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You Did Everything You Could
Sometimes, even the greatest fail.

In every Medical Drama, almost every Cop Show, basically any show where the characters often have someone else's life/future in their hands, there will come a time when they will fail and the person they're trying to save will die (or wind up paralyzed, or in jail, or some other long-term bad thing). The character will feel incredibly guilty, but an understanding friend or colleague - sometimes even the person whose life they just ruined - will insist, "You did everything you could" or "You tried your best" or variants thereof. Sometimes the character will say the phrase him/herself, in which case the "you" becomes "I."

Usually this helps, and the character is able to move on. Sometimes they don't, and fall into depression, and after a while will have another stock phrase thrown at them: "You can't keep blaming yourself!".

On the other hand, it's sometimes countered with a taunt of "Your best wasn't good enough!" And sometimes, it may still be good enough to keep you your job.

Speaking of blaming yourself, there are other stock phrases for that. And there's also a second stock phrase for reassuring someone blaming themselves.

Compare Survivors Guilt, Guilt Complex (when it's clear that this is true, but the character cannot stop blaming themselves), and Wangst when this trope goes too far.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • It could be interpreted that this is what kicks off the entire plot of Naoki Urasawa's Monster. After being assigned by the higher-ups in the hospital to save the life of a famous opera singer instead of a Turkish man, Dr. Tenma tries to console himself by getting one of these during a dinner with his fiancee, Eva. She gives it to him, immediately followed by the line, "After all, not all lives are created equal." The shock of this helps him make his decision to save the life of the title character.
  • Pictured above: One of the few times Black Jack failed to save someone, that someone being the surgeon that saved Black Jack as a child and inspired him to become a doctor in the first place. Black Jack's mentor's spirit(?) assures him that he did what he could.
    • Specifically, he says, "To think that doctors are above life and death is just arrogant, don't you think?" It was his last words.
  • InuYasha: Kikyo reacts this way towards both Inuyasha and Kagome when Naraku kills her for real; she softly reassures Kagome that even if she couldn't save her life, she nonetheless saved her soul, and when Inuyasha is breaking down over being too late to save her, she smiles and gently reassures him that the fact that he came for her is all that matters.

    Comic Books 
  • In the first issue of The Power of Shazam, Captain Marvel tries to rescue people trapped in a burning building. However, the structure collapses and Captain Marvel is only able to shelter a few people under him while others close by were killed. Naturally, Cap is beating himself up for failing them, but a firefighter firmly tells him, "Coulda, woulda, shoulda. You made a difference!"
  • Superman: at the end of the Conduit saga, Jimmy Olsen gives a talk like this to Superman when it looks like the Man of Tomorrow will not be able to save him from one of Conduit's deathtraps. Subverted in that he survived.

    Fan Fic 

    Film 
  • Resident Evil. As Alice and Matt near the exit, Alice feels responsible for not saving all of their comrades who died.
    Alice: I failed all of them. I failed.
    Matt: Listen to me. There is nothing else you could've done.
  • Appears in Star Wars (Episode IV, A New Hope) when Obi-Wan sacrifices himself so Luke can escape.
    Leia: There wasn't anything you could have done.
    • After Owen and Beru were killed by Stormtroopers:
    Obi-Wan: (to Luke) There wasn't anything you could have done had you been there. You would have been killed too, and the droids would be in the hands of the Empire.
  • Plio says the exact phrase to Aladar on the Disney movie Dinosaur when he fails to rescue Bruton from the rockslide.
  • In the fifth Harry Potter movie, after Umbridge discovers the D.A and Dumbledore takes the fall:
    Ron Weasley: You did everything you could. No one could win against that old hag.

