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Section Chief Erin Strauss: None of you will ever move up the chain of command, you know that.

Hotchner: Why would I ever want to leave the BAU?

Despite the fact that you're watching the finest CSI lab/Police Department/Emergency Room/Military Regiment in the country, no one working there can seem to move on, even though they may talk about it frequently. The New Guy whose first day may have coincided with the Pilot of the show is the only one who ever receives any sort of career advancement. There's a good reason for this: the producers don't want to rip apart the cast, but they want to exhibit professional growth in the show.

One reason that The Captain stays in his position so long (the other being that he would never give up his Cool Ship). Never mind that such activities are rather frowned on in real world armed forces, where commissioned officers who cannot or will not be promoted after a certain preset number of years are basically forced to retire.

Note that in police forces, as opposed to military, this tends to be Truth in Television. A low-level police officer has much more authority and responsibility than a military private, and retiring at officer rank is not considered a disgrace.

Contrast Rank Up, when a character does get promoted on show.

Examples of Limited Advancement Opportunities include:

Anime and Manga

  • Avoided in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, where seasons usually end with a Where Are They Now? Epilogue that show the various characters being promoted or switching to the branches they've been striving for, even if it breaks up the entire cast. Isn't really too big an obstacle that a Time Skip and a big enough incident that requires their branches to work together can't fix.
    • Though in the epilogue of StrikerS it is revealed that Nanoha declined a promotion to remain as a Captain and a training officer. Signum, however, despite only being a 2nd Lieutenant in Striker S, catches up to Nanoha in rank by Vi Vid.
  • Followed in Full Metal Panic with Sousuke, who, throughout the entire series, despite being incredibly competent and single-handedly saving the day numerous times, stays a sergeant and receives no promotions. Most likely, however, he actively avoids moving up ranks, and apparently prefers to simply keep a low profile and do his work. Another possibility is that his organization is Genre Savvy enough to know that to promoted him would take him out of situations that only he can resolve. Interestingly, Mao gets promoted to second in command (despite not doing nearly as much as Sousuke).
  • Played straight in a canon chapter of One Piece made to promote the tenth movie: Vice-Admiral Garp refused promotion to Admiral, despite having the strength and renown for such a promotion to be possible, because being an Admiral would give him less freedom to do what he wanted.

Comic Books

  • Captain Haddock, which is lampshaded in Tintin and the Picaros
  • Judge Dredd frequently turns down the Chief Judge's job, as it means taking him off the streets and leaving him with a lot of paperwork.


  • In The a Team, the movie starts out eight years in the past with Face being a lieutenant and Murdock being a captain. Hannibal is referred to as a colonel, but it's not expressed in the beginning of the film whether he's a lieutenant colonel or a full-bird. When the movie moves to the present, they're all still the same rank.


