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Heel Realization / Live-Action TV

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Heel Realizations in live-action TV.


  • The final season of 24 saw, after 7+ seasons of being pushed around, screwed over, and betrayed, Jack Bauer snapping and going down a dark path where revenge actually had precedence over justice for him. In the series finale, Chloe finally brings Jack back to his senses by making him realize that if he assassinates Yuri Suvarov, the Russian President dying on U.S. soil would lead to war between the United States of America and Russia and lead to the deaths of far more innocent than guilty.
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  • 30 Rock, Liz goes to her high school reunion and finds out that the reason she was so unpopular in high school was that her humor was seen as bullying by EVERYONE else in the school.
  • The Affair: Alison has a bit of a freak out when Yvonne starts to treat her very coldly and discovers that it's because she's basically portrayed as a homewrecking nymphomaniac in Noah's novel. She's shocked to find out that people see her that way and actually tries to apologize to Noah's ex-wife Helen.
  • In Alias, the agents of SD-6 are not happy to learn they've been working for the enemy all along.
  • Angel:
    • The gang have a kind of Will They or Won't They? relationship with this trope in season 5.
    • And periodically through the entire series, both with series arcs and Angel's flashback-guilt. There's sort of an implication that if they're ever not hovering around one of these that something is seriously wrong.
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    • Happens to Spike, oddly well after his Heel–Face Door-Slam. A deranged Slayer kidnaps and tortures him, mistaking Spike for a man who tormented her during her childhood. In the end, Spike realizes it didn't matter that he never laid a finger on the girl because he'd done plenty worse to other people.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Sebastian the Vorlon Inquisitor had such a realization about his "reform" project for which he was "remembered only as Jack" (the Ripper).
      Sebastian: The city was drowning in decay, chaos, immorality. A message needed to be sent, etched in blood, for all the world to see: a warning. In the pursuit of my holy cause, I did things, terrible things, unspeakable things. The world condemned me, but it didn't matter, because I believed I was right and the world was wrong. I believed I was the divine messenger. I believed I was...
      Sheridan: Chosen?
      Sebastian: I was found by the Vorlons. They showed me the terrible depth of my mistake, my crimes, my presumption. I have done 400 years of penance in their service. A job for which they said I was ideally suited. Now, perhaps, they will finally let me die.
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    • Zack Allan was originally enticed into joining Nightwatch because of the extra pay it offered, but as he noticed Nightwatch get more and more oppressive, he began to resent his decision. Still, he stayed in and simply strove to involve himself as little as possible. All the time, his chief, Garibaldi, kept railing him for thinking it's a game when the consequences are getting very serious. Finally, as Nightwatch tries to take over the station, he lets slip that a bunch of Narns are coming in to replace them. The leader of the local Nightwatch musters every hand possible to capture them...putting all of them in one single secure location which Zack promptly has sealed. After both sides had told him he had done the right thing, it's only at this point, coming from a more-reassuring Garibaldi, that he feels he can believe it. Turning in the Nightwatch showed he was on the right side after all, and he would eventually become Chief of Security himself.
    • In the fourth season, William Edgars, who during his Motive Rant, catches himself referring to "The Telepath Problem". He stops, considers what he is saying, then resigns himself to it and presses on.
  • The Big Bang Theory had an episode with two unrelated stories about this. One centered around a reunion between Leonard and a former bully, during which time he began to realize how much he'd hurt Leonard until he wakes up the next morning fully sober and reverts to his older self. The other centered around Penny realizing that she used to be a bully and trying to overcome her guilt upon realizing how much she hurt her classmates. This doesn't go so well, as her attempt to salve her conscience by donating clothes to Goodwill ends with her taking clothes from the box.
  • The Boys (2019):
    • Starlight came to one of these early on, which is why Hughie thinks about recruiting her for the team.
    • Maeve gets a rather more extreme one of these after Homelander talks her into abandoning a plane full of people to crash in the ocean.
  • Between seasons two and three of Breaking Bad, Jesse has one of these moments.
    Jesse: I learned it in rehab. It's all about accepting who you really are. I accept who I am.
    Walter: And who are you?
    Jesse: I'm the bad guy.
    • Jesse returns to this fairly often, frequently being the one with a conscience. This hits its apex in season 5 when the group's actions result in the death of a kid and Jesse decides to retire from the meth game, no matter how much Walt tries to guilt him into staying.
    • Walt has these moments himself on occasion, but tends to move past them quickly — which is ironic since, by most standards, he's much worse than Jesse. The biggest one probably comes in season 4 in "Salud". As per usual, it doesn't stick. Until "Gliding Over All" in season 5.
      • The message finally seems to get through to him in "Ozymandias". Unfortunately, it's not until Hank is dead and his entire family has been destroyed, their lives ruined by his actions and choices.
    • Skyler has it at the beginning of Season 5. While she was content with helping Walt with his crimes at first, once she finds out that he was behind the murder of Gus, she realizes how monstrous he's become and is terrified of him, doing everything she can to get the kids away from him.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Near the end of her life, Glory starts feeling emotions. This counts as an Ignored Epiphany, however.
    • Jonathan has one, which begins when he realizes the exact nature of a mind-controlled sex slave.
    • Andrew has one, which provides an in-story Tear Jerker moment from him when he finally allows himself to realize just how cruel his betrayal of Jonathan was.
    • When Faith switched bodies with Buffy, she eventually figures out that she could have taken a run at Angel for evil, and would reappear on his show as in the hope he would kill her. He sees right through this ploy and doesn't comply with it.
    • Another mild one crops up in the comics. Aside from the fact she is crazy enough to snap and try to kill Buffy despite her Heel–Face Turn due to a combination of liking the person she was going to kill, trying to protect her from Buffy and some belief that if she kills Buffy she'll be a hero; she has the realization she treats anyone who is the least bit decent to her like dirt. While she was nice before her Face–Heel Turn and after her Heel–Face Turn after she realizes this she makes more of an effort to treat people nicely for more than just getting what she wants.
  • Iris Crowe in Carnivàle, tells her foster-father Norman Balthus that she knows she's evil:
    Iris: I'm going to hell when I die. I know that. But if I am very fortunate, my brother will be there waiting for me with an embrace.
  • Charmed: In season 8, Billie Jenkins reunites with her long-lost sister Christy, who, unbeknownst to Billie, has become Brainwashed and Crazy thanks to the Triad, believing that the Charmed Ones are the bad guys. Billie is duped by Christy into believing the Charmed Ones have gone bad, and in the final episodes, gets in a fight with them that results in the destruction of the Halliwell Manor and the deaths of Phoebe, Paige, and Christy. Billie realizes she was being used all along after encountering the demon Dumain, who tries to convince her to use her projection power to go back in time to the Triad before she uses it to prevent Christy's death; sadly, Christy is too far gone to save, and Billie ends up killing her.
  • In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca does a lot of questionable things in order to get Josh to like her and break up with his current girlfriend, Valencia. When she finally overhears Valencia saying that she thinks Josh is going to propose to her, Rebecca suddenly realizes that she hasn't been the hero in the story, but the villain and sings "I'm the Villain in My Own Story."
  • At the first season finale of Daredevil (2015), Wilson Fisk finally admits that he's not a good man forced to do bad things, but simply a bad man — and immediately decides that he's fine with that, because Hell's Kitchen deserves every last bit of his badness.
    Fisk: I always thought that I was the Samaritan in that story. It's funny, isn't it, how even the best of men can be deceived by their true nature?
    Guard: What the hell does that mean?
    Fisk: It means that I am not the Samaritan. That I am not the priest or the Levite. That I am the ill intent that set upon the traveler on a road that he should not have been on.
  • Twice in the final episode of Season 2 of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency:
    • Todd manages to break through Susie's It's All About Me attitude, saying "taking control of your life" doesn't mean warping everything else to suit you. Unfortunately, instead of a Heel–Face Turn, she goes full-blown Card-Carrying Villain.
    • Conversely, Hugo finally asks "Am I the villain? Am I, like, the bad guy, but I'm just so stupid, I don't even realize?", and sacrifices himself to get Dirk back to Wendimoor.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Silence in the Library" has a minor one: when the remnant of Brainless Beauty Miss Evangelista's consciousness asks to talk to Donna because she was the only person who'd been nice to her recently, there's a shot of the other expedition members, especially the Daves and Anita, looking guilty because they'd bullied her for her ditziness while she was alive.
    • "Journey's End" has a truly shocking one, from a frigging Dalek no less.
      Dalek Caan: I saw the Daleks, what we have done throughout time and space. I saw the truth of us, creator, and I decreed: No! More!
      • A later episode, "Into the Dalek", reveals that part of their cybernetics is a system specifically intended to prevent these by blocking the memory of anything potentially enlightening. The Dalek in question goes on a crusade to wipe out the Dalek race after being freed of its effects.
    • The Doctor himself has one in "The Waters of Mars" after Adelaide Brooke calls him out on his megalomania regarding time itself. Ten's descent into madness, and then his realization at what he's done once Adelaide kills herself to protect the time stream is painful to watch, but Tennant's performance remains nothing short of magnificent.
      The Doctor: I've taken lives. And I got worse, I got clever. Manipulated people into taking their own. Sometimes I think a Time Lord lives too long.
    • Amy to Rory in "The Girl Who Waited", after realizing that she doomed herself to wait thirty-six years being chased by killer robots to be rescued.
    • A major one occurs to the Twelfth Doctor after he comes close to becoming Woobie, Destroyer of Time in "Hell Bent" in a desperate attempt to prevent the death of his beloved companion, Clara. Although he is actually, technically successful, his actions alienate him from his own people and even threaten to destroy his friendship with her. After receiving a major What the Hell, Hero? dressing down from her, the Doctor realizes that he has done, and he makes amends by allowing his key memories of Clara to be erased.
      The Doctor: I went too far. I broke all my own rules.
    • A milder example occurs in "The Husbands of River Song"; when Flemming declares that the Doctor loves River and would always come to her aid, River bitterly declares to Flemming that the Doctor never loved her and that he will not be rushing to her rescue out of pure sentiment (not realizing that the man who's been standing beside her for the whole episode is the Doctor). The Doctor never says anything, but the expression on his face speaks volumes as he realizes how he has hurt River by his callousness. The episode ends with the Doctor and River finally having their long-overdue last night together at the Singing Towers of Darillium. Of course, the nights on Darillium are 24 years long...
  • Dollhouse:
    • Mellie/November gives Ballard a creepy speech indicating (between the lines) that she's been programmed with low self-respect, and he responds with a dose of rough sex. The next morning she asks if he'll be looking for Dollhouse clients, and he mutters, "I found one."
    • Topher begins to have this realization, and tries to fight it off with noble goals, such as saving Priya from a lifetime of sex slavery. Nonetheless, his scientific progress leads nowhere good, he holds himself responsible for the destruction his discoveries cause, and he goes insane.
  • Henry gets one of these in Eureka after finding out that his wife used to be a Consortium agent. When questioning her, he finally gets her to reveal who she is protecting — him, or rather his alternate self in this reality.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Stannis undergoes this after he's forced to sacrifice Shireen. He hates himself for doing so but goes on with it anyway.
    • Selyse does not realize Shirieen's worth until it's way too late. This despair causes her to commit suicide.
  • In the first season finale of The Good Place, Tahani and Chidi both realize that they weren't as good in life as they thought they were: Tahani raised billions for charity but did it only for selfish reasons, while Chidi had good intentions but ultimately did nothing productive and alienated the people around him with his chronic indecisiveness, which is why the two of them were sent to the same Bad Place as the more obviously-bad Eleanor and Jason.
  • At the end of one episode of Happy Endings, Alex realizes she's been running a child labor ring in the back of her store, and how terrible this is. Takes the intervention of her friends before she gets it though.
  • One episode of How I Met Your Mother has Barney convincing Ted to have a night out with him, and getting him to live like there's no tomorrow. The context is that Ted has been having a bad time of it and is getting depressed about ever meeting someone. So they go to a bar and Ted ends up doing a bunch of not cool things, like charging a lot of expensive booze to someone else's tab, making out with a married woman (who he knew was married), etc. He thought it was all fun, until Marshall plays back the recording of the night that got left on his phone (from Ted butt-dialing him). Ted realizes what a dirt-bag he's been and that he is essentially becoming Barney.
  • Done rather nicely in iCarly with Nevel, who was as close to a Big Bad as the show got. After spending the series doing everything he could to destroy iCarly, he gets caught on video being his mean, Jerkass self to a little girl who'd accidentally bumped into him. Not only does this ruin his life, but it also shows him what he's really been like. He says My God, What Have I Done? and makes a token effort to change his ways. Ultimately, the iCarly gang helps him do so and he performs a Heel–Face Turn as a result.
  • In The Middleman episode "The Obsolescent Cryogenic Meltdown", former Middleman Guy Goddard realizes that he's the villain when he finds himself saying the villainous Once an Episode Catchphrase "My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity."
  • During the episode "Think Like a Peter" of The Mindy Project, Peter has one of these when dressing down Mindy's one-night stand.
    Peter: This guy took advantage of your heartbreak, and that is a low move. That is disgusting. That is exactly the thing... that I would do. Am I a dick? Does everyone think I'm a dick?
    Mindy: Yeah, are you just realizing this now?
