Murray rise up the ranks as much as they would in the real navy. Then there was that time resident Welsh ethnic stereotype Able Seaman Goldstein was mistakenly promoted all the way to Commodore...
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine managed to avert this with Santiago, promoting her to Sergeant in Season 5, but played it straight with the rest, despite all being competent or exceptional detectives, the only one ever offered a promotion is Diaz, and even then it's to Captain a small town precinct. Jeffords does attempt to move up but fails his Lieutenant Exam

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: Several Space Marines with decades of combat experience choose to remain at their current rank to serve as instructors to the new Marines, such as Tellion and Cyrus (Scout Sergeants in the Ultramarines and Blood Ravens respectively).
    • Cyrus is specifically mentioned to stay in his position because it offers him power well beyond his responsibilities. His focus on stealth and evasion have received criticism from traditionalists within the chapter, but Cyrus knows his methods work (they got him pegged for the Deathwatch, an organisation which is to the Space Marines what the 75th Ranger Battalion is to the Dental Corps), and that if he just stays in his current job and doesn't screw up epically, there won't be a single Blood Raven who hasn't grown into Space Marine-dom by learning from him in a few centuries.
  • Planescape ranks the Powers according to the second-edition rules for gods (Demigod, Lesser, Intermediate and Greater). In On Hallowed Ground, it is said that if a pantheon ends up with more than three or four powers reaching the Greater rank, this counter-intuitively suggests that the pantheon is on its way out, having grown too old and too big to support itself. The Finnish and Sumerian pantheons are presented as examples of this. Of course, the Greeks and Torilians are also aversions.

    Video Games 
  • In the Crusader games, after slaughtering hundreds of enemy soldiers, destroying dozens of enemy mechs, demolishing more than half a dozen WEC installations and stockpiles, saving the Earthbound Resistance, assassinating a member of the WEC's board of directors, and capturing the goddamned Moon... the Silencer is still a Captain.
    • On the other hand, Sergeant Brooks from the first game is promoted to Lieutenant, according to an email the Silencer receives between games.
    • Also, "Captain" is technically an honorific; it was his rank in the WEC before defecting. He is not actually part of the Resistance chain of command.
  • Halo:
    • While Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 is at the top of the NCO rank ladder, he hasn't received a promotion for over two decades, despite being one of the main reasons why humanity hasn't gone extinct yet. On the other hand, he's also a Super-Soldier who was created precisely because the UNSC needed the most badass spec-ops troopers possible; as an officer, he would have to stay in the back-line more often, which would probably be a massive waste of his combat abilities, especially during a war where humanity needs every extra soldier it can get.
    • Much as the example of Commander Shepard, the Chief tends to exert influence far out of proportion to his actual rank (the Spartans were selected as much for brains as for brawn), though he's by both training and nature obedient even to authority figures he dislikes. Halo 4, however, shows what happens when a superior finally pushes him too far; he disobeys orders, arguably mutinies, and steals UNSC equipment. The result is that the captain who issued the orders he ignored is cashiered by the UNSC, and the executive officer who listened to the Chief and also disobeyed orders to help him is promoted. Justified and exaggerated; the captain's plan was so stupid the entire rest of the ship stood with the Master Chief, even giving him a dropship and some heavy weaponry.
    • Invoked by other characters in the UNSC too. Edward Buck and James Cutter, a spec-ops gunnery sergeant and a small ship captain respectively, both have skills that could propel them far beyond their ranks but refuse to take promotions because they don't want to leave their crew behind. In both cases, this is noted as a problem by the higher-ups, though Buck has been occasionally asked with command-level work after becoming a Spartan-IV (which is rather ironic, given that he's now a Super-Soldier).
    • There's also Sergeant John Forge of Halo Wars, who's been court-martialed so many times that his superiors will never promote him to officer despite his excellent command skills (that said, the above-mentioned Cutter respects Forge's skills enough to give him effective command of the Spirit of Fire's entire Marine detachment).
    • On the Brutes' side of things in Halo Wars 2, there's Pavium, who is held back from promotion within the Banished despite his excellent skills in commanding and battling due to his attachment to his Leeroy Jenkins brother Voridus.
  • Wing Commander: The one time Maniac makes it past Major, at the end of Wing Commander IV (more in the novelization than the game), off-screen he gets busted down again. Primarily he stays in the service in spite of this lack of advancement because he's just that damned good, starting his career during a long genocidal war where the Terran Confederation couldn't afford to dismiss him from service. In the fifth game he gets promoted to Squadron Commander, but eventually requests to be busted down again, because he finds he can't handle the extra responsibility.
  • In Ghostbusters: The Video Game, Winston Zeddemore, once just the working stiff latecomer to the business, had gone back to school to earn a Doctorate and so is now, "Dr. Zeddemore."
  • Adachi, of Persona 4. Apparently he made a 'mistake' that got him sent to Inaba as an informal punishment. The characters actually call him out for using this as an excuse for killing two people and trying to bring about the end of the world. If this was true, frustrated office workers would be killing everyone left and right.
  • Mass Effect. Shepard never goes beyond the rank of Commander. Justified in that Shepard was officially reported KIA at the beginning of Mass Effect 2, and spent the entire game post-resurrection officially AWOL, although Hackett was still willing to pass down the Alpha Relay assignment. After said assignment, Shepard submitted to the chain of command and was confined due to the Alpha Relay's explosion killing 300,000 Batarians (which was only done as a last resort in order to stop the Reapers, this action succesfully delayed them for at least for another year). Shepard was only reinstated due to the extreme circumstances of the Reaper attack on Earth. The resulting Reaper war meant that there was very little opportunity for advancement. Though by the end of the game Shepard is effectively the Commander in Chief of the entire galactic military (and third in command of the Alliance military), but still carries the same rank on paper.

