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This pill, when swallowed, will bring painless death in about 20 seconds. Are there any questions? Maxwell Smart:
How do I get them to take it?
It takes a heroic level of dedication to be willing to die for a cause... but it takes an altogether higher (some would say crazy) level of dedication to be willing to kill yourself
for a cause. Sometimes, a particularly devoted henchman will not only be willing to kill themselves, but will carry around a mechanism to do this cleanly and quickly should the need ever arise. The classic example is the Cyanide Pill carried in a hollow fake tooth — the henchman simply opens the tooth with his tongue, bites down on the pill, and lets death embrace him.
It should be noted that this takes an altogether far higher level of devotion than that possessed by the standard Mook-for-hire
. Absolute belief in the rightness of the cause
is necessary for someone to take this step. Therefore, it's usually employed by cultists
and secret agents in service to their country. However, it can also be used to imply that the Big Bad
is so terrifying that death is preferable to the punishment he would visit upon his henchmen for failure
. If you are facing a Fate Worse Than Death
, a Cyanide Pill would be your friend.
This one has some basis in real life — though uncommon, various spy agencies have issued suicide pills/devices to field agents to use in case of capture. U-2 pilot Gary Powers was carrying cyanide when he was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, but opted not to use it.
Use of the cyanide pill by villainous characters may be due to the historical use of such devices by many of the high Nazi leadership at the end of WWII who chose suicide over capture and punishment by the Allied forces. (See Real Life
section below for more details) Adolf Hitler
himself, due to paranoia that it would not be effective, took one but opted to also shoot himself.
Compare Self-Destruct Mechanism
. See also Better to Die Than Be Killed
. Compare and contrast Leave Behind a Pistol
Death Trope. Spoilers ahoy.
open/close all folders
- This was used for humor in a commercial for Dockers pants. The commercial showed a shifty looking fellow grabbing some papers and quickly walking his way through the corridors of a building, shadowy men in sunglasses following him all the while, just behind him. One slips into the elevator with him just as the door closes, prompting him to pop something into his mouth and audibly gulp it down. The shadowy figure leans over and says, "Nice pants." Cut to dumbfounded spy's face and the commercial ends.
Anime & Manga
- In a chapter of Black Jack, Pinoko swallows a cyanide pill that she found in the surgeon's bag, thinking it was ordinary medicine. Black Jack then has to desperately operate on Pinoko to get the pill out before its outer shell melts.
- The Mariages from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS Sound Stage X will liquify its body into a combustible liquid and immolate themselves (and hopefully all nearby enemies) when unable to complete a mission.
- In a Legend of Galactic Heroes example of Better to Die Than Be Killed, Ansbach bites a poison capsule he was carrying in his mouth rather than be taken alive after attempting to assassinate Reinhard, and succeeding in killing Kircheis, during his fake surrender.
- In Outlaw Star, Hilda seemed to use a variant of this when she (and a Space Pirate) were falling into a star. It was a very miniaturized bomb.
- Played with in Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid, where Sōsuke is shown to be surrounded by large forces from the enemy on both sides and no ammo left, with no escape possible. AL suggests that the rational conclusion and solution is for him to activate the self destruct system. The idea is rejected, as Sōsuke has no intention dying that way (as he "wouldn't be able to get his school credits" that way).
- In Death Note, one person takes one after being captured by Mello after a failed raid of the Mafia's headquarters, foiled by Sidoh.
- The title character of 009-1 has one, but she uses it in a unique manner. After being captured, she manipulates a guard into kissing her, and while he does so, she tongues the pill into his mouth. Once the guard is dead, she picks the locks to her restraints and escapes.
- In the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga, Marik hypnotises Anzu and forces her to hold a pill (presumably cyanide) between her teeth. If Yugi does not duel Jonouchi, Marik will force her to swallow it. (For comparison, in the anime, a giant block of concrete was suspended above her head.)
- A cult assassin in The Case Files of Yakushiji Ryoko used an instant-mummification drug to kill herself after failing to poison the main character.
- FoxTrot referenced this in one strip where Jason and Marcus are (as usual) going to harass Paige. In the throwaway panels Jason gives Marcus a stick of vanilla chewing gum, saying "It's the closest thing to poison I could find."
- In Watchmen, the hitman that tries to kill Adrian Veidt takes one of these after his attack fails. Except not really, as Veidt had secretly hired him (trusting in his own skills to keep him alive). In order to silence the unfortunate Mook, Veidt forces a cyanide pill into the his mouth while pretending he is trying to stop him committing suicide.
- A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures (the Archie comics) story features Mooks taking suicide pills that set their heads on fire, burning the flesh off. No reason not to do it with style...
- Usagi Yojimbo: The Neko Ninja swallow their own tongues if captured. The futuristic versions have instant immolation suits.
- Played with in The Tick, where a secret agent tells Big Blue that his tooth is filled with deadly poison... only he's forgotten which tooth. "I try to avoid crunchy foods."
- Parodied in Sturmtruppen where there is revealed that the "Oldest Spy in the Army" attained such a title by taking mints instead of Cyanide pills.
