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Handshake of Doom

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"Time's up, kiddo. I can save them — all of them — but you have to want it. Let's say we shake on it..."
The Man in the Wall, Warframe

Sometimes, a handshake isn't as positive as it first appears: sometimes it's a supernatural component of a Deal with the Devil; sometimes it means an imminent demise by way of the Touch of Death; sometimes it's a sign of a very poorly thought-out mundane agreement; and occasionally, it's purely symbolic... but no less fateful as any of the previous options.

One way or the other, a Handshake Refusal would have been wiser under the circumstances.

In most examples of this trope, expect the story to pay close attention to the moment of the handshake, with closeups of the act itself and eerie omens in the narration drawing attention to the fact that something is quite clearly off about the moment.

Compare and contrast Crushing Handshake, which is more immediately painful but usually a lot less ominous.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Attack on Titan, Eren and Reiner reunite after their last encounter on Paradis Island four years prior, with Falco bearing witness to the meeting after unknowingly bringing the latter to him. After a conversation, Eren shakes hands with Reiner, to which he reveals he cut himself before their meeting, and thus can transform into a Titan at any time. Sure enough, right after Willy Tybur announces his declaration of war against the people of Paradis, Eren turns into his Titan form and bursts out of the building behind him.
  • Dragon Ball: Subverted with the introduction of Monster Carrot. When Goku meets him, the rabbit hops over holds out his hand to shake claiming it as a sign of friendship. Before Goku can though, Bulma swats it away to tell Monster Carrot off. Unfortunately for Bulma, it doesn't matter whether the hand is shook or not. The fact that Bulma touched Monster Carrot is enough to trigger his power to turn her into a carrot.
  • Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas has an example in Alone. A skilled painter, it was Alone's dream to see a painting said to be so beautiful it would make the vilest sinner weep with repentance. Upon being led to the church by Pandora and allowed to view it, he realizes it looks exactly like him albeit mercilessly passing judgment on terrified people. He breaks down until the painting becomes a beautiful angel that reaches out towards him. Convinced that death is salvation, he grasps the Angel's hand and accepts his role as Hades.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: The Joker often kills unsuspecting victims by offering a handshake. When the other person grabs his hand, their palm is pricked by a device that resembles a joy buzzer, which injects deadly venom on their blood stream.
  • The second and final issue of Ruins concludes with the reveal of how Sheldon contracted his terminal illness in the first place: in this universe, Peter Parker didn't gain superpowers from the spider-bite, instead being infected by a mutant virus that he obliviously spread to Sheldon via a handshake — complete with a close-up shot of the web-shaped blisters on Peter's wrist as the two shake hands. With Parker having already succumbed, the comic ends with Sheldon running out of medication and dying.

