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Underestimating Badassery / Live-Action TV

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People Underestimating Badassery in live-action TV.


  • How often do the bad guys of 24 think they've got enough security to protect themselves from Jack Bauer?
  • Agent Carter:
    • Peggy's coworkers and superiors are all genuinely convinced that behind her bluster, Peggy is just another fragile English Rose who needs to be protected because she hasn't "grown up" and "learned her place" as a woman. As Peggy points out in the penultimate episode, everyone ignores her unless she has coffee or reports because they all think of her as a "stray kitten" in need of shelter or a "secretary turned damsel" in need of protection. Thompson himself only realizes that Peggy is quite the badass when he finally sees her pick up a machine gun and start shooting people alongside her war buddies, the Howling Commandos. Peggy decides to be more aggressive in her career and start showing this amongst her coworkers. After pointing out that the intelligence gathering mission would be more effective with a plan she would have no idea her superiors had just dismissed as impossible with their resources, they mock her by stating that they would need a team familiar with the area but don't have access to one. Peggy suggests a team like the Howling Commandos, and her chief jokingly agrees to let her go if she can get them. After she walks off, the two men give each other a look and a chuckle, only for her to walk in a few minutes later to state that the Howling Commandos would meet them at the rendezvous point. The chief follows through with his promise to put her on the team.
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    • In season two everyone underestimates Whitney Frost, who at first appears to be simply a Hollywood actress past her prime and the Trophy Wife to a prominent industrialist. She is actually a scientific genius and the real brains behind her husband's massive corporation. Then she is infected by Zero Matter and acquires lethal powers. She almost kills Peggy and becomes the true Big Bad of the season.
  • Airwolf:
    • Happens surprisingly often. Of course, most people don't count on a helicopter being more well-armored than a tank, being capable of flying at speeds up to Mach 2.5, flying into the stratosphere, and carrying enough firepower to wipe a small country off the face of the earth.
    • According to Tang Von Soong (referring to String, who is perhaps the world's best combat pilot), "Fortunately such people have little stomach for the nature of war."
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    • Also happened with Robert Winchester, who was able to give String a run for his money in the Airwolf Simulator. The Firm restricted his role from potential Airwolf pilot to scientist because he didn't quite have the same "natural talent" for flying that String had.
  • Babylon 5:
    • "Ceremonies of Light and Dark": Marcus the Ranger is looking for information on some crooks who have kidnapped his friend Delenn. He joins a poker game at a tough bar in down-below and asks his contacts in the criminal underworld if they have any information to share. They decline, and ask why they should help him with this.
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    • When we come back from commercial, Marcus is holding the beaten and bloodied last person from the entire room of thugs who isn't quite unconscious yet, who is quickly blubbering out that he doesn't know anything anyways, before collapsing into unconsciousness. An exasperated Marcus complains to no-one in particular, "Bugger! Now I have to wait for someone to wake up!" He is then surprised when someone else comes into the bar: Lennier, the mousy, quiet, inoffensive diplomatic aide to the kidnapped Delenn. When Marcus grabs Lennier during their discussion, Lennier picks him up by the neck and calmly reminds Marcus not to underestimate him. Marcus, who has just kicked the crap out of several dozen criminal thugs and assorted underworld hard-cases, thus proving his badassitude beyond doubt, is forced to back down—to another character whose badassitude is perhaps even more underestimated. (Of course, a few moments later another thug finally wakes up, and out of fear, gives Marcus the information he wanted.)
    • As might be expected from the above example, Lennier is also prone to this. During the first season, his fighting skill is a surprise to the audience, but once it's established, he continues to use it to surprise other characters.
  • Buffyverse:
    • Angel played with this trope in the first episode. Cordelia suddenly realised her potential sponsor was actually a vampire and Angel appears on the scene. When her fake sponsor doesn't seem at all bothered by Angel's appearance, Cordelia realises that it's because he not only doesn't know Angel's a vampire, but doesn't know just how dangerous a vampire Angel is. Unfortunately, her gloat of "You don't know who he is, do you? Oh, boy, you're about to get your ass kicked!" backfires. Not only did the vampire not know who Angel was, but Angel and Cordelia didn't know who he was. Turns out, the ones doing the underestimating were actually Angel and Cordelia. By the end of the episode, this situation has been very much reversed. Permanently, one might say.
    • Angel's son Connor seems to think just because he's super strong, he fails to see what is so special about Slayers, and as such thinks Faith should at most be a speed bump. She proceeds to mop the floor with him.
    • And in the season 5 finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, right after a Previously On summing up the entire series to date:
      Vampire: [moving towards Buffy] I don't mind a little appetizer...
      Buffy: You ever heard the expression, "biting off more than you can chew"? Okay... um, how about the expression, "Vampire Slayer"?
      Vampire: What the hell are you talking about?
      Buffy: Wow! Never heard that one? Okay, how about, "Oh God, my leg, my leg?" ''[breaks his leg]'
      Vampire: Oh God, my leg! Ah!
    • The basic premise of the franchise is to make the 90-pound cheerleader that the monster corners in an alley capable of ripping its arm off.
    • A non-monster instance occurs when Buffy squares off against Tara's father in "Family". Mr. Maclay has no idea that Buffy could kill him with her bare hands and, given what a misogynistic Abusive Parent he is, it's a real shame we don't get to see her show him.
    • Xander, who has no powers of any kind, takes out a goddess with a wrecking ball.
      Xander: And the glorified bricklayer picks up a spare.
    • When Spike first appears on the show in season 2, Giles initially dismisses him as a major threat, especially when compared to the Master, since vampires are Stronger with Age and Spike is "barely 200." He quickly reconsiders this assessment when he discovers that Spike has killed two previous Slayers.
  • Burn Notice
    • In "Rough Seas", when Michael poses as a nervous nerd with an inhaler... only to turn on the group of drug dealers he's infiltrated when they least expect it.
    • Also notable is "Bad Breaks", in which a bank robber has the bad luck to rob a bank with both Michael and Agent Jason Bly inside.
    • He's had it done on him once or twice; Lucy Lawless as an assassin pretending to be a "battered housewife" who needs Mike to find her husband comes to mind, as does Harlan and the nerdy "auditor" who is a good enough killer to pose a challenge to Mike in hand-to-hand.
    • Michael lampshades that the Coast Guard is generally seen as not very powerful. He then explains why this is not truly so.
      Most people don't think the Coast Guard as being particularly well-armed. Most people are wrong. A Coast Guard patrol boat carries three .50-caliber M2 Browning machine guns and a 25-millimeter cannon, which means it can take out anything short of a battleship.
  • Chuck does this a lot to enemy agents who don't know what he is — his fight scene in "Chuck Versus the Beard" is a prime example.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor is consistently on the receiving end of this trope, even from those who should really know better, like the Daleks.
    • Daleks have an unwavering belief in the superiority of Daleks to all other forms of life, which causes them to underestimate the Doctor's companions just as frequently as they do the Doctor himself. They've been on the receiving end of this as well, from people who don't realize that what looks like a saltshaker with a suction cup sticking out of it is one of the most fearsome creatures in the universe.
    • "The Runaway Bride": The Empress of the Racnoss has been in hibernation for billions of years, and as such underestimates the Doctor due to a combination of not being familiar with his reputation and, thanks to Donna, assuming the Doctor is a "Martian". She doesn't realize how dangerous he is until it's far, far too late, when he tells her where he's really from.
    • "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" involves a family of short-lived aliens named the Family of Blood chasing him in order to consume him and gain immortality. The Doctor initially tries to escape from them by sealing his alien self while he turns human with his companion Martha as the one in charge of his former self. The Family then goes after them, killing several people in the process and bombing a village to force the Doctor to come back. When it finally happens, an infuriated Doctor easily Out-Gambits them and punishes them by putting them in various And I Must Scream situations that specifically grant them eternal life in the process. They then realize he wasn't running from them because he was afraid of them... but because he was afraid of what he could do to them.
