Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer

"I don't like when they encounter something amazing in Engineering or wherever and call up to the bridge and say 'Captain, you'd better get down here.' Explain what it is! THAT IS WHAT PEOPLE DO. I don't call up my friends and say, 'Utahraptor, you'd better get down here.' and he says 'Why?' and I say 'Oh Utahraptor, if only we had descriptive language; if only I could describe something using my words. But you know as well as I that I can only point and say, lookit.'"
T-Rex on why this trope bugs him, Dinosaur Comics, #1270

A giant bug-eyed monster has just appeared in the engine room, and is asking to borrow a cup of sugar. Someone on the bridge calls down and asks what's going on.

Now, if this were a real spaceship note , your duty would be to give a short, concise description of the problem. To do otherwise would be irresponsible to the point of criminality.

But this is TV, and we need The Captain in this scene. That is why you Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer. Instead, you say something like, "You'd better come see for yourself," or the ubiquitous "Sir, I think you'd better (come) see this...," giving the character a reason to enter the scene, with the added bonus of allowing a surprised reaction to the crisis when he arrives. It can be argued that words simply fail the one doing the calling, due to them being stunned at how weird it is.

Of course, there's the option of you giving out a description, then the Captain responds "What!? I'm coming down there to see for myself!"

Variation crops up in most Space Opera. Though less common in other genres, it still occasionally shows up as a way to perform the Room Shuffle in response to an unexpected guest or sudden crisis (Often phrased as, "There's no time to explain, just get here right away!"), or to hold off The Reveal until the moment of maximum drama. Can lead to some Fridge Logic that if this ship is the Weirdness Magnet that it has a reputation of being, why isn't there any training to reflect that?


Anime and Manga
  • A too-flustered-to-explain variant occurs in the first season of Strike Witches, with Lynette unable to explain to Mio that Yoshika is fondling Shirley. For the most part, though, the show avoids this.

Comic Books
  • In Ex Machina, Mayor Hundred's chief of staff drags him to the Brooklyn Museum of Art to look at a painting of Abe Lincoln with the word "nigger" across his face, claiming he needed to see it for himself.

  • In Alien, Ash does this to Captain Dallas twice.
    • The first time occurs after the alien facehugger releases itself from Kane's face and disappears.
    Ash: I think you should have a look at Kane. Something's happened.
    Dallas: Serious?
    Ash: Interesting.
    • The second is when Kane wakes up.
    Ash: Dallas, I think you should see Kane.
    Dallas: Has his condition changed?
    Ash: It's simpler if you come.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Without Kirk's knowledge, Spock went down to Engineering and took a lethal dose of radiation while saving the ship. Kirk calls down to Engineering.
    Kirk: Engine Room? Well done, Scotty.
    McCoy: Jim! I think you'd better get down here.
    Kirk: Bones?
    McCoy: Better...hurry.
    • This is justified as McCoy doesn't want to alarm the entire bridge crew by announcing out loud that Spock is dying. And because he is in shock, both emotional (from having to watch Spock die while being unable to do anything about it) and physical (he was just nerve-pinched and had a backup copy of Spock's mind hastily implanted in his brain)
    • Plus McCoy wants Kirk to be there for Spock's last moments, hence the "Better...hurry."
      • Of course, Kirk being Kirk, he interprets McCoy correctly, then shoots up out of his chair, chokes out, "Saavik, take the conn," and takes off at a dead run to the reactor chamber. Way to be subtle, Captain. It is, of course, one of the most moving moments in film history, however.
      • Lampshaded by SF Debris in one of his reviews in that the Enterprise is less advanced than a teenage girl, because she at least could have whipped out a cell phone and taken a dozen pictures to message the captain with.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness also has this. In fact, it's the exact same setup as Wrath of Khan, down to the lines - only Kirk is the one dying, Spock is the one being called down, and Scotty is the one doing the calling.
  • In Interstellar, Cooper's father-in-law gives Cooper a call on CB, refusing to explain the situation on his end but instead requests him to come down to the farm and see for himself. Cooper does and sees the harvesting machines acting up, which could have been explained on the CB already.

  • Subverted in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, where the Greystones' servant says he has to show something to Drawlight. He says it can be seen from the edge of the canal... and then he kicks Drawlight into the canal.
  • In The Princess Bride, Buttercup's parents do this to each other just to be jerks. "You look; you know how."
  • Dean Koontz's Phantoms. In one house Deputy Frank Autry finds a room with bullets (not complete cartidges, just the part that shoots out of the gun) all over the floor. He realizes that they're all of the bullets that have been fired at the mystery monster during the book. He calls his superior Sheriff Bryce Hammond on the radio.
    Autry: Sheriff?
    Hammond: What is it, Frank?
    Autry: We’re still here at the Sheffield house. I think you’d better come over. There’s something you ought to see.
    Hammond: More bodies?
    Autry: No, sir. Uh, something sort of weird.
    Hammond: We'll be there.
  • Inverted in the Horatio Hornblower series. Hornblower doesn't give his crew a straight answer so that success will look better to them.
  • Within three pages, His Majesty's Dragon has Royal Navy Captain William Lawrence being told "there is something queer in the hold" of the French ship his crew just captured. No hints concerning the new bulkhead or heavily secured crate beyond are given.

