What the Hell, Townspeople?
After much pleading, begging, pity and a sense of moral justice, The Hero
arrives, determined to save the townspeople from a terrible fate at the hands of a devious villain. Everything's looking all right, everyone is happy and then-
Bam. Betrayed. The villain comes out of nowhere, captures The Hero and tells the townspeople "You have done well to betray this interloper, for after your plans failed I would have destroyed all of you". Note that the villain will probably still follow through with the original plans anyway
, the complicity of the townspeople notwithstanding.
What The Hell, Townspeople?
is meant to be the reaction of the audience to this situation as opposed to any general character. The idea is that the ostensibly good townspeople are basing their long-term survival plan on screwing over the only people who would actually be willing to be nice to them.
See also: Apathetic Citizens
and Les Collaborateurs
. If they never liked the hero in the first place, they're probably All of the Other Reindeer
. If someone actually says
"what the hell, townspeople?", see Shaming the Mob
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Anime and Manga
- Partially justified in Soul Eater. While the village that demon sword Masamune was possessing prompting everyone to attack Black Star, and that everyone in the village had a personal grudge against the Star Clan, it didn't warrant the little kid smacking Black Star on the head with a branch of bamboo.
- So tell me, oh townspeople who are regularly saved by Prince Dios — exactly why does it seem like a good idea to work your shining prince to the dying point, and then get all murdery when his own sister decides he needs a vacation?
- After learning that Vash the Stampede is in their town, they attempt to arrest him for the 60 billion double dollar bounty on his head after he saves them from asshole mutant bounty hunters. Their justification is that they need the money to repair the Black Box that keeps their town alive. Not to mention turning him in to the authorities would get the Humanoid Typhoon out of their town, which has had enough problems already, thank you very much.
- And from the manga, the place where he saves them from ying-yang themed gangsters, but stops a bullet with a 'feather' from his arm, and is therefore stoned for being a monster. Wolfwood accurately describes them as assholes.
- In Ode To Kirihito, Kirihito suffers serious discrimination because a disease has turned him into a petting zoo person. At one point, he is able to persuade some villagers to leave him and another doctor in a cave with a village elder alone for two days so they can operate on him and save his life. Some of the younger villagers decide to break into the cave early and kill him anyway. The elder overexerts himself in anger ordering the ruffians to stop being dumbasses; Kirihito had just saved his life. He dies. The warnings of the other villagers and the other doctor apparently weren't good enough.
- The whole plot of Violinist of Hameln wouldn't have happened if it weren't for this trope. After all, it was the rampant discrimination they suffered in Anthem and the villagers selling them out to Hell King Bass that ended with Pandora in a crystal and Hamel his jaded, traumatized self after accidentally killing everyone except for Raiel.
- One Piece:
- The first Grand Line island the crew visits seems friendly and is known for taking pirates in and setting them up right for the journeys ahead. Turns out every one of them is a bounty hunter working for Baroque Works.
- In a flashback it is revealed the villagers of Koala's hometown betrayed Fisher Tiger when he brought the girl safely home. At least part of the reason was so the Marines would ignore their knowledge that Koala was an escaped slave. Though this made more ironic since "slavery" was supposed to have been abolished centuries ago.
- In Junji Ito's manga Hellstar Remina, a scientist who discovered a new planet names it after his only daughter, Remina, causing her to become a celebrity and have numerous fanclubs and admirers (Remina herself wishes they wouldn't pay so much attention to her because of that, though.) Then, when it's revealed that Planet Remina is hurtling towards Earth with no chance of anyone's survival, the entire city of Tokyo, and even the world, turns against the innocent teenager, finally tying her to a cross and trying to kill her—all because they share the same name.
- The townpeople of The City By The Lake episode of Genesis Climber MOSPEADA and its Robotech counterpart. Stig/Scott, Ray/Rand and Mint/Annie all call them out on it.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, the townspeople of Xenotime treat Ed and Al like utter shit, believing them to be imposters after Russell and Fletcher Tringham steal their identities. It goes so far that at one point a shopkeep refuses to sell the real Al medicine that he was trying to purchase for a sick little girl that lives in town. This only occurs in the anime version, as in the original Light Novel story although they still believe Russell and Fletcher to be the real deal they also believe Ed and Al to coincidentally be alchemists with the exact same names and treat them a lot less harshly.
