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Missing Steps Plan
aka: Step Three Profit

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At least it's straightforward.

"We have it all figured out!
Step One: we land the Exodar.
Step Three: we defeat the Legion and go home.
There is only one detail missing...."
— Male draenei joke from World of Warcraft

A Missing Steps Plan is an ill-conceived scheme that lacks the "scheme", or at least a well-thought-out one. Often, it's not even clear how The Plan is supposed to work — but the planner thinks it's such a good idea or wants it to work so badly that they've convinced themselves that it just has to work out. Even if they have no idea how it's going to work out.

The goal can be anything, such as "make a huge profit," "get the girl," "world domination," and "win." The point is that the plan contains a specific first step and a final step that benefits the planner, but misses a way to connect the two ends.

The implementation of the scheme is sometimes, but not always, ridiculously more expensive than any money they could hope to make on the off-chance the scheme is successful. Sometimes, it just flat out does not make sense — but due to the Unspoken Plan Guarantee, if anyone points this out it will of course succeed without a hitch.

See also Cut Lex Luthor a Check for when the intellect and hard work used to advance the plan would be far more profitable to the character if he just did an honest day's work, rather than work on his Evil Plan. When the character develops the middle steps as he goes along, it becomes an Indy Ploy. If the middle step is unstated but becomes clear during implementation, it's an Unspoken Plan Guarantee. Compare also the Slippery Slope Fallacy (which is sort of like "Step three: loss"). Murder the Hypotenuse is an extreme example of "then I get the girl"-style plan. When Steps One and Two are all nice and clear but Step Three (the actual goal) is lacking, see And Then What?. If all the steps are defined, but there are far more than there should be, that's Complexity Addiction. Also compare There Is No Rule Six.

A subtrope of Non Sequitur. Also known for achieving Meme Status.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Pretty much everything Ichigo ever does in Bleach revolves around this. Step 1: Invade the Soul Society. Step 3: Rescue Rukia... Step 1: Invade Hueco Mundo. Step 3: Rescue Orihime. It's even his view on combat. Step 1: Engage someone vastly more powerful than you. Step 3: Win. Of course thanks to being an Invincible Hero, he always manages to come out on top.
  • Invoked in The Devil is a Part-Timer!. Climb the economic ladder in MgRonald's. Conquer the World!
    • Fascinatingly enough, the protagonist does have reasons for this: He started out as a lowly soldier before being rescued and taught several various topics that allowed him to rise up and eventually become Demon King. As such, he had prior experience. It makes sense he figures he could start as a fast food worker and make his way to the top, especially since he's immortal and has time on his side. Though how becoming the CEO of MgRonald's would lead to taking over the world remains unclear.
  • Dragon Ball Super: Stymied on how they can defeat Zamasu (who has become immortal), Goku suggests that he and Vegeta can become immortal themselves, by... eating a lot of senzu beans. He never tries to explain how this would work, and when the other characters call him out on it, he admits he was just saying whatever random thoughts popped into his head without actually thinking about it..
  • The King in Dragon Half starts the series trying to murder Mink's father so that he can marry Mink's mother. This at least will result in Mink's mother be available for marriage, though it's missing steps on how to make her interested in marrying the person responsible for her husband's death. After the King first encounters Mink, he discards that plan in favor of trying to kill Mink instead, a plan which makes even less sense in light of the ultimate goal.
  • The SOS Brigade's Valentine's Day chocolate-making meeting in Haruhi-chan had the following steps:
    Phase 1: Make chocolate.
    Phase 2: Powder chocolate.
    Phase 3: Wrap chocolate.
    Phase 4: Unwrap and eat chocolate.
    Phase 5: ?
    Phase 6: Profit.
  • Naruto: Madara Uchiha's plan to become a Physical God and conquer the world in the Lotus-Eater Machine approximately looks like this:
    Step 1: Transplant your eyes into a boy from an almost extinct clan and leave him unattended in war-torn country.
    Step 2: Find a boy from clan Uchiha and drive him crazy to make him want to help you execute your plan.
    Step 3: Teach him everything you know and commit suicide, telling him that in the future he will have to revive you, with the help of the boy whom you transplanted your eyes into earlier.
    Step 4: ???
    Step 5: Trap the entire world in a dream so no one can die.
    • In particular, missing in Step 4 is how Obito should force Nagato to revive him, or what to do if Nagato dies before Obito can use him to resurrect Madara. Or what if Obito just doesn't want to resurrect him in the first place. Admittedly, Madara had Black Zetsu around to keep the plan going smoothly while he's dead, but that's still a lot of work that boils down to "hope it works out".
  • One Piece: This starts out as Trafalgar Law's plan for how and an alliance of himself and Luffy will overthrow one of the Four Emperors, Kaido. Step 1: Take down Doflamingo. Step 2: ? Step 3: Take down Kaido. He says he'll tell Luffy and his crew the next phase when they get to it, but he doesn't actually have a next phase. This is because initially, Law doesn't actually care about Kaido at all. His priority is revenge on Doflamingo and his real plan is to sabotage Doflamingo's ability to make weapons for Kaido, which will result in Kaido killing Doflamingo. But when that sabotage mission escalates into Law and Luffy fighting Doflamingo directly and taking him down themselves, that means it's now them who will be the targets of Kaido's vengeance. So now Law has to actually come up with a Step 2. And try his best to account for the fact that Luffy will do his own thing rather than sticking to the plan.
  • Virtually every plan by Team Rocket in the Pokémon: The Series. It says something when the Terrible Trio finally got one of the twerp's Pokémon and presents it to their boss, only failing to give him a reason to consider it valuable note . Throughout the middle of the series, almost every episode has the trio planning to steal the Pokémon of the week, followed by Meowth coming up with some way (usually far-fetched and trivial) that the boss could actually use it.
  • Princess Jellyfish: Kuranosuke's plan to stop the tearing down of the Amamizu-kan boarding house:
    Phase 1: Clean up nicely the Sisterhood.
    Phase 2: ?
    Phase 3: Amamizu-kan saved
  • In Saki Achiga-hen, Shizuno's plan after seeing Nodoka playing mahjong on TV is as follows.
    1. Go to Achiga All Girls Academy
    2. ?
    3. Go to the nationals in the mahjong tournament
    4. Face Nodoka again!
    • Shizuno gets the main flaws in her plan (she not only has to reform the Achiga mahjong club, but also get good enough to defeat Bansei) pointed out to her by her more level-headed friend, Ako, though, and realizes she has a point. Thankfully, their mutual friend Kuro has been cleaning the classroom for two years in the hopes that someone would come back, and brings in her sister and another friend.
  • The title character of Squid Girl has come up with a Take Over the World plot which goes like this:
    Phase 1: Turn Lemon Beach House into a home base.
    Phase 2: ?
    Phase 3: Conquer Earth.
  • Buried under half a dozen plans in Touhou Project's official manga Silent Sinner in Blue are two protagonists and one vampire who have unabashedly embraced the Missing Steps Plan. There are hints early on the vampire might be deliberately playing the fool here; she really couldn't have planned a step 2, but may have known about step 4 (collect gratitude and compensation for pretending the Missing Steps Plan was your idea). The other two are just used to plans like this, as under the Video Games section below.
    1. Go to the Moon
    2. ?
    3. Profit
  • Played for Laughs by Evil Organization Florsheim from Tentai Senshi Sunred. Their plan, as laid out in the first episode, is literally:
    Step 1: Defeat Sunred
    Step 2: Take Over the World
    • How, exactly, they are planning to fulfill Step 2 is never revealed; Florsheim refuse to start workshopping Step 2 until Step 1 is complete because all Evil Organizations know you have to fight the Hero before you can take over the world. Step 1, meanwhile, usually involves getting a Monster of the Week to fight Sunred, which never works because Sunred is a Comically Invincible Hero (retired).

