Sometimes, good guys — or friends of good guys — go bad; they turn traitor, go too far in pursuit of good, or have stared into the darkness for too long and let it corrupt them. Sometimes when they do, their former friends have to bring them in.
And sometimes when it's all done the hero will meet their former friend, now in chains or facing disgrace, and tell them that they can't let the matter go to trial and become public. Perhaps it'll hurt the hero too much to see their former friend ruined and disgraced, or will hurt an innocent loved one of the villain to learn what a monster they've become. Perhaps it could even have repercussions that will shake or destroy an entire society. Perhaps the former friend simply doesn't deserve the clemency he may possibly receive, or is facing a horrific fate the hero wouldn't wish on anyone, especially if it's disproportionate to the crime. Perhaps the former friend simply deserves a chance to reclaim their sullied honour, and their old friendship is worth that much.
So when they leave, the hero will Leave Behind a Pistol. A loaded pistol, with one round in the chamber. And maybe a bottle of Scotch, if you're lucky. The implicationis clear.
We may then see the hero walking down a corridor. And hear a single gunshot from the room they've just left.
A subtrope of Redemption Equals Death and Driven to Suicide, with a side-order of Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves. Commonly occurs to heroes who have turned to the dark side, friends of the heroes who have done the same, or the Worthy Adversary. Often tends to occur in military or espionage settings (or characters involved in the same), where codes of loyalty and honour may require an extreme solution if violated. It doesn't have to be a gun — any time when the hero offers a noble suicide to a disgraced foe applies — but the 'pistol with a single round' version is quite common.
A variation is shown in works that feature pirates; a pirate marooned on a Desert Island (in fiction, at least) is usually left a pistol, powder, and shot to kill himself before he dies of thirst/starvation/boredom.
A Sub-Trope of both Driven to Suicide and Ate His Gun. May be the start of a Treachery Cover Up — partly because they must Never Speak Ill of the Dead. See also Face Death with Dignity. A particularly cruel subversion is when the villain goes to take the hero's offer... only to learn that the gun's empty.
Has nothing to do with the common time-traveller's gambit in which a gun is deposited where you know an ally (or an alternate you) will be needing one later.
This is a variation on the idea of "honourable" ritual suicide; see Seppuku and Bath Suicide. Much like Seppuku, it has traditionally been reserved for gentlemen.
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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Anime and Manga
In the end of the first episode of Mnemosyne, Maeno gets hit by Cloning Blues hard, so Rin just hands him a loaded gun and leaves. Although it looks like he kills himself, it is later revealed that he wavered in the last moment, being left with just a light scratch on the forehead. In the end, he stays with Rin for the half of the series.
Dutch and Revy of Black Lagoon do a variation of this to a Neo-Nazi leader. Subverted in that the man doesn't have the courage to kill himself and tries to shoot them instead (they don't leave the room), only to find that the gun has no bullets. Turns out the bet they were discussing a minute ago was which one of them he will try to shoot first, the hulking black man Dutch, or the Chinese-American woman Revy. "It wasn't much of a bet."
In Hellsing, the cowardly and incompetent British official Sir Penwood chooses to stay at the command center in the midst of the SS Blitzkrieg on London, even though it meant certain death. The man was visibly terrified, but refused to abandon his duty when it could be the single most important thing he'd ever done with his life. Integra Hellsing, impressed by his dedication, slides a pistol across the table to him...but it isn't for Penwood to use on himself. The explosive, holy silver bullets were a parting gift for him to use against the vampiric Nazi soldiers.
Sort-of example from the "Tales of Human Waste" Trade Paperback of Transmetropolitan; an excerpt from Spider's column after Spider has forced The Beast to leave office reads:
"The Beast is Dead. Well, Near as damnit. He has been removed from power. Which, for such as him, is much the same thing as being dead. ... I feel uncommon pity for him. So I have sent him, care of his feedsite's address, a loaded handgun. I have marked it with the words USE THIS ON YOURSELF. I urge you to do likewise."
Wolverine did this to Mystique in the one-shot comic, Wolverine: Get Mystique after the events of Messiah Comple-X. Of course, he DID snikt her immediately beforehand to the extent where she would've bled out SLOOOOWLLY if she hadn't followed through with the gun.
