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"...Government is staffed with mostly well-intentioned but incompetent people... Conspiracy theorists reverse this: They think government is evil-intentioned but supremely competent. That's crazy-talk, Count Chocula."
Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online, 9/13/2006

Except in parodies, villains in fiction are magically immune to the problems of bureaucracy, logistics, and bad luck. Their powers are so strong that this even transfers to their lowest minions. This trope is the opposite of the much less common (but much more realistic) Dystopia Is Hard.

Let's say both Our Hero and the villain want to ride an airplane. The airline staff are always putting luggage on the wrong plane but if an agent of the Government Conspiracy is riding the same plane, his luggage (filled with incriminating and suspicious gear) will always be fine. Why? Somehow, the conspiracy makes everybody as competent as their masters - even the airline staff they bribe, who are barely in on the conspiracy at all.

Even stranger is that the power of the conspiracy extends to people who don't work for them. Does the airport have an Obstructive Bureaucrat who makes people miss their planes by petty delays? He'll suddenly be clean and efficient. The conspirators didn't bribe him or blackmail him - he will simply never make a mistake that could hurt them. This power does not extend to the heroes, who may be strip-searched by the bureaucrat while the evil agent goes untouched.

This power extends further to inanimate objects. An evil commander's cell phone is always reliable, but a hero's cell phone will go out of order whenever it would be inconvenient. The stupid ticket machine at the airport which doesn't recognize the heroes' identification card will always give the villains the plane tickets they need, even if they were traveling under a fake name. Bad weather won't delay the villain's flight and mess up their strict timetable. The villains will never fail at anything For Want of a Nail. The exception is a Spanner in the Works, but that usually only happens at the end.

This is perfect for maintaining a Masquerade. You can have hundreds, nay, thousands of people keeping the same secret, and nobody will screw it up. The Men in Black Cleaners will never get the wrong address and remove all evidence of alien activity at the house next door of where they should have gone. The assassin never gets cold feet or an attack of guilt or decides he can make more money through blackmail or writing a tell-all book detailing the conspiracy. The commanders never put their own careers over the goals of the organization, The Weirdness Censor fails so rarely that the Only Sane Man is easily dismissed, and the Mooks never form a union. If an employee is executed, their family or work buddies don't get suspicious and investigate. If there's an Enemy Civil War, it's probably because of deliberate manipulation on the heroes' part (such as Feed the Mole) or a deliberate ploy of the enemy to reveal and purge any nay-sayers within their ranks, rather than the villainous schemes just collapsing under their own weight and contradictions.

The Government Conspiracy isn't the only group that can do this. An army of Nazis, Orcs, Scary Dogmatic Aliens, etc., can march anywhere, any time, without slowing down to rest or eat, while the poor heroes are tired and hungry all the time. Logistics problems - insufficient reinforcements, food, fuel, medicine, pay, equipment, weapons, ammunition, spare parts - don't apply to them. The villainous army never slows down because an Evil Supply Officer forgot to order enough supplies, or because a greedy Evil Supply Officer sold some for cash, or because their needs were just plain impossible to meet.

This trope describes (real or fictional) entities which should realistically be prone to complications yet are unrealistically immune. Examples of how (real or fictional) entities are protected by the Weirdness Censor, Mind Control, human nature, or integrate those complications into their plans belong elsewhere.

From a narrative standpoint, this happens because it is emotionally satisfying to see the intrepid heroes defeat the villain's Evil Plan because of their determined efforts to overcome both the villain's schemes and random obstacles. It is considerably less satisfying to see the villain fail because the airline lost his luggage and the heroes got lucky. Also, the audience usually wants to see that the villain's plan would have succeeded were it not for the heroes, and because Villains Act, Heroes React, the villain's first action would have to have succeeded. That said, there are still plenty of aversions and inversions in the examples below.

Supertrope to Repressive, but Efficient. Inversion of Evil Will Fail and Fascist, but Inefficient. Gambit Roulette is a Sister Trope, where all the factors that would most likely make The Plan fail just don't happen.

See also Hanlon's Razor, Villains Blend in Better, Sinister Surveillance, Offscreen Villain Dark Matter and Reality Is Unrealistic. When this happens in Video Games, it's because The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard. Contrast Harmless Villain and Third Act Stupidity.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Mazinger Z: Dr. Hell only has to worry about his subordinates doing how they are told and not betraying him. He has not to worry about them delaying or running in some kind of trouble or unexpected event that ruins the operation, or mishandling, losing or breaking down the technology and equipment that he hands over to them. They will always arrive at the appointed place at due time, and no operation will fail due to lack of coordination between several squads (although once, in an alternate manga version, an operation failed because one of his Co-Dragons took too long to be ready and the another lost his patience and attacked before time). His spies and moles don't run into troubles (suspicious guards, delayed flights...) either when they have to infiltrate into the Home Base to performing spying or sabotaging missions.
  • The plot of Saiyuki is that our guys are going way, way west to confront the evil woman sending out the pulse that has driven all the youkai insane and destroyed the society of Shangri-la, to get the magic scroll. They are doing this in a jeep that is really a three-foot dragon. Their Noble Demon antagonist Kougaiji and his gang regularly commute from their ultimate destination to them, in their jeep on the road, and back. Enforced since Kanzeon could easily send them straight there, but she doesn't because the journey is as important as the destination.
  • Averted in a gag in the Sailor Moon S season where Eudial calls Haruka's house to leave a message on her answering machine that she has found the holder of a talisman. Eudial's message gets cut off by the answering machine only allowing messages of a certain length, and then she has to call back and leaves the rest of her message, which begins with her yelling about the answering machine cutting her off in the first message.
  • Team Rocket on Pokémon: The Series get this a lot. While getting blasted off by a Pikachu is always a risk, they almost never get caught or questioned by the police, manage to worm their way into key positions in various companies and events, and can always pick up a menial job that earns them money for the next giant robot. If they do encounter bureaucracy, it's much more likely to come from their bosses collecting debts or cancelling their membership.

