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Arrested for Heroism
How dare you save the lives of millions!
"I just did 80% of your job, and right there, that's how you repay me?"
often face terrible fates, the life of a hero
isn't always a happy one either, for No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
. This subtrope
of No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
pits two heroes against each other.
The trope starts with a bad thing about to happen. Maybe local supervillain Alice is about to rob a bank. Superbob suddenly appears and asks her to stop. A fistfight ensues and Carol the cop arrives. In other words, normally Bob would expect Carol to help him, but as far as Carol is concerned, Bob was the villain. He might be charged with anything from Police Brutality
to attempted murder to a charge that had nothing to do with the incident. Sometimes the issue is resolved in a Kangaroo Court
and the hero is given Soap Opera Justice.
Compare Crime of Self-Defense
, Police Brutality Gambit
, Why Did You Make Me Hit You?
, Wounded Gazelle Gambit
and Et Tu, Brute?
There can be any number of reasons for the decision to arrest the hero:
- The arresting officer might turn out to actually be a Corrupt Cop, Jerk Ass, Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop, etc.
- It might be normal in that setting, because:
- The authorities are honestly concerned that the hero might:
- The police are honestly concerned that arresting the villain will backfire, because:
- The police will be accused of having a double standard if they ignore the hero's questionable methods.
- The villain will likely be acquitted without airtight evidence.
- The villain is known to be a Villain with Good Publicity, Magnificent Bastard, etc., and they suspect the villain will use his arrest to his advantage somehow.
- The police had a plan to roll up the villain's whole operation, which the hero screwed up by acting prematurely.
- Often it's a simple case of bad timing. The cops never actually saw the villain do anything wrong, they have only the hero's word that it was the villain who broke into the Elaborate Underground Base. Worse, the cops may arrive just in time to see the hero in the middle of something that looks bad out of context.
- If the perpetrator is a Superhero and on the wrong side of a Super Registration Act, this is pretty much inevitable to happen at some point or another.
- The authorities are not in on the Masquerade, and don't believe that the person the hero attacked was a demon or an evil cultist or what have you.
- It is a Crapsack World.
- In deconstructive works, the authorities may simply be unambiguously correct. After all, even if Doctor Baron Von Doominator IS planning to rob a bank at some indefinite point in the future, if he's not actually in the middle of committing the crime assaulting him on the street or unlawfully imprisoning him does, in a western democracy, severely violate his civil rights and are themselves crimes.
- In an optimistic deconstruction, this will cause the hero to re-examine his methods and come up with a better way to do things. In a pessimistic story, they may have actually made the situation worse by destroying their own credibility when it was important that their warning be believed, and lose a round with the villains.
Anime & Manga
- The first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex climaxes with Section 9 trying to avoid this. A leak to the public media of their existence set them up be used as scapegoats for a massive government scandal. This trope is played straight in the 2nd season when Togusa is arrested for using his handgun when he tried to save a distressed civilian. He was technically an off-duty police officer at the time.
- Archer of Fate/stay night wandered the world fighting in multiple wars to save as many people as he could. Due to his involvement in so many conflicts it was easy for a criminal to frame him as the cause of one such war, leading to Archer's arrest and execution.
- Depending on your definition of heroism, this may have been what happened to Rorschach halfway through Watchmen.
- Almost occurs to several secondary characters repeatedly in Powers.
- The Civil War Crisis Crossover and the general status quo afterward consisted Marvel doing this to their superheroes and then wondering why people thought Iron Man was a jerk for setting this plot up in the first place.
- Iron Man also combined this with some truly oppressive methods to contain these "criminal vigilantes." Caught stopping a crime without a government license? Get sent to the Negative Zone with dozens of supervillains.
- One of the most blatant examples was She-Hulk. One of the few members on the registration side that was likeable, Jennifer Walters spent Civil War mostly on the sidelines helping file lawsuits for both sides. At the end of Civil War, she's working with S.H.I.E.L.D. to train a team to fight Hulk's standard enemies. For those who weren't following her, specifically it becomes a shock when she suddenly disappears from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s roster. It turns out she got rather pissed when she found out that Tony Stark sent Hulk into space (and lied about it to her to get Jen to sleep with him) and punched him (when he was in armor). Stark took this as a perfect reason to inject her with nanites that removed her powers, and then fired her for her "uncontrollable behavior". (Stark seemed to forget, of course, that Jen is a lawyer; later in the World War Hulk storyline, she sued him to force him to deactivate the nanites permanently.)