    Comic Books 
  • The villains in Chick Tracts can sometimes fall into this, such as the gay rights group who wanted to make sure their children wouldn't be bullied by infecting the Red Cross' donor blood supply (which was kept in a huge vat) with AIDS.
  • The evil organization F.AN.G. (Fear, ANger, Greed) from Disney Adventures's Spy Kids comics runs on this.
    • On one issue, they stole the heads on Mt. Rushmore to mount them on a giant robot body, only to find they had no plan for what the giant robot was supposed to do afterward.
    • In another issue, they planned to destroy all the cereal in the world so that their 1 million dollar cereal "Fang Flakes" would create a cereal monopoly. How did they plan to destroy all the cereal in the world? They forgot to figure out how.
  • Jack of Fables never-ending series of get-rich-quick cons either fall into this trope, or Didn't Think This Through. The very first arc was the aftermath of his attempt to take advantage of the dotcom bubble (a fairly long time after it had already burst) via a scheme to have a notoriously amoral and vengeful Fable unwittingly finance it, and the ensuing "Fawlty Towers" Plot to cover it up. His partner in that particular escapade Rose Red also fell into this at first, though she gets loads of Character Development and matures, while Jack remains perennially incapable of foreseeing the likely consequences of his actions.
  • ''My Little Pony: Friends Forever": Applejack's business plan from issue 8 turns out to be this. This is ultimately deconstructed (of all the things to deconstruct) when Rarity explains Applejack is supposed to strike a deal with a potential middleman, not just set up a fruit stand like she does in her home town.
    Phase 1: Sell apples
    Phase 2: ???
    Phase 3: Turn a profit. (Somewhat more thought out than most.)
  • In one issue of The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Skullcruncher - a former Decepticon who's made a career in comedy out of making jokes about his previous profession - jokes that the Infiltration Protocol (introduced much earlier but never fully explained) is one of these.
    Skullcruncher: Let em tell you, the Infiltration Protocol is the greatest mystery of our time. Phase 1 is Infiltration, obviously. Phase 2 is..."stirring things up," I'll accept that. Phase 2 is Destabilization. Okay, so phase 3. Can anyone tell me what phase 3 is? Anyone? No, because no one knows...Ah, but [Megatron's Heel–Face Turn] is a ruse, that's what they say, the deniers. He's staging his own Infiltration Protocol...He's trapped on board this ship with these Autobots, he's pretending to be a good guy, he's agreed to stand trial for his crimes - he can't back down now - and he's like, "What the hell is Phase 3? I should know this! I invented this! Why didn't I write it down?!"

