No Delays for the Wicked

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...Government is staffed with mostly well-intentioned but incompetent people... Conspiracy theorists reverse this: They think government is evil-intentioned but supremely competent. That's crazy-talk, Count Chocula.
Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online, 9/13/06

Except in parodies, all villains in fiction are magically immune to the problems of bureaucracy, logistics, and bad luck. Their powers are so strong that this even transfers to their lowest minions. This trope is the opposite of the much less common (and much more realistic) Dystopia Is Hard.

Let's say you want to ride in an airplane. The airline staff are always putting your luggage on the wrong plane. But if an agent of the Government Conspiracy is riding the same plane, his luggage will always be fine. Why? Somehow, the conspiracy makes everybody as competent as their masters - even the airline staff they bribe, who are barely in on the conspiracy at all.

But even stranger, the power of the conspiracy extends to people who don't work for them. Does the airport have an Obstructive Bureaucrat, who makes people miss their planes by petty delays? On bombing day, he'll suddenly be clean and efficient, and the agent will board on time. The conspirators didn't bribe him or blackmail him - he will simply happen to never make a mistake that could hurt them. This power does not, unfortunately, extend to the heroes, who may be strip-searched by the bureaucrat while the bomber goes untouched.

The Government Conspiracy isn't the only group that can do this. An army of Nazis, Orcs, Scary Dogmatic Aliens, etc., can march anywhere, any time, without slowing down to rest or eat, while the poor heroes are tired and hungry all the time. Logistics problems don't apply to them. The villainous army never slows down because a stupid supply officer forget to ship the fuel, or because a greedy supply officer sold it all for cash (at least, not any more...). Meanwhile, any heroic army will have at least one Obstructive Bureaucrat getting in the way.

This power even extends to inanimate objects. An evil commander's cell phone never goes out of order, but a hero's cell phone will go out of order whenever it would be inconvenient. The stupid ticket machine at the airport which ate the heroes' money will always give the villains the plane tickets they need. The villains will never fail at anything For Want of a Nail.

The exception is a Spanner in the Works, but that only happens at the end.

This is perfect for maintaining a Masquerade. You can have hundreds, nay, thousands of people keeping the same secret, and nobody will screw it up. The Men in Black Cleaners will never get the wrong address and remove all evidence of alien activity at the house next door of where they should have gone. The assassin never gets cold feet or an attack of guilt (unless he's about to become a main character), or decides he can make more money through Blackmail or writing a tell-all book detailing the conspiracy. The commanders never put their own careers over the goals of the organization, The Weirdness Censor fails so rarely that the Only Sane Man is easily dismissed, and the Mooks never form a union.

The only way that an Enemy Civil War can occur is through deliberate manipulation on the heroes' part (such as Feed the Mole).

In an evil empire this is sometimes justified because any incompetent officials were long ago executed and been replaced with much more efficient and highly motivated employees. The Heroes on the other hand will constantly try to improve these incompetents rather than just firing and replacing them.

One more thing; this trope describes (real or fictional) entities which are either realistically prone to complications or unrealistically immune. Examples of how (real or fictional) entities are protected by the Weirdness Censor, human nature, or integrate those complications into their plans belong elsewhere. In other words, David Xanatos is not referenced here, and is in fact smirking at all of you who believe in this trope.

From a narrative standpoint, this happens because it is emotionally satisfying to see the intrepid heroes defeat the villain's plans because of their determined efforts to overcome both the villain's schemes and random obstacles. It is considerably less satisfying to see the villain fail because the airline lost his luggage and the heroes just got lucky. Also, the audience usually wants to see that the villain's plan would have succeeded were it not for the heroes, and because Villains Act, Heroes React, the villain's first action would have to have succeeded. That said, there are still plenty of aversions and inversions in the examples below.

Inversion of Evil Will Fail and Fascist but Inefficient. Xanatos Roulette is a Sister Trope, where all the factors that would most likely make the plan fail just don't happen.

See also Hanlon's Razor, Villains Blend in Better, Sinister Surveillance, Offscreen Villain Dark Matter and Reality Is Unrealistic. When this happens in Video Games, it's because The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard.

Contrast Harmless Villain, Third-Act Stupidity. Not to be confused with Mobile Menace.