- Blue Exorcist: In order to save his friends from Amaimon, The Hero Rin has to reveal his demonic powers and heritage. How do his friends react? They ignore him. One actually calls them out for the treatment Rin receives.
- In Valvrave the Liberator Arus negotiates with the Jior students to give them Valvrave pilots who have been fighting all alone to protect Jior right after Arus gunned down most of them. What does Jior do with their heroes? Discriminate, shoot one of them and sell him out.
- The citizens of the Marvel universe. Over and over again. Especially where mutants or Spider-Man are concerned, but almost everyone gets this at one time or another.
- Super hero comics in general. All it takes is one single incident with a Shapeshifter, Master of Disguise, or an Android copy for the entire city to be on a manhunt. It's even more jarring when such villains make a return and no person suspects the rogue gallery.
- One Scooby-Doo comic has a recurring antagonist in the comics called the Grey One cover Shaggy and Scooby with a hologram so they look like monsters, causing the paranoid townsfolk to try to burn them at the stake. When Velma and Scrappy try to defend them the townsfolk decide to say "screw it" and burn them too just for the hell of it. After Fred and Daphne manage to save the day, it's Scrappy of all characters who actually voices the reader's reaction here by pointing out how close they came to killing innocent people and how nonchalantly they'd just been about it.
- In The Magnificent Seven, a small group of the villagers betray the Seven and allow Calvera into the village after they learn that Calvera cannot simply move on and raid another village, which was what they had hoped would happen when he discovered that the village had hired gunmen. The Seven understand their reasoning, even defending their actions when their children denounce them as cowards, and still return to save the village after Calvera released them far from the territory.
- This is of course based on Seven Samurai which has a similar twist. The samurai, after saving the village, are given nothing more than millet, while the beautiful women of the village gorge themselves on rice, and the guy who loves one of the townsfolk ends up alone.
- Done in Cave Dwellers, where the hero Ator promises to help a village fight the local snake cult so they can stop their young people from being claimed as Human Sacrifices... only to be drugged and tied up, since the villagers think that offering the snake cultists Ator will buy them off. Naturally it doesn't work.
- High Plains Drifter: This happens before the beginning of the movie and is the basis for everything that happens during it.
- Including the subversion that happens before we actually learn this; after seemingly teaching the townsfolk to fight back against the evil bandits threatening the town, the 'hero' betrays the townspeople by abandoning them, letting the bandits have the run of the town before he returns to take his own vengeance on them.
- Dogville. The point that regular, small town, hard working Townsfolks are just as horrible people as anyone else is the whole point of the movie. Played with in that the townfolks' poor treatment of Grace is what causes the villain to kill them all. At Grace's request.
- High Noon: Marshal Kane is trying to save the town from a gang of criminals and the rest of the ungrateful townspeople don't lift a finger to help him. In fact, some support the gang being allowed to run the town. At the end, after beating Miller and his gang, Kane throws down his badge and walks away without a word.
- Outland is basically High Noon IN SPACE!! but in this case the deep-space mining colony is run from Earth by a Corrupt Corporate Executive which pretty much ensures that the Marshal's efforts aren't probably going to have much long-term effect.
- Van Helsing: During the fight with Dracula's brides when Van Helsing first arrives in Romania, Van Helsing manages to kill one of said brides. How do the townsfolk thank him? By ganging up on him with Torches and Pitchforks with the intent to kill; apparently, they're fine with the vamps killing someone once a month for food, but now that one of Dracula's brides is dead, the others will come for revenge and kill them all. Anna is considerably more respectful.
- The Dark Knight Rises: Bane's takeover of Gotham works with this trope, and he exposes the truth about Harvey Dent to justify releasing all of the Blackgate inmates.
- Transformers: Age of Extinction: After the Autobots spent the first movie trilogy protecting the humans from the Decepticons, how do the humans thank them? By hunting them down and harvesting their corpses for spare parts.
