Merciful Minion

Even the most hands-on villain can't take care of imprisoning or killing all the heroes personally. Ordering an underling to attend to such duties is common. Sometimes, the underling volunteers to "deal with" the hero ... and releases him instead.

There are several possible explanations. Perhaps the underling is a mole in the villain's organization. Perhaps the underling feels he "owes" the hero and chooses this form of repayment. Perhaps the underling is going through a Mook-Face Turn, or simply expects the good guys to win and wants to score points toward a pardon.

A variant occurs when the minions receive a letter ordering an execution from a king, often of his mysterious bride. They often exile the bride, so that when the king returns, he will not be able to carry out the sentence. The letter has usually been tampered with.

Compare to If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten (where the villain orders an underling to "take care" of the hero as a loyalty test), Alone With Prisoner Ploy (which is just as likely to be information-passing as "time to escape"), Even Evil Has Standards, Minion with an F in Evil, and Noble Demon. Can overlap with Death Faked for You.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Gankutsuou: Baptistan finds Albert sleeping at the Count's doorstep after trying to find him and confront him over recent betrayals. Instead of kicking him out, he wakes him up, and sends him off, later giving him a communicator, and saving him with Bertuccio. At the end of the series, Bertuccio defies a direct order to kill Albert, realizing that the Count has gone too far.
  • In the Arlong arc of One Piece, Nami pretends to stab Usopp to save him from the Fishmen.

Film
  • Force 10 from Navarone (sequel to The Guns of Navarone). Major Schroeder's mistress, Maritza, volunteers to take Mallory and Barnsby to recover the penicillin and to execute them if it doesn't exist. She eventually kills the German guards, reveals that she's actually a member of the partisans and lets Mallory and Barnsby escape.
  • In Hot Fuzz, Danny faked stabbing Nick in order to prevent the Neighborhood Watch Alliance from killing him for real.

Folklore
  • Snow White's evil stepmother ordered a huntsman to kill Snow White and bring her heart back as proof. He leaves her in the woods instead, and brought back the heart of a deer.
    • Which makes another one for the Evil Overlord List: Always ask the assassin to bring back the head.
  • In "The Water Of Life", the older brothers steal the water and put salt water in the youngest son's bottle, so that they heal their father, who thinks the youngest is trying to poison him. He sends a huntsman to kill him, in the woods, but the huntsman warns the prince and lets him escape.
  • In Charles Perrault's "Sleeping Beauty", the king leaves his wife and children with his stepmother, who proceeds to try to eat them. The cook substitutes other animals and hides them.
  • In "Biancabella and the Snake", her stepmother-in-law has minions take her to the wood with orders to bring back her hands and eyes as proof.
  • In Penta of the Chopped-Off Hands, an exchanged letter orders that Penta and her child be burnt; concluding the king had gone mad, his servants sent them away to protect them.
  • In The Girl Without Hands, in the Grimm Brothers' first edition, the mother-in-law's servants spare her when the mother-in-law orders her taken to the forest and killed; in the second and later ones, the mother-in-law receives the letter ordering her death and sends her away to avoid it.

Literature
  • In Les MisÚrables the situation is reversed, with the heroic revolutionaries deciding to execute the spy Inspector Javert. Jean Valjean requests that he be allowed to execute him personally as a reward for his services in the defence of the barricade. He takes him out of sight, fires a pistol into the ground and tells Javert to run.
  • In the first full Ciaphas Cain novel a riot breaks out on the ship he's assigned to. In the aftermath he can't have anyone executed (since it would destroy morale, and more importantly make him likely to suffer an "accident" on the battlefield) but the captain wants blood (he was in a relationship with one of the military police killed in the riot). So Cain lets the captain hold a tribunal (the defendants of which are found guilty) and sentences them to "death" by transferring them to a penal legion to die in battle.
  • Xanth Filatine from The Edge Chronicles. As a part of his Heel-Face Turn, he shoots the rope tethering the protagonist's ship instead of into Rook himself, allowing Rook to flee from the Mooks swiftly closing on his location.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Draco refuses to admit the prisoner was Harry. Later, Narcissa crosses this trope with Death Faked for You and tells Voldemort that Harry is dead.
  • In the Chivalric Romance Havelock, Havelock survives as a child because the person the usurper commissioned to kill him spared him instead, and brought him to England.

Live-Action TV
  • In Luther, Ian Reed pretends to be a dirty cop to get to a ritual killer for the protagonist. Painfully subverted later, though.
  • In The Mentalist a child witnesses a murder on the orders of a criminal, who then orders one of his henchmen to kill the kid. Said henchman instead asks his relative to take the kid in. The criminal, showing a shocking lack of Genre Savvy, tries to order a different henchman to carry out the deed later and is flat out refused.

VideoGames

Web Comics

Western Animation