Yank the Dog's Chain

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
He never learns.

Sokka: Well Aang, because when I'm being pursued by people who want to kill me, I'd rather throw them off by walking through a dense forest than fly through an empty sky on a giant freaking bison!
Katara: That may make sense, but since you're trying to be the leader, I'm guessing this is gonna fail horribly.
Sokka: Oh c'mon, the writers don't hate me that muuuu....

Hooray! The Butt Monkey has finally had something go right for once in their unhappy life! And with twenty minutes to spare, we're sure to see their new joyful existence play out for the rest of the episode... right?

That, right there, is the feeling and painful acknowledgment by the Genre Savvy viewer that Failure Is the Only Option. Why? Because The Woobie is not going to get to keep her money and move out of Perpetual Poverty. James Bond will not stay Happily Married to the Girl of the Movie because of the Cartwright Curse. The home that The Drifter has been accepted into will promptly become a Doomed Hometown. Samurai Jack will give up the most recent Phlebotinum to return to his home time and Set Right What Once Went Wrong in order to save the helpful villagers nearby. Ash Ketchum will make it to the Top 4 of the Season Finale's Tournament Arc only to lose to a random Canon Sue who owns Olympus Mons. Charlie Brown will get the football yanked out from under him by Lucy once again just as he's about to kick it. And deep down, we know it and expect it.

While the permutations are endless, the result is the same: writers Yank the Dog's Chain, keeping the bone just out of reach, making even the simplest goals seem like Tragic Dreams.

Clever writers can cause viewers quite a bit of tension and suspense this way, since we know the good turn can't last and that something will inevitably come to take it away. Hacks will merely cause viewers to bash in a new window and abandon a series in frustration.

A side effect of Status Quo Is God. Frequently seen when How We Got Here and In Medias Res are used. Not to be confused with Foregone Conclusion. Compare Like You Would Really Do It for the "positive" version. Viewers can avoid this if they read the Snicket Warning Label. Can be considered a sister trope to Your Princess Is in Another Castle and Will They or Won't They?. See also Hope Spot and Diabolus Ex Machina.

Despite how obvious they can be, there are spoilers below, so BEWARE SPOILERS.

Examples of Yank the Dog's Chain include:


  • All the Trix Rabbit wants is some Trix. The kids will never let him have any, because "Trix are for kids" (and because Kids Are Cruel).
    • This commercial is probably the most cruel instance.
      • That's not so bad. He could just go out and buy more milk later. Unless those little bastards also keep him from getting milk too. I wouldn't put it past them.
        • Or break into the house while he's out buying the milk and taking the Trix then.
    • There's also the one where the Rabbit dresses up like a kid, pays for a box of Trix, then the kids (read: little abominations) knock off his hat and steal the Trix.
    • And the one where he wins a figure-skating competition for a box, and the kids steal both the Trix AND the trophy.
    • There was also one where kids could vote on whether or not the Rabbit could have some Trix. He wins the election and the kids STILL wouldn't let him have any.
    • All this said, there were at least two instances where the Trix Rabbit did get to have some - both of which happened when the company let kids vote on it, and the answer was a resounding "yes".

Anime and Manga

  • Trigun: This happens to Vash the Stampede all the bloody time. The cause of this can easily be traced back to the Big Bad constantly holding onto the chain. Hard.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion.
    • Shinji... poor, poor Shinji. Specific example: That kind, charming young boy without any debilitating emotional trauma who actually cares for you? He's actually an Angel, and you have to kill him. Sorry. As well as mid-series, where he begins to get some confidence, it seems that he has some chance to reconcile with his dad, and he feels in general a bit more like the hero of a giant robot series—needless to say, it doesn't last.
    • Lest we forget about Asuka. She wakes up from a Convenient Coma in the movie and brings the awesome by going into combat within 5 minutes of getting out. She wipes out a whole army, so they send in these 9 Harpies. She only has 3 and a half minutes of battery power and a progressive knife against a nearly impossible to break AT Field, They have no pilots (so they can't be incapacitated as easily) and a copy of the best weapon in the series. Asuka wins before she runs out of time. But the result is really awful. She gets speared through the eye, her guts ripped open, and eaten alive while the poor girl is desperately trying to fight back. Then, it looks like it's going to get better as she is STILL ALIVE despite having endured all of this. She reaches for the berserker mode button to reactivate the Eva and go back to kicking ass... but then they slice off her arm and impale her repeatedly until she dies.
  • Code Geass did this close to the end of the first season: Euphemia manages to talk Lelouch out of his plan to start a revolt by making it look like she killed him, and for a few seconds it looks like there's going to be peace... and then Lelouch loses control of his Geass at the worst possible moment and accidentally orders Euphemia to start massacring Japanese people. Which she does. Oops.
  • Lithuania of Axis Powers Hetalia has this happen to him often, often due to being a Horrible Judge of Character and also just being downright unlucky in everything.
    • Ukraine's entire existence seems to be a long line of these.
  • Light Yagami of Death Note. Several different times, each involving some Death Note Gambit Roulette. Though frankly, his chain can't be yanked hard enough.
  • Gantz, so Kurono is freed from the Gantz Room, grown into a heroic, admirable person, and his girlfriend, the woman he loves, has been brought back to life. Sounds nice right? Except Gantz took both their memories so they no longer remember one another, Kurono is back to how he was pre-Gantz, a cowardly Jerkass, and vampires have sent a kill team after him. They succeed in murdering him, but not before showing him his younger brother's severed head first.
    • To be fair, he never completely reverts. As his memories and battle experience leaks back, he gets a moment of awesome when he managed to take out a few vampires using nothing but items he has in his room.
  • In Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni Kai, Rika arrives in a Hinamizawa where all her friends have vague memories of past universes, and where Rika confides in them about how she's going to be killed. Due to the episode number that there was no way they could make this stretch the entire series. This didn't make it any less depressing when, after beating up several of the Yamainu and charging to take over a car, Keiichi gets shot in what would be the first of all their deaths.
    • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Rei takes this to a new level of dickery: Rika has successfully gotten to the bottom of the Hinamizawa Disaster, and stopped the Big Bad. As the fateful summer finally passes she has just enjoyed a peaceful day at the pool with her friends... And then she's run over by a truck. She awakens back in Hinamizawa. The Groundhog Day Loop is still in effect... And this time around, all the rules of the game have changed. For one, Keiichi isn't around anymore.
      • She gets better. It was either a dream, a flashback/hallucination to another Rika in another world, or she died and was brought back to the previous world (the one she died in.
  • Monster. If it ever looks like things will be clearing up for any bleak-lifed supporting character in this series, you know something horribly wrong is about to happen to them. Usually, Johan is to blame.
    • The worst is probably Richard Braun. If you didn't hate Johan or see him as the Complete Monster he is by that point, you probably did right after that.
    • Even poor Roberto, Johan's worshipper and probably the character we least symphathize with, is totally snubbed at the end of the series on his deathbed when Johan denies him the right to see the Scenery for a Doomsday that he's so looked forward to.
  • In Ode to Kirihito, Kirihito and Reira finally appear to be on way to Japan having escaped numerous gut-wrenching hardships along the way. There's even another Japanese guy on the plane, who promptly decides that the bandages Kirihito wears are to hide the fact that he's an Israeli spy, and he calls Arab fundamentalists to sell Kirihito off. Except he isn't. The Arabs decide to kill everyone there for wasting their time, and they're only "saved" because another extremist group starts attacking the first one. "Saved", as in, now they get to wander around a desert in the middle of nowhere meeting, among other things, a baby that's starving to death.
  • In Chapter 16 of Uzumaki, rescue ships arrive to rescue the protagonists. Guess what happens next. Go ahead. Guess.
  • In the Flash Back episode 24 of ×××HOLiC, then twelve year old Watanuki makes a friend who can also see spirits. Of course, we know that in the pilot he was friendless and ghost besieged for most of his teen years, so his happiness becomes heartbreaking since we know it can't end well. The friend is ultimately lost to paranormal circumstances in something of a Heroic Sacrifice. It's ultimately a Happy Ending because it finishes with his birthday being attended by his four new friends in the cherry grove he met his young friend.
  • Bleach loves doing this, especially to poor Orihime. Want to fight? Cue dramatic determination followed by the destruction of your attack abilities! Want to get some training? Not a chance, without your attack powers you're useless! You've trained anyways, so now you want to help fight? Sorry, but if you don't surrender and defect to the enemy, your friends will all die horrible deaths! But look, Ichigo's beaten Grimmjow and now all of you can go back... NOT! Guess what? You were kidnapped solely to lure your friends and allies into coming to rescue you so that your home would be left unprotected! And look who's there with his laser-blasting finger pressed against your chest while he scoffs over your speech about your heart! Oh, hey, seems like you've been rescued again... or the two lurking behind you could be readying for an attack. But look, Ishida joins the fray, and you two are going up to help Ichigo, who you just so happen to be in love with. Well, what do you know? Ulquiorra was waiting for you to show up so that he could blast a hole in his chest! And Ishida? He lost a hand. Wait, Ichigo's back... as a nearly mindless Hollow with the only goal being to protect you. Plus he just stabbed Ishida because he interfered in mutilating Ulquoirra's corpse, which made him view him as an obstacle in protecting you.
    • And we mustn't forget that poor Ishida is as much of a Butt Monkey as Orihime is. Hey, you're a Quincy, which is cool, right? Nope! Because Mayuri Kurotsuchi the maniac scientist killed off most of your clan, including your grandpa! But at least there's this girl you like, right? Wrong! She's in love with Ichigo who doesn't even know she likes him! Oh man, you have to fight that scientist dude, so you pull your ultimate technique which makes you lose all your powers! But don't worry, daddy is here to help, except that he has to shoot you eighteen millimeters from your heart. Worked up the courage to tell that girl you like her yet? Oh, wait! She just got kidnapped! So, just follow the hero blindly into a place you have absolutely no knowledge about! GASP! Another Mad Scientist has shown up, and you're about to die! Oh, it's okay, because you get rescued by your worst nemesis, the scientist! Not to mention that the method he uses to heal his daughter will scar you for life. Look out, some weirdo creature is attacking Orihime! You try to save her, except your arm gets cut off! So yeah, poor Ishida doesn't have it that easy either.
    • Poor Chad also receives this during the Hueco Mundo Arc, as he managed to win a fight against a named opponent by effectively showcasing his new powers. Chad has enough resolve to feel that he will be successful in Hueco Mundo... until Nnoitra showed up. That scene is another strong example that Chad is a Main Event jobber namely on how he can handle nameless Mooks and secondary named opponents but anytime he comes up against a remotely prominent opponent, well... let's just say he was on the floor for quite a while after that scene. In fact the GameFAQs Adult Swim Anime board once summed up the scene like this.