    • Rory Williams is a nurse whose greatest claim to fame is being madly in love with Amelia Pond. It gets him a lot further than you'd think, as the Cybermen find out the hard way when he blows up one of their space stations.
    • "Rosa": The antagonist, a time traveller trying to Make Wrong What Once Went Right, clearly doesn't take the Doctor and her friends seriously, even trying to threaten them and thinking he can intimidate them into leaving. Unfortunately for him, the Doctor absolutely refuses to be intimidated, first trapping him in the '50s by destroying his vortex manipulator, than goading him into attacking her and revealing his Restraining Bolt, which prevents him from directly attacking anyone and means he can't stop them from reversing his efforts to change the course of history, culminating in Ryan zapping him into the distant past with his own temporal displacement weapon.
    • "Resolution": The villain, a Dalek recon scout, has been out of commission via Sealed Evil in a Six Pack for 1,200 years. So, while it recognizes the Doctor as an enemy of itself and its species, it doesn't regard her as seriously as Daleks usually do, which plays a major factor in its defeat.
  • Elementary: Moriarty dismisses Watson as nothing but Holmes' sidekick. Eventually, Watson is the one who captures Moriarty.
  • Farscape:
    • John Crichton is a human from Earth — a planet that hasn't even been to its own moon in almost 30 years at the time the series started — who in early episodes is constantly dealing with the scorn of the more "advanced" members of Moya's crew. And he saves their asses every. Single. Time. By the end of the first season he's finally earned their respect and friendship. And then it's time for him to do the same with his enemies.
    • Crais spent almost a cycle trying to capture him before Scorpius finally gets his hands on him purely by chance. Crais' failure to bring Moya in didn't exactly sit well and made him something of a laughingstock. Then Scorpius found out first hand just how dangerous and resourceful Crichton is.
    • Genre Savvy that he is, Scorpius was less likely to underestimate Crichton, but even then John still had his moments where he took him by surprise. Grayza, on the other hand, was completely incapable of recognizing the threat Crichton actually posed. Especially when the rest of the galaxy was pointing and laughing at the Peacekeepers' inability to recapture Moya.
  • In a The Flash (2014) and Arrow crossover, Flash is affected by a Hate Plague so Arrow has to stop him. Flash's allies laugh and say Arrow has no chance, since Flash has superpowers while Arrow is just a guy with a bow and arrow. He quickly proves them wrong. Also, when Arrow offers to train Flash earlier, Flash gets cocky, thinking there's nothing someone who doesn't have super speed can teach him, until he gets shot in the back with two arrows.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Most of King's Landing seems to be under the impression that water dancing is a literal kind of dancing and that Syrio is actually just a dancing instructor rather than the First Sword of Braavos, which is why it is so surprising for Ser Meryn and the Lannister guards when Syrio hands the redcloaks their asses on a silver platter — with a training sword.
    • Tywin's arrogance and successful record often leads him to assume that his foes are incompetent more often than they actually are, which sometimes comes to bite him:
      • He totally underestimates Robb's skill as a commander in their early battles, especially glaring given 1: who his father was, and 2: the fact that Tywin himself was treated the same way as a youth. However, he quickly learns from his previous mistake and successfully conspires with Walder Frey and Roose Bolton to have Robb brutally assassinated.
      • More subtly, on the diplomatic field it happens with Olenna Tyrell. While negotiating marriage arrangements between the families, he acts willfully and blackmails the Queen of Thorns into accepting his ultimatum. Olenna relents... and then goes the long way around to protect her family's interests — by murdering Tywin's grandson, the king, right under Tywin's nose. The best part? Tywin doesn't even know.
      • And, of course, he underestimated Tyrion's ability to survive time and time again... until Tyrion held him at crossbowpoint.
