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So What Do We Do Now?

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Arak: No more executions, torture, nothing.
Etta: It's all changed. We're free.
Arak: Are we?
Etta: Yes.
Arak: What shall we do?
Etta: Dunno.

Some kids just want to be normal. Others Jumped at the Call to get into the action right away. They've had wacky hijinks, great adventure and dramatic changes to their lives, but now it's over. The Big Bad has been defeated. The universe is saved. The balance has been preserved. World peace has been achieved. The need for a hero has seemingly gone away. The hero can go back to his ordinary, safe life again... which will promptly bore them out of their skull.

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It turns out that the hero liked the increase in excitement. And their normal life is missing some things. Friends they made from the adventure. The thrill of flying in a spaceship. All of these are gone now. They're no different from anyone else again.

This trope seems to suggest that life is like a Video Game: Beat the last boss and it's game over. Nothing else to do. You go back to normality and everything special goes away. While not always, typically this trope is applied to the ending of the series, where it might be the last step of The Hero's Journey.

Depending on the writer or director's choice, it can be a Downer Ending where the hero figures he has to just get used to it (often because Growing Up Sucks), or a more optimistic ending where things suggest that the Weird and Wonderful aren't entirely gone, or are coming back — or that the hero can bring them back if he chooses. The optimistic version sometimes ties into a Sequel Hook. Alternatively, the writers can make it look like a happy ending, and Fridge Logic will kick in and turn it into an Esoteric Happy Ending when you start thinking about this trope.

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Subtrope of In Harm's Way. May overlap with Stranger in a Familiar Land.

Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell is this trope applied after the end of the Cold War.

Compare And Then What?, the version of this trope that occurs when The Bad Guy Wins.

Contrast Send Me Back, where the hero wants to go back to how things were because they didn't save the day, and And the Adventure Continues where the hero finds he'll always have adventures.

See also "What Now?" Ending.

As a pseudo-endings trope, this page has spoilers. Consider this your only warning.


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Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • The ending of Mark Waid's Empire. Golgoth has succeeded in conquering the world and killed his daughter and his only friend. Now what?
  • Lanfeust des Étoiles (Lanfeust of Troy's "second season") opens with just this trope. Lanfeust, having gained ultimate power and saved the world, is quite bored and is travelling the wilderness in search of some quest to do that could match his skills – ultimate power is rather hard to challenge though. So this was a rather good moment to send him to space.
  • This is how the story ended for Link in the The Legend of Zelda comic that ran in Nintendo Power. Zelda thanks him for his trouble, he puts the Master Sword back and that's it!
  • One MAD comic strip, "It Only Hurts When I Laugh", featured a pair of conspiracy theorists discovering the conspiracy they had spent their whole lives planning for had been uncovered and the masterminds brought to justice. They briefly rejoice before realizing they'd entrenched themselves in the lifestyle so deep, they had nothing left with no conspiracy to plot against. After nearly being Driven to Suicide, the two decide there must be a new conspiracy behind the solving of the old one and return to their lifestyles.
  • In the Marvel Universe, Richard Rider aka Nova went through this situation when he choose to give up his powers to leave the planet Xandar to return home. As it happens, his life was completely ruined with a disrupted education, dead end jobs and no future. At best, Rider tried to live as best he can while wishing with all his heart that he could get the powers back and become a superhero again. Unfortunately, the planet Xandar was destroyed later, which seemed to mean that any chance of Rider getting repowered was gone forever. However, Night Thrasher, wanting a Flying Brick for his planned superhero team, deduced that there might be a way through a high stress situation. To do so, Night Thrasher abducts Rider, drops him off a roof and sure enough, Rider's powers reignite before he hits the ground. Naturally, Rider overjoyed at this and even though he didn't care for the fact that Night Thrasher didn't know if his plan would work, Rider still owes him big time.
  • Nextwave ends with the titular squad's members asking each other what they should do now that they've defeated the H.A.T.E organization, as they stand on the top of its former mothership. Monica's answer, after she realizes the mothership is still fully operational: "Anything we want."
  • The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: A war that's lasted for four million years has come to an end. How do you deal with that - especially if you came online during the war, and it not being there feels like (to quote Fulcrum) there being no more blue, or the weather stopping? Rodimus gets hit with this again after the Lost Light completes its quest, leading to him becoming a drunk who shows up late to a friend's funeral.

