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Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work

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John: No... no, I can't.
Scorpius: (sigh) I can. (grabs pistol in John's hand, and fires)

There's a problem, and the heroes can't solve it or make it go away. It boils down to a situation that requires a decidedly unheroic action to solve, whether it's hurting, killing, or something even less pleasant. The heroes can't very well do it and still be classic White Hats, but not doing anything would have grave consequences. Who can save the day now? Not the Big Damn Heroes, but the villains! Hey, they're evil already, doing an evil act to save the day is no problem. Essentially the author's version of Take a Third Option in a narrative lose/lose situation.


Different from a Heel–Face Turn because the villain isn't necessarily being heroic; the villain may be entirely motivated out of self-interest, such as fighting a common threat or because a competitor is challenging his place as nemesis. Another possibility is it makes them even for a previous Save the Villain behavior. If they're on friendly terms with the heroes, they may take it upon themselves to get their hands dirty specifically so that the good guys won't have to. It's possible for it to even be a complete coincidence. At any rate, in more philosophic works, the villain will be likely to subject the hero to some flavor of "The Reason You Suck" Speech, explaining that the hero can only afford to be so squeaky clean because of this trope. Sometimes, this role will fall to a Superpowered Evil Side of a protagonist if the protagonist has a Split-Personality Team situation going on.


Sub-Trope of Non-Protagonist Resolver; in this case, the "resolver" is the villain. Contrast Villainous Rescue, where a villain pulls a Big Damn Heroes without committing any acts that were too reprehensible for the good guys in the process. If the villain saves the day by accident by doing something villainous, that's Nice Job Fixing It, Villain. Overlaps with The Dog Bites Back when the "dog" is a minion. See Disney Villain Death for when there is no other bad guy to do the work, so it is done by gravity. If the hero deliberately sets it up, this is a possible case of Do with Him as You Will. Compare Always a Bigger Fish, when a usually non-sapient monster saves the heroes from another monster. Contrast Won't Do Your Dirty Work, where someone (usually either a Token Good Teammate or someone on the villain's team who is a lesser evil), gets ordered to do a morally questionable task and refuses.


No Place for Me There and Necessarily Evil are this trope applied to Utopia Justifies the Means.

Also see Exit, Pursued by a Bear, Designated Evil, Psycho Supporter, Kick the Son of a Bitch, Indispensable Scoundrel, Sparing Them the Dirty Work, Self-Disposing Villain (also spares the hero from killing them), and Token Evil Teammate (the 'hero' inclined to play dirty pool in a team of good guys), and Adaptational Self-Defense (keep the hero morally upright by making their unsavory actions into self-defense).