Deadpool is hired by both a wealthy old man and his extremely attractive trophy wife to kill the other. At one point, he has both of them in a room and tries to convince them that they should work their problems out rationally, instead of with violence. To do this, he leaves an unregistered pistol with a single round on the table between them, noting how either could grab the gun faster and do the job themselves if they want to that badly. He leaves, confident that they'll talk things out. A sudden BLAM makes him realize that, when it comes to gambits, he's no Batman.
Both characters cameo on a later issue, alive but wounded, with the old man getting the wife some new jewelry. Making unclear who managed to get the gun first
Subverted in Max Brook's run on the G.I. Joe comic book where, in an issue featuring on COBRA methods of interrogation, a captured soldier who'd defended his allies to the end (and saved one round for himself) was denied access to his gun until he gave the Cobra interrogator certain unspecified information. If the soldier refused to cooperate, he would be released a few months after Cobra had anonymously released a fake camera record of the battle portraying him (almost certainly impersonated by Zartan) as a coward who abandoned his men. If he complied, he'd be given his gun with the single bullet and left alone to take care of his business while the real footage was released. The story implies that the soldier, whose life had been dedicated to living up to the expectations of his Colonel father, complied with the interrogator.
It's a piece of rope instead of a pistol, but what Jesse Custer in Preacher does to Gunther at the end of the "Salvation" arc is pretty much this trope writ large.
In the gangster revenge comic Back To Brooklyn, Bob throws Churchill to a pack of hungry attack dogs and gives him a gun to kill himself quickly. It's empty, and Bob watches with glee as Churchill is eaten alive.
In the Diabolik special The Return of Gustavo Garian the title character, terminally ill and condemned to die a slow and painful death, asked Ginko to lend him his gun after confessing he had been the one hiring the killers who had apparently murdered Diabolik and were supposed to kill Gustavo too. Ginko, actually Diabolik in disguise, gave him a gun and left in shock at discovering who had almost got him killed.
In Captain Britain and MI13, when Fallen Hero Captain Midlands is arrested for betraying the team, he and Pete Wisdom discuss how neither of them want a trial (in Wisdom's case because he's not sure Midlands wouldn't get off), and Wisdom leaves a gun in the cell. As he walks off, he doesn't hear a shot, and bitterly reflects that the worst part is he's not even surprised.
As seen above, The Dark Knight Returns has Batman track down street gangs wielding military-grade weapons to a U.S. general (who needed the money to pay for his sick wife's treatment).
One Largo Winch arc ends with a Burmese general (in league with a corrupt CIA agent to control the country's opium export). When the plot is revealed, the CIA guy panics, but before he can escape, the general enters the room with two armed guards, who then leave the room. The general then tells the agent that due to his rank, he was allowed two privileges: first, to have this conversation inprivate; second, they left him his sidearm... with two bullets. The guards outside don't flinch when they hear the first shot, or the second sometime later, after the general finished his cigar.
In the final issue of The PunisherMAX, The Dragon of the 8 corrupt generals has captured Castle and leaves him alone in a room with a gun. Except it turns out he was sympathetic to The Punisher, who saved his life in Vietnam, the whole time. He left him a gun with 8 bullets, one for each of his bosses.
The Life Of Emile Zola offers an example that is at once inverted—as it is the bad guys offering the innocent Alfred Dreyfus a pistol after they've arrested him for espionage—and subverted, as Dreyfus angrily refuses the pistol and insists he is innocent.
From Oliver Stone's Nixon; whilst not an example of the trope for obvious reasons, President Nixon lampshades it to General Haig at one point. It's when Watergate is starting to go sour, and a revealing insight into his less-than-healthy mental state at the time.
"Hey Al. Men in your profession, you give 'em a pistol and then leave the room. I don't have a pistol, Al."
Pirates of the Caribbean offers a variation; when Captain Jack's crew mutinies, they dump him on a desert island with a pistol and a single shot, so that he may kill himself rather than face a long, painful death from starvation and exposure; not so much an honorable end as a quick one. Jack keeps the pistol, and eventually uses it. But not on himself.
Before Barbossa maroons both Jack and Elizabeth, he gives Jack his pistol back (still with a single shot). Jack points out that, as there's two of them, a gentleman would give them a pistol each, to which Barbossa suggests that Jack can be the gentleman, by shooting Elizabeth and starving to death himself. Ouch.
