Franklin Pierce Holland: We're done for. I asked for a whole company and they've sent me one Ranger.
Captain Bill MacDonald: Well, there's only one riot, isn't there?
A huge threat has raised its evil head. This threat is a danger to the entire nation/planet/galactic empire, and has already done a lot of damage. However, the government doesn't do the obvious thing to fight this oncoming hazard (rally the troops, send out the Marines, and use its full resources to destroy the threat once and for all). Instead they send in one man.
Now, the man might be a highly trained operative but he is still only one mannote
. No one questions the government's choice in sending out one special guy, either. This is not a desperation move, as in Halo
, where one guy is all the government has left
... no, in cases like this, the choice is usually "send the entire fleet" or "send Joe".
A common handwave/justification for this trope is that a full military assault would draw unwanted attention to the operation. As in, if we send an army to attack the secret base
, the villain will use his superweapon, and game over. If we send Joe then villain won't react so intensely, and we can get past his guard. More realistically, the entire army may be needed to hold the villain's army at bay, or slow them down long enough to give Joe time to stop the villain. In other words, this trope is when the government is Genre Savvy
about a One-Man Army
If Joe makes a habit of succeeding at these missions he'll get a reputation for Doing the Impossible
This trope is most often seen in First-Person Shooter
video games, though it's sometimes often seen in movies and television shows.
Related to It's Up to You
and The Only One
. It can involve Conservation of Ninjutsu
. Contrast Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder
, which is where a scrappy Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
is sent out on an Impossible Task
rather than an obvious Badass
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Happened once in Mahou Sensei Negima!. What reinforcement should the Mahora mages send against a force that easily defeated the Kyoto Magic Association and is about to release a Demon God? Their entire mage reserve, that would be too slow and too weak to make a difference, as well as leaving Mahora unguarded? No way. Send Evangeline instead.
- Similarly invoked at times in Hellsing; Alucard is the most obvious example, but certainly not the only one. That series runneth over with Badasses.
- Points to Alucard for actually being a One-Man Army. At full release of his Restraining Bolt system, Alucard can spawn an entire army consisting of EVERYONE HE'S EVER EATEN. Suffice to say, that's a lot of minions. And he could already fight hundreds of enemies, other freakishly powerful vampires, and reform from grotesque dismemberment and decapitation.
- Additionally, following a certain incident at the manor, the Hellsing Organization loses most of its rank and file soldiers and resort to hiring mercenaries. The mercenaries are also wiped out to the last man by the end of the manga. Basically, if a character in this series isn't a complete Bad Ass, he's a Red Shirt.
- In One Piece, a major part of Rob Lucci's backstory involves an instance where pirates invaded a kingdom, taking their several-hundred man army as hostages, and demanded control. The World Government sent only Rob Lucci, who was only thirteen years old at the time, to deal with the situation. Turns out that was kinda overkill.
- Kakuri in Bokko. When the small border city of Ryo is threatened by a large invading army, they send a request for help to the clan of Bokk. They send a single man to save the city.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: In the Ishval war Amestrian soldiers had the upper hand on the Ishval troops but the Ishval priests could take down 10 men. The state alchemists, due to their status of living nukes, could wipe out whole areas. The response to trouble with Ishval insurgents was to send in Kimblee.
- During the police-strike riots in Watchmen, the "One Ranger" was Dr. Manhattan. Yup, that'll definitely do it. But averted with the other heroes, who tried to calm the riots by themselves and failed utterly.
- Rorschach managed to quell the riots in his neighbourhood just by appearing.
- The Comedian....did his own thing. By that, see how Invader Zim handles fires.
- It depends what you mean by "calm". They didn't "control" the riots - Rorschach caused everyone to flee in terror and beat up a few people horribly, and the Comedian suppressed his riot by using prodigious quanitites of tear gas. They stopped the riots, just not very...well.
- Except for, as previously mentioned, Dr. Manhattan, who simply teleported the rioters back to their homes.
- Deconstructed in Echo. Ivy Raven, NSB field agent, contacts her superiors and begins to get guidance from her Washington organization on locating and stopping the Phi Project, the military/corporate experiment that might end life on Earth as we know it. However, Julie Martin wonders why they have not received any support or personnel to help deal with the potentially Apocalyptic scenario. This causes Ivy to begin to think about it and she starts to agree with Julie that this might have some unpleasant implications as to the trustworthiness of her superiors
- Judge Dredd
- In one comic after the "Judge Cal" arc, the Judges are trying to figure out how to clean up a district that had become totally lawless. The council wants to send in a small army of Judges. Dredd decides that they need to send a different message and convinces them to just send one. Dredd went into the district with nothing but his gun and a dump truck. He left, totally unharmed, with a dump truck full of criminals.