  • The Discworld books covering the Ankh-Morpork City Watch are largely an exception. Several characters get promoted throughout the series, but they often don't want to, and it doesn't change their jobs all that much:
    • Constable Carrot (who was a Lance-Constable while in training, but that's a temporary rank anyway) is promoted directly to Corporal, skipping Lance-Corporal, and then Captain, skipping Sergeant. In a practical sense, he's probably third in command of the city, behind the Patrician and Vimes, and that's by choice; the worst-kept secret in Ankh-Morpork is that Carrot is the descendant of the kings of Ankh-Morpork, but he doesn't want to be king. Still, being an all-around good guy whom everyone knows and likes (because he knows and likes everyone) means he can wield a lot of influence.
    • Carrot's girlfriend friend-with-whom-he-has-an-Understanding Angua becomes a Sergeant; she might have been said to overcome the double glass ceiling of being a werewolf and a woman, if anyone who actually determined promotions were biased that way. Between Unseen Academicals and I Shall Wear Midnight she gets promoted to Captain, previous novels having noted that the expanded Watch needs more than one.
    • Even Cheery Littlebottom (despite disliking shouting at people) is made a Sergeant because she's good at thinking. Detritus the troll (despite, as he puts it, "them two short planks bein' as fick as Detritus") becomes one because he's good at shouting.
    • The (reluctant) king (and he'd refuse the title) of this trope, however, has to be Vimes himself. When first encountered, he's a captain of the three-man Night Watch, who hide from criminals. The next time we see him he plans to retire after getting married. However, intrigued by the notion of a Watch that truly matters, he accepts the rank of Commander--and, though he has to grit his teeth, the knighthood which goes with it. Later, after stopping a war (by arresting the armies involved) and demonstrating his willingness to do his duty no matter the consequences (by arresting the Patrician), he's made Duke of Ankh, rendering him the most powerful nobleman in the city (save Vetinari himself, though he isn't really a descendant of a noble family, as far as we know).
    • The notable exceptions to the exception, Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs, are characters you wouldn't expect to be promoted--Nobby could never rise above Corporal on merit, and there would be little point to demoting him as his behavior would remain unchanged (in his introduction, the narrator notes that every force has a Nobby, and they take care never to be promoted above corporal, since rank comes with responsibilities); while Colon is one of "nature's sergeants"--big, loud, red-faced, and a good trainer. When Colon is reluctantly made Acting-Captain, he screws up completely.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe X-Wing series, Wedge Antilles frequently passes up chances for advancement, preferring the rank of Commander and leading Rogue Squadron to taking a greater role. Eventually, though, he realizes he's being a bit selfish--that he could contribute at a much greater level. Ackbar also notes that for an upcoming campaign, he'll need rank to pull. That, and the fact that some generals are allowed to stay on commanding elite squadrons instead of flying a desk all the time, convinces him. (It's notable he's a general, and one with no small influence over the supreme commander, before he's 30, though.)
    • He also got guilted into it when Ackbar told him that his own pilots were likewise refusing promotions, most of them staying as Flight Officers, in order to follow his example--despite being members of Rogue Squadron, twelve of the finest pilots in the galaxy. In a way, the cast did get ripped apart not long after--suddenly-promoted Colonel Celchu stepped in as head of the Rogues, and Wedge took a post on the Lusankya that hardly allowed him to fly. It got to the point where another character, in an airspeeder driven by Wedge, notes that he seems a lot happier in the air, but had convinced himself that he didn't need to fly. But then, he got sent to Adumar, primarily because of his reputation as an unbeatable pilot. Presumably, since Adumar was an assignment he hadn't wanted and had been given despite intending to take leave, he managed to finagle his way back into flying, since he remained a General but was in command of Rogue Squadron, attached to General Bel Iblis's task force. Later, he flies during the New Jedi Order and, despite retiring, afterward.
    • In The Thrawn Trilogy, Pellaeon was a sixty-year-old captain of an Imperial Star Destroyer. Being unwilling to rule, he just followed the Empire's current leaders and tried to scrape it back together again whenever those leaders inevitably fell, never getting promoted. But as time went on and he outlived those superiors, one of them put him in charge before fleeing into obscurity, and so by the Hand of Thrawn duology he was the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Remnant.
  • Averted hard in Honor Harrington. The books start with the titular character as a Commander taking her second command. As of book 11 she can't get any higher without a coup or becoming First Space Lord. Most associates have advanced many ranks as well, with the exception of Sir Horace Harkness whose promotion was involved getting the Medal of Honor and being so awesome.
    • Harkness has reached the top of the NCO ranks. He can't advance any higher without "going mustang" and becoming an officer, for which he has a towering lower-deck disdain (and which usually is very difficult, though in his case probably not so much). That said, he's been stated several times to hold responsibilities equivalent to a Commander's in the new, org-chart-still-being-written LAC wings he serves in; he's basically a chief engineer. Worth noting that everybody still calls him "Chief", even though that is emphatically not a title that a CWO would normally be entitled to. He gets to keep using it only because he is Sir Horace Harkness. Previously, he had been promoted many times, and busted down in rank just as many times, for his inability to stay out of trouble or to avoid beating up Space Marines.
    • Citizen Rear Admiral Lester Tourville apparently spent a great deal of effort trying to avoid getting promoted any higher, due to the increased political oversight that would bring him.
    • The extension of lifespan brought about by pro-long has meant that several flag-rank officers have been asked to go to reserve status to open up opportunities for juniors. Presumably in the face of a needed naval build-up they are to be called back.
    • The books pay special attention to the trope of officers (especially Captains) refusing promotions that would take them from hands-on command to desk jobs. Simply put, if you tell the Navy you're not up to the next responsibility it offers you... It agrees completely. Enjoy civilian life.
  • In the Harry Potter series, Albus Dumbledore, the most powerful wizard alive and a shining light for the anti-Voldemort movement, is content to spend the rest of his life working as the headmaster of a school. It's mentioned that he's been offered the position of Minister for Magic a number of times, but turns it down even as it continues to go to annoying Obstructive Bureaucrats. In Deathly Hallows, it's revealed that this is because Dumbledore doesn't trust himself with power due to a tragic incident in his youth.
    • He was Chief Warlock of the Witangemot, which appears to be something like a cross between Speaker for Parliament and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, leaning toward the Chief Justice side. But when politics takes that away it doesn't seem to bother him much.

