Follow TV Tropes


Friend-or-Idol Decision

Go To

"Destiny has cheated me
By forcing me to decide upon
The woman that I idolize
Or the hands of an automaton.
Without these hands, I can't complete
The opera that was captivating her!
But if I keep them, and she marries him,
Then he probably won't want me dating her..."

Something the hero has quested for intently is now within his grasp.

It could be a valuable treasure, personal knowledge about his unknown past, a chance to avenge an old wrong, or maybe the very thing needed to finally get off the island and negate Failure Is the Only Option.

But at the same time, a friend or ally who has helped him is lying unconscious on the floor, about to be crushed by a collapsing ceiling, eaten by monsters, or murdered by the Big Bad and his minions.

There's only enough time to save one — which one is it going to be?

Of course, a true hero will choose to save his friend over taking the treasure every single time. (Besides, it wouldn't be wise to resolve a whole major ongoing plotline right in the middle of the season, now would it? Or to lose any of the regulars, either.) It's very rare that the hero manages to Take a Third Option and do both; that's usually reserved for a Grand Finale or situations where a villain forces a hero to make a Sadistic Choice. It's even rarer when the friend, and everyone else for that matter, pushes for the hero to choose the idol when the stakes are that high. Further down the line of cynicism, the hero forgoes their friend and takes the idol, regretting it later, or sometimes learns to late that the treasure wasn't worth it... or they become something worse. The rarest and most cynical option is for the hero to abandon both the treasure and the friend.

Whether villains know this and deliberately set up such situations to prevent their own capture (or to ensure that they can get the heroes later) is left as an exercise to the reader.

An Aesop with "My friends are more important to me than anything else" overtones almost always follows.

If employed too often, this can get tedious and try the audience's patience, making them wonder why they don't Just Eat Gilligan. They won't, of course. Who knew being good could feel so bad? (Conversely, under some circumstances, the very fact that the hero hesitates can make us suspicious about his moral instincts.)

This trope is sometimes referred to as a "doctor's dilemma", after the title of a play by George Bernard Shaw (see "Theatre", below).

Can be closely linked to Heroic Sacrifice, I Want My Beloved to Be Happy and Undying Loyalty, since all of these tropes heavily involve putting the needs of others above one's own.

In the religious and/or biblical sense, this is how both charity (as a virtue) and greed (as a sin) clash against each other.

See also Hostage for MacGuffin. A specific form of the Sadistic Choice and a classic Moral Dilemma. Happier cases overlap with Secret Test of Character or Sweet and Sour Grapes, where saving the friend means winning the idol too. Depending on how important the "idol" is to the hero, this trope may overlap with Act of True Love. If the "idol" is something needed to save others, this may be Always Save the Girl. Compare Death by Materialism when a character chooses the idol over something immaterial which marks them for certain death. May be a backstory for a villain who chose a similar heroic path before taking the idol over their friendship, and may be used as a "Not So Different" Remark by the villain to the hero of the story.

Has nothing to do with a Love Triangle involving a Childhood Friend and an Idol Singer.


