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Black And Gray Morality / Live-Action TV

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  • 24 deals with this most of the time. Nobody in this show escapes without doing something morally questionable. All the heroes want to do is stop terrorists and prevent devastating attacks on innocent civilians, but they fight it by torturing people (sometimes even innocent people), kidnapping, spying on people, screwing due process, and allowing collateral damage to happen, among other things. Basically, the only difference between the heroes and villains is that one side deliberately wants to do the terrible things they do, while the other side does it because they feel it's for the greater good. And that's when the show is being optimistic.
  • The 100: To the point that "there are no good guys" becomes a frequent phrase used by the main characters.
    • The 100 commit numerous acts of war against the Grounders, initially through ignorance, but later decide that the best way to deal with the situation is with increased violence, particularly by killing off Grounders by the hundreds using bombs and rocket fuel. They are just trying to survive, though.
    • The Mountain Men engage in sadistic medical experiments upon the innocent and will not even discuss potential alternatives, not hesitating even when a peaceful solution is literally shouted into their faces. This also doubles as Gray-and-Gray Morality: the atrocities are carried out because it is genuinely the only way for the Mountain Men to survive. They have no tolerance for the radiation on the surface of the Earth, and the only treatment is derived from the blood of kidnapped Grounders. Later, they find that the people of the Ark can potentially cure them completely, but only with their bone marrow. The Mountain Men begin to drill the kids for their bone marrow and are willing to kill dozens of teenagers for the chance to return to the surface once and for all.
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    • Pike and the people of Farm Station adopt an excessively aggressive stance toward the Grounders because they landed in the midst of Azgeda, a particularly brutal Grounder clan, and have experienced nothing but violence at the hands of Grounders. However, this leads to Pike and the rest of the Arkers committing a number of unprovoked atrocities against their own Grounder allies.
    • Clarke herself walks headlong into this trope several times. First, when she slaughters the entirety of Mount Weather — including allies and children — to save her people from being harvested for their bone marrow. Then, when she forcibly harvests bone marrow from Luna and nearly tests it on Emori against her will in a last-ditch effort to save everybody from radiation, and again when she locks all of the Grounders and some of her own people out of the Second Dawn bunker as Praimfaya is approaching because she genuinely believes it is the only way to ensure the survival of the human race.
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  • Arrow: The main character is Unscrupulous Hero perfectly willing to Pay Evil unto Evil and large portion of early episodes devoted to questioning whether he's a hero or a villain. While he mellows over time with exception of Season 4 he never really stays out of moral grey area. His opponents are hardened criminals, mob bosses, Corrupt Corporate Executives and other clear villains.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) skirts this, particularly during the middle of the series, but for the most part is Gray-and-Grey Morality instead. (Though when characters get too sympathetic to the Cylons, someone will usually point out that the Cylon's opening move in the war was to kill fifty billion people with a surprise attack.)
  • Being Human: Mitchell and Herrick were basically this every time they were fighting, but the final series kicks it up a notch. The only properly white character remaining is Alex. Hal is an Old One and when he reverts he makes Herrick look like an ineffectual wimp, and Tom has basically been turned into a weapon for destroying vampires by his adoptive father. When they start going at it, the only things making them seem like the 'good guys' is their friendship with Alex and the fact that their enemy is Satan himself, trapped in human form.
  • The old British Sci-fi show Blake's 7 is a classic example of this. The "Good Guys" start out on their way to prison, with only the main character being actually unjustly convicted (Or was he?), and proceed to fight against the even worse Federation by stealing things and blowing stuff up. They also tend to leave a swath of dead bodies in their wake.
  • In The Boys, the titular vigilantes (one of whom is a woman) launch a violent, murderous crusade to take down superheroes and the corrupt Vought Corporation that handles them. The Boys are ruthless, engaging in torture, spying, theft, blackmail, and assassination; in any other superhero universe, they’d simply be the villains. However, here, most of the superheroes (with a few exceptions) are at best greedy, amoral egotists who prefer to use their power for wealth and celebrity rather than actually fighting evil. At worst, some of the “Supes” are themselves quite evil, using their powers for sexual harassment, doing the Vought Corporation’s political dirty work, and even murdering innocents. This puts The Boys on the side of relative good.