    Fan Works 
  • Becoming a True Invader: Zim's plan for conquering the Irken Empire basically amounts to "go in, doom everything, I win". Dib is extremely disappointed to hear this, as is Zim when the obvious flaws occur to him, but he quickly bounces back and starts ironing out the details.
  • In The Boys: Real Justice, Homelander decides to try and discredit the Justice League by leading the Seven against villains from the other Earth to demonstrate the inefficacy of the League's Thou Shalt Not Kill rule. This is missing the fact that none of the Seven were capable of defeating any of the previous DC villains they faced, to the extent that they were all humiliated by the other universe's villains and only survived because killing the heroes wasn't the goal; Stormfront in particular was only spared through sheer luck. Once Homelander leads The Seven to fight the Legion of Doom, predominantly composed of the Justice League's archnemeses, the fight rapidly turns into a massacre.
  • Death Note: The Abridged Series (kpts4tv) changes Light Yagami's grand scheme to:
    1: Kill celebrities.
    2: Distract the media with their deaths.
    3: ???
    4: Become god of the new world.
  • For the Glory of Irk: As Therron points out in Chapter 51, the Syndicate and Irken Resistance's plan for having CB take on the Control Brains seems to be missing a lot of details. As everyone else points out, they don't have a lot of options.
  • In If I Could Start Again, Thor's plan for dealing with Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian to stop Thanos from expanding his army isn't well thought out at all. It basically amounts to 1.) find them, 2.) learn about the army they were gathering, and 3.) kill them and the army. As Black Widow points out, that's not a plan, but a list of objectives.
  • In The Karma of Lies, Marinette Dupain-Cheng confronts Lila Rossi after she runs away from Paris having stolen 50 million Euros of the Agreste fortune and left Adrien Agreste holding the (karmic) bag for her Insidious Rumor Mill and delivers a Paranoia Gambit that if she continues her con artist ways she will surely be killed before walking away. The original fanfic implies that the facts Marinette mentioned (and Lila knows one of the Miraculous has the power of time travel) did an acceptable job scaring her straight, but two Recursive Fanfictions (Karmic Backlash and Karma Overbalance), revolve around the possibility that Marinette's gambit is this kind of plan, and in both fics it fails because Marinette forgot that two things Lila hates above all are Marinette and not being in control.
  • Chapter 10 of The Last Pony on Earth has the protagonist make one of these, and this is when one of his priorities (apart from finding other survivors) is to regain his human body—therefore, the final step is "Human again!". He then adds that "hopefully whoever's reading this already knows what we did for six, because this crisis is over and everything's back to normal."
  • In Lucy's Unwanted House Guest!, Lisanna's plan to deal with Lucy is as follows. Coincidentally, she happens to find just the thing she needs to fill in the missing step before it's too late.
    1)Hire some guys to disguise as Team Natsu and beat up Lucy.
    3)Everyone's convinced that Team Natsu beat Lucy up.
  • The MLP Loops: Most of Starlight Glimmer's plans, similar to those in the show, are lacking in forethought. And those are usually the better ones. One Loop has her trying to replace Applejack. Her attempt is terrible - the disguise is see-through, she doesn't look anything like Applejack, hasn't bothered to hide her horn, and her accent is atrocious. Applejack had already stopped her before Twilight even caught up to her. Another has her replace Pinkie Pie, and when "caught" admits replacing Pinkie Pie was the entire plan.
  • Professor Arc: Ruby's plan to win over Jaune is get him alone and then somehow they'd be in love. In a self-aware moment, she knows she's missing the middle part due to her lack of real-world knowledge of how romantic relationships work, but doesn't really have anything better to go off of.
  • In Sword Art Online Abridged:
    • Yolko and Caynz's plan is to pretend to be ghosts and guilt the guildmate they believe to be responsible for Griselda's murder into confessing. But Yolko also got Kirito and Asuna involved, which serves no purpose in this plan.
      Yolko: I'm sorry Caynz, I entangled him in our web of lies.
      Caynz: WHYYY!?
      Yolko: Well, I mean it was very important that he, um... huh.
    • The entire scenario turns out to be the result of one of these, with the person enacting it aware of it and deciding to fill in the blanks later. Kayaba accidentally created a glitch that killed players, and was losing his mind from sleep deprivation after rushing out the game, so the best solution he could come up with was to pretend I Meant to Do That. After two years he never manages to fill in the missing step, at least in part because he was forced to intervene after a fifth of the player population managed to die in just the first month.
      1. Trap everyone in the game and tell them they have to Win to Exit.
      2. Work on finding a better solution while keeping the players as hostages in case the feds come after you.
      4. Avoid jail and bad Metacritic scores.
  • In Violence Inherent in the System, a daimon seed possesses Konatsu and sucks energy crystals out of Ukyo's customers.
    Technically, its primary function was already complete. Daimons were originally designed to take Pure Heart Crystals and follow their master's orders. This daimon already had plenty of crystals... but there was no master around to give it further instructions apart from repeating step one. Sure, step three was 'profit', but there seemed to be no step two today.
  • White Sheep (RWBY):
    • When it comes to who leads the White Fang, Blake sees Sienna as the lesser evil to Adam and his followers. Blake's plan to dethrone the Cult of Adam in favor of Sienna is: "Get into the White Fang. Be recruited. Put our support behind Sienna. Find and close down the fanatics. Something. Profit." Blake hopes that as the team leader, Ren can fill in the gap.
    • Subverted when Qrow and Ozpin meet up with Jaune's team. Jaune has a fine plan: Go to Mistral, get supplies and transportation from one of his mother's allies, go to the Grimmlands, infiltrate Salem's tower (which Jaune knows well because he grew up there), and rescue Pyrrha (who they know is alive because Salem sent them a selfie). The problem is, Qrow and Ozpin are Locked Out of the Loop regarding Jaune being the son of Salem, so it sounds like "Go to Mistral, get to the Grimmlands somehow, and rescue someone we have no proof is even alive." Jaune has to admit he wouldn't follow that plan either, and doesn't blame Ozpin for trying to take over.
  • The Wolves in the Woods (Miraculous Ladybug): After Marinette transfers to another school to get away from her bullying classmates, Alya plots to get her back with one such Zany Scheme. Step 1 entails spreading gossip about her new friends, ruining all their reputations. This will supposedly convince Marinette to dump them all, transfer back to her old school, and forgive all her former friends for the way they drove her out in the first place. Nino points out the obvious flaws in her plan, yet Alya continues to insist that he and the others just aren't seeing how brilliant and surefire it is.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Aliens: Done several times, most notably with their plans to escape once they discover the colony will soon self-destruct.
    Step 1: Send Bishop up through a narrow shaft up to the relay tower, as the safest route.
    Step 2: Bishop will remote-pilot the other drop-ship down to the relay tower.
    Step 3: ??
    Step 4: Everyone escapes!!
    • Notably missing in Step 3 is how the rest of the team was planning on getting up to him or when they were planning to do so. At no point after sending him are they concerned about leaving in time until after the battle where they have fled from the aliens. They even use welding devices to barricade themselves in without considering the effects on an escape plan. It is only through the luck of Newt pointing out the ventilation shafts to them that they have a method to reach Bishop.
    • Lesser examples would include the marines intending to rescue hostages while armed with weapons that will almost certainly cause collateral damage (flame-throwers, grenades, explosive ammunition, all against enemies that have acidic blood) and Burke intending to infect Ripley and Newt and then sabotaging the sleep pods of the remaining marines so he can bring the aliens past quarantine. While there *is* a Step 2 (use armed force to safely kill aliens while minimizing harm to civilians/sabotage all of the sleeping pods of the marines without them noticing, jettisoning the bodies, and then making up a plausible story), it's just that Step 2 is extremely unrealistic. The former is possibly justified because the marines are cocky and their commanding officer is inexperienced, while the latter is definitely justified because Burke is desperate.
  • The Avengers. Lampshaded by Tony pretty much immediately. "Right, got its attention. What the hell was step 2?"
    Step 1: Macross Missile Massacre the alien dragon to get its attention.
    Step 2: ???
    Step 3: Victory.
  • Batman (1989): The Joker plans to "run the city into the ground" and murder everyone at the Anniversary parade. He never gives any hint of what benefit that will be to organized crime, which is why the other mob bosses think he's crazy. Justified, in that Jack is crazy and just wants to watch the world burn. Taken a step further in the novelization when it's stated that the Smylex gas would be enough to cover half the city, and the Joker realizes while he's deploying the gas that he didn't think about what he was going to do with the other half of the city.
  • In the film BlackBerry, Jim Blasillie spends much of the movie planning to buy up the Pittsburgh Penguins and then move them to Hamilton, Ontario. He starts ordering the crews of the Copps Coliseum to remake the arena to hockey-only, brushing off how he'll have to pay millions in fines and fees for all the basketball contracts that were canceled. He calls up Carl Yankowski and offers him box seats for the first Hamilton game. Just one tiny problem: He does all this before the NHL owners meet to okay the deal, so he doesn't actually own the team yet. As soon as Yankowski tells the NHL that Blasillie is planning to move the Penguins to another country without their knowledge or permission, the owners unanimously veto the whole thing.
    Gary Bettman: You know, it’s funny. It’s one thing to have a secret plan to fuck over the NHL and move a team to Canada. It’s another thing to brag to your rich friends before you actually do it.
  • In the film and MST3K fodder Blood Waters of Dr. Z the mad scientist's plan is:
    Step 1: Transform self into fish monster.
    Step 2: ???
    Step 3: Rule world.
  • In the film Devil Fish, the creators of the eponymous sharktopus monster intend to use it to protect undersea resources so they can be exploited later. How they intend to kill the resulting swarms of infinitely reproducing horrors out of Lovecraft's worst nightmares is never made clear, nor is there any apparent impulse in the creatures themselves to seek out and defend areas with resources in them; they seem to prefer hanging around areas with plenty of divers and boats and eating people.
    Step 1: Create hideous sea monster that can reproduce From a Single Cell.
    Step 2: Hideous sea monsters protect undersea resources.
    Step 3: ???
    Step 4: We exploit the resources ourselves.
    Step 5: Profit!
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): In the wake of King Ghidorah's global takeover of the other Titans, and Monarch establishing that nothing can stop him now with Godzilla apparently gone, Mark Russell intends to depart Monarch's company to look for his daughter Madison before the world ends. This in spite of how Madison and the eco-terrorists she's fallen in with could be holed up literally anywhere in the entire world and Mark hasn't got the first idea where to start looking (as Sam Coleman points out), not to mention that Mark's efforts will likely be further hampered by the fact that the world is currently ending at Ghidorah's call, and never mind the question of how he'll avoid getting shot by Jonah's goons if he does find them without Monarch's military aid.
  • Help!: The mad scientists never actually explain how an indestructible ring will let them Take Over the World. Sure it's neat and everything but...
  • Hydrozagadka, which raises Makes As Much Sense In Context to an art form has the baddies try to execute the following Evil Plan:
    Step 1: Turn all the water in Warsaw into steam.
    Step 2: ???
    Step 3: When clouds form over Kabur, send up balloons with fridges attached to collect the water.
    Step 4: Sell it to the locals. Profit!
  • The Trojan rabbit scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, though in this case (part of) the problem is that the only person who knew what the missing steps were forgot to tell anyone what they were until it was too late to do them. As King Arthur and his knights watch from a distance as the French knights wheel the rabbit into their castle:
    Arthur: What happens now?
    Bedevere: Lancelot, Galahad and I leap out of the rabbit taking the French by surprise. Not only by surprise but totally unarmed.
    Arthur: (after a beat) Who leaps out?
    Bedevere: Uh, Lancelot...Galahad...and I...(not as confident) leap out of the rabbit (as the others groan long-suffering )...Look, perhaps if we built this large wooden badger...(Arthur slaps him)
  • Scanners III: The Takeover: Helena attempts to Take Over the World by using her scanning ability during a countrywide broadcast. Since the signal's effects depend on a non-stop, continuous broadcast, this would inevitably fail, as Helena would need to sleep or eat at some point. Of course, by this point she's also clearly insane by repeatedly dosing herself with Ephemerol-3, so she probably didn't put much thought into it.
  • Shivers (1975): The parasites are ostensibly to be a part of surgery-free medical treatment, but according to the Mad Scientist's notes, they are "a combination of aphrodisiac and venereal disease that will hopefully turn the world into one beautiful, mindless orgy". Somehow this will save the human race. Obviously, it wouldn't, for a plethora of reasons.note  Hobbes was just a loon.
  • Spider-Man's Green Goblin is never quite clear on what exactly his evil plan is, only that Spider-Man is the only one who can stop him from doing it and getting Spider-Man to join him in doing... whatever it is... will guarantee its success. However, this is slightly mitigated by the fact that the Goblin is completely insane, and is really just doing shit For the Evulz. (The Goblin has Norman's arrogance dialed up to eleven and with super-technology, and his obsession with making Spider-Man his protege mirrors Norman's greater fondness for Peter than his actual biological son, so at least the 'Spider-Man is necessary' part makes some degree of sense.)
    Step 1: Kill all those jerks who took my company away.
    Step 2: Get Spider-Man on board with Step 3, largely by hurting people he cares about.
    Step 3: ???
    Step 4: Profit.
  • Team America: World Police: Played for Laughs with Tim Robbins' explanation for how corporations make money through the team.
    Tim Robbins: Let me explain to you how this works: you see, the corporations finance Team America, and then Team America goes out... and the corporations sit there in their... in their corporation buildings, and... and, and see, they're all corporation-y... and they make money.

