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Removing the Crucial Teammate

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The Team can have members of all abilities and all walks of life. Some of those members may seem less useful than others, and frustration with having to carry them can lead to an impulse to dump them to lighten the load.

This trope is when that backfires. It might be that the expelled member had an overly specific or esoteric special ability that suddenly proves plot-critical. Perhaps they were a Utility Party Member or Support Party Member who provided a critical non-combat role that the combatant members who had to guard them didn't respect until it was gone. Or maybe they were The Heart of the team, and without them, The Team's dynamics are stuck in Dysfunction Junction, and questing just isn't as fun as before.

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One way this sometimes plays out is for the story to focus on what the expelled character does afterwards, rather than the struggles of their former teammates. As a protagonist, the expelled might find a worthy niche for themselves away from The Team and start having their own adventures. They may even find themselves commanding a premium price if their teammates come slinking back to ask them to re-join. Say It is likely to come into play, with the formerly removed teammate insisting that the others admit they need them.

Alternatively, everyone else does realize how important that reliable character was and the Crucial Character is merely now in a position where they can't help everyone else (accidentally or otherwise). In this scenario, The Team now have to learn how to fix their mess without the usual help leading to a lesson about overreliance and independence. The old character may still need to come in after this, after all, accepting help from an ally when you need it instead of limping along without it also a valuable lesson.

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Compare Vetinari Job Security, where the character chooses to stop doing their job and everyone else discovers nobody can cover for them, and Achilles in His Tent, where a team member leaves due to disrespect but returns in the nick of time. Do not confuse this trope for This Looks Like A Job For Aqua Man, which is a specific plot where events are contrived to make a character's hyper-specific powers crucial for saving the day and the character in question is not removed from the team at any point.

Also compare Hyper-Competent Sidekick, which these characters tend to be.

Contrast We Have Reserves and You Have Outlived Your Usefulness, for when the character can be easily killed and replaced. Also contrast with The Millstone and The Drag-Along. See also Present Absence and Deus Exit Machina. If the Crucial Teammate themselves decide to leave on their own but come back later, then it's Changed My Mind, Kid.

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Has nothing to do with Straight for the Commander, Shoot the Medic First, Shoot the Mage First, or enemies attacking a Support Party Member, though bonus points if this is also the case.


Examples

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    Comic Books 
  • In Runaways, whenever Karolina (The Heart) or Chase (the Team Dad) leave the team for an extended period, things go to shit. The second series saw Karolina leave to negotiate an end to an interstellar war caused by her parents, leaving them without a peacemaker when Gert, Nico, Chase, and Victor ended up at each other's throats over various conflicts, and then Chase quit the team out of anger over his girlfriend Gert's death, leaving the team without someone to guide them through their own grief. The end of the fourth series sees both of them pulled away from the team at the same time (Chase is kidnapped by a future version of Gert, while Karolina goes back into space to recharge her depleted powers) and naturally the remaining team members all look hopelessly lost.
  • The Transformers Megaseries: In the on-going that began with the soft reboot event Transformers: All Hail Megatron, it's revealed that the Combaticons (Brawl, Vortex, Blast-Off, and Onslaught) have allied with North Korea sans Swindle. As Swindle is portrayed as a seedy, untrustworthy used salesman-type, the Combaticons are initially fine with him not being among them. However, it quickly becomes clear that without him to handle logistics and negotiation, they aren't getting as much out of their "alliance" as they could, a fact the other Combaticons testily point out to Onslaught.