    Comic Books 
  • Averted in The Invisibles. King Mob regards the all-too-human workforce of the evil overlords as their greatest weakness. See the quote page.
  • Interesting use of this in Judge Dredd during the reign of Judge Cal. The entire city got very efficient (what with the death penalty for incompetence and all) but this ended up helping the heroes as the postal service was efficient enough to get them a vital piece of evidence before anyone worked out that it had been copied. Of course this just led Judge Cal to see it as his master work and plans to kill everyone in Mega-City One.
  • Averted in V for Vendetta (except for the fact that the government is fascist). The people who work for the Norsefire government all have their personal quirks and flaws, which V is able to exploit to bring them down. Take Derek Almond, who confronts V with an empty gun that he emptied earlier that night so he could threaten his wife without actually endangering her. And Almond's death sends his wife on the downward spiral that ultimately leads her to assassinate Leader Adam Susan.

    Fan Works 
  • Averted with World War Etheria the logistics of the different military operations the Horde carries out are described in detail, as well as all the different things that can go wrong with those that destroy the entire war effort.

    Films — Animated 
  • Brave: After the bear is discovered, it takes no time at all to throw together a group of huntsmen and launch a chase.
  • Lampshaded in The Emperor's New Groove, when pursuers Kronk and Yzma make it back to the mountain-top palace before Kuzco and Pacha in spite of having been hit with a lightning bolt and dropping into a chasm.
    Kuzco: No, it can't be! How'd you get here before us?!
    Yzma: ... How did we, Kronk?
    Kronk: Well, ya got me. [Displays a map that shows the previous chase] By all accounts it doesn't make sense.
  • Averted in Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent spends years trying to find Aurora to no avail, only to discover that her cronies have spent 16 years looking for an infant.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in Brazil. The government is not portrayed as infallible (the crippling bureaucracy makes it highly inefficient, and the driving force of the plot is the result of an insect randomly falling into a printer) but everyone thinks it is. This ranges from the mildly humorous (a civil servant calls his wife by the wrong name because his superior once mistook her name, as well as believing he has triplets rather than twins) to the incredibly dark (an innocent man is arrested, charged with terrorism, and tortured to death because of a minor printing error on the arrest warrant; when confronted, the torturer excuses the death because he had not been informed of the man's heart condition, having received the file for the actual criminal). Any mistakes by the bureaucracy, if even acknowledged, are decried as the result of terrorist sabotage.
  • The live-action Death Note film has L point out that large, secret organizations have statistically increasing degrees of inefficiency, proportional to their size. He gives this as evidence for his deduction that Kira is more likely an individual rather than a conspiracy.
    • Death Note as a whole averts this trope as virtually all the factions have slackers or incompetents (Matsuda, Misa, Sidoh etc.)... but loses points to the few key players being hypercompetent Chessmasters capable of pulling off Gambit Roulettes. Repeatedly.
  • In Outland, the shuttle bringing the assassins sent to kill the protagonist arrives 40 minutes early, tossing O'Niel into Indy Ploy mode. In the Mad Magazine parody, the hero comments that this is the first flight in the history of the station to not arrive late.
  • Downplayed in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, where the bad guys are a relatively small band of Eastern European terrorists, rather than (as usual in Bond films) the well-funded personal army of a megalomaniacal multi-billionaire. One scene has the lead terrorist's accountant complaining to him about 3 parasails destroyed by Bond in a preceding chase scene; they were rented and the rental company is going to be pissed. Roger Ebert even cited this little scene in his review of the movie while musing about where the villains in movies manage to get all their logistics so tidily.
  • Zig-zagged in Eagle Eye. We still see things like jurisdictional disputes between agencies, but the government's computers have no problem with bandwidth limits or loading times, can interface instantly with any device even remotely connected to "the grid" (including power lines) without needing to install drivers, and operate all manners of technology from mall security cameras to heavy construction equipment way beyond the abilities of the actual hardware. It borders on hilarious to anyone who knows a little bit about how these devices function - it doesn't matter how sophisticated the software you cram into your Ford Model-T is, you're not gonna get it to function like a modern Bentley, much less to fly or go underwater.
  • As soon as Captain America: The Winter Soldier reveals SHIELD is thoroughly compromised by enemy agents, the same agency that had constant logistic and communication difficulties coping with events in former MCU movies (even ones, such as the Chitauri invasion in Avengers, that were not part of the Evil Plan) becomes terrifyingly efficient in pursuing and eliminating the heroes. Justified as the one who organized the takeover says that they were not only deliberately flubbing those incidents, they were sabotaging anything and anyone that did try to do their best, and all the while training their own forces for maximum loyalty and competence.
    Zola: For 70 years, HYDRA has been secretly feeding crises, reaping war. And when history did not cooperate, history was changed.