Live-Action TV

  • William Riker on Star Trek the Next Generation waited 16 years to get a promotion. Oh, and said promotion takes place in a deleted scene of a movie. Riker turned down several promotions along the way, as he prefers being first officer on the flagship rather than captain of some unimportant bucket of bolts. Riker at least managed to top off that last promotion refusal by saving the whole Federation from The Virus, which had already destroyed the ship he'd been about to become the captain of and a bunch of others, effectively giving the higher-ups a darn good reason to not force him into retirement.
    • Riker's refusal to be promoted is a frequent plot point however, he gets flak from his father and Picard himself questions him about it. It is also a bit of Fridge Logic in that there is a demonstrated in-universe need for experienced officers to replace those lost in battle or accidents, and alternate timelines and futures show several other-universe Rikers have reached the rank of Captain.
      • In "The Best of Both Worlds", Commander Shelby outright states that she wants Riker's position and suggests that Riker is holding up the careers of other qualified officers by refusing to move up, since First Officer is a necessary springboard to receiving a command (the hole in her logic is evident, as one need not be a full commander to be a first officer; and then the 2009 Star Trek film had Kirk going from Cadet to Captain all in one go). Shelby also states that, after the fleet is built up again, Riker will doubtless have his choice of commands (since he just got done, you know, saving the Earth). It inexplicably never happens.
      • It is even worse, in "Best of Both Worlds" Riker was promoted Captain. Count the pips on his collar, he's got four. Then in "Family", he's back to Commander again. The only explanation is that he's somehow engineered a demotion for himself. Maybe he got Troi to say he was psychologically incapable of command or something. It'd explain why it took so long for him to get back to captain again.
    • Jean-Luc Picard, as well. He spent 22 years as commander of the Stargazer, followed by 7 years on the Enterprise-D, with 9 years in between. One can see how the production staff would be unwilling to promote characters past their beloved Captain. Picard did however take over the Stargazer at the rank of Lieutenant Commander. It being a smaller ship he may have been able to command it at a lower rank, getting promoted to Commander and later Captain during those long years. It's also clear that when he lost his ship the resulting inquiry took more than a few years to clear him of wrongdoing.
    • Ditto for Data, who remained a Lieutenant Commander during the whole run of the series and the spin-off movies. Arguably, Data's career stalled out because he's an android, and the brass are unsure how he'd perform in a command role. Indeed, the few times he does, he does some pretty unorthodox things. In all seriousness, though, it's implied (sometimes even more than implied) that there's an element of racism involved in Data's current rank. It was said prior to his posting on the Enterprise he spent years on a starbase being treated as a computer. This is most blatantly seen in the second half of the "Redemption" 2-parter where A) Data had to directly confront Picard in a rare display of ambition/pride in order to get a temporary command and B) Upon receiving said command, encountered severe resistance on the part of his temporary XO, well beyond the point of insubordination into outright insolence. Thankfully, it would appear that Data learned from that experience and, upon temporarily commanding the Enterprise a few seasons later, tore his temporary First Officer (Worf in this case) a new one for similar actions. For a being with no emotions, he sure knows how to deliver an ass-chewing when it's justified.
    • In the prequel comic to the 11th movie, Picard has become Ambassador to Romulus, Riker commands the Titan, and Data is now captain of the Enterprise itself. It means that Data's gotten further ahead than Riker, as he's now captain of the flagship.
    • Exceptions: Geordi La Forge (promoted from Lieutenant Junior Grade through full Lieutenant to Lieutenant Commander fairly quickly; a future episode of Voyager shows him as a captain), Deanna Troi (eventually promoted from Lieutenant Commander to Commander in the TNG episode "Thine Own Self") and Worf (started as a junior grade lieutenant and eventually promoted to Lieutenant Commander in the movie Star Trek Generations, where his career apparently stalled on Deep Space Nine thanks to his own misjudgments).
    • Wil Wheaton has previously detailed how, during contract negotiations, he was offered a promotion for his character. He turned it down.
  • The producers of Star Trek Deep Space Nine had the foresight to introduce Sisko as a Commander, just so he could have a dramatic promotion to Captain later on. Kira Nerys also had a promotion in-series, from Major to Colonel. In her case it was a promotion in the Bajoran militia, rather than Starfleet. Kira was also temporarily given the rank of Commander in Starfleet, when she was sent to Cardassia as part of a covert team and assist the Cardassian underground against the Dominion.
