"You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the
red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."
In many series, the hero's heroics are going to change his world. Perhaps he's making things his problem. Maybe he's learning the truth behind the Masquerade
, maybe he's traveling to Another Dimension
, or maybe the hero lives in a Lotus-Eater Machine
and he's going to leave.
In these series, the Call to Adventure
is often phrased in the form of a question. Would you like to:
Red Pill, Blue Pill
applies when the hero is offered this choice, and could plausibly have chosen B. The Blue Pill is the promise of being able to resume normal life, with none of the elements of the "new" world intruding upon the old ever again. Often, it even includes Laser-Guided Amnesia
so you don't even have to remember that it could have been different.
Of course, the viewers know the character is going to take the Red Pill
; otherwise there would be no story
. But just the simple act of giving them a chance to choose
a normal life lets the writer tell you something about the character: they're the sort of person who does this willingly when they reasonably could say no. In Long Runners
, expect at least one episode where we see what would have happened
it says about the character depends on the context. Sometimes it just means he's curious. Sometimes the character Jumped at the Call
, despite not knowing it was possible. Other times, it's the ultimate expression of how much he hates
the world he knows, and welcomes any
Sometimes a villain
offers this choice, in the form of taking a quick break from threatening some third party to say something along the lines of "This doesn't concern you. If you leave now, I'll let you go." In this case, it typically indicates selflessness. The villain can also give the hero one last chance to go back to her old, boring life (especially if it turns out that saving the world involves a Heroic Sacrifice
). You know the hero is really dedicated if she chooses to continue fighting anyway.
Note that the Blue Pill only has to look
like a viable option. In many cases, if the hero had
chosen the Blue Pill, the world probably would have ended because The Chosen One
didn't show. The villain mentioned above may be planning to shoot the hero the minute he turns to leave. More subtly, if the hero does
take the Blue Pill, this is technically Refusal of the Call
, and just because the Call asked nicely doesn't mean it doesn't still know where you live
In video games, this is usually a But Thou Must
or a chance for a Non-Standard Game Over
If this choice is offered at the end
of the adventure, it's the hero's Leave Your Quest Test
, and choosing the hero's path anyway is proof the character is a true hero. The villain prefers to "offer" the hero The Final Temptation
This trope may also be used in conjunction with Betty and Veronica
, where the Hero's choice is embodied as possible romantic partners:
An Action Girl
who fights by his side
as the Red Pill, and the sweet Girl Next Door
who offers the opportunity to settle for a normal life as the Blue. In this case, it's not a single choice, but a constant temptation complicated by the pull(s) on the Hero's heart. Following from the above, however, the dynamics are different if this choice is made at the end
of a work: In this case, the choice is the difference between In Harm's Way
and Home Sweet Home
. Subtrope of Two Roads Before You
Unrelated to Red Oni, Blue Oni
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Anime and Manga
- Tim Hunter gets one of these in The Books of Magic series. He's destined to either be a great scientist or become a great magician. John Constantine and company take him on a tour of Functional Magic in the DC/Vertigo universes and everyone tells him that Functional Magic is much more dangerous and unpredictable than science and is likely going to bite you on the ass when you least expect it Because Destiny Says So. After seeing all this, Tim chooses science... but regrets the decision soon afterward. But it's OK, because it turns out one of the older magicians tricked him into choosing Functional Magic earlier with a oblique metaphor.
- They didn't so much trick him, but when four weird strangers turned up and offered to take him on a tour of space and time to help him decide, saying "yes" at that point was already the decision. But it's OK because at the end he chose it again with his eyes open.
Fan Works and Parody
- In Kyon Big Damn Hero, Kyon gives Tsuruya the option to either learn the truth behind the SOS brigade and the supernatural, or remain 'just a side character.'
- The Trope Namer scene in The Matrix has been parodied in a multitude of ways, often by assigning additional effects to one or both pills or by adding more pills in various colors:
- In one gag, Neo actually reaches for the blue pill, prompting Morpheus to comment, "By the way, the blue pill is a suppository." Grimacing, Neo takes the red pill instead. "Excellent Choice, Neo."