    Literature 
  • This happens to Red, aka Gideon Ragnason, in Banished from the Hero's Party on account of Ares. While Ares was right in that Gideon wouldn't have been able to keep up in actual battle for much longer, the former failed to realize how important Gideon was outside of battle, being both The Social Expert and the Living Emotional Crutch of Ruti (who is both The Hero and Gideon's little sister). The party quickly falls apart without Gideon there, as without his tactical guidance the party's battle strategy becomes Attack! Attack! Attack! no matter the situation, and Ares is terrible at trying to take over the non-combat jobs Gideon performed, such as negotiating with locals, because of his arrogance and inability to acknowledge he could be wrong. As for Ruti, she's locked into the journey to fight the Demon Lord because of her Blessing of the Hero, which compels her to proceed regardless of what she wants, but the instant she has a chance to reduce her Blessing's influence on her she grabs it with both hands and abandons her journey to find her brother.
  • In Beast Tamer, titular character Rein Shroud is kicked out of his party for only being able to form contracts with non-human creatures and being a weakling otherwise. What the party did not notice, however, is that Rein was capable of forming contracts with far more creatures than the average tamer (most tamers being limited to a single normal animal) thus making his scouting abilities far more convenient for them, especially when, of course, they need someone like that later. To add insult to injury, once Rein learns that he can form contracts with members of the "ultimate species," he quickly overcomes his "weakling" status, making the party even less justified in kicking him out. They ended up being forced to ask for his help retrieving a powerful magic item after they realized they couldn't get it without his skills, but couldn't resist the impulse to insult him and his two beastgirl companions and got a well-deserved ass-kicking as a result.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Big Shot: In the final basketball game, Susan trades Greg to the other team, due to his terrible basketball skills. He then ends up making the winning shot and costing Susan's team the game.
  • A Former Child Soldier Who Uses A Magic Sword Wants To Live With An Older Sister Of A Former Enemy Executive has this happening to both sides of the conflict:
    • The titular Child Soldier Seto get expelled from the hero party due to everyone being disgusted by Seto's cruel, cold-hearted fighting style. While that by itself is somewhat relatable, their hasty decision quickly lands them in hot water, as Seto was not only the team's most powerful member, bar none, but also the only one with any apparent survival skills. As such, the party is not only getting quickly and easily overwhelmed by larger groups of enemies but also has trouble procuring food and other resources while out in the wild.
    • The titular former enemy executive Satis is set up for execution for her repeated failures against the hero party. While this is to showcase how much of a Bad Boss he is, he also didn't think twice to kill the person who leads his armies. Not only did she manage to escape, but without her the demon armies were left unorganized. This not only made the demon armies unable to conquer human territories, they were also defeated by the human armies, who don't even need to use their strongest warriors helping them.
  • I Left the A-Rank Party starts with main character Yoke Feldio getting fed up with his party treating him like a chore boy due to him being The Red Mage Support Party Member and decides to quit. While the party takes this in stride at first, a couple chapters later show them struggling on the fourth floor of a dungeon where they've previously been able to make it to the tenth floor, at least. It's at this point that it's revealed that, while the party was able to make it to A-Rank, not only did they overestimate their base combat abilities (i.e. the strength that had without support magic), they had also ranked up without any actual knowledge of the usefulness of certain items (like monster repellants) and they didn't have a surplus of healing items, nearly leading to the death of one of their party members. And guess who helped with all of those issues?
  • Journey to the West: every now and then, Pigsy and Sandy grow tired of Wukong (who admittedly is a dick whenever he can get away with it), talk Xuanzang into kicking him out of the team, and then all of them get into a big mess that only Wukong can fix. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat...
  • KonoSuba pulls both an inversion and zigzag when Kazuma and Dust switch parties after the latter displays jealousy of Kazuma's Battle Harem. By the end of the day, Dust's party is impressed with Kazuma's competence, skills and creative thinking, while Dust is unable to handle the girls from Kazuma's party and begs him to switch back. The zigzagging part comes from the fact that Dust's departure didn't affect his own team too much, so the switch back mostly came down to tolerance and preference.
  • Roll Over and Die starts with the hero party's wizard Jean taking it upon himself to sell protagonist Flum Apricot into slavery (lying to her that it was a group decision and telling the party she quit), because she's useless in combat due to her stats being permanently zeroes (and because he wants to make the heroine Cyrill his wife and sees Flum as an obstacle). The party's morale rapidly plummets because Jean didn't realize how much Flum had been The Heart of the team, and by book three, several members have quit the quest altogether. Flum has much better fortune: after discovering the true purpose of her Reversal special ability and using it to escape the slavers (adopting another slave, Milkit, in the process), she sets herself up as a solo adventurer and begins digging into the church conspiracy underpinning the hero party's quest.