- In the Legends of Dune prequel, The Machine Crusade, a village of Zenshiites on the planet IV Anbus decide to obstruct the plans of a group of League soldiers, trying to keep a mechanized army from passing through their canyon village on its way to the capital. They don't believe that this will spare them from harm by the machines, though. The fact that their people have been traded as slaves in League worlds for years just makes them so angry that they're not willing to help the League Armada under any circumstances. This leads to their capital and holy city being destroyed by the Armada in an effort to finish off the machines before they can take over the planet, and a lot of Black and Gray Morality on both sides.
- Thursday Next runs into one of these situations on her practical exam- her task is to fix the plot of a relatively unknown children's book to make it less depressing, but she ends up being caught and forced to marry a background character, because the townspeople don't have the luxury of feeling natural emotions in their story, so they plan to kill Thursday to get high off the rush of witnessing a wedding and then killing the bride. Thursday manages to talk them out of it.
- The Underland Chronicles:
- The Regalians still scorn Gregor even though he's saved their lives multiple times.
- The ending of Gregor and The Code of Claw has Gregor tell off what amounts to the ENTIRE Underland. The Bane's dead and the humans and rats are ready to live together peacefully. Luxa then announces that the rats are being sent to live in the most hostile region of the Underland. Ripred isn't amused, and both sides are ready to go to war right then and there. Gregor tells all of them off not just for being so stupid after both sides have been devastated, but also for Ripred having come all this way with them and Luxa treating him like dirt.
Live Action TV
- The Firefly episode where Simon and River are kidnapped by a town in need of a doctor. He hates being kidnapped and calls the townsfolk on it, but grows to like being able to help the townsfolk and having a stable place to house River. However, they become convinced she's a "witch," and plan to burn her at the stake. Nothing Simon says will stop them, so he gets up on the stake too. And they were getting ready to burn them both! The same people who went to great lengths to get a doctor were perfectly willing to go back to their high mortality rates if it meant burning a mentally damaged girl.
- The reason is that River is a Telepath and can and had already started to expose their Town with a Dark Secret status. There is a reason they have such a high mortality rate.
- Invoked on Angel, in the second-season episode "Are you now or have you ever been?" In the '50s flashbacks, he's getting ready to summon and kill the paranoia demon that's been affecting everyone in the hotel, when the girl he's been helping most turns an angry mob on him to divert their attention away from her. This was justified by the fact that it was a paranoia demon, and Angel leaving them all to their fates is presented as a failure on his part.
- The people of Nettlestone are invited to Robin Hood's birthday party, but decide to send the Sheriff's mercenaries along instead. Even though this would give the Sheriff completely free rein to indulge in his hobbies of robbing, starving, torturing and exploiting them without interference from Robin's gang.
- In Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, just about every Civilization Of The Week they try to save from the Goa'uld, the Ori, the Wraith, or for that matter from anything. Every one that doesn't fit this ends up home to a few Les Collaborateurs. Often, the planets have exactly two notable characters: a Reasonable Authority Figure who supports the heroes and an Evil Chancellor who wants to follow this trope, sometimes even going behind the Reasonable Authority Figure's back to do so.
- Of note are the villagers in Atlantis who capture Ronon to hand him off to the Wraith, hoping that the Wraith would let them be. Needless to say, they were all slaughtered for their trouble. Slightly justified in that Ronon inadvertently brought the Wraith to their village during his time as a Runner.
- The first track of The Protomen's first eponymous album describes Protoman fighting for humanity, with the oppressed citizens rallying behind him. Until Protoman begins to be overcome, at which point none of the people come to his aide at the risk of their own lives. Light gives a What the Hell, Townspeople? summation to Megaman about it, but he doesn't take the lesson and goes off to fight. The entire fifth track is one long track dedicated to the still alive Protoman giving an increasingly cynical What the Hell, Townspeople?. And they prove him right.
Act II elaborates: Years ago, Dr. Light was framed for the murder of his girlfriend, Emily Stanton, by Dr. Wily. The townspeople believe Wily, and when Light is eventually found innocent, they see it as their justice system being corrupt and attempt to lynch him. Wily even lampshades this, mentioning that all he had to do was point a finger at Light to get the people to turn on him.
- In Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Ike and company are in a port town in Crimea, which has recently been conquered by the Daein Kingdom. One of their laguz allies is accidentally unhooded, and the racist townspeople promptly sound the alarm to local Daein (again, invading) forces. Not quite done screwing over the heroes, a couple of those same townspeople tell the Daein soldiers where the Greil Mercenaries have gone after the mission, and are Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves.
