Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work
No... no, I can't. Scorpius: (sigh)
I can. (grabs pistol in John's hand, and fires)
There's a problem, and the heroes can't solve it or make it go away. It boils down to a situation that requires a decidedly unheroic action
to solve, whether it's hurting, killing
, or something even less pleasant. The heroes can't very well do it and still be classic White Hats, but not
doing anything would have grave consequences. Who can save the day now? Not the Big Damn Heroes
, but the villains! Hey, they're evil already, doing an evil act to save the day is no problem. Essentially the author's version of Take a Third Option
in a narrative lose/lose situation.
Different from a Heel-Face Turn
because the villain isn't necessarily being heroic; the villain may be entirely motivated out of self-interest
, such as fighting a common threat
or because a competitor is challenging his place as nemesis
. It's possible for it to even be a complete coincidence.
Subtrope of Non-Protagonist Resolver
; in this case, the "resolver" is the villain. Contrast Villainous Rescue
, where a villain pulls a Big Damn Heroes
without committing any villainous acts in the process. If the villain saves the day by accident through doing something villainous, that's Nice Job Fixing It, Villain
. Overlaps with The Dog Bites Back
when the "dog" is a minion. See Disney Villain Death
for when there is no other bad guy to do the work, so it is done by gravity. Compare Always a Bigger Fish
, when a usually non-sapient monster saves the heroes from another monster.
No Place for Me There
and Necessarily Evil
are this trope applied to Utopia Justifies the Means
Also see Exit, Pursued by a Bear
, Designated Evil
, Poisonous Friend
and Token Evil Teammate
(the 'hero' inclined to play dirty pool in a team of good guys)
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Anime and Manga
- In Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, at the end of the Koryo arc, Syaoran talks Chunyan out of killing the ryanban, but he is conveniently taken care of by his own previously mind-controlled servant.
- One wonders what the The Omniscient Council of Vagueness group of old ladies who rule Japan (First Division) would have done to the cast of Mai-HiME had Shizuru not gone crazy and killed them all after the cast kills their god. It's doubtful that they were resurrected along with the rest of the cast.
- A scene with the Obsidian Lord indicates that he was planning to invoke You Have Outlived Your Usefulness on them, but Shizuru got to them first.
- In Mai's fight with Shiho, she's unable to go on the offensive, realizing that as both of them consider Yuuichi their most important person, either of their Childs being destroyed will result in his death (Shiho, being overcome with jealous rage, fails to realize this). Yuuichi, not wanting them to fight, orders Mai to destroy Shiho's Child while fully knowing that he'll kick it, but she refuses. Then a brainwashed Mikoto jumps in, having been conditioned to attack Mai's enemy, and destroys Shiho's child. Yuuichi thanks Mikoto for this before he passes away.
- In the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist, the brothers need to create the Philosopher Stone. Problem: By episode 40, it became obvious that in order to do that, one needs to kill quite a lot of people. Solution: Scar did it. And died in the process.
- Dragon Ball Z: Vegeta's entire purpose, story-wise, for being on Namek is to kill every single minor villain so the heroes (or at least Goku) don't have to. Cui, Dodoria, Zarbon, 4/5ths of the Ginyu Force (two while helpless!) and most of Freeza's mooks. Goku clearly doesn't want him doing this, and even calls him out after killing the two helpless Ginyu Force members. Though Goku kills Freeza himself, or would have if King Cold didn't show up to revive him... only for both of them to be killed off by Vegeta's Kid from the Future.
- This trope shows up several times in the second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, though very rarely played straight.
- In Bleach, the Central 46 are Obstructive Bureaucrats of the worst kind. Good thing Aizen kills them all. Although the person who killed them had been frequently acting in their names, manipulating, or outright impersonating them for a long time now (all the decisions relating to Rukia's sentence were carried out by Aizen and his accomplices impersonating them), so it's hard to tell just how obstructive they really were...
- Johan from Monster kicks off the plot by killing the corrupt doctors who screwed Tenma's career over. He also tends to kill any lesser villains who might be threatening Tenma or Nina.
- In one episode of the Pokémon anime, the heroes arrive at a festival dedicated to the Pokemon Wobbuffet, and several party-crashers come and start destroying things. The festival people explain that since Wobbuffet can't hurt the enemy except by reflecting attacks, in honor of that they will not attack the party crashers. Ash & co know the guys must be stopped, but are unwilling to break the rules of the festival. Team Rocket, on the other hand, have no such qualms. Ass kicking ensues.
- At the very end of Pluto, Brau-1589, the first robot to kill a human being and a Hannibal Lector Expy who spent most of the manga giving BreakingSpeeches to his visitors in prison, breaks free and kills The Man Behind the Man/Big Bad.
- Similar to the Mai-HiME example, in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S, Due disposes of the TSAB High Council, which was responsible for having Scaglietti created, preventing any such mistakes in the future.
- This is very common in Magical Girl series when it comes to the human-like lieutenants of the main villain. An example most western fans would be aware of is the big bads of Sailor Moon kill off most of their own subordinates who fail them which keep Sailor Moon and company from having to get their hands dirty. This is not the case of the Darker and Edgier manga however where they regularly kill their adversaries.
