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The Millstone

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Thief: Dragging his limp body around will impede us less than when he does things.
Red Mage: That had not escaped me.
[beat panel]
Thief: Of course, leaving the body would be even better for us.
Red Mage: That had not escaped me.

Things tend to go wrong in drama; this is how drama persists. And when something goes wrong, it's usually the fault of The Millstone.

The Millstone is the character, usually The Ditz, who is specifically responsible for the failure of every plan that the heroes carry out. It's not just that the Millstone isn't helpful; it's that they manage to make things worse for their side than if they'd done nothing at all. It's because of them that Failure Is the Only Option. For some reason, they're usually given the linchpin of this week's plan... which they will then botch, forcing the heroes to try again next week. If the main characters could just get rid of the Millstone, they'd be home free... but then the show would be over; see Just Eat Gilligan. Can border on the character being The Scrappy depending on how much they get away with week after week.

Frequently, the villains have a Millstone on their side as well, which is how the heroes can stand their own against them. Odd if the same villains invoke You Have Failed Me to other people but not the Millstone.

The trope name comes from the phrase "millstone around my neck". For those not versed in agriculture, a millstone is a large stone disc (often two or three feet in diameter and weighing several hundred pounds) used by mills to render things well pulverized, such as grinding grain into flour. Imagine carrying one of those around your neck — you'd be hard-pressed to do much of anything. The expression originates from Matthew 18:6 ("...whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea"), which in turn may be a reference to a form of capital punishment practiced at the time.

Compare to The Load, who doesn't cause failure but is still of little or no worth, and is not quite as entertaining. Leeroy Jenkins is a subtrope of this. General Failure is when the guy who's supposed to be in charge suffers from this. When the rest of the team are Millstones, you have Surrounded by Idiots. The Mole is when a traitor infiltrates the team and intentionally sabotages them. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero is when a good character causes a problem once but doesn't cause them regularly. Such a character could also turn out to be the Spanner in the Works or Unwitting Instigator of Doom. A common additional flaw of this character is to be The Klutz or even a Lethal Klutz. They are also frequently Too Dumb to Live or Lethally Stupid. Compare and contrast Damsel Scrappy. A Black Sheep Hit would be this for musicians. May be The Friend Nobody Likes.

Subtrope of The Troublemaker.



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    Comic Books 
  • All Roads, the graphic novel prequel to Fallout: New Vegas, features Chance, a shellshocked Great Khan tribal who spends his days getting blitzed on chems to escape his memories of the Bitter Springs Massacre. While still an extremely capable fighter, his unpredictable behavior and detachment from reality cause serious trouble for the rest of the Khans, culminating in him suffering a flashback and recklessly charging at a rampaging Fiend warband, botching their attempt to sneak past and putting the entire group in danger. When the group is forced to stop to tend to his wounds afterwards, their employer, Benny, insists that they should "put him down" for the good of the group, but they refuse to turn on a member of their "family." This leads Benny to take matters into his own hands, talking Chance into overdosing on psycho while the others are asleep.
  • Chase Stein is often a millstone to the other Runaways. His Leeroy Jenkins tendencies often end up making things harder for the rest of the team. Case in point: on two occasions, the Runaways have tried to flee from more powerful or better-trained opponents, and in both cases, Chase decided to lay down covering fire, compromising the stealth advantage conferred by the Leapfrog's cloaking systems.
    • In the 2017 series, Gert has become this. Unable to adjust to a world where her friends have nearly all grown up while she is still largely the same person she was before her death, she pushed them into reuniting. The consequences of this include Karolina getting dumped by her girlfriend and getting distracted from her schoolwork, Victor being resurrected against his will with his Superpowered Evil Side restored, and Molly losing two best friends and becoming estranged from her grandmother in the space of a few months. For added milling, Gert has lost her control over Old Lace, she is out of shape, her base of knowledge is two years out of date, and thus she is poorly equipped to help her friends deal with the situations that have arisen as a result of her return.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) has Silver be steadfast in his efforts to Set Right What Once Went Wrong by tracking down and stopping a traitor in the Freedom Fighters. To this end, he's accused Rotor, Antoine, and Sonic of being said traitor at separate points, every time with little evidence to go on. Silver later began to suspect Bunnie of being the traitor, which causes Sonic to dish out a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, telling Silver there is no traitor. Sonic finally orders Silver to go home because all he's doing is screwing things up; upon discovering that Silver is Trapped in the Past, Sonic tells Silver to Get Out! instead.
    • Averted in Sonic Universe. In Mobius: 30 Years Later, his intervention in Light Mobius saved Sonic and Sally from being killed and helped stop Tikhaos, but despite hints that his future was the future of Light Mobius during Tikhaos' rampage, his actions had no effect on the timeline, so he fell back to his plan to find the traitor in the Freedom Fighters. In The Silver Saga story, he manages to save Dark Mobius from its Enerjak, resolving a Bad Future that had been briefly touched years earlier and not mentioned up until this point.

