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Buy Them Off
"Nothing buys bygones quicker than cash"
Jayne Cobb, Firefly

"Sorry I burned down your village. Here's some gold."
Flavor text for the Magic: The Gathering card Reparations

An insincere Atoner attempts by his good deeds to stifle any guilt he feels, or buy off his victims so they will not seek Revenge when they learn he has wronged them. He often resorts to material assistance, because personal help prods his conscience and makes him feel worse.

Generally, he regards his evil deeds as not so much offset by his good deeds as obliterated by them — at least, he professes to believe it, though some hints may seep through that he knows that it was wrong. On the other hand, may slide into It's All About Me; the problem is not what he did, but what he feels about it, or the chance of Revenge.

Often his evil deeds are discovered long after the fact, to cast a respective light on his good deeds.

Phony Psychic uses this as a common ploy.

May be a form of Screw the Rules, I Have Money!, but the character does not have to be richer than others. Compare Every Man Has His Price for "bribery" in a more generic sense. See Must Make Amends or Apology Gift for when the efforts are sincere.

Examples

Anime & Manga

Film
  • Pretty much the entire plot behind Changing Lanes. One rich lawyer guy gets into an accident with a not-rich not-lawyer guy and attempts to buy him off. Not-rich guy refuses, wanting to do the right thing of filing an insurance claim, but lawyer guy is in a hurry and blows him off. This seemingly random event culminates in an all-out war that almost kills both of them. In addition, the lawyer finds out that his firm was and is stealing from a senile dead man, and that they are attempting to assuage their guilt by doing good works, claiming that they "do more harm than good". The lawyer guy doesn't like that.
  • In Batman Returns, Max Shreck starts pleading for his life with Catwoman, but she's quite determined to kill him.
  • In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya tells Rugen to offer him money, power, anything he wants; Rugen agrees to them all, and Inigo tells him he wants his father back and kills him.
  • Played for humor at the end of Small Soldiers. The CEO of the company that made the self aware, murderous toys just shows up and hands out checks that convince everyone to happily keep quiet about the incident.
  • In Thank You For Smoking, Nick is sent to deliver a briefcase of cash to a former cigarette spokesman who has terminal lung cancer. The guy clearly still hates the tobacco company, but Nick points out that he can't denounce them publicly and keep the money. He later tells his son that only a crazy person would turn down that much money, so as soon as he saw that the guy was sane, he had nothing to worry about.

Literature
  • In Madeleine L'Engle's The Young Unicorns, they learn at the end that the doctor who had done so much to help Emily after she had been blinded — had been the person to blind her. (Albeit accidentally.)
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel First & Only, Gaunt learns, in the end, that his "Uncle Dercius", who had helped him so much as an orphan, was responsible for his father's death.
  • In Missing Magic, the main character's uncle/cousin dotes on him and even pays for the main character to go to a fancy magic school, despite the fact that he has no magic. It's later revealed that the uncle/cousin was the one responsible for removing the main character's magic by using him as a guinea pig for a new spell when he was just a toddler.
  • In Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, at the beginning, a rich man's carriage hits and kills a small child. The man in the carriage offers them money, which they refuse, then reluctantly accept.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel The Killing Ground, several characters attempt, through good works, to atone for their conniving at a massacre. Some even admit to having done wrong before they are killed.
  • In The Dresden Files, the magical beings frequently pay weregild. Mentioned many times in passing.
    • At the end of White Night, Harry demands it from Lara for the dead women.
    • At the end of Turn Coat, when the money put in a bank account under Morgan's name is tracked back to the White Court, Lara sends the White Council the heads of the culprits, and tells them they can keep the money. Harry comments on how the money assuages everything.
      • Additionally, unlike most examples, this is actually codified in law, with the amount of the bribe dependent on what happened and to who. Once someone is paid an appropriate weregild, they no longer have standing to enact retribution, and would be considered in the wrong should they attempt to exact revenge.
  • In Alex Bledsoe's Burn Me Deadly, when surrounded by Black River Hill people and one recognizes him as having punched him, Eddie offers money. Doesn't work, not surprising Eddie.
  • The main characters try this in The Secret History, to prevent Bunny from telling the police about their accidental murder. It works for a while, but he starts talking regardless, telling Richard (who knew anyway) with the implication that he would tell others. The other four plus Richard kill him almost immediately.
  • In the Farsala Trilogy, an arrogant deghan scars Kavi's hand so badly that he can no longer practice his trade. About a year later, he returns and pays Kavi "for his trouble." It doesn't help.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "The Scarlet Citadel", Conan the Barbarian is offered compensation for the loss of his kingdom.
    "Compensation!" It was a gust of deep laughter from Conan's mighty chest. "The price of infamy and treachery! I am a barbarian, so I shall sell my kingdom and its people for life and your filthy gold?"
    • Later, a man comes with the keys and asks Conan what he would pay for him. Then he revealed that Conan had killed his brother and asks his price again. Then he says the price is Conan's head.
  • The In Death series: Haunted in Death reveals that Hopkins bought off the police investigating his wife or lover's death. Eve Dallas makes it clear in that story that no one buys her off. Seduction in Death and Kindred in Death had the people responsible for murder try to buy off Eve. She makes them wish they didn't try that.
  • In Rick Cook's Limbo System, Captain Jenkins is told that if he exchanges Dr. Tukiuji for the captive humans, a wereguild could be paid to his lineage.
  • In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, after a civil war, the losing side accepts werguild.
  • Backstory to The Lord of the Rings given in The Silmarillion has Sauron as something of this after the defeat of Morgoth; he begs clemency from the emissary of the Valar and offers his services in fixing the damage done by his master. The narration states that he was not entirely insincere in such offers (even if only driven by fear), and certain other writings imply that Sauron ultimately contrived his decision to remain in Middle-Earth against the instructions to return to Valinor for judgement as an opportunity to do good works (even if jealousy of the Elves and Númenórëans helped his true nature reassert itself).