    • Miles O'Brien is brilliant as an engineer, and a hero many times over--and yet we never see him offered a promotion to Master CPO, let alone officer, even when he takes a teaching position at the Academy. This is especially noticeable because he would hardly be promoted away from the setting, the rest of the main characters being officers; rather, his role as the designated NCO and "working man" had to be maintained. But still...no Master to tack onto that Chief? If nothing else, the characters' addressing of him would have become hilarious in later years once Halo was released. Senior Chief O'Brien is an especially weird case in that the TNG episode The Enemy established that he was once the tactical officer aboard the Starship Rutledge, is frequently seen in Deep Space Nine's wardroom, and stated that he would have assumed command of the Defiant if Worf had been killed in Deep Space Nine: Rules of Engagement.
    • Nog wins for the most number of on-screen ranks with 6, from Cadet all the way to Captain in an episode detailing a possible future.
  • In Star Trek Voyager, Janeway only became an Admiral after returning to Earth (even though it was most likely the safest way of observing her and stopping her from screwing with the timeline and threatening everything that ever existed. Again.)
    • Justified Trope though, since Voyager was stuck on the other side of the galaxy with no outside hierarchy to either hand down promotions or move high-ranking ships officers off into. They also provided both exceptions and further justifications: Tuvok becoming Lieutenant Commander might be said to be overdue, while Chakotay retained his rank through the whole of the series likely because it was an acting rank due to his being Maquis (also, Janeway was only one rank higher than him, and wouldn't be authorized to promote him to Captain, even if she had wanted to). Still, it did seem pretty harsh on Ensign Kim who would probably have otherwise been on the fast-track to command positions but got stuck on the one crappy ship that was isolated from Starfleet. Not even a Junior Grade? If only they'd done something with this fascinating character dynamic...
    • This issue was addressed in the episode "Nightingale", where Harry got to be acting captain for an alien ship. Of course, being Harry Kim, he must suffer, so...
    • Also averted in the case of Tom Paris, who bounced up and down from "observer" to full Lieutenant and pretty much everywhere in between.
  • Star Trek Enterprise takes the cake. In the (not so) Distant Finale (which was actually a holodeck simulation), we see that everyone has remained at the same rank. The crew of humanity's first ever Warp-5 ship, that basically opened up the rest of the galaxy for Earth, saved the planet numerous times, made a ton of allies, and intimidated both the Vulcans and Klingons, and NO ONE has gotten a single promotion. The only mention we get is that Archer has been ear-marked for Admiral.
  • Surprisingly, this trope was Averted Trope in the continuity of Star Trek the Original Series, including the animated series and the movies:
    • Kirk is promoted from Captain to Rear Admiral for the first movie, and though he's demoted, he is promoted again in time for Star Trek Generations.
    • Spock begins in the original pilot "The Cage" as a mere Lieutenant, is a Lieutenant Commander and First Officer in the first season, becomes a full Commander by the second season, and has reached the rank of Captain by The Wrath of Khan.
    • Bones goes from Lieutenant Commander to full Commander in the movies, and by the time of his cameo in the TNG pilot, is an Admiral.
    • Scotty starts out a Lieutenant Commander, is promoted to full Commander in TAS, and becomes a Captain with much fanfare in Star Trek III the Search For Spock.
    • Sulu starts off a Lieutenant, but is Captain (with his own ship, unlike Bones and Scotty) for The Undiscovered Country.
    • Chekov has the largest (and fastest) chain of promotions, starting off in the second season as an Ensign and making it to full Commander in time for The Wrath of Khan.
    • Uhura goes from Lieutenant to Commander in the same timeframe.
    • Nurse Chapel's initial rank is never revealed, but she's a full Lieutenant in TAS and a full Commander by The Voyage Home. Plus she goes from a nurse on TOS to an M.D. (much to McCoy's annoyance) in TMP.
    • Even Yeoman Rand, an enlisted crewman, eventually becomes an officer. Due to several costuming and scripting errors, it's unclear how high she rises in the ranks, but let's be generous and make her Lieutenant Commander and First Officer, as depicted in the Voyager episode "Flashback".
    • Subverting this particular trope with the TOS crew created another sort of problem. By Star Trek V The Enterprise had three crew members--Kirk, Spock, and Scotty--who held the rank of captain. It was also non-canonicly suggested that Mr. Sulu had been granted command of the Starship Excelsior by this time, but retained his commander rank until he actually transferred to the vessel; making him an unofficial fourth captain.
  • This has been (partially) avoided on Stargate SG-1, in that Captain Samantha Carter was promoted first to a Major, then to Lieutenant Colonel -- though throughout these promotions, she stayed with the same team. In an attempt to decrease Richard Dean Anderson's screen time (he's slowly retiring), his character was promoted to Brigadier General for season 8 and he started running Stargate Command rather than going on missions. In seasons 9 and 10 he heads up Homeworld Security in Washington as a Major General, which leaves him to appear once or twice a season as a guest star.
    • In fact, only two regular cast members have not been promoted: Daniel Jackson a (civilian) and Teal'c. Daniel did get that whole ascension thing going, though, and Teal'c's "promotions" may be the permission to intermingle with human society. Neither, though, is part of the normal US Military structure (formally, at least), so they're not in any position to get promotions.