  • Justified in Dragon Bones. The king built the first insane asylum of the country himself, so of course he doesn't have problems with getting everyone he wants to there, and diagnosed with insanity. Later averted with main villain Kariarn who loses control over his own weapon and has to improvise. He could have died ... if the hero hadn't saved him reflexively.
  • Averted in American Tabloid. A plot to kill JFK in Miami falls apart, with Dallas being a hastily kludged together but successful back-up plan.
  • The Draka are an exaggeration of this trope. They are founded by loyalists fleeing North America after the Revolutionary War and they somehow turn South Africa into a productive, industrialized slave-owning state within ten years. By 1900 they control all of Africa and have the second-largest economy in the world. By 1950 they control almost of Eurasia as well. They're technologically a generation ahead of everyone else and less than 10% of their population isn't a slave. They never fail, they always win, and the world's other nations never do anything about it until it's too late. When they know the Draka are planning a first strike against them, they delay their own in the hopes they can negotiate peace. This is despite the fact the Draka's ideology is "enslave the strong, crush the weak, torture/rape the rest". The entire trilogy is S.M. Stirling handing Social Darwinist slave owners an "I Win" button.
  • One way of knowing that the Royal Military of Markerterion in Stationery Voyagers isn't too evil is that they DO have to worry about mass incompetence in their ranks. While not themselves entirely immune to the Idiot Ball, most of Astrabolo's Yehtzig Pirate League plays this trope straighter and if they DO fail to accomplish something the easy way...they seem to always have a rocket launcher handy to compensate.
  • The Party of Oceania in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is somehow able to monitor all Outer Party members at all times, maintain the Thought Police, operate multiple fronts for false recruitment into a resistance, and so on, despite the economy being perpetually in shambles.
    • This was parodied by British humorist Alan Coren in a short story entitled 'Due To Circumstances Beyond Our Control, 1984 Has Been Unavoidably Cancelled...' which depicted Winston Smith in a world filled with the apathetic, the lazy, the bloody-minded and the incompetent. The telescreens are broken, Room 101 contains a single wheezing stoat because they can't get rats (or moths) at this time of year, etc. The author's note at the start of the story states that it is intended to prove 'that totalitarianism could never work in Britain. Nothing else does, so how could it?'
    • As Isaac Asimov pointed out in his review of 1984 (which he thought was overrated), while the economy of Oceania is in shambles, the television sets (which always have to be switched on) seem to work all the time.
  • Also noted by Terry Pratchett in Hogfather; paraphrasing "considering their track record in every other area, governments seem rather remarkably competent in the field of hushing things up".
  • C. S. Lewis played with this. The Lowerarchy in The Screwtape Letters is largely held together by fear of retribution, because demons hate everything good, including efficiency, but acknowledge that their plans rely (for the moment) on certain "good" qualities remaining in play. Every so often something Goes Horribly Wrong...or awesomely right, if you're one of the good guys.
  • Lewis acknowledges this again in The Chronicles of Narnia book The Horse and His Boy (set during the reign of the kids). The Evil Prince Rabadash is angered when Susan rejects his marriage proposal but knows that his country's massive armies can't cross the desert to reach Narnia. He decides to collect 200 horsemen in an attempt to kill the King of Archenland(Narnia's neighbor) and gain a foothold. Even then it takes the better part of two days to get the men ready.
  • Justified in Codex Alera. At first, the obstreperous Obstructive Bureaucrat in a position of authority in the valley garrison looks like a Contrived Coincidence, making things harder for the heroes and easier for the villains for no good reason. Later, though, we learn that the bureaucrat is an innocent if incompetent guy, but the Big Bad Friend was so Crazy-Prepared that before the story started he spent weeks sabotaging the valley garrison, including getting incompetent people reassigned to important places.
  • The Cold War-era political thriller Pentagon is an Author Tract against the U.S. military procurement system, and Anviliciously examines the bureaucratic infighting and interservice rivalry that paralyzes America's military response to the chillingly efficient Soviet invasion of a Pacific island to use it as a nuclear missile base.
  • Massively averted in The Belgariad and The Malloreon series, for the protagonists (which could have, say...large numbers of cultists hidden within a country's power structure) and antagonists (the heroes even rely on or induce bureaucratic incompetence and greed to get ahead). Hell, even the Prophecies themselves are technically susceptible to random chance (though they're also infinitely more knowledgeable and powerful, and have mostly been able to avoid or swiftly deal with unexpected problems).
    • When Torak invaded the Eastern Kingdoms, he did so with what ought to have been massive numerical superiority; he had the Malloreans, millions of 'em, an entire continent to throw against the disunited and underpopulated eastern kingdoms. But his Mallorean army tried to march up to meet him through the desert of Rak Cthol, and got foundered by a massive blizzard on the way; they never showed up to the final battle, and Kal Torak was defeated. note 
  • The Swiss crime story The Pledge revolves around subverting this trope: A cop spends years analyzing a serial killer's MO, finding out who the next victim will be and and builds a relationship with the victim's family to use them as bait - but the killer never strikes. After several years, the cop's gone mad and refuses to believe he was wrong. He actually was right, but the killer died in a car accident on his way to the crime. Wah wah waaaaaah...
  • Repeatedly subverted in the Honor Harrington series, where the heroic Star Kingdom of Manticore is a dynamic, powerful, stable and competent force - at least when its government is out of the hands of anyone Honor disagrees with - while their various enemies are incompetent, disunited, or struggling to do some good despite the system's corruption, and generally only prove a threat because of their massive numbers. The subversion is particularly noticeable with the Solarian League, who were long talked up as being a powerful, advanced and professional outfit until Manticore actually engages their ships, and we realize they're corrupt, unimaginative plodders who can't get anything done because they're too busy saving face.
  • In Fight Club Tyler Durden is so charismatic that he manages to brainwash hundreds, if not thousands of guys (including cops) into carrying out his plan and all of his minions are super-competent. The only thing that could bring him down was himself.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One of the most obvious examples is the Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force," where a historian creates a Nazi planet because it was the "most efficient state ever." It ends in tears, of course, because it's a frickin' Nazi planet. But it's efficient - unlike, as discussed below, the real Nazi Germany...
