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Never Recycle Your Schemes

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Plankton: I've exhausted every evil plan in my filing cabinet — from A to Y!
Karen: A to Y?
Plankton: Yeah, A to Y, you know, the alphabet.
Karen: What about Z?

It doesn't matter how the hero stopped the villain's nefarious plot (be it through outsmarting the dastardly fiend, merely finding a weakness the insidious fiend overlooked, or sheer dumb luck). When his plan to take over the world is stopped, the villain has to start completely from scratch. He can't retool the previous plan to prevent the hero's method from working again; rather, he has to think up some new and creative way to bother the hero. This usually causes the villain to quickly run out of plans, something that may or may not be lampshaded.

Sometimes, the villain will take on the attitude that, since the scheme failed once, it won't ever succeed. Other times, the villain will openly insist on coming up with a new way of doing something every time, even though the previous version would have worked if they only changed one tiny thing.

This is probably due to Rule of Cool, because if the villain did the same scheme over, modified to account for the hero's last successful attempt, the viewers would expect the bad guy to win (and then there'd be no more show/comic/book/etc.), and if they tried and failed with the same scheme, the villain would get predictable and the viewers would get bored. Furthermore, much of the action in many of these stories revolves around figuring out what the villain's scheme actually is, or discovering that there even is a scheme in the first place. If he's just doing the same thing again, there's no mystery, and you must now stretch the typically climactic act of thwarting him across the entire episode.

At the same time, a villain who modifies his prior scheme is liable to be predictable to the heroes or anyone trying to stop him. After all, given what the heroes will know what to expect, it would just make it easier unless the schemes were different enough (and even then, the difference probably would not be enough.)

Compare So Last Season, Forgotten Phlebotinum, Holding Back the Phlebotinum, No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup. Compare Adaptive Ability, where it's the heroes that can't recycle the original means of the villain's defeat, and Reed Richards Is Useless.


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    Asian Animation 
  • Discussed and defied in the BoBoiBoy episode "Emotive Chemical Y". When Adu Du runs out of ideas for evil plans, Probe suggests they recycle their old plans, and they choose the plan from "season 1, episode 11". Adu Du at first objects, saying that the audience will be bored, but Probe convinces him that the audience won't realize it.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Dick Tracy, actor Harley Naiv is disfigured in an accident and given a special surgery that, for an hour, allows him to look anyone he wants. "Putty-Puss" (as his gang calls him) starts robbing banks disguised as celebrities with the media calling him "the Man of a Million Faces." After being caught, Naiv breaks out of jail with Tracy surmising he'll go back to a criminal spree but...
    Tracy: Not as the Man of a Million Faces. Harley Naiv never repeated a role.

    Film — Animation 
  • Catwoman: Hunted: Since Catwoman knew Cheshire used jellyfish poison for her weapons, she deliberately built an immunity to it. Cheshire admits she should use different toxins.
  • Subverted, and borderline inverted, in The Incredibles. Syndrome started his villainy with the Omnidroid 1 and had never stopped using Omnidroids for the rest of his life. Each time a superhero was able to defeat an Omnidroid, Syndrome would observe what caused it to lose, then build another Omnidroid to cover those vulnerabilities. By the time Mr. Incredible fought an Omnidroid, it was Syndrome's 8th. When he returns, Syndrome's made a 9th one, and after that beats him (though he fakes his death to throw Syndrome off), he decides to incorporate its design into the 10th and final model.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Batman & Robin: Robin heads to Poison Ivy's lair, pretending to be under her spell. Ivy has poisonous lips and has been trying to kiss Batman and Robin the whole film. Ivy kisses Robin, at which point he pulls off rubber coating on his lips, demonstrating how he survived the kiss. Ivy then pushes him into a sea of vines that try and drown him instead of having the vines hold him in place so she could kiss him again.
  • In Jack the Giant Killer (the 1962 version), the bad guy, Pendragon, is known as the Prince of Witches, and he surrounds himself with them, hideous monsters with amazing powers. The one time he sends them out to do his bidding in the entire film, they completely and easily overpower our hero and the entire crew of a ship to carry off Pendragon's evil plans with complete success, the only time in the film any of his plans actually works. So, naturally, he never uses them again. They just hang around looking evil and hideous while Pendragon sends easily defeated monsters after Jack. The witches are eventually destroyed when the castle blows up, having done not one other thing.
  • Ocean's Thirteen: "You don't run the same gag twice. You do the next gag!"
  • Subverted in Star Wars:
    • What's the plot of A New Hope? The Empire has constructed a super-weapon called the Death Star, and the Rebel Alliance has to exploit a fatal flaw to destroy it. What's the plot of Return of the Jedi? The Empire has constructed a second Death Star without that fatal flaw, so the Rebel Alliance has to destroy it before it's complete or it will be basically unstoppable.
    • In The Force Awakens, the First Order, the Empire's successor organization, constructed Starkiller Base, a planet-sized version of the Death Stars that can destroy whole star systems, without the fatal flaws from the first two. Although like the Second Death Star, it's up to a small team to infiltrate the base itself to make it vulnerable to attack.
    • In The Phantom Menace, the protagonists take out the bad guys' droid army by destroying the singular control ship, without which the droids all shut down immediately. In Attack of the Clones, the coalition of bad guys field an even larger droid army, and this time the protagonists fight back with a clone army of their own, and no one even brings up the possibility of destroying a single control point to take out the entire droid army again. Apparently there was a deleted scene where a small group of Jedi attempt to reuse the strategy from The Phantom Menace and destroy what they think is the new droid control ship—but the droid army only shuts down for a few seconds before reactivating, revealing the bad guys added redundant control systems specifically to prevent that strategy from working again.

