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Tragically Misguided Favor

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"I know all too well what it's like to have to rely on someone not screwing up something when their defining characteristic is that they're an idiot. There's nothing like that sinking feeling you get when they say with total sincerity, "I took care of the problem while you kept the others busy." And you want to slap them and say, 'I wasn't keeping them busy! I was fixing the problem by talking! The way people do when they're fucking normal'!"

When Bob cares a lot for Alice, who has a problem in her life, and Bob decides to fix it, without asking Alice whether this is a good idea (or even despite Alice's explicit request not to interfere). After Bob's elaborate plan succeeds, however, it turns out that by doing it, he ended up ruining his relationship with Alice, or even their very lives.

A cornerstone of Romantic Comedy but can also result in a form of Tragic Hero or even Tragic Monster. Compare Rhetorical Request Blunder, Stupid Sacrifice, Senseless Sacrifice, Gift of the Magi Plot, Overzealous Underling, and Unwanted Assistance. Related to Psycho Supporter and Condescending Compassion.

An inherently spoiler-y trope, so be warned!


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Code Geass:
    • The Anti-Hero Lelouch starts a world war in order to make a new world where his blind, crippled sister Nunnally could live happily. In the end, it turns out that Nunnally was perfectly fine with being blind and crippled all along, as long as Lelouch was there to take care of her. This however is subverted in that midway through the series, Lelouch already realized he wanted to make a better world for everyone else as well.
    • In season 2, Lelouch ends up telling Rolo twice not to resort to killing anyone while in civilian guise to protect his identity. The one time he is not around to say no to him doing so is the most tragic: Rolo kills Shirley. Subverted in that it was because Shirley knew about Nunnally and wanted to reunite her with Lelouch, an idea repugnant to Rolo, who wanted to be Lelouch's only brother, and feared he might be discarded after the two true siblings were to be reunited.
  • EDENS ZERO: Valkyrie, an android and guardian to the human orphan girl Homura, goes looking for Homura's biological mother after being convinced that their planet's society will never accept a human raised by a machine. When she finds the mother, Kurenai, drowning in debt on another planet, Valkyrie stays to work the debt off for her so she and Homura can be a family again. The problem: Kurenai never cared for Homura to begin with, and duped Valkyrie into setting her free so she could become the planet's new ruler. This leads to Valkyrie dying while fighting to take Kurenai back by force, leaving Homura without her beloved mentor, whom she was ironically starting to view as more of a mother than Kurenai.
  • Played straight and subverted in the original series and the second season of Lyrical Nanoha, respectively.
    • In the Back Story of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha The MOVIE 1st, the Evil Matriarch Precia Testarossa spent so much time at work to provide for her daughter Alicia, that she couldn't be with Alicia when she died. She then does the same mistake again, mercilessly using her daughter's clone, Fate, to find means to resurrect Alicia—as it turns out, what Alicia wanted the most from her mother was a little sister.
    • Happily subverted in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, whose "villains", the Wolkenritter, carry out a ritual which they believe will save their Mistress Hayate from paralysis and which Hayate explicitly forbade them to do. It turns out, the ritual would have actually killed Hayate and the knights themselves, but thanks to Team Nanoha's intervention, the worst case scenario is narrowly averted.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: When Kyoko's father was excommunicated by religious authorities for his beliefs, she made a wish that people would listen to him, causing worshipers to flock to his church. When he found out, he was so horrified he called her an evil witch before killing her sister, mother and then himself.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: While her motivations were almost entirely selfish and based in petty jealousy Gel Osey honestly thought she'd improve the press coverage of the Holliday College Venus Rocket by boarding it and riding along, expecting to be the first person to get to Venus on a rocket that was meant to be unmanned. The weight difference causes the expensive project with many years of work behind it to crash and she would have died if not for Wonder Woman rescuing her.

    Fan Works 
  • For His Own Sake: After Keitaro breaks up with Naru, Mutsumi takes it upon herself to help them get back together... despite the fact that neither one actually wants that. Ultimately, Naru is only willing to accept her Unwanted Assistance because she thinks it will give her the chance to beat the hell out of Keitaro for daring to dump her for being so abusive.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A less tragic variation takes place in Hitch. Hitch himself starts dating Sara, and things go fine at first. Then Hitch decides to surprise her by taking her to Ellis Island, thinking it would be a nice gesture to show her the immigration records, showing her the ancestor (Juan Melas, Sara's great-great-grandfather) that brought her family lineage to America. Sara starts to cry and storm off — it turns out that said ancestor was actually an infamous serial killer back in Spain (When Hitch was researching Sara's family lineage, he mistook the headline "Butcher of Cádiz" for his profession). Sara, however, DOES forgive Hitch, calling it "one of those horrible family legacies we've all tried to forget", and appreciates the gesture, albeit it being a disastrous one.
  • The 2003 version of Willard has Catherine gift Willard with a cat after his mother's passing. Unfortunately for the cat, the massive rat's nest was too much for it.

