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Society-on-Edge Episode

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Shining Armor: A threat has been made against Canterlot. We don't know who's responsible for it...
pony_892: terrorists are now canon?

This is for segments of a series—especially a series with an otherwise usually orderly setting—where, for a while, a looming threat of chaos or unrest will be a theme of the segment. This will tend to serve as a Chekhov's Gun, and talk of it as a Chekhov's Lecture, relating to conflicts later in the series... except when things cool off before getting worse, in which case the implied theme is often that characters were over-reacting to such concerns.

This is often presented in a context that shows its timing coinciding with some other major event; that is, celebration or sporting event happening around the same time as such threats to stability, much like how that is often the case in real life.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00 in the first season had the episode "Trinity", where Team Trinity reflects on the chaos that had happened so far and how the world is disintegrating into varying stages of anarchy. Ironically, their arrival makes things worse.
  • Psycho-Pass shows the Sibyl System controlled Dystopian Japan to be a society where most people don't think too much about how bad their society is, due to believing they are always safe since the Sibyl System can even monitor peoples' thoughts and "take care" of anyone who would commit a crime. Then comes Episode 14, in which a man kills a woman in front of numerous people in contrast to the other crimes shown up to this point in the series, which were hidden from the public. He is able to do this due to having a helmet which allows him to be undetected by the Sibyl System while wearing it. Although the criminal is caught, Episode 15 shows people discussing the crime, the internet is flooded with footage of the crime and people worrying that the Sibyl System does not protect them anymore. Worse, numerous criminals get helmets like the one in Episode 14, and riots begin. The citizens have to fight back against those with helmets to survive, and soon violence and crime sweeps over a country that once had very few people ever worry about crime.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The Dark Knight Rises involves a far more significant threat to Gotham than was presented by the villains of Batman Begins or The Dark Knight. Things also get dire much more quickly; the worst of the chaos in Batman Begins was resolved before most Gotham residents were even aware of it and the worst of that of The Dark Knight was fairly gradual due to the continuously worsening nature of the Joker's actions. Things get far more dire more quickly in TDKR.
  • The Star Wars prequel trilogy provides an interesting variation on this; the galaxy was under imperial control in the original trilogy, but the prequel trilogy focuses on explaining the instability that led to such imperial control. Due to the nature of the storyline, however, the feel of a society-on-edge episode still comes through.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • While much of the series involves political conflict and warfare, there's a particular segment of episodes in Season 3 before and including the station's secession from Earth in which it becomes inevitable that station interests and Earth Government policy will irreconcilably clash, with the station itself coming into direct danger. Probably the range of episodes from "Voices of Authority" through "Severed Dreams" would fit the trope, although it could arguably start with Season 2's finale "The Fall of Night".
    • Again in Season 4 after the events of Season 3's finale "Z'ha'dum", once we see the Vorlons bring out their planet-killers, with the Shadows following suit, destroying many inhabited planets ("The Summoning"), ending with "Into the Fire".
    • There's a third segment in Season 4, from "No Surrender, No Retreat" through "Endgame", when Babylon 5 and allied forces finally confront the Clark regime's forces and liberate Earth and her colonies.
  • The last season of Battlestar Galactica (2003) focuses much more than previous seasons on the deteriorating conditions in the ragtag fleet (this being a post-apocalyptic society to begin with).
  • This is a recurring situation in Community. Greendale Community College is a Sucky School, and the students tend to get more volatile and over-the-top as finals approach. The major breakdowns occur once a year in-universe, which corresponds to one per season. In the past this has twice resulted in paintball competitions totally wrecking the school. In season three, the school loses most of its funding, so things get even worse. An attempt to achieve a world record for the biggest blanket/pillow fort results in a civil war and a short time later the wake for a deceased student turns into a riot, which in turn leads to Chang taking over the school with a Dean-el-Chang-er.
  • Seven Days is an entire series about this trope, in which The World Is Always Doomed but a lone time-traveler has the chance to investigate and circumvent such disasters.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Force of Nature", warp drive (which powers all Federation starships) was found to be damaging to the fabric of subspace. At the end of the episode, the Federation decided that until they can figure out a way to counteract the rifts in space, all ships can't go above Warp 5 except in emergencies. This is promptly never mentioned anywhere ever again. Maybe there was a quick fix.
  • Stargate SG-1 has multiple episodes involving this. One example is season eight's "Full Alert," where the Goa'uld attempt to trigger World War III between Russia and the United States.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has the station, Bajor and sometimes even the entire Federation in states of near chaos at several different points. For example, late in the first season Vedek Winn stirs up nationalist and conservative religious sentiments in the Bajoran population in an attempt to have the Federation leave the station. A key theme of the early seasons is political instability due to the Bajorans and the Cardassians begrudging the Federation's presence, while the later seasons use the quadrant spanning war as a way to inject most of the same sense of imminent danger.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): The episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" concerns neighbors on a street who become paranoid when the power goes out and odd things start happening, putting the blame on aliens and then turning on one another due to suspicion.
  • Episode 8 of Ultraseven, "The Targeted Town", which may have drawn inspiration from "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street".
  • The second-season premiere of Veronica Mars largely features the townspeople losing their senses after a long string of privileged rich people get away with crimes they obviously committed. Later, Veronica and Logan (one of the aforementioned rich people) narrowly dodge a drive-by shooting—violence which the series typically avoided until the first season's finale.
  • The last episode of Wild Palms ups the tension this way by showing society breaking apart at the seams as a result of the power struggle between the crypto-fascist Fathers and the more libertarian and humanistic Friends, secret societies that have been warring over America for decades.