Used again in the fourth movie, but with Jack doing the marooning. He at least picks an island on a busy trade route. "You can signal a passing ship - or you can just bite the proverbial bullet, as it were." Angelica tries to shoot him as he rows away, only to miss.
Blade. Whistler is attacked by Frost's men, and is left dying and soon to become a vampire. The eponymous character, rather than kill his friend and mentor, gives him a gun with one round. Blade leaves Whistler, and it is assumed that Whistler kills himself off-screen. A deleted scene has Whistler becoming a vampire, and this is confirmed in the sequel, where he reappears as a prisoner of the vampires who keep him around for interrogation. He is cured of his vampirism and returned to human after Blade rescues him. And then he's killed in the last movie!
Escape to Athena (1979). David Niven (playing the leader of the POW's) gives Roger Moore (playing the German commandant) a choice between aiding the Greek Resistance or being killed by them. When the commandant asks if there's any other option, Niven wordlessly chambers a round into his P-38 and removes the magazine, leaving the weapon with the commandant. He elects not to kill himself.
Towards the end of the made-for-TV movie Tempting Fate, Bollandine (Abraham Benrubi's character) is exiled by the government to a cabin in the woods with a pistol with one bullet. He's about to use it when other exiles show up, at which point he elects to join them instead.
Subverted in the 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo: the disgraced Villefort is led to the paddywagon (just like he had done to Dantes so many years before); inside it he finds a pistol and is told by one of the gendarmes that it's "a courtesy for a gentleman." However when he pulls the trigger, nothing happens.
Dantes: You didn't think I'd make it that easy, did you?
The original take had the gun loaded, but test audiences thought that was letting Villefort off light. Fortunately for the filmmakers, they'd also done a take with the gun empty.
Played nearly straight in Romeo Must Die. At the end, Jet Li's character meets his father in his office. His father takes a gun out of his drawer and sets it on the desk as Jet Li explains how he figured out the betrayal. As Jet Li walks away down the hallway, a shot is heard, causing him to pause a moment before continuing.
The Big Bad of Athadu, who ordered the murder of his political rival Siva Reddy, also goes out through a variant of this after he is exposed for the scum he is by Pandhu. His friend on the force confronts him with the tape that proves his involvement in the murder plot, and while Baji Reddy points out that this doesn't constitute solid evidence, the officer tells him that it will be proof enough for Siva Reddy's hotheaded son, who has sworn vengeance for his father's death. After the officer leaves, Baji kills himself with his own revolver.
Played with in Where Eagles Dare. A suspected traitor is given a gun, but when his treason is revealed on the plane ride at the end of the movie, and he tries to shoot the main character, we find that the firing pin had been removed. The main character gives the traitor the chance to leave the plane before it lands and he would get arrested. He takes it.
In the 1986 Arnold Schwarzenegger "epic" Raw Deal, undercover cop Mark Kaminsky had previously been driven out of the FBI on Excessive Force charges by a zealous Federal Prosecutor, who advised him to "resign or be prosecuted." At one point in the film, he invades a Mob bar, killing everyone but that self-same District Attorney, who is in the pay of the local Mob Boss.
Kaminsky:"This must be what they mean by "poetic justice." Because of you, a lot of people are dead. And now it's your turn."
Prosecutor: "No, no, no..."
(Kaminski drops a pistol in front of the prosecutor.)
Played straight-ish in The Last Samurai, when one of Omura's henchmen leaves a tanto rather than a pistol with Katsumoto to commit seppuku—ritual suicide—with.
Dead Air: When one of the surviving terrorists loses his pouch of anti-venom that would prevent him from getting infected after releasing an airborne Zombie Apocalypse virus, his leader hands him a pistol and leaves him with the following words:
"There is not enough anti-venom for the two of us. How you choose to leave this world is up to you."
A scene filmed for Aliens has Carter Burkeimpregnated and cocooned to the wall. Ripley gives him a grenade to detonate and moves on. The scene has never been included in any release of the film, apparently because it breaks up the tension of the final segment, plus it would raise potential plotholes with regard to the alien lifecycle. However, the scene is included in the novelization and the Newt's Tale comic series.
The film adaptation of The Hunger Games features Seneca Crane finding a bowl full of poisonous berries in his room, implying that he can use them to avoid being executed for the games he designed backfiring on the Capital so badly.