    Comic Strips 
  • The very first Baby Blues comic began right after Zoe was born, with Darryl, Wanda and Zoe all sitting there thinking, "Now what?"

    Films — Animated 
  • The Stinger of Finding Nemo has the Tank Gang finally escape and make it to the ocean. But Bloat sums it up in the last line of the film: "Now what?" They're also still in their plastic bags with no idea how to get out.
    • In a Disney comic afterwards though, it shows they managed to get out and managed to catch up with Nemo.
    • Some of them also partake in the ending credits.
    • Finding Dory shows they eventually drifted all the way to California, still in their bags, where they were picked up and taken to the Marine Life Institute.
  • Subverted in Disney/Pixar's Up; Carl makes it to Paradise Falls, then seems at a loss for what to do next... until he takes another look at Ellie's "Adventure Book".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A Beautiful Mind has an odd version of this where it happens more in the middle of the movie than after the climax. His triumphant moment (winning the Nobel Prize) comes after his So What Do We Now.
  • At the end of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Miss Price has lost her powers, and Mr. Brown has gone off to war. Charlie laments that they're not going to have any adventures anymore, and Paul points out that he still has his enchanted bedknob. It sparkles, hinting that it retains its magic.
  • The Best Years of Our Lives is about nothing but this. It follows three World War II veterans as they return home after the war and try to adjust to civilian life. All of them have been so changed by their war experiences that they can't fit back into their old lives, and are forced to reinvent themselves . . . with varying results.
  • In The Candidate (1972), the titular character played by Robert Redford is a dark horse candidate for U.S. Senate. He enters the election under the basis that his party believes he will lose, but it gives him an opportunity to air his political views. As the race goes on, he sacrifices his own goals in order to gain political leverage, until he has no more platform or policies to go on. It ends with Redford's character winning the election (which nobody, least of all the heroes, had expected). During the victory party in his hotel suite, he finds a quiet moment to ask his campaign manager, in a horrified tone, "So. What do we do now?".
  • The Graduate could be the most famous example of this. After Ben convinces Elaine to ditch her new husband at the altar and the two run away together, their expressions quickly go from excitement to concern.
    • A later Broadway play shows what happened after they get off the bus.
    • The movie Rumor Has It is about the main character's discovery that The Graduate was based on her mother and grandmother's life.
    • Heck, the whole movie could be seen as post-college "what do I do now" on the part of Ben Braddock.
  • Kind of a central theme in The Hurt Locker. It turns up again in Bigelow's latest picture, Zero Dark Thirty; Bin Laden is dead. Maya, the CIA agent who dedicated her entire adult life to finding and killing him, now has to face life without her mission. The final scene of the film sees her sitting alone in an airplane and weeping, unsure of where she wants to go.
  • The gangster spoof Johnny Dangerously has a Framing Device of the title character as a pet store owner, seemingly retired from his life of crime, and telling the story of his life to a kid—complete with An Aesop of "crime doesn't pay." Then a limo pulls up, and he remarks "Well, it paid a little..."
  • In L: change the WorLd, Watari is dead, the Kira case is solved, and L only has 20 days left to live. He tries to pass the days alone solving as many cases as possible but is clearly frustrated and despondent. In the end, once the Blue Ship case is over he realizes he really did want to keep on living.
  • Jim Henson's Labyrinth ends with this trope: With everything back to normal, Sarah is disappointed that all her magical puppet friends are now gone and is hit with the hard realization that the payoff of her adventure boils down to her parents not blaming her for being the crappiest babysitter on Earth. Soon enough, though, the magical puppet friends appear to tell her that they'll always be there for her, "should [she] need [them]" - She doesn't have to give up the Weird and Wonderful, as long as she keeps her imagination! Awww... EVERYBODY (DANCE, MAGIC) DANCE!
  • The Lord of the Rings has something like this as Frodo has been feeling like this. Turns out being the Ringbearer did some heavy damage to his spirit, so he decides to leave with the elves toward their holy lands in the hope he can heal over time.
  • In Meet Joe Black it's more of a happy ending where Joe Black's character and Claire Forlani's character completed their mission of seeing off her father.
  • Just after the big group dance "At the Prom" number in Not Another Teen Movie, all the main characters "freeze" in front of the school, arms raised, not knowing what to do next. Jump cut to inside the prom.
  • Pleasantville's stinger, with Betty asking George and Bill.
  • In Prince Caspian, Peter in particular is none too happy to be a young teen dealing with stupid schoolboys again, as opposed to a full-grown man and a king.
  • Almost happened to Inigo in The Princess Bride. Having finally achieved revenge, he's not sure what to do with his life now. Fortunately, Westley is on hand to suggest a new career option: "Have you considered piracy? You'd make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts."
  • The Proposition. Charlie didn't enjoy his adventure, but the ending just screams of indeterminacy. It doesn't help that both his brothers, including the one he'd set out to save, are dead.
    Arthur: What are you gonna do now?
  • A variation in There Will Be Blood; Daniel is offered a deal that would let him stop all his hard work and retire at a relatively young age, and asks the man making the offer what he thinks Daniel would do with himself afterwards. It's shown by the end of the film that, without the challenge and the work, and with more money than he knows what to do with, Daniel degenerates into an unstable alcoholic.

