Pragmatic Hero YKTTW Discussion

Pragmatic Hero
The sort of hero who tends to break the law while fighting crime.
(permanent link) added: 2012-04-28 00:38:01 sponsor: FrodoGoofballCoTV (last reply: 2013-11-18 01:44:03)

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Launched as Pragmatic Hero.

A note on concept history: Per this conversation, we decided to split the Sliding Scale Of Anti Heroes into its component tropes. However, when we got to the YKTTW for the Type III "Dangerous Anti-Hero", which can be found here it proved troblesome, so per this crowner, it was split. :P

"The mark of a true hero is somebody who's willing to sacrifice his own personal morality to help keep the world safe."
-Tess Mercer, Smallville

Most great fictional heroes fall into one of two broad categories: the Ideal Hero, such as The Cape or a Knight in Shining Armor who is pretty much exactly what one would hope for in a hero - skilled, courageous, morally pure, etc., and the Anti-Hero, who lacks one or more qualities normally considered necessary for an Ideal Hero. For example, a Classical Anti-Hero lacks ability or self - confidence. A Knight in Sour Armor lacks a positive attitude, and a Nominal Hero lacks morally pure intentions.

A Pragmatic Hero lacks the "moral cleanliness" of an Ideal Hero. When fighting evil, they often commit acts that might seem more characteristic of a villain than a hero. However, Pragmatic Heroes have morally good intentions and often hold themselves to strict moral standards - it's just that those standards aren't always what others might expect from a hero. This type of hero tends to be much more concerned with whatever heroic business the plotline has assigned them than the nicities of proper heroic ettiquette. However, with the exception of unintentional mistakes, they will rarely if ever commit a villainous deed that doesn't further the cause of good in a way.

This character is one step further toward the dark side of the Sliding Scale Of Antiheroes from the Knight in Sour Armor. Wheras the Knight in Sour Armor complains but does the right thing anyway, the Pragmatic Hero is more about doing the right thing whether anyone likes it or not, and will shove aside more idealistic heroes who give them a What the Hell, Hero? moment.

At the end of the day, their justification is typically I Did What I Had to Do, they love giving "The Reason You Suck" Speech to a poor Wide-Eyed Idealist, and they mostly evolve into cynical mentors. However, they will never say "Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!". Deep down, they want the best for others, and this character will often be the one to defend a captured minion or fallen hero.


Anime and Manga:

  • Code Geass' Lelouch falls into this category occasionally, but his desire for revenge often pushes him further down the scale.
  • Kiritsugu Emiya from Fate/Zero is a Pragmatic Hero of the extreme kind. Originally, he wanted to be "a hero of justice" who would help the weak and needed, but this led him to become an assassin capable of committing many atrocities in his belief is that choosing the smaller sacrifice is always the best outcome, for him sacrificing a hundred people to save a thousand is something that is done with barely a twitch of an eyebrow down to the point were he killed his own father for messing with vampires, and his trainer and mother figure due to a botched assassination


  • Kiritsugu Emiya from Fate/Zero is an extreme Pragmatic Hero, see the entry in the Anime & Manga category .
  • Harry Potter is constantly breaking the rules and ultimately uses two out of the three unforgivable curses and sacrifices the lives of friends to stop Lord Voldemort's schemes.
  • Grimble from Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole fits here, like some other owls in the series do, by virtue of the high stress they have put on efficience in fighting for good.
  • In The Mists of Avalon, Vivian may be one, or be anything else...
  • Warrior Cats features violent fight, tough decisions, and cats betraying the warrior's code, but some of the cats implicated do it for the right reasons.

Live Action Movies:
  • The title character of the Dirty Harry franchise.
  • Some Jedies in Star Wars do not object the creation of clones genetically engineered to defend the Republic from the separatists. Then again, they have strongly held ideals, and think the Republic is the best possible regime, but YMMV on whether this is this trope or an isolated case of Utopia Justifies the Means.
  • Glinda from The Wizard of Oz may be this. Though sometimes, people like an Alternate Character Interpretation.
  • John Wayne played many, many Pragmatic Heroes with guns, who rarely verge on Unscrupulous Hero, but can easily be judged a bit too tough.