  • Breaking Bad was Grey-and-Gray Morality at first, but became this at the end of Season 2:
    • From the end of Season 2 to the end of Season 4, there was Walt vs. Gus: They were both vile individuals and Walt poisoned a kid to win the war, but Gus' ruthlessness in taking down the cartel made him slightly worse. One could still make the argument that by the end it had shifted to Evil vs. Evil.
    • In Season 5A, there was Walter versus the Cartel. Within Walt's new meth empire, there was also Mike and Jesse, principled anti-villains, fighting for control of the business with unrepentant sociopaths Walter and Todd.
    • Walt vs. Hank in the first half of Season 5B became this in the premiere episode, as Hank turned out to be as proud and vicious as Walt in his attempts to bring "Heisenberg" down.
    • The last 3 episodes pitted Walt against Jack's white supremacist gang.
  • The work of Joss Whedon:
    • Both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are somewhere between this trope and Black-and-White Morality in the sense that while the protagonists usually do the right thing when it's clear what the right thing is and their enemies clearly don't care about doing what's right, the protagonists also have some What the Hell, Hero? moments and are sometimes thrown into morally gray situations where even they don't agree with each other as to what's the right thing to do.
    • In particular, Angel wallows in Black and Grey Morality for its final two seasons. In the fourth season, the characters initially oppose what they perceive to be a monster intent on bringing about The End of the World as We Know It; later, it turns out to be a goddess (Jasmine) who would have ended all war, hunger and disease. Admittedly, she did eat people, and paradise would have come at the price of free will, but the heroes are somewhat in doubt they did the right thing after the evil law firm Wolfram and Hart ends up thanking them. In the fifth season they are actually running Wolfram and Hart; this comes with a lot of questioning whether or not they are doing more harm than good.
      • Also in Angel, Wesley, who has done some questionable things, is taunted by Lilah during his search for redemption.
      Wesley: There is a line, Lilah. Black and white. Good and evil.
      Lilah: Funny thing about black and white: you mix it together and you get grey. And it doesn't matter how much white you try and put back in, you're never gonna get anything but grey.
    • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes "This Year's Girl" and "Who Are You?" — as well as the Angel episodes "Five by Five" and "Sanctuary" — Faith, after having spent the last half of the last season on the side of evil, makes a genuine effort to redeem herself for her crimes. She does this after making plans trying to kill Angel, punching out Cordelia, and torturing Wesley, all while struggling with the will to live. The Watcher's Concil, though, actively try to kill Faith, Buffy, and the cast of Angel, while leaving each other to die at times, and one of them takes joy in killing people.
    • Dollhouse. The show is all about a business that brainwashes people to act like other people and service the needs and wants of the business' clients (sometimes sex, sometimes other things). Most (but not all) of the brainwashed people "volunteered" for it, so YMMV on wheather or not this is wrong. The business sometimes uses the technology and brainwashed people for clearly good things (rescuing kidnapped people, trying to help an abused child grow up into a healthy adult etc.) and sometimes for clearly bad things (theft, ruining an innocent man's reputation etc.) In any case, they are never as bad as their enemies, which include The Ghost (a child molester) and Alpha (a sadist who carves up people's faces with a large knife For the Evulz).
    • Firefly and Serenity, the protagonists are thieves but usually non-violent except in self-defense; the main antagonist is a corrupt government that tortured an innocent little girl.
  • Caprica is this. It plays with Gray-and-Grey Morality but so far the various players are a fundamentalist monotheistic terrorist group, a racist and corrupt gilded society, a ruthless crime syndicate "family," and a corporate CEO who's willing to enslave another race (albiet one he believes has no free will to begin with) in order to save his personal fortunes.
  • Chuck: The NSA and CIA and their agents are shown to be clearly on the right side, fighting to protect the country and its citizens (and often the world in general) from extremely evil terrorists and corrupt spies. However they are ready and willing to do some pretty nasty things, such as killing a completely innocent guy who happens to have all the government secrets in his head, or summarily executing an unarmed, defenseless, surrendering (albeit very dangerous and evil) enemy agent, for national security.
  • In Colony, the Hosts are brutal occupiers who commit any number of atrocities, but the resistance movement has no qualms about using terrorism or young combatants, and one of them brutally murders Phyllis and her husband, the latter of whom is incapacitated due to a stroke.
  • Community. There's the study group who are often judgmental, self-righteous jerks, and then there's Chang, an insane psychotic attempted murderer, and Pierce, a racist, sexist, sociopathic bully whose prime goal in life is to make everyone's life a living hell.
  • Copper. The protagonists are prostitutes, cheaters, and murderers. Corky and Francis often go above the law and use unnecessarily violent means to get information. Elizabeth Haverford sends a child home to her abusive "father" without a second thought, and Chief Sullivan is corrupt, focusing on his own goals rather than fighting crime.
  • CSI: Miami has been guilty of this for years. The head of the lab, Horatio Caine, informed an unresisting pedophile that he was "resisting arrest," meaning he was about to get a serious beating. Horatio and his brother-in-law went to Brazil to kill the man responsible for his wife's murder. The instances of police brutality are too numerous to count, all excused by the idea that the victims are all bad guys and the 'good guys' needed information from them.
  • Dexter. The eponymous character is a serial killer. But, he only kills other killers, most of whom are even worse than him. (Likewise in the novels, as well as the serial killer in Bradley Denton's book "Blackburn", which is similar to Dexter (but earlier: 1993).
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Kaleds and Thals, as portrayed in the Doctor Who serial Genesis of the Daleks. They're even verging on black and black, given the Kaleds are A Nazi by Any Other Name and progenitors of the Daleks, and the barely less evil Thals are planning to wipe out the entire Kaled race with a "distronic" missile (strongly implied to be something like a nuclear weapon).
    • The time war seems to have been a case of this. The Daleks are as black as they've always been, but the Time Lords clearly did some horrible things as well, just about the only redeeming feature of the Doctor's species is that it contains good people. In fact, we eventually learn that the Doctor's actions to end the Time War (by removing both sides from the universe) weren't to stop the Daleks, but to stop the Time Lords.
    • Due to the show's heavy use of Obviously Evil - with very few villains having so much as good intentions or good points - most of the moral questioning in the show ends up concentrating on the Doctor's side. Sometimes, in order to stop Scary Dogmatic Aliens or Omnicidal Maniac Mad Scientists or even the odd Eldritch Abomination from destroying the planet, he has to do things that are morally reprehensible, and the moral tension comes from asking whether the Doctor's actions are justified. Whether or not they are Depends On The Writer - sometimes they definitely aren't (murdering hundreds of thousands of children in front of their mother in order to prevent the Earth being destroyed in "The Runaway Bride"), sometimes they definitely are (arranging for a murderer to be strangled to death by his own robot in "The Robots of Death"), sometimes it's a mixture (the genocide against the Silence in "Day of the Moon"), sometimes the show completely skips over the moral dimension (Brainwashing for the Greater Good in "The Savages") and sometimes the Doctor is set up to do an action of this kind but changes his mind because it's too horrible (refusing to commit genocide against the Daleks in "Genesis of the Daleks", and the Doctor's solution to the Time Lord genocide in "Day of the Doctor"). This is also a weird example in that the tone of the show is generally very idealistic and romantic, not a Crapsack World.
  • Farscape, hits this harder and harder as the series goes along. The protagonists are fugitives who—in the course of running from two evil governments that want them dead—rack up higher and higher body counts and destruction, blowing up bases, robbing banks, and vaporizing at least one planet. When at the end the villains finally start a galaxy-wide war, John Crichton decides to fix it by using a weapon that would destroy the galaxy if they don't surrender. He's not bluffing.