Live-Action TV
  • Star Trek in its various incarnations is far and away the most common user.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation. In "Skin of Evil" a monster made of sludge rises out of a pool of slime. When Commander Riker is ordered to report on the situation, all he can come up with is, "Trouble."
    • Ditto on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when Major Kira commanding the Defiant returns through the wormhole where, on the station, Commander Sisko asks the major what she found. Kira, visibly terrified says, "Trouble!"
    • And again when Odo calls Sisko to the promenade, saying that he'll "let [Sisko] be the judge" of whether or not what's going on is a problem. Somewhat Justified in that what's happening is that Kira's been possessed by a Prophet, and only The Sisko would know if it is a problem.
  • This seems to happen to Stephen Colbert offscreen. Experienced fans know that "We have some footage - now, I have not seen this..." is the cue for an immediate fit of rage and/or tears when the clip actually rolls.
  • Fairly egregious in Doctor Who
    • Invoked in "Robot". The Brigadier tries to explain to the Doctor what the situation is like before he leaves, but the Doctor refuses to have any of it for Drama Queen reasons:
      Brigadier: The thing is, there's been another robbery -
      The Doctor: (heading out of the door) Tell me on the way, Brigadier, tell me on the way! (as if a stage school teacher) You must cultivate a sense of urgency!
    • "The Stolen Earth". Independently and all over the world, Sylvia Noble (Donna's mum), Sarah Jane Smith, Martha Jones, and Captain Jack Harkness all desperately try to find out what's just happened to the entire planet, only to have whoever's nearby insist that they have to see it for themselves.
    • Subverted in "The Time of Angels". Christian and Bob request clarification when told to "Come and see" by a squadmate: "It's not a school trip. Just tell me." It is, in fact, the Weeping Angel - using their companions' voices. It still kills them.
    • It happens all the time in Torchwood, too.
  • Abby from NCIS has been known to continue this even while Gibbs is standing right in front of her.
    • Abby's excuse for wasting time explaining technical details of her forensics before getting to the useful information also justifies explains this. She works alone in her lab most of the time, and even though she doesn't want an assistant, she still likes to have company.
    • Ducky does it as well. Why simply tell Gibbs about the results of his autopsy when he could show him in gory detail?
    • And McGee and his technobabble...
    Tony: Oh, twenty bucks says McGee's about to say something nobody understands again.
    McGee: The GPS coordinates came bundled in a proprietary packet. Since it was a beta, I thought-
    Gibbs: I'm starting to think you can't help yourself, McGee.
  • A rather cruel example comes from the Inspector Morse episode "In Service of All the Dead", when Morse and Lewis climb a belltower. Morse is badly winded by the climb and clearly suffers from terrible vertigo (he can't bear to look up or down, or even move around). Lewis, by contrast, is skipping around happily when he sees a corpse far below and tells the elderly Morse that he'd best come see for himself.
  • Inverted in Stargate SG-1. In "Fallen," SG-3 come across someone who appears to be one of the natives of Vis Uban, but turns out to be an amnesiac Daniel Jackson, post-descension. The next scene involves SG-3 showing up and informing Jack O'Neill that "we found something you might want to see," but rather than making him go anywhere, it turns out that they actually brought Daniel along with them so he immediately enters the scene. It's not even drawn out for drama; the audience clearly sees that it's Daniel in the same instant that SG-3 recognize him initially.
    • The show still isn't adverse to the odd "Sir, there's something here you should see" though.
  • On the Stargate bandwagon, Stargate Atlantis does this rather rampantly.
  • Shows up occasionally on Firefly, usually with Wash calling Mal up to the bridge.
  • Shows up in LOST.
    Jack: You wanna tell me where we're going, Sayid?
    Sayid: It's better that you see it for yourself.
  • Eureka, pilot episode. "That's not all we've found — better come take a look."
  • Babylon 5: it is ALWAYS "Captain, I think you need to see this" or "you'd better get down here". (They really need to work on adding some security to those links.) The station is five miles long, so the captain may have to travel a considerable distance to "see this." The lifts and core shuttle help speed up the trip, but they also break down or get sabotaged a lot, typically while the captain is trying to use them.
  • As pointed out later on in the comic quoted at the top of this page, television news frequently follows the Film At Eleven version of this trope, so as to keep us hooked.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One" (S02, Ep21), Ash insists Dean comes to the Roadhouse to find out what he has learned about the Yellow-Eyed Demon, but this may be a Justified Trope as he did not feel comfortable discussing his discovery over a phone line.
  • A rare example from not only a non-genre series but a comedy, at that: In The Office (US), Kevin calls Michael from a supermarket and tells him he'd better get over there and see ... what turns out to be a pregnant Jan.

Tabletop Games
  • Star Fleet Battles. Captain's Log magazine #47, short story "Into the Eagle's Nest". After a battle with the Romulans, Ensign Caldwell calls up the bridge from the shuttle bay.
    Ensign Caldwell: You'd better get down to the shuttle bay as soon as you can. There's something you need to see here.
    Captain Lester: What is it, Ensign?
    Ensign Caldwell: Just come quickly! Please, Sir?
    Justified because the Ensign was ordered by a superior officer to only tell the Captain what was going on face to face for security reasons.


Western Animation
  • Parodied in (what else?) The Simpsons: In "Lemon of Troy", Nelson bursts into Mrs. Krabappel's class and says, "Everyone come quick! No time to explain!" All the children start to run across town, but have to stop when Nelson needs a drink of water. Someone asks if it wouldn't be faster just to tell them what happened, and he snaps, "No! I said there was no time to explain and I stand by that!"
  • In one episode of Batman Beyond Terry says he can't return to the cave immediately because something has come up. When Bruce asks what, he is told to look out the window as it is something he has to see for himself (In Terry's defence it is The Bat Signal so he probably thought Bruce would get a kick out of seeing it above Gotham again).