- As it happens, the page image of Captain America is an aversion and a misleading cover. To be sure, Cap was indeed imprisoned at Ryker's Island... but voluntarily, with the warden's knowledge, in order to test the prison's security by attempting to escape. The real thing did happen to Bucky Barnes when he took on the mantle of Captain America... twice. He was first imprisoned by the U.S., then again by Russia as soon as the American court declared him innocent.
- In Daredevil this happens to the White Tiger, as he tries to break up a robbery.
- A rookie cop attempts this to Batman in Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns series, as the rookie comes around a corner just in time to watch Bats deliver a spine-snapping kick to a thug (and not soon enough to have seen the gun the thug was holding to Batman's head). Batman ignores him in favor of shaking down the thug. The rookie's senior partner offers sage advice: "Don't try it, kid. He's being patient with you as it is."
- In the backstory of Paul Dini's Madame Mirage, superheroism and supervillainy was outlawed. The superheroes turned themselves in — and were promptly sent to jail. The supervillains, of course, just went underground, meaning that they were all pretty much still at large and the people who could have stopped them were languishing in jail. Yeah, bit of an own goal there.
- Spider-Man, being a classic example of a Hero with Bad Publicity, occasionally has to flee police trying to bring him in for some crime he supposedly committed (or simply "for questioning").
- Legion of Super-Heroes: Mind-controlling supervillain Universo once secretly took control of the government and passed laws forbidding the Legion from using their powers. When several members use their powers to save people during a monorail accident, they are arrested and sent to a prison planet.
- Paperinik was once arrested by the Time Police for helping The Organization to steal a weapon from the Time Police.However he had a damn good reason to do that:they needed it to save the universe from being erased.
- In Before Watchmen: Minutemen, Silk Spectre's agent averted this during the solo phase of her career by making constant "donations" to the "widows and orphans fund". The police probably would have been justified in this case: many of Silk Spectre's acts of heroism were, in fact, staged - the villains were often actors and the places getting "robbed" were in on the whole thing, hoping that the headlines would mean free publicity.
- The Runaways were constantly threatened with this during their early years, because the police were under their parents' control and Iron Man disliked the idea of underage superheroes.
- Immediately after Ichigo defeats Aizen in Swinging Pendulum, he is arrested by Central 46 and sent to prison without trial. Ichigo got off lightly, the Visored were executed for their help in the war effort.
- In The Rainmaker, Kelly (Claire Danes) was charged with murder after she beat her abusive husband with the same bat he had been using on her.
- In the book, it's Rudy who kills him, and Kelly takes the rap because they both know she'd make a more sympathetic defendant. The case is quickly dismissed.
- In Reign Over Me, Don Cheadle was stalked and sexually harassed by Saffron Burrows. After taking the appropriate response to the harassment (asking her to leave and ending their doctor-patient relationship), she sued him for sexual harassment. Later on however, the two talk it out and settle the matter privately.
- In The Golden Child, Chandler Jarrell (Eddie Murphy) acquires the one magical dagger capable of killing the demonic bad guy and the titular messianic figure. And the demonic Big Bad immediately tries to have him arrested for theft of the artifact.
- Jarell outwits the demon by asking to be arrested, knowing the authorities will take the dagger into evidence until trial, out of the demon's reach. The demon quickly recants his accusations.
- District 9: One of Wikus' friends is arrested for exposing MNU's illegal genetic program. Though it was actually a justified arrest: corporate espionage.
- Werner Herzog's version of Nosferatu ends on a perfect example of this, as Van Helsing is arrested for the murder of the illustrious Count Dracula.
- Happens in Casino Royale with a twist at the end. A terrorist puts a small detonator on a fuel truck with the intention of blowing up an airliner. En route, James Bond fights with the terrorist (causing several crashes), but he gets away and a bruised and bloody Bond barely manages to stop the truck before stumbling out and being arrested while the terrorist looks on not to far away. But when he triggers the detonator, he finds out that Bond found the detonator and pinned it on the terrorist. Cut to Bond smiling while the terrorist blows himself up.