  • Game of Thrones: Like its novel counterpart, most of the heroes are morally flawed and will do whatever it takes to keep their allies from harm, even if it means killing enemies. While many characters can show sympathy, the presence of people like Gregor Clegane, Ramsay Bolton, and Joffrey Baratheon justifies the heroes for being merciless towards certain people, considering how many of the villains are downright sociopaths. Not to mention their continent is about to be threatened by even more dangerous, zombified creatures. If there are any ideal heroes in the show, they will either be too young, weak, naive, insecure, or killed off from the start.
  • Hannibal is a show where every cutie is made to be broken, corrupted, or killed. A show where the protagonist's superpower is thinking like the most dangerous criminals around. And where the title character, a cannibal who gets the other characters to unknowingly partake as well as tempting them into other evils is a sometimes necessary evil because there are others much more vile than he.
  • Heroes has most of the many characters with some sort of fatal flaw, but none of them fit this trope more than Bob Bishop. He is introduced at the start of season 2 as a reasonable man, directing a previously villainous company, and trying to steer the way forward to a brighter future for everyone. Although there are subtle hints as to his true motives, he appears to listen to Mohinders advice over the shanti virus. However in episode 9 it's revealed that Mohinder and viewers alike were a little wrong. It's made clear he experimented on his daughter leaving her as a psychopath. From then on, none of the characters trust him.
    • In the graphic novels we also find out he's a torturer and murderer. He was also directly involved in the plot to blow up New York city and apparently worked alongside Linderman during this time. He also was the one who had Candice save Sylar from Kirby Plaza.
  • Intelligence: The nicest character on the whole show runs a multi-million-dollar drug smuggling racket.
  • In the first-season finale for The Last Ship, the crew of the Nathan James arrive in Baltimore, where they learn that what's left of the government has been under siege by a right-wing militia called the Warlords. However, as they start settling in, they discover that the government is planning to limit access to the cure so that only the "right" kind of people get it, while others get a counterfeit that aggravates the disease so that they succumb more quickly.
  • Mad Men: Due to the nature of the times, the men more so than the women. Most men tend to be lying cheating assholes, and the women either act this way too or they are screwed.
  • Motherland: Fort Salem: On one side, you have the US Army, a profoundly jingoistic organization that condemns thousands of young women to lives of forced military service so that a handful of very old witches can continue to live in power and prosperity, and which is so thoroughly awash in propaganda and indoctrination that even someone as sweet and kind as Tally Craven is prepared to do violence on its behalf. On the other side, you have the Spree, a truly vile terrorist organization that mass-murders civilians in cold blood using horrifying magic. The Camarilla, an ancient organization that once attacked witches has also been reactivated and wants to restart the old persecutions thought to be forever gone.
  • The protagonists of Mr. Robot are hackers who regularly engage in theft, drug abuse, and even murder in the pursuit of their goals; by season 3, they're full-fledged terrorists whose attempts to rebel against the system have brought the U.S. economy to its knees and killed over 4,000 innocent people in a massive bombing. They would be portrayed as villains if not for the Dark Army, an international crime syndicate headed by the Chinese Minister of Security that has manipulated the protagonists into causing all of the above events in order to create ultimate anarchy.
  • Orphan Black: Sarah and Felix are morally dubious characters at best - Sarah gets involved with the clones so that she can steal Beth's money. The clones are willing to get their hands dirty to survive. On the other hand, they're up against one conspiracy that performed illegal human cloning experiments and another of religious zealots who want to kill them.
  • Oz has a few baddies among its prisoners, including Neo-Nazis like Schillinger and brutish psychopaths like Adebisi, but even the most 'innocent' characters- Beecher, Cyril, Rebadow and Hill- are killers. Tom Fontana did not want any of the prisoners to be innocent of the crime they were put into prison for. In addition, a lot of the characters on the other side, such as the guards, the prison administrators and the governor, are self-serving, arrogant, vainglorious, prone to grandstanding, and/or not above abusing their authority for their own ends. The show has a few truly moral characters, like Father Mukada and Sister Peter Marie, and some prisoners like Hamid Khan (put in jail for preventing a rape) and Father Meehan (in jail for hitting a cop in self defense during a protest), but they are very few and far between in a show with Loads and Loads of Characters.
