Take a Third Option

"There's always a third way, and it's not a combination of the other two ways. It's a different way."
David Carradine

Sometimes a hero faces an agonizing decision where the apparent two choices are terrible, such as a Friend or Idol Decision or a Sadistic Choice. Typically, the hero chooses the lesser of two evils.

However, sometimes the hero can respond with, "I don't like those choices, I'm taking a third option!" It is usually something completely unorthodox or seemingly suicidal. Yet this typically turns out to be the best choice after all, Everybody Lives, and the day is saved completely.

In general, a Third Option has three basic requirements needed to seem plausible: time, resources, and knowledge. A Third Option is useless if you don't have time to implement it, don't have (usable) resources/power, or don't have knowledge of it. Depending on how well that rule is followed, the solution will usually either be incredibly awesome or incredibly stupid. Deciding which examples are which is an exercise left to the reader, although Foreshadowing possible answers can help win them over.

This can be the hidden solution to a Secret Test of Character. It's also one way to resolve a Debate and Switch and the only one of Cutting the Knot. If done poorly, it may fall victim to the Golden Mean Fallacy. Sometimes it's triggered by Heads Tails Edge. When the options are different sides in a conflict, taking a third option may lead to becoming Omnicidal Neutral.

In most Power Trio scenarios, when The Spock advocates one course of action and The McCoy insists upon the other, The Kirk will be particularly fond of using this method as a solution to the problem of the week. This is also the best way to deal with a Xanatos Gambit. A true Magnificent Bastard will have anticipated that, though.

Compare Third-Option Adaptation, where an interactive work is adapted to another medium and the producers decide to Take a Third Option in order to avoid endorsing one of the original options over others.

Compare Loophole Abuse and Steal the Surroundings, which can be used to utilize this trope.

Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • In the early 90s, Miller Light had a television campaign based around this. For example in one 1993 commercial, a couple is arguing over whether to watch a dog show or drag racing. They then put Miller Light on top of the television, which apparently allows them to watch both. The result is more absurd than you'd expect.
  • One of the early Play Station Vita ads addresses the dilemma of gaming vs. leaving for work with the cross-play option:
    "It's a problem as old as gaming itself. Stay home and just keep playing, or get to work on time so your coffee-breathed boss doesn't ride like you like a rented scooter."
    (person stops playing on PS3, continues his game on his Vita while leaving for work) "Who says you have to choose?"
  • One Pepsi commercial in the Philippines has one of these. A guy travels down a road and encounters two stalled vehicles. One is owned by a couple of cute cheerleaders. The other belongs to a band, who offer an ice box with the titular product. There comes a dilemma on who will hitch a ride with the guy? The commercial shows three different options. All of them involve the guy getting the Pepsi.
    • One has the guy offer the band his car, then use the cold water of the ice box to get the cheerleaders' van to run again.
    • Another is for the cheerleaders to ride inside the car while the band set themselves on top of the roof (a dangerous choice especially once they encounter a sign bend low enough)
    • The third is that all of them lay down on the road and form HELP with their bodies while sharing Pepsi with one another. Near the end of the commercial, a helicopter can be seen.
  • An Old El Paso commercial has taken this to Memetic Mutation levels: A family is trying to decide whether to have hard or soft tacos. Cue the little girl saying "¿Por que no los dos?" ("Why not both?")
  • In one Nestea ad, a young man on vacation spins an iced tea bottle to decide between two activities: a jungle canopy tour with some girls, or kayaking with some guys. The bottle stops halfway in between, pointing at a wild-looking jungle man. So he heads off with the jungle man.
  • A commercial for the Xfinity X1 Voice Remote featuring the Minions has two of them arguing over whether to watch soccer or Top Chef. After both minions summon their supporters and prepare for a fight, a third minion shows up and changes the channel to disco, which satisfies all parties involved.