  • The conspiracy in The X-Files never, ever has to worry about coincidence. Ever. Does a UFO have to delay its flight because of bad weather?
    • Subverted in Tunguska, where the conspiracy is thwarted when Overreacting Airport Security decides to crack open a package of black oil; despite the courier giving up and admitting he's transporting biohazardous material, the customs agent chooses to believe it's valuable contraband — most likely something worth stealing. Truth in Television; though smartphones and self-tracing electronics have made it very easy to catch them in the act in the 21st century, they've always had sticky fingers. An excellent example of how the conspiracy could have plants in various government department, they had no control of little things. A few seasons later however, some of their schemes would require every single person in the FBI building to be part of the conspiracy.
    • A particularly egregious example; even when something goes wrong the MIB move in so fast that the heroes are lucky if they get there in time to watch the evidence/witness/villain/Monster of the Week disappear.
    • Lampshaded and then explained away in the episode "E.B.E.", where Scully questions why a government incapable of a balanced budget could mastermind conspiracies that The Lone Gunmen espouse. Byers responds that the kind of men who engage in these conspiracies aren't a bunch of politicians on Capitol Hill "trying to bone pages," but are supposed to be an inner level of government that focuses strictly on those kinds of ops. i.e. it's a lot easier to be competent at a job when it's your only job, everyone in your organization was hand-picked for their ruthless competence, and you have cart blanche to use all the country's resources and break any law. It has implications for the rest of the series; were at some point, or are the CIA and FBI and IRS just brimming with highly competent members who would jump at the chance to betray the human race? Are the Cigarette Smoking Man and his international cohorts acting with the explicit authorization of their parent governments (in short, does the POTUS know of the aliens), or are they so deep and integral that they act with impunity, having no direct line of authority to contend with? It's later revealed that Truman at least knew (and possibly also the later Presidents), but the secret cabal is so powerful they can do essentially whatever they'd like. Since they already killed at least one President (JFK) doubtless all of the rest know better than to defy them. It's also explicitly stated they transcend governments.
  • This is both played straight and subverted in The Wire. While the Barksdale gang is shown with flaws and foibles, the Greeks and the Stanfield crew are ruthlessly efficient. In fact, the one time that Chris Partlow, Marlo Stanfield's right-hand man, loses his temper during a hit, it brings the whole thing down after nearly 3 seasons of out-thinking and out-fighting all comers. Meanwhile the Baltimore PD, with only a handful of exceptions, is shown to be corrupt or incompetent in the extreme.
    • This trope came to particular prominence at one point in S3, when the Police's major plan involved arresting one dealer in the hopes a more incompetent one would get promoted to this position; then with his carelessness the wiretap would be more effective. It didn't work. As one of the characters lampshaded, someone in the police with connections similar to those the drug dealer had would have made lieutenant at least, regardless of how stupid or incompetent he might be.
  • The Ice Truck Killer from Dexter. In addition to repeatedly breaking into Dexter's apartment and leaving no trace, the Ice Truck Killer (acting alone) once retrieved one of Dexter's victims from the bottom of the ocean OVERNIGHT just to mess with him.
    • Dexter himself is even worse, routinely tracking down and catching serial killers more quickly than the police due to a combination of figuring things out sooner than even the best trained investigators, and multiple lucky breaks. And he has become so confident in his ability to break in undetected that he has been known to do so to snoop for petty personal reasons. He does screw up from time to time, but then again, his contingency plans always work out.
  • Family Matters: Eddie went to a bar to play pool. After getting hustled, Eddie didn't have enough money to pay. Somehow a bunch of penny-ante pool hustlers knew Eddie's full name, home address, and the fact that his sister was getting a D in English.
  • Law & Order: Throughout the franchise, whenever a victim or a witness is in the country illegally, all the villain has to do is make one phone call to the immigration authorities and that witness is then immediately taken into custody, and ordered removed before the prosecutors even find out about it. After that, the heroes have to race to stop the witness from being deported, if it isn't already too late.
    • Worth noting, the immigration process is only so ruthlessly efficient when dealing with innocent people. The system is portrayed much more realistically for villains. Season 1 of the mothership series had a Villain of the Week who was an IRA bomber that had been languishing in immigration custody for years as his removal process was pending. A Season 14 episode had a Nazi war criminal who was confident that either he or the star witness against him would die of old age before his deportation proceedings were finished.
  • This is a running theme in S.W.A.T. (2017). Since the Villain of the Week tends to be an organized crime group of some kind, the SWAT team always have to deal with criminals who are almost always one step ahead because of their meticulous planning and attention to detail. There are times when it does go overboard, as several times (often when the episode isn't close to being finished) the criminals get away because an ill-timed truck happens to back into or drive into the path of the SWAT vehichle, Black Betty, an obstruction the criminals were just lucky to avoid.
  • Invoked in The West Wing—after a day of chasing down a leak, and not being able to find it, C.J. finally snaps at Toby...
    C.J.: There is no group of people this large in the world that can keep a secret. I find it comforting. It's how I know for sure the government isn't covering up aliens in New Mexico.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Vampire: The Masquerade occasionally suffers from this. While the Camarilla is desperate to keep humans from finding out about the existence of vampires, the Sabbat apparently gets a free ride - government agencies and police forces are apparently totally oblivious to them, even though they actively work to undermine the Masquerade. This was noted and explained in the Sabbat Splatbook - while the Sabbat officially scoffs at the thought of hiding from humanity, its own elders have come to the same conclusion as the Camarilla: Humanity knowing about vampires would be Bad News, which is why any Sabbat packs engaging in too obvious activities are told to turn it down and clean up after themselves in no uncertain terms. The difference between the sects is mostly in the clean-up: The Camarilla hides its skeletons in the closet with media manipulation and memory-rewrites, the Sabbat simply puts any witnesses right into the closet as well. The only time the Sabbat actively works at breaking the Masquerade is when fighting the Camarilla, reasoning that the other sect will believe the Sabbat doesn't care about humans finding out about them and thus spend its own resources to clean up, essentially making the whole thing into a game of Chicken. On the other hand, a significant enemy of the Fifth Edition metaplot rises because the vampires screwed up their computer security.