  • Pinocchio's plan at the beginning of the book (admittedly, he is only a day old or so):
    In school today, I’ll learn to read, tomorrow to write, and the day after tomorrow I’ll do arithmetic. Then, clever as I am, I can earn a lot of money.
  • Catch-22 has a comedic deconstruction, where Milo Minderbender spends chapters trying to figure out what step 2 is, including attempting to coat the cotton in chocolate and sell it as emergency rations.
    Step 1: Buy up the entire harvest of Egyptian cotton.
    Step 2: ???
    Step 3: Profit.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the computer Deep Thought was created to calculate the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. After calculating for seven and a half million years, it comes up with "42". Turns out the answer isn't very useful if you don't know the question...
  • In The Masked Empire: This is how Felassan describes the attempts of the Dalish to reclaim their lost home:
    "They have a wonderful new plan! It ends with the shemlen killing each other off, leaving the Dales free for the elves to rule. [It begins with] riding around in wagons pulled by deer. They're still working out the middle."
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • In The Hobbit, both Bilbo and Gandalf note that the Dwarves' plan to reclaim the Lonely Mountain leaves out the whole question of what they'll actually do about the fire-breathing dragon that stole it from them in the first place. The film version actually had a somewhat plausible plan: Steal back the crown jewels, use them to crown Thorin as King, and then have him call in alliances from the other dwarf nations to help deal with the dragon. The Dragon Smaug is able to bring Bilbo to complete stop by pointing out another missing step: after the Dwarves give Bilbo his share, how is he going to get it home? The book and film came up with different answers: In the book, he only took as much treasure as he could easily transport with a single pony (which was a tiny fraction of what he was due, though it still took him close to eighty years to spend it all). In the movie, he didn't take any of the treasure, instead claiming the smaller treasure trove left by the trolls much closer to home.
    • In Lord of the Rings, part of what motivates Boromir's brief turn is the realization that the Fellowship has no idea how to get the Ring into Mordor. Whatever route was originally planned went off the bridge with Gandalf, and the current route has them passing through a rocky labyrinth and then either well-traveled enemy ground or a treacherous marshland, while the orcs in the area know of their presence—not to mention the only entrance they know about is the Black Gate, one of the most well-guarded places on the planet. Frodo and Sam had even less of an idea for how to get around these problems until Gollum showed up.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Friends episode "The One In Vegas", Joey is convinced he's found his "identical hand twin", and that this will make his fortune. Somehow.
  • The Office (US): At a Dunder-Mifflin shareholder meeting, Michael attempts to pacify the crowd with a 45-day, 45-point plan for staving off bankruptcy, to be generated during a 15 minute break.
    Day 45, company saved. Day 44, go. What do we got?
    • The business plan of the short-lived Michael Scott Paper Company basically amounted to this too, considering they had no real capital or paper to sell. (At some point they got some, although it's not explained how).
  • Saturday Night Live had a sketch where a bank just made change, nothing else. When asked how they managed to stay in business, the spokesman replied, "Volume".
  • Taken to another level on My Family with a plan that doesn't even have a Step One.
    Nick: I’m going to become a dot-com millionaire.
    Ben: Really? That’s great. So, shouldn’t you, like, get a good idea first?
    Nick: But it is a good idea. Dot-com millionaire.
  • The "Money Momentum" scam sketch from The Kids in the Hall, with Those Two Guys targeting senior citizens.
  • In the 4th season of Parks and Recreation, Tom Haverford's friend and partner in get-rich-quick schemes, Jean-Ralphio receives a large sum of money and the two create a business called Entertainment 720. This business consists of a large office filled with people whose only purpose is to entertain them, a lot of merchandise with their name on it, and a load of expensive giveaways, based on the logic that successful businesses have these things, so that's all they need for success. What they completely ignored was the middle step that involves actually making money or knowing what their company is supposed to do at all. Tom actually does have a semi-coherent idea: organizing/promoting events, which plays to his strengths as a party planner. Unfortunately by the time he tries going through with the idea, the company's already bankrupt.
  • In season 3 of Shameless (US) this is essentially Jimmy's plan for the future. He is in love with Fiona but is also in a Citizenship Marriage with a drug lord's daughter. He is broke but cannot go back to stealing cars for a living since being arrested would get his wife deported and her drug lord father would be violently pissed off if that happened. Jimmy then hits on the idea to go back to university and become a doctor. Not only does he lack the funds to do so but there is no guarantee that he would graduate given his temperament. Everyone else sees the idea as horribly mistimed but Jimmy holds onto it like an Idiot Ball.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Barney is usually a master of the Batman Gambit when it comes to getting women to sleep with him. But one of his last plays, "Weekend at Barney's" falls into this. It's not clear how his plan of pretending to be dead while his friends "pretend" that he's still alive was intended to make women attracted to him.
  • In Once Upon a Time episode "The New Neverland", Snow has one of these in regards to stopping the Evil Queen from casting her spell. Step 1: Kill Medusa. Step 2: ????. Step 3: Regina's defeated! This is even lampshaded by Prince Charming who asks how exactly killing Medusa will help, does she plan on sending Regina Medusa's head in a box? Not only does this plan fail miserably, but Charming is very nearly killed.
  • In Blood & Treasure, Danny and Lexi track down Keeler, a man who masterminded the brilliant theft of ten nearly priceless rare paintings. Keeler had put major effort into a heist so amazing that professional thief Lexi is impressed by it. They track Keeler down to find he's working at a rough shack in Havana. They press him on where they can find one of the paintings and to their shock, Keeler pulls the entire pack out from under the counter. He sardonically notes that he was so focused on stealing the paintings that it didn't occur to him until too late that the paintings were so rare and priceless and the heist was such a huge deal that there was no way he could sell any of them even on the black market ("I couldn't give them away!"). Thus, instead of retiring as a rich man, he's been stuck eking out a meager living in Havana while sitting on a fortune in art.
  • The classic Diagnosis: Murder episode "Till Death Do Us Part" has newlyweds Cindy and Phillip conspire to kill Cindy's dad, frame her stepmother for it and they inherit everything. An extended Imagine Spot has the pair going through their plan, which appears very well done, taking into account eventualities and even using resident doctor/sleuth Mark Sloan to find the evidence they've planted to implicate Denise. Then comes the actual murder...where nothing goes to plan. It's soon clear that it never occurred to the pair that it might have been a good idea to practice a run-through just in case, say, Phillip has more trouble than expected getting the cap off the vial of poison or Cindy finding that running from one room to the other in her wedding dress isn't so easy or they can't even get out of bed on time. Just one "rehearsal" and the pair would have gotten away with it.
  • In Mrs. Davis the Sisterhood is dedicated to spreading the word of the Holy Grail to the masses. Mathilde announces she's reached a deal with the British Knights shoe company to craft a huge ad to air during the Super Bowl. She has aide Hans infiltrate the Vatican as a priest to embezzle money and find a location to film this. Three years and 18 million dollars later, Mathilde finally shows the ad to the British Knights boss, who's impressed but also confused as he's never even heard of Mathilde before. It turns out the only person in the company Mathilde had talked to was an intern and the board never wanted this, never approved of this and isn't going to waste money buying a Super Bowl ad made without their knowledge. Mathilde is honestly stunned, having expected the company to air the ad no matter what. The Sisterhood council is appalled that Mathilde did all this without any permission and bury the ad (and all the shoes they bought for it) while moving onto other plans.
  • Mako Mermaids: An H₂O Adventure: After putting up with Ondina's envy over Weilan's brand of mermaid magic all day, Mimmi suggests that maybe Ondina can teach Weilan some of her own magic in exchange for learning Weilan's. The plan hits a snag when Mimmi realizes that Weilan can already do everything Ondina can do.
  • The Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "How to Do It" has instructions for how to rid the world of all known diseases: "Well, first of all, become a doctor and discover a marvelous cure for something, and then when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do, and make sure they get everything right so there'll never be any diseases ever again."
  • Soap: When trying to figure out how to rescue Jodie and Maggie, Chuck and Bob pitch their plan. It involves getting "hundreds and hundreds of skunks" to cause enough chaos for them to get inside. When Burt asks where they plan to get the skunks, Bob sheepishly mutters "it's still in the planning stages."
  • A justified example from the premiere of Power Rangers Zeo — Lord Zedd and Rita are fleeing the forces of the Machine Empire, and while taking all their stuff to Serpentera so they can escape, Zedd realizes they don't actually have anywhere to go afterward; the problem is made more urgent by the fact that, per usual, Serpentera is low on fuel, so Finster points out they need to pick a destination or else they'll run out completely and drift off into deep space. Ultimately, Rita contacts her father, Master Vile, so they can bunk with him, which Zedd considers a Fate Worse than Death.