  • And Then There Were None: Vera Claythorne was in love with the impoverished aristocrat Hugo Hamilton, who was second-in-line to inherit a title after his young nephew Cyril. Since Vera was Cyril's governess, she was able to kill him by deliberately allowing him to swim off to sea and pretending that he had disobeyed her. When Hugo realized what she had done he broke off with her in disgust.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: The natives of the Dunkelfelger duchy are a recurring cause for this trope:
    • In the backstory, Ferdinand's Royal Academy friend from Dunkelfelger, Heisshitze, tried to get him married into the duchy to save him from his Wicked Stepmother. Heisshitze didn't think of asking the would-bride if she was on board with the idea before he suggested the idea to her father. As a result, she went on to make a move toward becoming the third wife of the man she loved, the current king.
    • Lestilaut, the oldest archduke candidate from Dunkelfelger attending the Royal Academy at the same time as Rozemyne, manages to do this towards two different people when it comes to Schwartz and Weiss, the two magical automatons Rozemyne accidentally reactivated, becoming their master in the process. His personal reason for trying to take them from her is that his younger sister randomly expressed interest in them. His public reason is that the automatons technically belong to royalty, making it easy to frame taking them from Rozemyne as taking back stolen royal property. He ropes other duchies in his plan without consulting his younger sister or the royals. When the prince attending the academy does get involved, it turns out that the royals can't spare the Mana necessary to supply the automatons anyway, so they have no problem having another supplier for them as long as they are properly taken care of.
    • In late Part 4, Heisshitze wants to make up for not having been able to help Ferdinand back when they were at the Royal Academy by roping Dunkelfelger and another greater duchy into supporting Ferdinand getting married into Ahrensbach. This time, Ferdinand is the one with whom he forgets to double check. By that point, several elements Heisshitze is unaware of have made Ferdinand's life in Ehrenfest significantly better and the change supported by Heisshitze a downgrade, making the whole situation an Unwanted Rescue.
  • Brother Cadfael:
    • Non-romantic example in one of the stories. An old lady has a devoted pair of servants, who kill an Old Retainer when they think she might spill the beans on a secret their mistress doesn't want let out. She is horrified, as she never would have ordered the retainer's death and the secret is out anyway. The two run away before the law can catch up with them.
    • Similarly, one story hits the climax when the murderer's mother proudly reveals he gave his old pair of boots to a man (who was found murdered a few days later) as proof of his upstanding moral character. He shuts her up, but it's too late: Cadfael and the sheriff had been wondering why the dead man had been found with boots whose prints were present at a crime scene, but didn't fit him.
  • In Dracula, the main characters stretch their limited time and resources to the breaking point to protect Lucy from vampire attacks, and restore her strength from the previous attacks. Keeping watch over her at night, giving her blood transfusions when necessary, making sure all the windows are sealed tight, etc. When Van Helsing procures some garlic flowers, they can relax a little, because the garlic will protect Lucy without anyone having to watch her. Unfortunately, Lucy's mother kept in the dark due to a heart condition, and thus completely unaware of the gravity of the situation or the importance of the garlic removes the flowers because they're making the room stuffy, and also opens the windows to let fresh air in. This leaves Lucy with absolutely no protection that night, and she gets attacked again, requiring yet another blood transfusion. After all the setbacks they've faced already, to be set back again by Mrs. Westenra's well-meaning interference is so frustrating that for the first time in his life, Dr. Seward sees Van Helsing break down.
    "This poor mother, all unknowing, and all for the best as she think, does such thing as lose her daughter body and soul; and we must not tell her, we must not even warn her, or she die, and then both die. Oh, how we are beset! How are all the powers of the devils against us!"
  • In the original short story "It's a Good Life" three-year-old Anthony uses his godlike powers to "help" people but since he has a child's worldview his help is more often than not a hindrance. Such as when a woman misses her dead husband, so Anthony reanimates his corpse which digs its way out from the grave. At the end of the story he makes it snow because his aunt had complained about the heat, which kills off half the crops.