    • Kevan Lannister is on the receiving end of this. Cersei thinks that he'll be a Yes-Man to her due to his loyal service to Tywin. She's surprised to learn that he ain't a pushover.
    • Whether due to her own guile or their foolishness, people who underestimate Daenerys and slight her or try to manipulate her end up dead, often in gruesome fashion. By the time she gets to Yunkai her reputation has begun to precede her, and they offer her ships and gold if she leaves them in peace, though by the time her meeting with Razdal ends it turns out they haven't learned enough.
      • While Euron himself is a badass, he is seriously overconfident in his plan to woo Daenerys with just his ships and his "big cock". Subverted since Euron just put on the Ironborn act in order to win the Kingsmoot.
  • Nick Burkhardt from Grimm is subject to this a lot, like when a group of coyotls thinks he and Hank are just two cops with no idea what they are getting themselves into in addition to being outnumbered, or in the rare instance where he gets to pull this on someone who knew he was a Grimm when the Reaper dispatcher sends two Reapers to catch him by surprise, only to get a rather disturbing package in the mail.
    • This can be said of pretty much all Grimms. The pilot has Nick's aunt Marie showing up, in the final stages of cancer, looking like everybody's favorite grandma. She proceeds to kill a Hässlich Reaper with his own scythe. Even when lying in a hospital bed and approached by Munroe (who's not violent, normally), she opens her eyes and tells him to do his worst. She even identifies him as a Blutbad without him even wogeing. The trend continues with Nick's mom and Trubel. On the Wesen side, this can also apply to many, especially since not all of them appear imposing when not woged. Munroe is tall and in a fairly good shape, but he's vegetarian, speaks fairly softly, and wears sweaters. He's the last guy you expect to turn rip your arm off if you really piss him off. Then again, he used to be pretty violent in his youth.
  • In Highlander, a lot of people underestimate Methos because he's a rather unassuming man and he's very reluctant to get involved in fights. As he points out, just because a guy doesn't enjoy fighting doesn't mean he can't, and a guy doesn't survive to be 5000+ years old without picking up some serious skills.
  • Happens a lot to Mia in Hit And Miss, as she's a transgender hitwoman.
  • Season 3 of Justified is built around this trope. Detroit mobster Robert Quarles repeatedly underestimates just how smart local gangster Boyd Crowder is. Boyd, for his part, expects that Quarles being a Fish out of Water will be completely ineffective in Harlan County. He's right, but what he doesn't take into account is just how physically dangerous Quarles can become when cornered.
    • Season 4 gives us Bob, a pudgy constable (a law enforcement position that pays almost nothing and has no real authority) who is a constant Butt-Monkey and is played by Patton Oswalt. While most people do not take him seriously, Genre Savvy characters remember that back in elementary school Bob hit a bully in the head with a hammer and put the kid in a coma. When two drunk Corrupt Hicks start firing their rifles at Bob, they discover that Bob has an automatic assault rifle in his car. A mobster captures Bob and tortures him for information but Failed a Spot Check and does not realize that Bob carries a hidden knife on him at all times. Bob simply waits for the mobster to drop his guard and then fatally stabs him. In the confrontation at the high school, an injured Bob is fully prepared to back up Raylan in a Last Stand gunfight against a dozen mobsters.
  • This gets deconstructed in Kamen Rider Wizard. One of the villains is a quirky character by the name of Sora who manages to be an annoyance to the other villains, including the Big Bad Wiseman once he frees a rather destructive Phantom. Almost everyone underestimates Sora's true potential and just consider him write him off as "that annoying Phantom". Heck, even the main character, Haruto, began to underestimate him. At that point, we find out that, yes, there's more to Sora than meets the eye. He was a serial killer prior to being a Phantom and has his sights on the Philosopher's Stone, a MacGuffin that the Big Bad has in his possession. Once it's made clear he's after the stone, The Wiseman tries everything in his power to kick his ass, though leaves him just kicking, underestimating him. It becomes Wiseman's hubris as Gremlin, on his second attempt, snatches a weapon from him and kills him with it, then steals the role of Big Bad. Bottom line: Never underestimate the quirky Phantom, or else everyone is screwed.