- In Overlord, the people of
Bree Spree are very quick to begin praising the massive Khan over you, despite you having rescued many of their people and (maybe) not murdering them. Of course, once you defeat Khan's forces, they're instantly begging for your forgiveness.
- Of course being an Evil Overlord, you could have been bullying and killing them this whole time.
- In Mega Man Zero 4, the refugees of Area Zero, the Caravan, refuse the aid offered by La Résistance and Zero; a textbook example of an Untrusting Community. Even when Area Zero came under attack by the forces of the Big Bad and Zero mounted a rescue, the Caravan's leader, Neige, attempts to stop the fighting by chewing out both sides (mostly directed at Zero and Craft, the Big Bad's general) for the atrocities that they have done throughout the series. Craft kidnaps Neige shortly afterwards, and the Caravan refuses to go rescue her, thinking that bringing Neige back would only ignite the war again. Cue Zero chewing them out:
Zero: You're just going to abandon her? She put her life on the line to stop the fight and save you and your settlement!
NPC: What of it!? If we save her, we might get attacked again!
Zero: Look at you all cowering in fear. You're no different than the humans in Neo Arcadia...
NPC: H-how dare you!
Zero: If you're going to be like that, why even put your lives at stake to leave Neo Arcadia in the first place?
- In Suikoden III, the Apathetic Citizens of Le Buque treat Franz and the other Mantor trainers like crap because he's trying to earn them second-class citizenship in Harmonia, who conquered their clan fifty years prior. After Harmonia withdraws their forces, their scorn gives way to outright violence and they threaten to mob Franz and the others. Geddoe punches out one of them.
- A version of this happens in Final Fantasy XII. Instead of the hero arriving, when the "villain" Consul from the conquering Archadean empire arrives in the newly conquered Dalmasca, the gathered crowd boos him. He gives a little speech that amounts to, "I'm really not a bad guy, and I just want to get along with all of you and be a good ruler, so let's not worry about who conquered whom." They cheer him. Vaan and Penelo share a what the hell, fellow oppressed citizens?? moment.
- Dragon Quest IX. Wormwood Creek. Great job betraying your Guardian Angel to The Empire, guys. Way to create a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.
- Harvest Moon: In a case where it's impossible do anything to avoid displeasing them, the townspeople will get mad at you for your animals dying of old age regardless of how well you took care of them.
- Dragon Quest VII has a couple of examples:
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The townspeople are bizarrely convinced that the protagonist is a diaper-wearing hobo of some sort. No, really.
- Skyrim. You just saved the townspeople from a dragon by using your Dragon Shouts. Surely they'll all fall on their knees, thanking you, right? Wrong. At best they'll stand around gawking you, if not then the guards will warn you to stop Shouting because it puts people on edge. At worst, you'll actually be prosecuted for whatever damage you may have done whilst trying to take the dragon down.
- As revealed in the backstory for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, just when Dracula appears to have redeemed himself from the whole Vlad the Impaler bit via The Power of Love, some jackasses from a nearby village burn his beautiful wife alive. For being a healer. A Despair Event Horizon crossing later, and an Omnicidal Maniac was born.
- inFAMOUS 1 has an In-Universe example right at the beginning, if the player has been good. The Voice of Survival appears on TV and blames Cole for the Ray Sphere Blast, prompting the townspeople to start throwing rocks at him and yell at him... right after he's just retrieved a bunch of food crates from gang members and has willingly given them up to the civilians... in the middle of a quarantine.
Cole: I already gave you the food, didn't I?! Leave me alone!
- In Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals, once Daos appears, he announces to the world that anyone who bows to him will be spared and anyone who helps Maxim will be destroyed. After that, the people of every single town refuse to help Maxim or even let them and his companion enter. Their fear is justified; Daos's power as the Sinistral of Fear induces terror in the hearts of people, he demonstrates his power with a massive explosion, and he sends monsters to every town Maxim tries to enter. It takes the people Maxim has met along the way to convince the world to stand up against Daos.
- Done in this Sluggy Freelance strip. Particularly notable since the townspeople in this case are completely pacifist.