- This courtesy does not, of course, extend to the Big Bad themselves or often to their Dragon. As more often than not Sailor Moon will kill them personally.
- In Fairy Tail, after the eponymous guild is satisfied with just letting Grimoire Heart, the worst villains they faced so far who are clearly still evil, off with a scolding due to their leader being the guild's former master, Grimoire Heart leaves. As they lament their failure, Zeref, who they spent the entire series trying to get their hands on, approaches them. When they attempt to instigate their plan, he brushes them off, lets them know why he hates their guts, and makes their leader the third person in the series to be killed.
- In Naruto, Sasuke played this role in killing Danzo, as there was no way for the good guys to get rid of him without a huge political mess because he was their acting leader at the time. His action enables Tsunade to resume leadership once she awakens from her coma without any complications such as a power struggle.
- Shiva and Agora from Saint Seiya invoke the trope when they throw little Helen inside an active volcano. They even say that it's the best, since they had killed her grandfather and would've died anyway; in their words, after being offered as a 'sacrifice' of sorts, Helen's "pure and gentle" soul will become a benevolent spirit. Ikki obviously refuses to take this explanation and says they just went in full puppykicking mode. And uncommonly for this trope, Helen survives.
- Discussed, but subverted in Rave Master. After defeating Hardner and learning about his sad past the heroes and their allies of the week are wondering what to do with him when Lucia comes out of nowhere and stabs him in the back, claiming they should be grateful that he solved the problem for them. Due to quick action, Hardner is instead saved and becomes the only Rave Master villain not to suffer from Redemption Equals Death.
- This tends to apply frequently to the main characters of Apocalypse no Toride, although most of their actions could be written off as Villainous Rescue. One particular instance of this is Yoshioka stabbing another inmate through the hand and pinning him to a table to divert the zombies, giving them a chance to escape.
- DokiDoki! Precure has it in for Bel killing off Leva and Gula after they got defeated by Precure for the last time, effectively giving the team not only free from the duo but also getting their darkness to use it on Ira and Marmo.
- The first Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD story in the Silver Age ended with the fleeing leader of HYDRA being killed by his own men when they fail to recognize him out of his identity-concealing uniform. Curiously, both Fury's World War II stories in the concurrent Sergeant Fury and His Howling Commandoes comic and later SHIELD stories depicted Fury or his agents killing bad guys in combat.
- In the 1947 Batman story that introduces Joe Chill, the killer of Bruce Wayne's parents, Batman confronts Chill and, in a fit of anger, reveals his Secret Identity to him. Since this was back when recurring villains didn't get to learn such secrets, but Batman doesn't kill, Chill is instead killed by his own enraged men after he tells them he is responsible for creating Batman… and, naturally, dies before he can say just who's behind the mask.
- In Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, Joe Chill would be killed off by psycho vigilante The Reaper just as Batman is struggling with the decision to kill him himself or not.
- Happens in Deadpool. A man who had been abusing Wade's friend is cornered by him, but unfortunately, she had earlier made him promise not to kill him. He leaves. Cue Taskmaster, who happily proclaims that HE didn't promise her squat. Cue Gory Discretion Shot.
- At the end of Infinite Crisis, Alexander Luthor has managed to escape the Final Battle and is planning to start over. Unfortunately, he forgot that he'd pissed off everyone's favorite homicidal clown. Not content with the possibility that Luthor might return, the writers have Mister J burn him with acid, electrocute him and shoot him in the head.
- During The Sinestro Corps War, after the Green Lanterns' attempt to kill the Anti-Monitor via a Colony Drop proves insufficient, Superboy-Prime steps in to finish the job for them.
- James Robinson's Starman series had a great example. Starman and the golden age Green Lantern are confronting Mad Bomber Dr. Pip and his giant exploding suicide exoskeleton when their powers short out due to a Crisis Crossover that they aren't aware of. But◊ then◊ all◊ this◊ happens.◊
- On the fourth page, note that The Shade is in fact flipping him off.
- In the Grand Finale, the Big Bad Culp is killed by the original Mist moments after his final defeat, revealing the latter as the Bigger Bad.
- In Grant Morrison's Earth 2, the Justice League are in a universe where the bad guys always win, and are losing to that universe's Brainiac. Their solution is to walk away, allowing the evil Ultraman to lobotomize Brainiac with his heat vision.
- The former page image comes from the Superman Y2K storyline. With Superman incapacitated and the city of Metropolis in chaos due to the apocalyptic Brainiac 13 computer virus, who is ruthless enough to step forth and protect the citizenry by any means necessary? Freakin' Lex Luthor, that's who.
- Final Crisis also has Lex and Dr. Sivana coming to save the day from Libra when they hack into the Justifier helmets and kill Libra. Later, they helped the heroes build the Miracle Machine that fixes everything.
- This is foreshadowed and Inverted in an earlier JLA story by Morrison, in which Luthor taps into his own and the Joker's humanity in order to undo the Collateral Damage of his Injustice Gang's rampage. It's implied that this prevents the destruction of a cosmic artifact which in turn prevents a Bad Future where Darkseid takes over the universe. Luthor himself later insists it's a straightforward version of the trope and that he did it all to escape murder charges.