- In The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible gets sued for "saving someone who didn't want to be saved." This leads to more lawsuits and the eventual government banning of superheroes.
- Van Helsing is a wanted murderer because so many of the monsters he kills (like Hyde) turn back into humans when they die.
- In Attack the Block, the main teens are implicated in mugging a woman. In the end, after fighting off an alien invasion, they're arrested for that crime as well as blamed for all the alien-related deaths.
- In the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter is forced to use magic outside school to defend himself and Dudley from two Dementors. He's promptly expelled from Hogwarts, un-expelled when Dumbledore reminds the Ministry they don't actually have the authority to do that, and put on trial. The Ministry only goes to such lengths to discredit Harry, since they don't believe Voldemort is back and don't want anyone else to either. It turns out that it was a Ministry official, Umbridge, who sent them after him in the first place, and she gets away with it too.
- Davos Seaworth of A Song of Ice and Fire once rescued a besieged, starving castle by sneaking through a blockade and delivering badly needed supplies. Lord Stannis Baratheon rewarded him with a knighthood for it. But Davos was also a known smuggler, and Stannis did not pardon him for it, and cut the first finger joints off his left hand as punishment. Davos considers it tough but fair, and remains loyal.
- Harry Dresden often has no worse enemy than his own side. The causes are numerous- his genuinely Dark and Troubled Past puts him under a certain amount of legitimate suspicion and a great deal of irrational suspicion from Inspector Javert types in the White Council. Rumor has him in league with "Gentleman Johnny" Marcone, the chief crime boss of Chicago- mostly because he kind of is, very much against his will. He has a bad habit of withholding important information from allies to try to protect them. Maybe most importantly, as much as he brings the bad guys down, many of his methods are, well, still totally illegal.
- At the beginning of the third book, Harry and Michael sneak into a hospital's infancy ward to take out a crazed ghost that had put the whole wing to sleep and was killing the babies. When they defeat her, thereby saving the entire room full of children, the security guards wake up and burst in. They see a shady-looking guy with a big stick and a trenchcoat and another one with an honest-to-God broadsword. Michael whispers, "Don't worry. Let me do the talking." Chapter break: "I can't believe they arrested us."
- When well-meaning but obstructionist detectives show up in one book and harass Harry because they don't believe his story, he then launches into a tirade lampshading this as soon as Murphy shows up and extricates him. To a lesser extent, happens to Murphy later in the same book.
- Harry is starting to get better about trusting people, but now he has the Black Council to worry about. ''Just'' like Disneyland.
- Happens to Tavi in Codex Alera. The purported justification hits this trope perfectly, but it's really a political battle.
- Justin Allard gets this treatment in the Warrior trilogy, specifically early right in the first book. In charge of a unit of trainee Mech Warriors in light machines out of an exercise, they get ambushed by Liao troops and he in particular finds himself in single combat against an enemy warrior in a Rifleman that outmasses his own Valkyrie by a factor of two. He doesn't win, but acquits himself well enough that that enemy 'Mech never enters the battle proper even after he's lost his own machine and one arm...only to find out upon eventual recovery that (because nobody else actually saw that fight and his own half-Capellan heritage that's helped him connect with the locals now makes him an ideal suspect) he's on trial on trumped-up charges of collusion with the enemy. And the Kangaroo Court finds him guilty...thereby setting off the chain of events that will land him in the arenas on Solaris VII and ultimately in the position of one of House Liao's own head spymasters.
- Dexter: Rita's abusive ex, Paul, gets drunk one night and tries to rape her, and Rita knocks him out with a baseball bat. Next episode, Rita's being charged with abuse. Ironically, in real life several states, including Florida, are usually a bit more biased.
- In the 1960s TV Batman, Batman is sued by The Riddler for assault after Batman burst in on him pointing a gun at someone. The gun turned out to be a cigarette lighter, and all part of The Riddler's Batman Gambit.