    Comic Books 
  • Ratchet in the 80s Transformers comic makes a direct reference:
    "Trusting Megatron doesn't seem a particularly wise course of action. And using this opportunity to escape is no alternative either - he still holds my comrades! I must think like a warrior, as Optimus Prime instructed me. I must think of a third option!"
  • In Lucifer, the titular devil is given two dilemmas in a row, as a ruse in which each choice will insult his hosts and give them an excuse to kill him. He's warned by one of their servants beforehand, and manages to come up with a solution to both of them.
    • Also at the end, God presents Elaine Belloc and Lilith two possible outcomes - that he would either destroy the Creation, which is crumbling in his absence, or restore it to as it was. Lucifer interferes and offers a third option: to do nothing - the most difficult thing for an omnipotent being. God accepts, and leaves Elaine to replace him as the power that binds the universe together.
  • Green Lantern Hal Jordan, in a story arc concerning the Star Sapphire, which had, throughout the arc, taken over both Carol Ferris, his perennial love interest, and Jill "Cowgirl" Pearlman, his current love interest. The Zamarons, who sent the Star in the first place, held them captive and had Hal choose which one to be his mate. In response, Hal kissed one of the Zamaron captors, causing the Star to bond with her, go berserk, and forcing the other Zamarons to take her home to remove the stone.
    • The panel where Hal kisses the Zamaron queen immediately found its way to the Internet with the caption "Hal Jordan Will Fuck Anything", and we're still having fun with that.
    • The third option was lampshaded in an earlier story arc where Kyle Rayner met up with a younger Hal Jordan. Kyle let the villain Sinestro go when he saved Hal instead of pursuing the villain. Hal admonished him by saying he let Sinestro trick him into making a choice when all he had to do was cut the ring-generated rope hanging Hal.
  • Subverted in the conclusion of Final Crisis:Rogue's Revenge when Libra forces Weather Wizard to either pledge allegiance to the Secret Society of Supervillains or watch Libra kill his son. In the end the kid still dies because Inertia gets fed up with the situation and blows him up. Even Libra is dumbfounded after this.
  • Captain Marvel figures out an appropriate third option between all the superhumans dying and their battle rampaging over the whole world in Kingdom Come. Sadly, he doesn't survive the results. Come to that, Captain Marvel is a Third Option.
    Superman: And that choice—
    Norman McCay's inner monologue: That choice is too big for me. I'm not a god
    Superman: (oblivious)— I'm not a man. But you, Billy... you're both.
  • The Rebels, a futuristic spin-off of ElfQuest, offers this one.
    • As well as this in Quest's End.
  • When Jason Todd (who had been Robin II) came Back from the Dead and went on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, he forced Batman to choose between letting Joker die and killing Jason himself. Batman responded by sending a batarang to cut the side of Jason's throat to send him into shock.
    Jason: If you won't kill this psychotic piece of filth... I will. You want to stop me? You're going to have to kill me.
    Batman: Stop this. Enough. You know I won't—
    Jason: All you've got is a headshot. I'm going to blow out his addled, deranged brains out— and if you want to stop it... you're going to have to shoot me. Right in my face. [...] It's him or me. You have to decide.
    [Batman sends the Batarang. Jason collapses.]
    Joker: You got him!! You expert, rooting-tooting, eagle-eyed, goth marskman sonofa*** ! Ya banked that bat-thingie off the pipe!!! Oh, god!! I love it!! You managed to find a way to win... and everybody still loses!! Except me, my dark little pumpkin pies.
  • In IDW's Transformers, the defeat of Nemesis Prime leads to an entity called the Darkness to start possessing Optimus Prime. Galvatron gives Optimus a choice: throw himself into a sun before the Darkness takes away his free will, or give it to Galvatron. Optimus's choice? Give Galvatron the Darkness and throw him into a sun.
  • In a recent X-Force issue, as Rahne Sinclair lay dying of apparent complications from pregnancy with a half-Asgardian child, her lover Hrimhari begs a boon of his many-times-great-aunt the Death Goddess Hela and was told that if he surrendered his soul to her she would save the life of either his love or their child (never mind the question of how a first-trimester fetus is going to survive the death of it's mother). He agonized over it for a moment, then pointed at the next bed over to indicate the unconscious form of Josh "Elixir" Foley.
  • A comic from The Far Side has people discussing a glass that has water in half of it. One says, "The glass is half full!" One says, "The glass is half empty!" One says, "Half full... no, wait, half empty... no, wait..." And the last guy is shouting, "Hey! I ordered a cheeseburger!"
  • In The Sandman volume The Doll's House, Dream's sister-brother, Desire launches a Xanatos Gambit to hurt him by tearing apart his realm: during Dream's imprisonment, Desire discovered that the comatose Unity Kinkaid was a "vortex" (a mortal whose existence causes the Dreaming to break down, destroying the world unless he or she is killed,) but was currently harmless because she was unconscious. Desire secretly raped and impregnated the sleeping Unity, which, unbeknownst to Dream, caused the power of the Vortex to be passed on to Desire and Unity's granddaughter, Rose Walker. If Dream did not kill Rose, the vortex would tear apart the Dreaming, but if he had killed her then shedding the blood of a family member (even if he didn't know she was family,) would have unleashed the Furies to ravage the Dreaming anyway. They end up taking a third option where the elderly and dying Unity is able to track down her granddaughter in the Dreaming and take the power of the vortex into herself again, and willingly lets Dream kill her and stop the vortex. Unusually for this trope, none of the characters were actually aware that they were foiling a plan; Dream only worked out Desire's machinations some time after the problem had been solved, and at the time all the various pawns thought that the existence of the vortex was simply a random occurrence that happened every eon or so.
  • Slade "Deathstroke" Wilson was supposed to choose between his professional honor as a hitman and his son's life; the enemy holding little Joey hostage wanted the information, really, but he hated Slade enough to be perfectly happy to kill the kid. Deathstroke tried to Take a Third Option and kill Jackal. Joey got his throat cut. And now you know why Jericho can't talk in Teen Titans.
    • Adeline Wilson shot her husband in the face and divorced him in reaction. And now you know why Deathstroke has only one eye. This kind of thing works better for heroes.
  • PS238: Emerald Gauntlet II (Kevin) and 84 (Julie) explicitly invoke this trope in the "When Worlds Go Splat!" arc.
  • All-Star Superman: When Superman falls under the influence of black Kryptonite, the leader of P.R.O.J.E.C.T. suggests sending him to the Phantom Zone, an option that Jimmy Olsen refuses for being too permanent. At the same time, he can't run free. Jimmy's third option? Turning himself into Doomsday and fighting his corrupted friend to a standstill. He won.
  • In Fables, the North Wind faced a dilemma when he discovered that one of his grandchildren Ghost was a zephyr. Long ago he swore an oath to slay any zephyr he encountered. The North Wind knew that if he killed Ghost, he would forever alienate himself from his son (who already hated him) and his grandchildren. Faced with the impossible choice between breaking his oath and destroying his own family, the North Wind takes another option: he sacrifices himself to defeat Mr. Dark, both to save his son and his grandchildren and to free himself from his oath.
  • In Knightquest, the Jean-Paul Valley Batman chases down the serial killer Abattoir into a steel mill factory. In the chaos, Abattoir ends up falling down and is saved by a hanging chain dangling over a molten pit. The ghosts of Saint Dumas and Jean-Paul's father give him two choices: shoot him and let him die or fire his grappling line and try to save him. Torn between both actions, Jean-Paul chooses a third option: to walk away from it all and let them fight it out. This causes Abattoir to fall into the pit on his own.
  • In Loki: Agent of Asgard, after their evil future self told them that they'll be the God of Lies no matter what they do, Loki was sent to the metaphorical realm to choose their destiny: A) Become like their evil past self B) Die like their predecessor and save the world from themself. Well, Loki being Loki they opted for reinterpreting God of Lies as God of Stories and remaking themself by burning away everything unnecessary. Which meant they only kept their love for their brother and their only friendship. This. Broke. The. Timeline!

