"Every profession has occupational hazards. Butchers cut themselves, house painters fall off ladders, and operatives get asked to help kill their own people."
The hero is in the role of a Fake Defector
. One of his friends has been captured. The Big Bad
hands him or her a gun and tells them to kill them. The gun is almost always empty.
One of two things usually happens. They pull the trigger and nothing happens, or they point the gun at the Big Bad
and nothing happens. In the latter case, their cover is pretty much blown.
In extremely rare situations, if the gun is actually loaded, the tested subject may succeed at pulling the trigger, injuring or even outright killing the Big Bad.
In addition, if the good guys are using this ploy, they will be careful to commend the testee's reluctance to pull the trigger, since killing should never be easy
Note for the Yanks here that "mate" is used in the British slang meaning of "friend", not necessarily one's actual mate, though occasionally killing your spouse or lover is used as a particularly strong test.
This is a subtrope of If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten
. It is often used as a stage in Bring Them Around
— once the character has done something, it's harder for him to leave.
Compare Involuntary Battle to the Death
, Finish Him!
, Deadly Graduation
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Anime & Manga
- Subverted in Gunsmith Cats, where Rally is asked to kill an ATF agent to prove her loyalty to some gun-runners. She knows by weight that the gun is unloaded, asks for a bullet, and shoots the ATF agent's bonds, releasing him.
- In Sailor Moon, fake defectors Sailor Uranus and Neptune are asked by Sailor Galaxia, the Big Bad, to kill Sailor Pluto and Saturn by removing their Star Seeds. Which, in a subversion, they do. After that, when they try to attack Galaxia herself, it doesn't work because she doesn't have a Star Seed she removed it long ago. Uranus and Neptune themselves get offed instead.
- Full Metal Panic!. When one of Gauron's mooks has Kurz Weber pinned down, he suggests Kurz surrender and let himself be taken to the Big Bad. "If you shoot one of the crew in front of him, he'll let you join us." Kurz decides being a backstabbing mook wouldn't go with his cool image, and kills the mook instead.
- One arc in Darker Than Black has the Syndicate ordering Huang to kill a Contractor he was once romantically involved with (and betrayed by) in order to test his loyalty while getting rid of a potential information leak — with orders given to Hei and Mao to kill him if he doesn't follow through. Neither party can bring themselves to do it, and the Contractor in question ends up pulling a Heroic Sacrifice so Huang would be spared.
- Kurau Phantom Memory: While undercover, Kurau is told to shoot the hostage she is secretly trying to rescue. She uses her powers to make the gun misfire, successfully convincing all but one of the mooks that they can trust her.
- One Piece:
- Earlier, Nami when pretending to join Buggy and "betraying" her captain, was told by him to fire a cannon ball at Luffy. The funny thing was that at that point, Nami wasn't even part of Luffy's crew yet and was simply using Luffy as a means to an end. However, Nami noticeably hesitated because she hated pirates and didn't want to lower herself to their level by killing another human being.
- Later, Arlong asks her to stab Usopp. She proceeds to, in a smokescreen, stab her own hand and dump his body, allowing him to escape.
- In Ayashi no Ceres, Aya Mikage's father is forced by her grandfather to shoot her to keep the family safe from the curse. He instead tries to shoot his own father, but the gun isn't loaded. Both die anyway.
- Uchiha Itachi, leaving aside the whole parricide thing, negotiates some of these rather smoothly in his first real-time appearance. Specifically, he beats the crap out of and tortures several people who he would have killed if he'd had to, but would rather not, and one who he definitely wouldn't have. Doesn't kill anybody. And gets away with it, looking like a Magnificent Bastard. Not giving a damn covereth a multitude of mercies. Of course, Madara already knows he's a Fake Defector.
- Earlier in the show He is asked to kill his entire family to prove that he is committed to ending the potential civil war. Unlike in most cases, he's not a fake defector and willingly goes through with it, in exchange for sparing Sasuke
- Nicholas Wolfwood from Trigun is not British, so he just calls Vash his "buddy" and his "pal" despite being The Mole, and in the anime the beardless apple-fetishist version of Original Chapel turns up in the episode after he shoots Zazie the Beast and tells him his orders to protect Vash are off; now he gets to join the parade of those assigned to kill him. And by the way, he's been promoted to full Gung-Ho Gun. It doesn't work out. But at least his death scene is cool!
- Rena Mizuhashi a.k.a. Kir from Detective Conan has such a lousy luck that she had to do this twice. First, to her father and partner in their mole mission in the Black Organization, Ethan Hondou. And later, to local Anti-Villain and fellow Mole Shuichi Akai.