- During Blackest Night, Hal Jordan allows himself to be possessed by Parallax again in order to fight the Black Lantern Spectre.
- To give an idea of how desperate this plan was, keep in mind that the last time Parallax possessed Hal, he destroyed the entire universe. (But this is comics, so they fixed it.)
- Warren White/The Great White Shark in the DC limited series/graphic novel Arkham Asylum: Living Hell
- The remnants of The Black Glove that tried to utterly destroy Batman (and utterly failed) in Batman RIP could have caused problems in the future. It's probably for the best that Joker as Oberon Sexton killed them all. Later on, the same thing happens to Simon Hurt.
- Similarly, when Batman finally goes after the leadership of the Court of Owls, he finds that they've all already been killed by Lincoln March/ a different Thomas Wayne
- Averted in the American Sonic the Hedgehog comic. During the "Enerjak Reborn" arc, the Freedom Fighters are forced to fight Knuckles, who's been transformed into Enerjak and gone mad with power. Just when it starts to look like they might have to kill him, in comes Dr. Eggman, who captures Knuckles and intends to drain his life force to power his city. The aversion comes when Knuckles effortlessly breaks free and proceeds to level Eggman's whole city.
- Played straight in a late comic where Shadow confronts Eggman, and outright states he's going to kill him. Eggman tries to play the Thou Shalt Not Kill rule. He turns out to be Wrong Genre Savvy, as Shadow points out; "Sonic holds such beliefs. But then, he's a hero... I'm not."
- That technically counts as a Villainous Rescue since the Freedom Fighters and Dr. Eggman had invoked an Enemy Mine, and he did still save them. A straighter example occurs in the British Sonic the Comic, where during a break into Robotnik's city, during which his robot general Brutus turned him. Brutus, like in an earlier fight, was too powerful for the heroes, and who only get away due to him getting occupied by Robotnik fighting Brutus in a suit of Powered Armor, which ends with Robotnik freezing Brutus and smashing him into pieces.
- In the Hulk tie-in to Fear Itself, M.O.D.O.K. and cybernetic villainess Zero/One teamed up to defend Manhattan from Skadi's forces
- Wayne Shelton exploits this trope: the Big Bad is killed by another villain. Shelton confesses that he hoped him to do this. And call this a bargain with his own conscience.
- Depending on if you see him as a hero, anti-hero or an anti-villain, most everything John Constantine does could be seen as this: he certainly does what needs to be done when Swampy and others he interacts with hesitate to.
- In an early Thunderbolts story (#14), the Thunderbolts have to kill an alien leader in order to get out of the dimension they're stuck in. Even though he understands the necessity of it, Abe (MACH-I) can't bring himself to, and Moonstone has to instead.
- In the X-Men graphic novel God Loves Man Kills, the X-Men and their erstwhile ally Magneto have captured a few of the enemy "Purifiers." The heroes are desperate for information about the Big Bad's plans, but the Purifier they question refuses to talk. Magneto, who at this point has yet to enter the Heel-Face Revolving Door, does...something...to the man to force him to answer.
- Something comparable happens in Uncanny X-Men #269. Here Rogue and the personality she absorbed from Ms. Marvel come out of the Siege Perilous as two separate persons; unfortunately there is only life force for one of them to survive, and therefore the Ms. Marvel revenant (a separate being from Carol Danvers, who was then in outer space as Binary) tries to kill Rogue. Rogue manages to defeat her, but can't bring herself to kill her even to survive, and so "Ms. Marvel" turns the tables again. She is about to kill Rogue when Magneto intervenes and kills the Ms. Marvel revenant. This could possibly be interpreted as Magneto being a Combat Pragmatist, but the subsequent story (#274-275) shows him starting on the road to becoming a villain again.
- Wolverine considers himself damned already because of his past, so he's willing to cross lines actual heroes shouldn't. He does not want anyone else, especially kids, following his example.
- Transformers Autocracy: Megatron fights Zeta Prime, Optimus's Tyrannical predecessor, with Optimus himself (then called Orion). The battle is furious, and ends with Megatron shoving his Fusion Cannon up under Zeta's chin and blowing off a third of his head.
- The Lion King Adventures features two examples:
- In Friends to the End, Hago kills Scar whilst his back is turned.
- In The Interceptor's Challenge, the Interceptor rips Shocker's head off, before burying him underneath the ground for all eternity.
- Queen Of All Oni: So far, all of the villains killed off have met their ends at the hands of Jade or her minions.
- In The End of Ends, Dr. Beljar makes it really easy for the Titans to not kill Beast Boy, since he takes over control of the Dark Prognosticus, and it’s required that whoever controls the Prognosticus must die in order to close the void. This arguably ends up being a moot point, though, when Beast Boy dies anyway from injuries sustained in the battle.
- In Perfection Is Overrated, the First District is dealt with in a similar manner to canon, but this time by The Usurper-possessed Obsidian Lord and his minions.
- A bizarre example happens in The Prayer Warriors. After Dumbledore is killed, the heroes need to burn his body, and they apparently do not have any other means to set a fire, so they have Harry Potter, their (recently Back from the Dead) enemy, burn it with fire magic, because he's going to hell anyway.