    Fan Works 
  • Many fanfiction writers, when faced with Love Triangle issues, will decide not to go with a One True Pairing, but instead a One True Threesome.
  • Likewise, you have two (or more) continuities in a fandom and you like them both too much to disregard one canon entirely? Go with Patchwork Fic.
  • In Rise Of Empress Midnight, Twilight gives Midnight the option to either stay in her destroyed world or join Twilight and reform herself. Midnight instead calls for a third option and attempts to kill of Twilight and herself via the destroyed world.
  • In Kyon Big Damn Hero:
    • Take A Third Option: Haruhi can't unbottle her feelings about the consequences of her powers because it will cause even more strain to others, and she can't ignore it either because she cares about the SOS Brigade. In order to prevent a Heroic BSOD she runs a Memory Gambit on herself so she doesn't destroy the world on an accidental whim.
    • What do you do if you are part of a Harem but don't want anybody to lose? Marry Them All.
  • In Exoria, Leonore wants Zelda to stay in her safe room during the Valentine invasion and wait for rescue teams to arrive. Zelda wants to find her military and lead them as commander-in-chief, even if it means risking capture. They eventually reach a compromise; Zelda will go to Gerudo to cement an alliance with Ganondorf and command her forces from there.
  • Harry Potter SSHG fic The Occluded Soul. It's all about Snape's Third Choice.
  • In another HP fic, primum mobile, or ten forgotten things , Draco Malfoy realizes he may have moved he and Harry Potter to a reality where the Wizarding World does not exist as a subconscious example of Taking a Third Option:

    '''The Dark Lord gave me two choices: one bad, the other worse. I suppose this is door number three.

    Eventually, both Draco and Harry begin to forget the Wizarding World altogether.

  • The Wise Prince protagonist of this expansive Dragon Age fanfic actually started off by creating a third option for a certain situation that came to pass later, after his Zero-Approval Gambit.
  • In Rainbooms and Royalty, after Rainbow rejects Nightmare Moon's temptation, the dark alicorn, after restraining Fluttershy's wings and preventing Twilight Sparkle and Rarity from using their magic, hurls the Mane Cast sans Rainbow to their deaths. Nightmare Moon then taunts Rainbow to choose who to save, because as fast as she is, she can't save all of them. Rainbow manages to pull off a Sonic Rainboom for the first time since her fillyhood, and does fly fast enough to save all of them.
  • In the Digimon/Star Wars: The Clone Wars crossover A Sticky Situation, Aayla is kidnapped by Cad Banes and questioned for useful information before he intends to kill her on Darth Sideous's orders. The clear choices are for her to submit to the torture and share a secret that could alter the entire war if the Separatist find out (and die) or remain silent while suffer intense pain at the hands of the bounty hunter (and die). Instead, because she has learned to think outside of the box thanks to her time with the digimon and tamers, she decides to pay her captor more than Darth Sideous did and have him both release her, keep the digimon a secret, and start working for the Jedi.
  • Justice League of Equestria: During the second arc of Mare of Steel, Brainiac sets up Rainbow Dash/Supermare with a Sadistic Choice: either save Cloudsdale from a bomb capable of destroying the whole city, or save Scootaloo from being electrocuted. Being a creature that runs on pure logic, Brainiac is unable to anticipate that Rainbow Dash would be unwilling to let either happen, and thus acting to prevent both.
  • In the Dead or Alive/Devil May Cry crossover Dead or Alive 4: The Devil Factor, this is Dante's reaction to Kasumi's dilemma (be pursued by her former brethren in the Mugen Tenshin for the rest of her life, or enter into an Arranged Marriage and sever all ties to her clan for good, thus never being able to return home). He explicitly says that when someone only gives him an A-and-B choice, he'll choose C every time.
  • Calvin defies this in the original version of Calvin and Hobbes: The Movie.
  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, when faced with a Sadistic Choice, the President decides to stall Dr. Wily until help can arrive.
  • Reimagined Enterprise: Meta-example. Many fans disliked the overly TNG-like aesthetic from Star Trek: Enterprise and most fan reimaginings give Enterprise a more TOS-like aesthetic instead. Rather than doing this, BlackWave instead created his own 22nd century aesthetic that's halfway between contemporary spacecraft like the Space Shuttle or Dream Chaser and TOS, logically enough.
  • During the events of The Teacher of All Things, Tai and the other V-Tamers are left with a conundrum: When you can't get to Odaiba because the bridge has collapsed and the waters are too full of enemies to swim- not that Greymon are great swimmers anyway- and flying in would only get you noticed and mean you have to fight off an entire army at once... what do you do? Why, take the still-under-construction tunnel, of course!
  • In Harry Potter and the Chalice of the Moon the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, due to a centaur prophecy that death would take place on that day, was faced with either killing Harry's twin brother Mark or letting him kill her with the Sword of Gryffindor, costing Harry a mentor figure and important ally. At the last second she decided to knock Mark out and kill the only one for whom death wouldn't be permanent - Dumbledore's phoenix, Fawkes.
  • In the ''Gensokyo 20XX series, earlier we have it where Ran, Chen, and Flandre encounter a starving Reimu. At first, Ran has the notion to take Reimu to a hospital but acknowledges that cannot really be done without either Reimu dying en route from the cold, as a hospital is a long ways off from where they were, or having a risk of being captured for being youkai, something that could lead to their demises, so Ran decides to eliminate both possibilities by placing her under a hibernation spell (Think Sleeping Beauty) that wasn't to be broken until Yukari returns.
  • Sight has Ichigo's hollow try and fight for control. If Ichigo loses, the hollow takes over his body and if he wins, the hollow doesn't try anything for awhile. To everyone's surprise, Ichigo vehemently refuses to fight at all, which results in a forced truce where the hollow can't fight him, but still hangs around. It's also lampshaded.
    "Where do ya get off choosin' a third option?"
  • In Labyrinth fanfic Her Kingdom As Great Sarah is embodient of the third option, and doesn't understand how one would not choose it:
    "That too. But no, I still think it's a false alternative. He made a choice between the two dreams, forsaking one to have the other, because you told him he could only have one and he believed you. When you told me the same thing, I believed you too, for a time. Then I decided I could have both, and so I can. But here he is sixty years later and he still thinks his ability to write poetry is lost."