  • In Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the Gentleman with Thistle-Down Hair sets out to find Stephan Black's true name for him. He is greatly astounded when Stephan Black kills him before the gentleman can tell it to him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Arrested Development, George Michael decides to throw a 16th birthday party for his cousin, Maeby. He finds her address book and invites everyone in it. However, she had been posing as someone much older in order to hold down a job as a film studio executive. By inviting the people from her address book, George Michael unwittingly exposed her true age to her coworkers and got her fired.
    • More broadly, whenever a member of the Bluth family tries to do someone a favor, there's a good chance it will turn out this way.
  • In an episode of Blackadder, the King talks to his wife about the Thomas Becket situation one of his predecessors went through. (See Real Life below for how that turned out.) Some knights just returning from an adventure walk in just as the King quotes "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest" and take it that they'd get in the King's good graces if they killed the current Archbishop of Canterbury. Unbeknownst to them the King and the Archbishop (who is also the King's son) are actually getting on very well, and the King was rejoicing that he didn't have to ask that question anymore.
  • In a Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode, Peralta and Santiago are assigned to go out of town to escort back a prisoner. Since the prisoner is only being released early in the morning, Peralta decides to invite his girlfriend along for the night, making Santiago wish her boyfriend thought of such things. Peralta, thinking to do something nice, secretly calls him to come along; unfortunately, Santiago's sentiment was meant as one of the reasons why she wanted to break up with him. This is made worse by the fact that Peralta had previously expressed romantic inclinations toward Santiago.
  • The Criminal Minds episode "The Performer" revolves around a music producer trying to help the artist he represents get out of his depression by manipulating a Loony Fan into committing murders that are thematically related to the artist's most recent record in the belief that there is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity and the sales will help him liven up. The artist in question, who was already tired of his "vampire" motif to begin with, becomes utterly horrified when the police arrests him under suspicion of him being the Serial Killer in question and then the BAU explains him what is going on.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the episode "The Beast Below", upon learning the dark secret of the Earth colony flying through spacenote , Amy willingly undergoes Laser-Guided Karma to prevent the Doctor from finding out so he won't have to make a Sadistic Choice. Turns out this was a big mistake as the Doctor didn't like people making decisions for him, resulting in him blowing up on her and nearly taking her back home for good. It comes across as a bit harsh as she was still a fresh companion and wasn't aware of all the Doctor's rules yet.
    • Downplayed in one episode, River Song breaks her wrist escaping from a Weeping Angel but when the Doctor uses some of his regeneration energy in order to heal it (without consulting her) this somehow just makes her (and Amy Pond) angry at him.
    • A more straightforward (and heartbreaking) example in "Face the Raven". Clara wants to save her friend Rigsy who has been marked to die at a certain time as punishment for a crime he doesn't remember committing. Clara takes the death mark from him, assuming the Doctor will save her if they can't prove Rigsy's innocence in time. It turns out Rigsy didn't commit the crime and he was never in any real danger, but Clara's changed the rules by taking the mark so there is no way to free her and she has to die.
  • Shawn from Psych wanted to surprise Juliet for her birthday by inviting her estranged father Frank to her birthday party, which she specifically insisted he not do, claiming he wasn't "presentable". He does this anyway and tracks down her dad to a golf course, after which they converse in his very fancy house. Quite impressed, he convinces Frank to visit Jules, and he agrees. He goes to break the news to Jules, who gets really mad that he did the very opposite of what she wanted, then tells Shawn that her dad didn't own any of the things he had and was just a Con Man.
    Shawn: I know I'm in the doghouse.
    Juliet: Oh, you're not in the doghouse.
    Shawn: I'm not?
    Juliet: No, you're going to have to work really hard to make it into the doghouse.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch: An early episode had Sabrina being accused of being selfish, so she decides to use her magic to help three people, despite being warned against interfering with mortals' lives. She helps Jenny win a school election against Libby, gets Harvey to star in a football game, and gives Mr. Pool the secret to turn lead into gold. All of them backfire horribly: Jenny discovers she can't really make any difference, Harvey gets tackled and injured, and Mr. Pool becomes more obnoxious.

