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Freeza: "Zarbon, give the command."Dodoria: "Get 'em."
Zarbon: "Dodoria, give the command."
The hero is in the midst of a mission, along with his Five-Man Band and a bunch of Red Shirts. He needs to accomplish some minor and relatively mundane task, which is nevertheless bothersome or unwelcome. So he delegates the job to The Lancer. "Lancer, dig a trench."
The Gentle Giant nods, then turns to the Cute Bruiser. "Cute Bruiser, dig a trench."
And it goes on and on.
The task to be done gets delegated all the way to the unfortunate who is, socially or literally, at the bottom of the ladder. Occasionally, perhaps with a bit of applied Politeness Judo, the task gets delegated back to the leader himself.
For extra fun, the task in question may be trivial to those near the beginning of the relay, but stupendously difficult for those at the end.
Definitely an example of Truth in Television.
- There was an Australian McDonald's ad where a boss asked his secretary to get him an order, who then asked someone else to get them something. It kept going down until the list reached a guy in a dingy basement sort of office. He then makes the work experience kid get the stuff, which has accumulated several A4 pages.
- An Australian ad for a courier company had a boss yelling at his subordinate that "If this package isn't in [City X] by tomorrow, it's your job!" This order (and threat) is then echoes down the chain of command until it ends up with some poor dude in the mail room, who calls the courier company.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: "Mind the boat", eventually coming down the parrot, who then passes it on to the mute Mr. Cotton.
- From Spaceballs:
Skroob: (to Dark Helmet) They're getting all their air back! Do something!
Dark Helmet: (to Colonel Sandurz) Do something!
Sandurz: (over the PA) DO SOMETHING!
- Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator: A huge gun fails to fire properly, and the bullet just drops out of the barrel. The general turns to the colonel and says: "Check the bullet". The colonel turns to the captain and gives the same order. The captain gives the order to the lieutenant. The lieutenant delegates to the private (Chaplin). The private turns to his left... and finds out that there's nobody left to delegate to, so he has to do it himself.
- The Disney Movie The Cat from Outer Space did this as a running gag several times with a set of Army officers led by Harry Morgan who were chasing the titular cat.
General Stilton: *gives command*. Colonel!
Sergeant: Yes sir!
- Bugsy Malone. "Get Babyface, get Babyface, get Babyface..." and so on down the line until they actually get to Babyface.
- Home Alone 2 did a relay giving Kevin's bag to Kevin, from Mom, to Dad, through all the kids, down to Fuller...who then starts a Delegation Relay back up the chain to inform the parents that Kevin missed the flight.
- In Braveheart Hamish's Dad gets shot with an arrow. That night, Hamish is handed a red hot poker with the instruction: "You do it. I'll hold him down." Hamish then looks at the poker, and hands another nameless scot the poker and tells him, "You do it. I'll hold him down." The nameless scot then does what he's told and Hilarity Ensues.
- Silent Movie has a meeting at Engulf and Devour. After getting some bad news about profits, Engulf orders Devour to punish the other men present. He slaps each of them in turn, only to get slapped himself by the last one. The next time this happens, Devour tries to invoke this trope, slapping only the first man and telling them to "Pass it on". When it gets to the last man, he slaps first, causing the slap to go all the way up the chain to Devour.
- In the Discworld novel Eric, during the siege of Tsort, the invading squad unexpectedly discover a small child. The Captain tasks the Lieutenant with guarding the child, who instructs the Sergeant to keep an eye on the kid who tells the Corporal to look after the lad who tells the Private to watch the sprog. The private looks around to see whom he can pass the buck to, and realises that he's the Butt Monkey.
- Another Discworld example, in Guards! Guards!: Captain Vimes tells Sergeant Colon to (force) open a gate. Colon tells Lance-Constable Carrot to open the gate. Carrot knocks gently to ask the people on the other side to open it.
- In Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, this is not actually played for laughs, but rather used as social satire to show how ridiculously overblown royal ceremonies were in Tudor England.
- In Ozma of Oz, the Tin Woodsman's army consists of 100 soldiers, only one of whom is not an officer. The one time they actually fight, All the generals give the order to attack, which is then passed down to all the officers of the next rank down, and so forth until every officer has sounded the order to charge in decreasing order of rank, at which point the one private attacks the Nomes.
- In Harry Potter when the mail arrives one morning, we get this exchange as the Dursleys and Harry are having breakfast:
Vernon: Get the mail, Dudley.
Dudley: Make Harry get it.
Vernon: Get the mail, Harry.
Harry: Make Dudley get it.
Vernon: Poke him with your Smelting stick, Dudley.
Live Action Television
- The teaser of Star Trek: Voyager's Lower Deck Episode is one long shot in which we follow the progress of an order from Captain Janeway to the schlub who ends up carrying it out.
- Ashes to Ashes uses this amongst a group, when faced with acquiring evidence from a chemical toilet. (Played with in that the last link in the chain, who's dating the guy in front of her, simply rolls her eyes and tells him to get on with it.)