- Also spoofed in the Polish comic Gorsky and Butch "Take the red pill and you will be transported to a different comic book. Take the blue one and you will have an erection for 4 hours." "Tough choice... aren't you taking one?" "I don't need to, I'm black."
- In "Sex and the Matrix," a parody video with Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw, being taken through the same sequence as Neo. When shown the Matrix, she practically lunges for the Blue Pill, wanting to go back to her Manhattan lifestyle.
- Parodied in this Dystopia comic.
- The fan-made Matrix Regurgitated simply has both pills turn out to be drugs, but Morpheus can't vouch for the blue pills' quality.
- This video points out how bad of an idea it is to take a red pill from a man who you met on the internet while in an abandoned warehouse.
- In Robot Chicken, when Neo takes the red pill, he passes out. Morpheus smirks and pulls down Neo's pants.
- The Annoying Orange also made a parody of The Matrix in "The Fruitix" episode. Orange is, too, offered an red pill and a blue pill. Apparently there's also a green pill that tastes like boogers.
- Snarkily referenced in this Puella Magi Madoka Magica Jackass Genie forum game:
> Alt Text
: You have successfully taken the blue pill.
- The Ever After High fanfic series Ever After Hero features references to the Matrix trilogy. One of those is when Regina Queen gives Abbey Roe a potion that allows her to see what really happened to the parents of her classmates. While there were no pills involved, the bottle containing the potion is red.
- The Trope Namer is the famous scene in The Matrix where Neo is offered this choice. Of course he takes the red pill, partially out of Jumping At The Call, partially because we've seen how crappy his normal life is.
- In the videogame adaptation, Path of Neo, choosing the Blue Pill naturally results in a Non-Standard Game Over.
- In a clear inversion of this Trope, a character in one of the Matrix comic books actually takes the blue pill. Her story, instead of being the action packed thriller, deals with the psychological implications of saying no.
- The villain type of choice also makes an appearance in Matrix Reloaded in form of the The Architect's two-doors-choice.
- Though little attention is called to it, all Men In Black apparently get this. Naturally, it's the amnesia version.
- In the original Total Recall (1990), Douglas Quaid goes to a company to have memories of a spy adventure implanted in his mind. Something goes wrong and he embarks on a spy adventure very similar to the false memories he was going to get. Later, he's told that what he thinks is reality is in fact those false memories, and is offered a chance to escape by taking a red pill. He decides against it and kills the person offering the pill. The movie leaves unresolved the question of whether everything after the memory implantation was real or not.
- Subverted initially in The Last Starfighter. Centauri does a very hard sell to pressure Alex into becoming a Starfighter, up to kidnapping him to the Star League and having him sit in a mission briefing, but Alex still turns down the offer. It's only when the Ko-Dan starts sending assassins after him that he reluctantly accepts.
- Red Pill, Blue Pill in the form of a hypnosis disk is offered to all Gardella family members in The Gardella Vampire Chronicles. At least two recent family members (Victoria's grandfather and mother) have chosen the blue pill and had their memories wiped when they chose not to become Venators (vampire slayers).
- In the Suzumiya Haruhi novels, Kyon is given the choice by Yuki to either stay in the normal, peaceful Alternate Universe she created, or return to his crazy, troublesome world. Refer to Disappearance in the anime entries.
- In the Animorphs novels, the main characters are offered a chance to retroactively take the blue pill. They take it. Crayak expects the Yeerks to win handily without any humans fighting back. Turns out his Good Twin, the Ellimist, cheats, leading to the Yeerks losing. Crayak calls the whole thing off at that point.
- In Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, a potential wizard has to take the Wizard's Oath before getting any magical powers. And even after taking the Oath "wizardry does not live in the unwilling heart", so if the wizard ends up truly regretting having gotten involved they lose their powers and Laser-Guided Amnesia sets in.
- Philip Jose Farmer's World of Tiers novels. An aging man with a failed life and a shrewish wife is in the basement of a tract house he is buying when a door between the worlds opens up. He can stay with his living-death retirement or leap into the utter unknown. Soul-killing safety vs death-or-glory.