Chad: Now that I have won this fight I shall no longer be a jobber!
Nnoitra: LOL, no.

    • Momo Hinamori. Oh, so you want to forever serve the man you practically are in love with? How nice... except oh no, he's suddenly dead and you've just found his corpse maimed and pinned to a wall! And after you try to attack the captain you're utterly convinced that did it, you get arrested! But wait, they found a letter from Aizen, revealing the killer's true identity... too bad that happens to be your childhood best friend, Toshiro Hitsugaya! So wracked with grief, you break out of your cell and try to kill him, only to be knocked out soon after; when you do wake up, you follow him around, go to a part of the Soul Society inaccessible to even captain-level shinigami where you find the person you originally tried to kill, but what's this? He says there's someone who wants to meet you! And standing right behind you is your captain, perfectly alive. You immediately hug him and start to cry, because you're so happy he's alive and well and—wait a minute, did he just stab you? Hahahah, guess what, you've just been betrayed and the man you idolized was all just a lie. Have fun being stuck in a coma for the next 40 or so chapters and remaining in extremely heavy denial when you wake up! When all of that's done, you remain out of the picture for a while until chapter 334, where, hooray, you've made a spectacular comeback saving Matsumoto, hopefully over the trauma of the whole Aizen ordeal! Erm, not quite: you still refer to him as "Captain Aizen," but hey, you're gonna kick some ass and show every actions speak louder than words, right? Well, not really... despite fending off three Fraccion, you get owned by some freaky chimaera thing and guess what, no redeeming moment for you! But lucky you, it gets even better! Cue about 60 chapters later and you make a return... except, once again, you've been stabbed again, by -- get ready for this -- your best friend, Hitsugaya. Have fun getting over that one! Oh, and did we mention you're one of the most hated characters in the Western fandom, for all of that happening to you? Yeah, it's really fun to be you, isn't it?
  • In Ranma ½, the Jusenkyō-cursed individuals frequently have cures dangled in front of them (especially frequently in some of the anime's filler episodes). For example, one episode has Ryōga and Shampoo using a special "waterproof soap" that turns out to work only temporarily. And then there are the countless times it seems like someone could get a trip to the springs, but then it turns out to be fake, or in one case Ryôga gets it and doesn't know how to get there. The most downright cruel example, though, occurs at the end of the series, when Sōun Tendō has secured the last remaining cask of water from "Spring of Drowned Man" as a wedding gift for Ranma. Well, we say "secured", we mean "stole the gift that the Jusenkyō Guide sent as a thank you to Ranma for saving his daughter, with the intention of blackmailing Ranma and possibly Akane into going along with the wedding". Happōsai, mistaking it for booze, drinks it before any of the several people after it can actually use it.
    • The anime has one of these that almost might approach the end of the manga in cruelty. The Jusenkyō Guide comes to Japan because this is a special day, a day in which a certain body of water can be connected to Jusenkyō's base water, allowing it to be turned into an extension of whichever spring is desired. The lucky body of water is none other than the Tendō's koi pond, which means that every cursed person in Nerima can get cured -- even Shampoo, as once the ritual is complete the Guide can freely change the pond from Spring of Drowned Guy to Spring of Drowned Girl or whatever is desired. The episode leads up to the climax of the ceremony, everyone is literally a few seconds away from being cured... and what happens? Ryōga trips and breaks the rope, canceling the spell before anyone can get cured -- and what's more this ritual can't be repeated for another thousand years. And then the Jusenkyō Guide wanders back home before anyone can think of tagging along, or asking him to send them back some Nanniichuan.
  • Tsunade, from Naruto, almost always loses when she makes a bet, but when she wins, she takes it as a sign that something bad is going to happen. She gets on a winning streak while gambling shortly before she sees Orochimaru again, wins the lottery around the time Gaara is kidnapped, and after Jiraiya suggests that she bet all she has that he won't make it back, on the assumption that she wouldn't win, he gets killed by Pain.
  • Pokémon. Raise your hand if you were rooting for James to beat Ash in the Hoenn Pokeringer competition. Poor guy got it yanked by a totally unforeseeable Eleventh-Hour Superpower, too.
    • Speaking of Ash, you'd think the writers would give him a good run in a league conference for once, now that Paul was repaid his own jerkhood by the Chimchar (now Infernape) he dumped. As much heat as Smogon gets for their behavior, they deserve to feel vindicated after Ash is put up against Takuto, who paves the poor kid 6-2 with a Darkrai and a Latios, the latter of which was a double-knockout alongside Pikachu. Fans are screaming Diabolus Ex Machina, and for good reasons -- are the writers even trying anymore?
  • Joey/Jou from Yu-Gi-Oh! makes a sudden comeback against Yami Malik in their Dark Duel in the Battle City Finals when he pulls out Gilford the Lightning and has him on the ropes. Yami Malik manages to hold out once again, but apparently has nothing else up his sleeve, with nothing left on the field or his hand, so our hero is in the clear, finally about to be the hero for once and save the damsel, Mai, from her fate, right? Things seem to be looking that way, as the following turn, Yami Malik draws Monster Reborn, with nothing powerful on its own in his grave to stand up to Gilford, including Ra at this point, since that would require a tribute summon to get any ATK points. So he's basically reviving a giant flaming chicken with no attack points, except that it turns out that it has an Eleventh-Hour Superpower that destroys Gilford and, in this very situation, shocks the controller of said monster into death, and... Oh Crap. Sure enough, things go as predicted, except that as the smoke clears, our hero is Not Quite Dead, and is good to make another move, with Yami Malik's Ra leaving the field. All he needs is a monster with enough attack to finish Yami Malik off, and he draws Gearfried, summons it, and is just about to declare an attack until...he collapses and as such is disqualified.
  • For another Yu-Gi-Oh! example (this one from season zero), Jonouchi enters a game show to win a million yen so he can pay off his father's debts. In traditional Yu-Gi-Oh! style, the host of the game show is a Cheating Bastard, and rigs the game so Jonouchi can't possibly win. Yugi helps out by Mind Raping the host, allowing Jonouchi to win the money. Of course, the check ends up being no good anyways.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has a particularly Mood Whiplashy example: right after the Time Skip, we learn that Simon proposed to Nia, and we see her accept via phone. Right after we see this, her Anti-Spiral nature takes over and forces her into a Face Heel Turn. Ouch.
  • Almost the simplest one of the anime examples, Hayate the Combat Butler's title character, meets up with the girl that he's (apparently) loved for the last ten years. You save her from the honored spirit inhabiting her body. She tells you she loves you too. Things are going to be happy now. No. She leaves you as you tell her you have to return to your master and you're left with the impression that you won't see her again.
    • Then again, she only told him to do it because he was torn between the two choices presented, and she knew that he'll come to blame himself for whatever happens after that since it would have been his choice. That's why she made that choice for him, in a rather sad example of I Want My Beloved to Be Happy.
  • Kaiji plays this brutally with Sahara's death. After making his way across the bridge of death, he finally prepares to open the door to cash in on the price money... Only to be blown off the building by the air compression blast from the window towards a certain death. The anime itself is ripe with these moments, but this one moment has to be the worst.
  • Upon managing to gather up all the spell fragments, Those Who Hunt Elves will ALWAYS blow it at the absolute final moment, usually due to Junpei and Celia's bickering.
  • Cowboy Bebop has an infamous one that is just brutal. With a few teasing hints of her past, Faye suddenly remembers who she is, and where she came from. She apologizes to Spike before she goes, showing she's starting to revert to a more softer side. She's coming home, mirroring herself when she was a little girl and a teenager. She then opens the gates in her flashbacks, but in reality the entire mansion was burnt down to the foundation. So Faye draws lines in the sand of where her furniture was and looks up at the sky and reflects.
  • In Corsair, Canale eventually feels like he has a place in Preveza and thinks that Ayace might actually love him and that they can be happy together, and he manages to confront some of his issues from his past. However soon as Ayace suspects he is going back to Sesaam, he becomes enraged and rapes Canale, making him feel utterly betrayed.
  • Billy Bat gives us Lee Harvey Oswald who, because of his I Just Want to Be Special nature, gets yanked around by both the Bat and a Government Conspiracy to the point where he doesn't have any idea what the right thing to do is. By the end of his arc, it looks like he's done the right thing by trying to live a humble life and allowing Kevin Yamagata to give his life saving President Kennedy. But wait! Kevin isn't dead, and it turns out the Bat never wanted him to save Kennedy in the first place. JFK is shot, as history demands, the police are rushing into the building, and Oswald is with a girl who saw members of the previously mentioned conspiracy setting up for the assassination. In a Bittersweet Ending, the only way to save the girl from being eliminated is to let the police find him and take the fall for the assassination while she makes her escape.
  • The second half of Tiger and Bunny starts with things finally looking up for Kotetsu: he's going up in the rankings, his partner actually likes and respects him now, his boss isn't treating him like he's completely expendable, the Sternbild population no longer considers him a joke, and he's seem to have acquired an unexpected but very welcome boost in his NEXT abilities. Then comes the fifteenth episode, where Ben meets up with him and regretfully informs Kotetsu that the "power boost" he experienced in the previous episode is a phenomenon that occurs in a very small number of NEXT -- just before they start losing their powers.
  • In GE - Good Ending, it happens to Utsumi, the main protagonist, more often than he really deserves. Poor guy just can't get a break.
  • In Bakuman。, this happens to the heroes on a few occasions concerning their goal of getting an anime. They manage to tie with their rival Eiji's manga at the height of their first manga's popularity, but Mashiro is hospitalized for overworking, and their manga is ultimately canceled. Their third manga manages to meet the editor in chief's standards, but parental concerns prevent it from getting an anime.
  • In Saint Beast, whether the protagonists will ever succeed is up for debate, but up to this point every time they get a Hope Spot things just keep getting worse.
  • In High School DxD, the protagonist Issei, who wants a harem but doesn't know that he already has one near him, wants to confess to Rias but can't because of trauma of rejection (he did get killed by his ex-girlfriend fallen angel after all, not to mention found him boring). He finally does get to confess to Rias and what happens after that? One volume later, he gets killed by poison, specifically made for dragons. It probably won't stick though.
  • Erza/Jellal get one at the end of the Nirvana arc in Fairy Tail by means of Diabolus Ex Machina. After managing to regain his senses after eight years being Brainwashed and Crazy Jellal manages to convince Erza, who is relieved to have him back to normal, that he's good again, and even gains the acceptance of her friends. While he's trying to figure out what to do with himself afterword and Erza is attempting to confess her feeling to him he gets arrested for the things he was forced to do while brainwashed, and also sentenced to death.