    Mythology and Oral Tradition 
  • In Finnish, the term for this kind of thing is "karhunpalvelus", or "bear's favor", which comes from a folk tale about a man with a pet bear. One day when the man was sleeping, a fly landed on his nose. The bear tried to swat it away, but ended up smacking him in the face with its paw, killing the man.
    • This is also the plot of Jean de La Fontaine's fable L'ours et l'amateur des jardins ("The bear and the garden-lover"). A similar term meaning "bear's favour" or "bear's service" also exists in German (Bärendienst), Scandinavian languages (e. g. Swedish björntjänst) and Russian (medvezhya usluga).
    • In ancient Greece and Rome this was called a "Lichas' service", after Herakles' servant Lichas, who brought his master the shirt soaked in the blood of the centaur Nessos, which was contaminated with the poison of the Hydra. So under the belief that he was helping him, he unwittingly caused Herakles' death.
  • A joke goes that a knight comes to his king and reports that he [the knight] has spent the last year defeating the kingdom's enemies to the south, the west and the north.
    King: What?! I don't have any enemies to the north!
    Knight: Oh. Well, you do now.

  • The Bible arguably features this trope in Second Kings. The fifth chapter tells us that after Naaman was cured of his leprosy, he returned to Elisha and urged him to accept a gift. Elisha refused and Naaman left happily after declaring that he would only make offerings to the God of Israel. Elisha's servant, Gehazi, thought his master had been too kind in not accepting anything from Naaman so he followed and told a lie about Elisha wanting two talents and changes of clothing for visitors that had just arrived. When Gehazi returned home with the items, Elisha asked him where he'd been. Despite telling Elisha that he hadn't gone anywhere, Gehazi ended up punished for his deed by contracting Naaman's leprosy. This example is made especially potent because not only did Gehazi contract Naaman's leprosy, but Elisha added that it would cling to him and his descendants forever. Maybe lying to a prophet was a bad idea...

    Video Games 
  • BlazBlue: Litchi Faye-Ling spends the rest of the franchise trying to save her best friend/lover Lotte Carmine who was corrupted into Arakune after going too deep about the research of the Boundary, believing that he deserves better. Amongst others, she ends up corrupting herself with the same power, which endangered her life, and to alleviate that and make progress to save him, against everyone else's warnings and her own misgivings, she signs up to the worst parts of NOL (Hazama and Relius Clover) rather than the more upstanding ones (Kagura Mutsuki). When she finally gets through all those (and also disassociating herself with evil), she finds out that Lotte is all fine and dandy with his consciousness near the Boundary and doesn't want to be cured, he's content with further researching while being near the Boundary. The whole rescue attempt and troubles she went through for him are All for Nothing because she didn't fully grasp the extent of the issue (and incapable to do so, Love Martyr tendencies aside, she's heavily outclassed in everything by a majority of the main players), resulting Litchi to do the final task of killing Arakune without any care of what happens to her psyche next, and with tears continuously rolling from her face. At the very least, Bang Shishigami (one of the people she betrayed) spares her from the burden, and when everything's over, she can move on in peace.
  • Caius Ballad in Final Fantasy XIII-2 executes a centuries-long plan to stop Yeul's (a Waif Prophet he is charged to protect) cycle of reincarnation that leads to her being killed over and over again by her own prophetic gift. Towards the end of the game, it turns out that Yeul is Not Afraid to Die, and all she ever wanted was to spend her lifetimes with Caius and Noel—a dream that Caius himself ruined by his quest.
    • Caius himself is aware that this isn't what Yeul wants. When told that his actions won't make Yeul happy, he states that he's trying to save her, not please her.
  • My Child Lebensborn: The meeting between the child and their Norwegian grandparents turns out to be a terrible idea for all involved, only leaving both sides with a worse opinion of each other. The game depicts the people who are being hostile to the child or will be associated with bad memories when the child is older as if someone had hurriedly drawn over them with a black pen until they became a somewhat human-shaped silhouette; both the people whose attitude causes the meeting to turn sour and the meeting's organizer, who tries to make it go smoothly, are depicted as such silhouettes.
  • The entire plot of Tales of Symphonia kicks off because the Big Bad grossly misinterpreted a wish to end racism in the world. Mithos plans to resurrect his sister Martel after she's killed before seeing a non-racist world. He plans to give her that world by turning everyone into lifeless beings, forever trapped in stasis inside crystals called Exspheres. Once the supposed benefactor of this favor sees this, they're horrified. They wanted a world without racism, but not via those means. They certainly didn't intend for the Big Bad to go as far as they did.
  • Yes, Your Grace: One petitioner's problem is that he sold his barn to buy his overworked wife a servant to help her around the house. The barn was the family's main source of revenue. The wife wasn't happy about it, and stayed angry when he started working in a potato farm to make up for it. The options to help the guy, if given consideration at all, are to give him the money to buy the barn back or having the Court Witch cast a little "falling back in love" magic.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the Bad Boys Love route of Hatoful Boyfriend, Shuu promises Kawara Ryuji to help the his son Ryouta if anything happened to him (such as dying). After a disaster abroad, Shuu next meets Ryouta in an orphanage that just witnessed a human-sympathizer attack and decides to grant the boy one wish: to stop the fighting between humans and birds. To this end, Shuu began experimenting with a virus that would instantly kill humans without them even knowing through Nageki, and after his suicide, implant Nageki's liver in Ryouta to continue his plan to end the fighting between humans and eliminating the humans. His first victim? His childhood friend Hiyoko, a hunter-gatherer human girl.
  • A Little Lily Princess: Lottie's attempt to have Sara marry her widower father to help her out of her bad situation ultimately only gives Miss Minchin an excuse to harshly punish Sara under the pretense of how embarassing the situation was for herself. The latter is even how the obligatory Darkest Hour happens in Lottie's route.