A villain-to-protagonist variation in Valkyrie. After the plot to overthrow Hitler fails, Terence Stamp's character asks his jailors for a pistol "for personal reasons". They give it to him, and he puts it to his head and pulls the trigger.
The Godfather Part II has Tom Hagen doing this to Frank Pentangali after Frank balks at implicating Michael Corelone at a U.S. Senate investigation. While Tom has no weapons given that Frank is being held under heavy guard at an army barracks, the implication is clear. Frank Pentangeli ends up taking Tom's advice.
Tom Hagen: You were around the old timers - and meeting up on how the family should be organized. How they based them on the old Roman legions and called them regimes - the capos and the soldiers. And it worked.
Frank Pentangeli: Yea, it worked. Those were the great old days you know. And one was like to Roman Empire. The Corleone Family was like the Roman Empire.
Tom Hagen: It was once. Frankie - when a plot against the Emperor failed - the planners were always given a chance to let their families keep their fortunes.
Frank Pentangeli: Yea - but only the rich guys, Tom. The little guys - they got knocked off and all their estates went to the Emperors. Unless they went home and uh, killed themselves - then nothing happened. And their families - their families were taken care of, Tom.
Tom Hagen: That was a good break - nice funeral.
Frank Pentangeli: Yea - they went home - and sat in a hot bath - opened up their veins - and bleed to death. And sometimes had a little party before they did it.
Tom Hagen: Don't worry about anything, Frankie Five-Angels.
Frank Pentangeli: Thanks Tom, thanks.
The Doctor Who New Adventures novel Just War has the Doctor pull this on a captive, unrepentant Nazi in the guise of a round of Russian Roulette. The Doctor plays by the rules, and no harm comes to him. The Nazi, when he gets the gun, cheats and tries to shoot the Doctor, and accuses the Doctor of cheating when he fails to. The Nazi then looks in the gun — and discovers it's loaded. The Doctor leaves the Nazi with the gun and the knowledge that he's ultimately a coward and a failure.
The Past Doctor Adventures novel The Devil Goblins Of Neptune features a subversion; a spy who's been acting to undermine U.N.I.T has discovered that his superiors have betrayed him, and has been captured and tortured by them as a result when he tried to defect. Later, one of his minders appears to leave a gun behind to end the spy's misery; he tries to, only to learn it's not loaded. His former boss then enters the room and bluntly tells him that he'll be the one to decide when it ends for him.
Lord Peter does this to the murderer at the end of the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Murder Must Advertise. The drug ring the murderer's involved with has shown a nasty penchant for staging fatal accidents for anyone who gets in their way. So, after he's confessed, Peter tells him that there's one way to get out of this without his family being dragged in: go home slowly, on foot, and don't look behind him too carefully.
In The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Lord Peter and Colonel Marchbanks, having extracted a signed confession from the murderer, leave him alone in the library with the Colonel's loaded revolver.
Sayers liked this one: in Whose Body, Lord Peter gives the murderer a sufficiently clear hint that he chooses to kill himself, leaving a suicide note addressed to Lord Peter.
Deconstructed in PD James' novel, Original Sin. Finding the murderer sympathetic, Daniel does a version of this for him. This is completely illegal, and it's implied that he ends up fired or even nailed with criminal charges. The main character is torn about having to turn Daniel in, and there's a major tearjerker when his co-worker stumbles on the scene and immediately knows what happened and what's going to happen.
Kate: Oh, Daniel, you could have been so good, you were so good.
At the end of Clear and Present Danger, the General Ripper who sold out several dozen US soldiers to ruthless Colombian druglords to save his own career, is confronted by John Clark (who is basically The Punisher with government backing). John tells him that they managed to save a handful of the soldiers, and have plenty of evidence to reveal his involvement in the whole affair. He also informs him that he's being watched by federal agents, and that they'll come by to arrest him within a couple of hours, to put him on trial for a multitude of crimes, up to and including treason. Then he leaves him. Shortly after, the General goes jogging... and halfway through his route, steps out on the street in front of a busnote Despite what he said, Clark knew that the prosecution of Cutter would be chancy at best, and would reveal horrendous corruption and illegal acts by the government and cause a massive diplomatic incident. He talked to Cutter specifically knowing that the official would take the easy way out, and save everyone the time and headache of a trial.
