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"When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it—always."
Mahatma Gandhi

The Big Bad has just finished consolidating his power or conquering nations, or maybe he's had a few decades to construct a Dystopia, and all seems to be going well for him. The plucky heroes are trying to bring him down, but he's on a roll, and no one's going to stop him now... except maybe himself.

Suddenly his subjects seem a bit less cowed by his killing and imprisoning their loved ones, and his every effort to bring them in line just make things worse. One or two of his plans don't quite go off as expected, thanks to infighting between his lieutenants. And maybe his paranoia is getting the better of him, and he's starting to let slip the civil facade that keeps him from being a Complete Monster.

At the end of the day, the villain's downfall comes not just from the efforts of the protagonists, but also from the very nature of their twisted, amoral way of life. Without that specifically being addressed, this would just be Justice Will Prevail.

This trope is rather rare, only appearing in odd mixes of realism-meets-idealism. On the one hand, it may seem naive to imply that a system won't work just because it's morally offensive. On the other hand, there is no perfect Evil Empire in history like the ones we often see portrayed in fiction, because simply put, nothing is perfect. Just as a Stepford Suburbia rubs us the wrong way in their eerie sense of too-perfect "goodness," a completely devoted following of faceless foot soldiers in a well oiled machine of empiricism ruled by a tyrant with complete control over his subjects smacks a bit of fairy-tale "evil."

Ultimately, this is a trope in a story that reminds us that battles aren't always won by the genius of the victorious general, but also the mistakes of the defeated one. Note that this doesn't have to be about a large group of evil: it could just as easily be an individual. Whether it's an excess of Greed or Pride that does the villain in, or the simple fact that victims of oppression will eventually rebel, Evil as a lifestyle or system cannot endure.

Super-Trope of Villain Ball, No Honor Among Thieves, Dystopia Is Hard, and Enemy Civil War. A more specific version is Hoist by His Own Petard.

Inversion of No Delays for the Wicked. Aversions can be examples of Evil Virtues or Pragmatic Villainy.

Examples of Evil Will Fail include:


Comic Books

  • Thanos, Marvel Comics' resident Omnicidal Maniac, is so smart and powerful that he has been outright stated as being capable of losing only because he knows, deep inside, that he doesn't deserve the power he seeks, thus unconsciously sabotaging his own plans, giving the heroes openings to strike at him, etc.
  • Similarly, Doctor Doom is motivated by an intense egomania that drives him to attempt to conquer the world and kill that blasted Reed Richards, but that very egomania prevents him from recognising his own mistakes and frequently leads to his own defeat.
  • Norman Osborn essentially became the most powerful man on earth for two years in Dark Reign. Unfortunately for him, his mental instability and arrogance eventually lead to his downfall more than any single hero ever could. And everyone except him knew it was going to happen.

Film

  • In The Prestige, stage magician Angier's steady descent into his revenge-fueled obsession ultimately culminates in betrayal by his engineer and closest friend, who no longer agrees with his methods and goals.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, including books and video games, too much infighting among the Sith led to the Rule of Two, which restricts the existence of the Sith to only just two at a time: the Master and the Apprentice, who eventually tries to usurp the Master by killing them and taking their place, only to take on an Apprentice they know will one day try and kill them. If they weren't so evil that they couldn't coexist peacefully, they could easily grow in numbers and become virtually unstoppable.
    • The "doomed to fail" rule of the Sith has been averted twice- the Old Sith Empire, and it's successor set up in the Unknown Regions. Both had plenty of infighting as well but both lasted more than a millenium, and functioned relatively well, though that said they were usually not quite as evil as the ones that fell apart. Aside from them, Bane's Sith Order managed to last 1,000 years in secrecy and was still around for a while after the death of Palpatine, if as a shadow of its former self. The other orders lasted long enough to do significant damage to the galaxy at large in each of their turns.
      • The Revenge of the Sith Novelization, which is rather more thoughtful than the film, explicitly states at one point that the Jedi Order has been keeping itself in condition and passing on ways to defeat a Sith threat which is like that of the Old Sith Empire. Meanwhile the tiny 'true' Sith order has always been either undetected or underestimated, and in the end Yoda comes to believe that the entire time they've been evolving to attack and take down the much larger Jedi Order. That's been their tight focus. The Galactic Empire that the Sith came to command was not itself Sith, mostly, but Palpatine's mishandling of his people was a big part in how the Rebel Alliance was able to form.
  • In The Lion King its shown that, even if Simba hadn't shown up and pulled a Rightful King Returns, Scar's rule over the lion pride would have collapsed anyway since he'd driven the pridelands to the point of ecological ruin. Either the lions would have turned against him and left, or they would have all died along with him when the food and water ran out.