    Video Games 
  • The Tales Series does this a lot:
    • Tales of Eternia: Before going to the Ruins of Volt, Keele has to stay behind to work with Shileska's scientists. Being forced to deal with the ruin's puzzles without Keele gives Reid and Farah a new appreciation for what their friend brings to the table.
    • Tales of Symphonia examines the long-term consequences of this in detail, but not with the player's party. Martel was the White Magician Girl and The Heart of the Precursor Heroes, as well as her brother's Morality Chain. Her murder sent all of the survivors across the Despair Event Horizon while Mithos in particular simply snapped, leading directly to the crisis that the player's party need to solve thousands of years later.
    • Tales of Vesperia. Estelle, the only real White Mage of the party, is unavailable for a while due to Alexei kidnapping her, leaving you without her healing artes. Downplayed in that it's not too difficult to make up for that by buying a bunch of healing items. After the fight with Zagi, the pary directly points out how much trouble they're in without Estelle's mass healing artes.
    • A more glaring example happens in Tales of Arise with Shionne, who similar to Estelle above is one of the healers of the group and is kidnapped by Vholran. Unlike Vesperia, however, healing in general is much more limited in this game, both having the game economy of not giving a lot of Gald to work with early on alongside recovery items being scarce and having a Mana Meter in Cure Points (that does NOT recover on its own) that the party has to use in order to use healing spells both in and out of battle. Also while another party member, Dohalim, is still capable of using healing artes, his healing artes are single target, while Shionne's are capable of healing the entire party. And to really drive her absence home, Shionne takes Alphen's Flaming Sword with her, limiting his battle capabilities (especially if you're playing as him), and the next Boss Battle you face is a flying enemy, which just so happens to be Shionne's specialty.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: In the episode S3E4 Sokka's Master, Sokka complains that he feels like the load of the group given that he's the only non-bender, which some of the group members had already commented on in the past. Once he is gone to train with his master, the other group members hang around aimlessly and joylessly, as their main planner and mood-refresher is gone. Everyone is all but ecstatic as soon as Sokka returns.
  • The Loud House: In "No Spoilers", the children are planning their mother's birthday party. However, they leave the second-eldest one, Leni, out of the planning since she's terrible at keeping secrets and would spoil the surprise. However, they then realise that Leni is the only one who really knows what their mother Rita likes in a party, so they must bring her back to throw a party suited for Rita.
  • Metalocalypse: In "Dethsiduals", Murderface and Toki are kicked out of Dethklok and the remaining members attempt to write songs without them. While the band become much more productive without the two, they soon realize without the negative energy brought by Murderface, the quality of the music suffers, and the two are invited back.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
    • This almost causes them to lose to the Black Vines when Applejack makes the logical but wrong decision to send Twilight away, reasoning that Twilight is now the acting leader of Equestria and she's needed back at the palace to run the country. Naturally, without all their friends, things go to pot pretty quickly; you'd think they'd have remembered way back fighting Discord, when they were one friend short to use their powers...
    • This is largely Starlight Glimmer's tactic to destroy the world when she gets her hands on some time travel magic: prevent the Sonic Rainboom, which prevents Twilight from ever going to Ponyville and making friends with the rest of the Mane Six. About 12 violent apocalypses later, Starlight finally gets it through her thick skull that making others suffer for her own petty vendettas is wrong and she surrenders.
  • Exaggerated in The Simpsons episode "Marge in Chains". Marge is arrested for shoplifting because she forgot to pay for grandpa's bottle of bourbon, losing the trust of the city (including gossiper Helen Lovejoy and neighbor Maude Flanders) and is sent to jail for 30 days. With her arrest, she was unable to assist the bake sale at the park (led by Helen and Maude), with the crowd leaving in disappointment when Marge wasn't present for the marshmallow squares, leaving the fundraising short $15 dollars for the statue of Abraham Lincoln. Since they had to purchase the Jimmy Carter statue instead, the citizens were disgusted and started to riot. Eventually, the townspeople start saying none of it would have happened if Marge was there.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "SpongeBob, You're Fired!", Mr. Krabs fires SpongeBob, his best fry cook who helps bring in a majority of the Krusty Krabs' customers, for the sole purpose of saving a nickel (and not a figurative amount of money, an actual nickel). When Squidward asks Mr. Krabs why he couldn't just fire him, Mr. Krabs tells Squidward that he can't since Squidward has seniority (this is despite the fact that corrupt bosses usually fire employees with seniority because they'd save more money that way). Mr. Krabs attempts to cook Krabby Patties by himself, claiming to have been a five-time Golden Spatula in the Navy. Naturally, Mr. Krabs can't cook and the Krusty Krab nearly goes out of business. Mr. Krabs re-hires SpongeBob at the end of the episode, and installs a pay toilet to make up for the missing nickel.
  • An unusual variation occurs in Star Wars: The Bad Batch when the titular Bad Batch's resident Cold Sniper and all around Jerkass Crosshair ends up having his control chip activated to execute Order 66, making him far more prone to following orders when the Military Maverick team of clones couldn't care less about them. When the group is captured, Crosshair has his chip fully activated to make him a loyal Imperial stooge, forcing his team to leave him behind as he tries to kill them for betraying The Empire. His absence does affect the team like this trope usually plays out—without Crosshair watching point, the Batch, already struggling to adjust to a post-Republic galaxy, winds up getting their rears handed to them over and over again—but he still noticeably misses his team. It's when the finale strikes that things get very unusual with this trope: he had his chip removed so he could serve The Empire willingly, but he wants his brothers to join him, convinced this new order will be the only way they can serve their purpose as soldiers of war. They won't join him in the Empire, but he won't he join them as mercenaries when offered the chance.