- Captain Britain and MI13 had a Vampire spy with a fake fang full of holy water.
- Doctor Who Magazine: The mad anarchist Ruckford uses a cyanide pill to commit suicide when he is captured by the Paternoster Street Gang after they foil his attempt to blow up Buckingham Palace in "The Crystal Throne".
- In Contact, Jodie Foster's character is given a suicide pill to use if anything goes wrong, such as being marooned or an incomprehensible Fate Worse than Death. According to the film, every NASA astronaut and test pilot is given one of these, for emergencies where dying quickly would be a mercy. In his book Lost Moon, Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell mentioned that this had been a rumor for some time, and that it was not true — it would be much easier simply to open the main hatch and depressurize the spacecraft.
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, film version: in the very beginning, one of the enemy Mooks kills himself this way after being caught by Alan Quartermain.
- Spoofed in the movie Team America: World Police. When Gary is being briefed for his first mission, Spottswoode prepares him for the fact that, if he is captured, he might want to take his own life. To that end, he supplies him with... a hammer.
- James Bond:
- In Dr. No, the enemy driver kills himself with a cyanide cigarette.
- Thunderball. Bond Girl Paula Kaplan takes cyanide rather than face interrogation by SPECTRE thugs. In a cruel irony, James Bond would have arrived in time to save her if she hadn't.
- In Licence to Kill, a Hong Kong narcotics agent bites down on one when confronted by the Big Bad for questioning.
- In The World Is Not Enough, the Cigar Girl Assassin blows herself up rather than face arrest from MI6, or worse yet, punishment (for failing to kill Bond) from her boss.
- In Die Another Day, M asks Bond why he didn't take his pill when captured. Bond answers he got rid of it years ago.
- Raoul Silva, the Big Bad of Skyfall, attempted to commit suicide using a cyanide implant in one of his molars during his capture, torture and imprisonment by the Chinese after M's betrayal. The suicide attempt failed, horrifically scarring Silva both mentally and physically. It should be noted that's not how cyanide works. Which may or may not have been the point.
- Bond is supplied with a cyanide pill hidden in his briefcase o' tricks in the book From Russia with Love. He flushes it down the toilet.
- An especially chilling film variant in the German film Downfall has Mrs. Goebbels drugging her six children to sleep and then crushing a cyanide pill between their teeth as they're asleep, killing them all: she knows that Adolf Hitler's reign is coming to an end, and believes that a world without the Nazis is not worth it for her children. The fact that the scene displays a historical fact arguably makes it all that much worse.
- On the other side, Jewish families often did this during the war. Many parents poisoned their children and then themselves rather than allow them to be subjected to the horrors of the concentration camps. Arguably, the most famous example is that of famed cartoonist (of Maus fame) Art Speigleman's older brother Richieu, who died this way while in the care of an aunt.
- The Predators of Predator and its sequels carry a suicide Self-Destruct Mechanism. Considering they choose to hunt xenomorphs, and humans who would reverse-engineer any captured technology, it's probably a good idea.
- Used twice in Telefon (1977), the first time by a Manchurian Agent (leading to much puzzlement among the CIA as to how a typical American housewife got hold of an obsolete Soviet suicide pill) and the second time by the KGB protagonist to kill a Renegade Russian (first he throttles him, them to make sure he places a pill between the man's teeth and slams his hand against the jaw to crush it).
- Lust, Caution: Wong Chia-chi is given one when she joins a Chinese Nationalist cell in occupied Shanghai. When she is about to face capture by the Japanese, she reaches for it but decides to allow herself to be captured alive.
- Remo Williams, the film of The Destroyer series; Harold W. Smith of CURE keeps a pill in his pocket at all times. If CURE becomes compromised, he takes the pill to cause a "massive coronary" (heart attack).
- In Fallen, Denzel Washington lures Azazel (possessing his partner) out to a distant cabin in order to kill him. As the partner dies, Azazel laughs because he can easily take over Denzel Washington once his host body passes. But Denzel is smoking poison-laced cigarettes...
- One of the Mongol Warriors in The Shadow deliberately falls to his death rather than betray Shiwan Kahn.
- One of Salt's alternate endings has Salt using fake teeth filled with cyanide... which turned out to be fake — it's easier to escape an emergency room than a captivity room.
- Neo-Vipers in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra have a nanomite suicide function that can also rapidly break down their bodies. It's uncertain whether they can activate this, but the Doctor certainly can.
- In Captain America: The First Avenger, the HYDRA assassin who kills Dr. Erskine kills himself with cyanide hidden in a fake tooth when he's captured by Steve. According to Colonel Phillips later in the movie, every HYDRA agent the Allies manage to capture does the same thing. Except Dr. Zola.
- In the film version of Diabolik, the protagonist fakes his death by taking a pill that puts him in suspended animation for 12 hours; the police assume he did this trope and take him to the morgue, where his Girl Friday administers the antidote.
- In the Crapsack World of Children of Men, the government issues free suicide pills called Quietus.