And then disallowed in a later novel, Debt of Honor. The Big Bad of the book asks if he can spend some time alone after his capture. It's denied so he can't take his own life.
In the James Bond short story "Octopussy", Bond offers this option to Major Smythe, telling him he will return tomorrow to arrest him. Bond thinks he has taken it when Smythe shows up drowned, but he actually decided to fight the charges and drowned in an unrelated accident.
In the movie, Smythe (Octopussy's father) apparently did 'take the honorable way out', thereby earning Bond her gratitude.
In the Agatha Christie novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Poirot tells the culprit that he will turn them in the following morning - and suggests that they perhaps spare their loved ones the shame of the truth...
Another Christie short story ends with the perpetrator dismissing Poirot's theory that he is mentally unbalanced and has been Gaslighting his wife's illegitimate son in order to drive him to suicide as a load of nonsense, going off to shoot rabbits. Everybody involved is well aware he's going to have "a hunting accident".
One of the Sherlock Holmes short stories (title lost in the mists of memory) involves a man who did something so reprehensible by the standards of the day that Holmes gives him the opportunity to shoot himself in shame before the police are summoned. Apparently this was the only Holmes story with that outcome.
None of the canon stories has exactly that ending. The closest is "The Devil's Foot", in which the Sympathetic Murderer says that having lost the love of his life (he committed the murder to avenge her) he doesn't care what happens to him, and Holmes lets him go free. He says he intends to "bury himself in Central Africa", but it's not entirely clear whether he means literally or just in the sense of burying himself in his work.
In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000Gaunt's Ghosts novel Necropolis, Sturm is offered this, and promptly tries to kill Gaunt with the pistol. In Traitor General, Sturm pleads with Gaunt to allow it again, and Gaunt risks it. Sturm thanks him and shoots himself.
"There can be but one jeddak in Manator," said the chief who held the dagger; his eyes still fixed upon the hapless O-Tar he crossed to where the latter stood and holding the dagger upon an outstretched palm proffered it to the discredited ruler. "There can be but one jeddak in Manator," he repeated meaningly. O-Tar took the proffered blade and drawing himself to his full height plunged it to the guard into his breast, in that single act redeeming himself in the esteem of his people and winning an eternal place in The Hall of Chiefs.
On Barrayar, the punishment for Vors who commit treason is public exposure until they starve to death; Aral Vorkosigan at one point observes that nowadays they are given a chance to kill themselves, but him, if it came to that, he'd insist on getting the punishment.
Referenced in Memory — after the villain is captured, Miles mentions to Simon Illyan that someone in the villain's position might be expected to commit suicide, but that it was difficult for a prisoner to do so without some help. Simon decides that said help should not be provided, as dying's easy and he should be made to suffer through his court martial.
In Solar Station by German author Andreas Eschbach, the traitor aboard the eponymous space station is allowed to walk outside by himself (without a space suit...) once all his accomplices have been dealt with. Quite a dignified death, as expected by the almost-all-Japanese crew, who just ignore him and leave him come to his conclusion alone.
At the end of Hag's Nook, Dr Gideon Fell cuts a deal with the murderer: a full confession in exchange for a handgun with one bullet in it. The last chapter of the book is the murderer's written statement. The trope gets twisted in the final two sentences, when the murderer is too afraid of death to raise the gun to his temple. But hey, Dr Fell fulfilled his part of the bargain, not his fault the murderer will now have to face the hangman.
Toward the end of Into the Looking Glass, the Mree general that lead the invasion forces trying to stop the protagonists from taking the Looking Glass is trapped on Earth after the Glass is sealed by Dr. Weaver's deploying the Ardune device on the other side, and neither he nor his men can process Earth food, leaving them to ultimately starve to death. Command Master Chief Miller leaves behind his pistol for the general to use after a brief discussion about honor, and outside the holding room the general is heard using it to take his own life once Miller and Dr. Weaver leave.
In I Am Legend, Robert Neville spends his days slaughtering infected people before they inevitably die and become undead monsters. Eventually, he meets Ruth, another survivor like him, and takes her to his house and befriends her. Later on, he realizes that she is also a vampire and she escapes after drugging him. Neville is captured by the infected survivors and held in a room to await execution for his crimes, but is visited later by Ruth. Having understood his motives and taken pity on him, she stays with him for a short while and gives him pills to take. Neville swallows them after she leaves and it is implied that the drug kills him.