- In Nightrunner, this is how Loveable Rogue Seregil offers to take the reluctant Alec on as his apprentice: "I admit I've cut a purse or two in my time, and some of what I do could be called stealing, depending on who you ask. But try to imagine the challenge of overcoming incredible obstacles to accomplish a noble purpose. Think of traveling to lands where legends walk the streets in daylight and even the color of the sea is like nothing you've ever seen! I ask you again, would you be plain Alec of Kerry all your life, or would you see what lies beyond?"
- Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere:
- At the beginning, Richard chooses to rescue Door from bleeding to death on the street and unwittingly becomes embroiled in the scheme on her life.
- In the end, Richard goes back to his normal life, but he regrets it soon after and decides to go back to London Below.
- In Christopher Pike's Magic Fire there is a drug that takes you into a Matrix-esque reality that is extremely addictive. Despite Jessa (main character) being informed she is living in a fantasy world, she refuses to wake from her coma (and stop her addiction).
- Laszlo Xalieri's short story "The Confession" throws in one of these at the end. The story is initially presented as having been dictated by an evil immortal to an unwilling hostage, but the immortal has no intention of revealing the truth of his existence to the world—he knows the police are coming, and he plans to pretend to be a mere corpse, letting the cops assume that the hostage is insane and is the real culprit behind his various murders. On the final page, the immortal presents the possibility that he really is a corpse that the "hostage" skinned and stuffed, and proclaims that the hostage has only two choices: accept this version of the truth, and face the punishment for his crimes (the blue pill), or commit ritual suicide to become an immortal himself (the red pill.) It's left unclear whether the hostage really is insane, and the story ends without revealing which option he chooses.
- Many of the Choose Your Own Adventure style of books will offer this choice to the reader right at the start. Naturally, selecting the "blue pill" will end the story right there, sometimes involving the author calling out the reader for walking away from the adventure they read the book to experience in the first place.
- Beowulf is given an explicit choice between dying in the glory of battle or living a long, peaceful life with a wife and children. Given he was a Germanic hero... guess which one he picked.
- The young Bobby Garfield, the protagonist of the first story in Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis, are asked to choose between going with the "low men" to their world as their prisoner, but in return getting to stay with his best friend Ted and see the universe, or remaining a free person on Earth to live with his cold and emotionally distant mother. He reluctantly chooses to stay, realizing that he is all in all just a child.
- Used in The Magician's Nephew as part of a Batman Gambit by the White Witch to ensure she is revived when someone finally finds the world of Charn she destroyed and lies dormant upon. A bell must be rung to revive her, and to ensure the hypothetical visitor chooses to ring it rather than leave it, a poem is inscribed upon it which promises that if they take the blue pill by ignoring it, they will be driven mad from spending the rest of their life wondering what would have happened.
“Make your choice, adventurous Stranger,
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.”
- From The Heroes of Olympus, Piper's father gets kidnapped by a giant and tortured for months. Aphrodite gives Piper a potion that will allow him to forget everything he's been through, and he opts to take it. While knowing who his daughter really is would be nice, PTSD and the inability to get any true treatment for it is too high a price to pay.
- Robert A. Heinlein's novella "Gulf". When former FBS agent Joseph Brigss goes to "Kettle Belly" Baldwin to try to find out what's going on, Kettle Belly offers to set him up anywhere in the world with an air-tight secret identity and enough cash for a new start. He warns Briggs that his offer is Briggs' only chance for a normal, happy life and that if he doesn't take it and gets the answers he's looking for, his life expectancy will significantly decrease. Briggs insists on the truth and ends up joining Kettle Belly's secret society of geniuses.
- Just about every companion in Doctor Who is pretty much in this position before going with the Doctor.
- In a rare case, Donna chooses the blue pill. Of course, she comes to regret the decision and goes as far as investigating paranormal activity in hopes of bumping into him. Eventually, she does, in a Crowning Moment of Funny.