    Films — Animated 
  • All Dogs Go to Heaven 2: Charlie makes a deal with Red to get him Gabriel's Horn in exchange for another collar that will make him corporeal. Charlie and Red seal the deal with a handshake... and then Red reveals his true colors.
  • Hercules: Towards the end of the film, Hades holds Meg hostage and forces Hercules into accepting a deal: he will let Meg go free and unharmed but on the condition that Hercules surrender his superhuman strength for 24 hours - more than enough time to for Hades to conquer Olympus. Finally, he has Hercules seal the deal with a handshake.
  • In The Princess and the Frog, the Voodoo trickster Dr Facilier begins the climax of his Villain Song by inviting Naveen and Lawrence to shake his hand and accept the Deal with the Devil he's offered them. The moment they shake the offered hand, Naveen is transformed into a frog and Lawrence is transformed into a double of Naveen to act as a pawn in Facilier's grand plans for New Orleans.
  • In Turning Red, the handshake between Mei and Tyler which seals their deal to have Mei show up to Tyler's birthday party in giant red panda form is underscored by a vaguely ominous soundtrack foreshadowing how it will go wrong.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • During a meeting of crime bosses in Batman (1989), the newly-minted Joker calls for an alliance between the various mobsters. When Antoine Rotelli asks what happens if they refuse, Joker assures him there'll be no war between them: they'll just shake hands and "that'll be it." Mollified, Antoine shakes the Joker's hand... only to find that he's wearing a lethal Electric Joybuzzer; over the next few seconds, the unfortunate gangster is fried to a crisp.
  • Batman Returns features the Penguin convincing Max Schreck to help "reintroduce" him to the people of Gotham by blackmailing the unscrupulous businessman with evidence of his many, many crimes - including the severed hand of his former partner, Fred Atkins. Shaken, Schreck agrees to his terms, whereupon the Penguin gives him a handshake to seal the deal... with Fred's hand. Their deal ends with the Penguin setting out to kill all the firstborn children of Gotham, with Schreck being condemned to be executed alongside them.
  • Contagion (2011): Beth Emhoff is Patient Zero of MEV-1, a highly contagious airborne disease that kills tens of millions worldwide and nearly causes the collapse of civilization. At the end of the movie, it rewinds to show that Beth contracted the disease via a handshake with a chef who hadn't washed his hands. And like that, For Want Of A Nail, millions of people - including Beth herself, her son, and her lover - all died.
  • In Gattaca, most employers will only hire "Valid" individuals for the truly desirable jobs, with any "Invalids" applying for the positions being weeded out in advance through DNA tests. As Jerome notes, even if you don't disclose your status in the interview, it's possible for the prospective boss to get a DNA sample from something as innocuous as a handshake.
  • The Founder: As Ray Kroc finalizes the deal with the McDonald brothers to sell the franchise to him, he tells them that key portions of the agreement, including getting to keep their original restaurant and their millions paid to them, cannot be legally put into print and have to be settled with a handshake. The McDonald brothers, realizing this means they will never see the money, resignedly shake Kroc's hand.
  • Law Abiding Citizen: When Clyde Shelton's family are murdered during a burglary, public prosecutor Nick Rice cuts a deal with Darby, the burglar who carried out the murders, where he testifies against his accomplice and gets a lesser jail sentence while his accomplice gets sent to death row. This obviously goes completely against Shelton's wishes, and when he glimpses Darby and Rice shaking hands outside of court, he becomes convinced that a Miscarriage of Justice has taken place and is inspired to begin a destructive campaign of terror to bring the entire justice system down.
  • During the climax of Mars Attacks!, President Dale finds himself cornered by the Martian Leader, and manages to stammer out a rather clumsy Patrick Stewart Speech that actually seems to get through to the Leader - enough to get him to offer his hand in friendship. Thinking he's ended the war, the President shakes the Leader's outstretched hand... only for it to abruptly detach and crawl across Dale like a scorpion, before impaling him with its "stinger". As if to add insult to injury, the arm then transforms into a flagpole and raises the Martian flag over Dale's corpse.
  • Ong-Bak: Ting's third battle in the underground fighting ring is against a guy called Mad Dog. Unlike the first two fighters Ting faced, Mad Dog offers Ting his hand before the match starts. After a couple of seconds of hesitation, Ting shakes his hand, believing it to be a gesture of honour. Unfortunately for Ting, Mad Dog is a crazed and ruthless cheater, and is hiding an empty beer bottle in his other hand, so when Ting takes his hand Mad Dog uses that handshake as a chance to pull Ting closer and whack his head with said bottle.
  • During their first meeting in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Davy Jones agrees to remove the Black Spot from Jack Sparrow on the condition that he repay his debt to him with ninety-nine souls, and the two shake on a deal. Quite apart from the fact that the slimy, tentacled handshake leaves him feeling "sullied and unusual," Jack is left with a time limit of three days to either fulfil the contract or find some leverage against Jones; if he can't manage either, he's doomed.
  • Space Jam: During a timeout, Jordan raises the stakes with Swackhammer: a win by the Tune Squad would require the Monstars to not only leave the Looney Tunes alone but also return their stolen talents, while a win by the Monstars would make Jordan an attraction on Moron Mountain for the rest of his life. Jordan and Swackhammer seal the deal with a handshake. This is then followed by the the Monstars severely injuring most of the Tune Squad, forcing Jordan to call another timeout so they can recover.
  • Unbreakable ends with Elijah Price shaking David Dunn's hand - only for David's crime-detecting touch to alert him to the Awful Truth: Elijah is directly responsible for three major acts of terrorism, including an airplane bombing, a hotel fire, and the train crash at the start of the movie - all for the sake of finding someone with David's superhuman powers.

