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Misplaced Retribution

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Also known as "Displaced Aggression."

[The Shield, who claims to fight injustice, ambushes Kane and Daniel Bryan, who are faces]
Josh Mathews: What injustice did Daniel Bryan do here tonight, John?
John "Bradshaw" Layfield: He's associated with Kane, that's enough.

Some retaliation exceeds what's being retaliated to in its severity. But some retaliation isn't even along the same line; it's directed at those who can't reasonably be blamed for what you're retaliating for, except according to exceedingly shaky justifications, or even no real justification at all (or the culprit stole the victim's identity). Whether it is worse than what is retaliated to or milder, the point remains that it is still indefensibly directed at the wrong targets.

Closely related to Mis-blamed. Can result in a Misdirected Outburst. A Sister Trope to Disproportionate Retribution and Revenge by Proxy (and so more often than not Moral Event Horizon-worthy). Similar to Cartesian Karma, Guilt by Association Gag, and Karmic Misfire. I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure is when one uses this trope as a threat. Abusive Parents and Domestic Abuse may apply to this trope. It's one of the many ways in which a Cycle of Revenge can get ugly. Avenging the Villain is also related, since The Hero (or whoever killed the villain) is usually either blameless or justified. Yet another related trope is Bewildering Punishment, which is what this trope probably feels like from the victim's POV. The Chain of Harm can result if the victim goes on to inflict this on somebody else. The Butt-Monkey or Cosmic Plaything is often on the receiving end of this when it's Played for Laughs. For cases where someone deliberately ensures this happens, see Frame-Up and The Scapegoat. Not to be confused with Never My Fault (which CAN, through the aforementioned Frame-Up and The Scapegoat, cause Misplaced Retribution).


Truth in Television, of course. From a psychoanalytic point of view, this is called displacement, and occurs when someone who feels under attack emotionally retaliates against someone who is a better victim than the aggressor - for some reason, it is more viable to emotionally attack this new target than the aggressor. Blame the Paramour often overlaps with this; in that trope, regardless of how a cheating lover behaved, it's the new lover who is blamed, regardless of the circumstances that caused around the affair.

See Murder by Mistake when this trope is taken to the extreme.



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    Asian Animation 
  • In the Noonbory and the Super 7 episode "Problem Peach", Rosygury blames the Super Sensors for her lilies being crushed, even though it was Lukybory who brought the giant peach to her garden.
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Joys of Seasons episode 36, Mr. Slowy is mad at Weslie, Paddi, and Sparky because he thinks they're trying to make excuses for not doing their homework. Wolffy and Wolnie come to the goats' school dressed as goats to capture Mr. Slowy, but he thinks they're the goat boys and places them in a cage with a robot that chases them - a cage and robot meant for the actual goat boys.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In "Hans the Hedgehog": The daughter of the first king bears the brunt of Hans' revenge for her father's not keeping his promise, in which she played no direct role. Hans violently assaults her, accuses her of deceit, and sends her home disgraced for the rest of her life, but no further punishment befalls her father.