    Game Theory 
  • A classic from Mathematics: the Truel, a duel with three participants. Mr. White has a one in three chance of hitting his target, Mr. Grey a two in three chance, and Mr. Black is a perfect shot. To make things fair, Mr. White has the first shot. Who should he shoot?
    • If he shoots at Mr. Grey, he might kill him, then Mr. Black has the next shot. Oops.
    • If he shoots at Mr. Black, seemingly the better option, he might kill him, then Mr. Grey has the next shot. Oh dear.note 
    • If he takes a third option and shoots into the air, Mr. Grey and Mr. Black shoot at each other until one dies (each would consider the other the greater threat), then Mr. White has the first shot in a duel.note 

    Jokes 
  • Yo momma is so stupid, she took the Pepsi Challenge and chose Jif.

    Manhwa 

    Music 
  • In the story of "Alices Restaurant", Arlo Guthrie, upon being summoned to the police station over a matter of a pile of trash, surmises that the police officer will either commend Arlo and his friends for their honesty (which even Arlo says is highly improbable) or verbally chew them out. Instead of either of those possibilities, they get arrested.
    ... but when we got to the police officer station, it turned out there was a third possibility...
  • Occurs in the story of "The Choice", by Ben Weiner. Or, parodied, rather. The two options are soup or salad, and the third option, eventually suggested by the impatient waiter, is soup and salad.
  • In the song Gay or European from Legally Blonde: The Musical, everyone is debating whether or not Mikos is gay or European. As it turns out, he's gay and European.
  • "Weapon of Choice" by Fatboy Slim.
    "You could go with this, or you could go with that... or you could go with us."
  • Said lyric is taken from "The Choice Is Yours" by Black Sheep.
  • In "Luigi's Ballad" by Starbomb, Princess Peach is presented with choosing between the somewhat-risque Mario, or the more emotional Luigi. She ends up choosing Toad, because "his whole body is shaped like a dick", to which both Mario and Luigi concur.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Taking the Third Option is one of the central, if not even the single most important principle of Buddhism. Born as a prince and having lived all his life in a palace, Siddhartha Gautama lost all joy in the riches and pleasures of his life when he realized that all people will eventually become old, sick, and die. So he became a wandering ascetic, hoping to find spiritual happiness by ignoring everything material and only meditating all the time. But even though he tried harder than anyone else, it only made him starve and become sick, so he gave it up as well and started to eat again and take care of his health. Only when he tried to find a balance between comfort and living a simple life did he gain enightenment and became the Buddha. Teaching this Middle Way to the other ascetics that he was living with is regarded as the birth of the Buddhist community.
  • Similar story to the previous: Some time ago, a prince offered those who had committed a crime a chance to either die by being hanged or being decapitated with a sword (which was considered honorable), which consisted in saying something true, non-related to the prince. Most people failed due to the prince, who just declined everything said and condemned them to die by the mob. One day, an old man was being judged, after being asked the question, he said "I'll be hanged". If he got hanged, then what he said would be a truth, so he should be decapitated. But then if he was decapitated, he would have been saying a lie. The prince was impressed by such a demonstration of wit, and let the old man live.
  • When Kuchisake-onna asks you if you think she's pretty, especially after she reveals her Glasgow Grin, honesty is just plain suicidal. Telling her she DOES look pretty isn't a good idea either (as "kirei", the word she uses for "pretty", also means "to cut with a knife", and she is apparently powered by bad puns). However, you can...
  • There's an old story about a princess that was forced by an evil witch to marry one of her ugly sons, so they will become king. The princess must make a statement, and if that statement is true, she will marry son A. If it's false, she'll marry son B. After some deliberation, the princess says "I will marry son B". The evil witch is unable to come up with a solution, and lets the princess go free.
    • This Logic Bomb appears in other forms. One variant is a condemned being given a choice between two methods of execution depending on the truth of his next statement. The condemned then states he will be subject to the execution for lying.
  • There's a fairy tale in which a farmer brags about his clever daughter, and the king agrees to marry her if she can solve a riddle; else the farmer has to pay for his bragging. The riddle is that she must come to his palace to meet him neither during the day nor night, neither naked nor clothed, neither hungry nor fed, neither on foot or with a ride, and neither on the road nor off it. The farmer's daughter arrives at dawn/dusk depending on the story, with a fishnet wrapped around her, having drunk her fill of water, being dragged by a horse on the edge of the road. The king marries her.
    • There's a similar story where, instead of arriving like that, the daughter simply didn't show.
    • In another version the requirements were neither nude nor clothed, neither riding nor walking, neither day nor night, and she must bring a "gift that is not a gift". She comes at dusk/dawn with a blanket covering her so she was neither clothed nor nude, with one leg over a goat so she was not quite riding yet not quite walking, and in a small cage she had a bird that as she gave it to him she let it go free. On their wedding day the king made her promise not to interfere with his kingly duties, one day she does and her punishment is to be sent back to her father, but as the king still loves her, he allows her to take with her one gift. She chooses to take him. The king decides not to make her leave.
    • A solution in another version is to come during a solar eclipse, with a blanked wrapped on, having drunk milk, and arriving either by horse-drawn sleigh astride the road edge, or arriving by a boat. The king marries her.
  • In the story, The King's Equal, a dying king tells his son that he can't take the throne until he marries a woman who he admits is as beautiful, intelligent, and rich as he is. Eventually, a gorgeous young peasant girl shows up, and the prince says that she's "the most beautiful creature [he's] ever seen." She doesn't want anything because she has her friends, while he wants the crown. And she knows something he doesn't -he's very lonely. The prince admits that she's his equal... and the woman announces that, in fact, he has just admitted that she's better than him in every way, and sends him off to care for her goats for a year while she gets the kingdom back in order. He comes back a better person and they get married.
  • A 14-year-old Lebanese girl named Rafqa Pietra Choboq Ar Rayès was stuck between two possible Arranged Marriages. Her stepmother said she should marry her brother (aka the kid's uncle); her maternal aunt, however, said the girl should marry her son. After witnessing the two women fight it out, Rafqa locked herself in her room to pray and think about what she should do... and took the third option she had left: becoming a nun, not just to escape the marriages but because she already wanted to do so. She became the first Lebanese female Catholic saint.
  • There is a Russian folk story of an old man sentenced to death by Czar. The Czar grants him one wish. The man says: "Give me five years and if I manage to teach a horse to speak, let me free". Some of his friends protest and say he should have gone to death proudly while some say he should have pleaded mercy from Czar. The man replies: "See, I am an old man, and within five years a lot of things may happen. I may die, the horse may die or the Czar may die. And there is always the chance that the horse will learn to speak."
    • Fables references this, even rephrasing the answer of the old man.
  • The Bible:
    • The Pharisees tried several times to try and turn Jesus' popularity against him. In one example, they asked whether the Jews should pay the oppressive taxes imposed on them by their Roman overlords. Answering yes would anger the Jews; answering no would bring down the wrath of the Romans. Jesus pointed to Caesar's face on a coin and advised the listeners to "Give Caesar what is Caesar's and God what is God's." Since both sides at least claimed not to be interested in what was the other's, everyone was happy... No one found anything to complain about.
    • The Pharisees tried again with a woman caught committing adultery, whom they presented before Jesus. According to Mosaic Law, the penalty for adultery was stoning, so the Pharisees asked Jesus what should be done with her. They had hoped to trap Him into doing something incriminating (note that they only presented the woman; adultery is not a sin that can be committed alone) - say that she should not be stoned would disregard the law of Moses; saying that she should be stoned would incur the wrath of the Romans as they were the only ones with the legal authority to execute someone. Jesus eventually replied to "let he who is without sin cast the first stone", setting the bar so high that no one could stone her. Everyone eventually left but the woman, whom Jesus told to Go and Sin No More.
    • Two young women who lived in the same house and who both had an infant son came to Solomon for a judgement. One of the women said that the other, after accidentally smothering her own son while sleeping, had exchanged the two children to make it appear that the living child was hers. The other woman denied this and so both women claimed to be the mother of the living son and said that the dead boy belonged to the other. After some thought, King Solomon called for a sword to be given to him. He declared that there is only one fair solution: the live son must be split in two, each woman receiving half of the child. Upon hearing this terrible verdict, the boy's true mother cried out, "Please, My Lord, give her the live child—do not kill him!" However, the liar, in her bitter jealousy, exclaimed, "It shall be neither mine nor yours—divide it!" Solomon instantly gave the live baby to the real mother, realizing that the true mother's instincts were to protect her child, whatever the cost, while the liar revealed that she did not truly love the child.
    • In The Book of Esther, after Aman is executed, the king cannot cancel the order to kill the Jews, since that was a signed and sealed royal order. He also cannot allow the order to be carried out. So he issues an edict allowing Jews to fight back.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Averted in Dilbert when he is visited by Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light. Phil offers him two options as punishment for his sins, one where he will have a meaningless job, but will be paid highly, and one where he will have an important job, but be paid badly. You do not see which he chooses, but Dilbert is delighted, because both are better than his current position (where he is paid badly for meaningless work).
  • Played for laughs in one Drabble strip. That week, Ralph had been harassed by the new water inspector trying to encourage him to use less water. One day, the inspector admonishes him for using a glass to get some water since it would take two more glasses to clean it. He tells him to use paper cups instead. Norman then points out that using paper cups would mean cutting down more trees to make more cups. Ralph's solution doesn't sit well with his wife.
    Honeybunch: For goodness sakes, Ralph! Don't drink right from the faucet!