    open/close all folders 

  • A Burger King's viral marketing scheme tried to be a parody of this concept. With the "Whopper Sacrifice" Facebook app, you can get a free Whopper. The real cost? You must un-friend 10 people. As most could probably expect though, all this resulted in were thousands more free Whoppers given away than expected, since just about everyone has some pruning they could do on their friends list - and, for that matter, had nothing stopping them from refriending once they got the friggin' burger.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Harley Quinn had to decide between saving a girl's eyesight or getting codes that give her lots of money. She chooses the money. But she can barely look at herself in the mirror afterwards and the girl in question deals with it better than Harley does.
  • Bucky O'Hare and the Toad Wars!: Subverted. There is a moment when the human boy, Willy Dewitt, tries to save his imprisoned friends by threatening to destroy vital code records. The villain turns it into a hostage situation, threatening to jettison Willy's friends into the hard vacuum of space. Willy agonizes over what to do, then cedes to his friends' urging to destroy the records, rather than save them. The villain immediately receives a copy of the records, rendering Willy's decision meaningless.
  • In Doctor Strange: The Oath, Strange has the last drop of a magic potion that can cure any disease and must choose between using it to save his friend's life or using it to make enough potion for everyone in the world.
  • A Sandman Mystery Theatre flashback story in Starman reveals a case where The Gambler had a stolen statue in one hand and a knife to Wesley Dodds' throat in the other. Ted Knight doesn't hesitate to blast the Gambler and destroy the statue. It turns out he knew it was a fake, but he would have fired anyway, because an inanimate object isn't worth a human life. Ted and Wesley weren't even good friends.
  • The central conflict of Scion: Does Ethan choose loyalty to his family and kingdom in the war against the Raven Kingdom, or loyalty to Ashleigh in her quest to liberate the Lesser Races? And can he live with the consequences?
  • Near the end of The Smurfs comic book story "The Smurfs And The Book That Tells Everything", Brainy is trapped on a rock in the middle of a flooded river with Baby Smurf and the titular book, and he is forced to choose either to save Baby or the book in order to swim across to safety. The book tells Brainy since that it's more important, he should sacrifice Baby. Brainy thinks that the book is a monster and so throws the book into the water and swims to safety with Baby.
  • Superman:
    • In Superboy (1949) #90, Pete Ross is invited to his popular, wealthy classmate Joe's big costume party...on the condition that Pete doesn't bring his dull friend Clark Kent along. Pete retorts he is not going anywhere without his best friend, and Joe threatens to scratch him off his guest list forever if Pete rejects his invitation. Pete suggests Joe to go and do that, and goes skating with Clark.
    • Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen:
      • In #62 "Superman's Phantom Pal", Jimmy gets a chance to see Superman changing into his Secret Identity. As Clark points out afterwards, this would be "scoop of the century", but it would betray his friend's trust. Jimmy opts to shut his eyes.
      • In issue #33 "The Legends that Came to Life", some magical phlebotinum affects the studio of a game show Jimmy is participating in, causing the answers to become real. After escaping death when the living legends use him as bait for a kryptonite trap, Jimmy runs back to the studio...because he's figured out what's going on. Once there, he gives the wrong answer in order to create a new Superman to save his friend.

  • In the Concept Album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, the protagonist Rael is ultimately confronted with a situation where he can either escape from the mad dream he has been caught in and go back to his normal life in New York City, or risk dangerous rapids to rescue his drowning brother John (who has repeatedly refused to help Rael in his times of need). He decides to save John from the rapids, but during the confusion and peril of the struggle, the mad dream takes another turn and Rael finds that he and John are actually the same person. See also: Tomato in the Mirror, Twist Ending, and It Was His Sled.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • At the 2011 CHIKARA Season Finale iPPV High Noon, November 13, 2011, there was a Lucha de Apuesta match, with the tecnico team The Spectral Envoy (UltraMantis Black and Hallowicked) vs. the rudo team Die Bruderschaft des Kreuzes (Ares and Tim Donst). The stipulations were that if Wicked or Mantis were pinned, they would have to give up their masks, if Ares got pinned he had to give up the Eye of Tyr, and if Donst was pinned he had to lose his hair.note  Realizing that his team was on the verge of losing, Donst bailed with his CHIKARA Young Lions Cup, doing nothing to prevent Mantis from driving Ares through a chair and pinning him.
  • No one in GLOW was capable of defeating Mountain Fiji, especially not one on one, but many were more than capable of defeating her little sister. So whenever Mt Fiji came close to winning a championship in GLOW, one of her enemies would run out an attack Little Fiji or come out to taunt Mt Fiji with a kidnapped Little Fiji, forcing big sister to choose between continuing to fight the champion of forfeiting the match to save Little Fiji. Mt. Fiji always opted to save her sister.
  • Valkyrie revealed itself by jumping and mercilessly beating Amazing Kong, laying out members of the SHINE roster who, somewhat unexpectedly, tried to stop them. This and an Army of Lawyers let Valkyrie ride a wave of intimidation to the crowning of their leader, Rain, as SHINE's first champion. But Kong didn't go away, fought off Valkyrie when they attacked her again and then joined Daffney's squad for a title match. So Valkyrie switched targets and went after one of Kong's new teammates, Solo Darling. Amazing Kong opted to save Solo Darling, Rain retained by count out.
  • VALkyrie also used this trick to retain the Tag Team Title belts, bating BTY's challengers, Ivelisse Vélez and ACR of Las Sicarias, with the potential abduction of their injured stablemate La Rosa. Though this ploy was also the beginning of VALkyrie's end, as original Valkyrie member, and Valkyrie killer, Velez, was much better suited for taking them down than Daffney.