    Video Games 
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution is set during a time when human augmentation (basically cybernetics) is starting to take off, leading to a divide between people who just want humanity to be "natural" and those who want to augment everything.


    Western Animation 
  • The second season of Big City Greens features a Multi-Part Episode where Chip Whistler takes over Big Coffee and plots to destroy Elkins Street — including the Greens' farmhouse and Big Coffee — and turn it into Wholesome Foods property.
  • Played for satire in The Boondocks episode "The Fried Chicken Flu". An outbreak of a mysterious foodborne illness originating from fried chicken restaurants apparently reaches pandemic levels, with the news media and the US federal government claiming that this is causing social instability on a global scale. In Woodcrest, the Freeman family and some of their selected friends hide out at the Freemans' house, stockpiling on supplies to survive this apparent catastrophe. Eventually, most of the Freemans' neighbors find out about this and go crazy, attempting to rob their house like a gang of bandits. (Un)fortunately for everyone involved, this proves unnecessary as there never was an apocalypse; the so-called "fried chicken flu" was merely an outbreak of salmonella, and mass hysteria made the disease sound far deadlier than it actually was.
  • The Season 1 finale of Gravity Falls deals with Gideon seizing control of the Mystery Shack, and the Grand Finale deals with the town under Weirdmageddon.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The two-parters in general are these in comparison to the rest of the series, catching most major characters off guard in each case. The conflicts in the rest of the series seem mundane in comparison.
    • The Nightmare Moon arc involved the threat of eternal darkness.
    • The Discord arc involved turning Equestria into a World of Chaos.
    • The Canterlot Wedding two-parter involved a wedding plan coinciding with a need for increased security due to a mysterious threat against Canterlot. (Turned out it was connected to the wedding, namely due to the involvement of Chrysalis and the changelings in each.)
    • The King Sombra arc involved the threat of the enslavement of an entire kingdom.
    • The "Crystalling" two-parter involves said kingdom being threatened with eternal blizzards.
    • The "School Raze" arc involves magic vanishing all over Equestria thanks to Cozy Glow infiltrating the School of Friendship.
    • The "Beginning of the End" arc focused on King Sombra vowing to take over Equestria again and the destruction of the Elements of Harmony.
    • The final story arc, "The Ending of the End", involves the three unreformed villains absorbing power from Grogar's Bewitching Bell and using that power to conquer all of Equestria, which is the Final Battle before Twilight is crowned the new ruler.
  • The Simpsons episode "Bart's Comet" is one such episode, with the ever-present threat of a comet on a direct collision course with Springfield and the exits out of the city destroyed or rendered inaccessible by accident. It carries a much darker tone than any of the other episodes in its season, particularly when the Springfieldians accept their fate as they face the giant fiery rock in the sky headed straight for them singing "Que SerĂ¡ SerĂ¡." It does not signal a bigger threat later though—the comet burns up in the atmosphere on its way down until it can fit in the palm of Bart's hand, upon which it crashes into a series of uninhabited locations and bounces safely onto the grass where everyone's standing.
  • South Park parodies this trope with their Cartoon Wars two-parter; in the first episode, Family Guy resorts to shock value by doing a caricature of Muhammad, and after some Islamic fanatics make vague threats of revenge, the residents of South Park are afraid that they will be targeted by terror attacks. In the second episode, the revenge turns out to be a cartoon of caricatures of various aspects American culture crapping on each other.