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.
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 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.
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 Equestrias First Human, a human named Connor ends up in Ponyville, and the townspeople treat him the way that they treated Zecora and avoid him. Connor's good deeds don't change anything, only now the Mane 6 become pariahs for associating with him, and town doesn't even bother to help them plan a festival for the Princess. The final straw comes when after Connor saves Princess Celestia's life, the guards (who are actually working for the Big Bad) beat him up, and everypony (except Fluttershy) just watches it happen (In the original, the townspeople just laughed at his crush on Fluttershy.) Connor storms off in anger, and Princess Celestia is ashamed of the way Ponyville treated Connor. It is subverted later on when Connor and Spike save the whole village from the Big Bad, and the townspeople apologize.
Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act III: After being blackmailed by Kano in chapter 30 on top of all of the other mistreatment from the other students, Felucia justifiably has this reaction. By the next chapter, she's so sick of the other students' harassment that she actually suggests to the others that they let Kuyou kill everyone.
Felucia: These are the creeps we're protecting from Kuyou? Seriously?
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.
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.
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.
In the 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 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.
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.
In Labres, the mob throws you and the recently orphaned Lucas to the monsters because you tried to stop them from lynching a monster in priest's clothing... who wasn't doing anything to harm them... and was actually the kindly priest, who struck a deal with the monsters' ringleader to live out the rest of his days as a monster in exchange for sparing the town for as long as he lives. Their present-day descendants don't turn out so hot, either, rewriting the past instead of learning from it.
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.
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.
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 save her from drowning 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.
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: