Promotion Not Punishment

"But if you pull a stunt like that again I'll court martial you ... or I'll promote you. Either way you'll be in a lot of trouble."
Vice Admiral Toddman, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "The Die is Cast"

You've ignored every order and broken all the rules to do what's right, and now it's time to pay the price. But what is this, they are promoting you! What happened to being in trouble?

This is when a character is rewarded with a promotion for action involving breaking the rules, not merely excused. Often it is the superior's way of saying 'you shouldn't have done that, but you succeeded and are obviously going to keep on doing it, so let's put you in a position where you are actually allowed to'; it can also be presented a subtle apology for the character having been given an order they shouldn't have been expected to obey. It is the best possible result when someone who is caught in Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving is Saved by the Awesome; may be presented as a Chew Out Fake Out.

While the Military Maverick or Cowboy Cop may manage pull this off for one of their stunts, it is just as common that the recipient is someone who just this once was pushed too far. A variation is when this happens through a character correctly passing their Secret Test of Character or Secret Test of Sneakiness.

The positive outcome of a character deciding Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right and I Did What I Had to Do.

Frequently overlaps with Expose the Villain, Get His Job, since the first part usually involves starting some sort of trouble. In cases where the questionable action is killing your superior (particularly where this is the standard method of promotion) this becomes Klingon Promotion.

Compare Career Building Blunder where a character is promoted after genuinely screwing something up, because they know to watch out for it next time. Also Kicked Upstairs and Reassigned to Antarctica where a (often incompetent) character is promoted or transferred as a way of getting them out of the way and away from anything important they might stuff up.

Contrast Unishment where something is intended to be a punishment but the victim does not see it as such.


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    Comic Books 
  • In Lucifer, the demoness Lys takes damned soul Christopher Rudd as a lover. Soon, he discovers that her preferred drug, "Pain," is made from the concentrated pain of his former fellow torture victims in Hell, and what's worse, she makes him inhale it himself. (Because he's human, it causes him agony, not pleasure.) Rudd gets revenge on her by tricking her into inhaling Pain he's made from emotional pain of the damned, thus making her feel constant regret and guilt. When Lys complains to her father, Lord Arux, he responds that Rudd helped avert a rebellion against him, so instead of punishing him he's promoting him to duke.

    Film Animated 
  • Mulan is the page quote for Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving; the sequel shows that she has become one of the Emperor's trusted officers (if a non-standard one) and is entrusted with the safety of his daughters.

    Film Live Action 
  • Captain James T. Kirk is skilled at achieving this.
    • In the 2009 Star Trek movie takes he is actually about to be kicked out for cheating on the test, but somehow he ends up on the Enterprise and tops his cheating with actually attempting a mutiny against Spock and disobeying the acting Captain's orders. Being that it was his disregard of orders that led to the defeat of the Big Bad and the saving of (almost) every planet in the Federation, one can begin to see how he actually skips all the way to the Captain's chair at the end.
      • However, the sequel shows that him continuing this sort of behavior results in him losing command of the Enterprise and being sent back to the Academy with Pike being infuriated at this (and at Kirk falsifying reports to hide his behavior. But Pike later pulls strings to make him his First Officer since he still has faith in him).
    • At the end of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Kirk actually experiences a subversion. After stealing the Enterprise and subsequently blowing it up in the process of stopping the Earth from being destroyed and saving the humpbacked whales from extinction, he and his bunch manage to almost completely duck the surefire court-martialing and dismissal from Starfleet. Instead, Kirk is demoted from Admiral back down to Captain, a role both he and his superiors prefer him in.
  • Played for Laughs in Office Space. Initech hires consultants to figure out which employees to fire. When asked about his recent slacking off, Peter tells the interviewers exactly just how pointless and unsatisfying his current day job is and generally how screwed up his employer company is. He expects to be fired for this. The interviewers are so impressed by this, they put him on the fast track to promotion. Instead two of his hardworking coworkers get laid off.

  • Subverted with Roran in Eldest. He ends up getting both. Nasuda has him whipped for his disobeying of a direct order (from an incompetent superior, who ends up getting demoted ) in order to save the lives of the men he had just been put temporarily in command of. But also she gives him his own unit which means he reports directly to Nasuda and no one else. Keep in mind he just joined the Varden no long before and has only a handful of missions under his belt.
  • Discworld. Albert Spangler/Moist von Lipwig is captured for fraud and hanged... to within half an inch of his life. Vetinari then offers him the position of Postmaster, knowing that his specific skills are what is needed to get the Post Office up and running again.
    • Often happens to wizards. Mustrum Ridcully takes the point of view that a wizard who does something unwise or against instructions - and lives - has done something to add to the sum total of human knowledge, and shown commendable initiative that should be rewarded.
  • Happens in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. During Harry's first flying lesson, Neville Longbottom accidentally injures himself to the point of having to go to the hospital wing. The teacher forbids everyone from flying a broomstick, on the punishment of expulsion. Draco Malfoy decides to make things worse, by flying a broomstick to throw Neville's magical mnemonic device in a tree. Harry intervenes by stepping on a broom, and catching the thing. But to his great horror, the stern Professor Mc Gonnagal spots him doing so, and takes him away...only to be welcomed into his house's sports team as one of the youngest players ever.
  • Protector of the Small. At the end of Lady Knight Kel disobeys orders and crosses the Scanran border to try and rescue her kidnapped refugee charges. When she returns, she is 'punished' for her desertion by being put in charge of a new and bigger refugee camp. This is helped by the fact that Wyldon realised that he asked too much of her by ordering her to abandon her people, particularly when she was chosen for the duty in the first place because she would care about them. (She is also given a very large budget, the military's quiet apology for leaving the first camp without enough to defend itself.)
  • From The Name Ofthe Wind, Kvothe is a variation on this. Twice he breaks the University rules (fighting Ambrose) sufficiently to cause him to be flogged, but in the course of this he demonstrated the skills necessary to graduate to the next level. This means he gets both the punishment and the promotion.
  • Heralds of Valdemar. Kerowyn in By the Sword has a long-term variant. When faced with an incompetent mercenary Captain who is planning a suicidal charge she breaks with her Contract effectively exiling herself from her Company and flees before her Captain has a change to retaliate. She clears it with the Guild and is excused, but is then only able to get a job as a tavern bouncer. Several weeks later she is jailed for attacking a drunken city guard in self-defence, but people speak up in her defence and she is released, although with no hope of continuing her job. When she comes out, she is faced with the remains of the Company who have finally caught up with her... only to be told that her leaving had prompted them to vote out their Captain and they want her as their replacement.
  • Beregond from the The Lord of the Rings books. During the siege of Minas Tirith, he deserted his post and killed the porter with the keys to the Silent Street, as well as two members of the Guard. However, he only did this to protect Faramir from a premature funeral pyre, and only slew the others because they would not listen to him and attempted to kill him first. After the crowning of King Elessar, Beregond is brought before the new King. King Elessar spares him from execution because of the circumstances, but discharges Beregond from the Guard and orders him out of Minas Tirith... so that he may be reassigned to Faramir's newly-formed personal Guard in Ithilien as its captain.
  • At the end of the first book in The Guardians of Time Trilogy, Ethan expects to be expelled from the Guard for abandoning his friends for the start of the crucial battle and breaking their prime rule of non-interference with history by rescuing King Richard. Instead, it turns out that he was merely following the promptings of The Prophecy, and he is granted his wings (teleportation) the highest honor the Guard can bestow and a sign of trust, and something he has been wanting since before the start of the book.
  • In The Wheel of Time, when Egwene is formally raised Amyrlin for the second time her first act is to call Silviana before her. Everyone thinks that it is to personally punish her for the punishment beatings she administered to Egwene during her capture. Egwene chides the others for thinking that of her, and instead commends Silviana for doing her duty and later speaking out against Elaida further treatment of her and makes her her Keeper. This goes a long way towards healing the rifts both between the Tower and rebel Aes Sedai, and the Red and other Ahjas.
  • Miles Vorkosigan has a...problem with following orders, and those above constantly complain about his "excessive initiative" or curse him by wishing he one day commands someone "just like him". In Vor Games, he is put under the one man who could possible deal with him and sent on a simple intelligence gathering mission. By the end of this he manages to have 3 separate 'superior officers' locked in the brig so he can go about leading a mercenary troop to defend a wormhole from an enemy invasion which no one ever asked him to do. But since he did manage to save everyone he ends up with a promotion and his dream job of playing admiral for the military fleet.
    • Discussed in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, as ImpSec HQ is sinking into a mudhole, and people leave the building or stay at their posts:
    Simon, his teeth pressed into his lower lip, released the stress to say, "At a guess, those would be the fellows who grew up in earthquake country, Guy." And after another minute, under his breath, as the evacuation continued more sporadically, "The ones still inside, you'll want to commend. The ones outside, those are the ones I'd promote..."
  • Commander Blaine gets one of these at the beginning of The Mote In Gods Eye for leading his marines in a coup de main against a rebellious planet's shield generator. If he had failed the admiral would have had no choice other than orbital bombardment, killing most of the population and dooming what remained to a slow death by starvation. In the end, Blaine's action was successful, so he was promoted and given command of a battlecruiser
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Davos was a lifelong smuggler who smuggled vital supplies into Storm's End during a seige. He's now Sir Davos Seaworth, and one of Stannis Baratheon's most trusted advisors. Somewhat subverted in that he was still punished for his life of crime at the same time, by having one joint of each finger on his left hand removed. But that seems relatively lenient by the standards of Westeros, and it certainly doesn't seem to bother Davos. He'll argue with anyone who suggests it's unfair.
  • Discussed in Strata. Kin Arad sentences the perpetrators of a nuclear-disarmament-protesting plesiosaur to a remarkably mild punishment; she then all but openly congratulates them, and tells them of her own, even more spectacular, act of rebellion. It turns out that everyone does something of the sort, and if they do it well enough they're more likely to be promoted than fired.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Star Trek: Voyager Admiral Kathryn Janeway violates nearly 154 rules by traveling back in time and swindling the Klingons. The fact that her actions get Voyager home nearly 15 years early and with added technology as a bonus results in her past self getting a promotion... to Admiral, along with a nice safe desk job on Earth.
    • Blaming Present!Janeway for Future!Janeway's actions can't possibly be legal... at least until the 29th century.
    • At least Janeway isn't being blamed for the Borg getting access to the same technology she just brought back.
  • Discussed in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine "The Die is Cast". See the page quote.
  • A similar line is used in M*A*S*H where Klinger is threatened with this. In his continued efforts of trying to get a discharge from the Army by running around in dresses, among other things, Frank, at one point, says to him, "I've warned you, that crazy stuff's not gonna wash with me! The next time I find you in a floppy hat, or a brassiere... I'll promote you!"
  • When Garibaldi in Babylon 5 takes over his fiance's company as the new CEO/Chairman of the Board, he calls a meeting with about eight notorious troublemakers, upstarts, whistleblowers and worrywarts. One of them gets up and exclaims how none of them did anything wrong, there's no way Garibaldi can just fire them; Garibaldi instead says how he just fired the old board of directors, who were nothing but sycophantic yes-men, and this Ragtag Bunch of Misfits is the new board. Specifically, it's their job to tell him when he, or anyone else in management, is screwing up or generally acting like an ass on company time.
    • In a subversion, however...he makes it clear that if they themselves screw up...he'll eat them alive. In short, Do Wrong, Right.
  • The West Wing: When the White House deputy communications director Sam Seaborn gets his ass handed to him by Ainsley Hayes on a debate show, Leo, the Chief of Staff, summons Ainsley to his office. She thinks she's there to be reprimanded and starts in on a long-winding speech about how wrong that is, when Leo interrupts her to offer her a job in the White House Counsel's office.
    Leo: The President likes smart people who disagree with him.