Ambassador: They've given us an offer. If we bring them the one known as Torg they will leave our world in peace. And since peace is the ultimate manifestation of good, I'd like to implore everyone to form unruly mobs and send this innocent man into the demons' eternal deathgrip as soon as possible!
- Subverted in Dominic Deegan; when the people of Lynn's Brook get all Torches and Pitchforks-y on Dominic, Luna and Greg, he calls them out on their asinine behavior...which the mob then tries to justify. They formed a mob in the first place because Luna summoned a threatening illusion after they threw rocks at her (minor facial deformity) and Greg (gimp leg) for their disabilities.
- In one Superfriends cartoon, a planet petitions the heroes for help. They arrive and seemingly save the day, a banquet is held in their honor - and the denizens then trap them by turning them into stone statues, promptly handing them over to Darkseid afterward. (Apparently they never got the memo that these guys beat Darkseid, seriously, like every week.) Completely out of left field, Darkseid makes up an extremely flimsy technical excuse to blow the planet up anyway. The aliens realize the errors of their ways and release the Superfriends. Like that needed spoilers.
- In an episode of Samurai Jack, Jack agreed to help a group of frog-people, but it turned out they planned on handing him over to Aku in exchange for being left alone. In a surprise twist, Aku went back on the deal.
- In a Teen Titans episode, Snowblind, the people act like this to the Russian super soldier, Red Star, whose dark side is terrorizing them. Starfire calls them out on it by pointing out that it was the experiments in which they themselves partook that caused everything. After this they stop acting like assholes.
- The Galaxy Rangers episode "Chained." Ozark is an isolationist colony in the middle of nowhere. The Black Hole Gang proceed to behave badly and torch a good section of the town. Shane rides in with local Action Girl Annie and save one of the town elders from a burning building. After the dust-up is over, the townsfolk hand Shane over to the gang. Needless to say, Annie's pissed off and pretty much shouts the trope at them.
- The Simpsons: Springfield has been guilty of this several times, the most infamous occasion being "The Boys Of Bummer". In that episode, this was lampshaded when it was noted that Springfield had been labeled as the Meanest City in America.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- An Ungrateful Bastard variation in one season 2 episode, Zuko saves an Earth Kingdom town from a bunch of so-called soldiers who are just bullying thugs who go well past the Moral Event Horizon. Because he revealed that he was Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation, the townspeople immediately turn on him, and drive him away.
- Aang and co frequently face some sort of stupidity or hostility from the towns they visit, but usually they come round by the end of the episode.
- Most of the townspeople in Beauty and the Beast bar Belle, Maurice, and the bookseller seem rather unpleasant, and at the climax every last one of them apparently becomes a henchman to Gaston.
- The Nicelanders in Wreck-It Ralph. Even though they're aware they're in a game where Ralph is the assigned antagonist and they couldn't function without him, they still treat him like dirt and try to keep him out of everything, even when he makes a clumsy but sincere attempt to befriend them.
- The first Christmas Episode of Doug does this towards the entire town of Bluffington. Porkchop's on the chopping block because Bebe Bluff was accidentally injured when the dog tried to prevent her from getting drowned and her father, the very influential owner of the town, blows it out of complete proportion. The entire town is utterly apathetic to Doug's plight because of a combination of a Scare Campaign and because it's Christmas. It takes Doug calling everyone out in a courtroom just to give Porkchop a fair shake. And it was after saving Bebe when she actually did fall into the lake did he become a free dog.
- Spider-Man Unlimited: The first episode kicks off with Spider-Man trying and failing to stop Venom and Carnage from boarding John Jameson's shuttle, and thus getting accused of sabotaging the shuttle and relentlessly shunned and persecuted by all of New York as a result. When he saves someone from a burning building, only to be sprayed by the firemen and accused of having been the one to set the fire in the first place, Spidey finally calls them out:
- In the Batman Beyond episode "Disappearing Inque", Batman sees the shapeshifter Inque escaping by having disguised herself as a jacket on a hostage, immediately swooping in to stop her, but Gotham police attack him, knocking Mr. Freeze's gun from his hand, which Inque immediately grabs and destroys. And after she escapes, the lead policeman basically says "Let Batman handle it..."