Comic Books

  • Black Adam's entire storyline in 52 is one long, tragic, and incredibly cruel example of chain yanking.
  • In The Killing Joke, Batman pleads with the Joker to reconsider the death course the two of them are on, making a genuine offer of help... and there's a panel, about a panel and a half, where it looks almost like the Joker will accept. The Joker even turns the concept into a joke that has even Batman laughing.
  • In the short-lived Marvel Adventures: Iron Man series, Tony finds out at long last that his father, who drove Stark Industries into the ground and abandoned him and his mother, had been cheated by a business associate and left in shame, but really had loved him. He hires a PI, Jessica Drew, to track his father down. And she finds him, and everything checks out, even memories.... Then it turns out to be a plot by the Chameleon. Later he does find his dad and realizes that he's just as irritating as ever.
  • Spider-Man has a big support cast, and people keep getting killed. Sometimes the writers decide to bring them back. This never works. Possibly the biggest example is when his parents turned out to be alive again; they'd been killed when he was a baby. They turned out to be robots. Supporting cast coming back from the dead has only "stuck" twice: when the Aunt May who died turned out to have been an actress, and when Mary Jane, who had been killed in a plane accident because having a wife restricted Spidey, was not dead after all. (Cross your fingers for history repeating itself soon, folks.)
    • And then One More Day happened, because Joe Quesada didn't like the changes that had been made to Spidey since the Silver Age and PARTICULARLY not his marriage to Mary Jane, resulting in probably the most infamous Cosmic Retcon of recent years. God damn it.
  • Recently[when?] in X-Men, Magneto saved Kitty Pride from her Fate Worse Than Death...only for her to immediatly get a second such fate because now she's stuck in her "phased out" form, unable to interact with the world in any way without outside assistance.
  • Sometimes, the pirates in Asterix think they can actually take down the ship they see. Or Can They? Nope! They are on board. It can be Phoenician, Egyptian, or Roman, but it's all the same.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog had a recent one to boot, with Princess Sally being roboticized not long after Sonic had fixed a Cosmic Reboot and prevented her from being killed.

Films -- Animation

  • Scrat at the end of Ice Age 2, when he goes to Acorn's heaven but is revived just as he approaches a giant acorn.
  • Pocahontas. Happens way too many times to Percy. Quite frequently when he is literally thrown bones.
  • Played for laughs in the climactic battle of Shrek 2, where the Fairy Godmother's magic gives Pinocchio about ten seconds to Become a Real Boy, before a misfire turns him back into a puppet. Sorry, Pinocchio.

Films -- Live-Action

  • Carrie: For once, everything is going great for Carrie at the prom. And then they dump pig's blood on her. Oops. Cue her psychic No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • James Bond living happily with Vesper in Casino Royale. You just wish they would somehow pull it off.
  • John McClane's marriage is patched up at the end of each Die Hard movie in the first three and broken up by the next one. In the fourth they've divorced, and it's his relationship with his daughter that needs patching up.
  • National Treasure 2 uses a similar pattern, although it remains to be seen if it'll continue in the next film.
  • Of all the things Lampshaded in Last Action Hero, this is the only one the film takes seriously.
  • The Saw movies, particularly the third one.
  • In the Spider-Man movies, Peter Parker is the poster child for Perpetual Poverty and never seems to be able to catch a break in his personal life or relationship with Mary-Jane.
  • Wilde: Oscar has it pretty rough in the last 20 minutes or so, what with being imprisoned for 2 years of hard labor just for being gay (because homosexuality was actually illegal in England back then). Then his wife Constance comes to see him and, guess what? Not only does she not want a divorce even after he's cheated on her with men (and lots of them), but she'll let him see his kids again! A happy ending for when he gets out of prison! Right? No. His sentence ends and he learns that Constance is dead, which not only takes away her, but any hope Oscar has of seeing his two boys again.
  • In The Last Man on Earth, Robert finds a dog and is overjoyed at the sight of another living creature. He practically fawns over it, tends its wounds, comforts it when it's frightened, and tells it about the happy times they'll share together. Immediately afterwards he learns it's infected and is forced to drive a stake through it. He breaks.
  • 12 Monkeys: You're not crazy! You figured it out! You're a hero! You... oh dear. Ohhh dear.
  • Psycho Beach Party: The murderer has been caught, Chicklet's Split Personality has been cured, romantic stories are all tied off happily, all of that is now behind them as the all live hap-oh god. It was all a dream as Chicklet is in a mental hospital getting realistically horrifying shock therapy... Happy?