- In the RWBY Fanfic Those Silver Eyes, Summer Rose refuses to kill Barbary, even though he's blatantly threatening to spark a second Faunus War to Kill All Humans. Even after he tries to kill her after she spared his life, she refuses to finish the job. Fortunately, he runs afoul of a pack of Ursa Majors, who have no such qualms.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Pirates of the Caribbean:
- The crew of the Dutchman in the wake of Norrington's Heroic Sacrifice as Elizabeth's crew makes their getaway.
- Done in On Stranger Tides by the Spanish navy with the intention to destroy the Fountain of Youth.
- The Chronicles of Riddick saga is based on taking this trope and making a franchise out of it.
- The climax scene of Let the Right One In goes...this way, kind of. As the kid's about to be drowned, the Eli shows up and saves the day. But since she's a vampire, she kills three people doing so.
- In Red Sun, the villains are about to kill the heroes, only to be interrupted by an attack by murderous Comanches.
- The Joker did this in his own twisted way in The Dark Knight, when a Wayne Enterprises accountant discovered Bruce's big secret and was about to reveal it to the world on live television (because the Joker had threatened a massive killing spree if Batman didn't reveal his identity). But leave it to the Joker to take something that would have been a favor to Batman, and to twist it to his own ends:
- In addition, Gotham City's top crime lords and their "accountant" are killed off by either Joker or Two-Face.
- Straight example in The Dark Knight Rises: Batman's one rule keeps him from killing Bane. But Catwoman has no such restriction.
- In X-Men, the Mutant Registration Act is defeated due to the Brotherhood unintentionally killing the Act's main supporter and Mystique replacing him later on.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past:
Mystique is ultimately the one who saves the day, preventing the dystopian future by taking down Magneto and showing mercy to Trask.
A Sentinel tries to kill Erik during the climax. It's hopelessly one-sided in Magneto's favor, but the fight does distract Erik long enough for Mystique to shoot him.
- Chris Pine's character in Carriers where everyone is a Crazy Survivalist shoots the dog many times in order to spare his more innocent brother from doing it himself. It rubs off on his brother though, who later finally gets his hands dirty by killing Pine when he is infected.
- Salim from Slumdog Millionaire spends most of the movie playing The Caretaker to Jamal, shooting and kicking the dog alternately allowing them both to survive, but allowing Jamal to remain relatively untarnished.
- In Bad Lieutenant Port Of Call New Orleans, the title character is being pursued by gangsters who want him to pay $50,000 for roughing up the son of a local real estate mogul. Rather than paying, he lures them to a place where he's meeting a drug kingpin that he's in business with. When the gangsters try to steal the kingpin's product in payment for what the protagonist owes, the kingpin and his men kill them all.
- Elysium: This is what Delacourt keeps Kruger around for, to the dismay of President Patel. Then, when he gets to the Elysium near the end, Kruger kills Delacourt.
- The Probability Broach: It would be wrong to attack the Hamiltonians before they import a nuclear weapon, so they're killed off by a previously mentioned side effect of closing a broach when something is halfway through it.
- The Culture novel Matter has a Sealed Evil in a Can being released and in typical Banks fashion killing most of the main cast. While this is nearly all of the heroes, it also includes the Evil Chancellor who had usurped a throne and his minions. Thus, the Culture are able to set-up the surviving hero as the future prime minister, and unlike in other novels in the series, didn't actually have to act morally ambiguously and get rid of corrupt leaders themselves.
- In general in Culture novels, Special Circumstances plays this role for the rest of the Culture (and their non-Culture Citizen agents play this role to the rest of the organization). Use of Weapons contains a particularly clear example of this with the amoral/immoral protagonist and his anti-hero handlers taking on a morally ambiguous mission that will help promote freedom and tolerance in general for a particular region, but cost a lot of innocent and not-so-innocent lives in the meantime.
- In Night Watch, Vimes frees prisoners from the Cable Street watch house. In the process, he has to subdue a torturer, who he leaves tied to a chair and forgets about until someone reminds him. Since he gets reminded after he started burning the place down, he has to run back in, all the while trying to decide whether to kill the mook, cut him free, or cut just enough rope that he can maybe escape before he burns to death. Luckily, Captain Swing shows up and kills the mook before Vimes has to make his choice.
- Vetinari: In his own words “history needs its butchers as well as its shepherds” or, in plainer language “Magnificent Bastards do the dirty work.” note Swing also used the phrase.
- “Stoneface” Vimes used more or less the same phrase, and executes the last king of Ankh in person, without any form of trial. To be fair, the king deserved it, and some of the comments about the event indicate that he tried for a trial, but there wasn't anyone willing to be judge.
- In Bernard Cornwell's book Agincourt, the main character, Nick Hook, has made a vow to a priest not to kill the murderous rapists who his family has been in a blood feud with for generations. His arch-enemy, father-in-law, and prisoner (it's complicated) made no such promise.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Pensieve reveals to Harry that Snape felt he was subjected to this when he was told to kill Dumbledore so that Draco wouldn't have to cross the point of no return.