    Literature 
  • In C. S. Goto's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Ravens trilogy, fellow Blood Ravens try this on Gabriel after he had to order Exterminus and tell him another captain would have done the same. Gabriel is angry, the question is whether the other captain would have let the situation arise in the first place.
  • In Warrior Cats, Cinderpaw gets this lesson from Yellowfang after she fails to prevent Silverstream's Death by Childbirth (though she does save the kittens). In this case, her worries were compounded by the fact that Silverstream is from a rival Clan, and having another Clan's member's death on your hands is not a very good place to be in this world.
    Yellowfang: I've spoken with Tigerclaw. He's furious about the kits, of course, but he's not angry with you, Cinderpaw. He knows you did your duty, just as any medicine cat should.
    Cinderpaw: But I lost her, Yellowfang.
    Yellowfang: I know. And that's a hard lesson to learn. But sometimes, no matter what we do, cats die and there's nothing we can do about it. This is something you must learn to live with if you are to continue on this path. Now come, the elders are complaining of aches.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the The Adventures of Superman episode "The Defeat of Superman", Jimmy Olsen uses the "I did everything I could" variant when apologizing to Superman for not being able to save him from the Kryptonite. Shortly thereafter, he does find a way out.
  • Said a bazillion times, by almost every character, to almost every character, on ER.
  • House. Cameron says this to House in the first season episode "Damned If You Do". As expected, he doesn't respond kindly.
    Cameron: I just wanted to say that I know that you did everything you could.
    House: I donít need verification from you to know that I'm doing my job well. That's your problem, not mine.
    • Also occurs in season six, when the patient dies due to a fat embolism, after a leg amputation, which House could not have done anything to prevent. When Foreman tells House that is wasn't his fault, House is not consoled because that was exactly what was eating him up; he did everything he could (everything anyone could) and it still wasn't enough.
  • Desperate Housewives: "One Wonderful Day"
    Bree: [the doctor has just called to tell Bree that Rex is dead] No, no - of course. You did everything you could.
  • LOST: "Whatever the Case May Be"
    Rose: For what happened to Claire. It's not your fault. You did everything that you could do and you came very close to dying yourself.
  • Friday Night Lights
    Coach Gary Gaines: [half time speech] Perfection is being able to look your friends in the eye and know you did everything you could not to let them down.
  • Parodied in Frasier; an old friend-turned-bitter rival of Martin's is in the hospital with serious problems and Frasier's trying to persuade Martin to bury the hatchet. Martin, typically stubborn, refuses. Frasier gets a phone call, and responds to the caller with a somber "I'm sure you did everything you could..." Martin, who obviously can't hear the other end of the conversation, freaks out and decides to resolve his problems with his old friend. He stubbornly refuses Frasier's offer of a ride to the hospital because he can drive himself. Except he can't; the phone call was from his mechanic, who was calling to tell him that his car's transmission is kaput.
  • Abused by Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. He tells Glenn and Olly "you tried, you really tried" when they fail to steer Nicola Murray out of an embarrassing photo opportunity... which Malcolm had deliberately steered her into as part of his latest scheme. His reassuring words were just a means of covering it up.
  • After Kima is shot in an undercover operation gone bad on The Wire, Major Rawls tells a guilt ridden Detective McNulty that even though he hates him and would like to be able to blame him, the shooting was not his fault.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Dr. Bashir thinks he has doomed Odo to his death by failing in his last-ditch effort to find the cure for the disease that he was infected with by Section 31. O'Brien attempts to use this Stock Phrase, but Bashir completes it for him and says "It's a small comfort, isn't it?"
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Peak Performance", Data is challenged by a visiting advisor to a very difficult game called Strategema. After Data is defeated, he believes that the problem is a malfunction in his programming (since he played the game precisely the right way) and asks to be relieved of duty. Picard tells Data that there are always circumstances where it isn't possible to win even if you do everything correctly.
    Picard: It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.
  • Horatio Hornblower has examples from the naval/military setting, involving troubles with leadership and participating in "the wrong war".
    • Matthews, a reliable, dependable lower-deck sailor tries to assure Acting Lieutenant Hornblower who was in command of a ship that he did all he could to save a man who went down after losing his close friend. He stole food and was severely punished, and then tried to desert several times. Hornblower gives him chance to prove himself worthy several times, but he never succeeds. When he wants to bring him to justice, Bunting considers it a Cruel Mercy and opts for an equivalent of Suicide by Cop, forcing Hornblower to shoot him. Matthews says that Bunting was beyond saving. Hornblower gets depressed and says that Captain Pellew would know what to do and that he would find a way.
    • Archie Kennedy says this almost word-for-word to Horatio after Mariette's death and the failure of the Muzillac mission. Horatio beats himself up for failing to save her because he persuaded her to go with him. The military operation was doomed from the start. Horatio feels it deeply, and Major Edrington asks Archie to take care of him.
  • One of the most emotional stories on Scrubs had Dr. Cox lose three patients after giving them transplanted organs that unknowingly came from a donor infected with rabies. JD tries to comfort him by pointing out that the disease is so rare there is no way any doctor would have thought to test for it, and it would have been irresponsible to do so with the patients waiting for those organs. He also repeats what Cox told him, that once you start blaming yourself for deaths that weren't your fault "there's no going back". It doesn't work; Cox spends the next episode in a drunken Heroic BSOD, only recovering when JD instead tells him that he admires him because after all these years of watching people die "you still take it this hard."
  • Said a few times on Emergency!. One example is Roy and Brackett trying to assure Johnny that he and Roy had done everything possible to save an officer friend of John's, despite a busy radio making communications harder to get through.

    Video Games 
  • Commander Shepard from Mass Effect gets this quite a bit throughout the trilogy from subordinates and friends, especially in Mass Effect 3 as the bodies and defeats pile up against a near unstoppable force. Arguably the most notable is after the Fall of Thessia, where s/he nearly goes into a complete Heroic BSOD.
    Liara: You couldn't possibly have been prepared for this.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Limyaael's Fantasy Rants advise against this in writing. She says that authors should not invalidate guilt on the protagonist's part (as in) and should keep it genuinely ambiguous as to whether the protagonist could have made a difference. This opinion being expressed by other characters is fine, but if an author constantly makes it so that the protagonist's failures have no consequence ('It doesn't matter that you couldn't/didn't save him from the housefire, he would have died that day from Lethal Disease #9567 anyway!') the protagonist verges into Mary Sue/Boring Invincible Hero territory, and the story loses realism and depth.

    Western Animation 

You Could Have Used Your Powers for GoodStock PhrasesYou Didn't Ask
My Greatest FailureGender Dynamics IndexAll Abusers Are Male
Worst AidMedical Drama    
Black JackImageSource/Anime and MangaBlack Lagoon

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