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    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
  • The Chronicles of Riddick saga is based on taking this trope and making a franchise out of it.
  • The climax scene of Let the Right One In goes...this way, kind of. As the kid's about to be drowned, Eli shows up and saves the day. But since she's a vampire, she kills three people doing so.
  • In Red Sun, the villains are about to kill the heroes, only to be interrupted by an attack by murderous Comanches.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy:
    • The Joker did this in his own twisted way in The Dark Knight, when a Wayne Enterprises accountant discovered Bruce's big secret and was about to reveal it to the world on live television (because the Joker had threatened a massive killing spree if Batman didn't reveal his identity). But leave it to the Joker to take something that would have been a favor to Batman, and to twist it to his own ends:
      The Joker: I don't want Mr. Reese spoiling everything, but why should I have all the fun? Let's give someone else a chance. If Coleman Reese isn't dead in sixty minutes then I blow up a hospital.
    • Later, the Joker strands two ferries in the harbor, one filled with civilians, the other with convicts, and tells them that if one boat doesn't use the provided trigger to blow up the other boat within an hour, he'll blow up both. The guard with the trigger on the convicts' boat hems and haws about what to do, when a Scary Black Man convict comes up and offers to do it for him so that he can keep his hands clean. And subverted, as the convict tosses the trigger out the window, having recognized that the moral thing to do is allow the civilians to live.
    • Straight example in The Dark Knight Rises: Batman's one rule keeps him from killing Bane. But Catwoman has no such restriction.
    • Subverted in Batman Begins: Bruce is about to assassinate Joe Chill when the mob assassinates him instead for becoming an informant. This is when Bruce realizes that crime has become so pervasive, killing one person won't resolve anything.
  • James Bond:
    • Quantum of Solace has a rare case of the villain not dying at Bond's hands. Bond chooses to strand the film's main villain in the desert to fend for himself and it doesn't go well for him (he's later said to have been found with bullets in his neck).
    • In No Time to Die, it's a Mad Scientist acting on behalf of the film's Big Bad, Lyutsifer Safin, who rids the world of Spectre, by sabotaging a party of them that was intended to be for Bond's death, turning the nanomachines-based virus they stole against themselves.
  • X-Men Film Series:
    • X-Men: The Mutant Registration Act is defeated due to the Brotherhood unintentionally killing the Act's main supporter and Mystique replacing him later on.
    • X-Men: Apocalypse: A Brainwashed and Crazy Wolverine slaughters all of Stryker's soldiers holding our heroes prisoner.
  • Chris Pine's character in Carriers where everyone is a Crazy Survivalist shoots the dog many times in order to spare his more innocent brother from doing it himself. It rubs off on his brother though, who later finally gets his hands dirty by killing Pine when he is infected.
  • Salim from Slumdog Millionaire spends most of the movie playing The Caretaker to Jamal, shooting and kicking the dog alternately allowing them both to survive, but allowing Jamal to remain relatively untarnished.
  • In Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, the title character is being pursued by gangsters who want him to pay $50,000 for roughing up the son of a local real estate mogul. Rather than paying, he lures them to a place where he's meeting a drug kingpin that he's in business with. When the gangsters try to steal the kingpin's product in payment for what the protagonist owes, the kingpin and his men kill them all.
  • A similar scenario, combined with a Batman Gambit, plays out in Enemy of the State. The film opens with Dean negotiating with mobster Pintero over a compromising videotape that Dean had obtained, and which he gives Pintero in exchange for leaving Dean's clients alone. Later, Dean unknowingly obtains a recording that shows the assassination of a Congressman, which places him in the NSA's crosshairs. When he and Brill are captured by NSA bigwig Reynolds, he tells Reynolds that he will take them to the tape, leading them to Pintero instead. Dean remains vague enough when introducing them that Pintero assumes Reynolds is the man who made the mob tape coming to blackmail him, while Reynolds thinks that Dean gave the assassination tape to The Mafia, leading to a violent shootout where both Mafia and NSA forces wipe each other out.
  • In Child 44, Leo finally catches up to the serial killer who's been gruesomely murdering children... and he proves to have a similar back-story to Leo himself, as well as being wracked by guilt about his horrific crimes, which he claims not to be able to control. As Leo hesitates over whether to shoot him as he intended to, Vasili comes along and does it for him.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:
    • In the extended cut of the film, what to do with Saruman is a bit of a problem for Théoden and the Fellowship. He resists coming quietly to be questioned until Gríma backstabs him after being kicked around one too many times.
    • The sudden presence of Gollum at Mount Doom means that Sam doesn't have to fight or even kill Frodo to complete the quest and destroy the Ring after Frodo succumbs to the Ring's temptation and refuses to destroy it himself, since someone is already handling the fight for him.
  • In Insurgent, Tori, one of Tris's friends, kills Jeanine near the end of the novel to avenge her brother. In its film adaptation, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, it's Evelyn who does the job, likely to foreshadow the fact that she is much crueler than she appears to be.
  • In The Big Heat, Debby kills Mrs. Duncan and brings down the titular big heat on the mob — sparing the Technical Pacifist hero from doing it.
  • In The Handmaiden, Kouzuki brings Fujiwara back to his estate after being tipped by Hideko as to his location, and then Fujiwara kills himself and Kouzuki. Sook-hee and Hideko are able to escape without needing to kill either of them directly.
  • Devil in a Blue Dress: Easy Rawlins discovers that a friend was involved in a woman's murder. He leaves the man to be guarded by his Psycho Sidekick Mouse while he goes to save the Damsel in Distress. When he comes back, his friend has been strangled by Mouse. When Easy gets upset, Mouse pointedly asks, "If you didn't want him dead, Easy, why did you leave him with me?"
  • Discussed but ultimately averted in Best Seller, in which a psychopathic Professional Killer teams up with a detective turned novelist to write his story about his work for a Corrupt Corporate Executive. The novelist decides to publicly expose the executive instead of shooting him, causing the killer to quip that he ruined a perfect ending for the book.
  • Downplayed examples in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Cody discovers Dobbs, Curtin, and Howard's secret prospecting operation, and tries to join their group for a share of the gold they dig up. Dobbs and the rest don't want to share, but they also fear Cody will expose them if they send him away. They vote (2-to-1) to murder Cody—but before they can act on this decision, banditos attack their camp. Cody gets shot and killed in the ensuing gunfight, and the survivors feel guilt over the murder they planned but never carried out.
  • This is the reasoning behind assembling the eponymous Suicide Squad (2016), though in this case, it's not about saving "good guys" (the US government) from having to do things they're morally opposed to. It's to allow them to make the "hard decisions" while maintaining their reputations, having villainous fall guys (and Harley) take the blame for their morally dubious acts. It still allows "heroic" characters to keep their hands clean. note 
  • Ultimately subverted in Exam; as White is going into a coma, Brown tries to prevent him from getting his medicine. His plan doesn't work when Blonde gets the pill anyway.
  • In The Shootist, the sheriff wants to rid his town of the notorious gunslinger John Book so he releases an inmate who's looking to settle a score with Book.