In the Evelyn Waugh novel Decline and Fall, the lovable cad Grimes describes this being done to him during World War I after he "ended up in the soup" (which is implied to be a euphemism for homosexual activity, possibly with a significantly younger partner). Grimes was left a loaded gun and some alcohol to steady his nerves. When his fellow soldiers came back, they found him alive and roaring drunk. Luckily for Grimes, a commanding officer who heard about this happened to have gone to the same public school and Grimes instead got posted in rural Ireland, where as he put it, he could get into the soup without problems.
Upheld and then subverted in Secret Honor by WEB Griffin, Major Hans-Peter von Wachtstein, who is assigned to the German Embassy in Argentina, is confronted by the new military attache, Commander Boltitz, who has found out that von Wachtstein is the traitor who has been providing information to the Allies. Unaware that von Wachtstein was not a solo operator and as a courtesy to the son of a senior officer, Boltitz gives von Wachtstein the option of killing himself rather than reporting him to the SS. And then subverted when von Wachtstein speaks to the ambassador before killing himself, to let him know that their conspiracy has been blown... and the ambassador recruits Boltitz by showing him a letter from Boltitz' father, a vice-admiral, that indicates that Vice-Admiral Boltitz was also involved in the treason (along with von Wachtstein's father, a major general on the OKW staff) that Boltitz was investigating.
Invoked in Griffin's In Danger's Path, regarding an officer who'd gotten reckless with the Allied code-breaking secret:
"In any army but ours, he would be handed a pistol and expected to do the right thing."
Judge Dee gives a parricide a chance to commit suicide before charging him with his crime and watches as the mastermind of a vicious court conspiracy takes his 'medicine' knowing perfectly well it is actually poison.
Done to Danny Upshaw in James Ellroy's The Big Nowhere. One of the other characters notes the trope.
At the end of Suicide Hill by James Ellroy, Lloyd gives a loaded revolver to Gaffaney, and leaves the room. Bang! "And then there was a second shot,and another and still another." Lloyd runs back to the room, and embraces Gaffaney in an act of forgiveness.
Ellery Queen does this to the murderer at the end of Ten Days' Wonder.
Towards the end of the short story "Death Stops Payment", the money-grubbing private detective locks the murderer in a windowless room with an unloaded pistol. He only delivers the bullet after the killer's check clears.
In Mara, Daughter of the Nile, when Thutmose reclaims the throne from Hatsheput, he offers her a poisoned goblet. She accepts, on the condition she be allowed to drink it in the privacy of her chambers, although Thutmose accompanies her as a witness.
Live Action TV
An episode of Foyle's War has Foyle confront a businessman who'd been dealing with the Nazis with the fact that, as a result of his dirty dealings, his business empire is crumbling, his son's been arrested for murder, his wife has left him, and his reputation is ruined. He then leaves the businessman and walks outside — and we hear a shot. Foyle's lack of reaction indicates that he expected this.
In another episode, he offers a gay airman implicated in a murder the chance to fly one last mission in The Battle Of Britain. His plane is shot down. He does not bail out.
This is done in several episodes. In yet another episode, he allows a killer to return to his duty on the Arctic convoys, an extremely dangerous job in the period the episode is set in. And then there was the episode where a German spy was uncloaked. When said spy threatened Foyle with a gun, he merely replied that the house was surrounded and turned to leave. Cue the gunshot as soon as he had left the building.
Implied in one episode of Battlestar Galactica (the new version): Baltar and Boomer (who is beginning to suspect that she is a Cylon agent) have a long conversation discussing how she needs to "do what's right for herself." As Baltar leaves, a gunshot is heard from the room behind him.
Something of a subversion. She missed.
NCIS: Los Angeles: Played straight. Hetty warns her ex-friend/coworker that he's going to jail for the rest of his life. She walks away, and you can hear the bang.
A mini-series on the Dreyfus Affair had the title character being offered this after his arrest for espionage. As Dreyfus is innocent, he naturally refuses.
Subverted in one Sharpe episode. Sharpe remarks that leaving a disgraced officer in a room with a loaded pistol might be the gentlemanly thing to do, but of little use to the regiment or the officers family. He gives him a chance to lead a suicidal charge instead.