    Web Comics 
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • While most characters have undergone several promotions, Schlock was promoted rapidly to corporal and then sergeant early on, and then stopped there. While he's one of the most experienced soldiers in Tagon's Toughs, a fact that his commanding officers and many high-ranking figures in the galaxy respect, he's repeatedly shown a lack of wisdom that keeps his command from promoting him any higher. Considering he's had a few opportunities to get a commissioned position, including the time he temporarily owned the company, it's safe to say that he's not interested in getting promoted himself. The closest he ever got to wanting to progress was being disappointed by the fact that only officers get "epaulet grenades".
    • Invoked by Warrant Officer Thurl. Thurl is the oldest member of Tagon's Toughs, and the only reason paychecks go out and supplies come in when they're supposed to. He is very happy as an NCO and has threatened to resign the minute anyone offers him a commission.
  • Terminal Lance takes its name from Marines whose climb up the rank ladder has stalled at Lance Corporal (just below NCO status), often because the cutting score (a nigh-incomprehensible mess of test scores, job evaluations, and other minutia) is so high. A common complaint in the strip is that the infantry tends to have higher cutting scores than the support and logistics elements. It's gotten to the point that Abe has gotten his Lance Corporal insignia tattooed on his back.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: Homer Simpson will always get busted back down to safety inspector at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. Sometimes this is due to his own negligence, but more often, the show lampshades the inflexibility of his day-to-day existence. (We even see an elderly Homer occupying the same office in the future.)
    Homer: Hey Mom, did you know I was blasted into space?
    Mona: Yes Homer, it was national news. So... do you still work for N.A.S.A.?
    Homer: No, I work at the Nuclear Power Plant.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks
    • They posit this as the reason why so many admirals in Starfleet go the Insane Admiral route. Sure, they're at the top of the command chain, but unless they do something big to stand out, they quickly become a forgettable figure giving orders from behind a desk. Hence they take on really, really ill-advised vanity projects that tend to become catastrophic, like Admiral Buenamigo's automated Texas-class ships.
    • Mariner has a long history of being promoted for her competence and then misbehaving to be demoted back to ensign because she prefers to be Mildly Military without the responsibility of command. She has classmates who have become captains at this point, if it wasn't for her family connections she likely would have been drummed out of Starfleet years ago.
    • The main characters finally get promoted in the first episode of the fourth season, after three seasons of proving their worth in a variety of dangerous situations. Mariner immediately starts acting out to get demoted, but Commander Ransom forces her to really contemplate her self-sabotage. Initially Rutherford is the only one not promoted, but it turns out he has been offered promotions due to numerous engineering miracles but rejected them based on loyalty with the friends and didn't want to skip ahead. He then simply asks for one of his previous promotions to go through and is given it without question.

    Real Life 
  • This is increasingly the case due to the practice of outsourcing non-core business functions. Previously one could break into a large organization by gaining an entry-level position in the "mail room" or as a janitor, food service, or clerical worker and then apply to other positions internally. Now, despite working within the walls of the larger organization, these low-level workers are only employees of the narrowly-focused outsourcing agency that have practically no pathways for advancement.
  • Many jobs have a defined pay band, so no matter how long an employee is in the job or how good a job they do, the only way to earn an official promotion is to apply to and be accepted into a different job that has a higher "rank". Employees may also find themselves "tracked" in that someone in a technical or support position is not able to break onto a management track due to a perceived lack of experience that they can never actually acquire since a prerequisite is holding a management position.
    • This can also be subverted, as some organisations that use pay bands try to solve the latter issue by recruiting people a grade below for short-term assignments (either to cover a planned absence such as maternity/paternity leave, or as part of a short-term project) and giving them a Temporary Responsibility Allowance (TRA) on top of their normal pay. You don't get as much as you would if it was a permanent post, and you'll be back to your own job when you're done but you do get the experience to put onto your CV/Resume.
  • As one ascends up the officer ranks in the US military, this becomes increasingly true. This is because federal law places a hard limit on how many people can hold a certain high rank per service in a given year. The higher the rank, the fewer the billets (positions) that are available. Obviously the number of four star generals and admirals is capped at the lowest number. This makes advancement to higher and higher ranks very competitive.


Video Example(s):


Admiral Buenamigo

Admiral Buenamigo reveals he did some very illegal and dangerous stuff to make a name for himself as admiral. Freeman actually lampshades this, insisting that he isn't a "bad-faith admiral up to no good" and is better than this. He bluntly says that he isn't, then turns the Aledo on the Cerritos to silence them, ignoring Rutherford's warning about how unstable the A.I. is, which ends up costing his life.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (33 votes)

Example of:

Main / InsaneAdmiral

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