  • Happens hard to Mike Noonan in Bag of Bones. His wife dies unexpectedly, taking their unborn baby with her, leaving him alone and broken, unable even to work. Eventually, he discovers that returning to their summer home in western Maine holds the key to turning his life around, one way or another. Immediately, he meets the young, beautiful Mattie Devore and her daughter, Kyra. Thanks to them, he finally finds purpose in his life. He starts writing again. Mattie even reciprocates his unspoken feelings for her. Romance and redemption are all but certain. Then, Mattie is murdered right in front of him, the ghosts in his house come to life and try to kill Kyra, Mike gives up on writing forever, and the book ends with him still alone and engaged in a bitter battle to obtain custody of Kyra.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Arya Stark manages to make several daring escapes from different captors, but is always kidnapped by someone new shortly thereafter. And she is finally brought back to her family... just in time for the Red Wedding.
    • Her sister Sansa, after being held captive and abused for a year, is finally going to be taken away by some friendly people to marry a great guy... Then her captors find out and force her to marry one of them instead, a terribly ugly dwarf. He's actually a decent person, but Sansa isn't mature enough to appreciate his good points. And now it's apparently in the process of happening again. Stupid Stockholm Syndrome Genre Blindness.
  • Marcus Clarke's For the Term of His Natural Life. The entire book consists of nothing but From Bad to Worse and Yank the Dog's Chain and is the most relentlessly depressing book ever. Even at the end of the book, where something finally goes right, not seconds later he and his love interest both drown at sea.
  • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Pettigrew's been outed as guilty and is being turned in! They're going to prove Sirius' innocence! And then Harry can leave the horrible, abusive Dursleys and live with his godfather! Everything's going to be fantastic, everything's going fine, and, say, is that the full moon?... and didn't they just learn Lupin was a werewolf?... aw, shit.
  • The title character in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre finally gets to the altar with her employer/true love Rochester when it is revealed that Rochester is already married to a mad woman he's got locked in the attic, and the wedding is canceled.
  • In Charlotte Bronte's claustrophobic Villette, the perpetually unhappy heroine Lucy has fallen in love with and become engaged to fellow-teacher M. Paul, only it is revealed ambiguously in the last few pages that Paul probably died in a shipwreck before they could be married.
    • Charlotte considered this a happy ending—for M. Paul that is. Which you may be inclined to agree if you've read the book: life with a passive-aggressive depressive like Lucy Snow is a fate no man should suffer.
  • The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber by Hemingway is such an example.
  • Discworld's Rincewind has had this happen to him enough times that now he expects it. It has now gotten to the point that if anything good happens to him he will more or less panic until the other shoe drops.
    • Wonderfully Lampshaded in "Run Rincewind Run!"
    • In continuing to play with it, Sam Vimes believes he doesn't deserve his good fortune and lives in fear of this trope happening to him.
  • The Dresden Files arguably has several of these (Harry will always be behind on the rent, even if his secret half-brother comes from a rich family; The Masquerade will always go on; Murphy and he will never be a couple, even if they kiss), but there's one really blatant example in the fourth book. Harry's True Love Susan has been (almost) turned into a vampire, and throughout the book he is deeply depressed and completely obsessed with looking for a cure for vampirism, never mind the fact that all reputable sources tell him it's impossible. While investigating something unrelated, one of the nigh-godlike Faerie Queenes herself gives Harry a Deus Ex Machina that can supposedly undo any enchantment at all. It's intended for use in the main plot, but Harry hopes to solve his current assignment by some more simpler means and save the Deus Ex Machina for Susan. It gets taken from him after five minutes.
    • Another vicious example came in Turn Coat for not just Harry. Since the events of Death Masks, Harry hasn't had a girlfriend or any romantic involvement for nearly five years. Then, at the end of Small Favor, he starts dating Luccio in her younger body. They're both happy together, especially Luccio, because she's spent nearly a century without experiencing romantic interest or a sex drive. Darned wizardly extended lives. Then in Turn Coat it turns out Luccio was being mind-controlled into being attracted to Harry by the traitor in the Council. ....well, shit.
      • In Changes, after spending the entire book having one bad thing happen after another, it finally looks like Harry and Murphy might get together. Then 20 minutes before Murphy is supposed to show, Harry gets shot dead.
      • Interestingly, though, the trope is slightly subverted in that it is fairly clearly indicated that this whole, huge chain of disasters was derived in large part from various bad choices made by Harry, Susan, etc, it could have been prevented...and better choices in the future could produce better results. The Archangel Uriel seems to be trying very hard, as much as he can with the rules that bind him, to teach Harry to grasp this.
    • The short story "Day Off". Pretty much the entirety of it. Harry finally gets a day off, and is promptly challenged to a magical duel at 1 AM on that day. It goes downhill from there. The whole thing is Played for Laughs.
  • Mack Bolan, the Executioner, eventually had things going pretty well for him. He's working for the government, so the cops aren't after him all the time, he's got a whole group of soldiers sharing his new mission, and he's got a girl he dearly loves. Then the KGB shoots up his headquarters and blows her to hell.
  • The discovery of a later will at the end of Bleak House leads us to believe that Richard and Ada will live Happily Ever After. Unfortunately, it turns out that the entire inheritance has gone into paying for the long-running court case. Although Richard is at last free of his obsession with winning the case, it is only so that he can die as himself. Overworked and ill, he is killed by the shock of losing the estate.
  • This trope becomes common with the Baudelaires in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events series. There are times in the series where it appears Violet, Klaus and Sunny are going to catch a break,`but then Lemony Snicket crushes all your hopes.
  • The whole point of the short story La torture par l'esperance (The Torture of Hope) by Villiers de l'Isle-Adam is that yanking the dog's chain is the most sadistic form of torture.
  • Pretty much the B-plot of every Travis McGee novel, with the exception of the books where it's the A-plot.
  • Happens repeatedly to the protagonist of Master of the Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy: each time he risks it all to learn of a new kind of magic, a rival swoops in and gloms all the profits, leaving him with nothing but a clue to the next style of magic-use.
  • The whole point of a story by Jerome K. Jerome "In Remembrance of John Ingerfield and of Anne, his Wife".
  • Everything will be going well by the end of an Aubrey-Maturin book only for everything to be mediocre at best by the start of the next.

Live-Action TV

  • How I Met Your Mother is a show with this trope as its entire point.
  • Battlestar Galactica is full of those. In the mid-series finale of season 4 they finally make a truce with some Cylons and make it to Earth 3 minutes before the end - and in those 3 minutes it is revealed that Earth is a nuclear wasteland.
    • Afterward, Dualla's chain has been yanked enough and she shoots herself.
    • At the end of season 2, the fleet finds a habitable planet and, under the leadership of President Gaius Baltar, settle on the newly-named New Caprica. Skip forward a year and, although there are some hiccups, things appear to be running fairly smoothly - more importantly, there haven't been any Cylon attacks in that past year. Then...yep, here come the Cylons. Since the fleet has been reduced to patrolling in orbit, they can't fight off the Cylon ships and Baltar is forced to surrender.
  • In La Femme Nikita, the titular character's dream is to be freed from life as an assassin and to continue a normal, happy existence. She often comes across opportunities to escape, but all her attempts fall just out of reach of success.
  • iCarly: Freddie wins a competition for a giant locker. He proceeds to do a victory dance of sorts. Then insults Sam. Then they reveal Sam won the competition as well.
  • The end of Blackadder Goes Forth. The Guns fall silent just seconds before they are due to go over the top to certain death and they think the war is over, that they lived through it, The Great War, 1914 to 1917... oh damn.
    • 'Course, really, this only counts for poor Baldrick, George and Darling. Blackadder knew damn well the whole while, as would anyone else with a little knowledge of trench life during the Great War. Honestly, it's part of the power of the moment that the audience already know there's a chain being yanked.

Blackadder: I'm afraid not. The guns have stopped because we are about to attack. Not even our generals are mad enough to shell their own men. They feel it's more sporting to let the Germans do it.