- In "On The Beach" the Australian government hands out suicide pills so their citizens can avoid the painful, and inevitable, death by radiation poisoning.
- In "Fail Safe" the crewmembers of American bombers have a variation. Since taking off your mask and taking a pill would be difficult, they have a poison needle in a special pocket of their flight suits.
- Get Smart repeats the gag from the page quote, with Agent 99 replacing the Chief. In this version Max was just being facetious.
- In the Lone Wolf book Dawn of the Dragons, an assassin questioned by Lone Wolf uses a poison pellet hidden in a tooth to kill himself — but also to liberate a Deadly Gas in the cell, trying to take the hero with him. Lone Wolf can shrug off the effects thanks to his Nexus power.
- A little over halfway through the novel Thud!, Sam Vimes is attacked in his home by agents of the "deep down" dwarves he suspects of trying to cover up a murder. One of the dwarfish agents survives and is captured, but not for long, as Vimes discovers the dwarf has succumbed to a slow-acting poison he and the others took before going on their mission.
- In Monstrous Regiment, a captured enemy spy does his best to eat the military secrets he's been entrusted with, conveniently written on rice paper. A few moments later the spy dies, and the good guys realize the manual was poisoned. His orders to eat the papers were not only intended to protect the manual, but also to execute the hapless spy.
- Dune: Duke Leto is betrayed by Dr. Yueh, but the doctor gives him a poison-gas tooth so he can kill Baron Harkonnen, the Duke's enemy. This makes Leto something of a kamikaze — but an unsuccessful one, as the gas only kills Harkonnen's advisor.
- I Am Legend. The novel, not the movie.
- In the Destroyer series of novels, Dr. Smith has a Cyanide pill in a false tooth. He would swallow it if C.U.R.E.'s security is ever breached.
- In the Darker and Edgier The Hardy Boys Casefiles series, the boys had a recurring nemesis in the Assassins, all of whom were equipped with a poison tooth. This led to a situation where Joe was rushing towards an Assassin, when he realizes said character is having a problem getting his tooth out. So he punches it out of the guy's mouth.
- The protagonist of the Quiller spy novels refuses to carry a suicide pill because he's Suffix 9 (Reliable Under Torture), though he changes his mind in the later novels.
- On the Beach: In the aftermath of an apocalyptic nuclear war, with fallout having killed most of the globe and spreading southward, the Australian government provides cyanide pills to its citizens so that they need not die slowly of radiation poisoning.
- In another After the End novel (can't remember the name) the government has issued a standard kit of two syringes — one containing the poison, and the other an antidote in case you change your mind. However to reduce the unpleasant side effects of the poison it also contains a narcotic, and a character points out that once someone takes it, the feeling of euphoria is so pleasant few people are inclined to take the antidote.
- In William King's Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf novel Wolfblade, they find an assassin dead of poison — causing Ragnor to comment on what a fanatic the assassin must have been. The possibility of mindcontrol is brought up.
- In Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy, a protagonist is surrounded by hordes of possessed whose modus operandi is to torture people until they lose the will to live and allow themselves to be possessed. To avoid that fate and pull a Taking You with Me, she issues a "kamikaze code" to her Powered Armor, blowing herself and her attackers up.
- Some cultists in David Eddings's Malloreon series come with an automatic, magical one preinstalled; upon being asked a certain question, the one who gets interrogated goes mad and throws himself off a cliff, laughing maniacally all the way.
- A similar magical method, called "death-triggers" is used in the Deryni novels.
- L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth (the book, not the movie) has this with high-ranking Psychlos. Anyone who knows their classified, encrypted math system gets some brainwashing and an implant in his brain. If he attempts to teach the secret to any other race, a fuse blows and his mind is fried.
- In Animorphs The Hork-Bajir Chronicles the Arn bioengineer themselves to die if they are taken over by a yeerk.
- In Half a Crown, an Alternate History novel in which Britain made peace with Hitler rather than fight World War II, the leader of the British secret police has formed a group inside the secret police that defies the government by doing things like smuggling Jews out of the country. All members have a false tooth implanted with a cyanide pill so they can take it rather than be forced to betray the others.
- In Honor Harrington "Torch of Freedom", the protagonists realize that something is seriously screwy with the Mesa Corporation when one of their agents resorts to this rather than be captured. Victor Cachat also carries one everywhere he goes; other spies find this somewhat excessive.
- Subverted in the novel From Russia with Love. The world's quintessential spy, James Bond, is issued a cyanide pill with his kit. He flushes it down the toilet at the first opportunity.
- In The Dresden Files novel Death Masks, Nicodemus' fanatics are equipped with cyanide pills in case of arrest. They end up chomping down on them when defeated and handcuffed.
- In A.C. Crispin's Han Solo novels, it's once mentioned that Rebel agents carry suicide pills. One of them, Han's ex-girlfriend Bria Tharen, has hers put on the collar of her armor, in case she ends up too badly hurt to put it into her mouth.
"My duty is to obey my orders. All of my orders."
Leia frowned. Something about the way he'd said that... and abruptly, she knew what it was. For a captured commando facing interrogation, there could be only one order left to follow.