    Radio 
  • Adventures in Odyssey has an episode where Connie becomes the valedictorian. One of the things she has to do on stage however is say a prayer. So the principal of the college and her tutor let her write a prayer, only to find it makes references to Jesus which offends other members of the faculty. So the principal says she should pray the college's "acceptable" prayer. He adds that if she doesn't pray the "acceptable" prayer he'll stop her during her prayer and get her in more trouble. However, her tutor says if she wants to say her own prayer, she (and some other faculty members) will support her. On the day itself Connie makes the decision to...not pray at all!

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 verse, the Soul Drinkers Astartes Chapter are this. Instead of working with a corrupt Imperium or serving the forces of Chaos, Sarpedon leads his chapter to do the all but unheard of and form their own side under nobody but the Emperor Himself. And it is not easy.
  • In Deadlands, Dr. Darius Hellstrome is pretty adept at taking the third option. During the Great Rail Wars, all the good rail routes got taken around the Rocky Mountains, meaning he'd either have to fight one of the other Rail Barons for territory, or commit financial suicide by trying to build track through the Rocky Mountains. Instead, he takes a third option by creating an invention that allows him to dig underneath the Rocky Mountains, which had the added benefit of hiding his progress from his competitors.
    • He did it again in The Last Sons Plot Point Campaign where he exploited a loophole where the Sioux forbid any outsiders from laying track on their lands. After all, they didn't say anything about laying track under their lands. Surprisingly, nobody suspected that he'd take the same third option he previously took.
    • Realizing that his life would eventually end in one way or another, Hellstrome could either plan to take all his work with him to the grave or find a successor. Instead, he created an automated process that could indefinitely preserve his mind in the event that he died, thus allowing him to live well into the Hell on Earth era two centuries later.
  • Averted in the Deadlands: Hell on Earth adventure Unity (which also was the intro to Deadlands: Lost Colony). At the end of the scenario, a mad computer controlling the starship forces the characters to choose one of them to voluntarily sacrifice themsleves, or it will kill everyone on board the ship. The authors of the scenario went to great lengths to assure that there is no third option. The only way to save everyone on board is to do as it commands and have someone sacrifice themselves for The Needs of the Many.
  • In the Battletech universe, Clan Nova Cat decided to fight on the side of the Second Star League, since to them the entire point of the Clan Invasion was to rebuild the Star League in the first place. This was generally seen as treasonous by the other Clans, which told them in something called a Trial of Abjuration to get out of Clan space or be destroyed. This left them with no particularly good options: they could either effectively refuse the Abjuration, which would get it upgraded to a Trial of Annihilation (which is exactly what it sounds lik]) or they could go to the Inner Sphere and conquer a new homeland, where they would get absolutely destroyed by the Second Star League they had just effectively joined. The Draconis Combine actually offered them a third option in taking over the Irece Prefecture (and thus becoming an effective buffer state against the Clans), but just accepting this would be against Clan honor and Clan Nova Cat would lose all of its face and suffer internal revolt. The Nova Cats came up with a fourth option by goading the Combine into a series of Trials of Absorption that the Nova Cats rigged to lose.
    • Notable examples include having a wire-thin Aerospace Pilot phenotype arm-wrestling the biggest infantryman the Combine could find and calling "Edge!" on a coin flip.
    • How this rules-lawyering still managed to be honorable as far as the Clans were concerned can be explained by the explanation given by the Clanner who called the previous coin-flip, IIRC: "What if it had landed on its edge? Think of the glory."
  • One Pathfinder module has you breaking into a warehouse in Riddle Port in order to question the the guards. after accomplishing this and taking out all of the guards you can then loot the warehouse and find several potions and weapons. Far more than you could ever carry. Upon leaving the warehouse a group of thugs will threaten to kill you if you don't give them what you stole. You can either fight them off or hand over the goods and they will leave you alone. OR you can simply point out to them that they could just rob the currently unguarded warehouse which would take less effort while being more profitable. They're pretty stupid though so it is actually possible to fail the diplomacy check.
  • D Ms in any Pen-and-Paper RPG experience this happening way too frequently. In fact, the more the DM tries to prevent this from happening by being over-prepared, the more intent the players will be on making this happen.