Literature

  • A Song of Ice and Fire includes a large plethora of varied shades of "evil," but whenever one of the really bad ones take power, various things go to hell in a handbasket as a result of their generally callous and power hungry worldviews. Just one example of many, Cersei can't stop the downward spiral of her city because she cares more about appointing people to positions of power who are loyal to her (and only her) than ones effective at doing their jobs.
  • Averted and Lampshaded in Dungeons and Dragons. The Drow culture is made of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder because their goddess wants them that way. But even the bloodthirsty goddess of chaos has enough sense to limit or eliminate the most dangerous individuals, because she knows a truly chaotic society would collapse upon itself.
  • In The Stand, Randall Flagg's half of civilization begins to deteriorate when the presence of so many volatile personalities mix in one society, fear stops being as effective for control, and every minor failure makes the Big Bad himself go into fits of rage and lose his focus, causing errors in judgement.
  • The Sword of Truth series includes an empire that is completely oppressive to individuality and self-interest. As a result, when a high ranking member falls in love and is confronted with the dissonance of what he feels and what he believes, he commits suicide.
  • The Lord of the Rings has a quote by Gandalf: "Oft evil will shall evil mar."
  • Invoked by Chronicles of the Necromancer. Jared is a rotten ruler, with a Zero-Percent Approval Rating - refugees are pouring out from his country, and one by one he's pissing off all of his neighboring rulers. Which means Martris has no trouble finding supporters to help him seize the throne.
  • Nineteen Eighty Four is a notable inversion of this trope: the evil Big Brother governments of the world have things so completely under control and so tightly locked into their plans, that the book ends with the "resistance" depicted as a myth and the protagonist of the story successfully brainwashed into obedience.
  • The gang in Valley of Fear is inherently unsustainable because their extortionist practices drive out the smaller businessmen, who are being steadily replaced by big magnates who will not be so easily cowed. Too bad they think The Complainer Is Always Wrong.
  • The Thrawn Trilogy in the Star Wars Expanded Universe" employs this to great effect. Thrawn's not an outright horrible person, but it's a series of unethical actions - double-crossing Mara, deceiving the Noghri, trying to manipulate the smugglers - that lead to his downfall due to changed allegiances.
  • The three villainous protagonists in The Canterbury Tales' "The Pardoner's Tale" end up killing each other due to their greed.

Live Action TV

  • In The Wire season 1, the nature of "The Game" of drug dealing has everyone looking out for themselves, to the point where innocent bystanders or even friends who might pose a risk have to be dealt with. It's this repeated brutality that ends up winning allies for the investigation team again and again from players who want out after someone they care about gets hurt.
  • In Power Rangers in Space, evil would actually have won if not for the fact that villains don't exactly get along very well; the Bigger Bad was only defeated because The Starscream couldn't hold back his urge to backstab at the literally worst possible moment.

Video Games

  • Fallout has brought this up a number of times, namely when talking about Raiders.

Real Life

  When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always.

  • If any real life organization would count, it's Nazi Germany. They wasted resources on the Final Solution rather than on the fight with their enemies. Hitler promoted infighting on the grounds that it would keep factions too weak to usurp him. We could go on.
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