- The boys from Supernatural have to constantly evade the authorities, unless they want to be tried for multiple murders (various human-form monsters or possessed humans), grave desecration (having to burn the remains of a ghost), etc. On the other hand, they do commit other crimes (credit card fraud and cheating at games) to support their monster-hunting lifestyle, but those are secondary to the crimes they get charged for while actually doing a heroic thing—on top of the murders, they've been charged with kidnapping and armed robbery.
- Mostly averted on Charmed, since the demons sometimes dissolve into flame, but the Charmed Ones did sometimes got in trouble for being in the same alley with a fresh corpse and a ceremonial dagger. Even when they did have a friend on the force, they eventually got into serious trouble with the law for killing demons in ways that did leave behind bodies. The latter was technically a crime anyway, but for those that know the whole story (like the viewers), it should count.
- In one episode, Chris got arrested for stealing a car in order to chase a bad guy.
- It happened on the series Bored to Death at the end of the first episode.
- Happened in Hercules The Legendary Journeys when people started imitating Hercules with disastrous results.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Faith was once arrested for indecent exposure after saving a bus load of nuns from vampires. (She was naked at the time.)
- On Knight Rider, Michael was arrested several times for his efforts to catch the bad guy. Happened often enough that KITT once complained about how much he hated being impounded.
- In the Series/Castle episode "Time Will Tell", villain Ward is beating up Castle and Beckett and is about to kill Castle when Simon Doyle shows up and drives him off. Beckett promptly arrests Doyle for no discernible reason.
- Actually, since he'd escaped police custody earier, she's simply returning him to custody.
- In Call of Cthulhu, investigators who attack or kill Cthulhu Mythos cultists can easily get in trouble with the law.
- From the "Field Manual of the Theron Marks Society" in Terror from the Stars:
Another problem with human cultists is that the law frowns particularly harshly at open murder of them. Unlike Cthulhuoid monstrosities, deceased humans don't melt away, leaving no tell-tale evidence behind.
Intrepid investigators often run afoul of the law, for the law is built to adjudicate routine human conduct, not extraordinary inhuman activity. Investigators handle problems by blowing up the mine, burning down the house or beheading the sorcerer: solutions frequently considered despicable in a grand jury report. Society can act like a perverse parent, punishing the investigator for doing good.
- The Fungi from Yuggoth. On the Day of the Beast Edward Chandler will summon the Beast (an avatar of Nyarlathotep) in Egypt. If the investigators kill him to prevent this and the Egyptian authorities capture them, the investigators will either have to prove Chandler's guilt or be executed for murder.
- Like Call of Cthulhu above, player characters in Hunter: The Vigil risk running afoul of authority. Well, it's kind of inevitable when the authority is likely to be controlled by vampires or mages. Defied by Task Force VALKYRIE (or VASCU, or Division Six, or the Barrett Commission), since they belong to the (U.S.) government. In the case of Division Six, they are immune to this trope because they are unwitting pawns of those who don't want humankind to Awaken into magic.
- Any player characters in the New World of Darkness, really. The Werewolves are especially prone to this. You just want to be a good werewolf and hunt spirits who don't know their place, but good luck doing it without: 1) humans ganging-up on you, 2) The Pure and their spirit allies stabbing you from behind at the most unfortunate moment.
- And just to reinforce the Crapsack World aspect of it, part of the job of the previously mentioned government Hunters is to enforce this trope on everyone else. Murder of a mad wizard or berserk werewolf is still murder, and burning down a vampire's hideout is still arson...
- To make matters worse, most Hunters basically are criminals, hunting supernaturals pretty much on the power of pure Fantastic Racism rather than limiting themselves to real dangers or even investigating enough to know a mad archmage from a hedge-witch with a power set revolving around brewing the perfect cup of tea.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, The Warden (and Alistair, if he's in your party at the time), get charged with the murder of Arl Howe whilst rescuing Queen Anora who is being held captive in his Estate. Made even worse when Anora accuses you of being the kidnappers.
- Red Dead Redemption has a rather major one. John Marston, forced to work for the government so three criminals can be put to justice, not only gets rid of the criminals, but unintentionally helps end a Mexican Civil War, prevents various disasters, and helps many kind hearted folk in the community. His reward: the same government men come to his house and shoot him while he tries to help his family.
- In Ronin Galaxy, Leona fights off an assassin android, and is arrested after blacking out. It is believed that she initiated the fight with the android to sabotage another corporation.