Examples of No Delays for the Wicked include:

Anime[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, SEELE has to worry about its minions committing treachery. It never has to worry that they might slack off on the job, or don't understand the Applied Phlebotinum as well as they think.
    • It's reasonable to assume that people are not going to slack off on the job when failing the job will cause the extermination of the human race.
  • The only pirates in One Piece who ever have to worry about the whole Log Pose adjusting issue are the Straw Hats. Justified with the Navy, since they have an entire collection of Eternal Poses, but even the most sinister of pirates and underground organizations can simply skip to the next island, or in the least have no worry of their Log Pose resetting.
    • Except that all the major powers that the Straw Hats fight on the Grand Line work for the World Government and thus have access to those Poses.
    • It has been shown that the Straw Hats themselves didn't really have to deal with all these delays. They've been offered Eternal Poses as well as detailed notes from allies who've made a significant bit of progress into the Grand Line that would have made the the journey much faster and easier. All of that has been refused because Luffy insists on making his own adventure.
  • The plot of Saiyuki is that our guys are going way, way west to confront the evil woman sending out the pulse that has driven all the youkai insane and destroyed the society of Shangri-la, to get the magic scroll. They are doing this in a jeep that is really a three-foot dragon. Their Noble Demon antagonist Kougaiji and his gang regularly commute from their ultimate destination to them, in their jeep on the road, and back. No one has even suggested stealing one of Kou's dragons and being there tomorrow.
    • Probably because none of them really want to get where they're going, much. They're really bad heroes. Also Kou is strong and his party includes Gojyo's brother.
    • Sanzo should have suggested it.
    • Maybe they don't want to hurt Hyakuryuu's feelings.
    • Kanon could easily send them straight there. She doesn't because the journey is as important as the destination.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Averted in V for Vendetta (except for the fact that the government is fascist). The people who work for the Norsefire government all have their personal quirks and flaws, which V is able to exploit to bring them down. Take Derek Almond, who confronts V with an empty gun that he emptied earlier that night so he could threaten his wife without actually endangering her. And Almond's death sends his wife on the downward spiral that ultimately leads her to assassinate Leader Adam Susan.
  • Interesting use of this in Judge Dredd during the reign of Judge Cal. The entire city got very efficient (what with the death penalty for incompetence and all) but this ended up helping the heroes as the postal service was efficient enough to get them a vital piece of evidence before anyone worked out that it had been copied.
    • Of course this just led Judge Cal to see it as his master work and plans to kill everyone in Mega-City One.
  • Averted in The Invisibles. King Mob regards the all too human workforce of the evil overlords as their greatest weakness. See the quote page.


Film[edit | hide]