    Comic Strips 
  • Foxtrot: Peter Fox is very bad at sports despite his continually trying out for them (if he's on the team, it's only to show how bad he is). It leads to an unpleasant discovery one year where he didn't.
    Peter: What are you looking at?
    Steve: The list of players cut from the football team.
    Steve: I hate to tell you this, Pete, but you're right at the top.
    Peter: But I didn't even try out this year.
    Steve: I really hate to tell you this, Pete, but...
    Steve: Looks like you were cut from girls' gymnastics, too.
    Peter: How could they cut me from varsity football when I didn't even try out? Was I THAT bad last year?! Was I THAT awful?! Am I such a pariah that they want to be SURE I'm not on the squad?!
  • Peanuts:
    • The Running Gag of Charlie Brown losing baseball game after baseball game is possible only because his team doesn't know better. Even a 51-50 loss after being up 50-0 never stopped him from pitching. (Indeed, there's a sub-Running Gag that the team wins when Charlie Brown is at camp or some such.)
    • Lucy could easily be considered one as well. Even from left field, her bungling has ruined more games for Charlie Brown than seems statistically plausible. Of course, Charlie Brown always gets blamed. (That, or Lucy keeps reverting to her stock excuse of "The [X] got in my eyes!")
    • Around the time Peanuts ended, MAD ran their ideas for the final strip, one of which was the revelation that Charlie Brown had been taking bribes to throw all the baseball games.

    Films — Animation 
  • Flik in A Bug's Life is this to the ant colony at first, being so accident-prone that the rest of the colony don't respect him nor do they want to hear about his inventions. He gets better after some character development, as well as showing true bravery by standing up to the grasshopper army.
  • Encanto: Deconstructed. In general, this is how the Madrigal family views Mirabel. She doesn’t have a gift like everyone else, which is why Mirabel tries to prove that she’s just as useful and important as everyone else in her family. Instead, more often than not, she accidentally creates more problems than there were to begin with, and over the years, it has made her an outcast amongst her family. The main conflict of the movie starts when Mirabel senses something wrong with the Casita. Due to her tendency to screw things up, her family doesn’t listen to her. This ends backfiring, big time.
  • Inside Out:
    • Initially, Sadness was framed as the emotion who serves no clear purpose (Joy makes Riley happy, Fear keeps her safe, Disgust keeps toxic things away, etc.) and who only makes Riley miserable. When the family moves to San Francisco and Sadness creates a blue core memory against the others' insistence that she stay away from Riley, it leads to both Joy and Sadness getting ejected from headquarters. But as revealed later, it was actually Joy's influence over Riley that was causing all of her emotional problems. Her dominance over the other emotions and insistence she stay happy all the time kept Riley from properly processing her unhappiness and reaching out to others during tough times. Even after she left, Anger, Fear and Disgust continuing to follow her philosophy eventually led to Riley's depression, being unable to feel any emotions.
    • After Joy and Sadness get separated from headquarters, the now less restrained Anger generally causes a lot of problems for Riley's life and mental state. From lashing out at her parents, to cutting ties with her best friend, to rage quitting during the hockey tryouts, to planting the idea of stealing from her parents and running away from home in her head.
  • Lilo & Stitch:
    • Lilo tries to get Stitch to be like Elvis with every lesson she teaches him, blowing Nani's latest chance of getting a job after she lost her previous one, which was also a result of her little sister bringing home a pet that looked absolutely nothing like a dog.
    • To be fair, Pleakley and Jumba don't help much either as their attempts to apprehend Stitch resulting in Lilo being put in danger and her house getting blown up, which ends with Lilo getting kidnapped by Gantu.
  • The Minions in Minions want nothing more than to serve the biggest baddest badass there is. Unfortunately, they aren't very good at it. They're klutzy and accident-prone even on good days, and on bad days they're a hazard to life and limb. In the first part depicting their past, the Minions accidentally sent a T. rex into a volcano, got a caveman eaten by a bear, crushed a pharaoh and his subjects with a pyramid, exposed a vampire to sunlight during an ill-planned surprise party, and accidentally shot Napoleon with a cannon. That last one forced the Minions to flee and hide for centuries. They have somewhat better luck in modern times — Scarlet's working relationship with them only falls apart because she mistakenly thought they were traitors (though accidentally dropping a chandelier on her head was the final nail in the coffin), and Gru has (somehow) survived working with them through three movies.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games, Twilight Sparkle excels in the academic portion of the titular Games, but she's useless in the athletic portion. She faceplants after trying to do a simple jump, takes ages to swing on a rope across a small pit, and misses every shot with her arrows in archery. It takes one of Twilight's rivals from the other team giving her advice before Twilight finally hits the archery target, and by then, Twilight's team is hopelessly behind.
  • Zootopia: Nick deliberately tries to be this to Judy at first, purposefully delaying her after she conscripts him to help her track down Mr. Otterton. Thankfully, he cuts it out once he realizes what's at stake.