    New Media 
  • The format has become a bit of a meme in certain parts of the internet. Can be combined with almost anything, and be any length as long as the last two steps are "????" and "Profit". Example using tropes:
    Phase 1: Launch Evil Plan
    Phase 2: Do Evil Laugh
    Phase 3: ????
    Phase 4: Profit
  • Subverted in LoadingReadyRun's "The New Old Thing" sketch where the idea to essentially sell pirated copies of MS Dos looks like this trope but there actually is a well reasoned argument made for why it might actually work and who their customer base would be. In the end it is the Profit step that fails to materialize since the business plan is simply impractical.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen: How to Draw an Owl.
  • A variant is presented in this video:
    First you start the Skype call
    Then you grab a beer
    Then you start recording, and...
    Something Kirby race!
  • Various pickup artist strategies read like this. For example, men are told to be "cocky and funny", and this will make them attractive to women. Which isn't wrong, but the PUA gurus are often pretty vague about how to appear confident and make people laugh if you don't already know. As various feminist commentators have pointed out, this is sort of like having a running coach who tells you, "Be faster, and you'll win races."

    Newspaper Comics 
  • A well-known Sidney Harris cartoon has two sets of complicated mathematics on a blackboard, with "Then A Miracle Occurs" written between them as the "explanation" of how one is derived from the other.
    "I think you should be more explicit here in step two."
  • This was a running gag in Doonesbury comics during the DotCom Boom. A character started a DotCom company and began Step One by finding venture capitalists to invest in his company. He was so successful at this that he never got around to figuring out what Step Two was supposed to be. To his great amazement the company actually developed a Step Two on its own but he does not find out what they were actually selling until the very end when Microsoft forced them out of business.
  • In FoxTrot, Jason also had at least one arc where his plan amounted (as many other examples here) to Step 1: Create a DotCom company; Step 3: Profit when investors come running. He gets called on this twice. The first time, he claimed he'd just buy out another company with his profits, but when potential investors start asking, the only thing he could show them was a "dinky little program [he'd] written for fun".
    Andy: And that killed off interest?
    Jason: Actually, it killed off the Internet.
    Coincidental Broadcast: Tonight's top story: the "Darth Jason" computer virus. Is there hope for mankind?
    • On at least one occasion, it was obvious to anyone what Step 2 should be, except Jason himself. He created a website that contained nothing but repeated requests for the viewer to buy advertising space from him. When Peter asked him where the content is, Jason just got confused.

    Video Games 
  • Crescent Prism: Nova, the leader of the Sundown Squad, claims that by preventing the sun from setting, everyone will be able to avoid bedtime and have more time to achieve their personal dreams. His teammates point out that this doesn't solve the issue of most sentient life needing time to rest, with or without nighttime.
  • In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the party is disappointed to learn that the reason Vulcanus tried to start a war between Celestia and the Netherworld was so that he could become God... somehow. Even Vulcanus wasn't quite sure how it was going to work out. Etna called this out much earlier.
    Etna: See? I told you it would be something selfish and stupid.
  • Trolls on the Runescape forums use this quite a bit on "How do I make money" threads. Step 1. Cut willows. Step 2. ? Step 3: Profit (Willow logs are very cheap, around 13 GP each, and as a reference, 2 million GP is considered broke by many players.)
  • Recordshop Tycoon references this trope: Under the "The Office > Marketing Menu > Prices", you see a convenient illustration: Step One: Karma and Average Selling Price. Step 2: ? Step 3: Profit
  • Utsuho, the Final Boss of Touhou Chireiden ~ Subterranean Animism, has one of these as her "grand plan", with Step One being "Reignite the Hell of Blazing Fires" and Step Three being "Take Over the World!". Entirely justified though, as even before she went mad with power she was deeply stupid.
    Step 1: Notice that someone caused an Incident
    Step 2: Fly around shooting youkai with danmaku
    Step 3: ???
    Step 4: Profit! (or lack thereof, in Reimu's case)
  • Dr. Ned in Borderlands indicates he is going to do evil for the sake of profit. Evil seems to be raising the undead for recreational use. Later on he admits that step two never materialized and he's broke.
  • The Sims Medieval has a quest in which one of your heroes intends to learn the secret of creating life. The description ends with "...And somehow profit from it".
  • The Apprentice from Orcs Must Die! sometimes says this gem when placing a coinforge, an item that increase the monetary reward of any mob killed on it:
    • "Step 1, Put down coinforge. Step 2: Something with orcs but I forget. Step 3: Profit!
  • A long-running joke among those who know Resident Evil is that the Evil Plan of the Umbrella Corporation is always:
    Phase 1: Zombies!
    Phase 2: ???
    Phase 3: Profit.
    • Interestingly, they're eventually hit with a Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: because the past decade of their existence amounted to "make zombies happen, hope it benefits us somehow", the United States government (understandably enraged that they had to wipe one of their own cities off the map because of Umbrella) steps in, and by the fourth game Umbrella has ceased to exist.
  • In Dragon Age II, Isabela needs to get rid of the crime boss Castillion before he has her killed, and hits on the idea of using his subordinate Velasco to get at him. She sums up her initial plan thusly:
    Isabela: Step one, we go to Velasco. Step two... something exciting happens. Step three, profit.
  • World of Warcraft provides the page quote. To make it even funnier, the Exodar crash landed on Azeroth.
    • The Goblin quote doesn't even bother about a step one or two. "Skip to step three: profit."
  • In Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, Johnny doesn't really have a detailed plan for saving the Boss beyond "shoot the Devil in the face". Kinzie calls him out on it, and later he admits it himself.
  • One of the illustrations for the "Save the Princess" quest in Doodle God Blitz depicts a couple of adventurers lounging around a campfire with a list scrawled underneath.
    Step 1: Take quest
    Step 2: Find [dragon's] lair
    Step 3: ???
    Step 4: Profit!
  • Benny in Fallout: New Vegas is a Big Bad Wannabe with aspirations to control the titular city, but he doesn't seem to have a plan for how to do this other than stealing the Platinum Chip and using it to upgrade the Securitrons. Anything past that is uncertain. (Keep in mind, pulling off the same plan in-game is a six-part questline concluding with a massive pitched battle.) If you ask him how he thinks he can succeed, he says "it's... it's coming together." The fact that he gets caught within minutes of trying to put the Platinum Chip to use in the Legion camp indicates that it wasn't coming together quite fast enough.
  • In Fallout 4, even the director of the Institute will admit that his faction is suffering from this. Its personnel like to talk about how their technology is the only hope for humanity's survival, technology that has let them develop Synths, incredibly advanced androids that are virtually indistinguishable from humans. The problem is that they've fallen into a sort of Synth feedback loop, so all their interactions with the rest of the Commonwealth involve either attacking or infiltrating them with Synths, without any wider plan or endgame.
    Step 1: Build Synths
    Step 2: Use Synths to undermine potential threats and steal or destroy rival technology
    Step 3: ???
    Step 4: The Commonwealth is saved!
  • In Day of the Tentacle, Dr. Fred's instructions to Bernard to save the world from Purple Tentacle (starting with finding the plans to the super-battery), are very concise: "Step 1: Find plans. Step 2: Save world. Step 3: Get out of my house!"
  • In Horizon Zero Dawn Aloy runs into this early on in the game, though unusually she is missing the last step. She was an outcast at birth from the Nora tribe with no idea why, and so she decided to compete in The Proving and become a Brave, one of the Nora tribe's protectors, so that she can learn her origin. She didn't think through what it would be like to be bound to a tribe she hates.
  • The Last Sovereign: Ginasta is a paladin-esqe warrior of immense physical and magical strength who goes around killing Incubus Kings without any regard as to what will happen to the various power structures and societies they once ruled over. She suffers from a mix of this trope and And Then What?. Her flowchart appears to look something like this:
    Goal: Rid the world of all Incubus Kings.
    Step 1: Find the nearest or most convenient King to kill.
    Step 2: ???
    Step 3: Incubus King is dead, now to get rid of his shard.
    Step 4: ???
    Step 5: Are all Incubus Kings dead? Y/N?
    If N repeat steps 1 through 4 as necessary. If Y proceed to step 6.
    Step 6: World is saved.