- Happens in the second Daughter of the Lioness book by Tamora Pierce. Aly's god-ordered objective is to put one of two sisters on the throne of the Copper Isles as part of a revolution. Among the people they will be usurping are the five-year-old king and the girls' own three-year-old half-brother, whom Aly (and a number of the other Rebel Leaders) has personally cared for. Aly considered binding them with magical oaths to not try and retake the throne and exiling them with a bodyguard, but everyone knew that wasn't a perfect solution and the boys could still be figureheads or martyrs for a counterrevolution. Then Aly mentioned the problem to said god, he got impatient over such an "insignificant" problem, and whispered in the regents' ears until they decided to kill the boys themselves so they could just have the throne for themselves.
- A Song of Ice and Fire This is how Lannisters endeared themselves to Robert Baratheon. Robert's Rebellion was won except for the Targaryens' last holdout, King's Landing. Tywin Lannister, who had stayed out of the fight until it was all but decided, tricked the Targaryens into letting his army inside their city and then sacked it. Jaime Lannister instigated a Bodyguard Betrayal on King Aerys, while Tywin's bannermen assassinated the last of the Targaryen line still in the city. This deflected a lot of blame for the atrocities at King's Landing onto the Lannisters, sparing Robert's reputation and conscience.
- Tyrion would question the wisdom of this, citing that it made the entire realm despise them when they could have let Robert take the blame. Tywin however felt that since they entered the war that late, they had to do it to prove their allegiance.
- In The Last Battle, Tash (i.e. Satan) gets rid of some of the bad guys - since they inadvertently summoned him for real, thinking he didn't exist.
- In the Dale Brown novel Executive Intent, the Chinese assault on and takeover of Mogadishu is likened to this In-Universe by one character, noting how China had solved the problem (Somali pirates, to be exact) most of the world probably secretly wanted to deal with but could not bring themselves to handle.
- Wormtongue killing Saruman near the end of The Lord of the Rings.
- A weird meta example occurs in the first Warrior Cats Myth Arc. Firestar had to defeat Tigerstar, but being the classical Heroic Archetype he needed to beat Tigerstar with moral superiority. Unfortunately, Tigerstar's plan was actually beneficial to the forest, with it's only problem being that someone crazy and evil was designing it. The problem was resolved in the last book of the arc The Darkest Hour, when Tigerstar's ally Scourge betrays him and becomes the Big Bad, allowing Firestar to have an opponent he could kill by having greater morals.
- The Hunger Games are about a competition where 24 children have to kill each other until only one is left standing. Luckily for the main character, a group of kids who went into the game by choice rather than by force are painted in a very negative light, and commit almost all of the unprovoked killings.
- The Deverry Cycle has little Olaen. When the Deverrian civil war ends, five-year-old Olaen 'rules' the losing side. The choices to prevent future challenge are death, castration, or blinding, the later two involving turning him over to the priesthood to raise. Oggyn poisons the boy with 'Dwarven Salts'.note
- Ruahkini in The Quest of the Unaligned is an incredibly rude and borderline crazy Rich Bitch who is perpetually insulting Laeshana and patronizing Alaric, as well as being partially responsible for the destructive imbalance in Caederan's magic. Unfortuantely, he's also the royal chancellor, so there's no conceivable way for the heroes to get rid of him. Luckily, his Ax-Crazy hoshek brother Gaithim shows up and kills him.
- In The Dresden Files, this is why the Knights of the Cross sometimes fight alongside Harry Dresden. He's not evil, but he's willing to Shoot the Dog and do morally questionable things if it averts a greater evil- freedom the Knights, who are truly good, loving people- do not have.
- In the first book of James S. Corey's The Expanse series, "Leviathan Wakes", Outland-esque rent-a-cop Joe Miller is present when the heroes make their final move on the base of the genius sociopath-staffed corporation responsible for setting loose a bio-modifying hyper-advanced fractally programmed engineered virus on a space station filled with millions of people. When they capture the head researcher, the de facto Big Bad of the novel, and they mean to interrogate him, he goes into a very well-planned justification speech that actually has a lot of legitimate reasoning, and leaves the protagonists kind of doubting their own motives. Miller, recognizing that the man might actually walk, and already having been on a despair bender for the majority of the book, decides to do what no one else seems to have the initiative to, and promptly shoots the man in the head. Three times, no less.
Live Action TV
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- "Wild at Heart": We don't kill werewolves, because they're human most of the time, but Oz's wolf side is amoral and thus free to kill Veruca.
- In "The Zeppo", Xander defeats his zombie Villain of the Week with a Breaking Speech, but lets him go. Moments after the departing baddie swears vengeance, he, too, is eaten by feral-werewolf-Oz.
- Buffy can't kill the Anointed One, partly because she's prophecied not to but mostly because he's a kid. Luckily, Spike does it for her.
- Buffy is dying after being shot by Big Bad wannabe Warren. Willow appears, heals her, and takes the bullet, which she uses to torture Warren with and become the new BigBad.
- Buffy can't kill Glory without killing her innocent host Ben. Giles, however, is willing to so that she doesn't have to.
- Though it should be noted that Giles is not otherwise presented as a villain, he has a Bad Boy past and intentionally invokes an anti-hero morality as he speaks to Ben just before smothering him to make sure Glory never returns.
