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"--We should do something!

--Should we do something?

--We should do something!

--Should we do something?"

This is a powerful organization that could have a strong impact on the plot. Unfortunately, its members are too busy arguing to do anything.

If the heroes take orders from them, their lack of a united front may prevent the protagonists from taking action. Even if there is a Reasonable Authority Figure among them, their voice rarely rises above all the bickering. The most interesting thing its members ever do will be using their fists in the debate.

Sometimes, this is a result of The Mole or Les Collaborateurs actively trying to prevent the organization from taking action. In other situations, the problem is internal: faced with insurmountable odds, the group has given up, or simply decided the issue is Somebody Else's Problem. Certainly, there is no Leader.

The group can range from an Absurdly Powerful Student Council that cannot agree what to do with a problematic bully to a version of The Alliance where every member country, from The Kingdom to The Republic, has a very different idea how deal with The Empire's war on The Federation.

See We ARE Struggling Together! and Divided We Fall, and Jurisdiction Friction if it's not one organization but several who are having trouble reconciling their differences. Compare Orcus on His Throne and Achilles in His Tent for individual cases of people who could strongly affect the plot but do nothing for various reasons. Also compare A House Divided, Hufflepuff House, All Powerful Bystander.

Contrast Omniscient Council of Vagueness, which is rarely seen doing anything but seems to have strong -- if mysterious -- impact on the plot. In the end, don't expect them to move their pieces in the Divine Chessboard at all, leaving themselves open to a checkmate by the villain's agents.

Please avoid real life examples.

Examples of Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering include:


Comics

  • The page quote shows the role of Monitors from Countdown to Final Crisis, who spend almost entire series arguing if they should do something or not. It's worth noting that later in the series the main characters have to decide if they should kill Karate Kid, annihilating his disease before it will kill him and turn into a pandemic, or look for other way to deal with it. Instead of doing something, they spend the entire time bickering at each other, until it's too late.
  • In the origin of Superboy-Prime, the Kryptonians all agreed that Krypton was going to explode but couldn't decide what to do about it.
  • In Strange Adventures, the Weird has the powers of a god, and is using them to destroy the universe. Inside his head are echoes of six beings he has merged with. Together, they could stop him. Unfortunately, three of them think he should use the power for good, and three of them think he should abandon it. So they do nothing. Eventually one of them is convinced to change his mind.
  • The Moff Council in Star Wars Legacy.
    • Star Wars also has the Jedi Council, especially the one under Kenth Hamner, when they have to decide whether or not to let the government have its way with the mad Jedi and at Tahiri’s trial.
  • The "Illuminati" in Marvel (a secret group comprised of some of the most powerful heroes in the world), was formed so that they could pool their knowledge and head off major threats before they got worse. Black Panther and Namor, who were present for their first meeting, did not join because they saw this trope coming -- and they were right. For the record, the actual Illuminati were Professor X, Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Black Bolt of the Inhumans and Doctor Strange.
  • Also in Marvel, the "Council of Godheads", consisting of the leaders of all of Earth's mythological pantheons, fits this trope to a T. A group of immortals and near-immortals, all of whom possess vast mystical power, with some so powerful that they could pop the Earth like a balloon if they really wanted to. Needless to say they are completely useless and even when multiverse-threatening menaces loom they just stand around showing off their bling and rationalizing why they cannot do anything about the problem.
  • In DC, the gods are hardly any better. The Quintessence was composed of cosmic powers Zeus, all-powerful wizard Shazam, Highfather of the New Gods, The Phantom Stranger, and one of the Guardians of the Universe. They tended to meet up to discuss major problems only to act to prevent another from acting since they could never agree on a course of action.

Film

  • The UN in On Her Majesty's Secret Service seems to spend an inordinate amount of time debating whether to grant Blofeld's demand for amnesty from all past crimes and for his dubious claim to the title of count to be recognised which for a supervillain is fairly reasonable, to say nothing of the fact that he plans to unleash biological warfare if his demands are not met.
  • Ents in The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers. In the book they quickly agree to attack Isengard. In the movie they start a long, offscreen debate over what to do. It's only after they find out what Saruman did to part of the forest that they decide to attack Isengard.
    • They take several days to discuss what to do in the book as well, but it seems that once it came time to take a vote, they were more than eager to get to work. And "several days" is implied to be fairly quick work for an Entmoot.
    • This only seems like it, due to Ent language being VEEEERRRY slow. In both versions, it probably went much the same. They just came up with opposite answers. And, to be fair, they were HELLUVA fast in the movie when they saw what Saruman did. It still speaks poorly about their omniscience; two outsider hobbits quickly learn out about a massive destruction of the forest while the seasoned caretaker of the trees is totally clueless.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End has the pirates holed up on an island with the English East India Company's fleet right outside. They can't decide on what to do so they have a vote to decide who becomes the pirate king despite the fact that every other time they had one it always ended in a draw because everybody kept voting for themselves. It seems to go that way this time, too, until Elizabeth sarcastically votes for herself - and Jack backs her up.