    Theater 
  • In the Avenue Q song "It Sucks To Be Me"
    Kate Whose life sucks more, mine or Brian's?
    Rod and Nicky OURS!
  • The Merchant of Venice: Launcelot has to decide between continuing to work for Shylock, whom he sees as "the devil", or running away...which would be committing a sin, thereby putting him in the service of the real devil. He gets out of the dilemma when his father shows up and helps him to lawfully switch jobs.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream is an interesting example. Hermia has to decide between marrying Demetrius or being put to death, with the "third option" of becoming a nun. She takes a fourth option, running off with Lysander to get away from the laws of Athens.

    Visual Novels 
  • Sakura Oogami from Danganronpa took one. It's eventually revealed at the end of case 4's trial that the reason Monobear was able to persuade Sakura to be The Mole was because Monobear was holding the Oogami dojo hostage. Sakura either had to kill someone and thus lose her moral integrity, which would emotionally destroy her (and cause her to be bloodily executed if she can't get away with it), or lose her family's beloved dojo which is the other important thing in her life... And what does she do? She kills herself, which simultaneously satisfies the dojo-saving requirement of killing someone (her own person) while preserving Sakura's moral integrity by not actually killing any of the others.
    • The sequel had a dilemma of the same kind. Option A: everyone leaves the islands... including the Mastermind. And no, its escape cannot be impeded if this option is choosed. Option B: stay on the islands as prisoners to keep the Mastermind trapped. Then some help comes and offers option C, which takes the best of A and B as the Mastermind dies and everyone else escapes... but most of them will recover their erased memories. Which aren't pleasant.
  • In Fate/stay night:
    • After Saber nearly wipes her magical energy empty with the Excalibur, Shirou is initially faced with two options as to how to restore her energy: 1. transfer his energy to her, which is out of the question due to his poor magic skill. 2. Have her kill humans and steal their energy, which he doesn't want to do for obvious reasons. Later, however, Rin reveals that there is a third option: have sex with Saber. Too weak as a magus to transfer magic, and too moral to slaughter the lives of innocents, Shirou hesitatingly takes option three.
    • Parodied in the fake 'dead-end', on Fate route, where Shirou tells Saber they will fast. Tiger and Illya turn him into a cyborg with gatling guns, and offer him a chance to 'join the Tigers willingly, or be brainwashed and turn into a machine.' His response? Turn on the gatling guns.
  • Juniper's Knot: The demon girl is trapped within a magic circle. At least one life form must be inside the circle at all times, so someone has to take her place in order for her to escape from her prison. The boy has to either exchange places with her or leave her to her fate. He chooses to instead plant a tree within the circle, thereby substituting the life of the tree for hers. It works.
  • To get to the secret Music Test in Radical Dreamers you have to choose an invisible third option at one point in the game.
  • Taking one of these forms the crux of the True Ending of Steins;Gate. Okabe is faced with two equally awful timelines: the Alpha timeline, where Mayuri dies and SERN completes their time machine and turns the world into a dystopia, or the Beta timeline, where Kurisu is stabbed to death and her father plagiarizes her paper on time travel, sparking World War III. Obviously, Okabe doesn't want either of these timelines to come to past. However, none other than his future self, driven by his failure to change the Beta timeline, provides the third option: the Steins;Gate timeline, where Okabe Tricked Out Time to save Kurisu and the time travel paper burns in a plane fire.