Live-Action TV
  • All the time in the Law & Order franchise.
  • Jayne Cobb from Firefly after he tried to sell out Simon and River to the Alliance.
    • Also, the way he joined the crew; Mal and Zoe had been ambushed, and Mal offered Jayne a job with his own bunk and a larger share of the loot.
  • At one point in My Name Is Earl, Earl tries to teach someone else to do their own list. They end up just sending fruit baskets to everyone.
  • In Xena: Warrior Princess, Autolycus the thief (played by Bruce Campbell) is about to kill the man who murdered his older brother years ago. When the man tries to buy him off by offering money, Autolycus gives him a Hope Spot by asking him how much he's willing to offer. When the man responds "All I've got!", Autolycus says that's not enough and prepares to kill him. Xena stops Autolycus from crossing the line between thief and killer by asking him if this is really what his brother would have wanted.
  • In Community episode Basic Genealogy Pierce's solution to getting a family involves mass e-mails to his former step-children and writing checks.
  • Revenge has Conrad and Victoria Grayson endowing a charity to help victims of terrorist attacks in order to sooth their own guilty consciences about laundering money for terrorists.
    • This appears to be the standard Grayson reaction. Conrad buys Victoria a car to make up for cheating on her, Victoria gives Charlotte the same car to apologize for wishing she'd never been born.
  • Dan Scott in One Tree Hill following his stint in prison for the murder of his brother Keith, up until his Heel Realization.
  • A last-season episode of Highlander played with this. Immortal Willie Kingsley would allow himself to be hit by a car (usually a very expensive model with a rich person driving). His mortal wife, Molly, would then come running in playing the grieving widow, the expectation being that the car owner would buy her off for a large sum of money.
  • On Boardwalk Empire this is Nucky Thompson's standard way of trying to make up for the mistakes he made or bad blood he caused. In season 4 he ends a Mob War with Joe Masseria by giving him a Briefcase Full of Money to make amends for the killing of dozens of Masseria's men during a supposed truce. While Masseria took the money and left on supposedly good terms, later his dragon Lucky Luciano reveals that on the whole ride back to New York from Atlantic City, all Masseria would talk about was how he was still going to take revenge on Nucky. This supports a general theme in the show that Nucky's attempts to buy people off seldom actually solve any problems, especially in his personal relationships.

Tabletop Games
  • The Magic: The Gathering flavor text for Reparations above was written by current Head Designer Mark Rosewater, who considered it his masterpiece. It was popular enough that in "Unglued", the first joke set, the card Clambassadors, has the flavor text, "Sorry we shelled your village - here's some gold."