- In essence, a sword variant of this happens in Bleach. To truly convince Aizen that he's totally loyal and to make sure she stays out of the equation where Aizen can't kill her like anybody else who goes up against him, Gin Ichimaru stabs his effective love interest Rangiku in the chest and leaves her bleeding on the roof of a building. However, he specifically gave her a wound shallow enough for her to survive and only told Aizen that he'd disposed of her. He double crosses Aizen not long afterward.
- Subversion: when Robin and Batgirl start watching over Bludhaven, they attempt to take out the seeds of the Penguin's organization, and they end up faking a fight; Batgirl lets him win in such a way that makes it look like she's dead. The Penguin isn't convinced, and tells Robin to shoot her "corpse". He does. She doesn't react. The Penguin lets down his guard, and Batgirl springs into motion. Later, when Batgirl and Robin have escaped:
- In IDW's G.I. Joe: COBRA series, Chuckles is asked to kill his lover Jinx, while undercover. He actually does it. The series goes out of the way to paint G.I. Joe as almost as vicious as Cobra, at times.
- In one story, The Punisher is attempting to infiltrate a South American drug cartel. He is handed a rifle and told to shoot a captured DEA agent. The Punisher instead tries to turn the gun on the drug boss, only to find it has been rigged not to fire.
- Subverted in Les Innommables: An American scientist claims he has reversed Chinese brainwashing techniques and proposes to demonstrate in front of high-ranking officers. He gives one of the two Chinese prisoners a gun, and tells him to shoot the other. The man immediately perks up and empties the gun... into the generals. Turns out the gun had been given to the wrong man.
Films — Live-Action
- In Blue Streak, Martin Lawrence's character, Miles Logan, is told to shoot his murderous ex-partner by a group of drug traffics, in order to prove he's not a cop. Since he hates the guy, Miles just says "no problem" and shoots him in the arm. When told that he was supposed to kill him, Miles replies "Well you didn't say kill him, you just 'shoot him'!". When told to kill instead, it's then that Miles can't seem to do it.
- The opening of In the Line of Fire uses this. Clint Eastwood's character is ordered by a gang of counterfeiters to kill his young partner. Naturally, the gun is unloaded. Later his partner nervously says, "You knew the gun was unloaded, right? You could tell from the weight of the gun?" Eastwood responds, "Well, there may have been one bullet (in the chamber)."
- At the end of Cthulhu, the protagonist is told by his father to kill his gay lover ("The man you love; what greater sacrifice!") to appease the Old Ones and become the leader of his father's cult. The movie ends without us knowing whether or not he does so.
- In the original Stargate film, Daniel Jackson is ordered by Ra to kill his companions in order to prove his loyalty to the sun god, so that the workers won't question his authority. Although Daniel did not board Ra's ship as a spy in the first place, when the time comes he acts for a few moments as if he is really going to obey the order. Then he turns around and shoots at Ra instead.
- The Bourne Ultimatum reveals that the final test of Jason Bourne's training was to kill someone. The person wasn't any one that Bourne knew, but neither was Bourne given any reason to justify killing him, other than that it was his orders. It was quite a moral struggle for him to decide whether to obey.
- There's an old joke/urban legend told about the armed forces (doesn't matter which country, the agency names can be easily swapped out). A recruit is handed a gun and told that the final test is to go into a room and shoot whoever they find there. The first goes in, finds his wife or mother, and immediately turns around and leaves. Repeat with various branches of the military, until the Navy SEAL/SAS/FBI agent goes in, and comes out 5 minutes later. "Some idiot loaded the gun with blanks! I had to strangle them to death/beat them to death with the chair."
- Another variation is that several men from some organization (usually the FBI) are each told to kill their respective spouse. The first few men can't but the woman goes through the whole chair-beating thing. An episode of House has the same joke with a "sister from Brooklyn".
- In Visser, a novel set in the Animorphs universe, it is revealed that the Yeerk Visser One has maternal emotions for two human children. She denies this when on trial for treason, and is told to prove it by killing one of them. She is able to stall for just long enough, that the Animorphs attack making this a moot test. Although, it's implied she really would have done it.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe :
- In one of the novels, members of the X-wing/commando group Wraith Squadron are disguised as pirates, having a job interview with the Big Bad, when he asks them to shoot another squadron member, who had infiltrated the ship without their knowledge. One of them does it, because she realizes he was already dead, despite the bad guys' attempts to cover it up. It's an interesting variation on the trope. The reader doesn't know and neither do the other Wraiths — Dia tells them that he was dead, and it's implied by the bad guy's dialogue, but the last time we'd seen the dead character alive he was about to be captured and had used his last shot to destroy a datapad with his ID. Plus, after explaining her reasoning Dia went into a Heroic BSOD, crying that the girl she used to be never would have shot him. It's very ambiguous.