  • In John Connolly's short story "The Cancer Cowboy Rides," eponymous villain Buddy Carson is first properly introduced when he stops to help Link Fraser change a tyre. Once the job's done, Link shakes the man's hand - unwittingly giving Buddy a chance to spread his condition a little further. In a matter of days, Link is diagnosed with liver cancer and dies in agony not long afterwards.
  • Early in Colony, luckless accountant Eddie O'Hare is offered a chance to escape the Evil Debt Collectors by taking the place of Charles Perry Gordon aboard the Willflower. Accepting the bargain, he's given a handshake by Gordon... whereupon a scab on Eddie's hand splits open and begins bleeding; the narration reflects that he should consider this a very bad omen. Gordon plans to make it look like Eddie knocked him out and mugged him for his identity, giving Gordon an excuse to remain behind on Earth and pursue his political ambitions. For good measure, he intends to make sure the ship's crew execute Eddie for the crime just to clear up loose ends. Though this scheme never comes to pass thanks to the aforementioned debt collectors, Eddie still ends up getting mortally wounded while aboard the Willflower and being preserved as a severed head in a jar, thus setting the stage for the second act.
  • In The Curse Workers series, magic can only be performed through skin-to-skin contact. As such, gloves are endemic, bare hands are considered indecent, and people are very careful about handshakes - to the point that this trope is a plot point in the first book: Cassel is actually a Transformation Worker brainwashed into serving as an undetectable assassin; his handlers have cut a tiny hole in the finger of one of his gloves, so that when Cassel shakes hands with the target, he can touch their wrist just long enough to turn the victim's heart to stone.
  • The short story "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands" by Stephen King has a man named Henry Brower, who mysteriously refuses to touch anyone and freaks out when a guy shakes his hand after Brower wins a card game - said guy dying of an aneurysm shortly thereafter. The protagonist investigates and eventually discovers he was cursed to have a Touch of Death after accidentally killing a boy; the story ends with Brower being Driven to Suicide and shaking his own hand.
  • Halfway through Monster, Judy's attempts to tag along with the title character's supernatural pest control business go horribly wrong when she tries to capture a sea elf (a sentient parahuman and therefore not a pest). Chester is eventually able to talk the sea elf out of pressing charges, allowing a suitably-embarrassed Judy and her victim to resolve the situation with a friendly handshake... only for the vengeful sea elf to curse her the moment he makes skin contact: for the next few chapters, Judy is cursed with even worse luck than usual.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Boardwalk Empire episode "Marriage and Hunting," Dean O'Banion is in his flower shop one evening when a customer asks for something that can get him out of hot water with his wife. O'Banion suggests chrysanthemums and agrees to a full refund if the trick doesn't work; the two shake hands... only for O'Banion to realize that the "customer" doesn't seem keen to let go. Then the other two customers in the shop draw guns; with Frankie Yale hanging onto his hand, O'Bannion can't draw a weapon or run, leaving him helpless as the hitmen empty their revolvers into him. This actually happened, by the way.
  • Farscape episode "Into The Lion's Den Part 1" kicks off with Crichton and Scorpius shaking hands on a deal: in exchange for his friends being pardoned and granted boons of their choosing, Crichton will help Scorpius unlock the final secrets of wormhole physics (all while planning to sabotage the wormhole project from within). As a result, Crichton is subjected to obstruction, assassination attempts by mutinous crewmembers, interference from Peacekeeper higher-ups, and a good deal of suspicion from Scorpius himself as his patience runs thin. The episode ends with Scorpius finally dropping his Affably Evil demeanour and threatening to destroy Earth if Crichton doesn't cooperate.
  • Smallville: The Villain of the Week in "Hug" is a man named Bob Rickman who has the ability to control people with a handshake. We see him first use this power to make an agent of the Center for Environmental Protection commit suicide when he refuses to let Rickman build a project in Smallville. Rickman's former partner and friend Kyle Tippet has the same power and it is suggested he is the more powerful of the two. This theory is proven correct when he and Rickman fight in the episode's climax and Kyle uses his powers to make Rickman kill himself.
  • Stargate Atlantis: In season 4, the Wraith "Todd" forges an alliance with the Atlantis expedition against the Asurans. He offers to shake hands with Colonel Carter, which Wraith use to drain their victims of their lifeforce. It's just a morbid joke on his part.

