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The Smart One Turns Traitor

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There are many teams in fiction and history with a member who is the go-to person for plans. They do all the thinking. All the planning. They are the one who figures out the hard issues and keeps the wheels turning for the team to succeed. He/She is the "Smart Guy" who sometimes makes all the stuff a team needs as their Gadgeteer Genius and often is the one to understand some crucial clue that leads their team to success and brings clarity.

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They're not just a clever person, they are the defacto Brainiac everyone on the team looks to in order to know how to overcome the hard challenges. They may be The Strategist or the Idea Guy/Girl who comes up with the plans for action for their team. They might be The Philosopher or Only Sane Man who offers words of wisdom to calm their associates in times of duress.

What happens when someone like that turns evil or decides to betray their group and their goals? That is when this trope occurs.

This trope is about when the brightest minds and brilliant thinkers of a group decide the forces of evil and malevolence are better options and uses their mind for wrongdoing in glaring contrast with the rest of their less brilliant comrades. They may have their reasons, such being a jerky Insufferable Genius drawn to selfish evil or delusions of grandeur, might be amoral and doing what he does out of a misguided sense of For Science!, or just might be an underappreciated workhorse and may have had enough of them. Sometimes they just come to the conclusion that Good Is Dumb/loyalty to the group is foolish and is inherently a nonsensical option from a logical standpoint. Sometimes their status as the smart one has driven them insane because they uncovered or found some information that really should have been left unfound.

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At times, however, the villain's side may see the potential of this guy to be on their side, so they would either persuade, coerce, kidnap or even brainwash this guy to help them. Or this smart guy could've been Evil All Along and had just used the group for his own means, or he's The Mole who truly belongs to another group.

Either way, there would be some profound effects from the loss of the brilliant thinker in the group. They may no longer be able to create new equipments or fix broken ones, they may no longer be able to come up with new strategies, the group may become less stable relationship-wise from the loss, and so on. Plus, there's the dilemma and drama potential of having their best equipment/strategies/etc be turned against them.

Compare Fallen Hero, Broken Pedestal. Compare The Paragon Always Rebels for when a group's leader, or any member seen as the best, ends up rebels against the group. Can also be a case of Big Bad Slippage. If the setting has a strong anti-intellectual bend, it can veer into Brains Evil, Brawn Good.

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Due to the nature of the trope, there will be unmarked spoilers in abundance. You have been warned.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Overlord, Princess Renner of the Re-Estize Kingdom would be a rather interesting example of the trope as a combination of Big Bad Slippage and All of the Other Reindeer. In the present day, she is widely beloved among her kingdom's populace for pushing a number of much-needed major reforms, including the ban on slavery, and her incredible intellect is held in high regard among her friends and the Re-Estize people. However, during her childhood, her intelligence made her a pariah of sorts and many regarded her as a monster because of it, an opinion that many of her peers still hold, though they are wisely wary of her and keep this opinion to themselves. This rejection, combined with growing up without anyone to truly empathize with or call friend, ultimately isolated her for years, and by the time she did make a friend in Climb, the damage was already done and turned her into a ruthless sociopath. As such, very few are actually aware of the monster she really is and even fewer know that she was the one who sold out the kingdom to Ainz Ooal Gown in the hopes of becoming an Area Guardian.
  • In Deadman Wonderland, Rokuro Bundo, the technical expert of the Scar Chain who created a flash drive to leak plans to get its members released and shut down the Deadman Wonderland prison and organized their escape plan, is an insane mole working for the Undertakers who tried to trap and kill his group using the flash drive, which is actually a small but powerful bomb.

    Fan Works 
  • Past Sins: The Road Home, in the penultimate chapter, as summarized by S-43, the changeling, about the rest of her group and her decision to betray them out of disgust for their idiocy:
    S-43: [smiling]Idiots, princess. They are idiots from a bad clutch, but I guess that's where I got lucky. They were born without brains, I was born with enough free will to tell my queen to go get her horn stuck in a tree.

    Comic Books 
  • Runaways:
    • This is Alex's excuse as the Smart Guy of the group for being The Mole for the Pride; he and the other kids had little chance of beating the Pride, even if they worked together perfectly (which was never terribly likely to begin with due to how disharmonious the team is), so obviously the better solution was to help the Pride and hope that he could negotiate for his own survival and maybe Nico or Molly's.
    • Played with in Rainbow Rowell's Runaways, where Klara "betrayed" the team by turning herself in to foster care after Nico and Victor left and Molly got taken away because she realized that the team was falling apart and foster care was probably her best option for life after the team.
  • Ozymandias from Watch Men is known as the defacto World's Smartest Man in his world and was the go-to planner when serving as a member of the Crimebusters superhero team. After coming to the conclusion that superheroism was pointless and dreading the inevitable threat of nuclear war despite his attempts to fight crime, he amassed a fortune and concocted a murderous scheme with the ultimate goal of preventing World War 3 by massacring millions (including members of his former team) to make the world powers assume it was an alien attack.
  • Reed Richards aka The Maker was the eponymous Mr. Fantastic in the Ultimate Fantastic Four who tried to use his inventions to combat crime with his team and make the world a better place. However, a Trauma Conga Line caused by the Ultimatum Event eventually made him snap, commit genocidal acts of terrorism, and forcibly attempt to make the world a better place at the cost of millions of lives.
  • Robot from Invincible was once the brains behind the Teen Team before eventually becoming the coordinator of every superhero on Earth and mastermind behind many relief effort plans that saved Earth from destruction like constructing artificial moons to prevent planetary flooding. Eventually turns traitor and slaughters much of Earth's superhero and supervillain population and converts the rest in a bid to forcibly make the world better under his control. All because of too many mass collateral damage mishaps caused by Invincible's reckless incompetence, trauma from being trapped in and ruling a parallel dimension, and frustration at being ignored despite his efforts and success at saving millions of lives put in danger in part because of Invincible.