- In the Tortall Universe, suicide spells are sometimes used to avoid truthspells or torture
- In the third The Hunger Games novel, Mockingjay, Katniss has one of these and attempts to use it, but is stopped.
- A Piece of Resistance, a novel by Clive Egleton set in a Soviet-occupied Britain. Two members of La Résistance are caught by a counter-intelligence agent. The woman bites down on her cigarette and suddenly falls to the ground. It turns out there is no suicide pill; she was simply creating a distraction so her partner could attack the agent. Ironically at the end of the novel the same woman is stopped by police and bites down on a suicide pill she's carrying in her mouth — it turns out that her papers were in order and it was simply a routine check.
- The title character of Firebird was sent to war under orders to kill herself in the line of duty (Members of the royal family more than four places from the throne traditionally suicide so as to prevent succession disputes. With the recent birth of her niece, she was now fifth in line for the throne). After failing to get shot down, and failing to kamikaze into a mountain, she takes poison as she is tractored into an enemy warship so that she cannot be interrogated. Her captors realize that she'd taken poison almost immediately and manage to keep her alive.
- In Path of the Fury, all members of the Imperial Cadre have suicide devices built into their cybernetic implants that trigger automatically if they are captured. The system is so sensitive that a friendly medic accidentally sets off Alicia's when trying to get basic diagnostic data. Fortunately, the suicide device shut off after the doctor stopped examining the hardware (but not before she nearly killed one of the other surgeons on reflex).
- The Adversary Cycle "Nightworld". A member of an Ancient Conspiracy which helps bring about The End of the World as We Know It carries a vial of cyanide in case the Ultimate Evil doesn't hold up his end of the bargain. After watching The Swarm chomp on his compatriots without any word from his master he realises he's well and truly screwed and takes out his vial...only for it to be sent flying when something nasty takes a bite out of his arm. The rest of the nasty chewing things are on top of him before he can pick it up again.
- What's left of the U.S. Marines in Day-by-Day Armageddon carry home-made cyanide pills in case they end up parachuting into a gaggle of zombies. One of them notes that a few of his comrades screwed up the cooking process and, rather than dying, only ended up paralyzed as the zombies closed in on them.
- In Smallville, Shield, Chloe is revealed to have taken one when she is taken by Checkmate, to the devastation of Clark and Oliver. Turned out she faked her death.
- Doctor Who:
- In The Talons of Weng-Chiang, a member of the Black Scorpion Tong, after being captured by the police, commits suicide with a scorpion venom pill to avoid revealing anything under interrogation. Weng-Chiang forces another Tong member to commit suicide after he makes a mistake, laughing maniacally as the man dies in agony.
- In The Caves of Androzani, mercenary gunrunner Stotz is confronted by one of his men demanding payment. Stotz forces him to the ground at knifepoint and takes out a pill.
Stotz: The boss gave me one of these. Ten seconds he said. Let's see if it works. (shoves it in the mook's mouth, who tries to swallow it whole but Stotz jams a fist over his throat) COME ON YOU SLUT! BITE! BITE! BITE! (lets him go) Next time, it'll be for real.
- In Time Heist, the Doctor assumes the syringes they find are "atom shredders" meant to painlessly kill anyone caught by the Teller. He calls them an "escape route... of a sort." In fact, they're a more conventional escape route: they teleport the user to a spaceship in orbit.
- Star Trek: The Original Series. The Orion spy uses one of these in "Journey to Babel," right after his comrades blow up their ship with their Self-Destruct Mechanism.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation. Romulan defector Admiral Jarok kills himself by ingesting a felodesine chip which he brought with him.
- Deep Space Nine:
- Vorta diplomats each carry a termination 'button' in their jawline to negate any attempt at interrogation. Ordinary poison wouldn't do the trick, since Vorta are designed at birth to be immune to most toxins. The implant sends a signal to Vorta's brainstem, triggering a quick, profoundly painful death (the Founders told the Vorta their deaths would be painless, but this was proven to be bogus). During his attempt to defect to the Federation, Weyoun 6 is dogged around space by Dominion agents, who demand that he kill himself. He finally relents when a Jem'Hadar fleet threaten to open fire on the runabout shuttle he was sharing with Odo. ("Treachery, Faith, and the Great River")
- In the episode "Extreme Measures", Sloan, an agent of the very secretive Section 31, triggers a "neuro-depolarizing device" when he's captured by Dr. Bashir. This not only kills him but starts destroying his brain and all the secrets within; Bashir has to delay this process long enough to get some crucial information from Sloan's mind.
- There are three appearances of a cyanide pill in Deep Space Nine; the third is Promazine, a literal pill of Cardassian origin, which not only kills someone but causes their body to crumble into dust within a few hours, leaving no trace. ("Covenant")
- Babylon 5
- The captain of a renegade Minbari warship, which broke from its government when they called for surrender at the Battle of the Line, turns himself in to B5 authorities, then takes a poison pill hidden in a tooth. His crew had planned to use his death, ostensibly at Human hands, to provoke a war. When another, loyal Minbari warship arrives and disables the rogue vessel (without killing, as Minbari do not kill other Minbari), the crew of the renegade activate a self-destruct.