  • Justin introduced Ol' Joshy and his "coalition of idiots" into the prologue The Adventure Zone: Ethersea specifically because every major project inevitably has someone like this. While most of the community is focusing on building a new society to ensure their survival after the apocalypse, he's starting a school for fighting teleporting sharks... telepathically. And also working as an interior designer. Come the campaign proper, he's still alive and kicking, and still a bit of an idiot who has gets little respect from the citizens as a result, though he's at least not completely useless, as it's known you can go to him for contraband and illicit work, should you need extra money.

  • Tales abound of the one player in a roleplay group (usually referred to as "that guy") who thinks random actions like "kill the quest-giving NPC" or "betray the party at every turn" are funny. Like the saga of Commander Dumbass.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Chess:
    • Many situations can arise where a player's friendly pieces can hinder them:
      • The famous Smothered Mate (see illustration), where a single knight attacks a king surrounded by its own "protective" pieces who block out all escape squares, allowing this beautiful (and potentially embarrassing) checkmate.
      • Back-rank checkmates where the King is checked by the opponent's rook or queen, and its forward escape squares are all blocked by its own pawns or pieces.
    • Subverted by pawns, which may seem merely to get in the way of one's powerful pieces but are actually vital to one's success.

    Visual Novels 
  • In every Danganronpa game, there's going to be somebody who actively makes investigation harder for everyone else, despite their own necks being on the line if the characters fail to correctly solve murders.
    • In Trigger Happy Havoc, the millstone is Byakuya Togami, who openly declares his intent to play the killing game and tampers with the second murder scene to frame someone in order to scope out the competition and make things more fun. He eventually gets over himself and ends up being the only 'troublemaker' to survive his game.
    • Goodbye Despair has Nagito Komaeda, whose insane obsession with hope means that he wants the killing game to begin even at the cost of his own life (making him more dangerous than Byakuya, who wants to survive), and he has no problem siding with culprits, since if they killed and got away with it, obviously their hope was stronger than the rest of the class's hope to stay alive.
    • Killing Harmony has Kokichi Oma, who might be trying to help end the killing game... but his compulsive lying about everything means he mostly just confuses people and makes sure nobody listens to him when he is being truthful.

    Web Animation 
  • The famous Leeroy Jenkins Video plays this trope for laughs, but actually subverts this on further inspection: in this video, the entire party — or at least the leader — is a Millstone. The overly complicated plan made no sense at all and was not appropriate whatsoever for this encounter. Leeroy did nothing but speed up their demise. He even followed one major part of the plan exactly (use the ability Divine Intervention on the mages to protect them as they cast their area spells), but it didn't work because the leader of the group apparently did not even read the description for the ability he asked for (it plainly says the protected player cannot attack while under the effect).
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Grif from the Red army fits the trope perfectly. Being a conscript, he is unwilling to work, has terrible stamina, and practically is Red Team's Butt-Monkey. More to the point, he regularly shirks his duty — during one battle, he forgot to bring the spare ammo. In another scenario, he sold all the spare ammo to the Blues. In Grif's own defense, he's intentionally The Millstone; he's trying to get discharged by any means possible, up to and including criminal negligence. In the rare occasion when he's actually trying, he's a lot more useful. Still, you begin to understand after a while why Sarge makes a point of trying to get Grif killed when he makes battle plans.
    • Donut is arguably worse than Grif in this regard, as evidenced by the time Donut and Grif were sent out on a spying mission together. Donut treated it like a game and wound up getting himself captured almost immediately.
    • Caboose is definitely the millstone of the Blue team. He has a tendency to kill his teammates (especially Church, whom he has killed in some fashion at least three times) and is otherwise unable to function in battle (in one scene, he manages to get a grenade stuck to the wall his team is hiding behind). In fact, he is best directed to fight the team's enemies by asking him to help the other side. Luckily (for him), he's lovable enough that he's turned into something of a Team Pet.