    Web Animation 
  • In Hazbin Hotel, Charlie has an interview on the news to get people to come to the titular hotel. In spite of Vaggie's attempts to keep Charlie on track, Charlie doesn't really have a way to convince people to come. Charlie settles on "sing a song and hope that translates to more clientele" after her initial time goes bad.
  • Helluva Boss: In "Exes and Oohs," Chaz' five-step plan to get rich is written down thusly on a sticky-note (spelling and grammar errors as written):
    1. Rent suit
    2. Convince Crim im rich
    3. Marry Moxxie to get into family
    4. ???
    5. Profit $$$
  • The Homestar Runner video Best Caper Ever revolves around Strong Bad trying to figure out what the middle steps of his plan were after successfully pulling it off. All he remembers was that step one was to steal Homestar's drink and step two was have the Cheat pee in Homestar's drink. Somehow, his plan got from that to Homestar ending up stranded in the Arctic Circle while Strong Bad somehow has a satellite feed of Homestar drifting on an ice floe.
    Strong Bad: I think we might be missing a couple key steps there.
  • RWBY: Due to villainous activity in the kingdom, Ironwood's plan to save Atlas is missing one important step in the middle that he never considers. He decides to abandon Mantle and fly Atlas into the upper atmophere away from Salem's army of Grimm. The plan rests on Atlas' Hard Light shield maintaining an artificial atmosphere and Salem having no presence in the city. It skips over the problem of abandoning its source of Dust (meaning the shield will eventually fail) and Salem already having a known presence in the city. Even when Salem breaks the shield and lands her army on Atlas, Ironwood still doesn't change course, so irrefutably single-minded in his plan.

  • Shortpacked!
    • Galasso appears to have the following long-term plan: "1. Dominate the toy store market, 2. ?, 3. Take Over the World."
      • His Dumbing of Age counterpart seems to be attempting the same with a pizza parlor.
    • Another Shortpacked example appears in this strip, where Ethan is trying to run the store. "1. Lie. 2. ??? 3. Profit."
  • Ganondorf's master plan from the Zelda Comic is shown at one point to be "Step I. Punch Link, Step III. Rule World." Brilliant! To hell with step 2, man; he's busy!
  • 8-Bit Theater:
    • In this Red Mage's escape plan consists entirely of "Jail, Action/Hijinks, Freedom!"
    • Another plan is a variant on the theme. He reasons that the logic of his previous plans was their flaw (since a failure at any one step meant the whole thing fell apart), so he devises a plan utterly devoid of logic; that way, even if one step goes tits up, it didn't actually have any connection to the next step, so the plan as a whole can soldier merrily forward regardless.
    • Black Mage typically gets the Sanity Ball to snark at other people's bad plans, but when he's left to come up with his own, things tend to go sideways in a hurry, usually because he's also Ax-Crazy. Murdering people, going to minimal to no effort to actually hide the corpse, and then expecting everything to proceed as normal is a common feature.
  • When Freddie the Flying Fetus asks Bob the Angry Flower to fill in the missing steps in his plan, he actually does so. Sort of.
  • In this strip of Loserz, in-comic:
    1. FORCE people to get fat.
    2. ???
    3. Profit!
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • Torg runs into this problem once.
    Torg: There's another one of me running around?
    Riff: You sound excited.
    Torg: Two of me! Think of the possibilities!
    Riff: Nope. Can't think of anything.
    Torg: We could do a really cool Doublemint commercial!
    • In "Brie Meighsaton House", Riff has been staying up at nights to photograph the ghost of the sobbing woman that seems to haunt the house. When Torg asks him what good that will actually do, his response is "Do I have to think of everything?"
    • In "Living Conditions":
    Torg: How would that "save" us?
    Riff: It's big and clunky, better for head smacking!
    Torg: What about the other two guys with guns?
    Riff: I dunno. Hit them with a chair or something? Do I have to think of everything?
  • Erfworld has a variant. Wanda admits she doesn't know what the missing step is but also firmly believes You Can't Fight Fate so she is going through with the plan anyway.
  • In Rusty and Co., Madeline actually has a full plan. All the odder in that she's The Ditz.
    1. Find Baddies.
    2. Smite Baddies.
    3. Profit!
  • Ask Axe Cop #75 has a race of gill-men who want to remove all the land from Earth, but even they aren't sure how.
  • Peter Is the Wolf had a four step plan in an attempt to get the Titular character back with his girlfriend, who dumped him over a very much Not What It Looks Like misunderstanding.
    Step 1 : Jean explains to Sarah what really happens
    Step 2 : Jean persuades Sarah that I need to leave for good
    Step 3 : How the hell do we get from there...
    Step 4 : ... Getting me and Sarah back together again.
  • In Champions of Far'aus, Dave scares a merchant away from their(the merchants) goods(a chainmail shirt and barley enough leather armor to cover someone's torso that they were planning on selling for twenty gold a piece), and the merchant drops a piece of paper that reads:
    1.Over price.
  • El Goonish Shive: Closeted lesbian Nanase is excited about an upcoming Gender Bender party because it will let her act on her attraction to women without outing herself. Just before the transformation actually happens, she suddenly realizes that this doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
    Nanase: [in an Imagine Spot] Hey Ellen! I find you attractive!
    Ellen: Wow! If you weren't a guy right now, I would be highly suspicious about your sexual orientation!
    Nanase: Would you like to cuddle under a blanket, watch a movie, and maybe make out while in the company of six of our friends? I only ask because I'm a guy, of course.
    Ellen: I would love to! Yay!
    [Imagine Spot ends]
    Nanase: ... There's nothing quite like having a well thought out plan...
  • Freefall: Sam Starfall's criminal plans tend to be rather let down by crime being listed as both "means" and "end". In particular, there's usually a point where he expects to simultaneously get off scot-free from whatever he's doing and earn fame and fortune from it, usually without a coherent idea of how to accomplish either.