- Psi Corps operatives do this too, with a with a nice little rant about "the future".
- The TV series Martial Law does this in a particularly disturbing way. A few episodes deal with a cult whose Mooks carry a Cyanide Pill that's surgically embedded in their pinky finger. When cornered, they break their finger (with a sickening crick noise), the pill breaks along with the bones and kills them very quickly indeed. It doesn't take long before this is used as a nonstandard Pressure Point, by both the good guys (after establishing how hard it is to take them alive) and other members.
- An episode of Get Smart has Maxwell Smart and KAOS Agent Seigfried compare their suicide contingencies. Smart has a raspberry-flavored cyanide pill. ("Care for a taste? It's all right, it's not addictive.") Seigfried says he has a "suicide ring". It works through his wife. ("She says if I ever take it off, she'll kill me.") In the 2008 movie, Max is reminded of the pill in his belt buckle, but in a subverted Chekhov's Gun, it never gets used.
- 'Allo 'Allo!:
- Parodied in an episode where suicide pills are slipped to René as he is imprisoned by Herr Flick. When he (and the Colonel and Captain) swallow the pills, they don't work.
- An episode near the show's finale (when the Nazis are becoming increasingly worried at the possibility of an Allied invasion) had General Von Klinkenhoffen provide Gruber and the Colonel with "suicide teeth", ridiculous looking dentures that served the same function when bitten down hard. Those didn't work either.
- Foyle's War. In "The Funk Hole" the murderer steals a cyanide pill kept by one character in case of a German invasion and uses it to fake another man's suicide.
- The heroine in the 1979 mini-series A Man Called Intrepid had one of these hidden inside a hollow tooth. When she's caught by German soldiers in the woods they make sure to knock her out so she doesn't have time to use it.
- An episode of Black Adder features unspecified suicide pills which only kill after a characteristic set of mood swings forming an Overly Long Gag - deep depression, incredible anger, total forgetfulness, exquisite happiness, then jumping into a corner. Naturally, Blackadder cons his enemies into accidentally taking them rather than using them himself. Except for the fact that he learns immediately afterwards that they were undercover and really on his side.
- In the The Closer episode "Time Bomb", when the police arrive to arrest one of a group of Nietzsche Wannabes planning a massacre, he takes several antidepressants before they cuff him. At the station, they let him get a chocolate bar from a vending machine, not knowing that the chocolate, combined with the antidepressant overdose, will kill him mid-interrogation.
- In the Life episode "Hit Me Baby", an assassin pretends she's about to swallow a suicide pill, so that when an officer rushes over to stop her, she spits the pill right down his throat.
- The UnSub in the aptly-titled Criminal Minds episode "Poison" takes a fatal dose of botulism before he's arrested so that he dies before the agents can finish interrogating him.
- In The Inside episode "Point of Origin", a serial arsonist being interrogated sets himself on fire by pouring the interrogator's pitcher of water on himself (before turning himself in to the FBI, he had doused himself with a chemical that ignites when combined with water).
- In The Agency, the CIA provides a Russian scientist with a poison injection device disguised as a ballpoint pen. It was established that a squad of Russian security agents were hunting down those communicating information to the west, and shoving them into lit furnaces; punishment for traitors. The pen was meant to be a merciful option if the scientist was caught. Instead, the scientist used the pen as a weapon to take out the last boss agent.
- In a right-to-die episode of Law & Order the defendant's Kavorkian-esque father drinks poison before his court appearance, which gives him enough time to claim responsibility before dying.
- 24 Season 3: CTU distributes suicide pills to people who have been exposed to a deadly virus for which there is no cure, so if they want they can die without suffering the painful effects of the virus.
- In one episode of The Man From UNCLE, Ilya fakes taking one of these as part of an elaborate scam aimed at an enemy diplomat.
- In the new V (2009) series, all Visitors living among humans carry a pill that not only kills them but also incinerates their bodies within seconds in order to hide that they're The Reptilians.
- In the popular Soviet series Seventeen Moments of Spring, a man is recruited as an informant by Stirlits (Soviet spy in Nazi Germany) and given a suicide pill hidden in a cigarette, an obvious Chekhov's Gun. He is later cornered by Nazi counter-intelligence agents and proceeds to take the pill... and jump out the window for good measure.
- Stargate SG-1:
- In one episode a Tok'ra agent caught by a Bounty Hunter attempted to poison himself, unsuccessfully. The hunter was surprised that a Goa'uld would do something like that (not realizing the difference between the two factions).
- The weapons used by za'tarcs include an explosive self-destruct.
- Hawaii Five-O: In the original's pilot "Cocoon", Steve McGarrett is given a cyanide pill as part of props for the plot to convince enemy agents that he's "Control" -the head of government secret agents on the island.
- When shapeshifter lieutenant Thomas Jerome Newton is captured on Fringe, Alt-livia gives him a capsule that melts him into a puddle before he can be forced to talk.
