Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist
aka: Inspector Antagonist
The Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist represents the law, who is intent
on capturing a criminal. It just so happens that the viewpoint character of the work is a Lovable Rogue
or some other criminal
The Inspector must be sympathetic, unlike the Inspector Javert
. He's doing exactly what he should be doing, and even doing it fairly well, but never quite as well as the protagonist is doing his
job. As a series goes on, chances are he'll develop a great deal of respect
for his quarry, and may be quite prone to teaming up
with the protagonist. He also does not chase Wrongly Accused
criminals. Don't try to fake being a victim of his target; the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist knows
his quarry, and can often tell right off "That's not his style." Likewise, he can often figure out pretty quickly if an innocent target is being framed by his archnemesis.
This sympathy can be played for laughs, and humiliated left and right
by the hero. Thus, this character runs a risk of becoming a joke among fans (or even in-series
) if he never has any on-screen successes, especially if Flanderization
sets in. A common way of preventing this is to have the character be a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass
against lesser crooks, thus racking up an impressive career record of arrests even if it is primarily cleaning up after his main quarry has defeated them. Perhaps he even deliberately lets the main villain go because the alternative is letting more vicious ones escape. Occasionally, he may even catch him, only for the criminal to escape other, more foolish characters, or receive The Pardon
. Regardless, when his superiors try to replace him, that replacement usually finds himself totally
outmatched by the rogue and humiliated to the point where the Inspector is replaced as the only police officer who has a decent chance of capturing the quarry.
More likely to be Lawful Good
than Inspector Javert
, because he has the answer to the question "To Be Lawful or Good
". Many times, it is also revealed that he is VERY good at his job... but that his elusive quarry is SO good as to make him look foolish
. Spotlight episodes might even prove him to be quite formidable
. The protagonist himself may even praise him, and usually enjoys getting chased.
This character is also always considered an important one in the series, even if he is secondary to the protagonist: the series would just not be as interesting without a foil for the hero. Expect him to have a few episodes dedicated exclusively to him, like showing his point of view for an entire episode or showing his life outside chasing his prey. Can easily become an Ensemble Dark Horse
if he's likable enough (which he usually is).
A subtrope of Hero Antagonist
. See also The Rival
. Compare Determinator
, Meddlesome Patrolman
. Contrast Inspector Javert
(who may be villainous, though rarely actually evil
Simple inspector identification test: if it would be unjust for the inspector to actually arrest the hero, but the inspector doesn't know or doesn't agree, he is Inspector Javert
. If it would be just to arrest the hero (a Gentleman Thief
is still a lawbreaker) but it never seems to happen or stick, despite him being good at his job, it's Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist.
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- Old Cookie Crisp commercials, which replaced the ones about their old mascot, Cookie Jarvis, had Officer Crumb chasing after the Cookie Crook and Chip the Dog for stealing Cookie Crisp. He never succeeded... until they changed the commercials to have Officer Crumb catch them in the end. Later the Cookie Crook and Chip the Dog were scrapped entirely for Chip the Wolf.
Anime and Manga
- Lt. Kellaway from The Mask.
- Batman from the perspective of the Classy Cat-Burglar Catwoman.
- Inspector Ginko in the Italian series Diabolik. He's just as good as his quarry... And, being that good, he has already taken down a few mob bosses with the entire organization and, in collaboration with Diabolik, crippled a terrorist organization. The only reason Diabolik usually wins is that, being a cop, Ginko is more restricted in the actions he can take, while Diabolik and Eva can do whatever they want.
- To show how good is Ginko: in the very first story, Ginko succeeded into identifying Diabolik, expose his use of Latex Perfection, and nearly caught him, with Diabolik escaping with the loot only because he didn't cry in pain when Ginko shot the scarecrow he was hidden in, making Ginko believe he had already ran away. A flashback in a following story shows that Diabolik had already tried to steal the target of his first story, but Ginko managed to arrest him (Diabolik evaded only because he was wearing a mask at the moment of capture, and managed to change identity the moment the prison guards looked another way).
- Finch in V for Vendetta is an effective and honorable detective, it's just that V, his opponent, is a master of Batman gambits. You could argue that this trope is subverted in the end, as Finch manages to find and kill V, but the comic strongly implies that V wanted this to happen, making it his ultimate Batman Gambit.
- In The Incredible Hulk comic books, Doc Samson kept trying to stop the Hulk when he was savage or grey. He ought to be good at it, since he's almost as strong as the Hulk, but as the grey Hulk put it: "You know what [being almost as strong as me] means? NOTHING!"
- Doc Samson's origin story pointed out that he got his powers by draining them from the Hulk, but that the Hulk was (relatively) calm at the time ... and Hulk gets stronger as he gets angrier. Of course, since the Hulk's baseline is still pretty darn strong, Samson is no slouch against most opponents.
- In the Kaitou Kirameki Man series of the Time Bokan franchise, the iconic Terrible Trio were bumbling cops who always failed at catching the Gentleman Thief protagonists.
- Inspecteur Croûton in Gil Jourdan. Then he becomes an ally.
- In the 1970s both Man-Wolf and Morbius headlined their own series in monster anthologies. Their shared Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist was Simon Stroud of the "Special Police Task Force". He was an honorable man who tried to capture them alive, and used lethal force only against truly "inhuman" foes. He made his last appearance as a genuine hero in 1980. After several years Out of Focus, Stroud resurfaced in the 1990s Morbius series as a man utterly obsessed with killing Morbius. He had long since abandoned his career, alliances, and much of his morality in favor of hunting his vampire. In one story arc of this later series, Stroud briefly ends up in a Mental Institution. It is mentioned that the other patients live in fear of him.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl:
- Norrington. He's definitely not the bad guy, and is pursuing Jack out of duty and orders. Jack is, after all a pirate, and piracy was a huge threat to settlements.
- Several of the deleted scenes feature Pet the Dog moments for Norrington. Notably, he tells Governor Swann that whatever his personal feelings towards Will, he's duty-bound to try and rescue him from Barbossa. He also has a moving heart-to-heart talk with Elizabeth after she "accepts" his proposal. Even Jack admits that he respects Norrington as "a man who knows what he's after."
- Willem Dafoe's character in The Boondock Saints hits this trope. Perhaps averted later when he attempts to imitate the Saints, and again when he flat out joins their cause..
- Kenneth William's characters in the Carry On movies with Sid James as an outlaw (Carry On Dick and Don't Lose Your Head). Fits this trope rather amusingly, with Sid James as the Gentleman Thief.
- Inspector Jacques Clouseau of The Pink Panther fame started out as this in the very first film pursuing the Phantom, who was the original protagonist. Clouseau became the Ensemble Dark Horse the subsequent films focused on, and he never gave up his determination to capture villains. This, combined with his chronic ineptitude, is what drove his superior Chief Inspector Dreyfus to madness. On the other hand, in Trail of the Pink Panther, Charles Lytton (the Phantom himself) saw that determination as the secret to what success Clouseau had.
- Sheriff Beaufort T. Justice in the Smokey and the Bandit movies.
- Tom Hanks's character Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can hunts down a very skilled conman/forger.
- Detective Martin Prendergast in Falling Down opposes and tries to calm down the rampage of the protagonist.
- Shinjuku Incident has detective Kitano, playing the role to its extreme. He's a bit of a jerkass for parts of the film, but he is nonetheless shown in a positive light, in a sense even more so than Jackie Chan's character. Subverted/played with, though, in that rather than chase Steelhead to the ends of the earth, he agrees not to do just that...after he almost dies chasing Steelhead to the ends of the earth.
- The nameless LAPD detectives of 1-Baker-11 in Gone in Sixty Seconds (1974) are a perfect example of this and Hero Antagonist. Maindrian Pace has been stealing cars, then, after being tipped off to his final theft and instituting a stakeout, Pace rams their car and flees from the scene after being signalled to stop. They are the only police car to chase Pace the entire pursuit, from beginning to end.
- Inspectors Castlebeck and Drycoff in the remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000).
- Sue Shiomi in the role of Huo Feng in The Street Fighter's Last Revenge.
- Maximus from Tangled, a royal mount that got separated from his rider but still kept trying to bring Flynn in. He eventually warms up to him.
- Superintendent Graham from Tiger Bay
- Inspector Tarconi in The Transporter.
- Richie Roberts in American Gangster
- Tommy Lee Jones's character in The Fugitive.
- The original Arsène Lupin had Ganimard, the original Zenigata. Lupin himself admits that even though Ganimard doesn't have his or Holmes's intellect, he made up on pure tenacity and determination. Not that Lupin ever had any qualms on making him look like a fool though. Notable for being the first one ever to arrest Lupin.
- In the Moist von Lipwig POV Discworld novels, Vimes is this, though an unusual case as those who've read the whole series will be familiar with him as a protagonist.
- Most of the police officers who pursue The Saint fall into this category, especially Chief Inspector Claud Eustace Teal of Scotland yard and Inspector John Henry Fernack of the NYPD.
- Teal was so important to Simon Templar's early adventures that two collections were named after him. He also saved the Saint's life at least once.
- Porfiry Petrovich from Crime and Punishment is probably this; subverted in that he succeeds, hence the second part of the title.
- What's so impressive about Porfiry is that the protagonist, while guilty, just manages through a combination of luck and Xanatos Speed Chess to make it so that there is very little evidence against him; the only way he could be convicted is if he confesses. Porfiry, knowing that the protagonist is guilty but not possessing enough evidence to convict, manages to hound and mess with him enough to convince him to confess.
- Interestingly, even while he was messing with the protagonist with such ideas as reduction of sentence and suicide, he seemed genuinely concerned for the protagonist's moral welfare. (Only after, however, he is utterly certain that the protagonist will confess. Knowing he's caught the right guy and clinched the case, he takes some time out to feel sorry for him.)
- Charlie Weston in the Nick Velvet stories
- Ben Price in the short story A Retrieved Reformation
- Jakub Wędrowycz's wannabe nemesis, officer Birski, who rarely succeeds in arresting him, and even then only manages to do so on charges of producing moonshine (as opposed to a whole lot of other outrageous things Jakub tends to do).
- Captain Quarterblood in the Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky Brothers.
Live Action TV
- The various Army commanders (of which there were five or six) who pursued the The A-Team flip-flopped between this and Inspector Javert depending on the script & characterizations.
- Paul Ballard on Dollhouse spends most of the first season trying to uncover the titular operation.
- Many would consider him the true protagonist of the show, apart from Echo who is a victim he is trying to save.
- In Monty Python's Flying Circus, Harry "Snapper" Organs's pursuit of the Piranha Brothers seems to be a spoof of this trope.
- Well, that and Inspector Leonard "Nipper" Read, the guy who brought down the Kray Twins of whom the Piranhas were a parody.
- Jim Sterling on Leverage, except he never looks foolish and the protagonists never manage to humiliate him, even when they get away, because he always manages somehow to get promoted after every encounter with them.
- Sterling is also an interesting example because he doesn't actually care all that much about capturing Team Leverage unless it somehow serves his own purposes and ambitions. Most of the time, he just leaves them alone.
- Detective Bonanno might actually a better example of this trope.
- Hank Schrader of Breaking Bad is this to an elusive crystal-meth manufacturer known to him only as "Heisenberg." Little does he know that "Heisenberg" is actually his brother-in-law Walter White, the Justified Criminal protagonist of the series.
- Peter Burke of White Collar was this pre-series - by the time the show starts he's already caught Gentleman Thief Neal. Then they end up on the same side, and he still plays this sometimes, considering Neal has some trouble letting go of his former conman ways.
- Doakes serves as the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist in Dexter until he's killed in a fire.
- Seasoned detective Kwak in the Korean Series Bad Boy.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Planet of the Dead", the detective pursuing Lady Christina is mostly played for laughs, ignored by UNIT and other authorities, and in the end, the Doctor helps her escape as he watches in futility.
- Detective Carter in Person of Interest is a serious version, pursuing the vigilante protagonist. She does occasionally team up with Finch and Reese, the frequency of such team ups increasing up until the season finale, where for the second time, she (along with her partner, Lionel Fusco, who was initially blackmailed into assisting them unbeknownst to Carter until she tracked him down) helped Reese evade the CIA. Finch will occasionally contact Carter for information that the NYPD may have on a POI.
- Chief Inspector Teal in The Saint.
- Firefly gave us a single-episode example in the form of Sheriff Bourne in The Train Job. He nearly catches Mal early on, except for the intervention of Inara, and after cornering Mal, decides to let him go when he sees that Mal was in the process of returning the stolen cargo, having learnt that it was actually medicine needed to alleviate the villagers debilitating lung-disease.
- Detective Quentin Lance on Arrow is another serious example. Mostly being antagonistic to our hooded vigilante, he's never actually a problem, and Oliver actually relies on Lance to be there at the right moment, and gives him tips on other criminals (such as Deadshot) when he needs help taking them down. Notably, Lance actually found incriminating evidence that Oliver was the vigilante running around Only for it to be a plan by Oliver to ensure he's never under suspicion by having an ally dress up and take his place and making it seem as if Lance was blinded by a "personal vendetta" against the Queen family. Ollie does legitimately thank Lance though.
- Police in general in Covert Affairs on several occasions. Both Annie and the Police of the countries she is working in are doing their respective jobs.