    • This is something that the Big Bad had a case of twice. The only reason his plans were foiled in the first place was because he didn't account for Nitoh, a Big Eater, unleashing his Phantom, an even bigger eater to consume all the Mana he needed to execute his plan. You can say that underestimating badassery is a Fatal Flaw for him.
  • Caine on Kung Fu is always underestimated by people who end up getting their ass kicked by him.
  • On one episode of Magnum, P.I., a Chinese assassin is asking a big hairy sailor where the MacGuffin is hidden. The Chinese assassin is an insignificant looking fellow with glasses. But when the bargaining becomes heated, the assassin kills the sailor with his bare hands in half a second and isn't even breathing hard.
    • In another episode, Higgins goes off to an island on a camping trip with some boys from juvenile in a rehab program. They mutiny, but find out that Higgins is a Retired Badass.
  • How much of a threat can a gangly, clumsy servant be? Well, quite a bit if your name is Merlin!
  • NCIS:
  • Person of Interest has thugs constantly underestimating Reese due to him wearing nice suits and working alone. Half of these encounters only show the thugs getting ready to attack and later Reese walking away from a pile of groaning men.
  • The Romans are very guilty of this in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, frequently calling Spartacus and his army of gladiators "common slaves" or "mere savages", even when the fighting force has trained day and night on nothing more to fight and kill. It's pointed out by Ashur in "Chosen Path" of Vengeance on how the slaves can pose a threat to the average Roman soldier. Glaber responds by pitting Ashur against several soldiers, whom Ashur easily defeats.
    Ashur: And I was considered lowest among the Brotherhood.
  • Happens occasionally to Dr. Daniel Jackson of Stargate SG-1. In one particular instance, someone called him a geek while he was under the influence of a physically enhancing alien device. This device also increased aggression and impulsiveness (Dr. Jackson is not usually a hothead). It... didn't end well for said someone.
    • Also happened to Carter on occasion, due to her being an attractive woman. In particular, in the episode "The Warrior", a group of free Jaffa are disappointed by the Earth-based weapons they have been provided so O'Neill has Carter demonstrate how effective the weapons are. You can see the patronizing expressions as the Jaffa doubt both the weapons and the female's shooting abilities. Needless to say, Carter proved them wrong on both accounts.
      O'Neill: This [Jaffa staff weapon] is a weapon of terror; it's made to intimidate the enemy. This [Earth P90] is a weapon of war; it's made to kill your enemy.
      • Ba'al, as a Politically Incorrect Villain, insults Carter's intelligence REPEATEDLY, even after she's saved the world a few times. After she slugged him in the face, though, he seems to have wised up.
  • In Supernatural, no matter how many monsters, demons, or other enemies the Winchesters have killed, they're almost always underestimated by whatever enemy they're facing. One notable exception is Crowley, who even lampshades the other villains' tendency to do so:
    Crowley: "Don't worry about them?" What, like Lucifer didn't worry? Or Michael, or Lilith, or Alastair, or Azazel didn't worry? Am I the only game piece on the board who doesn't underestimate those denim-wrapped nightmares?!
  • Pretty much the entire point behind Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles' Cameron. As the show's producers pointed out, and was demonstrated throughout the series, people do not expect a slender, cute, harmless-looking girl who looks like she's not even out of her teens to be a cold, implacable and utterly lethal killing machine.
  • Rick makes the fatal mistake of underestimating The Saviours in The Walking Dead. After years of dominating every group they have come into conflict with, Rick firmly believes that The Saviours are just a small group of violent bandits that can be easily taken care of. He soon discovers that they're actually a very large group of violent bandits, with hundreds of men at their disposal. When their leader shows up, he utterly destroys Rick.


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