    Films — Animation 
  • In G-Force, the Animal Espionage team believes that Leonard Sabre is the mastermind behind dangerously sentient appliances sold by Evil, Inc.. Sabre is merely the face of the operation; the real brains of Evil, Inc.. is G-Force's own tech wiz, Speckles. As a mole, he has an ax to grind with humanity, and aims to expunge people with the same merciless violence that humans show to moles.
  • The Gadgeteer Genius of Despicable Me 2 is Doctor Nefario, who is The Dragon to Gru and the inventor of all his equipment. Or was, since he eventually becomes disenchanted with Gru's Heel–Face Turn and attention towards parenting his adopted daughters, and longs for his bad ol' villainy days. This leads Nefario to secretly siding with El Macho, and developing the minion-mutating serum to feel like a villain again.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Godfather:
    • In the first film Don Vito Corleone predicts that after he dies, one of his trusted Corleone capos will come to Michael at the funeral and offer to set up a meeting to resolve all their problems with Don Barzini, who has secretly been behind all of the woes of the Corleone family for at least the last couple of years. This is meant to lull Michael into a false sense of security and the meeting will be a trap where he'll be killed. Sure enough, at the funeral, this happens, and unlike Tom Hagen, Michael is not surprised that it's Tessio, the smartest of the Corleone capos who is acting as Barzini's mole. He points out that siding with the experienced and powerful Barzini over Michael, who wasn't even part of The Mafia until recently and is head of a crime family that is apparently in decline, is the smart play, and it's natural that the smarter guy would be the one to see this and act on it.
      Tom: I always thought it would have been Clemenza, not Tessio.
      Michael: [shaking his head] It's the smart move. Tessio was always smarter.
    • This is inverted in the second movie, where Michael's dopey brother Fredo is the traitor (well, the main traitor anyway), however the plan for the third movie was to play it straight again by having Michael's longtime lawyer and consigliere Tom Hagen be the traitor for that film. However, Robert Duvall declined to reprise the role again, so a new character had to be created to be the latest person to betray the Corleone family.
  • In The Matrix, one of the members of the hovercraft Nebuchadnezzar is Cypher, one of the operators of the ship under the command of Morpheus and one of the smartest members. He offers Neo council when he's suffering doubt over his supposed role as The One, advice on fleeing from Agents when encountered, and sympathy in how ludicrous the situation all seems. However, he secretly regrets "swallowing the red pill" and being released from the Matrix to experience the harsh conditions of the real world, so he made a secret pact with Agent Smith without his crew's notice to betray his partners in exchange for being reintegrated into the Matrix and gaining a peaceful life of bliss within it.
    Cypher: You know.. I know this steak doesn't exist. I know when I put it in my mouth; the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years... you know what I realize? [eating the steak] Ignorance is bliss.

    Literature 
  • Saruman from The Lord of the Rings had a great reputation for intelligence and wisdom before he fell into evil and was overcome by a lust for power. The backstory of Sauron was very similar.
  • Of the four Physical Gods enslaved in human form in N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy, the Goddess of Wisdom is exposed as The Mole for their hated masters. She weathered thousands of years of torment at the hands of her masters, but finally cracked and chose to serve willingly when they threatened to ruin her mind.
  • Harold Lauder in The Stand is largely the brains behind his post-apocalyptic party on their trip to Boulder and comes up with great ideas for improving life there, but he's also an immature teenager with an unrequited crush and a massive grudge over being a social outcast. Over the summer he drives himself homicidal with resentment and winds up bombing Boulder's civic committee in an attempt to defect to Randall Flagg.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Dukes of Hazzard: For Luke, temporarily in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Duke." Generally regarded as the smartest of the Duke cousins, his attitude turns sour when he drinks water tainted with a personality-changing drug. Upon his new attitude, he betrays the Duke family and joins up with two hardened criminals to rob the Hazzard County Bank. In the end, the effects of the drug wear off and Luke is off the hook, but not until after the aforementioned bank robbery is a complete success (no thanks to some pre-planning by an anticipatory Boss Hogg).
  • In House of Anubis, Fabian was the smartest member of Sibuna, solving a majority of the puzzles and also acting as a level-headed neutralizer to his more impulsive friends. However, come the end of season 3, he gets turned into one of the five sinners needed to awaken Ammut- meaning he was now one of The Soulless and began to outright relish committing acts of evil, up to an including tormenting his former friends just for fun. Because he was always so kind to everyone, his sudden descent into cruelty sent up some major warning flags. When Eddie and KT save the day, he gets his soul back and returns to normal.
  • In Kamen Rider Gaim, Mitsuzane is the smartest of his friends and serves as their tactician. However, he becomes bitter when Kouta repeatedly upends his plans (usually by doing something less strategic but more moral) and gets praised for his heroism in doing so. Mitsuzane gradually goes to further and further extremes to try and "save" his friends, eventually going as far as trying to kill Kouta because he's convinced himself that Kouta's idealistic nonsense is going to get everyone else killed. (But it should be noted that Mitsuzane isn't as smart as he thinks he is and makes several short-sighted decisions across the series; such as repeatedly trying to be The Chessmaster and broker deals with the villains while never recognizing that those villains are just humoring him and playing him like a fiddle.)
  • In Utopia, Wilson Wilson may be a friendless oddball and wild conspiracy theorist, but he's the only reason Becky and Ian survive being on the run and happens to be the member of the group most aware of the threats facing them by the Network. However, when he learns the Network's motivation to sterilize 90% of the planet in order to hopefully avert poverty, war, and starvation on an unprecedented scale, he decides to join them out of sympathy at the end of Series 1.