"All right, I'll go. But I want you to know I don't care, do you hear? I don't care! If that's the way you want to pass the port, you pass it — but you can pass it without me."
In the latest Robin Hood series, Guy's sister Isabella is in the dungeon following the capture of Nottingham by the peasants. Her execution is scheduled for the next day. While Guy doesn't exactly feel anything for his Face-Heel Turn sister, he does give her a vial of poison, claiming she'll be dead by morning. Isabella manages to escape and, in the ensuing fight, kills Guy with a dagger and then cuts Robin with it, having covered it with the poison beforehand. This gives Robin just enough time to kill the Sheriff and Isabella and say his good-byes to the gang.
In Prison Break, Agent Mahone tells C-Note that his wife will go free if he uses what is in the package Mahone gives him. C-Note opens it to find a rope, already tied in a noose. C-Note tries to use it, but the guards manage to pull him off just in time. Subverted in that this isn't about honor at all.
In Blake's 7, Avon captures a professional Federation torturer and teleports him to an underground cave with a limited air supply. He offers the man a "way out" if he tells him what he wants to know about his ex-lover who was supposedly tortured to death. After the man breaks down and tells Avon all he can, Avon coldly teleports away, leaving him his "way out": a loaded gun.
Spooks: one episode ends with one of the masterminds behind a planned coup d'état behind bars, waiting to be officially arrested. He asks Harry, the head of Section D, that his belt wouldn't be taken. Harry complies.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay features a short story where a witch-hunter finds that a town's local priest of Sigmar, and an old friend who once saved his life in his youth, has become a chaos cultist. Rather than treating his old friend to the usual round of Burn the Witch!, he offers him a dagger and leaves the room. The priest is given a hero's burial.
"I don't think you'll use it to escape. Be a man, Joe."
In Mass Effect 2, on Jacob's loyalty mission, he finds his father marooned on a planet where the men of his crew have gone feral and he's kept the women as his personal harem, all of them except Jacob's father suffering from mental degeneration from the food on the planet. You find out how things went so horribly wrong, and have the option of either taking him in, leaving him alone with a pack of bloodthirsty, feral former crew members...or leaving him alone with a half-loaded gun and said feral formal crew members closing in. If you do the latter, the trope plays straight, complete with the gunshot while walking away.
One of the weapons you can pick up in Dawn of War 2 mentions that leaving a shotgun with a single shell in it in the cell of someone charged with treason is common practice on Meridan. Considering the alternatives that have been described for treason convictions in the setting, this is a ridiculously merciful and humane act.
Variation : In Tenchu: Steath Assassins, you confront a corrupt government minister. Rather than killing him, you offer to assist him (by delivering a coupe de grace) if he chooses an honorable death by seppuku.
In a case of Game-Favored Gender, only the male character can act as his second. The female character must fight him.
A variation pops up in Fallout: New Vegas during the sidequest "Return to Sender": If you choose to turn in Chief Hanlon for falsifying intelligence reports, as soon as you leave the room, he confesses to the crime over the camp's PA system, and then shoots himself.
There is a pistol left behind though. His. Which you can then run in and take. It's the unique black revolvers only NCR rangers have, and it's the only way to get one without killing a Ranger yourself.
In Metal Gear Solid 3, after you are tortured by Volgin, Ocelot puts a Single Action Army with no ammo into your holster.
This has more to do with the fact that Ocelot was a double agent rather than giving Snake a way out.
Mengsk does this with Raynor in Starcraft 2: Heart Of The Swarm, leaving behind the revolver fully loaded so Raynor will either shoot himself or Kerrigan who had reassumed her Queen of Blades form
In one Robot Chicken skit, Dora the Explorer decides to climb a mountain and Swiper follows her up. Unfortunately for Swiper, he's not prepared for the cold and quickly succumbs to hypothermia. When Dora comes across him, she leaves behind a pistol for Swiper so he can end his suffering. He tries to use it, only to find that it's empty.
This is the Director's fate in Red vs. Blue, by his own request. Particularly poignant in that the person he asks to leave him the pistol (Agent Carolina) came there to kill him, but decided at the end that it wasn't worth it — probably in part because they werefather and daughter.
When Erwin Rommel was implicated in the "Valkyrie" plan to assassinate Hitler, he was told that if he were to "die from his injuries" (he'd been injured by an Allied air raid) his family would be protected as the heirs to a war hero. Whilst he was actually left a cyanide pill and not a pistol, the principle is the same.