- Later in that novel, two scientists who were in charge of a facility from which something had escaped were brought before the Big Bad Zsinj, who handed each of the two a blaster. The superior balked; the other shot her superior and gave the blaster back. Zsinj asked her why she did that. She told him that she thought that had been the unspoken order - if she'd fired at Zsinj it would not have worked, and she is valuable enough that if she had committed suicide it would have been a waste. Amused (and having determined that the superior was the one at fault), Zsinj promotes her.
- Warrior Cats:
- In Warriors: The Darkest Hour, Stonefur, a half-Clan cat is told to kill two half-Clan apprentices to prove his loyalty. He refuses, sacrificing his life to save the apprentices.
- Later on, when Ivypaw is acting as a spy for the Clans in the Dark Forest, the Dark Forest cats, suspicious of her loyalty, order her to "kill" Flametail, a StarClan spirit that got lost and found his way to the Dark Forest. She attacks him, but is stopped by the cat's brother. Even though she didn't actually wipe out his spirit, this still secures the Dark Forest's trust in her.
- In Terry Pratchett's Pyramids, Teppic goes up for his Assassin final, the last step of which is shooting what may be a dummy and may be one of his friends, who failed the final. He decides to not do it — and not do it with style, by firing off his crossbow at something else. The bolt hits something metal, ricochets, and hits the dummy (or person) neatly. He passes, though not without criticism for his unnecessary use of Improbable Aiming Skills. Earlier in the book, the same tutor had invoked the trope by lecturing his class that a "client" might well hire Assassins of his own for protection, even the students with whom they now shared a desk, and this was perfectly right and proper.
- Sharpes Tiger:
- Anti-hero protagonist Richard Sharpe and his ally William Lawford are sent by the British Army to infiltrate the rebel stronghold of Serignapatham and rescue intelligence agent Colonel McCandless. To prove his loyalty to the Sultan of Tippo, Sharpe is given a loaded musket and told to kill McCandless. Naturally, the musket doesn't fire properly. Sharpe later tells Lawford that he knew the gunpowder used to prime the musket was bad, but its left ambiguous whether Sharpe knew about the bad powder before or after he fired the weapon. He knows; he tastes the powder before he fires. However, he makes it perfectly clear later, that if the powder had been good he would have shot McCandless anyways to keep his cover.
- Subverted later in the novel: when British scouts are seen outside the fortress walls, Sharpe and Lawford are given rifles and told to shoot the scouts. Sharpe tries in earnest to kill one of the scouts but his shot goes wide; Lawford tries to shoot wide of his target but ends up killing the soldier by mistake.
- Played extremely straight in Sharpe's Challenge, the TV episode adapted in part from Sharpe's Tiger. Sharpe and his Lancer, Sergeant Harper, are the Fake Defectors. Sharpe is ordered to kill Harper using a musket he just loaded, but at the last moment he realises (from the smell) that the powder is bad and the shot won't fire, so he goes along with it.
- Warhammer 40,000 novels:
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, this is actually carried through to its fatal conclusion. Qhorin Halfhand and Jon Snow are being hunted by Wildlings, and Qhorin orders Jon to pretend to defect so he can get accepted by them, learn their plans, and report back to the Night's Watch. Before they'll accept Jon, they tell him to kill Qhorin. He does, and Qhorin's last words hint that he had known this would happen.
- Subverted in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Snape is commanded by a horde of Death Eaters to do what Draco Malfoy cannot bring himself to do: kill the helpless, wandless Dumbledore. Snape's response? "Avada Kedavra!" Of course, it later turns out that Dumbledore was terminally ill and arranged for Snape to kill him so that he could gain Voldemort's complete trust.
- In Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, the final ceremony to become a Mord-Sith entails the girl killing her father.
- Played with in a Russian short story (no translation available). The undercover cop is ordered to kill his childhood friend, and he promptly pulls the trigger. It turns out that he had secretly been training himself to count the number of rounds in a magazine, judging by the weight of the gun, so he was almost sure that nothing would happen. His friend didn't know that, and was genuinely pissed, so they parted.