- Star Trek: The Next Generation did this in the first episode where the Borg appeared. A Borg appears on the ship observing, as Picard, most of the command, and a Red Shirt watch. Picard orders Worf to deal with it, then Worf turns to the Red Shirt and tells him to deal with it. With predictable results.
- The Young Ones use this when someone has to answer the door.
Mike: Someone at the door, Rik.
Rik: Someone at the door, Vyvyan.
Vyvyan: Someone at the door, Neil.
Neil: Someone at the door, Mike.
Mike: I know!
[another knock at the door]
Mike: (louder) There's someone at the door, Rik!
Rik: (louder) There's someone at the door, Vyvyan!
Vyvyan: (louder) There's someone at the door, Mike!
Neil: (louder) There's someone at the door, Neil?
- A Truth in Television closed-circle variant, immortalized in Dilbert: An employee asking a question directed at higher-ups may find that the task of answering it is delegated back down... to the same employee.
- Another Dilbert comic:
Boss: Write a memo on the problem with the Azak project.
Guy (thinking) What problem?
Guy to Guy 2: Write a memo on the problem with the Azak project.
Guy 2 (thinking) What's the Azak project?
Guy 2 to Guy 3: Write a memo on the problem with the Azak project.
Guy 3 (thinking) What's a memo?.
- A third Dilbert example: The Pointy-Haired Boss gives Dilbert a task. Dilbert says he's too busy, so the boss tells him him to delegate it to Alice. She tells the boss she's too busy, so he tells her to delegate to Asok. He's also too busy, and told to delegate it to a random employee. The employee accepts but doesn't mention the fact that he's quitting the next day. The boss thinks "I solved four problems today."
- Happens in FoxTrot when Andy asks Peter to take the garbage. Peter says that Paige owes him a favour so that Andy should ask her. Paige says that Jason owes her a favour so Andy should ask him. Jason says that Peter owes him a favour so Andy should ask him. Andy asks Peter (again) who then willingly takes out the garbage.
- In Kingdom of Loathing, the Mob Penguin Supervisors of the Penguin Mafia have been known to do this:
He orders a subordinate to beat you up. That subordinate orders his subordinate to do it, and so on. Eventually the buck stops with an elderly janitor, who frankly isn't very threatening.
- The Rooster Teeth short Chain of Thought, which also twists this trope by having the order by carried out by the guy who first ordered it.
- One episode of the X-Men animated series had Magneto and Mystique turn on Apocalypse. In an example of the "for extra fun" variation, the incredibly powerful Apocalypse summons all his henchmen, then tells the reasonably powerful Mr Sinister to kill them. Sinister then delegates this task to Vertigo, whose only power is giving people vertigo.
- An episode of The Simpsons has Mr. Burns order a subordinate that a package must absolutely be mailed today. A Delegation Relay ensues, ultimately ending at Homer, who promptly runs the package back to Mr. Burns's office, who angrily tells Homer that his name is on the return address.
- Also from The Simpsons:
Marge: (to Homer) Did you close the gate?
[Gate pictured open]
Homer: Oh, you mean tonight. Bart, close the gate!
Bart: Lisa, close the gate!
Lisa: Close the gate, Maggie.
[Maggie, being a baby, just lies there]
- The third episode of Transformers Prime: Optimus leaves Arcee in charge of the team (including the humans) while he and Ratchet leave on a mission. Arcee promptly goes off on patrol with Bumblebee and leaves Bulkhead in charge. Repeat until there are only two kid sidekicks left in the entire base.
Jack:...You're in charge.
Raf: In charge of who?
- Also, when the Decepticons lose control of their space bridge.
Megatron: Starscream! What is happening?
Starcream: Soundwave! What is happening?!
- According to an urban legend in the U.S. military, a promotion test for the rank of sergeant once included this question; "You, the sergeant, have been assigned by the lieutenant above you to erect a 15-foot flagpole at the end of the parade ground. At your command is a squad consisting of ten privates and a corporal. What do you do?" The correct answer, so the story goes, is to order the corporal to erect the flagpole. Variants include: "You, the lieutenant..." and "how to dig a trench" where the correct answer was "Sergeant, dig me a trench."
- Another variant involves summoning the NCO's and officers above some prospective corporals or sergeants, and having the highest ranking one order the prospects to dig a trench five feet wide, ten feet long, and six feet deep. The orders get passed down and become six inches deep. The correct answer is to verify the orders from one's immediate superior, then shut up and execute.
- There's a joke about military officers discussing how much sex with their wives was work and how much was pleasure. The Colonel says it was 75% work, 25% pleasure. The Major said it was 50-50. The Sergeant said it was 25% work, 75% pleasure. The Private says it was 100% pleasure because if there was any work involved, he would have been ordered to do it.
- Truth in Television in hospitals. A doctor might be handed a case he might not want to do, due to it either being disgusting or him being swamped with work. He hands it down to the guy below him on the food chain. Occasionally this can continue until it hits the Interns, who can't hand it off to anyone.
- Also happens in reverse when someone (often a nurse) finds a problem he's not qualified to deal with and tells the lowest-ranking person who is. If that person puts it off too long, the nurse might go up the chain of command until he gets to someone with enough spare time to take care of it. After that, the person who ought to have done it generally gets an earful.