  • The live-action Death Note film has L point out that large, secret organizations have statistically increasing degrees of inefficiency, proportional to their size. He gives this as evidence for his deduction that Kira is more likely an individual rather than a conspiracy.
    • Death Note as a whole averts this trope as virtually all the factions have slackers or incompetents (Matsuda, Misa, Sidoh etc.).
  • Deconstructed in Brazil. The government is not portrayed as infallible (the crippling bureaucracy makes it highly inefficient, and the driving force of the plot is the result of an insect randomly falling into a printer) but everyone thinks it is. This ranges from the mildly humorous (a civil servant calls his wife by the wrong name because his superior once mistook her name, as well as believing he has triplets rather than twins) to the incredibly dark (an innocent man is arrested, charged with terrorism, and tortured to death because of a minor printing error on the arrest warrant; when confronted, the torturer excuses the death because he had not been informed of the man's heart condition, having received the file for the actual criminal). Any mistakes by the bureaucracy, if even acknowledged, are decried as the result of terrorist sabotage.
  • A small subversion in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, where the bad guys are a relatively small band of Eastern European terrorists, rather than (as usual in Bond films) the well-funded personal army of a megalomaniacal multi-billionaire. One scene has the lead terrorist's accountant complaining to him about 3 vehicles destroyed by Bond in a preceding chase scene; they were rented and the rental company is going to be pissed (well, technically, it was a treacherous Russian scientist and he seemingly borrowed them from the Russians without them knowing they would be involved in attempted murder, but the point stands). Roger Ebert even cited this little scene in his review of the movie while musing about where the villains in movies manage to get all their logistics so tidily.
    • Ironically, they were working for a megalomaniacal mutli-billionaire. But she was seemingly covering her tracks by not having a direct financial link to them. That or she's a cheapskate.
  • In Outland, the shuttle bringing the assassins sent to kill the protagonist arrives early. In the Mad Magazine parody, the hero comments that this is the first flight in the history of the station to not arrive late.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Inverted in many of Tom Clancy's novels from about Red Storm Rising on. The US military and intelligence agencies are staffed with supremely competent agents from the lowliest grunt to the most senior general or administrator. All these agencies cooperate well and share information, and the infamous real-life rivalry between the CIA and the FBI, or the fights for funding between the army, navy and air force, are nowhere to be found. Agents are given experimental equipment that works perfectly as advertised the first time out in the field. When the villains inevitably make a small misstep in their master plan, the protagonists are on them like white on rice.
    • In fact, the only thing holding the USA back from finishing the story by page 30 are bleeding heart liberal socialist Commies.
    • Notably, in Patriot Games the bad guys raiding Jack's house miss Robby, who rescues the other. An hour later, the terrorists are cornered by a dozen cops, a Coast Guard cutter, a US Navy yard patrol boat carrying a squad of Marines, with an FBI team late to the party.
      • Justified Trope: after a terrorist attack that killed half a dozen Secret Service agents, just missed killing a visiting member of the British Royal Family, and shot up the waterfront at the US Naval Academy (wounding several Marines), it's not exactly surprising that the authorities all enter "dogpile on bad guys now, figure out who has jurisdiction tomorrow" mode.
  • The Draka are perhaps the best example of this trope. Founded by loyalists fleeing North America after the Revolutionary War, they somehow turn South Africa into a productive, industrialised slave-owning state within ten years. By 1900 they control all of Africa and have the second-largest economy in the world. By 1950 they control almost of Eurasia as well. Did I mention their technology is generally a generation ahead of everyone else's? And less than 10% of their population isn't a slave? They never fail, they always win, and the world's other nations never do anything about it until it's too late - even when they know the Draka are planning a first strike against them, they delay their own in the hopes they can negotiate peace. Despite the fact the Draka's ideology is basically "enslave the strong, crush the weak, torture/rape the rest". Nuclear holocaust is preferable to Drakan rule. Basically the entire trilogy is S.M. Stirling handing Nietzschean slave owners an "I Win" button.
    • Sort of subverted, though, when it's later revealed that the universe has multiple time lines and that everything that can happen, does happen. We're simply seeing the particular time line where everything broke the Draka's way, there are many many many time lines where things went otherwise.
  • One way of knowing that the Royal Military of Markerterion in Stationery Voyagers isn't too evil is that they actually do have to worry about mass incompetence in their ranks, including several Idiot Balls being held rather tightly. While not themselves entirely immune to the Idiot Ball, most of Astrabolo's Yehtzig Pirate League plays this trope much more straight. And if they DO fail to accomplish something the easy way...they seem to always have a rocket launcher handy to compensate.
  • The Party of Oceania in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is somehow able to monitor all Outer Party members at all times, maintain the Thought Police, operate multiple fronts for false recruitment into a resistance, and so on, despite the economy being perpetually in shambles.