    Web Original 
  • The What If? entry "Pyramid Energy", asking if the energy it took to build the Great Pyramid would be enough to send a mission to the moon and back, uses this in the second image. Said image consists of the pyramid broken down and fed through a box marked "?", then launching a rocket.
  • In his Sword Art Online sporking for Das Sporking, Raxis references this trope when he complains that the author needlessly spelled out everything for them.
    Raxis: No kidding. Reki, do you have trust issues? I promise, we can follow your stupid little plot without having to be guided through it. It’s basically sums up to:
    1. Whacko computer designer traps 10K people for no reason.
    2. Gary Stu frees everyone
    3. ???
    4. Profit 8D
    • Later, when the Big Bad reveals that he didn't actually have a reason for tampering with the MMORPG and trapped ten thousand people just for the sake of doing so, Raxis rages that his plan is even worse and now boils down to, "Make Game, Trap Players, ???, Players Trapped!!!"
  • Jon's plan to kill Luigi in an episode of Game Grumps.
    Jon: One: I'm going to shoot a bottle into space.
    Arin: ...Two?
    Jon: That's the end of my plans. I didn't think past there.
    Arin: Then why did you number them?
  • In the Eddsworld short Zombeh Nation, the boys are trapped in a haunted house infested with zombies, and Tord says they need a plan. In a case of Comically Missing the Point, Edd whips out a diagram of his plan to "Take Over the World Using Bacon", which is laid out as follows: 1) Bacon 2) Earth 3) ????? 4) WORLD DOMINASHUN!!! Earns a well-deserved smack on the head from Tord for his troubles.
  • TheKillianExperience delves into this when discussing Aldrich of Dark Souls 3:
    Killian: But to survive the end of the Age of Fire he would need to eat a god... I think he might have missed a few steps but he doesn't seem like the most mentally stable, does he?
    1. Eat god
    6. Survive world getting consumed by Darkness
  • User-submitted art websites will inevitably collect art tutorials, which will inevitably invite parody tutorials that take this form.
    Step 1. Draw a circle.
    [a simple pencil circle]
    Step 2. Draw the rest.
    [completed pencil drawing of the subject, with photorealistic shading]
  • In The Grand Line Review's "Everything WRONG With Early One Piece", video, a video pointing out the inconsistencies and plot holes in the early One Piece story, the uploader eventually gets to Kuro's poorly thought out plan to get Kaya to give him her inheritance, particularly that he poses as Kaya's butler to win her trust rather than skipping to the part in which he hypnotizes her into writing his will. When the uploader gets into how Kuro plans on having his men attack the village, only to plan on killing them for losing to the Straw Hats, the uploader then points out the following steps to the supposedly intelligent Kuro's plan.
    1.Raid village(but don't)
    2.Betray crew
  • Title Pending: Bayden's idea of a contract is that signing it quickly turns you into a big content creator with no idea what the contract says, allegedly because that's what happened to PewDiePie.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad! "Minstrel Krampus": Santa Claus plans to make a fortune by giving toys to everyone whether they are naughty or nice and buying shares in toy companies.
    Santa: The naughty kids buy the most toys!
    Roger: Wait. What? Kids don't buy toys. You give toys away. How does that make money?
    Santa: Do not overthink this!
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force: In the episode "Bad Replicant", the Plutonians' goal is to deterraform the Earth by cloning Master Shake and have the replicant create an army to take over. Not only is the replicant deformed and acts nothing like the real Shake (he also thought his name was Major Shake), but the Plutonians dropped him off without explaining what his part of the plan was. When they finally do tell him, he points out that they didn't tell him anything about the plan, nor how he's suppose to accomplish his part in it.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Several of Zuko's schemes to capture Aang fall into this, to the point that Iroh directly calls him out on this. For instance, in the first season finale, he infiltrates the North Pole to kidnap Aang while he's communing with the Spirit World. This works—except now Zuko is alone with a hostage and no transport in hostile territory, which also happens to be the coldest place on Earth. If not for the fact that Team Avatar found him, he would likely have succumbed to frostbite inside of a few hours. Later on, he manages to track down Appa, the group transport who's been captured by the Earth Kingdom, but as Iroh points out, there's nothing Zuko can actually do with Appa now that he's got him: killing him won't really make a difference, and trying to hold him for ransom won't work when Zuko has no way to contain or control him (Zuko is currently living in a city tea shop, Appa is a creature the size of an elephant that can fly). Iroh argues that this is because Zuko has succumbed to Honor Before Reason, with his obsession with capturing Aang having long passed any kind of actual sense or logic—doing things to hurt or capture Aang even when there's no possible way it could pay off for him.
    • Sokka's "Day of Black Sun" invasion plan is based on how an upcoming eclipse will temporarily rob Firebenders of their powers for a half-hour at most; he begins working on it in the middle of season two and enacts it in the middle of season three. The plan consists of:
    Step one: Gather a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits.
    Step two: Invade the capital of the Fire Nation on eclipse day.
    Step three: Fight their way up to the Fire Nation palace where the Fire Lord is presumably staying.
    Step four: ????
    Step five: The world is saved.
    • That the Fire Nation knows of the eclipse and the invasion, that the Fire Nation army is not a Keystone Army, or that Sokka's heavy-hitting Physical God friend is a Technical Pacifist are not factored into the plan.
  • Bojack Horseman: At the "advice" of his accountant (who was pretending to be Todd at the time), Mr Peanutbutter buys all the spaghetti strainers in California, going bankrupt in the process. He has no idea how he can profit from this, and as time goes on, he becomes convinced that the longer it takes to reach the payout, the larger it will be. He's right, of course, because he's that kind of character.
  • In Dan Vs., Dan's plan to overcome the terrible traffic in LA:
    Procure monster truck.
    Crush all cars in way.
    Live Happily Ever After.
    • Dan is very prone to doing this. Chris even mentioned one time that his current plan was more of a goal than a plan, so Dan changes it to something more like a checklist.
  • The Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines episode "Have Plane, Will Travel" had the Vulture Squadron transferred to a desert island where Klunk uses whatever implements at hand to create a flying machine to stop Yankee Doodle Pigeon. One such machine is made out of a tree trunk which is catapulted through the air.
    Dastardly: Now that we're up here, how are we supposed to stay up?
    Klunk: Spin the (whirring and cracking noises) propeller.
    Dastardly: (seeing no propeller at the plane's nose) Propeller? What propeller?
    Klunk: Uh oh...I knew I forgot something! (plane nosedives into the ocean)
  • While Alvin the Treacherous and Dagur the Deranged were big enough threats in Dragons: Riders of Berk, their plans usually involved physical assault and lacked certain important details, usually involving kidnapping Hiccup and taking Toothless as their own (thinking the Book of Dragons was the only thing they needed, not thinking as to how they could get Hiccup to give into their demands without killing him, dealing with the other riders, getting Toothless to cooperate with them, etc).
  • Have you ever wondered how the dragon scale got into Max and Emmy's house in Dragon Tales? Well, years ago, a lone dragon was so desperate for companionship that she invented mystical dragon scales that, when used in conjunction with a Magical Incantation, would send the user to Dragon Land, and scattered them across Earth. This allowed her to have human friendship. But, she'd forgotten to put in a way for the user to return to their home. So when Max and Emmy use their scale for the first time, they initially think they'll be trapped there. Fortunately, Quetzal knows magic too and modifies their scale to be able to reverse the teleportation as needed, albeit with a different incantation.
  • Flintheart Glomgold of DuckTales (2017) usually suffers from Complexity Addiction. His plans might rely on Insane Troll Logic, but they do include a multitude of steps. One that fits this trope crops up near the end of season two.
    Step one: Recruit Scrooge's greatest enemies into an Evil Counterpart "family" to counter Scrooge's.
    Step two: ???
    Step three: Scrooge is defeated, Glomgold rules.
  • Subverted in Earthworm Jim; a common theme is that Jim's Rogues Gallery want to steal his supersuit to pursue universal domination. In "Bring Me The Head of Earthworm Jim", Professor Monkey-For-A-Head brings attention to the Fridge Logic.
    Professor Monkey-For-A-Head: You know, we always say we'll conquer the universe when we get the suit, but now that we have the suit, how do you conquer a big thing like that?
    Psy-Crow: Simple. Just go to where the rulers of the universe hang out and- Ahh-ahh-ahh! -start blasting away like a lunatic.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy:
    • Parodies this trope by having Eddy start a smalltime corporation with the cul-de-sac kids that was only focused on "going up". Once people realize that the corporation was basically doing nothing, and that everybody was working without pay, everybody left except the Eds (which of course is Truth in Television).
    • In the episode where Ed makes a scam, the plan goes from zany to ridiculous and disjointed. In the end, it turns out he was attempting to recreate the plot of one of his horror(?) comic books.
      Phase 1: Put the rock on the 'X' 'Q'.
      Phase 2: Dress Eddy and Double D outlandishly.
      Phase 3: Have Double D give Eddy the pancakes.
      Phase 4: Paint a cement mixer like an Aztec temple.
      Phase 5: Steal teddy bear.
      Phase 6: Bite into teddy bear's stomach.
      Phase 7: ???
      Phase 8: Curse of Evil Tim (Profit?)
    • Many of Eddy's plans could probably be summed up as this, especially ones where he actually seems to go out of his own way to sabotage, such as randomly putting a bowling pin in a cream puff they were selling (to make it bigger maybe?)