    • The real winners for making the trains run on time in the Old World of Darkness were from other games though. Werewolf had Pentex, an evil corporation with Bond Villain resources at its disposal that was absolutely ruthless in covering its tracks. And Mage took the cake with the Technocracy, an international high-tech conspiracy with near limitless funds dedicated to eradicating all evidence for (and belief in) the supernatural.
    • For the Technocracy, when the powers in your docket include altering reality, it's a bit easier. Phrased differently, when a train's about to be late, the Technocracy makes time match the train. This makes it a lot easier to run a conspiracy. Many players of the Old World of Darkness wondered why the Technocracy hadn't eliminated all other supernaturals yet. Several explanations were offered, including a metaplot event where the Technocracy exhausted a good third of its manpower and resources against a single vampire antediluvian. Most were acceptable to Vampire and Werewolf fans while Mage fans remained unconvinced.
  • Averted in the New World of Darkness with Mage: The Awakening. Several of the mage factions run conspiracies amongst the Sleepers, and one of them works towards the purpose of actively ruling the world. However, one of those factions organizes itself in a highly decentralized manner, the world ruling one is far less efficient than it makes itself out to be, due to incompetence and politicking at every level (and largely attributes its success to divine providence), and another is devoted to creating an incomprehensible mess of conspiracies which don't really do anything, as a means of misdirecting the Sleepers from the real secrets. The overall ability to maintain secrecy is largely aided by the Sleepers' tendency to destroy magic when observing it and then forget all about it. Nevertheless, mages are capable of complicated scheming, considering the powers they possess (including the ability to manipulate luck).
    • Played relatively straight in Hunter: The Vigil. While none of the conspiracies are strictly "evil", the Cheiron Group is a thoroughly amoral corporation dedicated to harvesting supernatural body-parts for profit, and very keen on performing painful and potentially lethal modifications on their field agents (sometimes with consent, but always without explaining the downsides). On the other hand, the government-run agencies such as Task Force Valkyrie and VASCU are generally dedicated to protecting the general public from monstrous enemies, fighting the good fight, and so on. Guess which factions are frequently hampered by bureaucracy, infighting and budget cuts?
      • Then again, Valkryie and VASCU actually have these moral scruple thingies that prevent them from using mind control implants on their own employees or selling monster parts on the black market for ridiculous profit...
  • In Rifts, the Coalition States pretty much never has to worry about the little things that bring other nations/militaries to a grinding halt. During the Siege on Tolkeen, the largest amassing of soldiers since the Great Cataclysm, the Coalition had no worries about supply lines or any other kind of logistics. Incompetence is unknown to them. Even the Sorcerer's Revenge, a massive assault carried out by Tolkeen forces that completely routed the enemy and sent them back to behind their own borders, was more or less a distraction (albeit a rather large one). The greatest example is probably the army of General Jericho Holmes, who during the Sorcerer's Revenge was driven into Xiticix territory, and then ignored because it was a safe assumption the Xiticix would wipe them out. Unfortunately for Tolkeen, General Holmes had studied the Xiticix in great detail, and worked out a strategy to move his men through their lands and back out on the other side of Tolkeen with 3/4 of his army still intact. The question of how a General cut off from his army and all his allies managed to keep 400,000 soldiers fed (not to mention other battlefield necessities) is never addressed.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Imperium is the largest aversion to this trope. The galaxy spanning empire is rife with corruption and bureaucracy (in fact, there are entire PLANETS of Obstructive Bureaucrats). If a planet or system falls under attack, it can take years to organize a sizeable relief force and get to the front lines, assuming there aren't any freak Warp storms to delay or outright destroy the fleet. It's so bad that entire planetary systems are lost and armies rerouted to the wrong place due to rounding errors. The only faction that seems to play this trope straight are the Forces of Chaos, if only because by their very nature they sneer and heckle such fool concepts as logistics and casualty.
    • An excellent example is Warp travel, (almost) the only way to get from planet to planet. Where humans depend on Navigators and regularly fall victim to daemons and warpspawn and other horrible things living there, the forces of Chaos can control the Warp (if their gods aren't feeling like being dicks to them that day), the Eldar use a different dimension called the Webway, the Tau use a safer but much slower method that doesn't quite enter the Warp, the Tyranids move at sub-FTL in realspace (and good thing too, otherwise they'd have eaten the galaxy already), the Necrons have science so advanced they can go at FTL in realspace... In fact, the only faction to not fear getting waylaid by Warp currents are the orks, because it means a good fight either way.
    • The novels can play this a bit straighter, however. Especially with regards to the forces of Chaos... it essentially always falls to the heroes to intervene to actually stop the plots of The Enemy, they're never thwarted by not knowing their way around Imperial bureaucracy, failing to corroborate intel, or improper maintenance of their ships.
  • Alpha Complex in Paranoia can be an example of this, depending on GM whim: a glittering engine of menace where puppets flawlessly dance at the end of Ultraviolet strings, or a sputtering wreck held together with spit and bailing wire. Either way, it's a dystopia, and the player's characters are hopelessly screwed.
  • Invoked in the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting, Eberron. The empire of Riedra is ruled by the Inspired, ruthless overlords who keep the nation oppressed under an iron fist and keep things running more or less smoothly, due to very hard work on their part (mostly involving cultural manipulation and mass psychic brainwashing that keeps the populace docile). Another evil group, the Heirs of Ohr Kaluun, is made up of insane cultists who want to overthrow the Inspired, but it's clear that if they took over Riedra, everything the Inspired worked so hard to maintain would come crashing down on them.
  • Exalted never really explains how hordes of zombies who worship a alien and uncaring Void and live in barren shadowlands note  have (leaders with) resources 5, especially since the Deathlords were only resurrected recently and none of the living want to do business with them. Low living/wage costs does not equal wealth.
    • Averted with the human-staffed Wyld Hunt. They're funded by battle loot, the empire's government, and various charitable donors and volunteers. As the Isle's Decadent Court fell into corruption and infighting, the Hunt's budgets were slashed and now the organization is only a shadow of its former self.