    Video Games 
  • Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves:
    • Dr. M acts as a dark counterpart to Bentley. In that Dr. M was once the brains behind the previous Cooper Gang who served under Sly's father, but left when he felt unappreciated and mistreated by Sly's father and attempted to open the Cooper Vault and take the riches for himself. Dr. M actually reaches out to Bentley because of their mutual smart guy status and tries to convince him to choose betrayal over what he deems as false brotherhood.
    • The trope is displayed once more by Penelope, the team's second brainiac next to Bentley and his love interest, in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time where she betrays and attempts to murder the Cooper Gang out of anger at Sly for a perceived lack of appreciation for her and Bentley's intellectual talents and personal greed in using her skills to make weapons to sell for a fortune.
  • In Diablo III, Malthael, the former member and leader of the Angiris Council as their Archangel of Wisdom, chose to become the malevolent Angel of Death after he came to conclude that no matter what the Angels did, Hell would always find a way to control humanity and that the Angiris Council's quest to preserve order was doomed to fail. Thus he reasoned that humanity was the most powerful "demonic" force left now, and would strive to destroy them so that Heaven and its angels would reign supreme to end the Eternal Conflict between Heaven and Hell.

    Western Animation 
  • Mandarin from Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!, according to the team's second-in-command and defacto leader Antauri, was the smartest, strongest, and wisest of the Monkey Team and their leader before Chiro took his place. However, Mandarin believed he was above simply protecting Shuggazoom and decided he should rule it instead, which caused his team to overthrow him and seal him away in a space prison.
  • The Big Bad of Titan Maximum is Gibbs, the former team planner and pilot of the Titan Force Five who hated his former allies, notably the obnoxious glory hound leader Palmer, and went his separate way after the team was disbanded due to lack of funding. He eventually returned to conquer the Solar System and crush all who oppose him.
  • In Legion of Super-Heroes, Brainiac 5 becomes the final antagonist of the series after succumbing to the corruption of his evil ancestor Brainiac 1.0, betrays the LOSH, nearly kills Superman, and eventually decides to try to turn the universe into collected data under his complete control.
  • Shego from Kim Possible was the most competent member and planner of her superhero family Team Go and served with her brothers for years protecting Go City. The team fell apart when her brothers' constant foolish quirks and incompetence caused Shego to leave the team to become a dangerous supervillain and the fact she grew to enjoy evil more than good the more she fought it over time.
  • Mr. Logic from OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes is a heroic example: He was created by Lord Boxman as a logical robot that could find flaws in plans that he'd miss, and quickly became Boxman's Hyper-Competent Sidekick, helping him create Boxmore among other things, but not only did Boxman's Irrational Hatred of Lakewood Plaza Turbo clash with Logic's wanting to keep it running to create more demand for Boxmore robots, but Logic befriended Mr. Gar and came to the conclusion that creating was more logical than destroying, so he left Boxman and opened up a barbershop in Lakewood Plaza Turbo.
  • In Transformers Beast Wars, Rhinox is the Maximals' Genius Bruiser who winds up getting infected with a virus that makes him a Predicon. He's back by on the side of the good guys by the end of the episode, though. In Transformers Beast Machines, his spark gets put inside the villainous Tankor, and after Rhinox's original personality gets reawoken he decides to keep being evil.
  • In She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Catra manages to recruit Entrapta from the Princess Alliance into the Horde by first convincing her that her friends had abandoned her (they actually thought she was dead) and then offering her a mix of friendship and access to Horde technology. In the end, even after Entrapta learns that her friends hadn't deliberately abandoned her, she's happy enough in the Horde that she stays with them and keeps on helping them against the Princess Alliance anyway.

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