- In fact, the very first Dredd strip portrayed Dredd going against a gang of criminals on his own for the same reasons.
- Each of the Universe's designated sectors comprises multiple populated star systems, and in some cases whole galaxies. The guardians assign each sector one Lantern.
- Earth is a special case. Given the number of attempted invasions, supervillains and cosmic crises it incurs, this one planet in sector 2814 needs up to 4 dedicated lanterns.
- Occurs in Lockout when the president and his advisors send Snow to rescue the president's daughter in lieu of sending in the marines to try and save all of the hostages. One of the advisors even comments "or, we could send in one man. One man with one very specific order."
- James Bond. He's regularly sent into situations the British government might more easily clean up by sending in a crack squad of SAS commandos. Somehow, despite the man-power shortage, he always ends up on top.
- Man-power shortage? This is James Bond! He's too-much man for the bad guys to handle!
- But Bond first has to investigate the situation, which is a task better suited to a spy. On several occasions he's backed up by an attack force for the Storming the Castle scene — never the SAS, but then again an army of modern ninjas looks more 'James Bondish'.
- In Escape from New York, the government sends in Snake as a last resort, but in Escape from L.A., the president consciously utilizes the trope.
- In the Star Wars films, Jedi Knights are sent out alone (or, occasionally, with their apprentice) to handle whatever problem happens to be occurring at the time. Of course, if the Jedi in question aren't the main characters, this is usually ineffective.
- The Resident Evil movie Degeneration shows the government's wised up since the events of RE4. When the T-Virus breaks out in an airport, who do they send in to rescue survivors trapped inside? A "Specialist" by the name of Leon Kennedy.
- In The Fifth Element, Action Girl Leeloo Minai Lekarariba-Laminai-Tchai Ekbat De Sebat is all that stands between the Earth and its Doom. Of course, as far as the government of Earth is concerned, Korben Dallas is all that stands between Earth and its Doom, so this movie uses this trope twice. Would that make it One Riot Two Rangers?
- John Rambo in probably the entire film series.
- In the fourth film, right near the beginning, there is an a choice between hiring an entire team of mercenary veterans festooned with guns or hiring Rambo with just a bow and arrows, and a knife. The employer chooses Rambo, and only hires the mercenary team when it looks like Rambo might not be coming.
- At the beginning of Judge Dredd, two young Judges get caught in a shootout and call for backup. They get Dredd. Just Dredd. It's enough.
Judge Dredd: [standing tall amidst random fire] What are you doing down there, Judge Hershey?
Judge Hershey: [crouched] Waiting for back-up.
Judge Dredd: It's here.
- And then there's Dredd, in which Dredd is locked inside an entire apartment complex full of criminals. The trope is somewhat subverted, as he's accompanied by a single trainee on assessment. And he does request reinforcements at one point. Then it ultimately turns out that what Dredd really needed wasn't more Judges, just more ammo for his Lawgiver, as he ended up running out of bullets before Ma-Ma ran out of Mooks.
- Stated in the David Mamet film Spartan by Bobby Scott, who is sent in to recover the President's kidnapped daughter. The title of the film is a reference to a historical example: King Leonidas I (of Thermopylae fame) sent a single Spartan soldier to a neighboring city-state that requested aid.
- The actual situation is actually more of a The Only One since the hero has gone rogue and is using his own resources for the mission. The people in charge are doing a cover-up and do not want her rescued. He tells her the story to give her hope and gain her trust.
- Referenced in Running Scared. When the two Cowboy Cop protagonists start feeling Genre Savvy about being one month from retirement they ask for one car to help them bust a drug den. Events escalate and they end up taking apart the den before help arrives. As the dust settles, a dozen police cars arrive. The lead officer explains that as they had never requested any help before the department assumed it was a riot.
- A variant in Pulp Fiction, when Jules and Vince need a lot of help for a mess they've gotten into:
I don't wanna hear about no motherfuckin' ifs. All I wanna hear from your ass is, You ain't got no problem, Jules. I'm on the motherfucker. Go back in there, chill them niggers out and wait for the cavalry which should be coming directly. Marcellus: (calmly)
You ain't got no problem, Jules. I'm on the motherfucker. Go back in there, chill them niggers out and wait for the Wolf
who should be coming directly. Jules: (suddenly happy)
You're sending the Wolf?