      • Even so, he was trying his best to get out. It just didn't work. The real punch is for Darling, who was at his desk at Command, safely away from the lines until Melchett decided he wouldn't want to miss the "fun".
  • Poor old Richie in Bottom. Just about to finally "Doooooo IT" with a beautiful woman... and he collapses from a medical condition. And then Eddie and said woman "get bored" waiting for the ambulance to turn up: "Don't worry Richie, she was crap anyway."
  • The season 3 finale of Farscape has the good guys scoring a major victory after a Heroic Sacrifice by a couple of important secondary characters. And then you see there's ten minutes left, and imagining what's going to happen with Crichton and Aeryn's relationship is painful...
    • Let alone the Season 4 finale where a ship comes from nowhere to blast the main couple after they agree to get married. (This also yanked the chain for the viewers, as the show's cancellation had already been announced.)
  • In the original concept of Doctor Who, the Doctor had literally no control over the TARDIS, so Ian and Barbara were stuck with him with no hope of getting home. This led to an especially cruel twist in the story "Planet of Giants", in which they land on Earth in the right period, but due to a technical fault with the TARDIS they're only an inch tall and have no way of getting back to the right size without taking off again and getting lost.
    • In the Eleventh Doctor episode, The Pandorica Opens, things are going great for Rory. He's been un-erased from existence, Amy's finally remembered him, and he's about to turn into an Auton, but hey, he's fighting it off pretty well. Then out comes the gun in his hand, and he shoots Amy, fighting free of the Auton influence just in time to hold her as she dies. Whoops.
  • Sliders did a lot of chain-yanking of the heroes' attempts to find their original world, as the characters would arrive on a new world, decide it's home, and then split up, only to discover there's something different (and usually horrible) about it after all. One episode in particular yanked the audience's chain, as the heroes decide it's not their world because the gate at one character's house fails to squeak as expected. Just after they slide on to continue the search, it's revealed to viewers that somebody oiled the hinges, implying they really were home, but failed to recognize the fact.
  • Often happens on Fawlty Towers, but particularly cruel was the episode "Communication Problems", where it seems that Basil has finally managed to come out on top... only for it all to come cruelly crashing down around him in the last minute.
  • Good Times lived on this.
  • Seeing as how nobody is allowed to be happy on House, this tends to happen a lot.
    • But especially cruel was the very beginning of Season 3. For about the first half of the first episode, House is reasonably happy with no leg pain, cane or vicodin. This obviously cannot last so the ketamine treatment starts failing, Cuddy and Wilson don't believe him when he says his leg is hurting again and let him believe that he couldn't save a patient in a Jerkassy attempt to teach him some humility and by the end of the second episode, he's back to his normal, limpy, miserable self.
    • In Season 5, he switches to a new drug and throws away his cane because he's completely free of pain. Wilson and Cuddy (as usual) oppose this because the drug has serious side effects. (House ignores them, again as usual.) But at the end of the episode he decides to stop taking it because his diagnostic skills aren't as good when he's high on methadone.
    • The writers outdo themselves in their cruelty to House in the Season 5 finale.
    • The end of Season 6 may rectify this. Considering the above, "wait and see" is the best policy.
      • The trope was then painfully executed over the course of Season 7, driving House even further from happiness.
    • A painful example in Season 7 occurs when House refuses to accept Wilson is going to die in six months. When he finally accepts it and begins plans to make the most of the remaining time... he's sent to jail for six months.
  • In The Invaders, a general told David Vincent that his safe contained enough information to blow the invasion plot. It had vanished, of course.
  • Savvy fans of Joss Whedon's shows knew, both from seasons of examples and flat statements in interviews, that he didn't care to write happy relationships, or ones that worked out well. By Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, many die-hard fans refused to rise to the bait of Xander/Anya's wedding because it was obviously not going to end well. (That the majority of the audience was, by definition, die-hard by that point made it more so.)
    • Yet another episode (without the romantic entanglement) is "The Zeppo" in which the story focuses on Xander, while what would usually be the "main" plot is seen only briefly. Though Xander does something useful and heroic—in the face of his characterization up to that point—by the end of the show he decides not to tell them, and happily offers to get them snacks.
    • On Angel, there were years of Wesley pining for Fred. He saw her choose another man over him, banish him like the rest of the cast after his devastating Connor arc, and more recently struggle with possible feelings for yet another man. They FINALLY get together. For one episode. He then must watch her die, in his arms, pleading for her life. Then the thing that killed her takes over her body and spends the rest of the season looking like Fred. * sigh*
      • Only to act like her in situations to manipulate others. She does it well enough that as Wesley's dying, he asks her to lie to him with that illusion.
    • Earlier on Angel, Joss Yanked The Dog's Chain in the season two finale. Everyone survived, they rescued Fred, abolished slavery in Pylea, and made it back to Earth. Everything's happy... until they arrive back at the office, where Willow is waiting to give them the news that Buffy is dead. In the blink of an eye, a Happily Ever After ending became a Bittersweet Ending.
      • Angel loved these. There were teases that Angel would become human again (or close enough) throughout the series, starting in the very third episode with the Gem of Amara, and done quite cruelly in "I Will Remember You", the eighth (made all the worse by Angel rekindling his love with Buffy, only to have to give it up once again when he gives up his humanity). Of course, the ultimate one of these ends up being the Shanshu prophecy.
      • For people in the Angel/Cordelia camp, this was brutal. At the end of Season 3 the two decide to confess their feelings for each other, only for Cordelia to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence and Angel to get dropped in the ocean by his own son. She comes back in Season 4 only to be possessed, shack up with his son, and then go into a coma. She returns again in Season 5, and just when it looks like the two of them will be together, she's Dead All Along.
    • In Dollhouse, Topher and Bennett get together with an adorable kissing scene. In the midst of all that horrible badness, at least these two somewhat insane geniuses get to find some love and happiness togethwait what's Whiskey doing with that gun oh god damn it Joss you evil sonovabitch.
      • Amazingly, averted with Anthony and Priya. They do end up together.
  • In one episode of Married... with Children, Al thinks he's going to finally break the "Bundy Curse" when he runs an incredible winning streak with a poker night with a bunch of convicts Jefferson scared up for the occasion. The second he has hope that his good luck throughout the show is genuine (and not the prelude to a crashing fall) Officer Dan shows up and informs him that all of his newly-won cars were stolen, and he winds up even deeper in debt when Kelly's botched motorcycle stunt for a Verminator appearance wrecks Bud's fraternity house, and he gets struck by lightning by the single cloud in the sky on an otherwise perfectly clear night... which just happens to be over the Bundys' house.
      • Through most of the episode, Al demonstrated a startling amount of Genre Savviness by Lampshading this- stating that the "Bundy Curse" insures that every bit of good luck will bring a greater amount of bad luck the moment that he admits that he had said streak of good luck. (The curse also means that he has to be a shoe salesman.) (And has foot odor.)
    • Note that the entire Married... with Children series is basically one long chain-yanking session.
    • The two absolute worst ones that come to mind, are when Kelly goes through a Training from Hell montage to train her memory to remember things for her appearance on a sports trivia show, but for each thing she remembers one thing spills out. You just know SOMETHING will happen to make her lose a fact. When she asks how the final round works, it removes the factoid for "What man once scored four touchdowns in a single game at Polk High" (Al's crowning achievement in life). Even the audience felt that one! The second worst has to be the series finale, which ended up looking a lot like Ranma minus the martial arts and form changing.
  • In one episode of Nowhere Man, Tom Veil recuperates on a woman's farm and they fall in love. On the verge of abandoning his search to regain his old life, he gets another lead. He hesitates, then takes the lead. She leaves; he goes back on the road.
  • Often happens in Supernatural too but everyone knew all too well that as soon as Dean decided he didn't want to go to Hell in "Dream a Little Dream of Me", his fate as Hell's eventual bitch was sealed.
    • Shooting Lucifer in "Abandon All Hope". For a few moments it looks like it worked and Ellen and Jo's sacrifice was worth it... And then he gets up. The expressions on Sam and Dean's faces because they thought they'd managed to win.
  • Power Rangers RPM. As Dr K finally begins to warm up to the rangers, she makes a point at the start of one episode, of calling each ranger by name instead of codename as well as expressing the qualities she likes about them... except for Ziggy. Poor Ziggy spends the rest of his screen time of that episode trying to get her to admit that he's not a bad guy and can be useful to the team (as he proves at one point). Finally at the end, as she's giving everyone their debriefing, she walks up to him, smiling warmly at him, clearly about to finally acknowledge his contributions... and the alarm rings signaling another attack.
  • Any episode of The Prisoner where Number Six gets off (or appears to get off) of the Village (e.g. "Chimes of Big Ben" and "Many Happy Returns").
  • This is the foundation for first season finale of Eureka. After the initiation of a risky experiment, the movie suddenly cuts to a world where the sheriff and Allison are happily married (which any other episode would tell you that it is no more than Ship Tease and love triangle material), his daughter is graduating, Henry, the man who the town constantly relies on, is in charge of GD, the Jerkass Nathan Stark left town, Beverly no longer works for the Consortium..., and most importantly, Henry's love interest, Kim, is alive and well. During the episode the sudden appearance of objects that should not exist in that way gives evidence to something a Genre Savvy viewer would already know, that this was not meant to be. Turns out that Henry had gone back in time to save Kim after the experiment had gone horribly wrong. In order to prevent the paradox from ruining time, the Sheriff had to stop Henry from saving the life of the woman he loved as well as give up a future in which he and everybody he knew was happy. Talk about a Downer Ending. Thanks to this fact, this episode was the equivalent to a Heroic BSOD for most of the characters involved... and caused the mess of agendas and conspiracies that is Season 2.
  • This is essentially the premise for pretty much every episode of Gilligan's Island. Generic Plot #1 of the show was the castaways find a way to get off the island, but Gilligan screws it up.
  • Many episodes of Monk have the title character finally get something good in his tortured existence, only to have it snatched away by the end. Particularly heartbreaking is "Mr. Monk and Mrs. Monk", in which Monk's condition is getting better, but he ends up watching a woman who had been impersonating his late wife get shot dead, traumatizing him out of all his progress.
    • An example of a Yank The Dogs Chain on another aspect of the show is the people for his reinstatement changing their minds just as the one against finally caves in Mr. Monk Goes Camping.
  • In the fifth season of Heroes, Hiro finally manages to save Charlie from both Sylar and her blood clot. Of course, Samuel the evil carny comes along and has his own teleporting time master trap Charlie "somewhere in time", and then kills him so he can't tell Hiro where/when she is. Cue one of the most heart-wrenching scenes ever to befall our favorite Wide-Eyed Idealist.
  • On Top Gear, after Jeremy Clarkson and James May had spent two seasons mocking the forthcoming Dacia Sandero, they finally see one in Romania. May seems somewhat smitten, so Clarkson buys one for him. Half an hour later, a lorry backs into it where May had left it parked, caving in one side.
  • This is the basis for many episodes of Peep Show—Mark Corrigan never catches a break. There are long-term chain-yankings like promising relationships that never quite happen (the one that eventually does quickly turns into an embarrassing, resentful nightmare for both parties) and episode-length ones, like when Mark's chance at his dream job is ruined by his best friend sweeping in what he thinks is a Big Damn Heroes moment to deliver a long speech about how he has a "wanking disease" (It Makes Sense in Context) to the prospective employer. Still, that's what happens when the Butt Monkey is the protagonist.
  • On Lost, Locke finally found purpose in the end of season 4, after spending the entire series in a constant battle with faith. Shortly after, He started traveling through time, which he could only stop by leaving the island, and dying. But when he does die, we don't feel much because the episode showing it happen has already revealed that the character comes back to life. What made it really cruel was that he never came back to life at all, and instead was just an Unwitting Pawn.
  • Chuck. Every time the poor boy meets someone, it somehow gets yanked away. It can't help having his 'ex' around all the time.
  • The first season of Mash has an episode where everyone comes to believe that there's been a ceasefire and the war is over. During their "farewell" party they learn the sad news: the war isn't over, and the wounded are arriving.
    • Another early episode has Trapper thinking he'll get to go home due to a stomach ulcer, and even getting a farewell party, before being told by HQ that he'll have to stay in Korea and be operated on there.
      • Trapper gets put through the wringer again in "Kim", deciding to adopt a seemingly-orphaned Korean boy with his wife back in the States, then having to rescue the kid after he wanders into a minefield...then having to watch as the kid's mother turns up and whisks him away.
    • And of course, season three's finale has Henry Blake getting discharged and finally getting to go home. What happened next was a trope-naming moment.
    • In B.J.'s intro episode, Hawkeye races to an airport to try and say goodbye to Trapper, who was discharged while Hawkeye was away on leave and couldn't stay any longer. Naturally, despite his best efforts, Hawkeye misses him by minutes.
    • In the show's final episode, B.J. receives discharge papers, though they are quickly rescinded. Col. Potter is informed of this, but doesn't say anything - hoping B.J. will be stateside before anyone finds out. Unfortunately, B.J. makes it as far as Guam before he's yanked back to the 4077th. (However, he does ultimately get to go home - along with everybody else - when the war ends shortly thereafter.)
  • The utterly miserable second half of "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith". In the the thirty-three years since she left the Doctor, she never found anyone, until now. Even the first half of the story is bittersweet, as it feels too good to be true if her track record is any indication of what's to come; you can tell they're star-crossed. This doesn't make the ending any less tragic.
  • Ronnie. from. Eastenders. Every single time it looks like she's going to have a happy ending, the producers cruelly snatch it away from her practically going "Neener neener!", be it a potential reconcilement with Danielle being ruined by Danielle getting ran over and killed instantly or her being caught out when she goes to mad lengths to get a child again. It looks as if recently she's finally having an honest to god child again and all's well... but in true Soap fashion (As revealed in television magazine spoilers), said baby stops breathing and may have suffered cot death barely a day after being born, pushing Ronnie way past her limit. That is if she hasn't already been punted over it before now.
  • Rimmer, Chew Toy of the Red Dwarf universe, is simply not allowed to be happy. On the rare occasions he's thrown a bone it usually gets stuck in his throat.
    • A particularly cruel example: in the episode "Timeslides", a bit of minor fiddling with time restores Rimmer to life. In his joy he starts running around, touching things, eating things—and accidentally eats an explosive-filled cheese sandwich intended for Adolph Hitler, which explodes.
    • He gets Genre Savy to this in 'Back to Earth' where when speaking to the writer of the show, he demands he be written a girl who he can fall in love with, marry and after the big night, NOT find out that she's his long lost sister.
  • On the show Sisters, second-oldest sister Teddy is FINALLY happy after years of turmoil that has included a struggle with alcoholism, miscarriage, her daughter's rape, her divorce, etc. Now, she's married to the love of her life, who's had similar problems of his own—alcoholism, divorce, death of his son—and they're preparing to buy a house. He's also preparing to testify against a crime lord (he's a cop).
  • Happens all the time in Oz. The worst case is Beecher, of course. But every character has its moments. It's very painful.
  • At least one victim in Criminal Minds. The unsub tells her over an intercom that if she can find her way out of the vast complex he's dropped her in by sunset, she gets to live. She gets literally within sight of the open door to freedom, but the sun is setting and the door slams in her face before she can get out. Of course, the team save her anyway, but still.
  • In Season 1 of Spartacus, Dominus finally keeps his promise to find the title character's wife only to deliver her moments from death.
  • In Torchwood, after a season and a half of pining and one weird memory-changer-induced role reversal, Owen finally agrees to a date with Tosh. At the end of the episode, he dies.
    • And of course, once Jack and Ianto are really getting adorable, and we get to see some of Ianto's personal life... he dies, too.
      • Torchwood LOVES this trope. A few episodes into Miracle Day Dr. Juarez decides to officially join up with Team Torchwood. It even looks like Rex might start to take their relationship a little more seriously... so at the end of the episode she gets shot. Twice. And burned alive. IN FRONT OF REX.
  • Merlin. Oh my God, Merlin. He's reunited with his childhood friend who knows about and accepts his magical powers? He dies. He falls in love with a pretty Druid girl? She dies. At long last, he meets his father? He dies. Arthur begins to think that maybe, just maybe, Uther's wrong and magic isn't inherently evil? Merlin has to lie through his teeth and convince him otherwise in order to stop him from murdering his own father. Pretty much every time something significantly nice happens to Merlin, he gets the rug yanked out from under him.
  • One episode of Smallville had Clark finally tell Lana his secret and propose to her at the same time. That was the teaser! She accepts the proposal, Jonathan Kent wins the state senate seat, beating Lex Luthor and everything seems perfect up til the 30 minute mark when Lana is killed in a car accident caused by Lex trying to get Clark's secret out of her. Clark gets Jor-El to rewind time, ignoring his warning that the universe would find someone else to die if he saves Lana. Clark doesn't tell Lana his secret, Jonathan still wins the senate seat but ends up dying of a heart attack.
  • Several episodes of The Fugitive have Dr. Kimble seemingly on the verge of being exonerated, but it always turns out to be a trap or something that otherwise falls apart...until the Grand Finale, of course.