  • The Magnus Archives: In episode 89 'Twice as Bright', whilst searching for answers to the Powers and his role as the Archivist Jonathan is forced to interview Jude Perry, Acolyte of the Lightless Flame, servant and worshiper of the Desolation. At the beginning of the meeting Jonathan is smart enough to refuse her offer of shaking her hand and overall tries to keep his distance knowing how dangerous she is, but at the end Jude forces him to do so. However, the moment he does so it leaves him severely burned.

    Pro Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Blades in the Dark, the Spider playbook can take a special ability called "Ghost Contract", which allows them to shake hands on a deal and mark both themselves and the other party with a Power Tattoo. If either of them break the deal, they suffer a curse which deals level 3 harm (i.e. enough to render someone helpless).
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, the lore for hags in "Volo's Guide to Monsters" suggests they enjoy sealing deals by shaking hands, which drops whatever illusion they have up (even if the character can't see through it, they can feel the clawlike hand itself). Hags almost always make deals with the aim of twisting them to make the unfortunate soul in question (or someone else) as miserable as possible (be it through their price or twisting the service they provide).

    Video Games 
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert kicks off when Albert Einstein travels back in time to assassinate Adolf Hitler to prevent World War II. He meets Hitler when he was leaving Landsberg Prison and shakes his hand - erasing him from history. Unfortunately, this results in Hitler's place being filled by another horrible dictator: Josef Stalin, supreme leader of the Soviet Union, who declares war on Europe and began his own version of World War II.
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 begins with the Soviet Union using their own experimental time machine in order to assassinate Albert Einstein and thereby remove the Allies' technological advantage against them. Here, Anatoly Cherdenko greets Einstein with a handshake that also erases him from history. When the Soviets return to the present, they learn that the Soviet Union nearly conquered Europe... but because Einstein was one of the minds behind the atomic bomb, Japan is still a superpower in this new timeline; now known as the Empire of the Rising Sun, they declare war on the two weakened powers.
  • Persona 4: At the beginning of the game, a gas station attendant welcomes the protagonist to town, and offers him a handshake. Near the end of the game, it's revealed that the attendant was Izanami, the Greater-Scope Villain of the story, and she gave a similar handshake to Adachi, the serial killer who served as the Big Bad for most of the story, and Nametame, Adach's Unwitting Pawn. Izanami's handshake gives one the ability to access the TV world, and the three who were given this power were specifically chosen by her so they could unknowingly play a role in a twisted game she set up to test humanity and decide how she would alter the world.
  • Prey (2017): In the finale, it's revealed that Morgan Yu is actually a Typhon lifeform that Alex is trying to teach empathy in a desperate attempt to engineer a truce between humanity and the invading Typhon. Hoping that "Morgan" has learned enough from the events of the game, Alex offers his hand to the test subject... and you're given the choice between accepting empathy or just killing everyone in the room. If you take the latter, "Morgan" will shake the offered hand - then trap Alex's arm in a shapeshifting grip and impale him through the chest with Combat Tentacles.
  • In The Secret World, the mysterious Ellis Hill recommends a Handshake Refusal for this very reason, pointing out how it's possible for a handshake to give away too much of a person's true nature. In this case, the fact that "Ellis" is actually a Phoenician operative who murdered the real Ellis Hill and replaced him in order to spy on Kingsmouth.
  • In Warframe, the Man In The Wall offers a handshake to the Operator in order to seal the Deal with the Devil it's just finished offering. The Operator takes it, apparently killing every other instance of them across every possible reality in the process.