Literature

  • In Fred Saberhagen's Book Of Swords series, every time the gods gather in council they can't agree on anything and spend their time bickering and accusing each other, even when they are in peril from the swords they created.
  • The gods in Percy Jackson and The Olympians tend to act this way, leaving it up to the heroes to get things done.
  • Every other organisation in The Wheel of Time is an example of this, but the rebels from the White Tower from before Egwene took matters in hand deserve a special mention.
  • The White Council of Wizards in the Dresden Files has severe and recurring problems with this, although sometimes the leadership fakes it to cover up their real plan.
    • Turn Coat (book 11) reveals a key reason for all this-- the eponymous turncoat (or at least, one of the people the name applies to in varying ways) was the secretary of the Council--and had been using subtle mind-control magic on all of them. In the most literal sense, they were letting the enemy set their agenda!
  • The Clave from The Mortal Instruments. About partway into the second book, we can already sympathise with Big Bad Valentine Morgenstern for wanting to overtrow them.
  • The Sanctuary from Skulduggery Pleasant are starting to slide towards this.
  • In Katherine Kurtz' Deryni series, the Camberian Council (a Badass Crew when first founded) devolves into this trope over the centuries.
  • In S.M. Stirling's Emberverse, Corvallis's Faculty Senate is contentious, divided, and often unable to come to a decision. The Protectorate attempts to manipulate their internal politics to keep Corvallis out of the War of the Eye. They only fail because a large number of Corvallans form a volunteer regiment and go into combat without waiting for a formal declaration of war.
  • This was the type of council that Leia had to deal with in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Despite her good judgement in the past, not to mention almost always being right about a potential threat, they never seemed to look at the problem with the proper attention it needed. Instead, they focused majorly on bickering with one another.

Live Action TV

  • The Elders from Charmed.
  • The Time Lords in classic Doctor Who. According to The Writer's Tale, Russell T. Davies made the Doctor the Last of His Kind in the revival because the other Time Lords tended to "spout bollocks" and not much else. When the Time Lords return, this trope is Deconstructed when it's shown they proved utterly incompetent at leadership during the Time War (to the point that the War Council essentially ignored any decision they made) and are ungrateful to the Doctor for ending the war simply because it wasn't them.
  • The Grey Council in Babylon 5 slides into this every once in a while.
    • The Babylon 5 Security Council as well. While they are not a single ruling council, the entire point of them being there was for the major powers to work together to resolve issues. Whenever one of the five powers was the cause of the issue, they could be quickly relied upon to grind the whole system to a halt. It didn't help that the most powerful member of the council typically preferred to take no part in the debate and abstained from almost all votes and council motions, seeing it as beneath their concern.
    • Averted in Season Five, generally.
  • The Galactic Federation from The Tomorrow People, who will spend a lot of time talking about a problem but is reluctant to take action. Due to this one two occasions Timus had to secretly enlist the aid of the Tomorrow People to deal with two specific problems. However at the end of the final story the Federation decides to chance this.
  • The New Republic in the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Bizarrely this is an Invoked Trope as Mon Mothma sought to recreate the Republic exactly as it was before the events of The Phantom Menace. Problem was, she was remembering the Republic through via a Rose Tinted Narrative and ended up creating a government so toothless and decentralized that nothing could get done.

Tabletop Games

  • Most if not all of the Secret Societies in the RPG Paranoia.

Video Games

  • The High Council of Democratus in Anachronox has incredible technology at their disposal, but almost never uses it due to their insistence on debating everything to death.
  • The Jedi Council (again) in Knights of the Old Republic I and II.
  • The High Council of the Covenant in Halo 2 though a lot of it happens off screen.
    • The Halo novels pretty much show that the Prophets are cutthroat, power-hungry politicians to the point that their names (ie. Truth, Regret) are the exact opposite of their personalities.
  • Used offscreen a couple of times in Tales of the Abyss, to explain why Reasonable Authority Figure Emperor Peony can't give the protagonists more help than he is.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • In Ben 10 Alien Force, Ben unlocks the power of Alien X -- the most powerful alien in Omnitrix, who can bend reality to his will -- only to find out he is composed of two beings that cannot agree upon anything, even simple things such as movement or returning back to Ben's human form. That's the reason Ben never uses him. When Alien X and its species the Celestial Sapiens appear in Ben 10 Ultimate Alien, this is shockingly averted when the beings inside Alien X notice Paradox. Thanks to a Noodle Incident in the distant past they have a restraining order against Paradox. Thinking that he's violated the arrangement, the two immediately agree to destroy him.
  • While the amount of corruption varies, it's generally shown that the Cybertronian High Council could do anything it wants to the galaxy but is so bogged down by greed, religious fanaticism, and a twisted sense of pleasure from stomping on the lower classes that they cannot manage the planet at all which is usually what causes Megatron to rise up.
  • The Galactic Senate in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. They cannot get anything done. After sitting in on a session, Ahsoka lampshades this saying everyone talked a lot, but no one said anything important. The fact that they are this is what caused the Outer Rim to form the Confederacy of Independent Systems.
    • The Jedi Council (largely) averts this, being decisive enough in responding to crises.
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