- On Saturday Night Live hosted by Richard Pryor, Pryor plays a military officer being sent on a dangerous mission. He's being told what he'll be "taking" on the mission but misunderstands when the man briefing him says "Oh, and take that pill." Pryor swallows it and only then is told it's a suicide pill.
- Subverted in the Warhammer 40,000: Eisenhorn trilogy, where a captured Mook commits unintentional suicide when Eisenhorn tries to interrogate him, thanks to an implanted bomb in his head set to go off if the bearer even thinks of revealing a certain piece of information.
- In the Pathfinder adventure path Curse of the Crimson Throne, Red Mantis Assassins can choose to disintegrate themselves when killed, making them harder to resurrect or interrogate posthumously (which is the important bit, since only the willing can be resurrected).
- In the game Return to Castle Wolfenstein, your character does have a cyanide pill in his inventory, and he can use it, but there's never any real reason why he should. Your fellow secret agent companion takes his during a cutscene in the beginning of the game rather than suffer the horrors of Nazi interrogation.
- In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Snake hides a pill on his person in the event that he's captured by the Russians. However, it's not a death pill, it's a potassium cyanide capsule that merely dulls his vital signs to appear dead. After the enemies inspect his body and leave, he can activate his Revive pill hidden in his tooth and come back to life, complete with the "Game Over" music playing backwards. Snake needs to activate his Revive pill fairly quickly, otherwise he dies for real.
- The Revival pill is also key to solving a Puzzle Boss: During a particularly trippy boss "fight", Snake is inevitably killed... but his inventory is still accessible.
- Every single female mook gets one of the Cardassian varieties, much to the dismay of every red-blooded male playing. Kojima is an epic troll.
- The character Revolver Ocelot has a capsule holder around his neck, only it contains the bullet he failed to kill Snake with. He's still wearing it fifty years later. No wonder people ship Ocelot and Big Boss.
- The microbombs implanted in the main bosses fit this trope to a tee.
- Sword of Vermilion features an item called Banshee Powder. You take it, and it kills you, bringing you back to the last church you visited. However, it's quite advantageous to use it in situations you can't get yourself out of without dying (such as being poisoned and too far away from town), as you don't have to pay the church a fee if you use banshee powder.
- In Perfect Dark, there is a counter-ops mode that uses the same levels as in the one player mode but gives the other player control over one of the mooks. When the mook dies, the player gets control of the next mook. If the current mook is too far from the action, they can use a suicide pill to switch to the next.
- In Grim Fandango, revolutionary leader Salvador Limones has a suicide pill implanted in a fake tooth that kills not only himself, but anyone else too close to him when he uses it.
- A minor boss early in Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword, Beyard, takes poison after he's defeated. Granted, it's made explicit that if he failed and wasn't killed in battle, his superiors would kill him. The Black Fang's just nasty like that.
- In Mass Effect 2, Mordin Solus makes an offhand comment that while updating the Cerberus crew's dental records, he found out they are outfitted with cyanide capsules in a tooth. He finds them crude in comparison to the ocular nerve flashbangs that salarian agents are apparently outfitted with.
- It turns out in the third game that Cerberus was listening to that particular conversation.
- In the Kingdom of Loathing Crimbo 2009 event, members of the Elvish Resistance dropped suicide pills made of sugar. A small pill containing enough sugar to kill one of Santa's elves. Even the narrator is astonished.
- In the "bad" ending of Wing Commander Secret Ops (fail to destroy the command ship before it opens the gate to Nephilim space), the captain of the Cerberus tells pilots there's a pill beneath their seat that will kill them, so they don't have to experience the horror of endless waves of aliens overrunning the universe.
- In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the Blackwood Ring of Silence is a magical version; a ring that deals massive amounts of fire damage. To the wearer.
- Type "kill" or "explode" into the client log of Team Fortress 2 and you will bid farewell, cruel world. You can even assign the command to a key for convenience. This actually has a function in-game, in the event that you get stuck. Really funny when a poor sap doesn't know how to do this when he needs to.
- In Penumbra: Black Plague, it's revealed that members of an underground complex were issued cyanide pills in case they got contaminated with the stuff they were researching. Way, way better fate than letting the contamination run its course.
- Dio has one in Virtue's Last Reward. In Alice's ending, when Clover takes it out of his pocket and questions him about it, he asks to get a closer look, and grabs it with his teeth. Subverted in both Sigma's and Phi's endings, where Sigma and the others stopped him from taking it by dogpiling on him and injecting him with Soporil.
- Choosing the "Kill Yourself" option in Grand Theft Auto Online when you have a silencer attachment on the standard pistol will have your character consume a pill and die in a hurry, as opposed to the character simply capping themselves.
- Tomb Raider II: A Mook at the end of the first level drinks poison from a flask after he flubs his assassination attempt and Lara incapacitates him easily, but not before toasting his master... giving Lara the exact lead she needed anyway.