- In Honor's Knight, second book of the Paradox Trilogy, Caldswell tests Rupert's loyalty by asking him to shoot his love interest, Devi. He does. It turns out to be an illusion.
- This scenario crops up in the climax of the next-gen version of Splinter Cell: Double Agent, where undercover agent Sam is ordered to kill his boss, Irving Lambert, who has been captured by the terrorists. The gun you're given is loaded with 1 bullet, and you're given the choice of either shooting Lambert to maintain your cover, or turning the gun on the terrorist in the room who was left behind with orders to kill you if you hesitated. The canonical ending to the game is that he shoots his boss. A CG trailer revises the scene by showing a stoic Lambert looking down the barrel of Sam's gun and simply stating "Finish your mission".
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Not the Hero of the game, but The Boss was ordered by Volgin to gouge out Snake's eyes in order to prove her loyalty. Somehow she managed to avoid doing this without blowing her cover (it doesn't hurt that Ocelot and EVA managed to be distracting) - unfortunately, it didn't stop Snake from losing one of his eyes for other reasons.
- Used in the Sam & Max episode The Mole, The Mob and The Meatball. Sam and Max pretend to have been hypnotised by the villain, but he's not convinced. As a test, he orders Sam to shoot Max. Sam has a gun of his own, but he also has a harmless cap gun, which he uses to shoot Max.
- The final moral choice in Army of Two: The 40th Day is to either kill the Big Bad, Jonah, and activate his Dead Man Switch, or get him to disarm the bomb by showing him "true sacrifice" and having either Rios or Salem kill the other. Either way, the detonator was a fake and there is no bomb.
- Used in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. At one point, Harper is captured and Menendez orders Farid to shoot him. The alternative is trying to kill Menendez. Shooting Harper is actually the right choice; trying to kill Menendez just gets Farid killed, and then he can't save Chloe later on, and Chloe needs to survive if you want the Golden Ending.
- Elgie of Chimneyspeak had to do this, since he was contracted to kill a man, then made a friend, and didn't realize they were the same person.
- In Justice League, exposed agent Hawkgirl was asked by fellow Thanagarian soldier Kragger to kill the captured Justice Leaguers. She took the pistol, but explained that killing the superheroes will only anger and ignite the Earth's population to retaliate. While her explanation is reasonable, it only strengthens his suspicion against her loyalty.
- Transformers: Beast Wars:
- Dinobot genuinely did want to change sides and become a Predacon again, but when Megatron told him to kill Rattrap as proof of his loyalty, Dinobot ultimately couldn't go through with it. Which was good because Megatron was going to stab him in the back anyway.
- The opposite occured as well a season earlier. Rattrap was pretending to have betrayed the Maximals for the Predacons, and Megatron demanded he shoot Dinobot as proof of his loyalty. He didn't.
- Brother Blood of Teen Titans gave Cyborg a special weapon which amplified his powers, to prove his loyalty to the H.I.V.E. he had to shoot the Titans. Psych! Cyborg turns around and shoots Brother Blood!
- In Exo Squad the title crew is captured by the Neosapiens (rebellious artificial super-humans) after an ostensible betrayal by a Neosapien crew member Marsala. The Neosapien leader Phaeton decides to pull the Shoot Your Mate on Marsella and orders him to kill his ex-comrades. Marsala receives an obligatory "How could you?! After all we went through together!" reprimand from the humans, responds with a heartfelt and hateful speech about human oppression of his people...and naturally shoots the Neosapiens. However the second part of the trope is subverted as Phaeton turned out dumb enough to actually give him a loaded gun.
- In one episode of All Dogs Go to Heaven, Charlie tried to Face-Heel Turn and was asked to kill Itchy. Which is no biggie, since, y'know, All Dogs Go to Heaven.
- Near the end of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker's infamous Wham Flashback, the Joker managed to smash Batman up, even so far as to shank him in the leg and send him plummeting to the ground, where he picked ol' Bruce up and tossed a "Bang!" Flag Gun to Robin so he could "deliver the punchline". An interesting twist is that Robin wasn't actually trying to infiltrate the Joker's organization; the Joker had kidnapped Robin, and spent weeks torturing him, and wanted to prove that he had broken Robin's mind.
- In an episode of Biker Mice from Mars, Limburger tries to get Modo to join them by offering him a new fancy artificial arm. Modo pretends to go along with it to find out what Limburger's latest scheme is. Naturally, he is told to prove his loyalty by shooting Throttle and Vinnie as they drive by the tower. He does and Limburger is pleased. Of course, they were actually dummies with the bikes being operated by remote control.