...shit, negro, that's all you had to say.
- In Taken, Liam Neeson's character Bryan Mills lampshades the fact that the film involves this sort of story when he tells the criminals who have kidnapped his daughter that he has "a very specific set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you." The villain, being a villain, refuses to accept that he's a walking dead man at this point.
- Remo Williams, the hero of the Destroyer series of action novels, is a tongue-in-cheek satire of the One-Man Army genre of adventure fiction, but he's also a perfect example of this trope. The authors even lampshades it in the several of the novels of the long-running series by having everyone note how ridiculous it is to only send one man out to stop the latest menace.
- Although this may also be the result of Remo being so top-secret that only the President gets to know that he exists, or at least originally being so.
- It's actually explained in the first book of the series. The secret organization CURE is allowed to lie, cheat, and steal, but not to kill. This is because the President is worried about creating an agency that could be a threat to the country. CURE finally persuades the President to agree to one man. When one CURE member laments that one man is not enough, the head of CURE replies that's all they are going to get, so he better be a Bad Ass. Luckily for CURE, he is.
- Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 novel Brothers of the Snake starts this way — with a single Space Marine sent to clear an entire province of evil sadist space elves. This has been going on since the Imperium's beginnings in the Great Crusade, where at one point a single squad of Iron Warriors Astartes was left on a world with several million inhabitants.
- Also used in one of the Last Chancers novels, where the titular team is sent in to destroy a hive city to contain a Genestealer outbreak. The "mass assault vs. single infiltration" justification is used explicitly.
- "Sir, why send only one Arbitrator?" "Troper, there is only one riot."
- In Steven Erikson's Malazan Books of the Fallen series, the small island nation of the Seguleh rebuffs missionaries from the Pannion Domin, a massive theocracy practicing cannibalism and rape of dying enemies. After the Pannion Domin declares war on the tiny nation, the Seguleh respond by sending a punitive army... consisting of three brothers. The most dangerous of whom is only considered the third most dangerous Seguleh.
- The Ranger's Apprentice novel series actually uses this phrase to describe the kingdom's group of elite archers, spies, and tacticians. It's not exactly wrong, considering this happens several times during the series.
- In fact, there's a bit of backstory where the page quote is adapted to the (Araluen) Rangers, and the phrase is brought up several times.
- At the end of the fourth book in Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard series, The Flying Warlord, Conrad suggests this trope. The actual reason he was there alone was slightly different.
- Gets frequently lampshaded in the Discworld books, especially the City Watch books. Detritus (the troll) shows up to escalating situations with a crossbow/ballista that fires a bundle of arrows that, due to the power, shatter and turn into shrapnel. It doesn't take out doors, it takes out walls. Needless to say, Vimes calls on Detritus quite often, usually as just a threat to drive his message home. Usually.
- The wizards at the Unseen University tap Rincewind several times in the same way, but mostly because they don't want to bother with it themselves.
- David Drake's Northworld trilogy. The Consensus sent a fleet to investigate the disappearance of the newly colonized planet Northworld. The fleet vanished too, so they sent another one, and then a third when the second was lost — and of course, number three disappeared as well. And then they got serious and sent Nils Hansen, a police special operations officer. Subverted, because as of the end of the trilogy, he hasn't returned to the Consensus either. However, he has become a god.
- Referenced in Friday after a riot started by a previously unknown pseudo-religious sect attacking Scientologists and Hari Krishnas in an airport. Friday herself mentions it took almost as many Mounties as there were rioters to stop it, as opposed to the usual ratio of One riot: One Mountie.
- Space Cadet. Girard Burke is annoyed when the Space Patrol doesn't send a warship to put down the 'native uprising', only one rocketship which crashes injuring its commanding officer and leaving the space cadets to handle the situation. It turns out there is no native uprising, just a crisis caused by Girard needlessly antagonising the Venusians which is solved through diplomacy by the cadets, not gunfire.
- In Fury Born has the principle that one company of the Imperial Cadre is enough to handle most situations. The number of exceptions to this rule can be counted on both hands with fingers left over. Near the end of the book, one character has a brief Oh, Crap moment on the villain's behalf when he learns that the Cadre is planning to send a full battalion of drop commandos in after them.
- Downplayed somewhat but still played straight in The Eagle of the Ninth, as the protagonist is travelling in disguise and under a cover identity.