    Video Games 
  • The entire Assassin's Creed franchise seems to be this at first glance, with the Templars foiling the Assassins at every turn and ultimately shaping the world - and history - in their favor. However, in Assassin's Creed III, the Big Bad of the American Revolution-era Templars explains that they are simply realistic and opportunistic - they don't need to be perfectly competent to achieve their goals, they just need to accommodate and nurture the flaws in human nature instead of attempting to correct them as the Assassins do. As long as there are ambitious, greedy, cruel humans, there will be Templars to reward obedience with influence, wealth and power.
    Haytham Kenway: Even when your kind appears to triumph... Still we rise again. And do you know why? It is because the Order is born of a realization. We require no creed. No indoctrination by desperate old men. All we need is that the world be as it is. And this is why the Templars will never be destroyed!
  • A big part of Deus Ex is that the conspiracies keep breaking apart. At the heart of the story is the original Ancient Conspiracy, the Illuminati. One of their members breaks away to form Majestic 12, and starts fighting them for control of the world, then a bunch of scientists make a Heel–Face Turn and split off into X-51 to fight both of them. They get some assistance from every Right-Wing Militia Fanatic in the US, resulting in a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits that call themselves the National Secessionist Forces. Along the way another conspirator starts a Playful Hacker resistance called "Silhouette", which fights the Illuminati and Majestic 12. The Triads and the Tongs have a Mad Scientist or twenty, and tear off a chunk of Southeast Asia for themselves, allying with whoever suits their purposes at the moment.
    • According to the prequel novel Deus Ex: Icarus Effect, the NSF was formed a few decades before the formation of X-51.
  • Bureaucracy is a common problem for the GDI of the Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series, from UN bureaucrats in the first war to basically having 80% of their military shut down by bureaucracy just in time for the third war. Nod, on the other hand, never has to worry about bureaucracy and appears to be the model of fanatical efficiency.
    • Nod's fanatic efficiency comes from the fact that they (like most cases of The Empire) weed out inefficient members (especially in the inner circle of Kane and his Commanders) and that Nod, as a whole, relies on strong leaders rather than a bureaucracy. As exemplified by the frequent Nod Civil Wars as well as Alexa's unauthorized listening of Killian's transmissions and undermining her authority, it is evident that Nod is far less efficient than it seems. They are merely more...driven and fanatical about what they do, hence more interested in doing it right.
    • GDI's problems with bureaucrats is played within Tiberian Dawn. In the canonical GDI campaign, they do indeed get their budget suspended by the UN pending an investigation of reported atrocities Nod has framed GDI for... as part of a plan by GDI's commanding officer General Mark Sheppard to bait Nod into striking before the Brotherhood is really ready. The bureaucrats were just playing along, and when the bait is taken, General Sheppard returns with a larger budget and new toys for GDI.
  • In Rainbow Six Vegas, the villain manages to recruit, train, and deploy enough mercenaries to Las Vegas that they can occupy nearly every casino on the Strip and Fremont Street. The Las Vegas PD, Nevada National Guard, and armed casino security barely kill any of them. Despite the fact that these are mercenaries who are quite literally standing in piles of money, none of them simply take the cash and try to slip away. Did we mention that this entire operation, which takes two games to defeat, is only the decoy?
  • Lampshaded and subverted in Maniac Mansion, where Dr. Fred is forced to work with cheap equipment because he's on a budget. Most notably is the fact that he apparently had to cut a lot of corners in constructing the nuclear reactor that powers his mind control machine, to the point where he has to use his swimming pool to cool the fuel rods. Needless to say, his slipshod approach makes it tragically easy to cause a meltdown that destroys everything within a five-mile radius of the mansion, not to mention the mansion itself.
  • Averted frequently for humor in the No One Lives Forever series. The criminal organizations are woefully bureaucratic and filled with paperwork. Often a topic of overheard conversation among enemies.
    • It's also hilarious in the missions involving Soviets. Kate often finds memos dealing with the ridiculous amounts of bureaucracy the soldiers have to deal with. If she kills a guard, and another one finds him. He'll dissolve the body with acid in order to avoid filling out the proper paperwork.
  • Averted in Dragon Age: Origins. Loghain has a lot of the Ferelden nobility up in arms against him, Arl Howe's Stupid Evil blunders turning the capital against him, and a serious thorn in his side in the form of the player character whom his incompetent soldiers and barely more competent hired assassins seem to be unable to handle.
  • Becomes a plot point in Alibi In Ashes, when Nancy realizes that Brenda has some secret way of getting around town very fast, despite traffic delays and bridge closures.
  • In Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, the Human Hive are immune to negative Efficiency modifiers, which is a special bonus that's more or less required for the faction to run a planned economy and a police state - if any other faction tried to pick those two policies together, they would basically be committing industrial suicide.
  • Averted in KGB, in which the player character is an agent of an extremely incompetent government. Half of playing the game is just figuring out how to get anything done when you have all the responsibilities of a spy and none of the perks: finding enough money to barter with civilians, working through equipment sabotage by one's rivals, deceiving other government employees because the system is corrupt and undermining itself, perpetual lack of backup because so many spies can and have been fired for petty reasons, etc...
  • This arises as a plot point in the various Advance Wars games with the villainous Black Hole. In Black Hole Rising they have absurd access to supplies by looting raw materials from all over the world through the ominous pipes they're building everywhere, and in Dual Strike they've found a way to sap the life force from the very planet itself and convert it into resources. In Days of Ruin IDS managed to hang on to their resources after the end of the world and are now free to do with it as they please while the various other factions are scrounging for food, fuel, and bullets.
  • Rocket: Robot on Wheels subverts this right in time for the final boss fight. Rocket only defeats Jojo because the latter hadn't been able to finish up his obstacle course in time, which Rocket takes advantage of to take him out.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Double Homework, Dennis can smuggle drugs onto a giant yacht, tip off the cops to these drugs without arousing suspicion, buy the rights to random film clips with only the merest suspicion that they might be useful later, rig microphones onto his yacht that can’t be seen even when the protagonist is on the lookout for hidden cameras, and create a program that can hack into one of the most secure computers in world without so much as seeing the computer in question.