- Grace, from the 8th Doctor TV movie, also chooses not to accompany the Doctor. Various Expanded Universe stories have explored the consequences of that decision.
- In the series 5 episode The Beast Below, there's a tremendous red-pill/blue-pill plot, whereby people who found out about the big secret that a captured Space Whale was powering the city were given the choice to forget or dissent. Dissenters were eaten. The Queen also got the same choice, about once every 10 years for the past 300 or so years.
- A similar forget-me-now is seen in New Earth (Gridlock)
- Gwen gets repeated warnings and opportunities to take the blue pill in Torchwood — to the extent where Jack effectively drops a blue pill in her drink. Only because of her amazing stubbornness does Jack eventually allow her to join (possibly since the only other alternative seems to be killing her).
- Sarah Jane Smith offers the choice to Rani Chandra after she saved her from a murderous clown in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
- This is basically the theme of the sixth-season Buffy episode "Normal Again," in which Buffy begins having visions of an alternate life where the entire vampire slayer identity, Sunnydale, the Hellmouth, and basically all the weird stuff in her life is a psychotic delusion, she's actually in a mental institution, and doctors there are trying to cure her psychosis so she can go home and live a normal life with her parents (who are together and both alive in this version of reality). Eventually it becomes clear that she has a choice as to which reality she'll act on: she can take the "cure" that her Hellmouth-inhabiting friends brew up for her, or believe the doctors in the hospital and accept the life she's been living as a fantasy. In the end, it's not about which reality is real (it is in fact heavily implied at the end of the episode that the mental hospital reality was the real one), but which one she chooses to inhabit: mundane, happy normalcy, or demon-fighting superheroics. She chooses Sunnydale, not necessarily because she wants to be a hero, but because she can't bear to give up the friends she has there.
- Played with in the fourth season finale of Charmed. The Angel of Destiny offers the sisters a reward: to give up their powers and lead normal lives where demons won't be able to track them down (however they will remember their previous lives as witches). Paige is against the decision while Piper and Phoebe are undecided. Eventually, after having to help an innocent without being able to use their powers, they decide it's in their nature to help people and turn down the reward.
- In one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the leader of a species with which the Federation has just made first contact asks what happens if they ask that the Federation simply leave them alone and never return. Picard simply replies, "Then we will leave, and never return". Since only a tiny part of the species actually knew about the attempt at first contact, it would effectively be as if they had never been there. At the end of the episode, the aforementioned leader requests that the Federation leave ("blue pill"). The researcher who had nearly finished development of her species' warp engine, however, requests to go aboard the Enterprise and work with the Federation ("red pill"). Both requests are granted.
- In Angel, Cordelia, who is aware that her visions are giving her brain damage to the extent that her doctors are baffled she's not a vegetable, passes out and meets a demonic spirit guide. He tells her that if she keeps the visions, she'll end up dead, and offers her the chance to change the past, taking a different turn at a party so that she never met Angel again in LA and instead became a famous actress. She takes it. However, in her other life, she feels like she's supposed to be doing something else, and in the course of trying to find it runs into Angel & Co; turns out that without her around, Angel gets the visions and goes insane, and Wesley loses an arm. She ends up deciding to become half-demon.
- Late in the first season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Zordon gives them the offer to return to their normal lives. In less than a second, the team agrees to stay Power Rangers. This is an interesting example, since the original draft for the episode was supposed to be the finale of the show, in which the big bad would have been defeated. So in the original ending, the rangers would have taken the blue pill. But because the show was enormously popular, Saban decided against ending it and the episode was rewritten.
- In Christina Aguilera's Birds of Prey
♪Taking the blue pill only made you cry♪
♪And all that the red pill did was make you forget why♪
- "The Red Pill" by Scratch D & H-Bomb directly samples Morpheus's words.
- Apoptygma Berzerk, in Incompatible:
I ate the red pill, no turning back
The gloves are off now
Mythology and Religion
- The mysterious Messengers give this option in Hunter: The Reckoning. When Hunters literally receive a call from on high to take up the fight against the supernatural monsters hiding among humanity, the potential Hunter can refuse. If he does, he's stuck being able to perceive the supernatural creatures, but unable to do anything about it.