  • Profit: However, the protagonist, Jim Profit, might be the character with the blackest take on morality.
  • Puppets Who Kill: Everyone is a Jerkass to some degree and deserves the horrible things that will inevitably happen to them.
  • The Shield, big time. Apart from, at the most, one character (Claudette Wyms), everyone in the show is either outright villainous or at least very shady. This includes the apparent "good guys". In fact, the most corrupt and immoral of the supposed "good guys" (as in the police) are the four man Strike Team, whom the protagonist leads and the show revolves around.
    • Dutch Wagenbach, one of the very few non-corrupt cops, would hardly be considered completely good as well. The only morally dubious thing he did was strangle that cat and plant evidence, but he even took that back.
      • Dutch comes closer than most, but it is shown that he has an unhealthy fascination with serial killers... and maybe understands them a little too well, hinting that if he weren't catching them he might be one himself.
  • Sons of Anarchy: The title biker gang is mostly composed of Sociopathic Heroes (except for Tig (Psycho for Hire), Jax (Anti-Hero or Anti-Villain depending on ones viewpoint) and Opie (The Woobie). The cops are all hopelessly corrupt or psycho except for Hale, the Knight in Sour Armor and Stahl, the Knight Templar. And then there are the really nasty gangs.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Reconstructed. The show's primary focus is to deconstruct the utopian nature of the Federation by having Starfleet characters become increasingly morally ambiguous and presenting no side as being completely in the right. In "Waltz", the deranged Cardassian war criminal Gul Dukat tries to convince Benjamin Sisko that his actions during the occupation of Bajor were justified under the circumstances. He fails to convince Sisko, until Dukat eventually goes on a racist tirade where he acknowledges his own evil and his conviction that he should have just wiped out every Bajoran man, woman and child when he had the chance. Sisko ends the episode reflecting that in a morally gray cosmos, there are still truly evil characters.
    • The plight of the Founders and some more militant Bajorans show how easily it is to slip from brutal necessity to paranoia and excess. BY the end of the series, both have resolved to try and show more compassion to other civilizations, even if things will never be perfect.
  • As Supernatural becomes more and more of a Crapsack World, it's only right that they should start to wallow in this too. Dean and John's deals with the devil are more selfish suicides than Heroic Sacrifices, they later kill demons without any thought to the human host, John was a suicidally broken man who fucked up everything, Dean's annoying martyrdom, low self esteem and messed up death wish frustrates Sam and Bobby and Sam's willing to destroy everyone and everything that might hurt Dean. After all this, you start to get the impression that becoming evil might look like a much better deal.
  • Taboo: The entire cast consists of characters who engage in murder, blackmail, theft, and betrayal. James is capable of loyalty and basic kindness, but he's still a dangerous criminal himself. One of the few unambiguously good characters is George Chichester, since his only goal is getting justice for past crimes rather than any personal gain.
  • Thieves of the Wood has a gang of robbers who make money from opium and prostitution versus an evil mayor who uses vagrants as slaves and invites the local aristocracy to pursue and rape girls on his estate.
  • The Thick of It and its film In the Loop both have this view on the morality of humanity and the political workplace. Here, no character is without his or her flaws, and are all varying degrees of moronic, cowardly, backstabbing, manipulative, or just generally unpleasant bastards in general, all more concerned with keeping their jobs than with doing the right thing.
  • In Trailer Park Boys, the heroes are criminals, but the law is INSANE and the citizens are apathetic.
  • The British miniseries Ultraviolet. On one side is a cabal of vampires who plot to enslave humanity in order to save us from ourselves (thus insuring their food supply). On the other is a shadowy government organization that answers to no one and follows a very end-justifies-the-means kind of program.
  • Anything involving Marlo Stanfield in The Wire, which eventually results into two mostly good cops faking murders in order to bring him down.


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