      • Teal'c is a leader of the Free Jaffa Nations, which makes him like some sort of Senator. Before joining SG-1, he was First Prime of Apophis, which is the highest rank a Jaffa could achieve before that. Also, given that Jackson is more of an Academic than a soldier, it could be said that he considers the chance to study alien cultures and unlocking the secrets of the Neglectful Precursors quite the promotion track from where we first saw him (that is to say, recently homeless.)
  • Also slightly avoided in Stargate Atlantis where Dr. Weir had Major Sheppard promoted to Lieutenant Colonel just so he could keep his current position as military leader of Atlantis.
    • Since Carter appeared in Atlantis in season 4, she was revealed to have been given her "full eagle", or been promoted to full colonel.
  • In Stargate Universe, O'Neill is now a Lieutenant General (three stars).
  • Exception: In the 2000s Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, many characters have changed ranks and roles throughout the series:
    • After the Battlestar Pegasus arrives in the fleet and Admiral Cain is assassinated, Commander Adama finds himself in command of both ships and the President promotes him to Admiral to match the responsibility.
    • Apollo, originally CAG aboard the Galactica, finds himself promoted to the rank of major and assigned as Pegasus' XO, and later becomes its commander outright. After Pegasus is destroyed he goes back to being Galactica's CAG, but retains the rank of major.
      • After he retires from military service to enter public life, when the President was apparently Preznapped, he became president of the Twelve Colonies. It provided an eerie callback to Baltar's claim in season 3 that no one would ever be in charge of the fleet "whose last name wasn't Adama". This was amusingly lampshaded near the end of the series, with Lee trying to maintain some authority in both military and political roles, to which Zarek says that he's finding it difficult these days to remember just what Lee's job is.
    • Starbuck is promoted from lieutenant to captain and becomes Galactica's CAG when Apollo is reassigned, and retains her rank when Apollo returns to the ship.
    • "Dee" Dualla goes all the way from Petty Officer 2nd Class to lieutenant, mostly on account of her marrying Apollo.
    • Helo, originally a Raptor pilot and lieutenant, is promoted to captain and becomes the ship's Second Officer (and, at times, acting XO).
    • Inverted when, after three and a half seasons as Deck Chief, Tyrol is demoted to Crewman Specialist after daring Adama to do it. His rank got better.
  • Avoided in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Though the cast has remained more or less constant, their relative rank and internal structure have been adjusted, including Brass's handing over the department to Grissom (and going back to being a detective), the race between Warrick and Nick to achieve CSI 3, and Ecklie's breakup of the team into two different shifts, which prompted the promotion of Catherine Willows to supervisor, and made room in the ranks for Greg to go from lab tech to field agent.
    • A particularly nice touch was Grissom making sure that Greg really does want to make the lateral (and downward!) jump from Senior Lab Tech to extremely junior Field Investigator, reminding him that he'll be taking a substantial pay cut and that it will take quite a while to get back to his present level.
    • More recently, Catherine taking over Grissom's job, and Nick becoming her second-in-command. And yet, it's the junior CSI receiving top billing.
    • And now, with the emergence of Ted Danson's character, CSI Supervisor DB Russell, Catherine (and presumably Nick, too) has been demoted. Of course, this is due to Marg Helgenburger wishing to leave the show during the current (2001/12) season.
  • The titular characters of The Rookies stayed wet-behind-the-ears new kids on the beat for the entire four-year run of that series.
  • In CSI: NY, the only career change in the entire show was Sheldon Hawkes' transfer from coroner to field agent which is frankly ridiculous. The two jobs require very different skill sets and training. It's akin to saying "He's an excellent neurosurgeon, so let's make him the CEO of the hospital." The producers of the show admitted that they only made Hawkes a field agent due to his unexpected popularity.
    • Then was Grissom lying on the orginal CSI when he offered Ray Langston the open CSI Level 1 slot, saying that as a medical doctor he was totally qualified for the position?
    • At the end of the 2010/11 season, Danny Messer took and passed the Seargeant's exam. In the beginning of the current (2011/12) season, Danny had obviously decided to take the position, leave the lab and become Seargeant Messer. However, after an incident in which one of his subordinates shot an unarmed man and blamed her actions on Danny, he decided to go back to being Detective Messer and rejoin the lab.
  • Justified in Criminal Minds: As the page quote indicates, this is due to deliberate interference by the tyranical new boss as revenge.
    • In season five, though, Morgan replaces Hotch as team leader. However, this is temporary and ends as soon as he decides to come back to BAU.
  • Long-running soaps can avoid this by following the progression of the characters as they grow. Home and Away's Sally Fletcher appeared in the show's pilot as a nine-year old schoolgirl; by the time she left twenty years and four thousand, six hundred and nine episodes later she was the school's principal.