    • This was parodied by British humourist Alan Coren in a short story entitled "Due To Circumstances Beyond Our Control, 1984 Has Been Unavoidably Cancelled..." which depicted Winston Smith in a world filled with the apathetic, the lazy, the bloody-minded and the incompetent. The telescreens are broken, Room 101 contains a single wheezing stoat because they can't get rats at this time of year, etc. The author's note at the start of the story states that it is intended to prove "that totalitarianism could never work in Britain. Nothing else does, so how could it?"
    • As Isaac Asimov pointed out in his review of Nineteen Eighty-Four (which he thought was overrated), while the economy of Oceania is in shambles, the television sets (which always have to be switched on) seem to work all the time.
      • That's because the economy is in an artificial shambles. The Party seems to figure that (above a certain class level, at least) people who don't know where their next meal is coming from are easier to keep in line.
        • Goldstein's book makes it clear that the sole purpose of the endless world war in 1984's world is to destroy the inevitable economic surplus created by industry that might allow the population to revolt, or, as the Party says: "War is Peace".
  • Also noted by Terry Pratchett in Hogfather; paraphrasing "considering their track record in every other area, governments seem rather remarkably competent in the field of hushing things up".
  • C. S. Lewis played with this...In Hell!!!. The Lowerarchy in The Screwtape Letters is largely held together by fear of retribution, because demons hate everything good, including efficiency, but acknowledge that their plans rely (for the moment) on certain "good" qualities remaining in play. Every so often something Goes Horribly Wrong...or awesomely right, if you're one of the good guys.
  • Lewis acknowledges this again in The Chronicles of Narnia book The Horse and His Boy (set during the reign of the kids). The Evil Prince Rabadash is angered when Susan rejects his marriage proposal but knows that his country's massive armies can't cross the desert to reach Narnia. He decides to collect 200 horsemen in an attempt to kill the King of Archenland (Narnia's neighbor) and gain a foothold. Even then it apparently takes the better part of two days to get the men ready.
    • That's actually pretty good for a muscle powered army as even if Colormen has a standing force, it would spare time to select men for a special ops mission that has such potential for backfiring and in any case there is no reason to be hurried as it was only the worst of luck that a spy willing to take the risk of travelling all the way to Archenland to give a warning heard about it, while they very much needed to get a hold of horses, fodder and enough water to get across the desert.
      • By comparison it would take longer to plan a proper Church picnic which of course has no wasteland to cross and no hostile resistance.
  • The Barrayaran government in Vorkosigan Saga is a zig-zag. It is not really fascist, but is definitely authoritarian. However the military is generally efficient, and the Imperial Security certainly is. Of course it's efficiency is rather spotty; it's economy and technology is suboptimal although that is at least excusable by it's previous isolation and the scourging of an invasion. It is to be noted that Barrayarans though they are flawed are not villainous.
    • The Cetagandans are closer to a straight example. They are plagued with internal troubles and seem to have come to the end of their expansionist ability.
  • Justified in Codex Alera. At first, the obstreperous Obstructive Bureaucrat in a position of authority in the valley garrison looks like a Contrived Coincidence, making things harder for the heroes and easier for the villains for no good reason. Later, though, we learn that the bureaucrat is an innocent if incompetent guy, but the Big Bad Friend was so Crazy Prepared that before the story started he spent weeks sabotaging the valley garrison, including getting incompetent people reassigned to important places.
  • The Cold War-era political thriller Pentagon is an Author Tract against the U.S. military procurement system, and Anviliciously examines the bureaucratic infighting and interservice rivalry that paralyzes America's military response to the chillingly efficient Soviet invasion of a Pacific island to use it as a nuclear missile base.
  • Massively averted in The Belgariad and The Malloreon series, for the protagonists (which could have, say...large numbers of cultists hidden within a country's power structure) and antagonists (the heroes even rely on or induce bureaucratic incompetence and greed to get ahead). Hell, even the Prophecies themselves are technically susceptible to random chance (though they're also infinitely more knowledgeable and powerful, and have mostly been able to avoid or swiftly deal with unexpected problems).
    • Best example: When Torak invaded the Eastern Kingdoms, he did so with what ought to have been massive numerical superiority; he had the Malloreans, millions of 'em, an entire continent to throw against the disunited and underpopulated eastern kingdoms. But his Mallorean army tried to march up to meet him through the desert of Rak Cthol, and got foundered by a massive blizzard on the way; they never showed up to the final battle, and Kal Torak was defeated.
      • Mind, it's more than hinted that the other gods had something to do with that blizzard.
  • The Swiss crime story "The Pledge" revolves around subverting this trope: A cop spends years analyzing a serial killer's MO, finding out who the next victim will be and and builds a relationship with the victim's family to use them as bait - but the killer never strikes. After several years, the cop's gone mad and refuses to believe he was wrong. He actually was right, but the killer died in a car accident on his way to the crime. Wah wah waaaaaah...
  • Repeatedly subverted in the Honor Harrington series, where the heroic Star Kingdom of Manticore is a dynamic, powerful, stable and competent force - at least when its government is out of the hands of anyone Honor disagrees with - while their various enemies are incompetent, disunited, or struggling to do some good despite the system's corruption, and generally only prove a threat because of their massive numbers. The subversion is particularly noticeable with the Solarian League, who were long talked up as being a powerful, advanced and professional outfit until Manticore actually engages their ships, and we realise they're corrupt, unimaginative plodders who can't get anything done because they're too busy saving face.