  • Freakazoid! lampshades this in a fight against a giant snake:
    Phase 1: Loud Conan warcry
    Phase 2: Charge and grab giant snake by the neck
    Phase 3: Make something up
    • The Lobe once had a machine that could turn people into clowns, which he thought would help him take over the world because "Everyone likes clowns". Freakazoid ends up just talking him out of it by pointing out that no one likes clowns. After a dejected Lobe leaves, Freakazoid admits that it was an awesome plan.
  • In Hazbin Hotel, Charlie clearly has no idea how she's going to get her plan to redeem sinners to work, even though she's pouring her heart into it. A Freeze-Frame Bonus of her notes during the pilot episode shows that what plan she has is weird, to say the least — she thinks "unicorn kisses" and "singing show tunes" will somehow result in a happy ending. It's shown again during her song "Inside of Every Demon is a Rainbow", where she seems to just think getting rid of bad temptations is all you have to do to redeem someone. For example, she starts by throwing an addict's drugs into a fire in front of him, but all that does is just get the addict mad at her. Overall her plan is:
    Phase 1: Convince sinners to check-in to her hotel.
    Phase 2: Do various therapy activities and trust activities with sinners.
    Phase 3: ???
    Phase 4: Redemption!
    Phase 5: ???
    Phase 6: Sinner gets into Heaven.
  • A minor cat-themed villain in Johnny Bravo outlines his Evil Plan to steal enough yarn to rule the world. His kitten sidekick immediately asks about Step 2:
    "How're you gonna rule the world with yarn, boss?"
    "I... Um... Uh... SILENCE!!"
  • The Superfriends plot received a possible homage during the Legion of Doom arc of Justice League Unlimited, when Gorilla Grodd's master plan consisted of:
    Phase 1. Use Applied Phlebotinum to turn every human on Earth into gorillas.
    Phase 2. ???
    Phase 3. Take over the world!
    • Lex Luthor finds this plan so stupid that he immediately shoots Grodd and takes over the Legion. Later, the rest of the Legion is shown grilling Luthor about his master plan, just to make sure that it's something that'll actually benefit them (and not a plan to make everyone in the world bald).
  • The Red Lotus, Arc Villain of The Legend of Korra's third season, have a major problem with this trope. They have two major plans: topple the world's governments to allow a better world to rise from the ashes, and permanently kill the Avatar by forcing Korra into the Avatar State, and then killing her. Both plans ultimately lack a necessary middle step, and it comes back to bite the group in the ass, big time - Korra's power boost from the Avatar State leads to her getting free, and setting off a fight where two of the three remaining Red Lotus members die and the Sole Survivor is imprisoned, and their assassination of the Earth Queen ultimately paved the way for an even WORSE tyrant to take her place. Zaheer when he reappears in Season 4 while in prison admits this plan worked out badly.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Every plan concocted by the Cutie Mark Crusaders ever to get their cutie marks. Rather than try and figure out what their special talents are, they just keep trying random things, hoping they'll get their cutie marks in them. Whether or not they're good at the thing in question, or even like the thing in question, is hardly ever brought up.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Doofenshmirtz' plans to take over the Tri-State Area often involves publicly humiliating his brother, the mayor, hoping this will create a power vacuum that he can use to his advantage. An example:
    Doof:I know it sounds complicated, but I've thought this one through. Babies cry, everyone's unhappy...and I somehow take over. It's foolproof!
    • In one case, he openly admits that there is absolutely no connection between the scheme (sabotage a pretzel festival) and the goal (to take over the Tri-State Area), and even makes a Venn diagram that proves this. He brushes this off with a "But I'll work it out, you'll see."
    • One of his schemes ran like this:
      Phase 1: Collect all the zinc in the lake.
      Phase 2: ????
      Phase 3: Evil?
  • Brain's plans from Pinky and the Brain usually follow this route. He explains them as "implement some bizarre technological gizmo that causes societal collapse and rise to power in the ensuing confusion", never actually explaining how he was planning to seize power. Of course, he frequently doesn't even make it to that step, being forced to give up on Step -1: acquire funding/resources needed to make the gizmo in the first place.
  • The villain of Pound Puppies and The Legend of Big Paw takes this to an extreme:
    Phase 1: Steal a MacGuffin that allows humans and dogs to understand each other
    Phase 2: ?
  • One Robot Chicken skit involved Michael Jackson — with black skin — confronting his white-skinned counterpart after emerging from a crashed flying saucer, explaining to the crowd that aliens replaced him while injured as part of a plan to take over the world (one of the crowd members points out "That doesn't make much sense.") At the end of the skit, one of the aliens asks the other "How were we gonna take over the world with a white Michael Jackson, anyway?"
  • The Simpsons: Homer Simpson has probably run through quite a few, but usually they're more Zany Schemes than this; however, he once ran an online business whose business plan was something like:
    Phase 1: The Internet.
    Phase 2: ???
    Phase 3: Profit. (Still gets bought out by Microsoft, though.)
    • When Artie Ziff went broke, his explanation started with him telling he was dot com billionaire and he was quickly told he didn't have to explain anything else.
    • Homer tries to remember the fire safety plan at the nuclear power plant: "When the fire starts to burn, there's a lesson you must learn. Something something, then you'll see: You'll avoid catastrophe! D'oh!"
  • Skull Island (2023) "What's Up, Croc?": Irene and Cap have the following exchange after Irene declares her plan to get the Hawk to kill Dog, capture Annie, and get off the island, with Cap pointing out there's a murderous kraken in the sea attacking anything manmade or otherwise that tries to enter or leave the island:
    Cap: Listen, that sea creature will kill us, that bird or anything else the second we get near the water. What's your plan there?
    Irene: That part's easy. We kill it.
    Cap: How?
    Irene: Well, that part's... harder. [winces; sighs] I don't know...
  • South Park:
    • The Underpants Gnomes. They go around at night collecting vast quantities of underwear ("Phase 1"), which they will use to profit ("Phase 3"). The mysterious "Phase 2" that will transform underwear into profit remains completely in the dark; the gnomes' chart that visualizes their plan only shows a big question mark. Interestingly, the gnomes might not know what "step two" is, but they all assume that there is one, that some other gnomes must know what it is, and that they're keeping it secret for a very, very good reason. Any time "step two" is pointed out or questioned, the gnome will draw a blank or remain silent before moving on without ever giving an answer.
    • Season 12's "Canada on Strike" has two examples:
      • Canadian Presidentnote  Steven Abootman enacts a resolution that Canada will go on strike until other nations cave in and give Canada more money. Only problem is that they never figured out how other countries would notice that Canada is on strike, since Canada doesn't actually export very much to them. The only ones who suffer from the strike end up being the Canadian workers.
      • The boys post an Instant Web Hit on YouTube and think they've struck it rich. However, they don't conceive of a method to actually monetise the video's popularity (at the time, YouTube hadn't yet worked out a way to compensate creators for their videos). Instead of real money, they get a theoretical check for $10,000.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In "Plankton's Army", Plankton threatens Mr. Krabs in order to get the Krabby Patty secret formula. One problem? Plankton had no follow-through in place.
      Mr. Krabs: Or what?//
      Plankton: I don't know. I never thought I'd get this far.
    • Plankton's presentation to E.V.I.L. in "Captain Pipsqueak": he steals the secret formula, the world falls into chaos and destruction, then the third and final scene is him sitting on a throne on a mountain of bones and skulls. When Man Ray does steal the formula, he realizes that it's just a sandwich recipe and asks Plankton how stealing this can lead to that. Plankton can't come up with an answer.
    Jumbo Shrimp: Some criminal genius he is!
    Notodoris: Right? "Massive evil intellect", my eye!
  • In one episode of Super Chicken, a villain named "The Geezer" attempts to steal the geyser "Old Facefull" from Yellowstone National Park. The narrator questions his motivation:
    Geezer: There's a million things you can do with a geyser!
    Narrator: Such as?
    Geezer: Uh ... I'll think of something!
    • Eventually, The Geezer does come up with a use for Old Faceful: He opens a car wash.
  • Some of the plots of the Legion of Doom in Super Friends ran this way. They were foiled every time, of course, but their schemes would include an often equally expensive escape plan.
    • They would go to some ridiculous expense to get some item that would brainwash the Super Friends into walking into a volcano, thus clearing the way for the Legion's conquest of the world or something.
    • One time, Cheetah and Bizarro turned people into Cheetah- and Bizarro-people, for no adequately explored reason.
  • One episode of TaleSpin had Rebecca coming up with a number of get-rich-quick schemes of this variety. The missing step two seems to be "get brutally slaughtered by hostile natives".
  • Trolls: Poppy's plan to get her friends back from the Bergens is just "rescue everyone and make it home safely".
    Branch: That's not a plan, that's a wish list.
  • The first episode of Time Squad has the timeline being put off track by Eli Whitney inventing flesh-eating robots to help mankind....somehow, instead of the cotton gin. When Otto asks how flesh-eating robots are supposed to help mankind, Whitney promptly admits he Didn't Think This Through.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Underpants Gambit, Step Three Profit


Jason Mendoza's Death

Jason plans on robbing a restaurant by hiding in a safe, installing no air holes, and hiring his idiot best friend as an accomplice. It ends as bad as it started.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / TooDumbToLive

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