- Going back a bit, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses the trope: a lone man shames a lynch mob into disbanding.
Live Action TV
- Tales of the Texas Rangers plays this trope straight most of the time. Ranger Pearson normally works with the local authorities, but he's usually the only ranger assigned to the case.
- In Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, the good guys are given the choice between a mass assault vs. sending in one ship with only a few people. The latter is ultimately chosen, on the reasoning that it would be more stealthy.
- This trope was the promotional Tagline for Bravestarr.
- Occasionally applied to one of its Space Western brothers, too. Some Galaxy Rangers episodes only had a single one of the main characters present (the Supertrooper duology, featuring The Lancer Shane Gooseman, are the most prominent examples), and were usually split into teams of two.
- In 414BC the city-state of Syracuse (on Sicily) was getting monstered by an Athenian invasion force of about 7,300 soldiers and 134 warships. Syracuse appealed for help to Sparta, which sent one man: Gylippus. The Athenians sent another 5,000 troops and seventy ships. Gylippus won. Not a single member of the Athenian force escaped alive.
- To be exact, Gylippus was the general sent to lead the resistance.
- T.E. Lawrence, a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia. The British government wanted to create a civil war in Turkey's Arabian provinces. He was originally intended to fulfill a diplomatic role and not actually involve himself in the conflict directly. When he started doing so with some success, the British sort of just went with it.
- The slogan for the Texas Rangers, as noted in the TV section entry for Walker, Texas Ranger up above.
- Makes a bit more sense when you think about the fact that the Texas Rangers are more like a state-level FBI rather than a state-wide police department (in Texas, that'd be the Highway Patrol). They're not supposed to send in a whole big force. They do the investigating and coordinating with different police departments, and when they need a whole bunch of manpower, they get it from the Highway Patrol or local police and sheriff's departments.
- Interestingly though, as the other wiki's article details, in the actual trope-naming incident it was pretty well averted, with other Texas Ranger captains and the Adjutant General present, though many of them may have come originally with the intention of being spectators at the bout, not keeping the peace when it was stopped.
- The Mounties (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) have a similar reputation. Their original name was the Northwest Mounted Police, and they were given responsibility of just about everything north and west of Ontario. When the Yukon gold rush occurred, the NWMP made sure is was the most orderly and civilized gold rush ever seen, especially when contrasted against the California gold rush a few decades before. The Mounties today service as the federal police investigation branch (similar to the FBI), and are considered polite, professional, elite, dedicated, and fearsome if crossed.
- Commando raids were conceived with this trope in mind (although they usually involve a team rather than literally using one "ranger"); send in a small force to go in quietly, carry out a specific objective (e.g. sabotage, assassination, rescue a person of importance, gather intelligence, etc) and then leave (optional).
- It is also notable that in reality, while commando raids are good for the morale of one's own forces, they are never the war winning element that they are in fiction. Major wars are won by major battles, not commandos. At most commandos can try to give one side or the other an edge in critical situations.
- For instance Allied commando missions that damaged the Nazi nuclear weapon program ultimately made zero difference, as the Germans' under-resourced programs were far from producing anything resembling even a simple dirty-bomb.
- At the same time Soviet commando missions that shut down much of the Belarussian railway network and roads prevented the Nazis from reinforcing their Army Group Centre quickly enough to prevent their forward elements from being destroyed by the Red Army. The Nazi reinforcements were then annihilated in turn. In the end Soviet commandos indirectly wiped out all but a handful of the 500,000 combat-troops of the Army Group Centre.
- The above falls in line with the idea of "economy of force," which is a general military principle that tells you essentially to have no more Rangers than you really need for the Riot. Certainly, sometimes There Is No Kill Like Overkill, but using many more soldiers than you really need for a campaign or commando operation is wasteful, since those soldiers are not doing a job that they potentially could be doing elsewherenote .
- Léo Major. After singlehandedly liberating Zwolle, he was sought after when the Korean War broke out, and he and twenty-two soldiers were sent in to recon Chinese positions, and held off two entire divisions when US forces in the sector were forced to withdraw.
- Charles Gordon, the popular ex-Governor of Sudan, was sent with a few Egyptian staff officers to organize the withdrawal of Anglo-Egyptian soldiers (and civilians) from Sudan during The River War. This backfired spectacularly when Gordon refused to evacuate Khartoum, was besieged by the Mahdi and the British government was humiliated into organizing a relief expedition - which failed to save Gordon.