    • Justified Trope: the Solarian League Navy has entirely competent people (who we see elsewhere and in other novels), but their equipment has fallen notably behind since the beginning of the series (which is when the initial evaluation of the SLN as the Sleeping Giant was made) due to the difference between peacetime and wartime R&D rates. Also, the secretive manipulators behind the war against the Solarian League are deliberately picking the dumbest admirals they can find in the entire Solarian League Navy to be assigned to the Manticore front, because the real goal of the war is to break the Solarian League from within.
      • The Solarian League is reasonably competent at it's real purpose. It's real purpose is to enable bloated criminal organizations at their bloodsucking while allowing those highest in rank to tipple from the government in the process. It is not efficient at establishing justice, ensuring tranquility or providing for the common defense. Except insofar as the vast armadas the Solarian Navy has intimidates everyone until the Manties give them a beating. Of course the real purpose of the Solarian navy is to scam taxpayers into paying more money thinking they are getting security that way instead of huge expensive target practice for any foreign navy that wants to try it.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • One of the most obvious examples is the Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force," where a historian creates a Nazi planet because it was the "most efficient state ever." It ends in tears, of course, because it's a frickin' Nazi planet. But it's efficient - unlike, as discussed below, the real Nazi Germany...
    • The real Nazi state got all the efficiency it had from the Hollenzollerns. At that even the earlier German state was mainly good at tactics which was sufficient when it had a sensible "pocket your winnings and leave the casino" policy under William I and Otto von Bismark but in Hitler it got the political equivalent of a superstitious gambler who thinks it mathematically possible to have a such thing as an irresistible winning streak.
      • In point of fact The British Empire, despite all its fairy-tale anachronisms, tribalistic aesthetics, and (shock!) concessions to liberty, actually was far more efficient. It was able to marshal resources from all over the world; conduct political policies, and secret service intrigues; and launch massive campaigns while depending not on the whims of a single man but an oligarchy that had received the same training in school and more or less knew what every other one was likely to do in every part of the world. Fascism is not only not necessary for efficient government, it is not even conducive to it. The best it can say is that decisions will often be faster. Even that is not always good as "fast" can mean "hasty".
  • The conspiracy in The X-Files never, ever has to worry about coincidence. Ever. Does a UFO have to delay its flight because of bad weather?
    • A particularly egregious example; even when something goes wrong the MIB move in so fast that the heroes are lucky if they get there in time to watch the evidence/witness/Complete Monster disappear.
  • This is both played straight and subverted in The Wire. While the Barksdale gang is shown with flaws and foibles, the Greeks and the Stanfield crew are ruthlessly efficient. In fact, the one time that Chris Partlow, Marlo Stanfield's right-hand man, loses his temper during a hit, it brings the whole thing down after nearly 3 seasons of out-thinking and out-fighting all comers. Meanwhile the Baltimore PD, with only a handful of exceptions, is shown to be corrupt or incompetent in the extreme.
    • This trope came to particular prominence at one point in S3, when the Police's major plan involved arresting one dealer in the hopes a more incompetent one would get promoted to this position; then with his carelessness the wiretap would be more effective. It didn't work. As one of the characters lampshaded, if someone that stupid had been on their side he would have made lieutenant at least.
  • Babylon 5 is full of conspiracies, and they never work out as planned. The conspiracy to kill the president in Season One only succeeds because of The Mole, and the entire command staff learns the truth while President Evil schemes - and they eventually get him. Everybody eventually learns the Psi-Corps' secrets. In Crusade a particularly clever subversion is shown in "Visitors From Down The Street" (an Homage to The X-Files): an alien world lacking Faster-Than-Light Travel uses information gained from SETI-type signals to fake an "alien colonization plan" in order to keep the government's critics chasing "aliens" rather than engaging in civil disobedience. Which is kind of a Magnificent way of doing it, when you get to the Fridge.
    • Of course, the alien government in question then proceeded to rub Captain Gideon's face in it, not realizing that Earth Force, unlike the spacefarers of another well known sci-fi franchise, does not have a Prime Directive.
    • Don't forget the Vorlons' and their allies' conspiracy, which succeeded even though Sheridan almost ruined by blowing the Shadows' own conspiracy, which would have made them act openly too soon to stop. They only let him in to stop him, but it led to him leading them to victory.
  • While technically not a villain, Dexter's killings are frequently subject to interventions from work, family and random mishaps. While he manages to avoid (and even incorporate into his killings) these disturbances, some of his kills have been far from perfect. His victims and the villain of the season may appear more efficient but they are merely more carefree. They don't care as much about the evidence left behind, hence how Dexter finds them. And in some cases, they too are subject to calamities.
  • Invoked in The West Wing: after a day of chasing down a leak, and not being able to find it, C.J. finally snaps at Toby...