    Films — Animation 
  • Incredibles 2: Screenslaver/Evelyn Deavors's motive is to make Supers illegal forever because she blames them for the deaths of her parents. Her father was trying to call for his Super friends, but was shot by home invaders, and her mother died of heartbreak. However, not only was it not the Supers' fault, as the law made them illegal and therefore unable to help, but she shows no anger towards the men who actually killed her father. In fact, she offers no solutions to stop crises from happening without Supers. Ultimately, she just wants to blame someone for her parents' deaths rather than do any actual good for the world.
  • The Lion King II: Simba's Pride: Zira blames Simba for the death of Scar and spends years plotting revenge against him. However, it was Scar's own hyena minions who killed him after they overheard him trying to blame them for everything that he'd done.
  • Reign of the Supermen sees Cyborg-Superman blame the real Superman for getting his shuttle crew killed rather than Darkseid, who created and sent Doomsday in the meteor that crashed into the shuttle, or himself, who stalled leaving in the hopes that Superman would save them.
  • In Turning Red, after catching Mei at a party, Ming wrongfully blames Mei's friends for encouraging her to hustle the panda. Mei herself is hurt by her mother pinning her actions on her own friends, and this is what helps Mei realize that it's actually Ming who needs more help.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Classical Mythology:
    • This was endemic among the Greek gods. "Zeus seduces (or flat out rapes) a mortal woman, then his wife afflicts that woman and/or her son with a curse as punishment" is a fairly typical plot outline, and the other gods weren't much better. Though because Zeus was simply too powerful for any of Hera's curses to have any effect on him, and Zeus actually does care about his mortal lovers and demigod sons there actually was a twisted logic to her actions.
    • A well-known version of the Medusa myth shares a similar theme. Medusa was a beautiful woman who was raped in Athena's temple by the god Poseidon. Athena was so enraged by her temple being violated that she of course curses Medusa, apparently for not being able to fend off a god, turning her into a gorgon. Some versions even have Athena take it one step further and cursing her sisters too.
    • Aphrodite has a bad habit of doing this whenever there's someone who made a Blasphemous Boast that a certain woman is more beautiful than her. Just ask Psyche and Myrrha about this. In Psyche's case it was particularly bad, since it was her suitors who made the claim, not Psyche herself. On the other hand, she got off lucky because Aphrodite assigned her son Eros to carry out the retribution... and he promptly fell in love with Psyche.
  • With Omniscient Morality License, God in the Bible has a few instances of this.
    • When King David has an affair with Bathsheba, while putting her husband Uriah out in the front of the military to be killed, God kills David and Bathsheba's first child. Granted, upon this happening David is extremely regretful and atones.
    • Although not exactly a case of retribution, the fact that Job's first family gets killed just to test his faith is seen as unfair by many. They had done nothing wrong, and weren't the ones being tested either. Job gets a new family as a reward for his unwavering faith, but it doesn't change the fact that the first one is still dead.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Infamously, Konnan bashing Carly's father and sister over the head with a guitar because Carly lost them the tag team championships they held in WWC.
  • In a case of "not being available", BJ Whitmer assaulted Lucy because her boyfriend, who had knock him unconscious and joked about it, happened to be in Japan at the time. Punk would show his displeasure upon return by attacking the Outcast Killers for trying to cheer him up with beer and then threatening to kill a member of the Ring of Honor locker room if the guilty party did not come forward.
  • When Kurt Angle brought his wife into TNA she disapproved of his Tag Team partner Sting and pretended that Sting had slapped her to break them up. However, she thought Angle went too far when he decided to go after Sting's son in revenge.
  • Prince Nana hired Bison Smith to attack members of the ROH roster to get back at the company for not hiring him back when he lost his fortune.
  • Chance Prophet attacked Goldust, particularly in IWA East Coast, because Goldust reminded him of a bully he was prevented from killing in his boyhood.
  • The C4 riot in SHINE had its roots in the fact LuFisto was angry at seeing wrestlers on television use her moves and claim they had come up with them. The only wrestlers in SHINE who were on television at the time were Allysin Kay, Marti Belle and Ivelisse Vélez, none of whom were among the guilty parties, not to mention that after they got their hands on the latter C4 continued to call out and assault wrestlers in the locker room for the crimes of squeezing Kennadi Brink onto shows, Andrea not being rewarded for being in two prior stables that terrorized SHINE and Amber O'Neal's face not being on the last promotional poster.

  • Bleak Expectations: Pretty much every Geoffrey Whitehead character of the week seeks vengeance on Pip Bin for murdering all the other members of their family... except Pip is rarely the one to actually kill them, even indirectly. More often than not they're done in by something of their own making or Mr. Benevolent killing them For the Evulz. Of course, it'd probably help Pip if he stopped taking the credit for their deaths.