- An interesting use occurs in Angel when the main character leaves most of the key employees of Wolfram and Hart in a cellar with Drusilla and Darla, whom the lawyers had been helping (mainly just to piss Angel off and get under his skin), knowing full well that the two will kill most or all of them. Unusually, this is played as Angel becoming evil, or at least turning into an Unscrupulous Hero even though it's technically villains doing the dirty work.
- Dexter, end of season two. Sgt Doakes can prove that Dexter is the Bay Harbor Butcher, so Dexter locks him up in a lonely cabin until he can decide what to do. Dexter won't kill Doakes because he's a good guy. Lila, who is as psychopathic as Dexter but with no such code, finds the cabin and blows it up.
- In a way, this trope is the entire premise of Dexter... Dexter is the Big Damn Villain, played straight whenever he interrupts a murder to abduct his target.
- Farscape: In the episode "Prayer", it's ambiguous whether or not John knew Scorpius was going to kill the merged Chiana-Aeryn when he brought him along to the alternate universe, but it's what had to be done. See page quote.
- In an earlier episode, Moya is in orbit around a planet with notoriously sexist laws, and accepts a visit from a mechanic- accompanied by an armed security guard. Things go well, up until Chiana discovers that the mechanic is actually a woman, rebelling against the government by doing a Sweet Polly Oliver; just when it looks like they're becoming friends, the security guard shows up and, infuriated that he's had a woman under his nose all this time, holds both of them at gunpoint. Given that there's almost nobody else aboard the ship at the time, it looks as though the two of them are going to die...right up until Scorpius calmly drifts past and snap the man's neck. All the more impactful because Scorpius had been having a friendly chat with the guard before then.
- In an episode of The Flash (1990) where a baddie had discovered his Secret Identity and blackmailed him (with even a Theyd Cut You Up threat). He ended up killed by other baddies, with a Car Starter Bomb.
- This has happened tons of times in Smallville.
- Clark has to face people with dangerous superpowers, and while he can beat them readily enough, he can't very well run a super-jail or convince them to lead an honest life because, well, Kryptonite gives most people a god complex, and most krypto-freaks aren't stable/good to begin with. Having Clark kill or permanently disable them is far too squicky for a proto-Superman to do, so the preferred solution is to have them depowered or hoist by their own petard. The other solutions that pertain to this trope are to have them be killed by evil infighting among themselves, or having Lionel (and later Lex) deal with them.
- A big one in season nine. Both the Justice League and Zod have a bone to pick with Checkmate. Oliver and John get captured at different points, although they managed to escape. Chloe is also kidnapped and almost killed in an attempt to blackmail Clark into revealing more about their team. Zod, on the other hand? He comes over to visit and burns down their entire castle base with heat vision. Zod will not tolerate human nonsense. Kneel Before Zod.
- This is Michael Weston's modus operandi in Burn Notice. Michael is a Technical Pacifist and abides by Thou Shalt Not Kill, (except when he doesn't). This never seems to keep the Monster of the Week from dying in incredibly horrible ways at the hands of their boss or criminal rivals. In one of the more extreme examples Sam goaded three mooks into a Mexican standoff inside a house, and fired his gun into the air outside so that the three mooks would all pull the trigger at once and blow each other's brains out. Yipes.
- Note that none of the main characters ever expresses a moral objection to killing. Most of the early episodes have an obligatory scene where Fiona offers to murder the bad guys and Michael explains why that would cause more problems than it solves. They're all okay with bad guys being killed, it's just easier to accept them as the heroes if they don't to it themselves.
- It has more to do with pragmatism than anything else. Dead bodies attract police. If they let the bad guys kill each other, any investigation will point to that instead of them.
- In the third season of Heroes, a recently depowered Peter heads off with the Haitian to kill his father and destroy the Formula. However, once they get there they encounter problems when Peter can't pull the trigger as Arthur makes his saving throw to turn Peter to his side. The obvious solution? Sylar shows up, complete with recently stolen lie detection power, to ask Arthur if he's really a Petrelli. Naturally, Arthur lies, thus causing Sylar to allow the bullet he had grabbed in thin air to kill Arthur stone dead permanently.
- Not the straightest example. While Sylar was the one who pushed the bullet into Arthur's skull, he was the one who stopped it in the first place. Had Sylar not been there, Peter would've been the one to kill Arthur, he just waited a while before he did it.
- Sylar actually lampshades the fact that he prevents Peter from becoming a murderer. So actually he wasn't here to do the job, just to keep Peter from having remorses.
- Battlestar Galactica: it's obvious midway through "Pegasus" that Admiral Cain is a dangerous psychopath who needs to be dealt with. Adama is too moral to go through with an assassination. Fortunately, Baltar has let a Cylon with a grudge against Cain loose.
- Ironically just after Cain proved that she wasn't completely insane yet, having in turn just refused to assassinate Adama.
- In one episode, Roslyn has Baltar in the brig and threatens to throw him out an airlock if he won't tell her what she wants. Baltar says that she wouldn't go through with it, so she brings in Col. Tigh. Even that was a bluff, but Tigh would have done it.