  • The major theme of the finale of No Good Nick. For the entire series, Nick has been posing as a long-lost relative of the Thompson family while secretly working cons against them. When they finally discover the truth and ask why, Nick explains it's revenge for ruining her father. Her dad, Tony, had run Franzelli's, a successful diner. When Liz opened her own competing resturant, each of the Thompsons made a move without the others knowing it to "help" Liz out: Liz undercut Tony's prices; husband Ed used his position as a bank manager to deny Tony a major loan; Molly and her friends posted fake Yep reviews to drive away customers; and Jeremy stole all the flyers for their big reopening. This made Tony so desperate that he got in debt to a mobster and then robbed his own resturant to pay it off which led to his arrest. During said arrest, the Thompsons had just been watching from across the street and smugly celebrating "we won." While obviously not happy with what Nick has done, the Thompsons are all jarred to realize that their desire to suceed caused them to ruin an entire family and that Nick is actually justified in hating them so much.
    • As it turns out by this point, Nick has realized that the Thompsons weren't in some evil scheme together but just each acting on their own to help out their mom. They're not evil, just flawed and have showered her with love as Nick has grasped that revenge won't make her feel better at all.
  • In Once Upon a Time, Regina has done all manner of horrible things and is largely okay with them. In the second episode of season 2, a Meaningful Echo from Henry makes her realize she has become the one thing she swore she would never be... her mother. In fact, much of her interactions with him in the episode are recreations of her interactions with her mother in the flashbacks. She lets Henry go, and begins to try to be The Atoner.
    • Regina's mother, Cora, had justified all her conniving and evil moves (like killing Regina's first love) to make her stronger and not have the poor life Cora did. She also gave away her other daughter, Zelena which led to Zelena becoming the Wicked Witch. When the two girls accidentally met each other and became friends, Cora wiped thier memories of it all as she felt this bond would be a huge weakness. When she sees the two ready to kill each other in the present in the Underworld, Cora finally accepts how her actions were her own selfish desires that ruined her daughter's lives and regrets it deeply.
  • The Partridge Family: In "Whatever Happened to Moby-Dick?" the family encounters a money-grubbing Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit who tries to profit off a record the family made in order to raise awareness of the endangerment of whales. Danny sees himself in the man, and doesn't like what he sees.
    Danny: He made me see what I was really like: rotten.
  • Power Rangers:
    • Power Rangers Time Force: Ransik realizes his obsession with destroying humanity has gone too far when he accidentally harms his daughter when she rescues a baby. The shock of losing the only person he loves convinces him to turn himself in.
    • Power Rangers Jungle Fury: Jarrod starts to rebel against Dai Shi's evil influence near the end of the series, but Dai Shi tells Jarrod that the reason he choose him to be his host is because he has the strength of a lion, but not the heart. He saw no goodness or nobility in Jarrod. The shock of this hits him hard that until convinced otherwise, after being freed from Dai Shi, he goes into self-exile because he feels he doesn't deserve redemption.
      Camille: Dai Shi lead many down his dark path. Maybe it's not too late for us to change.
      Jarrod: Change? You mean back to the way I was before: a mean-spirited bully? No. There's no chance left for me.
  • Happens a couple of times in Quantum Leap.
    • In "Her Charm", Sam leaps into an FBI agent assigned to protect a woman who testified against a crime boss. His attempts to hide her should be successful, but fail when an informant in the agency keeps giving away her location to her pursuers. Sam groans in frustration when he learns that he (or rather, the man he leaped into) is the rat in question.
    • In "Last Dance Before an Execution", Sam leaps into a man in the electric chair who is given a 48-hour reprieve, seemingly to try to prove the innocence of the man he leaped into. But as it turns out, he really did it after all — he was there to save the co-defendant, who was innocent.
  • Tony Stonem in series 1 of Skins comes to this conclusion after his sister almost dies due to a revenge plot concocted by someone he screwed over in the previous episode and he relies on his best friend Sid, whose emotions he has been playing with for the entire series, to help save her. He then gets hit by a bus.
  • In Smallville, Lex Luthor of all people had one of these in Bizarro, and turns himself in for a crime that he didn't commit because he feels he was rescued by an angel actually Supergirl to face his demons, not to run away.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Richard Woolsey in the episode "Inauguration", beginning his long journey to becoming one of the heroes and ultimately a regular on Stargate Atlantis. Downplayed in that he was never truly a villain, but he realized he was working with a villain
    • And Harry Maybourne as well, from slimy weasel to convicted traitor to grudging ally to beloved king of an alien planet.