- The opening fiction for the English version of In Nomine subverts this trope. An angel has just revealed her true form to some random lowlife in a grimy alley and convinced him to knife the mugger who almost got him. She wants him to become her servant and assistant on Earth, but allows that he can refuse and go back to his mundane life. The blue pill even comes with Laser-Guided Amnesia and an offer to put him back into reality right where she "removed" him. It sure sounds viable... but then she suggests that the police might get some bloody, fingerprint-covered knives in the mail any day now. Whoever said angels are nice?
- In Mage: The Awakening, the titular awakening, a metaphorical journey in which one comes to understand the truth of reality and attain magical powers, takes this form, as a person undergoing it can turn away and deny what they are experiencing (though it is not necessarily a conscious choice). The 'blue pill' is taken by those who prefer the mundanity of everyday life, and results in them disregarding or misremembering the awakening. In something of a subversion of the trope, it is suggested that a great many people annually undergo but reject the awakening, with the number of those who accept it decreasing every year (a sobering thought for mages).
- Continuum: Roleplaying in the Yet. Each PC starts the game by experiencing a first encounter with time travel. They are then contacted by given a choice ("Invitation to Dance") by a group of spanners (time travelers). They can either join the group and become a spanner, or have the spanners erase their memories of their experience (this was clearly based on the Red Pill, Blue Pill scene in The Matrix).
- In Throne of Bhaal, the expansion pack to Baldur's Gate II, your character, in one of his explorations of self, is confronted by... Your innocence. It presents you with the choice to accept your innocence and go back to the blissful ignorance of not having killed, of not knowing who and what you are. You must refuse either way, causing your innocence to become the Slayer and attack you. In other words, You must destroy your innocence to proceed.
- Cave Story: After the Doctor kills King and forces you to kill Toroko, plus Curly Brace sacrificing herself to save you (unless you took the hard route), Kazuma offers you a chance to escape the island. Agreeing gives you a cool cutscene and the bad ending (a text-only detail of how you ran away, set to Hero's End).
- At the end of the original Dragon Quest, as the hero confronts the Dragon Lord, the villain offers the chance for the hero to rule by his side instead of fighting to the death. Accepting the offer results in a Non Standard Game Over.
- In Golden Sun, the party is given a choice on whether to go on a quest to save the world or not. Choosing No results in a Non-Standard Game Over explaining that the world was destroyed. (There's also some Fridge Brilliance here. Despite the fact that activating the lighthouses is good for the world, Isaac still had the Mars Star, which would have made finishing the job impossible, and the second game states that this would also destroy the world, possibly faster than if Saturos and Menardi hadn't stolen the rest of the stars.)
- Something like it◊ happened in Tsukihime.
- The entire Taraimawashi-hen arc of the PS2 version Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is treated as a blue pill by the game, as evidenced by the poem at its outset. Basically, if you don't set off any of the triggers of your friends' insanity, then you wind up in that arc, where everyone goes insane around you, but you just don't get involved. The Call does not approve.
- In Riku's ending in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, there's a combination of this and Take a Third Option.
- In Persona 3, Ryoji Mochizuki, the herald of Nyx, gives you a Red Pill, Blue Pill choice on the final day of December. Kill him, delay Nyx's arrival, and forfeit all their memories related to the Dark Hours and return to a normal life, blissfully unaware of the impending The End of the World as We Know It. Or let him live, and try to face the undefeatable Nyx.
- Kotomine gives Shirou one of these choices right at the beginning of the Grail War. Of course, if you actually reject participation Ilya will just show up and kill you.
- The final mission in Command & Conquer Tiberium Wars of the GDI gives the player a very similar choice about half way through, which allows the player to choose between using a cataclysmic Tiberium Bomb that will let the player finish the level easier, albeit, with a heavy sacrifice. Or, they can choose NOT to use the weapon, and slug it out the old fashioned way.
- The Matrix: Path of Neo actually gives you the option to have Neo take the the blue pill. Doing so triggers a Non Standard Game Over.