C.J.: There is no group of people this large in the world that can keep a secret. I find it comforting. It's how I know for sure the government isn't covering up aliens in New Mexico.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Vampire: The Masquerade occasionally suffers from this. While the Camarilla is desperate to keep humans from finding out about the existence of vampires, the Sabbat apparently gets a free ride - government agencies and police forces are apparently totally oblivious to them, even though they actively work to undermine the Masquerade.
    • This was noted and explained in the Sabbat Splatbook - while the Sabbat officially scoffs at the thought of hiding from humanity, its own elders have come to the same conclusion as the Camarilla: Humanity knowing about vampires would be Bad News, which is why any Sabbat packs engaging in too obvious activities are told to turn it down and clean up after themselves in no uncertain terms. The difference between the sects is mostly in the clean-up: The Camarilla hides its skeletons in the closet with media manipulation and memory-rewrites, the Sabbat simply puts any witnesses right into the closet as well. The only time the Sabbat actively works at breaking the Masquerade is when fighting the Camarilla, reasoning that the other sect will believe the Sabbat doesn't care about humans finding out about them and thus spend its own resources to clean up, essentially making the whole thing into a game of Chicken.
    • The real winners for making the trains run on time in the Old World of Darkness were from other games though. Werewolf had Pentex, an evil corporation with Bond Villain resources at its disposal that was absolutely ruthless in covering its tracks. And Mage took the cake with the Technocracy, an international high-tech conspiracy with near-limitless funds dedicated to eradicating all evidence for (and belief in) the supernatural.
    • For the Technocracy, when the powers in your docket include altering reality, it's a bit easier. Phrased differently, when a train's about to be late, the Technocracy makes time match the train. This makes it a lot easier to run a conspiracy.
      • To the point that many players of the Old World of Darkness wondered why the Technocracy hadn't eliminated all other supernaturals yet. Several explanations were offered, including a metaplot event where the Technocracy exhausted a good third of its manpower and resources against a single vampire antediluvian. Most were acceptable to Vampire and Werewolf fans while Mage fans remained unconvinced.
        • There is also that the vampires and the werewolves are largely policing themselves, while the main antagonists for the Technocracy not only aren't but have as their specific goal the general, widespread return of supernatural influence to the world to the maximum extent that reality will allow without backlash. Simple priority of mission would explain the Technocracy putting the vampires and werewolves last in the priority queue.
  • Averted heavily in the New World of Darkness with Mage: The Awakening. Several of the mage factions run conspiracies amongst the Sleepers, and one of them works towards the purpose of actively ruling the world. However, one of those factions organises itself in a highly decentralised manner, the world ruling one is far less efficient than it makes itself out to be, due to incompetence and politicking at every level (and largely attributes its success to divine providence), and another is devoted to creating an incomprehensible mess of conspiracies which don't really do anything, as a means of misdirecting the Sleepers from the real secrets. The overall ability to maintain secrecy is largely aided by the Sleepers' tendency to destroy magic when observing it and then forget all about it. Nevertheless, mages are capable of complicated scheming, considering the powers they possess (including the ability to manipulate luck).
  • Played relatively straight in Hunter: The Vigil. While none of the conspiracies are strictly "evil", the Cheiron Group is a thoroughly amoral corporation dedicated to harvesting supernatural body-parts for profit, and very keen on performing painful and potentially lethal modifications on their field agents (sometimes with consent, but always without explaining the downsides). On the other hand, the government-run agencies such as Task Force Valkyrie and VASCU are generally dedicated to protecting the general public from monstrous enemies, fighting the good fight, and so on. Guess which factions are frequently hampered by bureaucracy, infighting and budget cuts?
    • Then again, Valkryie and VASCU actually have these moral scruple thingies that prevent them from using mind control implants on their own employees, or selling monster parts on the black market for ridiculous profit...
  • In Rifts, the Coalition States pretty much never has to worry about the little things that bring other nations/militaries to a grinding halt. Partially justified, as the Coalition is a totalitarian regime whose citizens are brainwashed, but even that only goes so far. During the Siege on Tolkeen, the largest amassing of soldiers since the Great Cataclysm, the Coalition had no worries about supply lines or any other kind of logistics. Incompetence is unknown to them. Even the Sorcerer's Revenge, a massive assault carried out by Tolkeen forces that completely routed the enemy and sent them back to behind their own borders, was more or less a distraction (albeit a rather large one). The greatest example is probably the army of General Jericho Holmes, who during the Sorcerer's Revenge was driven into Xiticix territory, and then ignored because it was a safe assumption the Xiticix would wipe them out. Unfortunately for Tolkeen, General Holmes had studied the Xiticix in great detail, and worked out a strategy to move his men through their lands and back out on the other side of Tolkeen with 3/4 of his army still intact. The question of how a General cut off from his army and all his allies managed to keep 400,000 soldiers fed (not to mention other battlefield necessities) is never addressed. You can't even theorize that they survived by eating Xiticix—part of how he was taking advantage of their swarming behavior to avoid being eaten required not harming so much as one single bug, because doing so would have triggered them all into 'kill everything moving that isn't us' mode and his army would be gone.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium is the largest aversion to this trope. The galaxy spanning empire is rife with corruption and bureaucracy (in fact, there are entire planets of Obstructive Bureaucrats). If a planet or system falls under attack, it can take years to organize a sizeable relief force and get to the front lines, assuming there aren't any freak Warp storms to delay or outright destroy the fleet. It's so bad that entire planetary systems are lost and armies rerouted to the wrong place due to rounding errors. The only faction that seems to play this trope straight are the Necrons, who manage to play all the other factions of the galaxy against each other effortlessly.