- Da Ren Wu is a Chinese TV series based on a classic kung-fu novel set in medieval China. The heroes, as usual in wuxia literature, are staunch Confucianists: morally opposed to unwarranted violence and who don't approve of killing under any circumstances. At one point, Sisi, the main heroine, is tricked by some crooks who steal everything she owns and give her to a Masqueraded School for whores. The boss and his cronies take great pleasure in tormenting defenseless girls, and kill those who don't respond well to the training. Three characters come to Sisi's rescue, one after another: 1) Yang Fan is the first. He can't find Sisi in the School (the boss locked her in a hidden room), so he leaves convinced he made a mistake. 2) Qin Ge, a famous kung-fu master, is the second. He can't find Sisi either. He suspects something, but can't prove anything. He leaves as well. 3) The hunchback is the third. He's a major bad guy. He needs Sisi for some nefarious plan. He waits till night, gets into the School, finds Sisi and takes her with him. He pummels the cronies, and when the crossdressing boss tries to stop him: the hunchback pulls a Fist of the North Star on him. After leaving the School with Sisi, the hunchback tracks the crooks who had tricked her. He finds them, makes them give back the stolen stuff and beg for mercy on their knees...and then kills them nevertheless, just because! They say the author was very surprised when the hunchback's popularity with the audience skyrocketed after this story arc.
- In an episode of Taxi, Elaine visits a trendy hair stylist(played by Ted Danson) and comes away with an atrocious hairdo. She, Alex and Louie pay the stylist a visit to demand an apology and he rebuffs them. Elaine considers dumping a bowlful of hair dye on the stylist's head but decides not to, declaring "I'm better than you." Before they leave, Louie(in a combination Crowning Moment of Awesome/Funny) casually dumps the hair dye over the stylist and says, "She might be better than you, (beat)...but I ain't!"
- In the Doctor Who special The Five Doctors, the Master has been captured by the Cybermen and is initially being forced to do their bidding. He ends up turning the tables and wiping the whole lot of them out by skipping through a trap he's figured out the solution to, but conveniently forgets to tell his captors about.
- Twenty-six years later, in "The End of Time," this same Master (well, different actor/regeneration) forces Rassilon back behind the time lock on the Time War, and won't let him take the Doctor with him, either.
- Subverted in "The Pandorica Opens." a good number of the Doctor's foes all band together to save the universe...from the Doctor, who they've been tricked into believing will destroy it, when in fact he's the only one who can stop the explosion that will destroy the universe.
- Torchwood: The trope gets played with. Captain Jack Harkness fills the role of the trope, despite not actually being villainous. Torture, murder, kidnapping, or any other action that would normally fall under this trope and require a villain to perform it gets performed by Captain Jack at the protest of the other characters.
- This is one of the main ideas of Leverage. Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys.
- When Nate goes for revenge on the two men behind his father's murder, Elliot warns him that straight up murder carries a much higher moral cost than their usual method of destroying a bad guy's life. In the end, Nate plays the two against each other (getting each of them to point out why they should want the other dead) then leaves them to fight over a gun with a single bullet. They both fall off the nearby cliff while fighting over the weapon.
- Many episodes of Mission: Impossible involved manipulating characters associated with the target into killing them.
- In "Good Form" of Once Upon a Time, Regina mentions that she could tear out the lost boy's heart and use that to control him to deliver the message to Henry. Snow White freaks out, but Emma tells her to do it. Later she says something to this effect when Snow White says she doesn't want Emma to have to do those things.
- In Chris Carter's short-lived Harsh Realm the Three Percenters are a population of virtual zombies caused by a glitch in the program. They can convert just about anyone playing the game, and nearly do so to Hobbes and Pinocchio. Mel Waters sees through them immediately and he's the one who eliminates the threat.
- For most Kamen Rider shows, the monsters are often monsters taking the guises of humans. Double and Fourze, however, do the opposite: humans who take the guise of monsters. While taking them out is a breeze (all that's needed is to break their Transformation Trinket and they'll no longer be able to transform), taking out the higher-ranked members, some of which are Anti Villains, might be a hassle, especially with Double being a detective who helps the police nab criminals and Fourze being the All-Loving Hero. Leave it to the resident bad guys or self-dooming inflictions to do those villains in. Though Double and Fourze have their share of defeating the higher-ups, rarely killing them in the process (or putting one in a coma for one case).
- In Kamen Rider Wizard, the main hero is all about being the Hope Bringer. Though the Big Bad's hope is to revive his daughter. Well, noble goal, right? Well, his means involve sacrificing tons of people and convert them into monsters so as to power up a spell to revive her. What's a Hope Bringer like Haruto to do in a situation like that, especially since he was going to do this all over again? Cue The Dragon to come and run the Big Bad through with his own sword. Although, because this action might cause people to think this Dragon is a hero, he kills the Big Bad's daughter next.
- In Kamen Rider Gaim, this was done not so much as to spare the hero from killing off someone, but to make it so the person doing the dirty work in question crosses the line in doing so and punctuate himself as the local Hate Sink. Want context? Well, Kouta is hesitant to fight a human that he saw transform into an Inves before his eyes and is dead set on trying to have him be human again. He gets to his breaking point and at that time, Sigurd arrives, easily kills the human, then rubs it in Kouta's face by claiming it as a heroic feat. A similar thing happens late in the series, when Mad Scientist Ryoma has just vivisected Mai in his quest for the power that she now holds. Kouta might be too nice to kill him, but Kaito isn't; brutally beating Ryoma to death and cementing himself as the series' final antagonist.
