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Xander: As long as nothing really bad happens between now and then, you'll be fine.
—Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "School Hard" It isn't.
The inevitable question asked when another character's rash plan or reckless behavior results in disaster or near-disaster. Asked upon discovery of the mayhem caused by said recklessness, or after picking up the pieces, and is usually asked by their superior, a concerned parent, or simply a friend or ally.
Popular answers include "I wasn't!", "I don't know!", "It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time!", and "I Did What I Had to Do." If someone answers "For Science!!" it's a good bet that he's a lost cause.
Can follow a My God, What Have I Done? for a Kick the Dog moment. A Deal with the Devil is almost always followed by this, if only from the audience. Not to be confused with What the Hell, Hero?, which has less to do with recklessness and more to do with kicking or shooting the dog, though it can overlap.
Anime and Manga
- In Saiyuki's "Kami-sama" arc, Sanzo attempts to break a barrier that he thought was created by will power by shooting at it, on the "rationale" that the bullets are infused with his will power, and thus the two will cancel out...yeah, no. Instead, the bullets ricochet back and everyone dives for cover, with Hakkai yelling, "What are you DOING, Sanzo??"
- These exact words are used in Ranma ½ when the Tendos, particularly Kasumi, call Genma out for taking his son to the cursed training ground of Jusenkyo. To the annoyance of some readers, though, this is only in the very first chapter of the manga, and nobody so much as raises an eyebrow when Genma later reveals he taught Ranma the Nekoken because he was too lazy to read the next page, which warned that the technique invariably drove trainees insane and was too stupid to use, anyway. Although, it's entirely possible that people stopped asking this of him because they realized it just wouldn't do any damned good.
- Yuna Roma Seiran gets this from the ORB military officers in Gundam Seed Destiny, for hiding war criminal Lord Djibril in ORB and denying it, then acting all surprised when ZAFT sees through his obvious lies and invades in full force. Apparently, he thought that since ORB had successfully hidden the Archangel from them two years ago, but not even in anime do politics bend to the Rule of Cool...
- In Full Metal Panic, Kaname tends to yell this whenever Sousuke does something insane. More often than not, he proceeds to explain the ridiculously complicated terrorist plot that he foiled to justify his actions. Sometimes the plot is even real.
- From the Star Wars: Clone Wars comics, during the battle of Kamino:
Commander Merai: What were they thinking, defending a water world with ships that can't submerge?
- The Goonies. Stef barks this at Andi when she hits the wrong notes on the musical lock, causing part of the floor to collapse.
Stef: What were you thinking?
- The Fast and the Furious: Dominic Toretto asks this of Jesse after he races Johnny Tran for pink slips.
- The captain asks Cool Hand Luke what he thought defacing parking meters would get him. Luke replies that, being drunk at the time, he probably wasn't thinking.
- Happy Feet: Gloria asks a version of this after she discovers that him singing to her at the mating season is really him lip-synching and letting someone else sing (Mumble can't sing).
Gloria: "Mumble, what could you possibly be thinking?"
- In the feature film adaptation of Shane Acker's 9, 7 asks 9 this after 9 put the talisman into the machine, causing it to wake up and kill 2.
- In Oh God! You Devil, when Bobby literally finds God near the end of the film, the Almighty agrees to help him out of the predicament he's in, but not without giving Bobby a (for God) gentle rebuke.
God: "You made a deal with the Devil. How dumb could you be?"
- Zoe Heller's novel Notes on a Scandal (later made into a film of the same name) was released under the (patently absurd, given the novel's tone) title of What Was She Thinking? Notes On a Scandal in the US.
Live Action TV
- Elliot Stabler frequently hears this on Law & Order Special Victims Unit: when he drove a paranoid-schizophrenic to a breakdown to get information, when he tried to convince the parents of a girl beaten up by his friend's son not to testify, when he made his daughter's DUI disappear, the infamous "What possessed you to tell the shrink in your psych evaluation that you fantasized about killing suspects?!" Or the time when he told the father of a murdered girl that the Suspect might get away with it...
- Captain Cragen also said this to Olivia Benson when she gave a reporter confidential information about an investigation involving Anthrax.
- Fin Tutuola heard this from John Munch and his ex-wife in the episode when he handled a case against his son poorly.
- A lot of people screamed this at Mohinder from Heroes when he injected himself with a Super Serum he'd invented mere hours ago from studying a woman who cries death, while outside in a bad part of town. And also wanted to distribute it to the general public, despite the fact that a remarkable proportion of those with powers kill people a lot or even try to destroy the world.
- Lampshaded in America's Funniest Home Videos during the Daisy Fuentes season, where she gives a little speech about the three primary audience reactions: "hahahaha", "owwwww..." and "what were they thinking?"
- Doctor Phil, anyone?
- Used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, see the page quote.
- Used verbatim in Flashforward, regarding Mark Benford's actions in the last episode.
- Used in an episode of Everybody Hates Chris, in which Julius is laid off and has to take care of the house, cooking, and cleaning while Rochelle tries to find a job. After being insulted by Rochelle for most of the episode, Julius makes the mistake of saying that taking care of the house, which Rochelle usually does, isn't that hard. Cue Rochelle, who is known for cursing people out, launching a positively horrifying hour-long tirade that had Julius cowering in the corner, ending with Rochelle yelling "HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND!??!"