  • Alpha Complex in Paranoia can be an example of this, depending on GM whim: a glittering engine of menace where puppets flawlessly dance at the end of Ultraviolet strings, or a sputtering wreck held together with spit and bailing wire. Either way, it's a dystopia, and the player's characters are hopelessly screwed.
  • Invoked in the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting, Eberron. The empire of Riedra is ruled by the Inspired, ruthless overlords who keep the nation oppressed under an iron fist and keep things running more or less smoothly, due to very hard work on their part (mostly involving cultural manipulation and mass psychic brainwashing that keeps the populace docile). Another evil group, the Heirs of Ohr Kaluun, is made up of insane cultists who want to overthrow the Inspired, but it's clear that if they took over Riedra, everything the Inspired worked so hard to maintain would come crashing down on them.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In the Chrono Trigger video game, if Crono is declared innocent for the crime of abducting a member of the royal family, he's only sentenced for 3 days of solitary confinement for running off with her, but the good kingdom's Evil Chancellor uses the bureaucracy flows to convince the jail warden that Crono is scheduled for execution in 3 days by saying that "the execution forms must have been lost". Of course, if he's declared guilty to begin with, the above exchange never takes place.
  • A big part of Deus Ex is that the conspiracies keep breaking apart. At the heart of the story is the original Ancient Conspiracy, the Illuminati. One Illuminatus breaks away to form Majestic 12, and starts fighting them for control of the world, then a bunch of scientists make a Heel Face Turn and split off into X-51 to fight both of them. They get some assistance from every Right-Wing Militia Fanatic in the US, resulting in a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits that call themselves the National Secessionist Forces. Along the way a French Illuminatus starts a Playful Hacker resistance called "Silhouette", which fights the Illuminati and Majestic 12. The Triads and the Tongs have a Mad Scientist or twenty, and tear off a chunk of Southeast Asia for themselves, allying with whoever suits their purposes at the moment.
    • According to the prequel novel Deus Ex: Icarus Effect, the NSF was formed a few decades before the formation of X-51.
  • Bureaucracy is a common problem for the GDI of Command & Conquer, from UN bureaucrats in the first war to basically having 80% of their military shut down by bureaucracy just in time for the third war. Nod, on the other hand, never has to worry about bureaucracy and appears to be the the model of fanatical efficiency.
    • Nod's fanatic efficiency comes from the fact that they (like most cases of The Empire) weed out inefficient members (especially in the inner circle of Kane and his Commanders) and that Nod, as a whole, relies on strong leaders rather than a bureaucracy. As exemplified by the frequent Nod Civil Wars as well as Alexa's unauthorised listening of Killian's transmissions and undermining her authority, it is evident that Nod is far less efficient than it seems. They are merely more...driven and fanatical about what they do, hence more interested in doing it right.
  • In Tom Clancy's: Rainbow Six Vegas, the villain manages to recruit, train, and deploy enough mercenaries to Las Vegas that they can occupy nearly every casino on the Strip and Fremont Street. The Las Vegas PD, Nevada National Guard, and armed casino security barely kill any of them. Despite the fact that these are mercenaries who are quite literally standing in piles of money, none of them simply take the cash and try to slip away. Did I mention that this entire operation, which takes two games to defeat, is only the decoy?
    • For an asinine plot cooked up by a disgruntled Rainbow Operative who decides the best way to get justice for being passed up for promotion is selling US secrets on the black market while his thugs tear up Nevada.
  • Lampshaded and subverted in Maniac Mansion, where Dr. Fred is forced to work with cheap equipment because he's on a budget. Most notably is the fact that he apparently had to cut a lot of corners in constructing the nuclear reactor that powers his mind control machine, to the point where he has to use his swimming pool to cool the fuel rods. Needless to say, his slipshod approach makes it tragically easy to cause a meltdown that destroys everything within a five-mile radius of the mansion, not to mention the mansion itself.
  • Averted frequently for humor in the No One Lives Forever series. The criminal organizations are woefully bureaucratic and filled with paperwork. Often a topic of overheard conversation among enemies.
    • It's also hilarious in the missions involving Soviets. Kate often finds memos dealing with the ridiculous amounts of bureaucracy the soldiers have to deal with. If she kills a guard, and another one finds him. He'll dissolve the body with acid in order to avoid filling out the proper paperwork.
  • Averted in Dragon Age: Origins. Loghain has a lot of the Ferelden nobility up in arms against him, Arl Howe's Stupid Evil blunders turning the capital against him, and a serious thorn in his side in the form of the player character whom his incompetent soldiers and barely more competent hired assassins seem to be unable to handle.
  • Becomes a plot point in Alibi In Ashes, when Nancy realizes that Brenda has some secret way to get around town very fast, despite traffic delays and bridge closures.