    Video Games 
  • After disobeying orders in Rainbow Six Vegas 2 in order to take down the Big Bad, your superior chews you out over it over the radio. He ends it by disguising a promotion as a firing.
  • The final Fighters' Guild quest in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has you working with a disgraced former guild-member and single-handedly bringing down the Blackwood Company by assaulting their headquarters. After you report your success to the Guildmaster, she tells you that for your reckless actions, you are to be stripped of your position as her second in command... because she will be stepping down and offering you her title.
  • Mentioned in the beginning of L.A. Noire after the protagonist grabs the shotgun from his patrol car. He and his partner discuss the trope (noting that using the shotgun generally means they're either going to be fired or promoted).
  • Vulpes Inculta, a character in Fallout: New Vegas, has this as part of his backstory. During a skirmish between Caesar's Legion and a hostile tribe, Vulpes broke ranks and led a charge through a hole in the tribe's defences, captured the tribe's chieftain and forced the rest of the tribe into surrender. Vulpes' Centurion petitioned Caesar for the right to execute him for disobeying orders, but Caesar recognised Vulpes' cunning and tactical knowledge and instead had him transferred into the Frumentarii, the Legion's network of spies.
  • Joker from the Mass Effect series gained his position as the Normandy's pilot by hijacking it during a test-flight and demonstrating that he was a better pilot than the guy who was originally intended to fly it. If the setting wasn't so Mildly Military, he'd have probably earned himself a sentence in a military prison instead.
  • In the finale of Wing Commander 2, Admiral Tolwyn chews out the player character for stealing a valuable fightercraft and going out on an unsanctioned mission to destroy the Kilrathi's headquarters in the Enigma Sector... then gives him a three grade promotion for pulling it off.

    Western Animation 
  • Thomas the Tank Engine:
    • In the episode, A Friend in Need, Jack worries that Ms. Jenny will be cross with him after holding up a bridge to save Thomas from falling off it (Also bending his arms as a result). However, it's this very act that gets him accepted as the newest member of The Pack.