  • A Zigzagging Trope in Animorphs. On the one hand, many Yeerk plans just come down to "promote The Sharing and try to get more hosts," with the only change being the particular fundraiser/stunt of the week; they also tried to locate the Pemalite ship in Book #36 after losing access to it in Book #27. On the other hand, they never make a third attempt (the second only failed because of random amphibious mutants), and despite its build-up over several books, the Anti-Morphing Ray was quickly abandoned after one apparent failure, possibly as a result of No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup (Visser Three had its creators fed to Taxxons). The plot to find the "Andalite bandits" in the forest is also quickly abandoned when their fake logging company is defeated, despite this logically being their biggest security issue on Earth.
  • Averted in the Honor Harrington stories taking place in the Talbott Quadrant. The machinations of Mesa in the second story, Storm From the Shadows are noted as being a second attempt at their first plan in Shadow of Saganami, the previous book. In both cases, the general plan was to use locals to stir up incidents that undermine Manticore, call in the Solarian League for aid, then ideally start a shooting incident between the two powers. The first attempt failed when a Manticoran commander stumbled onto evidence of the plot. The second time succeeded thanks to their Unwitting Pawn giving them exactly the shooting incident they wanted.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • It is common in wrestling to see special no-DQ matches where the goal is to do something other than pin your opponent (e.g. to escape from a cage or unhook a belt/contract). These objectives can often be rendered trivial by handcuffing your opponent to an immovable part of the scenery so that they cannot interfere. Since it is apparently extremely easy to render a wrestler completely senseless for a few seconds, but almost impossible to knock them out for the thirty seconds or so it takes to complete the objective, this seems like a very practical and effective tactic. Whilst it does occasionally happen, you would think that wrestlers would just do this at every opportunity.
  • In WWE, the identical Bella Twins would frequently get the upper hand by switching places during a match when the referee wasn't looking. Kelly Kelly once hit upon the idea of drawing on one of the twins with a marker pen so that she and the referee could easily tell which twin was which, making this tactic impossible. Eve Torres also tried it, but it didn't work for that referee and it was never used again.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Time Master game, the Demoreans never reused a plan. And in a time travel game, you really could keep trying until you got it right. Justified by said aliens being obsessed with "perfection" — if a plan failed, it obviously wasn't perfect and wasn't worth repeating.

    Visual Novels 
  • Played with in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair by the Junko Enoshima AI. On one hand, the ultimate goal of the mastermind is far different than it was the first time around, playing the trope straight in end goal department to the point of Motive Decay, going from simply creating more despair to a Grand Theft Me plot for all of the tiny remains of humanity. On the other hand, the method used to accomplish this new goal is identical to the method used for the mastermindís goal in the first game. However, due to the change in end goal and the new tools available to the mastermind, they would have been better off not recycling the plan and in fact would have been better off just brainwashing the cast again like the original Junko did instead of running another killing game.

  • Mentioned here in Captain SNES: The Game Masta with regards to Captain N: The Game Master:
    Terra:[Dr. Wily] then gives [duplicated artifacts of power] to an android which manages to defeat the entire team! They only finally win by exploiting the thing's humanity. But does Wily try again with a less human robot? Noooo! Next episode he's making a fricken' robocat to lure Duke into Bayou Billy's swamp! And it wasn't just once! That stuff happened all the time!
  • Averted in Exterminatus Now, where Morth, in his second appearance, attempts the same plan as in his first appearance: summon a daemon to the mortal plane, offer it a multitude of souls, be ascended to daemonhood himself in return and rule the universe. And, barring a few hiccups, it actually works: Morth becomes a full-fledged daemon prince, exactly as he planned. Unfortunately for him, he gets locked in a rune-sealed room with another daemon he'd tricked during said hiccups, who proceeds to eviscerate him until they both fade into the ether.
  • In Shortpacked!, after her plan to steal a lizard with apparent Mind Control powers fails, Sidney Yus lampshades that she won't try it again.
    Sidney: Curses! And I won't try this specific scheme ever again even if the reptile is always readily available because I've already done this one!