    Music 
  • Emilie Autumn has a moment of this in "One Foot In Front Of The Other" on her Fight Like A Girl album.
  • Pink Floyd strugged with this after the mind-blowing success of The Dark Side of the Moon, which was reflected in some of the lyrics for the albums that came afterwards. The Wall even included a song called "What Shall We Do Now?", which due to the limitations of the LP had to be shortened to become "Empty Spaces", but was heard in its full incarnation live and in the movie.

    Radio 
  • After satellite radio was created, talk show hosts came flooding in. Suddenly, they were given freedom of speech. Now they could say anything they wanted to. So what do you say? Suddenly, there's no censorship, no FCC over their shoulders, no Moral Guardians "protecting" their children's virgin ears. But what do you talk about? You don't have to be creative anymore with your euphemisms, but then it's not funny anymore. Soon, the shows ended up just being the word "fuck" every other word, just because they could.
  • Series 5 of Bleak Expectations begins with Pip Bin's Arch-Enemy, Mr. Gently Benevolent, apparently gone for good. This leaves Pip at a loose end, since he's spent half his childhood and all of his adult life thwarting Benevolent's increasingly complicated schemes for killing him and destroying the universe—he's delighted when Benevolent turns out to be Not Quite Dead, again.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The primary phase ends with Arthur and Ford discovering that the Question to the Ultimate Answer of Life, The Universe and Everything (42) was "What do you get when you multiply six by nine?," and consigned that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Universe.
    Arthur: What do we do now?
    Ford: (after a beat) I guess we just suck in our pride and join the human race.

    Roleplay 
  • Look at the end pages of the first thread of Destroy the Godmodder. This was the response of many players before they realized that the second had started already.

    Visual Novels 
  • With the crazy summer and the avalanche behind them, most of the former summer school class in Double Homework turn their attention to their more mundane concerns of post-graduation plans.
  • When reminded that he's on summer break, Akira from Spirit Hunter: NG reminisces on how crazy his life has become because of spirits, and whether he'd even be able to return to a life of normalcy. In Seiji's ending, he concedes that he can't go back to a life of peace, and so resumes his job as an underground fighter.

    Web Animation 
  • In the I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC video "Justice League vs. Avengers Infinity War", when DC declares Marvel the winner and decides to end the debates, Spider-Man asks this. Superman then suggests they do the one thing they hadn't done at all: just watch the movies together as friends.