- In an early episode of Everyday Heroes Mr. Mighty was ticketed for not carrying his registration while stopping a bank robbery. (It was his first day at his new job, and technically he hadn't started work yet.) Since it was a minor infraction, he simply had to do some community service work (which in turn led to another story arc).
- Subverted in Hero Oh Hero. It's illegal to perform heroics without a licence, but when Burk admits he hasn't got one (and doesn't care) to Logan (a properly licensed hero), the later agrees with the sentiment (albeit because of Honour Before Reason, compared to Burk's Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right).
- At the end of Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction, Agent Washington wiped out Project Freelancer, the Meta, and all the project's experimental AIs with one blow. However, in doing so he also erased any evidence the Oversight Subcommittee needed to properly put the Director of Project Freelancer behind bars (except for the Epsilon AI, which he handed to Caboose to take away before firing the EMP). As a result, Wash ended up behind bars for his vigilante actions.
- This happens to Phase from the Whateley Universe several times. In his first story, he fights a supervillain and ends up getting nearly arrested for vigilantism (he did destroy an entire street). He manages to convince the police that he never intended to fight the supervillain, he just wanted to save his sister, and the cops let him off with a warning that if he does it again without legal authorisation, he's screwed. In his sixth story, he fights a demon that takes down a team from the Mutant Commission Office, and they arrest him and interrogate him continually- despite the fact that he's in urgent need of medical attention- and he only gets out of it because of his family (although he had to physically stop the officers after they were brainwashed by the demon).
- In X-Men, Juggernaut robs a bank, but Colossus gets arrested instead.
- In The Simpsons, Cecil, Sideshow Bob's brother once had plans to blow up the Springfield Dam, steal the money he'd embezzled from the project and plant the blame all on Bob. After teaming up with Bart and foiling the plot, the police still arrest Bob along with his brother, because they simply can't believe that Bob was innocent this time.
- In an earlier episode, Homer's mother became a hippie back in The Sixties, and she and a bunch of friends went and destroyed the germs that Mr. Burns was trying to weaponize in a lab. In a subversion of this trope, although Mr. Burns wants her arrested for destroying his property, she was not arrested for this particular stunt. She is, however, constantly on the run from Mr. Burns and the police, so she became a Missing Mom.
- Both Avatar: The Last Airbender's Avatar Aang and Sequel Series The Legend of Korra's Avatar Korra find themselves in this predicament.
- In Ba Sing Se Aang and his crew fall afoul of Long Feng and his Dai Li, who conceal the hundred years' war from the city's residents.
- In Republic City, Korra gets arrested for the massive public and private property damage she inflicts while beating some gangsters. Korra actually did bust up multiple shops and a lot of merchandise. Evading arrest and assaulting police officers probably didn't help.
- Played much more seriously in "When Extremes Meet". Tarrlok responds to the anti-bending Well-Intentioned Extremist faction by cracking down on all non-benders, effectively proving the bad guys right. When Korra tells him to stop, siding with the non-benders, Tarrlok arrests Korra's friends Asami, daughter of an Equalist, Mako and Bolin for defending Asami. Korra is about to attack Tarlock when Mako tells him to stop as it wouldn't do anyone any good for her to be locked up as well.
- This is combined with a Frame-Up in the Justice League episode "The Brave and the Bold" where The Flash is arrested after falling victim to Grood's brainwashing device while chasing a car thief (Solovar, another gorilla city resident, which had seriously gotten the hero's attention). Green Lantern bails him out, telling the police that they couldn't have held him with a pair of handcuffs if he was really guilty (which Flash then proves by taking them off by himself). Of course, Green Lantern is skeptical of his teamate's story himself, but that changes very quickly.
- The first episode of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated opens with Scooby and the gang getting arrested right after solving a mystery. The police threaten to arrest them several times over the course of the series. This is because Crystal Cove enjoys having a bunch of Scooby Doo Hoaxes to attract tourists (mostly not caring about how the bad guys are mostly doing this to steal something), and they don't appreciate a bunch of meddling kids spoiling the extra revenue.