  • Blindsprings:: Harris "rescues" his childhood friend Tammy from the spirits of Wickwold forest shortly before she could complete the 300 years' service she owed them, breaking their friendship and forcing her to make a new, much more dangerous contract to make sure the spirits kept preserving and protecting her older sister. His roommate and lover Ewan later points out that Harris is an inveterate busybody who has made a lifetime habit of providing unwanted and often unwelcome help. It turns out there are reasons for this that Harris himself isn't fully aware of.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: Played for Laughs with SCP-914, an ambiguously sentient machine that takes in objects and releases a related (and sometimes anomalous) object. Maintenance Technician Johnson cleaned SCP-914 by inserting large amounts of industrial cleaner and a note saying it's for a tune-up. SCP-914 attempted to thank Johnson with a raise, by outputting a statuette that gives anyone who looks at it a strong compulsion to give him a raise or promotion (along with the used cleaner). All this does is makes it much harder for Johnson to get any future raises or promotions legitimately, because any urge to do so would be treated as a breach.
  • Discussed by SF Debris:
    I know all too well what it's like to have to rely on someone not screwing up something when their defining characteristic is that they're an idiot. There's nothing like that sinking feeling you get when they say with total sincerity, "I took care of the problem while you kept the others busy." And you want to slap them and say, "I wasn't keeping them busy! I was fixing the problem by talking! The way people do when they're fucking normal!"

    Western Animation 
  • There was an episode of ChalkZone that revolved around Rudy misinterpreting what would happen to drawn characters and "fixing" them before they're washed away, only for him to have made things worse once those drawings make it to Chalk Zone. One example is him thinking a sea monster is gonna eat a boat and chaining him to a rock, only for the sea monster to actually want to eat the popsicle that the boat ends up crashing into. Another was him thinking a moose was gonna fall off a building and splat on the ground, prompting Rudy to draw a rubber ball around him so he bounces instead, only for it to be a production of "The Moose Who Could Fly" that is now ruined. The episode ends with him learning his lesson and not intervening on a drawing of a teddy bear being lowered into a volcano by a crane, only for the Iris Out to zoom in on the bear's screaming expression, implying that this was one drawing he should have edited.
  • The Simpsons: In "Hurricane Neddy", Ned Flanders' home gets destroyed by a hurricane, and Homer leads Springfielders in rebuilding it. Unfortunately, it's shoddily built all around, and it's easily undone by just patting it. Already depressed, this pushes Ned too far, and he launches into a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to the townspeople.
    Ned: Now, calm down, Ned-illy-diddly-diddly, they did their best, shoddily-iddily-iddly...Gotta be nice, hostility-iddly-diddly...AW, HELL, DIDDLY-DING-DONG-CRAP! CAN'T YOU MORONS DO ANYTHING RIGHT!?!
  • On the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "The Lost Mattress", Mr. Krabs has trouble sleeping because of his lumpy mattress, so SpongeBob and Patrick buy him a new one and throw the old one away. Unfortunately, the reason the mattress was so lumpy was because Mr. Krabs had all his money inside, and he goes into a catatonic shock while SpongeBob, Patrick, and Squidward (who took all the credit) look for the mattress at the dump.

    Real Life