Newspaper Comics

  • Funky Winkerbean: Lisa Moore's breast cancer has returned, but it looks like they caught it in time and she should be right as rain in a few months. Except the doctors mixed up her medical charts: her cancer wasn't in remission and by the time they caught the mistake, it was already too late to do anything but delay the inevitable.

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40,000 takes this to an artform, with tremendously horrible things lurking behind every victory and any attempt to correct any aspect of the Crapsack World doomed to failure. The Imperium is even Genre Savvy about this, one of its many Thoughts For The Day being "Hope is the first step on the road to disappointment". It helps when the literal god of Hope is also the god of Manipulation.
  • Paranoia reminds Friend Gamemaster to let the players score some temporary victories along the way to their inevitable hosing.
  • Ravenloft: the Dark Powers deliberately go out of their way to inflict this on those who have done unpleasant enough things to qualify as Darklords. As Lord Soth demonstrates, the way to get them to cut it out is simply to stop caring.
  • Kelemvor in Forgotten Realms began as a mercenary who wanted to be a hero but literally couldn't act altruistically without tripping a family curse and turning into a werepanther, which complicated his growing relationship with his teammate Midnight. Then he was killed by ex-teammate Cyric... and then he ascended to become god of the dead in place of the despotic and now-divine Cyric, promising justice to the inhabitants of his realm. He also resumed his romance with Midnight, who'd become the new Mystra. Set up to be a hero after all, and on an epic scale, right?... And then it was revealed that a god of death who tried to do the right thing was disrupting the Balance Between Good and Evil, and his switch to "neutrality" meant condemning another friend from his human life, handing over the Seraph of Death to Mask, breaking it off with Mystra (while Cyric literally drank their tears), and stuffing people back into the Wall of the Faithless.


  • This happens to Biff in Death of a Salesman.
  • In A Streetcar Named Desire, Mitch is Blanche's last chance for a normal life. Just when their relationship is going steady, Stanley intervenes, leading to Mitch denouncing Blanche.
    • The ending of Williams's The Glass Menagerie is set-up deliberately melodramatically: the gentleman who visits the socially inept Woobie Laura turns out to be her secret crush. He dotes on her, dances with her, and his accidental breaking the horn of Laura's glass unicorn can be construed symbolically: he shatters Laura's self-imagined stigma, so that she can re-join the world, just like a hornless unicorn can mingle with other horses. But when one expects this little encounter to develop into something more substantial, it turns out the bloke is engaged.

Video Games

  • In one of the endings of Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice, Almaz loses everything when Mao's father declares him the overlord.
  • Kane and Lynch. Poor Kane.
  • Eggman of the Sonic the Hedgehog series. Sure, he's an evil bastard, but he's tried so many times to establish his Eggman Empire, coming quite close more than a few times, when suddenly and quickly all his hard work is washed away. You start to feel sorry for the guy...
    • There was that time in Sonic: Triple Trouble, in which Eggman finally gets all the Chaos Emeralds, only to have a machine blow and send the gems to the far corners of the Earth.
    • Then in Sonic Adventure 2, Eggie gets all the Chaos Emeralds inserted into the Eclipse Cannon, causing him to think he's invincible and can do whatever he pleases. No. His granddaddy's secret planet-destroying program is initiated when he inserts the last emerald.
    • Happens twice in Sonic Unleashed. Not only does Eggman beat Super Sonic and rid his Green Rocks of their invincibility-granting powers, but he manages to collect energy from Dark Gaia and finally builds his long-awaited Eggmanland. Unfortunately, his latest pet disobeys him (once again) and he ends up stranded in the desert with nothing but a back-sassing robot who maliciously reminds him of his constant failures.
    • Also Sonic Riders. His plan manages to work, he gets the good guys to hand over a treasure (which he's expecting to be better than an angel wing that could rule the world) and it turns out to be a very soft carpet. He then faints and the good guys say what it really is (which still isn't as good as what he was expecting.).
    • In Sonic Colors, Eggman's plan and execution are reasonably professional and almost free of buffoonery. Sonic and Tails only show up by mistake and even then he is poised to activate his latest and greatest evil device. It promptly explodes because his dim-witted minions forgot to clear robotic debris from the first boss that lodged into part of it after Sonic defeated it. And this is after Eggman gives us one of the best boss fights in the series...
  • Hey, Shinjiro! It looks like things are looking up for you in Persona 3 Portable! Not only are you a Social Link character for a cute girl, but if she maxes out your link, you survive Taking the Bullet! Sure, you fall into a coma for the rest of the game, but you wake up for the ending... just in time for said girl to die either right before you get there or in your arms. But hey, you're still probably gonna die from those drugs you were taking, so at least you get to meet up in the afterlife, right? Ehh, sorry! She's become the Great Seal for Eternity, so meeting up with her in the afterlife is... unlikely.
  • Apparently, Nessiah is just not allowed to be happy - he has one chance at it in Blaze Union, and it's an extremely slim one. He's a main character in one of the three paths that story can take, but in it he gets the Villain Ball hard.
  • Oh, Kei. Near the end of Fatal Frame 3, he reassures Rei that "there might still be some hope", as he thinks he's found out a way to potentially end the Tattoo Curse for good. And then Reika kills him.
  • In Portal 2, GLaDOS pulls several of these as a way to demonstrate just exactly how angry she is with Chell.
    • In a Call Back to the first game, GLaDOS presents you with a Weighted Companion Cube in one of her test chambers. The instant you pick it up, she fizzles it. Then drops another, which she also fizzles after you start to solve the puzzle with it. Finally she lets you complete the test, only to mention offhandedly that the Emancipation Grill is malfunctioning and not to take anything with you. Sure enough, if you try to leave with the Companion Cube, she fizzles it yet again. Bad, bad GLaDOS.
    • At one point she offhandedly mentions having seen a deer outside. She offers, if you complete the next test, to let you ride an elevator up to the employee break room... where she'll tell you about the time she saw a deer again.
    • After continously teasing you about being adopted (yet another Call Back), GLaDOS promises a surprise in which you're going to "meet two people you haven't seen in a long, long time." Of course, it's a lie. Then later in that same test chamber, she promises to put them on the phone, but instead puts on a fake "prerecorded message" in which they claim not to love you. Yes, GLaDOS, we get the point. You don't like Chell. Thank you for being so discreet about it.
    • The last one is more noticeable for being subverted Hypocritical Humor. Later in the game, she contradicts Wheatley when he tries to pull the same "adopted fatty" insults on Chell, creating an "awwwwwww" moment, but promptly yanks the rug out when she whispers to you, "For the record, you ARE adopted, And That's Terrible."
      • And at this point, GLaDOS does not have enough energy to lie to Chell. This is one of only two times in the entirety of both games we actually learn anything definite about Chell's background.

