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Critical Hesitation Blunder

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A victory in a fight decided by one character's hesitation (be it sentimental reason or shock) and the other capitalizing on it. Sub-trope to Diabolus ex Machina. Often goes hand-in-hand with "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight. Usually exploited to deadly advantage by Combat Pragmatists and particularly ruthless villains. Compare Deer in the Headlights for examples based more in fear, and Conveniently Timed Distraction for similar examples regarding distractions.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Attack on Titan. Eren is fighting the Female Titan in the Forest of Giant Trees when he realizes that it's Annie, by looking at her fighting style and promptly gets his Titan form decapitated while he was gawking.
  • In Naruto, Lee seems all but victorious when his Primary Lotus lands, but in his brief twinge of pain when preparing the attack, his opponent escapes.
  • In the finale of the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist anime Envy shapeshifts into his true form while taking a beating from Ed, a form that reveals that they are effectively half-brothers. This revelation causes Ed to halt for a moment, a moment Envy is quick to seize in order to impale Ed, killing him.

  • Kung Fu Panda: When Tai Lung goes on his initial rebellious rampage to take the Dragon Scroll, Shifu, who'd trained Tai Lung in Kung Fu since he was small, prepares to fight him but suddenly sees Tai Lung as a young cub and can't bring himself to do it, which allows Tail Lung to knock him aside. Master Oogway steps in at the last second and quickly disables Tai Lung.
  • This kicks off the plot of WarGames: when the Pentagon conducts a Secret Test of the nation's nuclear arsenal, a worrisome number of silos failed to initiate a launch. This leads to the Pentagon passing launch control to their A.I. Is a Crapshoot warfare simulation computer. This computer gets hacked by The Hero because Everything Is Online, triggering a Doomsday countdown.
  • Star Trek: Insurrection: When Picard and Ru'afo confront each other for the last time, while surrounded by flammable gas, Picard asks if Ru'afo's really willing to risk firing phasers there. When Ru'afo hesitates, Picard fires directly into the gas, knocking Ru'afo off.
  • After Palmer is revealed to be a Thing in The Thing (1982), Windows has the opportunity to Kill It with Fire using his flamethrower, but hesitates on getting a good look at the Thing's malformed features. At which point the Palmer-Thing's head splits open and turns into a giant mouth, before mauling the hell of out Windows, infecting him and forcing MacReady to burn them both with his own flamethrower.

  • Death Star retroactively adds one to A New Hope, explaining the Just in Time destruction of the Death Star as a result of the hesitation of the soldier in control of the ship's cannon (without which, at best, both the Death Star and Yavin IV would have been destroyed).
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Wormtail hesitates for a brief moment after he's reminded that Harry saved his life in a previous book. Unfortunately for him, the Big Bad saw that hesitation as betrayal and he was immediately killed for it.
  • Redwall: In "The Long Patrol", Damug's brother suffers this when he gapes at his sabotaged weapon long enough for Damug to bash his head in.
  • One of Christopher Anvil's Interstellar Patrol stories opens with Colonel Sanders (the protagonists' commanding officer) losing a simulated wargame, because he wasted a 'precious fraction of a second' congratulating himself on his performance.
  • Lampshaded in A Song of Ice and Fire where the old knight who instructs Brienne of Tarth in how to fight mentions a promising would-be knight who was killed in his first battle because he hesitated to Finish Him! and was killed instead. To prevent this, he makes Brienne kill animals at a slaughter-yard until she overcomes any 'womanly qualms' about killing.

     Live-Action TV  
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • A subversion in the second pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before". Captain Kirk is fighting Gary Mitchell while Mitchell's psionic powers are temporarily suppressed. As Kirk is about to smash in Mitchell's head with a rock, he hesitates for a moment as he says "Gary, forgive me." Because of the delay Mitchell regains his powers and Kirk loses his chance to kill him. A few seconds later Kirk gets lucky and manages to kill Mitchell anyway.
    • The episode "Obsession" has the crew dealing with a mysterious cloud entity that preys on organic lifeforms. When he first saw it as a young lieutenant, Kirk hesitated before attacking, and the creature went on to slaughter most of the crew. Eleven years later, Enterprise crewman Ensign Garrovick also hesitates before attacking it, and it goes on to kill a number of Enterprise crew. Kirk comes down on the ensign pretty harshly for this. Later subverted when it becomes apparent their phasers wouldn't have done anything to it anyway. Still, when finally a plan is hatched to destroy the creature, Kirk and Garrovick take the most dangerous position, to get some closure.
  • Star Trek: Picard: In "Nepenthe", Elnor is surprised when Narissa points a knife at him because their Qowat Milat-Zhat Vash Duel to the Death is supposed to be unarmed as custom dictates, and she takes advantage of his hesitation to throw a second knife at Hugh's neck, which kills him.
  • Timeless: Flynn has been re-writing historical events and has arranged for General Ulysses S. Grant to accompany Abraham Lincoln to Ford's Theater the day of the assassination. Since John Wilkes Booth's sense of drama begins to get in the way of the job, Flynn decides to do the deed himself, but when he sees Lucy in the theater box, he pauses in surprise. He gets over it in time to put two bullets in Lincoln's head, but Lucy is able to stop him from shooting Grant.

  • Hamilton has one by the title character, resulting in his death by the hands of Aaron Burr. This inverts the usual dynamic between the two characters; Hamilton made a name for himself with his non-stop attempts to assert his political opinions while Burr waited things out and refused to pick sides until the victor's identity was clear. In the final duel, Burr rushes to shoot while Hamilton hesitates before firing his gun towards the sky, just in time for Burr to regret firing.

    Video Games 
  • In Overwatch short, Alive. Tracer has Widowmaker pinned, but instead of killing her, the former asks "Why?" (likely because Tracer knew Amelie Lacroix) allowing Widow to make a clean escape.
    • Another example involving Widowmaker in one of the comics; Ana was surprised to see that Amelie was still alive and working with Talon, giving the latter enough time to retaliate and shoot Ana in the eye. This event is what forced Amari to fake her death for a couple of years.
  • At the end of NieR: Automata, specifically in Ending D, A2 outfights 9S and maneuvers into a position to kill him until she remembers 2B's Dying Wish to take care of 9S. This gives 9S the small window he needs to kill A2 although, in doing so, he accidentally impales himself on her sword when they fall over.
  • Resident Evil 3 (Remake) reveals that this is how Marvin Branagh got infected. He was about to put down the zombified Brad Vickers when Brad had a brief moment of lucidity, causing Marvin to hesitate long enough for Brad to lunge and bite him.

    Web Original 
  • In the finale of RWBY Volume 7, Team JNPR faces off against Neo, a Master of Illusion who at one point uses her powers to disguise herself as Nora in order to steal the Relic of Knowledge off Oscar when he lets his guard down. As she escapes, Ren tries to strike her down, only for Neo to switch her Technicolor Eyes to Nora's light blue while flashing Ren a look of fear. Ren and Nora are close Childhood Friends who also received a Relationship Upgrade a few episodes before this, so it's not surprising when Ren freezes up with a horrified expression, giving Neo enough time to take him down and easily retreat. While it's only a moment of shock, the mere notion of hurting Nora is enough to bring Ren to tears.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Darkwing Duck episode "Time and Punishment", Dark Warrior Duck (a Bad Future version of Darkwing who went Knight Templar) encroaches on Gosalyn, ranting about her "delinquent" tendencies, and aims a gun at her. However, he can't bring himself to shoot his beloved daughter, and while he's frozen in position, Launchpad sneaks up on him and knocks him out with a frying pan, thus keeping him from preventing her from returning to the past.


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