    • Tomin has one early in "The Ark of Truth". The Priors have a collective one after the Ark is opened, the Doci even has a My God, What Have I Done? moment.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Nicely played out in the episode "Waltz", although some fans feel it began Dukat's descent into a more simplistic villainy. Upon being asked by the hero to justify his occupation of Bajor, Dukat's calm rationalizations gradually give way to a rant about the Bajorans' lack of gratitude for his mercy, until he answers Sisko's sarcastic "you should have killed them all" with an excited "yes! Yes, that's right, isn't it? I knew it. I've always known it. I should have killed every last one of them. I should have turned their planet into a graveyard the likes of which the Galaxy has never seen! I should have killed them all." When he later makes his escape, he's dropped the claim of being a misunderstood hero that he'd always made before, and becomes an unapologetic, nihilistic villain for the rest of the series - one of the few examples where a character recognizes his villainy and actually embraces it. This also doubles as a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! given what Dukat would go on to do after Sisko goaded him into embracing his dark side.
    • Damar has one in "Tacking Into The Wind". He had, up to this point, romanticized the old Cardassia, particularly the occupation of Bajor, not seeing it for the genocidal campaign it was. It isn't until The Dominion murder his family in retaliation for him leading La Résistance (and an Armor-Piercing Question from Kira) that he realizes it.
      Damar: They weren't a part of this rebellion. The Dominion knew that. The Founder knew that. Weyoun knew that. To kill her and my son... the casual brutality of it... the waste of life. What kind of state tolerates the murder of innocent women and children? What kind of people give those orders?
      Kira: Yeah, Damar, what kind of people give those orders?
      • Kira immediately regrets goading him like that, worried that it will just put further strain on their tense alliance against the Dominion. But Garak reassures her that if Damar is the kind of man Garak hopes he is (for the sake of Cardassia), her comment will help invoke this trope.
    • Odo also has one in "Sacrifice Of Angels", when he realizes that he's let himself be seduced by the Founders into turning his back on the people he cares for, who were depending on him.
      Odo: There are people out there fighting, dying. People who used to be my friends.
      Founder: They're solids, Odo. You must remember that.
      Odo: I know, but they still mean something to me.
      Founder: The Link means more.
      Odo: That's what I keep telling myself, but somehow I can't quite believe it.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • Occurs in the episode, "Changeling", for certain values of "hero" and "villain", as Kirk reveals to NOMAD that it has made an error. NOMAD realizes that it, too, is Faulty and Imperfect, and therefore must be Sterilized.
    • Also in "The Return of the Archons". Kirk must have studied Logical Judo in Starfleet.
  • Supernatural:
    • The moment at the end of season four in "Lucifer Rising" after Sam has killed Lilith and Ruby revealed that Lilith was the final seal, not the one who was going to break the final seal, is Sam's moment when he realizes he's just an Unwitting Pawn who screwed up big time and brought about the apocalypse. His face during Ruby's triumphal and extremely ill-advised monologue conveys complete devastation. He's barely even paying attention when he and Dean subsequently kill Ruby.
    • There's an odd version in the season five episode "The End" when Dean realizes where his current path leads after he's sent into the future and meets himself.
      Dean: (Chained up) What? You don't trust yourself?
      Future!Dean: No. Absolutely not. (leaves)
      Dean: What a dick.
    • In the season seven episode "Meet the New Boss", after getting Drunk on the Dark Side and Jumping Off the Slippery Slope, Castiel finally realizes he's out of his depth after his Disproportionate Revenge turns into an unintended massacre when the Leviathans inside him take over.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look had a sketch involving a pair of Nazis starting to wonder if they were the bad guys: they were, after all, wearing black uniforms with skulls on them.
    Mitchell: Hans... are we the baddies?
  • In an episode of Ultraman Mebius, the son of Alien Mates, (from the older series, Return of Ultraman) comes to Earth to destroy humanity for killing his Father by using a monster, "Zoa Muruchi" to do so. However upon realizing the aftermath of his father's deathbed (a boy who befriended the original Mates spent his childhood and most of his life trying to dig up his ship in order to return it) Alien Mates goes through this, having realized that he just sent his own monster to die through blind ignorance and hatred. Ultimately, Mebius has to do his duty as an Ultra and put the monster down.
  • Becky, one of the unwitting protagonists going up against the The Conspiracy in Utopia, comes to the realization that they're becoming just as terrifying and ruthless as their enemies.
  • Tara has an "I'm working with a villain" moment in The Walking Dead. The Governor convinced a group of people (including her family) that he was a good man and Rick's group (who they hadn't encountered) were villains. Outside the prison, Rick's Kirk Summation was enough to make Tara seriously question this. The Governor's execution of Hershel quickly confirms it. She winds up sitting out the entire battle in shock and horror. Since she didn't actually fight, she's allowed to join Rick's group shortly after and becomes part of their family.
  • As The Wire winds to its conclusion, McNulty finally realizes that being a Cowboy Cop did not make him a hero after his plan to get more funding for the police via a fake serial killer story blows up in his face.


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