    Web Original 
  • Zigzagged by HitTheTarget in Stampy's Lovely World. While several of his schemes are relatively one-off in terms of how they are carried out — e.g. outright assault, sabotage, and invisibility potions, some recycle concepts used in previous attempts.
    • Both Episodes 184, "Clone Calamity" and 700, "Tragic Day" make use of the You Again Cloning Contraption in Stampy's Secret Base, and the battles that occurred in the episodes as a result of using armies of clones end up getting someone Killed Off for Real.
    • Both Episodes 261, "Christmas Rescue" and 575, "Polly-Bot" rely on kidnapping a trusted Helper. The latter instance is coupled with a robotic imposter to lower suspicion.
    • Both Episodes 291, "Egg Hunt" and 455, "Revenge" involve Stuff Blowing Up.
    • Both Episodes 418, "I Can't Win" and 670, "Hacked" have HTT getting a set of Armor of Invincibility.
    • From what we can see over the years, taking hostages always seems to work, whether it be a pet, a Helper, or Stampy's control over his own vocal cords.
  • Pointed out in the review Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension made for Reptilicus as a common sight in monster B-movies. If a plan to defeat the monster fails, even if it was due to some fluke, the same plan can't be refined and used again, a totally new plan needs to be devised.

    Real Life 
  • At first glance the German attacks on France in 1914 and 1940 seem eerily similar. In reality this is an imperfect example. Fall Gelb was significantly different from the Schlieffen Plan. In 1914, the Germans tried to bypass the French army and take Paris by going through central Belgium. In 1940, they feinted as if they were going to do that again, drawing the best and most mechanized British and French units into northern and central Belgium to stop them, and then cut through southern Belgium to encircle those British and French units, forcing them to retreat through Dunkirk. In short, Fall Gelb succeeded largely because the Allies were expecting a repeat of Schlieffen.
    • The first plan for the 1940 attack actually was a tweaked repeat of the Schlieffen plan, but after an airplane carrying officers with documents that gave away the plan made a forced landing in the Netherlands, Hitler decided to use the alternative plan cooked up by Manstein.
    • The Ardennes Offensive of 1944 (aka the Battle of the Bulge) is often seen as an attempt to repeat the "Sichelschnitt" (sickle-cut) of 1940.
  • During the US Civil War, the Army of the Potomac got within five miles of the Confederate capital at Richmond during the Peninsular Campaign, and only got driven back because of the timidity of Gen. McClellan, even though the Army of Northern Virginia took more casualties during the Seven Days' Battle, (and was smaller to begin with). Despite this, the North never again made any serious attempt to capture Richmond by moving northwest from Ft. Monroe.
  • Completely averted by Italian Marshal Luigi Cadorna in World War I. His campaign plan was to attack up the Isonzo River and break through the Austrian line there. He tried it twelve times over the course of two years. It was part of a Xanatos Gambit: due large numerical superiority the Austrians had no way to successfully attack back, if he broke the line there, he'd have free access to the maritime part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, thus effectively eliminating half of the Central Powers fleets in the Mediterranean and cutting off trade, and for every failure at breaking through the Austro-Hungarian Army was even nearer to collapse, at which point the Italian Army would have been free to attack Vienna itself, eliminate the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the war and invade Germany from south (what effectively happened at the end of the war, when both sides had effectively exhausted their reserves but the Italians were still more numerous). And it would have worked, had the Russians not collapsed before the Austrians, thus freeing the manpower needed to mount an effective counterattack
  • There is a saying among military historians that the generals always prepare for the last war. In 1870 France thought any conflict with Prussia would play out more or less like the Napoleonic Wars, French Levée en Masse and Elan winning the day before the stuffy old aristocrats of Europe knew what hit them. Instead Prussian rapid mobilization and the use of railways caught the French totally by surprise and most of its armies were surrounded and captured before they could be a significant force in the fighting, negating France's theoretical manpower advantage (Prussia and her allies mobilized more troops, but France had a higher military age population than Prussia). In 1914, Germany had a meticulous plan for rapid offensive into France knocking out France before anybody else could even mobilize. Germany did mobilize rapidly and did initially advance into France, but instead of encircling and capturing French armies like 1870, the French retreated and ultimately entrenched, delaying the German offensive long enough for Russia to mobilize and attack East Prussia (which, as the place where the ruling elite had their estates was militarily worthless but politically crucial to hold at all costs). The war bogged down into trench warfare and Germany had to give up exhausted four years later. In 1939/1940 France initially assumed an almost entirely defensive posture as that was the winning strategy in 1914, but they somehow overlooked the developments of tanks and airplanes which while present in 1918 had come a long way in the two decades since and Germany made very effective use of them, surprising even some in the High Command. However, unlike twenty years before even though France signed a humiliating peace treaty like the Soviets did at Brest Litovsk, France never ceased resisting the occupation, binding troops and the attempt to do to the Soviets what Germany had done to France - rapid tank and airplane based advance, capturing key points before manpower and other advantages of the Soviets became a factor, failed. The Soviets for their part proved to be unwilling to negotiate a peace on the lines of Brest Litovsk even when the Germans advanced further than they ever had in the First World War as this war wasn't a needless slaughter started by a hated Czar for hardly any reason that made sense to the average peasant but a shameless attack by a racist genocidal regime hell-bent on making Slavs a Slave Race. While Europe has thankfully not seen any large scale war since 1945, some observers say that the war plans and war games drawn up since still suffer from the "fighting the last war" disease.
  • The "Definition of Insanity", often mistakenly attributed to Albert Einstein note , cautions that insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over and expecting different results.