    Real Life 
  • In Major League Baseball, the Boston Red Sox trading Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1919 is considered one of the most devastating blunders in the sport's history. Ruth had been trying to demand a higher salary for a while, and his manager, tired of giving non-answers to the issue, sold him behind his back and considered the matter settled. The problem was, it was Babe freaking Ruth that they sold — someone whose downright legendary skill simply couldn't be replaced. The Red Sox would proceed to not live it down, and the ripples of their mistake and resulting destroyed reputation could be felt for almost a century afterwards, long outliving Ruth himself, until they finally ended their decades-long losing streak in 2004. Sometimes it isn't only the absence of the teammate that's damaging; it's how that absence occurs.
  • In World War II, Adolf Hitler was hoping that this trope would come into play with the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He recalled how the death of Catherine the Great during a war saved Prussia by causing the collapse of an anti-Prussian alliance that Russia was the head of, and hoped that Roosevelt dying would cause a similar collapse of the Allied Powers. He was banking on the event generating a Let's You and Him Fight that would see Germany allying with the Western Allies and his regime surviving. It didn't happen, or at least not fast enough to save Hitler.
  • This was the ultimate death knell of Bullfrog Productions, after Peter Molyneux left to form Lionhead Studios. Now, Molyneux may be a controversial figure and we won't touch on that here, but he was incredibly good at shielding the company from Electronic Arts' Executive Meddling and so it was pretty much the only company under their thumb that managed to thrive. However, without him around to keep EA off their backs, EA more or less did to Bullfrog what The Combine did to Earth and ground them into dust — within three years of his departure they weren't making any games anymore, and a mere three years later they were dead in the ground.

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