    Webcomics 
  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, creator Chris Hastings chose a third option in regards to the question of whether or not to include shading in the strips. He hired a colorist.
  • In Ansem Retort, Xemnas asks Axel how he plans on stopping Xemnas and saving Sora at the same time? Axel's response? He's fine with one of two and kills Sora himself.
  • I would... pee on everything.
  • Collar 6 — Who does Sixx send into the contest? Herself!!!
  • Parodied in a guest strip for Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures , which presents a standard Good Angel, Bad Angel scenario regarding the purchase of an expensive colored pencil set with money earned from donations. By the time it's over, however, both sides agree on her alternative solution: "LARCENY WAS NOT THE ANSWER!"
  • From Darths & Droids #250:
    R2D2: What was the third option again?
  • Near the end of the "Snowsong" arc of Dominic Deegan, Oracle For Hire, Snowsong turns herself into ice and orders Gregory (to whom she's frozen herself) to make a choice - save her life via magic and give her ice golem time to destroy the city of Barthis, or smash her to pieces and kill her so he can stop the golem. Gregory merely smiles, removes the spells on himself (which turns her back to normal) and uses another set of spells to turn them into a kinetic force powerful enough to shatter the golem on impact.
  • Sil'lice of Drowtales and her badly wounded and exhausted army were given two options by their enemies, live by surrendering, or die fighting. Sil'lice's gaze goes over her bloody and exhausted army and she makes the decision of live... By fighting and leads her army into battle. They defeat the enemy, but almost their entire force is killed off and they completely lose the war in the end.
  • In Erfworld, Vinny Doombats suggests two options for escaping an enemy trap, after warning Ansom that "You won't like 'em." because they leave the enemy with a free hand to finish off Ansom's siege train. Ansom chooses the third option of taking his chances with the trap and ordering a hunt for the enemy's raiding force.
    • This is Parson's MO. Faced with the decision between fighting a losing battle and surrendering the stronghold? Parson orders his remaining casters to cast Animate Dead... on the volcano the stronghold is sitting on, blowing away the stronghold and the enemy. Parson later wonders if the titular RPG Mechanics Verse is designed to promote outside-the-box thinking.
    • Parson mentions that this was the entire point of the table-top campaign he was running when he got summoned: he was putting his players into a situation unwinnable by conventional means just to see if they'd come up with something else. He's clearly a big fan of this trope. When he's first presented with the hopeless tactical situation he asks himself "What Would Ender Do?"
  • In Freefall:
  • In A Girl and Her Fed, the Girl lists three unacceptable options for dealing with four hundred brainwashed human superweapons and wraps up the list with, "Sounds like the fourth choice is your only option."
  • FUCK IT LET'S DO BOTH.
  • Homestuck: The newly-revived Aradia is holding Bec Noir in place with her time powers. However, she can't hold him there forever, giving her the choice of releasing him and dying now or holding him in place and dying when she eventually runs out of power. Her solution? Release him, then use his own space-bending powers against him to run straight to his power source and the dream bubbles of her friends.
    • Typheus teaches John how to do this by drowning John in oil. John can't turn into wind in order to escape and using his new Reality Warper powers to teleport away would prove pointless to his objectives. So, he decides to teleport all of the oil (All of it) across the entire narrative up to that point instead. Thus, John comes one step closer to both learning to control his powers and completing his personal quest.
    • When John is using his retcon powers to fix the timeline he comes to a difficult impasse; Vriska needs to be kept alive to fix things, but if she isn't killed by Terezi when attempting to leave the asteroid than she'd lead Bec Noir to the other trolls and get everyone killed. So John decides to just punch the shit out of her. If she's unconscious she can't leave can she?
  • Ménage à 3 occasionally sees some weird third options taken:
    • Gary manages to take one on a very important decision, accidentally. The "sex contest" between Sonya and Yuki is over who will become his girlfriend, and hence, though they don't know it, will decide who gets to take his virginity. It ends in disaster, and Gary and Yuki's semi-professional therapist Kiley have to try and clear up the mess. Gary then ends up having sex with Kiley.
    • Later, in Paris, Senna and Sandra fall into an argument over which one of them Gary should spend time with, and whether this should involve "high culture" or "geek culture". Gary's third option involves all of them taking a trip to Brussels. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • "Vengeful" in morphE is given the choice of either fighting a young child to the death or both her and the kid being killed for refusing to fight. Her choice is to give the kid a shard of broken tile and order him to kill her so that he can live. Also serves as a character defining moment, as she recovers from being killed.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • The PCs try in #428 to determine which one of three identical-looking skeletons is the real Big Bad, and which are the decoys. They have only one shot at guessing. The answer is: they're all decoys. The fourth (and real) one is currently invisible and flying right next to them on his zombie dragon.
    • More stereotypically, in #327 they are confronted with two guardians: one always lies; the other always tells the truth. They both have said which is the "correct" path. The party is about to begin trying to ascertain whom to believe when Haley shoots one. The guards' instinctive reactions to this show who's telling the truth and who isn't.
    • Subverted when Therkla tries to take a third option.
    • The pacifist Celia is held captive by the Greysky City Thieves' Guild, and Roy is encouraging her to fight back, as in a D&D-esque world, it's kill or be killed. She opts for legal negotiation instead.
    • When a Huecuva and a ninja assassin start fighting over which one of them will kill Hinjo, he suggests a compromise called 'giant dwarf with a hammer.'
    • Thog pulled two in two strips. A fight broke out and Thog was unarmed, till he kicked the door in half and wielded it. The next strip, Thog did not want to hurt Elan (after the two had become "friends" and broke out of prison) so Thog just started to smash Haley instead.
  • Sinfest: Slick chooses power and bliss.
  • Emily spells it out in Spacetrawler.
  • Tailsteak's website has a series of comics called "TQ" (short for "tertium quid", "third option" in Latin) in which the titular character steps into a debate between a hippie and a rich businessman to tell them they're both wrong about such-and-such an issue, to the annoyance of both.
  • Comes up more than once in Tales of the Questor — in the story, the third option often is "hire a questor".
  • Underling: Lazarus sabotages the traps rather than take them, even if they are supposed to be tests.
  • In its ten year anniversary of The Matrix comic, xkcd manages to screw the red and blue pills and take the third option.
    • A later comic shows a heated argument about whether there should be one or two spaces between sentences. Then someone suggests a linebreak after every sentence.
  • In Tower of God, the Ranker Quant is at one point put in a bind by his examinees, being told to either hand over the badge of the It or let the hostages, other examinees, die. He tells that they can try and draw blood, but the moment they do, everybody will die. By his hands.
  • Parodied in Two Guys and Guy: Frank says he needed to "think outside the box" to win a chess match. He chose to do something that landed him in jail.