  • In Bernard Cornwell's book Agincourt, the main character, Nick Hook, has made a vow to a priest not to kill the murderous rapists with who his family has been in a blood feud for generations. His arch-enemy, father-in-law, and prisoner (it's complicated) made no such promise.
  • In Animorphs Rachel starts out as The Big Guy, but as the war goes on slips into Token Evil Teammate. Upon realizing they may need to kill David, Jake immediately thinks of getting her. She's torn between acknowledging she's the person for the job and wondering what it says about her (and his opinion of her) that he knows that. Much later, she takes it upon herself to do a particularly morally dubious but necessary action, and when Cassie questions if she can really do it, angrily demands to know if Cassie can instead. She can't, which leaves Rachel. In the finale, Jake sends her on a suicide mission to kill his brother, her cousin. She agrees, knowing she's the person for the job, and by this point is too broken by the war to do anything else. She also, at one point rationalizes the need for her to do these things, so the others don't as:
    "They needed me to be the bad guy. And I needed them to be the good guys. Because if they were good guys, and I was on their side, then that meant that I was a good guy too. Even if I was different."
  • Bazil Broketail: Ironically, Thrembode is the one who kills General Lukash, the leader of the Padmasan army invading Argonath in book three — depriving it of leadership just when it is being curb-stomped by intervening Argonathi troops at Sprian's Ridge. Thrembode himself is offed by Relkin shortly afterwards before he's even finished gloating
  • In the backstory of A Brother's Price, the princesses were married to Keifer Porter, an abusive rapist who was prone to temper tantrums. The elder princesses were madly in love with him because he was so pretty, and as it was the eldest sister's decision to divorce him, the younger sisters' only option to get rid of him would have been murder. Keifer conveniently dies in an attempt on the princesses' life, which sadly also claims the lives of many innocent people, among them half of the princesses. The dead sisters are mourned, Keifer is not.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: In The Last Battle, Tash (i.e. Satan) gets rid of some of the bad guys - since they inadvertently summoned him for real, thinking he didn't exist.
  • The Culture
    • In general in Culture novels, Special Circumstances plays this role for the rest of the Culture (and their non-Culture Citizen agents play this role to the rest of the organization). Use of Weapons contains a particularly clear example of this with the amoral/immoral protagonist and his anti-hero handlers taking on a morally ambiguous mission that will help promote freedom and tolerance in general for a particular region, but cost a lot of innocent and not-so-innocent lives in the meantime.
    • Matter has a Sealed Evil in a Can being released and in typical Banks fashion killing most of the main cast. While this is nearly all of the heroes, it also includes the Evil Chancellor who had usurped a throne and his minions. Thus, the Culture are able to set up the surviving hero as the future prime minister, and unlike in other novels in the series, didn't actually have to act morally ambiguously and get rid of corrupt leaders themselves.
  • The Deverry Cycle has little Olaen. When the Deverrian civil war ends, five-year-old Olaen 'rules' the losing side. The choices to prevent future challenge are death, castration, or blinding, the latter two involving turning him over to the priesthood to raise. Oggyn poisons the boy with 'Dwarven Salts'.note 
  • Discworld:
    • In Night Watch, Vimes frees prisoners from the Cable Street watch house. In the process, he has to subdue a torturer, who he leaves tied to a chair and forgets about until someone reminds him. Since he gets reminded after he started burning the place down, he has to run back in, all the while trying to decide whether to kill the mook, cut him free, or cut just enough rope that he can maybe escape before he burns to death. Luckily, Captain Swing shows up and kills the mook before Vimes has to make his choice.
    • Vetinari: In his own words “history needs its butchers as well as its shepherds” or, in plainer language “Magnificent Bastards do the dirty work.” Note Swing also used the phrase.
    • "Stoneface" Vimes used more or less the same phrase, and executes the last king of Ankh in person, without any form of trial. To be fair, the king deserved it, and some of the comments about the event indicate that he tried for a trial, but there wasn't anyone willing to be the judge.
    • Going Postal also had this, in a way. It turns out that the backlog of unsent letters at the Post Office are sentient and want to be delivered, and are powerful enough to cause telepathic hallucinations. Not only is this very dangerous given the number of Vetinari's men that got killed falling off of ledges that they couldn't see, but it is also flatly impossible to deliver some of them since they come from another universe's Post Office, and could cause a lot of upheaval if they accidentally got out. Conveniently, Reacher Gilt's Dragon is an arsonist and burns the office down, letters and all, relieving Moist of the burden.
  • In Dragon Bones a minor villain is killed by his boss because he didn't do a good enough job. Although the heroes are horrified at the cruel manner of execution, it is very convenient for them, as the man in question betrayed his heroic older brother in order to become the one in charge of their estate. His brother loved him very much, and it would have been a real problem to determine what to do with him, had the villain not solved the problem for them.
  • The Dresden Files: This is why the Knights of the Cross sometimes fight alongside Harry Dresden. He's not evil, but he's willing to Shoot the Dog and do morally questionable things if it averts a greater evil — freedom the Knights, who are truly good, loving people — do not have.
  • In the Dale Brown novel Executive Intent, the Chinese assault on and takeover of Mogadishu is likened to this In-Universe by one character, noting how China had solved the problem (Somali pirates, to be exact) most of the world probably secretly wanted to deal with but could not bring themselves to handle.
  • James S. Corey's The Expanse:
    • In the first book of the series, Leviathan Wakes, Outland-esque rent-a-cop Joe Miller is present when the heroes make their final move on the base of the genius sociopath-staffed corporation responsible for setting loose a bio-modifying hyper-advanced fractally programmed engineered virus on a space station filled with millions of people. When they capture the head researcher, the de facto Big Bad of the novel, and they mean to interrogate him, he goes into a very well-planned justification speech that actually has a lot of legitimate reasoning, and leaves the protagonists kind of doubting their own motives. Miller, recognizing that the man might actually walk, and already having been on a despair bender for the majority of the book, decides to do what no one else seems to have the initiative to, and promptly shoots the man in the head. Three times, no less.
    • In the final book, Leviathan Falls, Colonel Tanaka, Laconia's most experienced, motivated, and bloodthirsty marine officer, is tasked with finding and recovering their self-made God-Emperor Duarte after he Came Back Wrong and wandered off. When it is discovered that he has taken it upon himself to implement his own homebrewed Assimilation Plot, her mission changes from recovery to neutralization. At the eleventh hour, she finally finds him inside the Precursor artifact at the center of the ringspace, with James Holden and Theresa in tow. Neither Holden nor Theresa has the will, let alone the ability, to kill him with the station's Lost Technology at his command, so it falls to Tanaka. She rips him bodily apart with a brutality even she had not displayed before.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Pensieve reveals to Harry that Snape felt he was subjected to this when he was told to kill Dumbledore so that Draco wouldn't have to cross the point of no return.
  • In Heavy Object a young girl forced into slavery by the people who killed her parents has the opportunity to kill her tormentor but can't bring herself to take a human life. Qwenthur does it instead and tells the girl that this is merely proof she's a good person; it's up to people like Qwenthur, the bad people, to kill others.
  • Played with in How to Build a Dungeon: Book of the Demon King. The evil sorcerer Aur, the openly-evil Villain Protagonist, winds up catching a beautiful hero trying to slay him. As part of his attempt to corrupt her, he first displays the ways he helps villages that agree to serve him and then takes her to the village that had asked her to kill him. These villagers try to stone her out of rage over all the losses they suffered after Aur took away his aid. When hero Yunis breaks and tries to kill the villagers, Aur does the task for her claiming that it's a villain's job, not a hero's.
  • The Hunger Games are about a competition where 24 children have to kill each other until only one is left standing. Luckily for the main character, a group of kids who went into the game by choice rather than by force are painted in a very negative light and commit almost all of the unprovoked killings.
  • Wormtongue killing Saruman near the end of The Lord of the Rings.
  • The Probability Broach: It would be wrong to attack the Hamiltonians before they import a nuclear weapon, so they're killed off by a previously mentioned side effect of closing a broach when something is halfway through it.
  • Ruahkini in The Quest of the Unaligned is an incredibly rude and borderline crazy Rich Bitch perpetually insulting Laeshana and patronizing Alaric, as well as being partially responsible for the destructive imbalance in Caederan's magic. Unfortunately, he's also the royal chancellor, so there's no conceivable way for the heroes to get rid of him. Luckily, his Axe-Crazy hoshek brother Gaithim shows up and kills him.
  • In Shadow of the Conqueror, Daylen cites this as the reason why he should be allowed to Pay Evil unto Evil, saving the innocent from having to experience such extreme violence.
  • A chilling example in both the book and film version of The Shawshank Redemption combined with Laser-Guided Karma: After Boggs and the Sisters beat Andy "within an inch of his life", Boggs returns cockily to his cell after his spending his time in solitary, whereupon the brutal and corrupt Hadley and the other guards beat him nearly comatose...but the Sisters leave Andy alone after that.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire this is how Lannisters endeared themselves to Robert Baratheon. Robert's Rebellion was won except for the Targaryens' last holdout, King's Landing. Tywin Lannister, who had stayed out of the fight until it was all but decided, tricked the Targaryens into letting his army inside their city and then sacked it. Tywin's son Jaime Lannister instigated a Bodyguard Betrayal on King Aerys, while Tywin's bannermen assassinated the last of the Targaryen line still in the city. This deflected a lot of blame for the atrocities at King's Landing onto the Lannisters, sparing Robert's reputation and conscience. Tyrion would question the wisdom of this, citing that it made the entire realm despise the Lannisters when they could have let Robert take the blame. Tywin, however, felt that they had to do it to prove their allegiance, and Robert would be exceedingly grateful to them for doing the dirty work of killing off the royal bloodline, which simultaneously satisfied Robert's desire for revenge against the Targaryens and would prevent future uprisings by Targaryen loyalists.
    We had come late to Robert's cause. It was necessary to demonstrate our loyalty. When I laid those bodies before the throne, no man could doubt that we had forsaken House Targaryen forever. And Robert's relief was palpable. As stupid as he was, even he knew Rhaegar's children had to die if his throne was ever to be secure. Yet he saw himself as a hero, and heroes do not kill children.
  • On more than one occasion, Spenser has found himself forced into a position of murdering someone in cold blood but can't bring himself to do it. Hawk, on the other hand, has no such scruples and cheerfully does the deed himself.
  • Sword of Truth: In Soul of the Fire, Kahlan falls pregnant. She was told by Shota that a child she will bear will be a male, and male Confessors tend to be Always Chaotic Evil (even if this one does not, Shota had promised to kill him or die trying just in case). She obtains a miscarriage-inducing potion, but since Good Girls Avoid Abortion, ultimately discards it... cue a bunch of thugs beating her nearly to death, causing a Convenient Miscarriage.
  • Tortall Universe: In the Trickster's Duet, Aly's god-ordered objective is to put one of two sisters on the throne of the Copper Isles as part of a revolution. Among the people they will be usurping are the five-year-old king and the girls' own three-year-old half-brother, whom Aly (and a number of the other Rebel Leaders) has personally cared for. Aly considers binding them with magical oaths to not try and retake the throne and exiling them with a bodyguard, but everyone knows that isn't a perfect solution and the boys could still be figureheads or martyrs for a counterrevolution. Then Aly mentions the problem to said god, he gets impatient over such an "insignificant" problem, and whispers in the regents' ears until they decide to kill the boys themselves so they can have the throne.
  • A weird meta example occurs in the first Warrior Cats Myth Arc. Firestar had to defeat Tigerstar, but being the classical The Hero he needed to beat Tigerstar with moral superiority. Unfortunately, Tigerstar's plan was actually beneficial to the forest, with its only problem being that someone crazy and evil was designing it. The problem was resolved in the last book of the arc The Darkest Hour, when Tigerstar's ally Scourge betrays him and becomes the Big Bad, allowing Firestar to have an opponent he could kill by having greater morals.
  • When the Azn Bad Boys begin a bombing spree in Worm, supervillains of the town team up to attack the ABB's bases in order to remove that chaotic element from the table — and end up doing a lot more visible damage to the organization than the local superhero teams.
    • It's growing into a major theme, stretching from taking down the ABB, to going toe-to-toe with several major threats, to Skitter keeping the peace in her territory safer than it had been for years. People noticed, too. They noticed enough to shield her from an arresting band of "heroes".
    • The one trope that best summarizes the theme of the story. The Biggest, Damnedest Villains of all, Cauldron, exist for the purpose of saving as much of humanity as possible from an inevitable catastrophe, and even the Endbringers pitch in to help when that catastrophe arrives.
  • In An Unwelcome Quest, the villain Todd wants to kill all the characters. After Jimmy (who was the Big Bad of book 1) is given his powers back, he leaves and then comes back to rescue everyone else. He then erases Todd from the reality file, effectively killing him (well, not really at first, but he does it for real later when Todd refuses the option of going back to prison for life). The others are in shock, but Jimmy points out that it had to happen to ensure their continued safety, and none of them would stoop to his level. Realizing they can never trust him again, he pretends to erase himself to prove that he can be trusted, but in actuality decides to start a new life in modern-day Reno.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition book, Oriental Adventures, suggested that even if the players wanted to play samurai or other members of a noble caste in an Asia-themed game, the players would still probably want at least one dishonorable or lower-caste party member to do the dirty work - sometimes literal dirty work, such as searching enemy corpses.
  • Pretty much the whole point of the Pact Primeval in the 3.5e+ D&D cosmology: good gods don't want their followers to become evil, but they don't want to punish them. What do they do? Leave the punishment up to Asmodeus. This, of course, backfires on them spectacularly. In Asmodeus's own words: "We have blackened ourselves so that you can remain golden." It should be noted that Asmodeus is the in-universe source of this information so may have a biased view on the issue. .
  • The whole sacred purpose of the Guardians of the Veil in Mage: The Awakening, along with other ways of keeping other Mages on the straight-and-narrow. They also believe this makes them ritually and spiritually unclean, and members vary between No Place for Me There and hoping the Hieromagus (who will, notably, 'not be a Guardian, as they will be pure and righteous) will redeem them for the good they've done through bad means.

  • The Witch offers to do this in Into the Woods, when the Giantess demands that the other characters hand over Jack. She points out that they seem to be more motivated by being "nice" rather than "good", whereas she has no such qualms, and she will gladly be labeled a villain if it means ending the threat.

    Visual Novels 
  • Near the end of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the Big Bad Momokuma/Junko Enoshima invites the remaining students to vote for execution for putting everyone through the Killing School Life. Having survived this long without doing so, none of them are willing to pull the trigger and break out, especially since it just plays into the villain's hands. So she pushes the execution button herself, happily following the Monokumas as they lead her to her doom.
  • Invoked and dissected in The Great Ace Attorney. Any criminal suspect who escapes conviction by Barok van Zieks mysteriously dies by other grisly means within months, while he himself has a Suspiciously Clean Criminal Record and an ironclad alibi for each death. Everyone recognizes that something is going on, but since all the victims are bastards done in by other bastards, most just chalk it up to karma. Barok himself expresses disinterest when pressed, but the feeling of guilt builds up enough over the years that he simply gives a Karmic Nod when he's falsely charged with all of their deaths. Then it's revealed Stronghart actively engineered this correlation, outside of van Zieks's knowledge, knowing the public would accept karmic justice far more readily than extrajudicial assassinations. Van Zieks is appalled, particularly at himself for tacitly endorsing the murders through his indifference.


    Web Original 
  • Both inverted and played straight in the same example in AJCO when A_J requests that she and Pi be put through the re-education process. Inverted when Egg, arguably the only 'true' good guy (or at the very least the only one without centuries of blood on her hands), is forced to make the decision - then played straight when Req, the most amoral of the four, is the one to push the button.
    • A_J is quick to blame Egg when the Doctor dies, however.
  • In To Boldly Flee the crew of the USS Exit Strategy needs a bit more time to counterattack the villains, who are already locked on to them and might just win. Cue Mechakara, whom those same villains betrayed at the end of the last episode, beating up the whole evil bridge.
  • In the Whateley Universe, a religious cult attempts to blackmail a student at the titular Academy of Adventure by threatening her friends' families. So the Headmaster calls the alumni association and suddenly all of the superhero alumni are looking the other way while the supervillains take action.
  • A majority of the villains in RWBY, if it's not a case of their own hands, then at the hands of villains. Two notable examples include Lionheart, a traitor who helped contribute to the fall of Beacon, being killed by Salem and Jacques, Weiss's abusive father, meeting his end via Ironwood's BFG. There's tons to count that it's easier to count how many villains did die by RWBY's hand: One: Adam Taurus.

    Western Animation 
  • In Aladdin: The Series, in the episode "The Citadel", Aladdin threatens to turn a magic-eating monster loose on Mozenrath, who taunts him by pointing out that he's not ruthless enough to do that. "You're right. I'm not." Then Aladdin points at Iago, who is already poised to remove Mozenrath's control collar from the beast. "But he is!" And Iago proves it.
  • In The Batman, Wrath and Scorn have figured out Batman and Robin's identity. Even though they are arrested, Batman really can't do anything to keep them from revealing this to everyone. Luckily, the Joker (much like in The Dark Knight) didn't want someone else causing the end of Batman and gassed them while they were in the police van.
  • In Castlevania, the Bishop serves as the Arc Villain of the first season, as his fanatical control of Wallachia is what caused Dracula's rampage in the first place (by killing his wife for supposed witchcraft), and leads to him persecuting the few people who can actually do something about it. But in the end, while Trevor and his allies fight the Bishop's men, they don't have to deal with him personally, as Dracula's demons track him down and kill him in his own church.
  • Played for Laughs in DC Super Hero Girls. Kara (Supergirl) and Harley (Quinn) are paired up for an Egg Sitting assignment, only they lost their egg. They decide the only way to avoid summer school is to steal an intact egg from one of the other groups. Kara reaches to take an egg, but her conscious stops her.
    Kara: "There has to be another way." *pulls Harley in front of her* "Like you doing it!"
    Harley: "Okay!"
  • George of the Jungle: Tom Slick once raced against a cheater who, after being defeated, was told by Marigold he would get his comeuppance. He said good guys like Tom Slick don't get even. Then he got his comeuppance from another racer wronged by his cheating.
  • Doomsday's first appearance in Justice League. In the comics when Doomsday first appeared he killed Superman. (Superman soon got better). However, in the Justice League cartoon, he's not facing our Superman, but rather Supes' Knight Templar counterpart from an Alternate Universe, Justice Lord Superman, who is completely unburdened by moral constraints like Thou Shalt Not Kill. Not long after the fight has started and he's felt how strong and dangerous Doomsday is, Justice Lord Superman decides to skip out on a protracted battle with Doomsday and simply uses his eye lasers to lobotomize Doomsday, bringing the fight to a swift end in a way that Superman never would have done. (Doomsday eventually got better and was mighty pissed, but that's another story/episode).
  • In Kong: The Animated Series, Ramone De La Porta is the main villain and constantly causes trouble for Jason, Kong, and the gang when he is trying to unlock powers of the Primal Stones, while often making threats and trying to kill Kong, yet they often save him whenever he is in danger (and he only returns the favor once, just so they're even). In the final episode, Harpy sucks De La Porta's life force out as part of a ritual to awaken Chiros. De La Porta survives when his life force is returned to him later but is left in a permanent state of shock.
  • In The Legend of Korra, the Earth Queen becomes a major thorn in Korra's side after Korra and her allies liberate a bunch of Airbenders from her Kingdom. She rules as a brutal tyrant who is driving the Earth Kingdom into ruin, but as the only authority over the land, her assassination would cause the Earth Kingdom to descend into chaos. Korra doesn't dare kill her, so she has no real way to deal with her. Then she gets on Zaheer's bad side and he asphyxiates her to death. He's fine with creating chaos.
  • Robot Chicken inverts this in a He-Man sketch where Skeletor leases out Snake Mountain to some College frat boys. Sick of the loud parties, Skeletor tricks his tenants into thinking Castle Grayskull is a rival frat talking shit about them, provoking the Frat into egging Castle Grayskull. This results in He-Man and his crew killing the frat and dumping their bodies in a river.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • "Voyage of Temptation": The traitorous Tal Merrik has Obi-Wan's Old Flame Satine Kryze at gunpoint, while also holding a detonator that will blow up the ship they're on if he's let go. Cue a lightsaber blade through the chest, courtesy of Anakin Skywalker, who's rather suspiciously comfortable with murdering someone in cold blood...
    • In the Umbara Arc, General Pong Krell is a very dangerous combination of ruthless and incompetent, but unfortunately for the clone troopers under his command, he's their commanding officer and they're in a cartoon, so Unfriendly Fire is not really an option. Even after he's revealed to be Evil All Along, Rex can't quite bring himself to execute an unarmed and kneeling man. Dogma, who was previously Krell's most loyal supporter, isn't quite so ready to forgive, and kills him with Fives' blaster.
    • "Escape from Kadavo": While she's a cruel and arrogant slavedriver and tyrant, Queen Miraj Scintel poses no physical threat to the heroes, and as such the Jedi, being heroes, can't really just use the Force to choke her to death. Count Dooku, on the other hand, has no such qualms.
  • Star Wars: Rebels did this too.
    • Throughout Season 2, the Inquisitors, Vaders personal Quirky Mini Boss Squad, had been a recurring threat to the heroes. However, they were so badly outclassed by the Jedi that the only reason they kept coming back was that they were allowed to retreat. Finally in Twilight of the Apprentice the heroes were forced into a brief Enemy Mine with Maul, who slaughtered them all in short order and berated the heroes for refusing to do it themselves.

    Real Life 
  • Scientific variant. Unit 731 did tons of illegal, unethical human experimentation during the war. But considering such an experiment could not be conducted legally in the first place and how their data were legitimately reliable and useful, Unit 731 was given immunity from war crime prosecution as long as they hand over their research data.
    • More of a subversion, as most of the unit's data was neither preserved nor exported, and the United States considered what little data they received largely useless.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Big Damn Villain, Villains Do The Dirty Work


That's Why You Came to Me

In "In the Pale Moonlight," Sisko backhands Garak after learning that he was responsible for the death of the Romulan senator Vreenak, and lands another blow after figuring out that he killed the forger Tolar as well. But, as Garak points out, Sisko came to him in the first place precisely because, having tried everything else, he needed somebody that was willing to do whatever it took if he was actually going to draw the Romulans into the Dominion War.

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Main / BadGuysDoTheDirtyWork

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