- In a particularly sad example, Terry Fawles in the third Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game drinks the poison in Dahlia Hawthorne's bottle necklace before going to trial because they promised each other that if they doubted their love for each other, they would drink from it. Of course, Dahlia didn't drink it because she never loved Terry like he loved her. She was just using him as a scapegoat to commit her crimes and since he was easily swayed by his love for her and would do anything she asked of him, including killing himself. He dies during the trial when the main characters are close to solving the case -thus implicating Dahlia- with his testimony. It was this case that affected Mia Fey very greatly and was foreshadowed in the first game.
- In Virtue's Last Reward, after being exposed as the one who planted multiple bombs in the facility, Dio tries to commit suicide with one. In the Alice ending it works, while in the Sigma ending it doesn't.
- In Drowtales, this takes the form of the demons, called 'seeds' that can be implanted into fae creaures, intentionally or by force. A demon tainted drow that needs a quick method to die and possibly take others with them can intentional release their seed, killing themselves, well giving the demon free range of their body, transforming them into mindless killing machines. Syphile was told to do this if she failed to kill Quain'tana, but she was unable to follow through and died at the hands of her target.
- Ansem Retort: Zexion used to carry a stash of these for impromptu Mercy Kills. Or if someone was bothering him. Until Namine switched them with Mentos.
- In Girl Genius, Moloch von Zinzer is offered one when he's about to be sent to a particularly nasty prison/forced-labor camp. He takes it but doesn't use it, and now that he's back in the story many readers suspect it's a Chekhov's Gun. Given all the stuff that von Zinzer drinks one has to wonder if the poison actually would kill him... or even if he's already tried to take it. Also, the Castle already have a dispenser with this stuff anyway.
- In an early Schlock Mercenary comic, Tagon attempted to interrogate the captain of an alien terrorist ship that Petey captured, he requested some suicide pills and hot cocoa. Turned out that he didn't need the suicide pills due to his species' allergy to chocolate. In the following comic Tagon and Petey discovered that his species was also fatally allergic to tea, coffee, and alcohol. The captive actually added "suicide pill" into his request for otherwise ordinary (for humans) refreshments, knowing that Tagon would notice and refuse it but possibly allow the rest of them. That makes the move a Censor Decoy in the form of a Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick.
- Parodied in Sam and Fuzzy. Fuzzy is sent in alone to perform a burglary and finds something resembling a Cyanide Pill in his equipment... Which turns out to be a jelly bean. In the event of his capture, he is to eat it as a reminder that if he keeps his mouth shut, he can have the rest of the bag afterward.
- Nodwick's union "health plan" consists of a vial in a number of "flavors", including cyanide and hemlock. Of course he gets resurrected half a dozen times an arc regardless of whether he uses it.
- In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Off Balance", Batman corners two of Count Vertigo's henchmen, who gas themselves to death using a hidden catch in their masks rather than allow themselves to be captured. Batman later explains to Commissioner Gordon that they had "erased their own memories" when cornered, but from the way they're drawn convulsing and ending up with vacant dead stares on their faces, it's obvious that only the Never Say "Die" clause kept their demise from being outright stated.
- Chris Colorado:
- Thanors have literal kill switches installed behind their ears and are seen using them in some episodes.
- Similarly when he fights agents from the Council of Shadows, they would rather inhale "coma gas" than surrender.
- The Venture Bros., "Love-Bheits": It is revealed that Heroic Comedic Sociopath Brock Samson has a false tooth loaded with arsenic, which he offers to Dr. Venture when they are captured by Baron Underbheit. Hank and Dean think this is the coolest thing ever, until they agree that a cherry Italian ice tooth would be even better.
- Parodied in The Simpsons: Homer is caught by Mr. Burns trying to sneak into his mansion. He almost takes a cyanide pill, but Burns mistakes Homer for a magazine editor and allows him inside, stopping him from doing so. (He then tries to take it again when Burns says they'll be doing "a little walking".)
- Parodied in Drawn Together when an assassin, who's also a genericized breakfast cereal leprechaun, takes one of his "cyanide marshmallows". There's one in every box!
- Parodied in Family Guy as Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun do a No, You Hang Up First routine (only instead of hanging up a phone, it's taking a Cyanide Pill.)
- In "Lois Comes Out of a Shell", Stewie's evil turtle Sheldon is screwing up everyone's lives. One of his plans was to switch out Meg's cyanide pill with an Alka-Seltzer tablet.
- Parodied in one episode of South Park. Cartman came up with a plan to rig the election, and once the other kids find out Butters is involved, he takes a peanut M&M (allergies). He starts foaming at the mouth and appears to die, but merely ends up in the hospital with a swollen face.
- Invader Zim has a Self-Destruct Mechanism in the first episode - but opts not to use it once he realizes no one will ever believe Dib that he's an alien.
- In the episode Dib's Wonderful Life of Doom, after Zim gives up upon capture, he commands GIR to self destruct, possibly to keep any secrets GIR might have known out of human hands.
- In the Gravity Falls short "Lefty", the aliens controlling the left-sided robot all... disappeared this way.
- In Adventure Time, Princess Bubblegum has cyanide laced gum stuck to the bottom of a table. She tells someone to chew it if raiders break down the door.