- Used in The League of Gentlemen when a minor member of a gentleman's club of... purveyors of Special Stuff (which makes even human flesh seem upstanding and moral) run by Hilary Briss decides to bring his wife to a secret meeting:
Briss Right…now we’re all finally convened. As my special customers, you’re no doubt aw…
- Pops up in Mystery Science Theater 3000 on occasion, such as Joel to Crow for letting Timmy on board, or (much later) Crow to Mike after he's just blown us his third planet.
- Jay Leno famously asked Hugh Grant after the latter's sex scandal: "What the hell were you thinking?"
- Denis Leary said the same thing about Marv Albert's scandal in his stand-up special, Lock and Load.
- Comes up quite a lot in WWE, either from skits backstage after a loss (or near-loss) because of a tag team partner, or when a commenter wonders what a high-flyer was thinking after attempting a high risk move successfully (or unsuccessfully) and losing the match.
- Kane buried The Undertaker...again. He decided to hold a funeral in respect of him...and then Alberto Del Rio interrupted. Now, given that Alberto has only been on Smackdown for a few months, and Kane is a veteran who just took out The Undertaker, and that Alberto interrupted his "funeral" just to challenge Kane, the audience, Kane, and pretty much anyone else who may have been watching all exclaimed...
--"ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?"
- Some fans exclaim this when a promotion has a good angle or rivalry going and then proceeds to screw it up somewhere along the line. WWE tends to get this a lot. For example, dropping the US Title rematch of Daniel Bryan vs Sheamus from Wrestlemania 27, considering that they're two of WWE's most consistent workers and could have put on an awesome match.
- Folk singer Christine Lavin's song "What Was I Thinking", originally written in the late 1990s, features such examples as a poor choice of formal dress, hair style, and poor choice of White House intern.
- Zits has Mom convey an expression that says this phrase without using words to react to Jeremy's antics. Likely she doesn't say it because Jeremy will likely react with some quip.
Mom: What were you thinking!
- Take an RPG, any RPG, and one character will inevitably say this to another.
- And most likely, the player was thinking about why they had to do that to continue.
- In Fate/stay night, Shirou gets this a lot, because what he does tends to get him disemboweled or otherwise grievously harmed while the person he was helping probably would have been okay, or whoever he was trying to save was clearly beyond help. Unusually for this trope, Shirou fully realizes that what he's doing is mind-bogglingly stupid even as he's doing it, but he's so dependent on his "save everyone" philosophy that he refuses to compromise it in any way, even if it means his own life.
- "What were they thinking!?" is one of The Angry Video Game Nerd's many catchphrases, used for an asinine flaw with a bad game.
- Mike Mozart of Jeepers Media uses this catchphrase when he comes across a toy with a... suggestive design flaw.
- There is actually an entire blog dedicated to asking this question about old comics. It's even titled What Were They Thinking?
- Some editors in This Wiki tend to use this at times as a reaction... and Pothole it to this very page.
- During The Cinema Snob's crossover with Phelous:
- Spoofed in the Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy episode "Cry Ed", where, after Ed drops a house on Eddy in response to Eddy's scheme to get himself injured and gain sympathy, the following exchange occurs:
Edd: Ed! What in heaven's name were you thinking?!
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Zuko frequently hears this from his uncle- "Of all the foolish things you've done in your sixteen years, Prince Zuko, this is the most foolish!", "You never think these things through!" In response to short-sighted things such as when he went through a great deal of life-threatening dangers to get the Avatar and would have died if Aang's friends hadn't come and decided to Save the Villain.
- Parodied in an episode of The Simpsons
Marge: This is the worst thing you've ever done!
- Apu gets an even more spectacular one:
Skinner: Now I... I finally have time to do what I've always wanted: write the great American novel. Mine is about a futuristic amusement park where dinosaurs are brought to life through advanced cloning techniques. I call it "Billy and the Cloneasaurus."
- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, "Mac Daddy": Bloo says this about Mac having apparently conjured up "Cheese". Mac's response: "Exactly, I wasn't thinking."
- "World Wide Wabbit" has Frankie ask this to Bloo when he starts a website base don Herriman's embarassing "funny bunny" video that got 20 million hits.
Bloo: I just thought it was funny.
- The Spectacular Spider-Man's Norman Osborn solidifies his Genre Savvy credentials by asking his son Harry this when he learned he had injected himself with the Green Goblin serum.
- Transformers Animated: Megatron kidnaps Bulkhead to complete his space bridge, and Bulkhead is so sick of people assuming he can't do anything that he makes it work. When Professor Sumdac calls him on this, Bulkhead points out that Sumdac was the guy who rebuilt Megatron (although he had no idea about the evil tyrant thing).
- Cranky Kong asks this of Donkey Kong when he learns that DK has given the Crystal Coconut to King K.Rool, being told to give up everything to know everything;
DK: I wanted to know all the secrets...
- Neither has brought anything to review, so Brad is looking at a clothes iron held by Phelan