    Web Animation 
  • In The Tales from Dunwall: The Awakening, wealthy scientist-turned-industrialist Esmond Roseburrow is approached by a young Anton Sokolov with designs for revolutionary new technology powered by Roseburrow's whale-oil fuel. The elderly inventor decides to give Sokolov a chance, sealing their partnership with a handshake... only for the handshake to suddenly dissolve into a montage of all the oppression that occurred once Sokolov began selling his work to the military-industrial complex, ultimately paving the way for the High Regent's dictatorship in Dishonored. Seeing the misery that has overtaken Dunwall as a result of this fateful handshake, Roseburrow retreats to his now-abandoned headquarters, arms himself with one of Sokolov's weapons and blows his head off.
  • Defied in Hazbin Hotel. Charlie knows better than to make a deal with Alastor, so when the radio demon holds out his hand to shake and make a deal, Charlie swats it away and tells him that there won't be any shaking or deals.

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy: In "A Hero Sits Next Door", Peter surprisingly manages to outwit a bank robber and steal his gun. However, the criminal then commends him for his intelligence and offers him a handshake, which is enough to distract Peter and cause him to lose the weapon.
  • Bill Cipher of Gravity Falls usually requires a handshake from his "partners" in order to put the finishing touches on their Deal with the Devil. Things never go well for anyone accepting a bargain with him, especially since Bill is an Eldritch Abomination intent on breaking into our reality with the help of the puppets he's ensnared.
  • In the season 2 finale of The Owl House, Luz desperately makes a deal with Belos/Philip to let her friends live in exchange for providing proof that he was able to "save" humanity from witches and demons when they return to Earth, with a handshake to symbolize the deal. After Belos checks that both hands are empty, he agrees... at which point Luz brands him with the same sigil he was using to drain and kill the witches on the Day of Unity and making him face the same pain and anguish. Luz planned on coercing him to end the Draining Spell to save his life and the Boiling Isles, but all it did is make him to enter his Clipped-Wing Angel form to try and kill her, and he would have if not for her friends helping her and the Collector being freed and finishing him off.
  • In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Anakin and Tarkin share a handshake in which a brief snippet of the Imperial March starts playing, foreshadowing the death and sorrow that will come as part of their partnership in the future once the Republic becomes the Empire, most infamously the destruction of Alderaan.
  • Static Shock:
    • At the conclusion of the first crossover episode with Batman, Joker attempts to pull Wounded Gazelle Gambit by calling Batman for help. Upon seeing someone's hand reaching for him, Joker grabs it with a joy buzzer, shocking the person. Unfortunately for him, that person is Static, who shocks the Clown Prince of Crime back with an even stronger buzzer.
    • A similar situation also occurs during a crossover with Batman Beyond. A Jokerz attempts to shock Virgil with a joy buzzer only to be shocked back by him.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): The Turtles get stranded on an ice moon with two Salamandrians, and Leo offers a handshake as a gesture of friendship. Unfortunately, extending a hand in Salamandrian culture is a gesture for combat, resulting in a fight breaking out between the two groups.
  • Used twice in OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes. When KO gets TKO to agree to let him use his power, at the cost of Tko being allowed to run free, TKO gives what seems like a friendly handshake, then pull him forward with a psychotic smirk and adds No Take Backs.
    • And later in the series when TKO and Shadowy Venomous join forces, complete with evil laughter

    Real Life 
  • Irish gangster Dion "Dean" O'Banion made the mistake of shaking hands with fellow mobster Frankie Yale during a business transaction on November 10, 1924; as bad luck would have it, Yale had been sent to kill O'Banion as revenge for numerous insults to fellow gang leaders. The handshake allowed Yale to hold his target in place while the hitmen accompanying him shot O'Banion twice in the chest and twice in the throat.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Deadly Handshake


Sokolov's Offer

A simple handshake seals the deal between Roseburrow and Sokolov - resulting in a reign of terror in Dunwall that ends in Roseburrow's suicide.

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / HandshakeOfDoom

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