Web Original

  • Any time it looks like Coach Z might be catching a break, something needs to get in his way.

Coach Z: Hey, thanks for the advice, Homestar! I'd love to come to your house for Decemberween!
Homestar: What? No, no-ho-ho! No, no, no. No, Coach Z, no. No. No, you can't.

  • In a slightly less sympathetic use of the trope, The Nostalgia Chick puts on some mood music when Todd in the Shadows finally agrees to sleep with her out of boredom. The "mood music" turns out to be "Reproduction" from Grease II, and he runs off, much to her anger.
  • The Nostalgia Critic gets plenty of yanking, but the cruelest might have to be near the start of Simon Sez. When he complains to Obscurus Lupa that he always gives in to people wanting to do a review with him, she says she won't push it and leaves. He's overjoyed that someone finally listened to him and he now has a new lease on life, but it turns out that she was just trolling him.
  • SHED.MOV opens with Apple Bloom finally getting her cutie mark... and is stomped on by Discord five seconds later.

Web Comics

  • Drowtales had a side story where Syphille met someone who respected her and tried to help her cope with and improve her life (albeit by drugging everyone), but you know it's going to end badly because nothing ever works for her. Ever. She went back to her life of brutal beatings and rape.
  • Subverted in PvP when couch loafer Robbie wins the lottery - and never loses the money. He even hires people to make sure he doesn't go broke.
  • Eight Bit Theater. After years and years of nothing but being screwed by the universe itself over and over again, Black Mage finally gets what he always wanted: He becomes an unstoppable mage of mass destruction, slaughtering almost everybody he knows (including the girl he has a crush on) in merely seconds... Only to have Sarda come pop in and bring everybody back to life.
    • Done far, far earlier when he briefly became the overlord of hell, with all the power and cowering minions the title provides, only to be shoved back into his former body before he could destroy it.
  • At the end of the Kamikaze Kate arc in Misfile Rumisiel has successfully exorcised a very scary ghost and saved (at least) one soul from damnation and proven himself a Badass. Ash is ecstatic, this means he can get back to heaven and fix things. Except... heaven is full of Jerkassess (and Rumi is such a screw up) that just one deed like that isn't even going to close to evening the score, so nothing changes.
    • Later, Rumi gets the news that Heaven is willing to give him a hearing about letting him back into heaven. The catch? The next available hearing is in 73 years. Ash doesn't take it well.
  • Angus McLeod's World War I: Simple Version depicts 1917 as one of these for Germany.

Germany: Oh brothers, with Russia off my back, I have a chance of winning this war!
Newspaper Headline: United States Declares War On Germany.

  • Patchy got hit with this hard in one of the arcs of Life of Maid. After Patchy decides to get a new handheld, a Nintendo 3DS, she comes short of the money needed to buy it and decides to go to Remilia for money. But instead of simply giving her the money like in a previous arc, she puts Patchy to work around the mansion. After working her ass off, she finally gets her hands on it—but just two strips later, she leaves the 3DS unattended to use the little girl's room, only to have it get eaten by Yuyuko, who mistakes the chicken in the "Cooking Papa" game she was playing for the real deal.

Western Animation

  • Frank Grimes
    • Specifically, Mr. Burns sees a documentary about how Grimes went through a hard life and had recently earned a diploma in nuclear physics. Impressed, he tells Mr. Smithers to find him so he can make him his executive vice president. By the time Smithers returns with Grimes, however, Burns had seen a heroic dog on TV and now wants to make him executive vice president.

Smithers: In the meantime, here's Frank Grimes.
(Burns does not recognize Grimes)
Smithers: The, the self-made man?
Burns: What? Oh, yes, that fellow. Mmmm, put him somewhere out of the way, and find that dog!
Smithers: Yes sir.