Webcomics[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation TRIP" is based on this. Two spies chasing Numbuh Three are plagued by horrible coincidences, like bumping in to a rabid dog, getting on the wrong train, and so on. In the end, it turns out that every accident they had was arranged by the heroes.
  • South Park spoofed this in "Mystery of the Urinal Deuce", by explaining that the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists are in fact employed by the government to make people think that they're actually capable of doing such a thing.
    • As with the Crusade subversion, are you at the Fridge yet?
  • Subverted in an episode of Jackie Chan Adventures. The episode's antagonists, a well-organized magical cult, plan to harness the Stonehenge's magical power. These cultists had planned for every possible event and had Jackie and Jade in a tight spot for most of the episode. They ultimately complete their ritual, only to discover that the Stonehenge really wasn't magical. Hilariously, a UFO lands at the site after everyone has left.
  • There are a few occasions in Avatar: The Last Airbender where the bad guys' army seems to be thwarted by incompetence of and poor communication between its forces which have nothing to do with the actions of the protagonists.
  • Lampshaded in The Emperor's New Groove, when Kronk and Yzma make it back to the palace before Kuzco and Pacha in spite of having a delay.

Kuzco: Wait, how did you get here before us?
Yzma: I - How did we get here before them, Kronk?
Kronk You got me. (Displays a map that shows them having fallen into a ravine) By all accounts it doesn't make sense.

  • Averted in Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent spends years trying to find Aurora to no avail, only to discover that her cronies have spent 16 years looking for an infant.