  • NCIS attempted to avoid it by having Gibbs retire and promote Tony to lead. However, fan outcry brought Gibbs back, demoting Tony although he still got something of a promotion being the Director's personal agent handling covert operations stateside.
    • In another episode, Tony is offered his own team away from Gibbs and the others, but denies the opportunity out of concern for Gibbs, who had just come out of yet another coma.
    • McGee starts as a Probationary Agent and it is a big dealt for him to get promoted to full agent (although Tony still calls him 'probie' for a while). Timothy McGee has been promoted twice after that, first to senior field agent after Gibbs left and Tony became supervisor. The other was when Vance took over and made him head of cyber-crime. However he willingly to a demotion back to junior agent when he had the chance to.
    • When Ziva leaves Mosad and applied to join NCIS she has to go through the application process and then starts out as a probationary agent even thought she has been part of the team for years. The fact that she is not a US citizen complicates things even more.
      • NCIS Directors Shephard and Vance both started out as field agents and were at one point equal or junior in rank to Gibbs.
      • Gibbs could have been director but hates the paperwork and politics involved[1]. He regularly becomes acting-director when the regular director is away for an extended time or incapacitated.
  • Averted in Scrubs, where all of the main characters have advanced and been promoted consistently throughout, except where certain characters are happy with their positions or are already at the top.
    • It's played with concerning Doug, who's so bad at being a Doctor he has to repeat his residency. Eventually he's employed in the morgue, where the worst he can do is misplace some bodies.
      • He is transferred due to his exceptional ability at figuring out how the person died. Ostensibly because he killed so many people as an intern.
  • In the eleven-season course of MASH, only Mulchahy and Klinger get promoted, despite having an episode where Hawkeye, B.J., and Charles serve as the promotion board. Mulcahy actually spends an(other) episode lamenting the lack of advancement opportunity. This is largely Truth in Television. Klinger makes Sergeant at some point, which is as high as he can expect to go, since outside of very unusual circumstances, non-commissioned officers are rarely promoted to commissioned officers. Not to mention that the main characters are almost all draftees, who wouldn't expect to be promoted to high rank only to lose it in a year's time.
    • This was justified in an episode where the staff learn of a new MASH unit being prepared and they are afraid that they would be split up, even if that presumably could come with promotions for the gang. When the evaluator for the staff finally learns of this concern, he makes clear that the 4077th staff is considered too valuable in its current composition to break up.
    • They did an episode where Hawkeye and B.J. got Radar promoted as a joke/gift; in the end, Radar begged them to get him busted back down.
    • In "Fade Out, Fade In", Hawkeye learns that Frank Burns was actually promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and assigned to a stateside VA hospital after his departure from the 4077th.
    • In another episode, a general who happens to be an old acquaintance of Margaret tells her he wants to take her to work for him in Hawaii. The transfer would come with a promotion to lieutenant colonel. She refuses on the basis that the transfer and promotion are rewards for granting the general sexual favors. This appears to be a form of character derailment/development. In earlier seasons, Margaret wouldn't have cared and probably wouldn't have noticed the quid pro quo sexual harassment issue. She would have taken the promotion and would have argued that she deserved it.
  • Mostly averted with JAG - almost everyone gets promoted at least once.
    • Harmon Rabb starts the series as a Lieutenant, is promoted to Lieutenant Commander midway through Season One, becomes a Commander in Season Five, and finally reaches Captain in the second-to-last episode of the series.
    • Sarah Mackenzie starts the series as a Major and is promoted to Lieutenant Colonel by the fifth year.
    • Bud Roberts starts off as an Ensign, is promoted to Lieutenant JG (and the opening credits) when he joins JAG in the second year, reaches Lieutenant in the fourth season, and is promoted to Lieutenant Commander in Season Nine.
    • Harriet Sims' career path follows Bud's pretty well, going from Ensign to Lieutenant JG by Season Four to full Lieutenant at the end of Season Six.
    • Even recurring characters such as Thomas Boone (first Commander Air Group- or CAG- aboard aircraft carrier Seahawk, then a Rear Admiral) and Caitlin Pike (first Lt. JG, later a full Commander) get a promotion or three, albeit offscreen. Episode 200, in addition to promoting Petty Officer Jennifer Coates to Petty Officer 1st Class, even showed a what-if scenario where Cmdr. Alison Krennick, unseen since the first year outside of a flashback to a Lost Episode, was Rear Admiral and heading JAG.
    • One example of Truth in Television in relation to promotions comes with the final season - upon Adm. Chegwidden's retirement, a new character, Col. Gordon Cresswell, is promoted to Maj. Gen. to fill his position as JAG. A variation comes earlier when the first Secretary of the Navy is forced to resign and a new one is appointed to fill his position.
    • Several characters went without promotions however, but these were either due to seniority (Chegwidden), being late additions to the series (Turner), being unpopular with their coworkers (Cmdr. Lindsey, Lt. Singer), or being murdered (Lt. Singer, by Cmdr. Lindsey).