- In Person of Interest, Reese attempts to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Simmons for killing Carter, despite his own life-threatening injuries. Finch and Shaw manage to catch him and talk him down (after his gun refuses to fire due to being clogged with his own blood), but Fusco tracks him down, breaks his arms, and hands him over to the FBI. However, he never makes it to jail, as mob boss Elias brings in his own goon to strangle Simmons while he watches, because he liked Carter, too.
- Teen Wolf has both Peter and Deucalion kill the third season Big Bad.
- Gerard also killed the Kanima's master a season earlier.
- In the L.A. Law episode "Beauty and Obese," Grace Van Owen has just joined a two-man law firm which is, unbeknownst to her, championed by a mobster named Frank Vincent. Vincent asks her to represent his nephew, who's charged with murder. Grace declines. Vincent takes her to lunch and makes it clear he's not politely asking anymore, and that people who go against his wishes sometimes get hurt. Grace still refuses and raises Vincent's ire; at that point a gunman disguised as a waiter walks up and puts a bullet in Vincent's head. Later on in the series, Grace tells Frank Kittredge about this incident, saying, "I was relieved. Got him out of my life. Once these people have you, they don't let go."
- In Game of Thrones, Gendrey and Arya are held prisoner by Lannister men in Harrenhal. The soldiers aren't happy that another band of warriors is killing them so they torture the prisoners in hopes that one of them knows something. Just as Gendrey is about to have a box full of hungry rats strapped to his chest, in rides Tywin Lannister, who promptly insults his men, realizes Arya (who is disguised as a boy) is not male, and saves the prisoners. Yes, they still have to work as slaves and Tywin only does it because he has need of workers, but at this point the heroes will take what they can get.
- In the finale of The Wire, the police department needs to explain several apparent murders (which Jimmy McNulty, one of the series' protagonists) had faked at the scene(s) to look like the work of a serial killer that did not really exist). Rather than admitting that they were faked, the mayor wants to blame them on a mentally ill homeless person the police had recently picked up. McNulty objects to putting the blame on the mentally ill man; deputy of operations Bill Rawls (one of the series' antagonists), however, does so anyway, and it keeps McNulty from facing any legal consequences.
- In the final story arc of Breaking Bad, Walter is captured and arrested by his brother-in-law, who he refuses to kill because he's family. But then unexpectedly Jack Welker and his men show up and kill Hank, allowing Walter to go free, although he's not too happy about it.
- Garak from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine often falls into this trope, since his morality is almost always teetering on the line between gray and black. Probably the best example is from "In The Pale Moonlight", where he lies, extorts, and murders at least six people (a criminal, a Romulan senator, and his four aides) to bring Romulus into the Dominion War on the Federation's side. He notes at the end that that's exactly why Sisko sought his help, because he was capable of doing the dirty work Sisko wasn't willing to do.
- In the second season finale of Arrow, Brother Blood finds out Oliver Queen is The Arrow, and their last conversation implies that he's very likely to blackmail Oliver with this knowledge. Then suddenly, Ravager shows up for a You Have Failed Me.
- The Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition book, Oriental Adventures, suggested that even if the players wanted to play samurai or other members of a noble caste in an Asia-themed game, the players would still probably want at least one dishonorable or lower-caste party member to do the dirty work - sometimes literal dirty work, such as searching enemy corpses.
- Pretty much the whole point of the Pact Primeval in the 3.5e+ D&D cosmology: good gods don't want their followers to become evil, but they don't want to punish them. What do they do? Leave the punishment up to Asmodeus. This, of course, backfires on them spectacularly. In Asmodeus's own words: "We have blackened ourselves so that you can remain golden."
- When the Azn Bad Boys begin a bombing spree in Worm, supervillains of the town team up to attack the ABB's bases in order to remove that chaotic element from the table — and end up doing a lot more visible damage to the organization than the local superhero teams.
- It's growing into a major theme, stretching from taking down the ABB, to going toe-to-toe with several major threats, to Skitter keeping the peace in her territory safer than it had been for years. People noticed, too. They noticed enough to shield her from an arresting band of "heroes".
- Both inverted and played straight in the same example in AJCO when A_J requests that she and Pi be put through the re-education process. Inverted when Egg, arguably the only 'true' good guy (or at the very least the only one without centuries of blood on her hands), is forced to make the decision - then played straight when Req, the most amoral of the four, is the one to push the button.
- A_J is quick to blame Egg when the Doctor dies, however.
- In To Boldly Flee the crew of the USS Exit Strategy needs a bit more time to counterattack the villains, who are already locked on to them and might just win. Cue Mechakara, whom those same villains betrayed at the end of last episode, beating up the whole evil bridge.
- In the Whateley Universe, a religious cult attempts to blackmail a student at the titular Academy of Adventure by threatening her friends' families. So the Headmaster calls the alumni association and suddenly all of the superhero alumni are looking the other way while the supervillains take action.