- Chloe O'Brien becomes this in the final season of 24 when Jack undergoes a Face-Heel Turn in his quest to slaughter the mastermind of the attacks on New York whose actions lead to the death of Renee Walker. Chloe wants to expose them, as opposed to Jack who just wants to kill them regardless of who gets hurt in the process.
- Carmelita Fox from the Sly Cooper video game series. She's one of the most respected cops in the world, perhaps thanks to Sly's MO of only stealing from other criminals: even though she usually fails to catch Sly, she can always bring in his victim. Sly also tends to flirt with her whenever they clash, which eventually evolves into Dating Catwoman.
- Carmelita is unique among Sympathetic Inspector Antagonists in that at the end of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, she DOES capture Sly...in a manner of speaking. The two of them end up romantically involved and Sly quits the thief business so they can be together. Of course, he does this by faking amnesia, so it's hard to say who really ends up on top here.
- In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Hieronymus Lex - one of the Imperial City's Watch Captains - is the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist to the Gray Fox, leader of the Thieves' Guild in Cyrodiil. In fact, he is one of the only members of the Imperial Watch who even believes the Thieves' Guild exists, and has dedicated himself to becoming a perpetual, overzealous thorn in its side. He mellows considerably after you inform him that he's been reassigned to the city of Anvil... although not without a brief rant about how the Gray Fox must have been behind that, too. He's right.
- Although for fun, once you get the Gray Fox cowl, you can put it on in front of him and have him sputter in disbelief at finally catching him.
- So many layers of irony were in that 'reassignment'. On one hand, Lex is now unwittingly working for the Gray Fox. On the other hand, it was the Gray Fox who, after so many years of cat-n-mouse evasion between them, hand-picked him to be his head of security. This actually reveals a huge respect for the man.
- Officer Denise Marmalade in The Misadventures of Tron Bonne.
- The captain of the Schwann Brigade In Talesof Vesperia. In a final side quest with him before the final dungeon, after Yuri escapes from him one final time, he even laughs and says "I wouldn't have it any other way".
- Luke Atmey plays the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist to Gentleman Thief Mask*DeMasque in Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations. By which we mean he's blackmailing DeMasque into committing the thefts to make money and get attention.
- And in Ace Attorney Investigations Detective Badd's spent ten years chasing a vigilante thief called the Yatagarasu and has become an expert on his techniques. By which we mean he is the Yatagarasu, or at least one of the three people in the Yatagarasu group. Since he's the main detective on the case he can easily erase all evidence of the Yatagarasu's identity.
- Dick Gumshoe is usually this, but even moreso in Investigations, where he's Edgeworth's assistant/sidekick. Though he's most used for comedic purposes, he has shades of Inspector Lestrade, Determinator, and Dumbass Has a Point. Notably, in the last case, he was able to deliver all the remaining evidence needed to incriminate the suspect without even being told what to look for. If he pays more attention to Edgeworth, he could easily take a level in badass in sequels, but this is unlikely, since now he's more of a The Watson, but at least it's a step up from Butt Monkey.
- Spectre Jondum Bau from Mass Effect 3 is a semi-example. He's not against Shepard, but he is trying to hunt down one of Shepard's friends, Kasumi Goto, Classy Cat-Burglar extraordinaire. Both Bau and Kasumi have great respect for each other.
- He does however look the other way after realising Shepard has been secretly aiding and abetting Kasumi the entire time. It helps that Kasumi apparently died trying to save the hanar homeworld. That plus Shepard's trust in her would be a potent argument in favor of "cleared of all charges." And no, this is not a spoiler, Shepard guesses she's still alive if she's loyal.
- This seems to be typical of Spectres in general though they're in danger of Jumping Off the Slippery Slope when they do, because Spectres are given broad authority to violate lesser regulations in service of the greater good of the Council, which allows them to work with mercs, thieves, and assasins. A Spectre in the second game works with the Shadow Broker because of the useful intel she gets. Shepard himself is willing to work with Cerberus in the second game.
- In Love Letter From Thief X, Tatsuro Togoshi is a police detective assigned to catch the main characters, who make up a group of Phantom Thieves called the Black Foxes. He's also the protagonist's childhood friend, which makes things complicated for both of them after she becomes involved with the Foxes, and on a couple of occasions he ends up turning a blind eye and letting them go rather than be forced to arrest them.
- Inspector Paul Vergier in Rhythm Thief And The Emperors Treasure spends much of the game unsuccessfully trying to catch Phantom R, although he's very good at predicting where Phantom R would be next. When Napoleon Bonaparte goes after Vergier later on (It Makes Sense in Context), however, Vergier guns down Napoleon's Mooks with little effort.