      • One episode has Cmdr. Lindsey up for promotion but Adm. Chegwidden will not recommend him to the promotion board despite Lindsey being a favourite of the old Secretary of the Navy.
  • Major Dad had in its final season made the 'Up or Out' system an important plot point. The Major was up for promotion the second time. There is no third time. Lieutenant Colonel Dad doesn't have the same ring to it.
  • When Jerry Espenson found out that there was no chance of him ever being promoted to Partner he snapped and tried to kill Shirley. A few seasons later he does get promoted.
  • This is technically justified in the case of Gregory House, as he IS a genius doctor, but also batshit insane, and no one besides Cuddy would hire him. As well, his position as "Chief of Diagnostics" means he's as high up in that hospital as he can get, "answering" directly to Cuddy.
    • Until he drives his car into her living room.
  • Rimmer from Red Dwarf prior to the titular ship's crew being wiped out, holds the rank of Second Technician after fifteen years in the Space Corps. Rimmer is outranked by the ship's service droids and "the man who changed the bog rolls." and every attempt to get a promotion ends in abject failure. Lister, on the other hand, despite being the only person that Rimmer has any authority over, has no interest in being promoted whatsoever. He did toy with the idea of earning a promotion to Ship's Cook once, just so he could technically outrank Rimmer. (yes, even the cook could order Rimmer around).
  • Blue Bloods avoids this trope by having most of the characters start out as high up the promotion ladder as they can reasonably get.
    • Frank is already the police commissioner and the next step in advancement would be for him to run for mayor
    • Henry retired as police commissioner
    • Danny is too much of a Cowboy Cop to ever get higher than his current position as a Major Case detective
    • Erin is an assistant district attorney prosecuting major cases and working closely with the District Attorney.
    • Jamie is just a rookie cop but given his intelligence, drive and of course family connections he could be police commissioner himself one day.
  • Donald Cragen of Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU has been a Captain in the NYPD for almost a quarter of a century.
    • His replacement on the original series, Anita Van Buren, never rose above the rank of Lieutenant in her seventeen-year tenure, which actually becomes a plot point: she had applied to become a Captain but, despite having seniority, was passed over for a white woman. She then sued the NYPD, which unsurprisingly has limited her prospects.
  • On Law and Order: Criminal Intent despite being 50, having spent two decades on the force and being one of the most brilliant officers at one PP, Robert Goren is still only a Junior Detective. This was lampshaded by a Corrupt Bureaucrat that was in cahoots with a Corrupt Corporate Executive, she said that because of his instability he would never be promoted to senior partner and that Eames would never make captain because of him.
    • Eames is actually offered the position of captain but ends up declining partly because it was a bribe and partly because Goren left the police force.
  • Averted in The Wire. Throughout the series, several people are promoted, sometimes more than once, including policemen, politicians, and street hustlers.
  • The Office (US) has few opportunities for promotion. They try to subvert it a few times but most of the time it does not stick. Micheal will not get promoted past branch manager and while he has that job nobody else is really moving up. Most of the other people have specialized individual positions with only Micheal above them.
    • Pam gets a promotion by essentially creating the position of office administrator herself and then bullying and conning everyone else into accepting this.
    • When Ryan and Jim manage to get promotions, it does not stick for long
    • When Michael leves the company for good, the new manager is brought in from the head office. When that fails Dwight is given a shot at the job but also fails spectacularly. A wider search is conducted and Dwight, Andy and Darryl compete for the position against outsiders. Andy is promoted
    • This is completely inverted with Robert California. He is about to be hired as the new branch manager but to everyone's suprise manages to talk his way into becoming the new CEO of the whole company.
  • Suits plays with this. In the pilot Harvey is promoted to Senior Partner which highlights his rapid rise through the firm's ranks. At the same time Louis is still stuck as Junior Partner which is a major source of frustration for him. Mike could rise rapidly in the company due to his talents but if he screws up he could be stuck as a Junior Associate forever.
  • Justified on The X-Files, especially with Mulder. Though he was advancing quickly up the VC's career ladder, once he became involved with the X-Files he was shut away in the basement just to get him out of everyone's hair. And since he runs that department, there isn't really anywhere up he can go. Not to mention he doesn't really give a damn whether he even keeps the job, let alone gets promoted. However, he does often lament that Scully's involvement with him on the X-Files essentially kills any opportunity she has for advancement, since it will be seen as a dark mark on her record. However, Scully never seems to express any desire to climb the ranks and eventually becomes just as invested in the X-Files as Mulder.