    Web Original 
  • Fatebane frequently chooses a bizarre out-of-box-thinking way of getting out of seemingly impossible situations in Associated Space, to the extent that his companion lampshades this tendency:
    "What?" David looked doubtful. "There's a third option? Crazy and daring?"
  • On the Livejournal community Anthropomorphs Deserve Love Too!, Alienware does this to the Linux system.
  • Uncyclopedia insists that in a dilemma of two options, there is always a third option... cake.
    Always delicious. Never complicated. Just cake.
  • Accomplished by Jesse Cox of OMFGcata during a Let's Play of the DLC of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Rather than give in to a Sadistic Choice of rescuing a crucial witness or several innocents, he successfully reasons out where the poison gas threatening them is and destroys it instead.
  • Played for Black Comedy by The Nostalgia Critic. When Spoony gives him the choice of watching the Reb Brown Captain America or blackmail pictures of roofie-induced crossdressing being posted everywhere, he decides to hang himself instead.
  • In SF Debris:
    • In the review of The Matrix, during the Red Pill/Blue Pill scene:
    Neo: Do you have a green pill?
    Morpheus: No. You must choose: Blue or red.
    Neo: Orange?
    Morpheus: Let me explain the pills again.
    Neo: Yellow?
    Morpheus: Listen, you take-
    Neo: Can I take both?
    Morpheus: No.
    Neo: Uh... orange then,
    Morpheus: Here's the orange one.
    Neo: That looks red.
    Morpheus: Uh, that's the Matrix trying to trick you, now swallow the damn thing!
    • In a review of Star Trek: Voyager Neelix offers the advice that when facing a crossroads, sometimes you should take the third path. Chuck points out that following this metaphor, the third path would be back the way you came.
  • In The Annoying Orange parody of The Matrix, there's a third green pill. It tastes like boogers, so he doesn't take it.
  • Toho Kingdom Toons has one in one of their earlier cartoons, where Gabara offers Little Godzilla a potion that could kill him. You have the option of saying "YES" OR "NO", but regardless of which choice you pick you ultimately get the 3rd option of "He should resist this peddler of peculiar potions @ all costs!"
  • In ScrewAttack's Top Ten List for greatest Space Marine, Stuttering Craig and Nick argue that the #1 spot should belong to Luke Skywalker of Star Wars and Christopher Blair from Wing Commander. After arguing for a bit, they agree on Mark Hamillnote .
  • In Noob, Gaea ended up taking an option that turned out to be just as bad, if not worse than the other offered to her: pays her new guild's debts out of her own pocket despite being The Scrooge as Guild Master responsibility, have her incompetent guildmates come up with the money ot be thrown in jail. She choose leaving the guild so she's no longer Guild Master, only to have her debtor reply "You know this keeps you from joining any of our faction's guilds until you pay up, right ?".
  • Matthew Santoro:
    • Discussed in Star Wars in 3-D!!!. Matt mentions iTunes as a third option to Blockbuster and Netflix.
    • In Psychic Octopus & Oil Spills, Matt takes a third option between calling the octopus an octopus and calling the octopus an octopi:
    Matt: This octopus - is it "octopus", or "octopi"? [Beat] This octo is named Paul, and he was born in England, but he lives in Germany.
  • A Giant Sucking Sound: The premise of the story is Ross Perot winning the 1992 election. Unfortunately, he has trouble getting much of his agenda threw Congress, so he forms the populist Freedom Party, made mostly of moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats, mavericks, political fringes, and forever dismantles the two party system.
  • Video game reviewer Caddicarus has a system where he "slaughters" a bad game by shooting it, or "salvages" it by beaming it up with a transporter. In his review of Destruction Derby 2, he declares that the game isn't quite bad enough to slaughter since he got some enjoyment out of it, but not quite good enough to salvage. He instead opts to "slauvage" it by beaming it up halfway, then shooting it. A few games since have gotten the "slauvage" too.
  • In Journeyquest, sir Glorian does this all the time. In the Temple of All Dooms (technically the Temple of Some Dooms, or as the Orcs call it, the Temple of Select Dooms), there's the classic puzzle with two gargoyles guard two doors. One can only speak the truth, the other can only lie. One of the doors is the correct way, the other leads to certain death. The normal solution to this dilemma is to ask the right questions and think before making a decision... Unless you're an Obliviously Evil Blood Knight with a love for fighting, in which case the solution is to ''kill one of the gargoyles, throw the other down one of the halls and if he survives, that must be the right way.

    Miscellaneous 
  • The glass with water in half of it. Half full, or half empty? A joke says that an engineer will answer, "The glass is twice as large as it needs to be."
    • It's just 100% margin of safety.
    • Other people would just ponder why it should be glass, break the glass when they lay their feet on the table, or drink straight out of the bottle
    • It's completely full. Half full with water and half full with air.
    • It depends on whether you're drinking it or pouring it.
    • Who's the jerk that drank half my water!?
    • Played with in a classic The Far Side cartoon. The first two people say "half empty" and "half full" respectively, a third goes back and forth between the two before forgetting the question, while a fourth looks at the glass and goes, "HEY! I ordered a cheeseburger!"
    • Greatly parodied in this Touhou animated gif.
    • It is neither half-full, nor half-empty; it is simply half a glass of water.
      • Or is it half a glass of air?
    • Drink the water and take the glass with you.
    • Completely empty! (burp)
    • One person on Dear Blank Please Blank said that the glass was half full... of rat poison.
    • Pee in the glass till it's full.
    • It's 50% water, 50% air.
    • xkcd's "What If?" section had a post about this. What if the glass is LITERALLY half empty?
      • "The lesson: If the optimist says the glass is half full, and the pessimist says the glass is half empty, the physicist ducks."
    • The surrealist says the glass is a giraffe wearing a necktie
    • The optimist says, the glass is half-full. The pessimist says the glass is half-empty. The realist says "Yep. That sure is a glass alright." The idealist says one day, cold fusion from the glass will provide unlimited energy and end wars. The capitalist says if he bottles the glass and gives it a New Age-y name, he can make a fortune. The communist says the glass belongs to everyone in equal measure. The sexist says the glass isn't going to fill itself, honey-bun. The nihilist says the glass does not exist and neither does he. The opportunist says he knows there's a T-shirt in here somewhere. (This is a famous T-shirt).
    • The liar says the glass is all the way full.
  • In an EddieIzzard routine people is asked if they would like "Cake or death?" Everyone responds "Cake" and eventually the cake runs out. To which the next person replies "So my choices are... or death?? I'll take the chicken."


Alternative Title(s):

Taking A Third Option, Took A Third Option, Take The Third Option, Third Option