  • Julius Caesar: In real life, after the murder of Julius Caesar, the poet Helvius Cinna was killed by a vengeful mob because he was mistaken for Cornelius Cinna, one of Caesar's killers. In William Shakespeare's dramatization of the event, Helvius is killed because his name is Cinna, despite his protests that he had nothing to do with the assassination.
    Cinna: Truly, my name is Cinna.
    1st Citizen: Tear him to pieces, he's a conspirator.
    Cinna: I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet.
    4th Citizen: Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses.
    Cinna: I am not Cinna the conspirator.
    4th Citizen: It is no matter, his name's Cinna. Pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going.
  • In Ragtime, Coalhouse is furious over the death of his One True Love Sarah at the hands of the Secret Service, so he unleashes a Roaring Rampage of Revenge on... the firefighters who destroyed his car earlier in the play. While the two events are not entirely unrelated (Sarah was trying to help Coalhouse get justice for the car when she was killed), the firefighters had no actual part in the incident that actually caused Sarah's death.

    Urban Legends 
  • An old urban legend involves a man finding a strange car driven by a strange man in his driveway, assumes it belongs to his wife's lover, and pours cement into it. Turns out the wife bought him a new car, and the man inside is the car salesman. An alternate ending is that the wife was having an affair, but her lover rides away on a bicycle.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Any time Franziska gets offended by someone she cannot whip, she immediately whips someone nearby, often Phoenix, Edgeworth or Gumshoe.
    • In a more serious sense, this is Godot's entire motivation; Dahlia Hawthorne poisons him and sends him into a coma for years; when he wakes up, Dahlia is on death row for a separate crime (murdering an ex-boyfriend and framing Phoenix for it), and his girlfriend Mia has been murdered. Godot blames her protege Phoenix for failing to protect her as Psychological Projection for his own self-loathing, despite neither man being in any way responsible (in fact, Phoenix caught her real killer), because both of the people he could legitimately blame- Dahlia Hawthorne and Redd White- were already out of the picture. So he becomes a prosecutor and dedicates himself to making Phoenix's days in court hell for something Phoenix never did, because justice caught up to the people he really hated before he could. He eventually kills Misty Fey as part of a plot to save Maya, when he could have done just as well just telling Phoenix... but his need to make up for failing to save Mia meant he refused to acknowledge this until too late.
    • This is also Marlon Rimes's motivation for framing the orca for murder in the DLC case of Dual Destinies, "Turnabout Reclaimed". Marlon thought that the orca had killed his girlfriend, when in reality she died of a heart condition, and both the orca and the orca's predecessor were innocent. In fact, his original plan was to kill the orca, but then the victim of the case interfered.
    • The Great Ace Attorney: Kazuma Asogi catches a bad case of this when he prosecutes the final case. Kazuma's father Genshin was erroneously convicted as a Serial Killer 10 years ago, and he desires revenge on Barok van Zieks for being the prosecutor in that case... even as evidence mounts that Barok was an Unwitting Pawn who was made the prosecutor specifically because the real mastermind knew Barok was too blinded by emotion to see past the mastermind's plot to frame Genshin... and that said mastermind is currently counting on Kazuma likewise being too blinded by revenge against Barok to realize that Mael Stronghart was behind everything both of them suffered.
  • In case 2 of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Fuyuhiko and his Violently Protective Girlfriend Peko murdered Mahiru after Monokuma told them that she was involved in the death of his sister and helped Destroy the Evidence. However Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School retcons it so that Mahiru was never involved at all, and this was wholly one of Monokuma's manipulations.
  • In Daughter for Dessert, Cecilia blames the protagonist for Lainie’s death, but Lainie herself eschewed the treatment that could have saved her life, and hid her illness from him until she died. If Cecilia were to blame someone other than Lainie, it would most reasonably be her father, who had cut her off prior to the whole incident.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • Cinder says this almost word-for-word about Neo's grudge against her for Roman Torchwick's death, before convincing her it's Ruby's fault. In reality, Torchwick himself was probably the most to blame, as he made made himself a very tempting target for nearby Grimm with a Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids! speech. Cinder and Ruby were both involved in the circumstances that led up to Roman's death (Cinder's plot is the reason Grimm were everywhere, and Ruby angered Roman by knocking Neo away), and though neither actually caused it, Neo is determined to take out her grief on someone.
      Cinder: I don't have time for your misplaced blame, girl.
    • Gretchen Rainart was killed by the Grimm while working for Ozpin. Her brother Hazel desires revenge, but instead of blaming the Grimm or their master, Salem, he irrationally blames Ozpin, accusing him of tricking Gretchen and other children into working for him to sacrifice themselves and unable to see that Gretchen made her own choice. He even joins Salem and helps her and the Grimm kill a lot more children just to destroy Ozpin, saying every child he and his comrades kill will be on Ozpin's head. The episode "War" reveals that Hazel did try to attack Salem first, but he couldn't defeat her because of her immortality. Salem then convinced him to join her and direct his anger on Ozpin.
  • In Red vs. Blue, Temple has a good reason to hate Project Freelancer (Most of the main cast are part of that particular club). However, most of its employees were doing their jobs and entirely unaware of the shadier parts of the operation, and some were victims of it themselves (Like poor Washington getting paired with Epsilon and having all of said A.I.'s mental issues dumped in his head, and Maine losing his voice and being mind raped by Sigma). The only two agents directly involved with his Start of Darkness were Tex and Carolina, but he hunted down every former agent he could find and killed them with armor lock. This includes Washington, who actually brought the project down with the help of the Blood Gulch Crew.
  • Today Is Spaceship Day: When Harrison, Charlie and Dexter end up in an empty planet, Harrison is annoyed by Charlie not thinking it's incredible, so he fiercely slaps Dexter in response.