    Web Original 

  • In this Not Always Friendly story, a member of a high school basketball game, who suffered an injury which caused them to be unable to play in the championship games, decides to go to the games with their father out of loyalty to the team. The father, being a Good Samaritan, decides to drive a woman and her young son to the games too. She then takes an agonizingly long time to get moving since she had talked with a friend for a long time, hadn’t packed her bags, and didn’t even know what her brother's address was, despite the fact that was where she was supposed to stay. It turns out she had pulled the same stunt with the rest of the basketball team and they had refused to carpool with her afterwards.

    Web Videos 
  • Achievement Hunter:
    • Gavin Free can undoubtedly claim this title. While his screwups most of the time only hurt himself, numerous times in team games, his stupidity has cost his team big in too many examples to really list. As such, what's known as his biggest screwup is one of the last few Cops and Crooks videos from their GTA 4 Let's Plays, which actually ended with him getting kicked out of Team Lads for several Let's Plays afterwards after he 1. Actually got out of the escape helicopter and tried to shoot Michael because he thought he'd get more money (leaving Michael to fly off and leave him to be killed by the opposing teams and also causing his team to lose due to them having more deaths), 2. Was too busy fooling around with the escape boat that he didn't pay attention to where he was going and let the other team win because he drove the boat onto the beach, causing them to lose because the getaway vehicle was now unusable, and 3. the last straw being when he drove the car off of a ramp that took them into an enclosed space where there wasn't any space to drive, allowing the other team to simply roll up and hose them with bullets.
    • Jack undoubtedly filled this role for Team Gents during the Madden 25 Superbowl Special. As Quarterback for the Denver Broncos, Jack threw seven interceptions note , ensuring that the Broncos never get an offensive play and becoming Team Lads' greatest weapon. Even Gavin, returning from last year as the Lads' Quarterback and retaining his weak grasp of the controls and weaker grasp of American Football in general, outperformed him.
  • Epic NPC Man:
    • In "Healing Light is just a bit too bright - Holy Nova", Rowan gets stuck with an overzealous healer who can only use Holy Nova, which is too bright a spell and blinds Rowan when used. Even though Rowan specifically requests that Adam not use it until he's at least at half health, Adam begins spamming it as soon as Rowan charges towards the Bandit King. Rowan is so blinded he can't move from the spot while the Bandit King pelts him with arrows, leaving him to scream at Adam to just stop healing him in frustration. Though confused, Adam agrees to stop... only to keep spamming Holy Nova as soon as Rowan tries to fight again.
    • In "Annoying bright spells in games - Magic", Rowan has the misfortune of being stuck with not one, but three such healers, who cannot get it in their arrogant heads that the Tank might want to be able to see where he's going while they use their mmmmagic. As soon as Rowan charges at the enemy, all three mages start spamming extremely bright spells, leaving poor Rowan to unknowingly hack at a tree. Against all odds, the party manages to win the encounter.
    • In "Toxic typers in games", Ben spends the entire boss fight calling everyone a noob and demanding that he be healed even though he's not the Tank, he wastes his time doing nothing but typing insults on his keyboard, he acts like he's carrying the entire team when in fact he's not doing any damage, and he has the audacity of complaining that no one in the team is doing their job properly when he's the only one not doing anything at all. When told to just shut up and attack the boss already, Ben refuses because it would be pointless since "they've basically lost already". And to top it all off, he ragequits like it's not his fault the boss fight went FUBAR.
  • Vitaly from Fight of the Living Dead. He's responsible for nearly all the deaths in some way. First he gets Brittany killed when he panics and pushes her to the zombies to escape. Then he makes too much noise during a mission which attracts the zombies attention and gets Shannah killed. It turns out Vitaly grabbed the wrong item, making the whole mission (and Shannah's death) pointless. Fousey is killed when they have to do the mission a second time, which could've been avoided if Vitaly hadn't been stupid enough to grab the wrong item. Finally, Vitaly himself gets killed whilst trying to retrieve an item that he forgot to take with him whilst abandoning their hideout(he was the only one in a position to grab it, but he began to panic and ran instead). His death is caused when he foolishly wastes his ammo on just one zombie whilst forgetting to shoot the brain and then wastes time bragging and didn’t check if the zombie was dead.


The Owl

The Owl does more to escalate a problem than de-escalate it.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / TheMillstone

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