- In a news story from the Eighties, one 7-Eleven clerk who got robbed, ran out into the parking lot to get the robbers' license plate number... and was fired. The company's rationale was that, since he technically left the store premises in order to essentially chase the guys who robbed him, he was displaying a blatant disregard for his own well-being and was therefore a liability.
- Much of the drama in Whale Wars, from the Animal Wrongs Group's point of view.
- Both law and corporate policy say that it's prohibited to sell alcohol to someone who is visibly drunk. When a man came in with bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and stumbling, the cashier would not sell alcohol to him. Apparently he had some sort of medical issue and the company fired her for discrimination against a customer.
- Happens quite often to paramedics and security officers. Many are fired for going above and beyond their jobs to save lives. While the general rule is "you don't have to rescue, but if you do don't screw it up," liability varies heavily by state. Some states are more plaintiff-friendly regarding faulty rescues. Other states you have to show that the rescuer was "grossly negligent" (i.e. completely incompetent beyond all reason). Some states extend this protection to general good Samaritans who aren't professional rescuers or medical personnel.
- There is a story floating around of an incident in Disney World where an employee in a Goofy costume saw a child drowning in a fountain. He went into the fountain, took off the head of his costume, and rescued the child. He was then fired for removing the head of his costume and thus breaking the illusion of the entire theme park.
- With regard to the example in the text, it is perfectly legal to come to the assistance of someone who is the victim of a violent crime. However, before you do so you must be very clear on who is the aggressor and who is the victim. If you make an assumption and aid the wrong party, you can be held responsible for a criminal offense. Next time you wonder why no one will help a person in trouble, now you know why...
- A terrorist attack on a U.S. logistics convoy in Iraq left several soldiers killed or injured early in the fighting and a contractor truck driver picked up a rifle from an injured soldier and started fighting alongside the rest of the soldiers. The convoy commander even stated that the driver's actions played a substantial role in driving off the attack. Said contractor was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor and subsequently fired for violating above-stated prohibition.
- Three security members at a Wal-Mart confronted a shoplifter from trying to steal a laptop. When the man brandished a gun and tried to escape, they brought him and kept him down. For their actions, Wal-Mart summarily fired them as it was company policy to let the man go if he was proven to be a threat.
- There's a story of a student who gave a fellow asthma sufferer her breather when she was hit by a particularly bad asthma attack and didn't have hers with her. The parents considered her a hero. The school, citing their Zero Tolerance policy, suspended both students for "passing drugs".
- Many zero-tolerance policies in schools involve suspending students for fighting. This includes students who were fighting back against someone who attacked them first, presumably because the school doesn't want to take sides or create liability. The news media is full of such stories about schools suspending both a bully and the bully's victim.
- In Germany (and presumedly many other countries), there are several laws that allow very extreme measures in cases of emergency. As long as you can justify how you thought it would help preventing a greater disaster, you can get away with almost anything. If you think an attacker threatens your or someone else's life, even lethal force is justified. When it was proposed that people who called the fire department without an actual emergency taking place should pay for the costs, fire fighters refused to collect any such fees as they feared people would hesitate to call them in situations where fire fighters arriving just a minute earlier could save lots of lives. There's even an officially recognized organization that is providing free Hero Insurance for everyone, so people won't hesitate to trash property if it could help saving people in emergencies.
- Although the facts of the case are complex, this trope was the editorial stance of some UK media outlets with regards to the case of Tony Martin, a British farmer who shot at two burglars on his property, killing one and wounding the other. Martin was arrested, tried for Murder and Attempted Murder, and found guilty, although the Murder conviction was reduced to one of Manslaughter on appeal - the substance of the appeal was that Martin suffers from paranoid personality disorder, and the courts agreed, reducing his conviction on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The case was extremely divisive, and touched off a national debate about whether the law in Britain was rather too keen to arrest people for defending themselves or others.
- A virtually identical case happened with a farmer named Shai Dromi in Israel (killed one burglar, wounded another, but unlike Martin he was acquitted of all charges other than possession of an illegal weapon). The public uproar led to a castle law being passed.
- In Canada you can be charged for giving first aid to someone without both introducing yourself as a first aider and asking their permission to help. Even if they're unconscious you're expected to say this, even though them being unable to answer gives you implied consent to help.