Live Action TV

  • In Angel, the eponymous character thinks he has to take down the forces of evil by any means, and tries to distance himself from humans because they make him more remorseful, and ultimately, less ruthless. He also joins a dubious organization. Possibly momentarly downplayed when he tries to turn into Angelus, his Enemy Without.
    • It becomes a plot point in season 5, when it drives him further and further away of his function of Champion.
  • Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, later in the series. Buffy avoids this.
  • Merlin sees himself as this in Camelot. It is unclear whether he is actually this at the end of the series, but it seems he wants to be this and will succeed later.
  • In The Closer, Brenda Leigh Johnson is a Pragmatic Hero, verging on the Lawful choice of the dilemna To Be Lawful or Good because she geniuely thinks she has to (but choosing good ultimately, though a rather tough good).
  • The Doctor is this in DoctorWho, at one point sacrificing a city to prevent the world from being ruled by the villains.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit's Elliot Stabler, possibly. He uses I Did What I Had to Do as a Catch Phrase, because he is highly moral, but also sometimes too determined in achieving what he thinks are the best results. He has a closure rate of 97 %, after all.
  • It is explored greatly in ABC's Legend of the Seeker.
    • First of all, it is Played Straight with the incorruptible Kahlan. She sacrifices her chances to get her immediate happy ending with the man she loves, her safety and the right to have the normal life she dreams of since so long ago, but can be a bit too extreme, even after her Love Interest. For instance, when she learns that her baby niece is actually a baby nephew, and discovers he'll be a terrible dicator of the Always Chaotic Evil men Inquisitor kind, she initially wants to drown him. She is also ready to kill a dangerous, potentially apocalypse-causing, yet innocent young lady Inquisitor.
    • Zedd seemed to show signs of being this, but it gets Subverted when he is willing to get revenge on Panis Rahl while it doesn't help in his quest, nor in his goal, not even helping to fulfill his personal standards, morally or otherwise. Then, it gets Double Subverted, as he refuses to do so when he realizes how bad it would be.
    • It is played with with Cara, who behaves like one due to Richard's orders (but it is unclear whether she completely or just partly adopted this mentality).
    • Subverted with Richard, who is supposed to be turned into a Pragmatic Hero by his training but always Takes a Third Option, remaining (depending on your point of view) either a Heroic Archetype, either a hero with shades of type I antihero.
    • It gets Deconstructed for antagonists such as Darken Rahl, Nicci, the first Mother Confessor in the series's run, and the Sisters of The Light, except Verna, who see themselves as this, but unlike Kahlan, Zedd and Cara, refuse Richard's solutions about taking a third option.
  • The heroine in Medium, Alison Dubois, uses death threats, emotional manipulation and horrible phobias to make people get caught by the police, or confess their crimes. Sometimes, she even lets murderers die when they can't get caught. She justifies it by thinking they cause a threat, but is several times seen rejoicing, which is justified again because she has many proofs of the afterlife.
  • Merlin from BBC's Merlin could be seen as this. Merlin poisons the innocent Morgana to save the good future he works for. Gaius encorages him on this way, and they both end up talking about how hard making difficult choices can be, but how it becomes necessary. Morgana is later characterized by her lack of planning and impulsivity, which cause her to go to great length either to make something way too extreme happen, either to prevent one of this situations realize, untill the season 4 premiere, in which she accepts to do an enormous sacrifice.
  • Ziva David was once a Dark Action Girl, who used manipulation and brutal intimidation to save her counntry. See her NCIS character page.
  • Smallville has Tess Mercer, who defines herself and people who are really heroes, as the people who are ready to do the dirty work for the good of the many.
  • 24's Jack Bauer is a highly nonconventional government agent who won't hesitate to torture his enemies to find out what he wants to know. Given that knowledge may be the only thing standing between the world as we know it and some very bad things, he falls in this category.


Video games

Western Animation

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