  • Done very cruelly in the final episode of Camp Lazlo, when Lumpus has finally gotten praise and respect, when a Diabolus Ex Machina undoes it all, and to rub salt into the wound, it turns out he was a fake who locked up the real scoutmaster and gets dragged off to an asylum.
  • The kids in Dungeons and Dragons spend every episode on the trail of some new possible way back to their own world. Not one of these leads ever works out, either because the route simply wouldn't work or because the kids are obliged to give up the chance in order to help others.
    • Averted (sorta) in the Lost Episode. The kids are outright told by the Dungeon Master that they've done what he brought them here to do and that they can go home now if they want, but we don't see whether or not they do.
  • Same in Jumanji (the cartoon). Averted in the finale: Allen got his clue, solved it and got home legitimately with the kids.
  • Samurai Jack has made viewers come to expect him to fail when attempting either of his two stated goals: going back in time, and destroying Aku. In a strange combination, either he fails to go back in time because Honor Before Reason dictates that he never leaves those in danger to harm to go back in time, or Aku tricks him into a MacGuffin Delivery Service. Aku himself is practically unkillable as well, despite Jack beating him to a paste several times.
    • There are basically only three different episodes of Samurai Jack: "Aku sends a new mercenary to stop Jack", "Jack frees innocents from the grip of Aku" and "Jack almost finds a portal but loses it to Aku who was disguised in an obvious costume." Once you've seen those, you've seen the whole series and you can walk away to stop getting your chain yanked. That said, the "filler" episodes like the one he goes "down the rabbit hole" and "learns to jump good" are a lot of fun, perhaps because in those he's not constrained to fail tragically.
      • Subverted in one episode, in which Jack appears to, yet again, suffer defeat when attempting to access an appropriate time portal, only for the episode to end showing an older Jack on the other side of the portal, and the implicit assertion by the portal's guardian that he will, eventually, pass through.
  • Squidward from SpongeBob SquarePants. Sure he's an egomaniac and a jerk, but you kinda feel sorry for him after a while.
    • In "Bubble Stand" he briefly learns how to play the clarinet well after using SpongeBob's technique to blow a giant bubble... until his house gets sucked inside said giant bubble, and it loudly pops, apparently destroying his clarinet skills.
    • In "Squilliam Returns" he briefly impresses Squilliam when Spongebob disguises the Krusty Krab as a fancy restaurant... until SpongeBob goes crazy due to Squidward's earlier Exact Words on forgetting everything that isn't about fine dining, including his name, and destroys everything.
    • Screw any Squidward example: the single biggest Yank the Dog's Chain moment goes to Plankton in the episode "Plankton's Regular": the episode starts with a man that regularly eats in the Chum Bucket and refuses to even eat a single Krabby Patty. Spongebob and Krabs try everything to steal said customer from Plankton, to the point of trying to steal Plankton's recipe for chum. However, at the end of the episode, it's revealed that said customer was paid by Karen to eat in the Chum Bucket so Plankton would stop complaining about his lack of success, but he couldn't eat more chum anymore, regardless of the money (they already pumped his stomach many times). Plankton is left in tears while Spongebob and Krabs laugh at his misery. Note that, even having only one customer, Plankton immediately stopped trying to steal the Krabby Patty formula.
    • Spongebob himself is often the victim of this trope as well, usually in episodes focused on trying to get his boating license. It seems that he finally is going to get it...but something random wil always happen to prevent Spongebob to pass the exam.
    • Plankton fits quite well here, but he kinda deserves it.
  • In The Spectacular Spider-Man, it really looks like Peter is the only superhero around, though naturally he's outnumbered by supervillains. One can hope that the supervillains are all local. So when J. Jonah Jameson's astronaut son and all-around decent guy gets superpowers and is willing to help, wouldn't it seem like the Big Apple finally gets another hero? No, because With Great Power Comes Great Insanity. Looks like the best Spidey can hope for are supervillains who aren't quite evil and won't stay local, like Black Cat, Sandman, and Molten Man.
  • In Phineas and Ferb, Dr. Doofenshmirtz finally finds a nice evil girlfriend. They hit it off, "Falling in Love" Montage and all—and then in the last five seconds of the episode, the love-destroying satellite he built earlier crashes and zaps her, causing her to storm away with a declaration of "I feel NOTHING!"
    • Then there's poor Candace. Once an Episode she'll have solid proof of her brothers' schemes (which actually shares fun and joy to the neighborhood more than it harms), only to find that it's vanished or ruined when she shows her mother. Other times, any special moment with Jeremy will be interrupted by something (possibly just by Candace herself), and any attempt to impress him will backfire in a humiliating fashion.
      • Then again, Jeremy seems to be as mellow and kind to Candace when she's disheveled with branches in her hair as any other time. Candace fears being humiliated in front of him, but he's so much of a legitimately Nice Guy that it may be impossible. You could say Jeremy is the personification of Throw the Dog a Bone.
    • Happens at the end of "My Fair Goalie" to Football X-7 creator Professor Ross Efrop, who was forced into hiding when it was discovered his name was a palindrome, as the British at the time were very anti-palindrome. He is about to come back out when he's still shunned for his name being a palindrome.
  • Happens repeatedly on The Fairly OddParents to almost everyone. One instance is when Timmy had finally undone all of Norm's tricks, Trixie, who had been brainwashed to fall in love with several Timmy Turners, has finally showed up, deciding to give "the biggest, wettest kiss" to Timmy... only to have it wear off then.
  • The Invader Zim episode "Dib's Wonderful Life of Doom" has Dib finally achieve everything he wanted, including respect and acclaim, after being Touched by Vorlons, only for it all to be a fantasy created by Zim's Lotus Eater Machine.
    • To get back at him for throwing a muffin in his face, no less...
  • The B-plot in the Family Guy episode "Road to Rupert" has Peter and Meg bonding after Meg becomes Peter's chauffeur when Peter's license gets suspended. Peter, of course, goes back to his abusive ways after he gets his license back. Played so straight that Peter tells Meg that he's going back to tormenting her to keep up appearances in front of the family. Meg is actually okay with this after Peter splashes a glass of juice at her, as if this is the closest thing to love that she can ever expect out of these people.
    • Or in the episode "Peter's Daughter", where Peter vows to treat Meg better if she wakes up from a coma, which she's in because he made her go into the kitchen to save his beer when the house flooded. Meg gets a sweet, affectionate, (over-)protective father, as well as a boyfriend, because she starts dating a med student who was there when she woke up. Then Peter accidentally ruins her relationship ... then she finds out she's pregnant ... But then Michael (her boyfriend) proposes to her, saying he loves her and wants to be there for her. Ignoring the fact that her dad was there with a rifle. So Meg's going to get married ... except on the day of the wedding, she realizes she isn't pregnant, and isn't sure she can go through with it. Her mother tells her to do what she thinks is right, ("Thanks, Mom. I love you." "I, uh, you too.") and Meg tells Michael the truth when she gets to the altar, prompting him to run out of the church.
  • This is pretty much standard for the nerdy Butt Monkey Tucker from Danny Phantom. He usually ends up getting the short end of the stick either through his numerous failures to pick up girls or constantly getting the most emotional/physical abuse due to his comic relief character setting. The best shown is "King Tuck" where he runs for school president in order to get some respect from others—including his friends. After Danny and Sam gets An Aesop that they should listen to Tucker once in a while, they promptly, in seconds, ignores and walks off when Tucker's rambles about his interests. Worse, for no reason other then to play up his Butt Monkey status, the writer gets two popular girls to chase after him with intent to do some bodily harm. Poor guy can't catch a break.
  • This happens to Henry in some KaBlam!! episodes. In the episode "Won't Stick to Most Dental Work!", he gets tired of being the Butt Monkey and quits the show. After the first sketch, he opens his own restaurant, and then quits after seeing how heartbroken June was.
    • Also in "You May Already Be A KaBlammer!", he's upset over the fact that no one finds him funny, so June tells him that she'll be his sidekick as long as he's hers.
    • And since he's famous for falling in love, only to be rejected, he gets his happy ending in episode 29, which was the so-called "last episode" (they ended up making a lot more, and some didn't get to air due to the cancellation), when a girl gives him a kiss: June.
  • Epically subverted in the Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy episode "Fistfuls of Ed". After being falsely accused of being a bully and subsequently ostracized by the entire school, and then beaten to a pulp by Jimmy. Things are finally looking up for Edd, but then we smash suddenly in to a typical episode ending where the Kanker Sisters pop out of the woodwork to set in with their usual "treatment" of the already pathetically tired and beaten-down Double Dee. Eddy, who has as usual been the main source of conflict in the episode, watches in disgust before giving the Kanker Sisters the most singularly awesome chew-out they ever get in the series. As they slink away in terror, he breaks up the lingering awkwardness by giving everyone hotdogs. Double Dee even Lampshades this trope.

Edd: I'm touched! That you would interrupt a cliché plot ending for my sake!

  • After being tortured, mutilated, and reduced to a Brain In a Jar throughout the first three seasons of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), Baxter Stockman finally regains a whole, human body in the episode "Insane in the Membrane". Unfortunately, it's not long before Stockman's new body begins breaking down, and the doctor begins losing limbs. Worse still, he begins losing the one thing he'd managed to keep throughout his tribulations: his mind.
    • It gets worse for him in "Good Genes, Part 1." Bishop effectively brings him Back from the Dead in a pseudo-body to continue their work. Stockman laments this development because he thought that he had finally found peace following his previous appearance.
  • Near the end of season 2 of Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Obstructive Bureaucrat who ran the Earth Kingdom's secret police has been arrested! The real leader has promised them support against the Fire Nation! Sokka's finally seeing his dad after two years, and his girlfriend's in town! Toph's mom wants to reconcile with her! Aang is going to train to master the Avatar state!... Wait, there's still two episodes left. And as soon as Sokka says "Everything's gonna be perfect, now and forever," you know something's gonna happen. Sure enough, before this episode is even out: the secret police are still loyal to the man they "arrested"; Toph was tricked and captured by bounty hunters hired to drag her home; and it's not Sokka's girlfriend that's in town, it's The Dragon in disguise—and the king, not knowing better, welcomes her with open arms. And in those next two episodes, It Got Worse.
  • Kim Possible's Ron Stoppable never seemed to come out on top in the first three seasons. At the most extreme levels of yankage he somehow managed to get all of his 99 million dollars he got from Bueno Nacho stolen by keeping it all in his pants, leaving him with nothing (though most can't figure out what happened with the continued royalties after that payment). Drakken also has his leash yanked a few times more than comfortable.
  • The Xiaolin Showdown episode "Omitown" had Omi thinking he found his long-lost parents, only to learn at the end that they were fakes created by the show's Big Bad.
  • Similar to the Dungeons and Dragons and Samurai Jack examples above are the main characters in 80s music cartoon Kidd Video.
    • Particularly noteworthy example: As a reward for saving one of its citizens, a small village gives Whiz one free wish from the local Wish Genie. However, when about to make the wish, Whiz learns that the others are endangered, and he quickly wishes them to be "safe at home". The Genie, being a Rules Lawyer-ing Literal Genie, grants only the first half of the wish, reasoning that "being 'safe' and being 'at home' are two separate wishes."
  • In the beginning of one SpongeBob SquarePants episode, an live-action artist at sea accidentally drops his only pencil into the ocean, and goes into a depression because now he can't draw. At the end, he gets his pencil back, begins to draw...and breaks the tip on the canvas, not having a pencil sharpener. The episode ends with his anguished screams.
  • While the Looney Tunes TV short based on the reality series I Shouldnt Be Alive is mainly based on footage of the original Wile E Coyote and The Road Runner shorts, there is one notable scene of original animation at the end: Wile E. Coyote finally manages catch the Road Runner (simply by pouring birdseed and leaping onto him while he was eating), but he turns out to be so weak from not eating he couldn't even choke the Road Runner.

Real Life

  • After four, terrible years and thirteen millions of people dead, they called World War I the "War to End All Wars," meaning that after this kind of war humanity would finally throw away their warlike nature and world peace now would come and expand. If they only knew...
    • They also wanted to see the end of death and misery. Well, the Spanish flu and the Great Depression got in the way of that...
    • Speaking of WWI-Mustard gas. It might splash undetected as a liquid onto a soldier's skin or clothes and then when they went down into the trenches where it was warmer the liquid would heat up into a corrosive gas. So just when you think you're safe, you've escaped the fighting with your life you discover you and all your buddies are gonna die...
  • Ireland. After centuries of being oppressed, they gain independence, and experience a massive economic boom, leading to them become one of the most developed countries in the world. Then when the recession hit, they became the most indebted country per capita in the world.
    • In a similar case was the Philippines in the 1970s it was one of the fastest growing economies in Asia second only to Japan, then when the Marcos administration took over it all spiraled downward.
  • In 1917, the working class of Russia overthrew the corrupt government of the tsar and the nobles and replaced their rule with that of a working class government, with Vladimir Lenin chosen as the leader. 1924, Lenin died by illness and the new leader who took over was named Joseph Stalin...
  • The Playhouse Disney fandom when the old Playhouse Disney shows returned on Disney Junior... only to get taken off again a few years later.