- In Super Paper Mario, Merlon gives you the choice as to whether or not you wish to embark upon the Quest to restore the Pure Hearts. Unlike most Video Game Examples, this game actually gives you the option to say no, with three consecutive No's resulting in an Non Standard Game Over, before you are even given control!
- In the digital Choose Your Own Adventure style game Thief And Sword you get the option to ditch your mission right at the start.
- The "Reverse/Rebirth" mode of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories begins with Riku finding himself in the lowest basement of Castle Oblivion, and a voice asks him if he'd go to sleep and forget his troubles and the light, or take the card before him and discover the truth. Riku, finding the prospect of napping in a boring room unappealing, takes the card.
- In one part of Final Fantasy XIII-2, Serah finds herself in a world where she's married to Snow and they and Lightning and the rest of their friends all live happily in New Bodham. Serah knows that it isn't real, but real or not, it's offering her everything she wants. The player is able to choose whether Serah loses herself in the dream world or rejects it and continues the fight.
- In Beyond the Canopy, Glenn gets two such moments in quick succession. When he sees some shady characters heading off to the Forest's Navel, he considers his grandfather's warning to stay the heck away from that area—just long enough to reject it and rush off to stop the bad guys. Right afterwards, the bad guys themselves tell Glenn to get out of their way or die.
- One Kid Radd strip features a parody of this concept:
This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. (He suddenly has two more arms) Or take the purple pill to relieve your acid indigestion. Or perhaps the orange pill to reduce your cholesterol. (Two more arms) Then there's the green pill for your receding hairline. And of course the yellow pill for... well, that's kinda personal. But remember, whichever pill you choose, you should always ask your doctor first
- xkcd spoofs this, along with a couple of other memorable scenes from The Matrix, when Neo takes a third option.
- In Oglaf, it's subverted in "Felicity", where the hero chooses to return to his mundane life. Turnips are awesome.
- The Order of the Stick has a group of villains use it here (warning MAJOR spoilers); oddly inverted in that it's the blue "pill" that connotes acceptance. This being OOTS, it comes complete with a Lampshade Hanging in the form of a Shout-Out to The Matrix.
- Actually, the colors assigned to the two decisions make a lot of sense when you think about it. Choosing the blue orb and taking the IFCC's offer would mean V chose to continue living in the illusion that any problem can be solved with more arcane magical power. Choosing the red orb would mean V chose to "wake up" from that illusion and accept their own limitations.
- PHD includes the scene in its "Graduate School as the Matrix" spoof, replacing the red and blue pills with two different flavors of ramen that sport the colors on their respective wrappers. "Nerdo" takes the red one, and suddenly finds himself in the real world (i.e. graduated), where he gets to see sunlight and actually has money in his pocket.
- In Savagechickens they show what happens when you mix both of then ◊
- In Sinfest, the feminist website make this offer.
- In Darths & Droids, Yoda offers Luke a choice between the "blue milk" and the "red brew". The blue milk is the same stuff his adopted parents have been feeding him, and will let him "become like everyone else. No more Force, no more danger, no more ... expectations". The red brew will flush the blue milk he's already consumed from his system and let him access his Jedi powers.
- From the Whateley Universe, in Bladedancer's origin story "Destiny's Wave". The Taoist Immortal Lan Caihe Ho offers Alex Farshine the choice: give up the magic sword and return to his mundane life, or keep it and become Handmaid Of The Tao, servant of powers of which she understands nothing.
- Given a Shout-Out in an episode of Codename: Kids Next Door. A child named Bobby seeks to join the KND. Before being inducted, he is given a choice between a red lollipop, which is sweet and will make him forget, or the sour blue lollipop, which would allow him a chance to prove himself worthy. He chooses blue, but after being forced through many strenuous tests, it is revealed it was really a pair of villains in disguise attempting to stop them from the inside. Of course, they knew it all along...
- Used in an episode of The Proud Family. Instead of the pills, Penny is given a choice between a red computer mouse or a blue one to click on.