  • The classic example of this trope in literature is George Bernard Shaw's 1906 play The Doctor's Dilemma, in which a doctor must choose whether a phial of a new life-saving drug is given to a kindly poor colleague or to a brilliant yet thoroughly unpleasant artist.

    Visual Novels 
  • Amnesia: Memories pits this at the end of Kent's route. It's the day of his presentation, something that he's been working hard for and will net him the chance to study a year abroad, something that he's really looking forward to do. But then Ikki rushes in and tells him that the heroine has gotten into an accident and has been taken to the hospital. She's injured, but not in mortal danger. Kent points out his dilemma of choosing to focus on his presentation or heading to his girlfriend's side. Depending on the Ending the player is approaching, Kent chooses three ways: 1) Chooses his presentation because he knows that being by the heroine's side at this time would be of no help to anyone, and both know how important his presentation is. 2) Chooses to do his presentation early, so that he can head to the heroine's side and kill two birds with one stone. 3) Chooses to forego doing his presentation completely, giving up on his chance for this year, and rushing to the heroine's side.
  • This trope seems to be the only thing that can make Fate/stay night's Shirou give up on his dream of being a superhero. Of course, not just any friend. A semi-possessed friend. That he loves. Plus Ilya and all his other friends, to judge by the bad end that results if you don't do this, which implies Shirou wins by killing every other Master. At the end of that route, though, it's implied that he may still be trying for his 'idol' here as he is still training in magic, especially his reality marble. But he'll always know he knowingly turned against that path and got about half of his town killed off and nearly destroyed the world.
    • A straighter example is Kotomine offering Saber the Grail... if she kills Shirou, who is already near death. She declines, unless you've made some very bad choices throughout the path and basically pissed her off at every juncture (Practically a Press X to Die affair), in which case she hesitates and Shirou dies.
      "Do you not understand, knave? I want Shirou more than such a thing."

    Web Animation 
  • Happens several times in Homestar Runner. In the original children's book that started the concept, Homestar gives up the chance to win the Strongest Man In The World Contest in order to expose Strong Bad's cheating. As a result, Pom Pom shares the victory trophy with him. The same thing happens in the remade cartoon version of it, only Pom Pom refuses to share the trophy. And in "A Jumping Jack Contest", it's Pom Pom who exposes the cheating, and Homestar who ends up winning and sharing the trophy with Pom Pom.
  • In RWBY, the heroes use the Staff of Creation, which was used to lift the floating city of Atlas above Mantle, to evacuate the citizens of both cities from the Salem's horde bearing down on the kingdom. While this results in the destruction of Atlas and Mantle, they manage to save the majority of both cities' populations from certain death.

  • In Starslip Crisis, Zillion tries to invoke this trope after he twists his ankle...and fails. His big mistake was making sure the other person didn't want him dead. Whoops.
  • In one Dragon Tails arc, Enigma begins to question his heritage, and decides to undergo a test to determine whether he is really related to his brothers. By the end of the arc (in which it turns out a giant bug creature with maybe-psychic powers had been influencing Engima in order to draw him away from his brothers), he receives the results of the test. His reaction...can be seen here.
  • Marble Gate Dungeon: Randulf faces one here: the seerabellums might be able to find the specific dungeon floor he has spent decades trying to find again, but they demand that he allow them to sacrifice Coleen to their dark god before they will help him.
  • Subverted in Girl Genius when Da Boyz are ordered by Agatha to stop the Jaegar (apparently) attacking the town, and she throws Othar Tryggvassen (GENTLEMAN ADVENTURER!) at them, saying "Dis vill slow hyu down!" It doesn't. (And since the whole "attacking the town" thing was a misunderstanding and she and Da Boyz were actually working together, she probably never expected it to.)
    Oggie': Sorry, vos ve supposed to catch him?
    Maxim: I dunno. I don't like him.


Video Example(s):


Puffball's greed takes over

Right as Puffball carrying her team reaches the tower, she flashes back on Firey Speaker Box telling her that she won the prize every time her team was up for elimination, and decided to throw her team under the bus just for another prize. Naturally, she got the votes to be eliminated after the episode ended.

How well does it match the trope?

4.8 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / FriendOrIdolDecision

Media sources: