"Every time I operate I always question myself. Have I made a mistake? Can I pull this off? Will there be any unforeseen complications? I'm always nervous. The patient's life is in my hands...In my hands. How the hell do you expect me to stay calm?!"
Medical professionals and others who work with human life and death day in and day out always seem notably emotional, sometimes to the point of breakdown.
In reality, although people might have some problems the first few times, they quickly grow used to what is, after all, part of their profession. For any given person or family, the sudden death of a loved one can be a traumatic and tragic event, but for the people who see it on a regular basis it doesn't have the same impact. Get a bunch of paramedics, firefighters or other first responders together in a room relaxing and inevitably you'll eventually get morbid jokes, pitch-black humor
, and stories of "good runs" where "good" would be defined by the average civilian as "scene from a horror movie". But studio execs assume that all Viewers Are Morons
and if we'd see our heroes show even the slightest callousness, we would immediately reject them as inhuman monsters.
Even if the characters are normally professional (such as in police procedurals, where someone dies horribly in every episode), you can expect to see tears and barely controlled rage if children are involved. (Though, even for the real ones, there's that occasional deader that really rips them up, and this is often a child. Especially if the real worker has children of their own.)
Typically, only The Coroner
is allowed to face such things like gruesome death dispassionately as a professional who has seen the most hideous things done to a human body before and is long past being bothered by it.
The trope is named for the phrase that will be uttered to the Naïve Newcomer
who is experiencing this kind of sorrow for the first time. It can
be Truth in Television
, as even the most jaded of these people probably have a story of a time when they'd been at the job for a while and something about a scene they were called to hit them incredibly hard. Nine times out of ten, it involves children or infants.
It's also worth pointing out that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
exists in every job where workers are asked to internalize what are, after all, natural emotions; if the viewer became as inured to violence and death
as real workers become on repeat viewing, they would lose emotional connection
, decide it wasn't exciting enough
and stop watching
. Which, of course, never happens.
Contrast with the more cynical It Gets Easier
and Gaining The Will To Kill
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Anime & Manga
- Gundam SEED:
- Subverted when Andrew Waltfeld admits that he was sick after the first time he killed in battle, but that eventually he got used it it. Granted, although Waltfeld is by this point a protagonist, the series does not present it as a positive thing.
- Subverted by Mu La Flaga, who displays a thick-skinned attitude towards combat. At one point, after a town is razed for supporting La Résistance, he tells its newly-homeless citizens (correctly, but without sensitivity) that the enemy commander was very kind to give them the chance to evacuate first and that they are being let off lightly.
- On the other end of the scale, Kira spends a good portion of the first series in various stages of Heroic BSOD
because of trying to avoid this trope, because he knows he's the Only One who can protect the Archangel.
- Dr. Tenma from Monster appears to be physically incapable of letting anyone die on his watch. Even when the patient in question has handcuffed him and is currently threatening to shoot him if he so much as takes another step closer.
- Black Jack does not handle the death of his patients well. And by "not well", we mean that someone might get sucker-punched.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Sound Stage X, this was a discussion that Subaru had with her Special Rescue Team Commander after she had watched a person she was trying to save commit suicide ( or more specifically, was mind-controlled to suicide) right in front of her. They talk about how hard it is to see someone die and how they could still see the people they failed to save in their dreams. Then Subaru's superior breaks the tension by saying how idiots such as them shouldn't be having introspective conversations like these and the two share a slight chuckle. It Gets Easier and It Never Gets Any Easier are both present in The Verse: everybody normally uses magical guns set to non-lethal - even if the blast had to go through half a warship to hit it's target, it will still be a Non-Lethal K.O., thus ensuring that fighting someone is psychologically easy right from the start, but reaction to seeing anyone actually die for any reason is no different from non-combatant's reaction.
- In Il Sole penetra le Illusioni this is said word for word, regarding the fact that the heroes have to kill the victims of possession.
- In Chapter 1 of All Fall Down, at a hospital for superheroes, Dr. Young finds himself overwhelmed by the sheer number of injured coming in at once.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Krzysztof Kieslowski's A Short Film About Killing from his Dekalog, or series on the Ten Commandments. A young advocate in Poland is representing a murderer, whom the audience have seen on camera murder a taxi driver. The lawyer sees his client hang (the death penalty remained in force in Poland until the end of the communist era), with the last shot showing his anguished face and his senior partner remarking that "today, you have become a man".
- X-Men has a rare physical version:
Rogue: When they [the claws] come out... does it hurt?
Wolverine: Every time.
- The Professional features a Little Miss Badass who trains to become a killer to avenge her family.
Mathilda: Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?
Leon: Always like this.
- When an officer dies under Wedge's command in the Expanded Universe novel Wraith Squadron, he finds it hard to write the letter informing next of kin. (That the next of kin is in this case his supreme commander probably makes it a bit more difficult.) However, while it takes him all night to word it properly, and he doesn't have much time for sleep, he's able to sleep for the hour or so, and is faintly proud that it isn't any easier than it was the first time he had to do it. It's also come up that since he half expects new pilots to die soon, he doesn't let himself get to know most of them, even keeping to a Last Name Basis.
- The trope is discussed in the first Stackpole novel, at a funeral for a pilot killed in her sleep by Imperial commandoes:
"It never gets any easier, does it?"
- In The Saga of Darren Shan the fact that it does get easier is included as a plot point. The first time Darren kills a vampaneze in combat, he is horrified to see him slowly die in front of him, and cries over his body. After several years of bloody war against the vampaneze, he finds that he barely feels anything when he needs to fight and kill. Evanna later cites this as a reason Darren will eventually become "The Lord of the Shadows" and destroy the world.
- Steven Brust and Emma Bull's Freedom & Necessity: James Cobham's letter of 27 October, and then Susan Voight's journal entries of 30 November and 1 December. (It would take far too long to explain the combination of "you get used to it", "you never get used to it", and "I am used to it but you are not allowed to get used to it".)
- Happens in Squire by Tamora Pierce, after Kel is Squicked out by the executions she had to witness. Probably a way of further establishing the main characters as heroic, because Pierce has a tendency of giving her villains a complete and utter disregard for human life.
- Mary Russell and Holmes discuss this after the end of her first case in The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Holmes admits that this is the source of his addiction to cocaine.
- Although James Bond in the movies follows the It Gets Easier path, in Ian Fleming's original novels, there are numerous occasions in which Bond makes it clear that killing people, even in self defence, never gets easier for him. In the original Goldfinger novel, for one example, he mopes over having to kill a thug, and in Diamonds Are Forever, Bond momentarily imagines a corpse of a man he just killed confronting Bond with the permanence of his actions.
- In the Warcraft Expanded Universe novel, Tides of War, Jaina tells her apprentice Kinnidy, distraught after seeing war for the first time, that war is always difficult to bear, but after a while, it becomes more familiar and you learn to move on. She's consumeed by grief and rage after Theramore's destruction, and loses sight of this for a while, but comes to her senses.
"It hurts, every time. But the... unfamiliarity of it goes away, and you learn that you can go on. That those you've lost would want you to go on. You'll remember how to laugh and be thankful and enjoy life. But you won't ever forget."
- Kaladin in The Way of Kings. A combination of this and Samaritan Syndrome nearly drive him over the Despair Event Horizon.
- Seen on House.
- For instance, very sensitive Doctor Allison Cameron had to tell parents that their baby died. It was the first patient of House's team that died in the series. She literally couldnt do it and broke down.
- Dr. Foreman considers quitting his job and eventually does because a patient died because the team misdiagnosed her. House is disappointed, but felt he and the team did the right thing. Foreman felt that it was House's methods that killed the patient, and eventually quit because he "didn't want to be like House".
- The cynical and amoral House repeats over and over that doctors will see a patient die every now and then and they just have to live with it - to the point that he even uses it as a reason to fire Dr. Amber "Cutthroat Bitch" Volakis, because House doesn't see Amber as an individual who could accept losing. He isn't completely immune, too, given his obsession with saving patients ("Control"), getting upset when he seems to be failing ("Autopsy"), brooding years later over hard cases ("All In")... In these instances, it fits his "obsessive-must-be-proven-right" character.
- One particular instance is noteworthy. In "Help Me", a patient dies after an amputation. House doesn't take it well. When Foreman tries to make him feel better, saying he did nothing wrong, he says that he knows he did everything right, and that it makes him feel even worse..
- The downright worst perpetrator seems to be Grey's Anatomy. In one episode, an experienced doctor ordered one of the newbies to watch a premature baby in an incubator overnight. The exhausted doctor fell asleep, the baby died, and her supervisor explained she knew the baby would die and assigned her to watch it specifically so she could get used to patients dying.
- A short-lived medical drama Mercy. It's a nurse's first day on the job, and her first assignment is to unplug a guy on life support. Striking is the cavalierness of which her supervising nurses treat the assignment.
- Mentioned often as half the stories have An Aesop that sometimes patients just die, and if you go into depression every time, you'll never get anything done.
- The only character who actually acts on this Aesop, though, is Dr. Kelso, but that's just because he has to keep himself together in order to effectively run the hospital. However, has stated that he doesn't want to be one of the doctors that just doesn't care anymore. One of the reasons he respects Dr. Cox so much is because when he loses a patient, it still hits him hard (granted Dr. Cox was responsible for the deaths of three patients all in one day. That kind of thing can take a toll on your psyche.)
- Kelso isn't immune either. The purpose of the episode "My Jiggly Ball" seems to have been to deconstruct the 'heartless administrator' stock character by showing that he isn't obsessed with money because he wants to be, he's obsessed because he has to be.
- Subverted in the first episode of Cardiac Arrest (a series written by an actual ex-doctor) in which a junior doctor, after telling a patient's family that he has passed away, is told by his boss "Soon you'll be worried about how little this affects you".
- Subverted on Without a Trace, a show about an FBI unit looking for missing people; when asked if it gets any easier, Jack Malone answers, "Unfortunately, yes."
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has this trope in an awkward position, as children get horribly abused and, sometimes, killed in every episode. Bouts of angsty rage are quite common, though; Stabler on occasion wonders whether he can keep doing his job. Considering that it's mentioned in the show that the average time in the department for an SVU detective is two years, and the detectives in the show have been on the job for as much as eight, it's no surprise that they're breaking down rather spectacularly at times. In fact, the show can be a lesson in why detectives rotate out of that position after two years: if they don't, they start to go native.
- Third Watch:
- Once the senior paramedic Doc eventually has a mental breakdown.
- Subverted with Carlos. After his first day on the job, Doc assumes he's having trouble dealing with everything they went through and tells him that all the pain and suffering "gets to you". Carlos says that it didn't get to him at all and that he felt no emotional connection to their patients. Carlos is a bit of a Jerkass, but Doc eventually realizes that this makes him an excellent paramedic since he can look at a situation objectively.
- It features Ducky, a gentlemanly coroner who is positively delighted with his trade and Abby, a Perky Goth Lab Rat who isn't squeamish, either. Ducky does play this trope straight with one specific type of victim: colleagues. He invokes this trope to his assistant Mr. Palmer, who's normally as unfazed by the gruesome nature of their work as he is, the first time he has to autopsy an NCIS agent actually Director Shepard and the boy is visibly shaken. Ducky seems to be deliberately trying to avert this trope in himself - he talks to the corpses, making sure to give them their dignity instead of dehumanizing them so that he can examine the absolutely staggering number of corpses the MCU seems to deal with and not suffer a nervous breakdown.
- McGee's shocked reaction to a body in a suitcase... Not because it's a dead guy thrown in a dumpster, but because he just bought that exact model of suitcase, and the seam on this one is ripped. After another agent points out what he just said, McGee wonders if maybe he's been doing this job for too long.
- Ziva is a walking aversion of the trope. In the season 3 episode "Jeopardy," when a perp drops dead while in her custody, Ziva is unbothered by his death and confident that her actions didn't cause it, and simply wants to know when she can get back to work. Ziva was trained from birth to kill, but not to question. Years later when she kills a serial killer who nearly killed her, she breaks down; she had come literally within a millimeter of death, and started doubting herself for the first time. And then, a year or so after that, she resigns herself to death, only to be rescued by the last person she expected; afterward she changes loyalties (from an external perspective), and her co-workers comment on how relatively subdued she has become.
- Parodied on That Mitchell and Webb Look, where (in a ridiculously simplified parody of medical programmes) a doctor pulls off a plaster and says 'That Never Gets Any Easier'.
- Parodied and referenced in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Stays in Bed", when Randy tells Natalie that one gets used to seeing murder victims while working on the police force, especially if one is his rank (a lieutenant). He then adds that "getting used to it" is the worst part of the job, the part he never gets used to.
- A variant is used in Mash when Father Mulcahy insist on going to the front for an errand. When there, the battalion aid station is shelled and Mulcahy asks a soldier how does one get used to it. The soldier wryly responds, "You get used to never getting used to it."
- Reversed the first time Sam Beckett killed a man on Quantum Leap. The man in question is a former French Resistance fighter who is said to have killed his own mother during the Second World War. After a scuffle, Sam backs away holding a bloodied knife as the man smiles up at him knowingly, whispers 'The next time, it will be easier' and dies.
- The show bible for Star Trek: The Original Series describes Dr. "Bones" McCoy as this type of character, even though he is fully aware that most of his patients may be inevitably doomed, sooner or later, to the fate of all Red Shirts.
- Averted in CSI where Grissom always cracks a grim joke at a crime scene. And many viewers think he's cool for it. Very occasionally played straight in his case; as the trope description notes, it's usually something to do with kids...or when it affects his own team.
Grissom: There's three things I got a real problem with: Guys that hit their wives, sexual assault on children, and the scum that deal death to kids.
- In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Picard has to tell a boy that his mother was killed on an away mission, and Wesley asks how one gets used to doing that. Riker replies that you hope you never do.
- An example from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series: in episode 2.09 "Final Cut", Dualla is asked whether it ever gets any easier. She replies that, in fact, "It gets harder." "It" in this case being protecting what's left of humanity from genocidal robots.
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Lie to Me, after Buffy has just staked a former friend who had become a vampire:
Buffy: Does it ever get easy?
Giles: You mean life?
Buffy: Yeah? Does it get easy?
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Giles: Yes, it's terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.
- In The Closer, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson is going to tell a family that their child has died, and requests that Sgt Gabriel deliver the actual news, as part of his training (they are effectively a homicide squad, so he will be doing this a lot). As they pull up to the house, Johnson says to Gabriel, "Prepare to be the central character in the worst day of these people's lives".
- Not actually said on Criminal Minds, but seems to be present to an extent: all the team have had cases that bothered them more than usual, because the cases somehow directly connected to them, involved someone who reminds them of themselves, or were just that horrible.
- Averted in Homicide Life On The Street. The detectives are so used to dead bodies that seeing corpses has practically no effect on them and they're prone to gallows humour. This makes the cases that do stand out all the more powerful such as Adena Watson, or the shopkeeper murdered by Luther Mahoney. The more difficult aspects come from shooting people on the job or working cases where children are the victims.
- Parodied on Strangers with Candy when Jerri's father dies.
- Highlander has a variation, with Richie asking Duncan if it ever gets any easier for an immortal, referring to losing a loved one. Duncan replies that it doesn't.
- In the Burn Notice episode "Dead or Alive", Michael soberly narrates over a scene of Sam telling an old friend's wife that the man is dead:
Michael: You can work in the field your entire life, but telling people their loved ones are dead never gets easier. There's no training that makes it better, no technique that makes it smoother. You just get through it, however you can.
- Parodied on 30 Rock. When Dr. Spaceman says, "This is hard to say," he means, "This is hard to pronounce."
"You have... [squints at paper] ...dee-AY-buh-tees?"
- Doctor Who: The Doctor never gets over the loss of the people that he's charged himself with protecting. He just buries it in his memories and goes on, presenting a cheerful face to the universe. Sometimes, after a particularly wrenching loss, he withdraws into himself and decides that he will travel alone. This never lasts for long, because without a companion, he becomes truly fearsome.