  • Massively averted in Sluggy Freelance with the Hereti Corporation. They built an army of robotic water coolers but forgot to waterproof them. Their chief interrogator can't get his high tech torture device to work and injects the wrong prisoner with truth serum. They knock out their own security system when they try using an EMP weapon against the good guys. Not to mention their company logo was designed by the lowest bidder.
  • This is subverted as part of Dark Pegasus' recent fleshing-out in DMFA.
    • Keep in mind, however, that Dan was sent to his castle by another Creature with plans of her own.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Lawful Evil villain Redcloak hangs a lampshade on this, about all the background work he does in running the empire which Xykon, the Big Bad, rules thanks in large part to Redcloak:
      Do they think crushing an entire civilization beneath our heels "just happens?" It's all fun and games for them, but I'm the one who has to make the magical lightning-powered trains run on time.
    • He also states that, while conquering that empire had been (relatively) easy, keeping it would be a lot harder, which is the main reason Xykon and he had stayed in the place for so long.
    • The Empire of Blood and the other two major empires in the West Continent desert inverts this because holding an empire in the West Continent desert is near-impossible if done with warlord tactics; maps and leaders change in a matter of months, so decreasing the delay in everything means that the people rise up and get conquered faster. So, to hold his empire, Tarquin had to create an elaborate genre-savvy system of checks and balances, executions and arrests, and magnificently devious relationships with the other major empires (they're all friends). The end result of the delays is that the villains can use bureaucracy to restructure an empire themselves each time it falls, turning revolutions into pyrrhic victories when the empires inevitably collapse, thereby perpetuating the network, and ultimately, the empirical concept.
    • Subverted with the last of the gateways that all of the characters have been chasing after; while the heroes have been subject to misdirection after delay after being thrown Off the Rails trying to get there, the villains had access to a diary which gave the exact location, meaning all they had to do was teleport there... except when they got there, they found that the gateway was hidden behind one of a huge amount of doors built into a massive mountain-face, each one leading to an equally labyrinthine dungeon full of unique dangers. This means that while the heroes have been subject to delays in trying to get there, the villains have been subject to an equal amount of delays trying to find the damn thing.
  • xkcd used this Mussolini for a pun.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation tends to avert this. They keep a worldwide Masquerade running... barely. It is very clear that it only works because most world governments are cooperating/funding the Foundation, and they must cross all kinds of moral lines to keep the objects contained. Yet, read enough of the site, it becomes clear that with the many close calls, containment breaches from employee errors, and many other incidents, things are only kept secret because the Foundation has drugs that can completely wipe people's memories.
    • It's implied in parts of the Negative Continuity that large portions of world government are aware of the Foundation but know enough not to stick their noses in. Official doctrine in many stories mentions that if the fate of humanity is at stake the Foundation can hit all sorts of reboots. A couple items in the listings specifically note other organizations working on a cover-up. One specific story has a Religion of Evil help contain a mass panic they caused, because Even Evil Has Standards.