Following the Night of the Long Knives, Ernst Röhm was offered this, but he apparently took too long deciding and his guards shot him instead.
Many sources quote him as refusing, saying "If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself," so it wasn't indecision so much.
Ludwig Beck offered to commit suicide after being arrested for his role in the Valkyrie plot. Unfortunately subverted, since he survived the gunshot and a sergeant had to deliver a coup de grace.
Thomas Baker subverted this trope while badly injured and retreating from a Japanese attack. He told another soldier that he was slowing down the retreat too much, so he asked to be left behind with a loaded pistol, requesting a new one because his was too damaged frommelee combat to shoot. He was last seen sitting against a tree, calmly holding a pistol loaded with 8 rounds. When they went back for his body, they found it in the same place, facing 8 dead enemy soldiers.
In a subversion of sorts, the former Head of the Metropolitan Police (Head of the Greater London police and generally regarded as the top policeman in the UK) Sir Iain Blair was once described as the sort of man who if offered the traditional revolver and bottle of whiskey, would drink the whiskey and come out shooting.
Preventing this type of reaction is why the Trope Namer pistol is loaded with only one round.
Colonel Alfred Redl was head of the Secret Service of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the years prior to WWI. He was selling secrets and agents to the Russian Empire (the Russians had him in their clutches by blackmailing him: they knew he was a closeted homosexual). He was finally discovered in 1913 (ironically by his subordinates, who applied the very methods Redl had developed for the Secret Service) and was offered a revolver with a single bullet. He took the offer.
A variant of this trope happened during WWII in Poland: a captured officer of the Home Army was released from prison to deliver an offer of limited cooperation to the La Résistance command. However, the command refused to even think of it, instead telling him to "solve the matter in an honourable way". After a couple of days, he shot himself.
The case of the Roman general Regulus was even more badass: captured by the Carthaginians and sent back to Rome to negotiate a surrender, he told the Senate to fight to the end rather than give in to the hated enemy, even though it meant that all the prisoners would be tortured to death. He then went back to Carthage to die alongside his men.
During the Estonian first independence 1918-1939 the legitimate way of carrying the death penalty was to first to offer the convict "a cup of legally approved swift-effecting and painless poison". If the convict refused from it, he was to be executed by a firing squad. The poison option was abolished during the Soviet regime 1939-1991. Death penalty was abolished in Estonia in 1995.
This is pretty much standardized in the medieval Far East when the elite were implicated in capital offenses less than treason. The reason was, like all examples, to protect the person's honour. It is often effected by an Imperial "gift" of things that can be used this way (sword, long pieces of silk, or poison). While nobody mentioned what are those gifts used for, the giftee can usually get the idea.
A non-lethal variation often occurs in workplaces where a sympathetic supervisor might discover that a liked employee has nonetheless done something worthy of termination and presents them a resignation form instead of reporting it or before an investigation occurs.
This variant is especially common in politics. So common that in some countries it's virtually unheard of for a member of government to actually be fired. In fact, the usual ostensible reason for such a resignation-in-disgrace — "to spend more time with my family" — is so broadly recognized that it's a common euphemism for the practice.
Before confessing to killing her two sons, Susan Smith asked the sheriff to give her his gun so that she could take her own life.
The Mess Webley in the British Army refers to a metaphorical or actual pistol handed to officers when they really screw up or turn traitor and need to do the decent thing rather than suffer the ignominy of resigning their commission and leaving the mess. Though actual honorable suicides are practically non-existent nowadays (and it is arguable whether or not they ever actually took place), the "Mess Webley" now refers more generally to the last resort of actually taking responsibility for a fuckup when there are no feasible means of disguising it or passing the buck (or, more rarely, if the buck can only be passed to those the clumsy officer regards with affection). If the usage of the Mess Webley will make a mess (either literally or in terms of fallout), the unfortunate is requested to "spread some newspaper down" to avoid such mess, which would, depending, be either blood and brains or punishments for other officers.
Pirates would strand people (usually mutinied captains) on deserted islands and give them a flintlock with a single bullet to save them the pain of dying from hunger or exposure if they didn't get rescued before it was clear they were done for. This is one of the more historically accurate facts Pirates of the Caribbean got right.