- Played with in the first episode of Threshold. After the group's first battle with an alien, Arthur retreats to a bar where Sean finds him. The academic civilian Arthur asks the seasoned government agent Sean if it gets easier to face those kinds of situations. Sean replies "Unfortunately, it does get easier."
- Carol says this word-for-word on ER when sealing a rape evidence kit. A fellow nurse responds, "I'd get worried if it did"
- Agent May of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tells this to Skye when the latter is preparing for a mission in which she may have to kill someone:
May: For the record, crossing someone off? It never gets easier.
- In Dani Beck's first appearance on Law & Order: SVU, she gets emotional over a witness interview and promises Stabler that she'll get used to it eventually. He tells her that if that ever happens, she should quit.
- In Princess: The Hopeful , thanks to Sensitivity, it's nearly, if not outright impossible for a Princess to shield themselves from suffering they witness.
- Flemeth paraphrases the trope in Dragon Age II, in regards to Hawke's upcoming trials and tribulations. And she's right.
- While a variation of this trope may seem to be played straight in the game Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, it can be excused on account That Other Wiki claims the Operation Market Garden that the game takes place in seems to be a rather big failure as there are around 18000 casualties or losses by the Allies' forces that you play versus the 8000 casualties by the Germans. (see the proof here!) Operation Market Garden was, strategically speaking, a colossal failure, committing resources to a risky attack that failed within days and had to be defended for weeks, requiring even more resources.
- Averted in Metal Gear as one of the major themes of the series. As Snake points out killing does get a lot easier the more you do it, but in his opinion that is one of the worst things about his job. It's also the reason he works alone and keeps doing the job he hates, so nobody else has to do it.
- In Trauma Center, the (player) doctor plays this trope dead straight. Despite working under difficult conditions, against pathogens that would make Ebola seem a walk in the park, if a single patient dies, it's game over because the doctor resigns.
- Part of Luke's Character Development in Tales of the Abyss comes from him slowly accepting the realities of- and getting used to- killing people in warfare. Though he's fine with killing monsters, when he first kills a human (accidentally, and in self-defence) he suffers a Heroic BSOD. Both Tear and Jade lecture him on how they don't enjoy killing humans, but as soldiers they have to kill for a greater cause: in this case, stopping a war that would kill millions. Even so, an extra scene with Jade near the end of the game reveals that Luke still "lay[s] awake, shaking" all night whenever he kills bandits or Oracle soldiers.
- Mega Man X:
- Mostly because he is at heart a pacifist. While Zero has learned to deal with death over his career, X always feels grief and doubt about those who die in the Maverick Wars, even his own enemies. It's even be argued that he deliberately does this so he always has sympathy for the enemy because becoming callous is not the way to finding real peace. When he finally loses all sympathy centuries into the future, he retires.
- Zero doesn't let it bother him. He's not totally heartless though - he just sees it from a different perspective. When a twin dies along with his Big Bad brother (because they shared a CPU), he told the upset X that he knew the consequences and he should honor his sacrifice instead of bemoaning it. However, when his love interest Iris dies in cruel and pointless war, he didn't take it well.
- MadWorld. In the ending theme "Soul", the song takes place from Jack's point of view and deals with his conflicted self. The song suggests that he hates killing but he has to keep doing it for a greater cause.
- In Virtue's Last Reward, Sigma states to the player a number of times that walking into a room and finding a dead body never has any less of an impact or ever becomes any easier to cope with, despite how often it happens.
Sigma: [Even after all that's happened, a room full of dead bodies has a significant impact.]
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Hadvar, an Imperial soldier discusses this trope with the player
Hadvar: (Paraphrased) Do... Do you ever feel for the people you kill?
Hadvar: I guess so. Some of the men say it gets easier, I'm not sure if that's good or bad.
- US police departments encourage this way of thinking. Lethal force is always the absolute last resort and after having to use it most officers are taken off active duty for a period of time and receive counselling.
- If you've gone through multiple losses of close family members and friends, you realize that it can appear to get easier to deal with losing yet another close family member/friend, but it doesn't get any easier coping with the loss, particularly if it pertains to a parent, child, spouse, or sibling. You'll be able to manage living a normal life again after the original grieving process is over, but you'll never really be able to "get over it".