- A mother instructs her family in Futurama to take their cyanide pills when they believe that Santa Claus, the "father of all lies and the uncle of all tricks", has broken into their home to kill them.
- In 1985, serial killer Leonard Lake swallowed a hidden cyanide pill while in police custody, rather than face trial for his crimes.
- All members, from the leader to the grunts, of the terrorist/guerilla Tamil Tigers organization wore a cyanide capsule on a string around their neck in case of capture.
- Many of Those Wacky Nazis.
- Hermann Göring committed suicide with a potassium cyanide capsule the night before he was to be hanged, embarassing the U.S. Army prison guards that were supposed to stop that sort of thing from happening.
- Heinrich Himmler committed suicide in this manner shortly after being captured by the British.
- Adolf Hitler resorted to a combination of Cyanide Pill and shooting himself (along with his wife), in case the pills failed to work — even though he had witnessed a poison pill successfully kill his dog, Blondi. His wife Eva Braun was content to rely on the pill only.
- Joseph and Magda Goebbels slipped their children cyanide pills in their dinner, and actually force-fed one to their eldest daughter because she knew what was going on. This was all because they didn't want their children to live in a world without Nazism.
- Robert Ritter von Greim, the Luftwaffe's last commander, also took cyanide while in U.S. custody after learning he was about to be handed over to the Soviet Union in an exchange of prisoners.
- Invoked by the Nazis on Erwin Rommel. After they found out he was a co-conspirator in the July 20 plot to kill Hitler, they gave him a choice: Either he could face trial (which would be bad news for him and his family), or he could quietly commit suicide with a cyanide pill, in which case it would be officially stated that he died as a hero, he would be given a military funeral, and his family would receive pensions from the German government. Needless to say, he took the pill.
- Several people involved in or even distantly connected with the July 20 plot who were not arrested and/or executed killed themselves, some by cyanide capsules, such as Field Marshal von Kluge (who was merely aware of the plot, not an active participant).
- Kim Hyun-hee and her elderly mentor were given cigarettes soaked in cyanide to use if they were captured after their attempt to blow up Korean Air Flight 858 as part of a North Korean terrorist mission. They were caught; her mentor died, but the cigarette only sickened Kim for some days.
- The assassins' guild known as the Black Hand, despite sparking World War I, were on the whole outlandishly incompetent. After they'd, through pure coincidence, managed to kill Archduke Ferdinand, it turned out the cyanide pills they'd reserved for their capture failed to work. This becomes understandable when you realize the context. Firstly, it is a common mistake to believe that the group that directly attacked Ferdinand's motorcade was the Black Hand. It wasn't; it was actually a small Anarchist/Nationalist (yes, go figure) group called Young Bosnia, which was one of the smaller, local groups known as the Black Hand (actually Unity or Death in the native Serbian) co-opted to act as a proxy. The Black Hand itself was horrifically effective (their spate of assassinations in Bosnia, Austria, and Bulgaria shows as much), but the higher ups grossly doubted the competence of YB (and not entirely unjustly), and so they gave them secondhand gear. That, and consider the fact that the Black Hand's stocks of cyanide had been riddled with impurities, and you get what happened. Obviously the Black Hand wanted to generate a false lead to some decoy to take attention off their real selves (while still have a headline with their name in it - good for terror/recruiting). This is spy handler basics!
- "Take attention off their real selves". "Have a headline with their name on it". Some spy handler tactics.
- One of the most iconic Danish resistance fighters during World War II, Bent Faurschou-Hviid, better known under his codename "Flammen" (The Flame), commited suicide with a cyanide capsule in October 1944 to avoid capture by the Gestapo.
- When a number of Danish resistance fighters were captured by the Gestapo, the resistance appealed to Britain to help them, as the resistance was unable to get cyanide pills to them. In one of the most daring missions of the war, the British sent in bombers to bomb the Danish Gestapo headquarters, freeing them from the basement prison.
- Although the mission was successful, in a tragic error, during the mission the bombers also accidentally bombed a nearby children's school. After the war, some of the bomber pilots visited the families and found the families were comforting them. The families understood how necessary the mission was and that the children's deaths were an accident.
- Not necessarily cyanide but certainly by poison; Cleopatra is said to have died this way. A Roman biographer commented that it was customary for royalty to have a supply of poison "just in case". Given that she might have been tortured, and possibly gang-raped if her regime fell, one can see the logic. (William Shakespeare's version had her use a live asp, but that was probably an invention done for dramatic effect.)
- To avoid being a POW, Spetsnaz would have some way to kill themselves, either a pill or a spare grenade.
- Former investment banker and convicted arsonist Michael Marin did this in an Arizona courtroom in June, 2012 immediately after being convicted of burning down his house for insurance fraud.
- According to astronaut Jim Lovell in his memoir of the Apollo 13 mission, there was a well known joke/urban legend around NASA about suicide pills being given to the crews so they could assure a quick death if they got into a situation in space they couldn't get out of. Apparently, though, it wasn't true. As many have pointed out, an astronaut who wanted to kill himself quickly and relatively painlessly could always decompress the spacecraft.