  • In this Vegan Artbook strip, Shawn says something to Sterk about veganism not being the be-all and end-all of animal welfare. Sterk's response is to apathetically sit by as bad things happen to the vegan characters right in front of him. Later, the vegans dogpile Shawn and beat the crap out of him. And the comic being what it is, this is not treated as misplaced at all; after all, Shawn is at fault for Sterk's inaction by virtue of not being vegan. What's more, Sterk even all but admitted that he wanted his friends to beat Shawn to a pulp.

    Web Original 
  • On the Dream SMP, Niki falls into this near the end of Season 2 and the first part of Season 3. Being constantly ignored, talked over, and suffering from the actions of others had taken its toll on her, which caused her to seek revenge. She targeted Tommy, seeing him as the cause of her problems, and falls into unreasonable rage (as a part of her character's arc, as confirmed by Niki the streamer herself) to the point of trying to kill him, such as by leading him into the blast zone of a nuke. Tommy's death in a later, separate incident finally got her to realize that Tommy's just as much of a victim as she is, and begins to heal from this mindset by building a new support system in the Syndicate.
  • In the tenth episode of the Markiplier Red Dead Redemption II playthrough, near the end of the video, Mark exits a clothing shop in Saint Denis wearing a gaudy assortment of clothing, topped off by the bear hat that Mark has been obsessed with since acquiring it. Upon exiting, he marvels at his own appearance, only for an NPC to comment, "What an appalling way to look." the exact moment Mark finishes speaking. Queue a beat. What follows is Mark issuing a sudden and brutal profanity-laden beatdown with murderous intent upon...the man standing immediately beside the man who actually insulted him.
  • During the Yogscast miniseries Cornerstone, Smiffy of Hat Films steals Sjin's jetpack, causing Sjin to murder Ross, who wasn't even there. To make matters worse, Smiffy had actually put in another jetpack for charging, then returned the one he stole.


Video Example(s):


See What happen's Larry!

Walter assumes the new Corvette in front of a house belongs to Larry, who Walter thinks stole the $1 million, so he smashes it with a crowbar. It turns out to belong to Larry's neighbour, who takes the crowbar and starts smashing The Dude's car, which The Dude quickly points out doesn't belong to Walter.

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Example of:

Main / MisplacedRetribution

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