    Webcomics 

    Real Life 
  • Many veterans of the military found during their time of service that they felt they were truly living when danger was all around. Back in the civilian world, they often don't know what to do with the rest of their lives. This is why many go into mercenary work for private contractors. (A good dose of PTSD doesn't help, either.)
  • Some people who are revived after being technically dead recount having amazing experiences before returning to life. In some cases (especially for those who believe they experienced the afterlife), ordinary life just doesn't seem meaningful anymore.
  • With glasnost, and later, when the Soviet Union fell, many people suddenly had far more freedom of speech. What do you talk about? How the Soviet Union sucks? How the 90s economy sucks? What do you do now that you have all this freedom? Do you go on with your daily lives and live the same as you always have? Do you go check out that new McDonald's in Red Square? Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell is all about this. There are people nostalgic for the days of Communism in the Eastern Bloc because they had to be creative about everything they did. Now that they didn't have the excitement that little kids do when they do something naughty, it wasn't worth it anymore. It's hard to understand for Westerners.
    • From the American perspective, the lack of Communist rivals (China had already reformed its economy) meant that the only threats they could go up against were rogue states like Saddam's Iraq or Yugoslavia, but it was harder to unite people on these smaller threats. The War on Terror at least gave direction as does Russia and China's rise as rival powers once more in The New '10s, but the sense of urgency and the feeling of an impending great power war is gone.
  • This is the unfortunate consequence of many a revolution headed by the lower class. Without someone who has the slightest idea how to run a country, they have feuds whenever a stable government is trying to be established.
  • This is one of the major hurdles to overcome after ending a relationship. It causes a lot of people to either try to run back into it, or start another (often equally ill-advised) one as soon as possible.
  • This is a common reaction of any sports fanbase whose team wins a championship, particularly after a long drought. After a couple days of euphoria and celebration, it sets in that the season is over and the focus quickly shifts to next year. A few Chicago sportswriters made light of this in the days following the 2016 Cubs' World Series victory, stating that there was something strangely empty about going into the offseason without looking forward to breaking the so-called "Curse of the Billy Goat."
    • A significant number of Manchester United fans felt this was the case in the nineties. After United won the European Cup in 1968, the club went into the wilderness for a quarter of a century, suceeding only in a string of FA Cup wins and missing out on other victories. They were even relegated to a lower league for a season in reward for particularly mediocre performance. Paradoxically, or perhaps proving some people are never satisfied, there are fans who consider it got really boring and predictable when the team became a perpetually victorious juggernaut, arguing it was no fun any more: they missed the frustration, uncertainty and unpredictability of The '70s and The '80s when at best United were a promising side, who never quite delivered on that promise.
  • A lot of activists run into this whenever their cause makes a major stride forward. For example, the LGBTQ movement in the United States suddenly didn't have a main point to rally behind when gay marriage was legalized nationwide. Fighting the nebulous threat of homophobia is more daunting and will obviously take decades. In some cases, this can even lead to a movement dissolving, such as in the case of the Civil Rights movement, which became increasingly disjointed and eventually faded out in the years after the Civil Rights Act's passing in 1964, due to the greater threat of racism being too multifaceted compared to segregation to narrow it down to a single point on which everyone could focus (that's not to say that civil rights activism is dead and buried, it's just no longer coalesced into a large, unified movement. Black Lives Matter, which centers around ending government-sanctioned racism and police brutality against black people, is the closest modern equivalent.)
  • During much of the Cold War, but especially after the Cuban Revolution, Central American politics were a tug of war between the USSR (and Cuba) on the one hand and the US on the other. It split the Catholic church right down the middle, with the hierarchy in Rome favoring the old elites while many lower clergy (up to some bishops) preached "liberation theology" or even outright supported communist parties or governments (as Ernesto Cardenal did in Nicaragua). There were communist death squads and atrocities, but overall the anti-communist atrocities were probably worse than the communist ones (if only because they had greater opportunity: communists only took power in a handful of countries, with the majority under control of western-backed, anti-communist dictatorships). Then communism fell and Cuba became too poor and had to focus on itself too much to fund revolutions abroad, so Central America could mostly run its own affairs... And while the death squads are gone and some of the former guerrillas have turned into legitimate political parties winning elections, the overall reaction to the end of outside meddling seems to have been, "Huh. What now?" Guatemala elected a literal clown, Nicaragua elected Ortega again (who had already been the guy the US wanted to get rid of 1979-1990), and even when Honduras had a coup/constitutional crisis that ended with their left wing president deposed, the US actually condemned the acts of the Honduran right wing. Now where's the fun in that?


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