Theatre
  • Policeman Olim in Kurt Weill's music theatre Der Silbersee (The Silver Lake) has a hell of a guilt trip over shooting store robber Severin. Olim wins the lottery, buys a castle, invites Severin to stay, and generally takes good care of him. However, things still get ugly once Severin discovers that Olim is the shooter.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac:
    De Guiche: Last night
    Your fancy pleased my uncle Richelieu.
    I'll gladly say a word to him for you.
    LE BRET (overjoyed): Great Heavens!
    De Guiche: I imagine you have rhymed
    Five acts, or so?
    LE BRET (in Cyrano's ear): Your play!—your 'Agrippine!'
    You'll see it staged at last!
    De Guiche: Take them to him.
    Cyrano (beginning to be tempted and attracted): In sooth, — I would...

Video Games
  • Alpha Protocol: In some endings, Leland tries. Thorton / Scarlet shoot him in the face.
    Leland: Thorton, please, I can pay you!
    *Headshot*
  • Similar to the wergild example below, Fallout 3's Karma Meter is designed in a way that a human life is worth less than an assault rifle. So, want to kill someone without losing your good reputation? Just go down to the church in Megaton, and donate 100 caps! All is forgiven.
  • Also done in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The fine for murder is a fixed 1000 gold (plus the paltry 400 to 600 gold for assault). This is a game where it's common to have 10 to 20 times that amount by the late game, allowing you to murder someone in plain daylight, yield to the guards, pay off the fine and be on your merry way without spending more than a minute in jail.
    • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim lowers the assault fine to 40 gold. Nords... fight a lot. Especially against the Thalmor: You will NEVER get a murder fine from the cities if you murder a Thalmor in public. Everyone hates those fascists that much. In fact, the holds that are aligned with the Stormcloak faction will help you murder them, and then try to buy YOU off by bribing you with a "Let's sweep this assault fine under the rug, and you keep butchering Thalmor" deal.

Web Comics
  • A heroic example can be found in Errant Story. Sarine desperately needs to get a warp gate connected up to the elven network, so instead of threatening the two mages she's kidnapped, she shows them a priceless Lost Technology artifact, which they can have if they'll help.

Web Original
  • The Undersiders do this in Worm using their impressive funds when Skitter, the leader, is cornered by the hero Flechette and her ally Parian and pays Parian off with two hundred thousand dollars so that Parian can get surgery for her horribly mutilated friends and family. Unlike most examples, this was a sincere offer intended to help the recipient that also happened to serve the Undersiders' interests.

Truth in Television
  • As repeatedly cited in Beowulf, the concept of wergild or "blood-price" was once common among European cultures: the avoidance of a feud by settling on and paying an appropriate sum for the loss of kinfolk.
    • A very good concept, since at the time the only other option was a blood feud that could last for decades and centuries, as two clans kill each others' random members in retribution to other random killings for the same reason.
    • The Lex Frisionum (Law of the Frisian tribe) shows how complex and detailed the wergild could be. It is like a shopping list for the murder, rape, and pillage of other clans in the tribe, as long as the you were willing to pay the wergild to the survivors.
  • As mentioned in The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar, the Qajar Persian government "apologised" for the destruction of the Russian embassy and the death of the ambassador at the hands of an angry mob in 1829 by sending the Shah Diamond to St. Petersburg as a gift.
    • Well, it really doesn't brighten your day to have the czar grumpy at you.
  • The Roman Republic enshrined this principle in its basic law, the Twelve Tables, which imposed a fixed fine for common assault, payable to the person who was assaulted. (The fine was a large one, but regrettably, the Romans never quite got around to adjusting it for inflation. By the time of Julius Caesar, repeated debasements of the currency had rendered the fine almost worthless, and rich sociopaths used to walk down the streets punching people in the face and immediately handing over the small bag of copper coins that, by law, was all the compensation their victims were entitled to.)

The AtonerI Regret This IndexDark and Troubled Past
Brainwashing for the Greater GoodMorality TropesCan't Kill You, Still Need You
Bus CrashCharacterization TropesCain and Abel
Bewildering PunishmentRevenge TropesThe Chain of Harm

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