    Western Animation 
  • The Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation TRIP" is based on this. Two spies chasing Numbuh Three are plagued by horrible coincidences, like bumping into a rabid dog, getting on the wrong train, and so on. In the end, it turns out that every accident they had was arranged by the heroes.
  • Subverted in an episode of Jackie Chan Adventures. The episode's antagonists, a well-organized magical cult, plan to harness the Stonehenge's magical power. These cultists had planned for every possible event and had Jackie and Jade in a tight spot for most of the episode. They ultimately complete their ritual, only to discover that the Stonehenge really wasn't magical. Hilariously, a UFO lands at the site after everyone has left.
  • South Park spoofed this in "Mystery of the Urinal Deuce", by explaining that the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists are in fact employed by the government to make people think that they're actually capable of doing such a thing.
  • Played for Laughs in The Simpsons episode Two Dozen and One Greyhounds, where Mr. Burns steals the puppies of Santa's Little Helper and his new bitch, and Bart and Lisa break into his home to get them back. Burns and Smithers enter the room just in time to see Bart jump down the laundry chute after Lisa and the puppies...who then immediately run into Smithers and Burns again. Burns brushes off how they got there so fast.
    Mr Burns: Going somewhere?
    Bart: That's impossible! How did you get here first?
    Mr Burns: Oh, there'll be plenty of time for explanations later.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: This tended to happen a lot in the second season with Azula. She was always wherever she wanted or needed to be. Unlike Zuko, who ran into constant obstacles and troubles, Azula's pursuit of the Avatar is carried out with the implacability of a machine. Azula herself is ruthless and smart enough that it is fair to think she brooks no delays, but all of her minions seem to be granted the same magical immunity to inconvenience.
    • In her first real appearance at the start of season two, Azula is told that the tides will not allow them to dock the ship, so they'll have to wait for a more favorable time. She threatens to kill the captain, and he presumably manages to fight the tides, so she definitely does everything she can to invoke this. This serves as a stark contrast to her brother who generally prioritizes the well-being and safety of his men over gaining some ground, presumably justifying why she seems to make more headway than he ever did.
      • Though the episode also features an inversion, when one of her crewmates casually refers to Zuko and Iroh as prisoners, tipping them off (though Iroh was already suspicious) and allowing them to escape. She's absolutely livid, and the crewmate clearly fears for his life. None of them are ever seen again, and she instead gathers her Quirky Miniboss Squad of Ty Lee and Mai, who do much better.
  • Deconstructed in the Family Guy parody of Star Wars, wherein Darth Vader (played by Stewie) is wary of cost accumulations in building the Death Star, and a snarky comment from one of the Imperial officers in response to an order to hold his fire returns an angry retort from his supervisor that it's easy for him to joke when he has no budgetary responsibilities:
    Imperial Officer 1: Hold your fire. There's no life forms aboard.
    Imperial Officer 2: "Hold your fire?" What, are we paying by the laser now?
    Imperial Officer 1: You don't do the budget, Terry. I do.
  • Similar to the Family Guy example, The Venture Bros. shows that the minions of the supervillains often question the order of their bosses, have very human failings, have a union of their own and will bring their negotiating demands to their bosses who themselves constantly struggle with budgetary constraints. This show loves taking the demolition ball to any trope it can find.
  • Subverted and exaggerated in Invader Zim. Both Zim and Dib run into numerous problems every single time they try to execute their plans. Whenever Zim tries to conquer and/or destroy Earth, it is ruined either by Dib, Zim's own incompetence, or random disasters. Whenever Dib tries to expose Zim, the evidence is ruined by Zim, Dib's own incompetence, random disasters, or simply ignored by everyone else due to their own stupidity. Zim commonly expresses paranoia about being found out, but fails to realize that the humans are too stupid to notice even after he has gone running around in public wreaking havoc numerous times himself.
  • Sort of on display in the continuity of Batman: The Animated Series, later on in The New Batman Adventures. Upon the death of Batgirl, the police force that seemingly can't do anything without the help of Bruce and his team (an exaggeration, but not by too much) is suddenly very able at figuring them out, isolating them and hunting them down with frightening efficiency, even allowing for the grieving Commissioner Gordon pushing them hard. Then again it was All Just a Dream.
  • Samurai Jack: Hilariously averted with Scaramouche in season 5. After turning out to be Not Quite Dead and having discovered that Jack has lost his magic sword -the only known weapon capable of harming Aku- he immediately sets off to inform Aku of Jack's vulnerability. However, as Jack destroyed his cell phone and all of his body except for his head, he has no easy way to contact him, and all of his attempts to do so keep getting thwarted by luck, happenstance, and Aku's own apathy. By the time he finally manages to deliver the news, Jack has recovered his sword, and Aku immediately kills Scaramouche for bringing him bad intel.
  • This is averted at several points for the Decepticons in Transformers: Prime. At different points they suffer setbacks from misfortune and incompetence, such as the Autobots managing to find their ship thanks to their clocking device malfunctioning and in the third season much of the Decepticon's fighting force is depleted thanks to Starscream foolishly messing with dark energon and creating terrorcon vampires, all without Autobot involvement.