Real Life

  • The US Military's "Up or out" policy is designed to avert this, though this wasn't always the case. In the past, promotions were less focused on forcing officers to progress their careers upward. A good example is Eisenhower who spent 16 years as a major before being promoted to lieutenant colonel. In practice this means forcing a good portion of personnel to retire as options are fewer the higher one goes. Below certain levels one is not even allowed to reach the 20 year mark to qualify for retirement benefits.
    • In the past, between major military actions, the US military reverted to a skeleton force (essentially a planning and training cadre), designed to be pumped up again with draftees in case of war. Eisenhower and the other WWII generals held low "permanent" ranks in the Regular Army, and "theater rank" in the provisional Army of the United States. With the large and all-volunteer post-Vietnam military, things have changed a great deal.
  • As is the Royal Navy's Captain's List. You either got promoted to Rear Admiral after nine years or retire.
  • Similar to the military "up or out" policy mentioned above, the UK Metropolitan Police had a policy for most of the 20th century called 'tenure' which was designed to avert this. It pretty much amounted to forcing plain clothes detectives who hadn't significantly improved their careers within a certain period (i.e., somebody who had been a Detective Sergeant for a decade or more without having advanced up to Inspector) to have to go back into uniform. The purpose of this was that it was supposed to stop them getting complacent, as well as allowing others within the department the opportunity to advance rank in their wake. It often had the opposite effect though, as many detectives were said to have chosen to resign rather than face the "indignity" of being put back into uniform. Scotland Yard officially abandoned the tenure scheme in the early 21st century.

Video Games

  • In the Crusader games, after slaughtering hundreds of enemy soldiers, destroying dozens of enemy mechs, demolishing more than half a dozen WEC installations and stockpiles, saving the Earthbound Resistance, assassinating a member of the WEC's board of directors, and capturing the goddamned Moon... the Silencer is still a Captain. This may be justified given that his Captain rank was given by the WEC before he defected to the rebels, who really don't care as much about rank.
    • On the other hand, Sergeant Brooks from the first game is promoted to Lieutenant, according to an email the Silencer receives between games.
  • Granted, he's at the top of the NCO rank ladder, but someone should probably have thought to give Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 a commission before they sent him off to save the world for the fourth freakin' time. Yet, as an officer, it would be Master Chief's (or rather, Ensign's) job to send and lead other people in saving the world, rather than doing so himself so there may be gameplay reasons for this. This may also be a reflection of real life Master Chiefs essentially being the "gods" of the real life Navy. Master Chiefs cannot be "promoted," make way more money than low-level officers, and basically run the ship the way they want since their careers no longer hinge on "making nice" with the officers.
  • Maniac. The one time he makes it past Major, at the end of Wing Commander IV (more in the novelization than the game), off-screen he gets busted down again. Possibly justified on the basis of him being a complete idiot (indeed, this is Lampshaded in IV when it's pointed out just how catastrophic giving him a squadron command would be), but why he hasn't been retired -- or court martialed -- long ago remains a mystery.
    • Even better, in Prophecy, he does get a squadron command, and promptly gives it up as too much responsibility.
    • Though Maniac's career stalls at Major, that's not too bad considering he started out at 2nd Lieutenant in the first game. Blair himself also begins at the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and ends off as a Commodore (equivalent to the rank of Brigadier General). Angel starts off at Captain and is a Colonel by Wing Commander III - only two promotions in many years for a decorated war hero could be an example of this trope. Paladin starts off as Major and becomes a General before leaving the service entirely and getting a high-ranking position in the Senate. Tolwyn, a Vice Admiral in the second game, manages to get himself promoted to Space Marshal in Wing Commander IV.
    • The answer to the Maniac mystery is that he was supposed to be just that damned good that an army in the midst of a genocidal war that Confed was losing for much of the time couldn't afford to get rid of him.
  • In Ghostbusters the Video Game, Winston Zeddemore, once just the working stiff latecomer to the business, had gone back to school to earn a Doctorate and so is now, "Dr. Zeddemore."
  • Adachi, of Persona 4. This is the reason why he snapped. Apparently he made a 'mistake' that got him sent to Inaba as an informal punishment. Also the characters call him out on the fact that he killed two people because he snapped over not getting promoted. If this was true, frustrated office workers would be killing everyone left and right.


  • In Schlock Mercenary, most characters have undergone several promotions, but Schlock was promoted rapidly to corporal and then sergeant early on, and then stopped there, because no one wants him to be an officer, especially Schlock himself. He has deliberately stayed a Sergeant even in periods where he technically owned the company and could dictate his own terms. Compare Breya, who made herself an Admiral in the same position. The closest he ever got to wanting to progress was being disappointed by the fact that only officers get "epaulet grenades".
    • Subverted by Warrant Officer Thurl. Thurl is the oldest member of Tagon's Toughs, and the only reason paychecks go out and supplies come in when they're supposed to. He is very happy as an NCO, and has threatened to resign the minute anyone offers him a commission.
  1. Jenny admits he would deal with politicians in more efficient ways than her, by just shooting them.
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