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Ignored Epiphany

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"In many ways, he was a refreshingly simple man."

"Maybe I shouldn't be singing this song
Ranting and raving and carrying on
Maybe they're right when they tell me I'm wrong...
...
NAAAHHHHH!"
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The Ignored Epiphany is a moment where the villain or morally gray character has a moment of clarity or revelation about themselves and their actions, seeing it in perspective for perhaps the first time and realizing exactly how useless and off base their various self-delusions and justifications were. It's often a low moment for these characters, and may provoke sympathy from the audience. The character may acknowledge it various ways, with a sigh, a bitter laugh, muttering "What Have I Become?" or possibly saying to someone or themselves "I've really messed this one up".

Then... there's nothing. No Heel–Face Turn, no last minute redemption or even an attempt to undo the harm they've wrought. Nor is there any mental trauma equivalent to a Villainous BSoD or mental breakdown. There's just... nothing.

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There's generally little, if any change in the character. The moment itself is fleeting, and whether it be their natural temperament reasserting itself, or their Fatal Flaw preventing them from changing, outside events do something that force them out of this frame of mind and right back into their usual one, or simply the feeling that they've spent this long and put this much effort into whatever it is they're doing, and now they have to go through with it. A common variant is a character starting to so say "My God, What Have I Done?'', stopping halfway through, then blaming the whole thing on some other person or outside force.

One interesting version of this involves a character realizing they've crossed the Moral Event Horizon... and therefore, there's no turning back. You have no hope of redemption, so there's no point worrying about it any more — may as well embrace the Dark Side, and hope that being Drunk on the Dark Side will help you forget your troubles.

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This is a common issue in works based on Real Life. Authors and audiences want to see deep moral conflicts in the characters, and see them doubting or guilty over the things we feel they should be doubting or guilty over. The problem is that the real characters may not have felt that at all — so we get fictionalized versions that show great doubts and agonizing self-evaluation in private, then instantly go back to behaving like it never happened when the story continues to follow reality.

This trope is a close cousin to My God, What Have I Done?; this version tends to happen mostly to Villain Protagonists, Anti Villains, Fallen Heroes and sometimes Anti Heroes whereas My God, What Have I Done? tends to make a difference in a character's behavior and personality,

Compare Heel Realization which is when a character has an epiphany and realizes for the first time that they're one of the bad guys. Also compare Aesop Amnesia where a character appears to have learned their lesson, but goes back to their old ways in later episodes to maintain the status quo. Then again, they might be on to something if the Heel–Face Door-Slam is any indication. This may happen before pulling a Redemption Rejection when offered that Last-Second Chance. Overlaps with Jerk with a Heart of Jerk.

Do note that if this trope hits in, it doesn't mean that they won't ever think of redemption again or being redeemed. The character may find a new epiphany that doesn't get ignored and bring themselves to the good guys again... so long as they don't start Jumping Off the Slippery Slope or cross the Moral Event Horizon beforehand. Or get stuck in the Heel–Face Revolving Door, where the character's epiphany will change him for a while, but he won't permanently follow the path of virtue.


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Other Examples:

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    Music 
  • Alestorm - Pirate Song
    And for what?
    I've killed and I've shot
    And reddened the cold tears of children with blood
    And If I could go back and make my amends
    I'd make all those mistakes again
    I'd kill every last one of those bastards, my friend.
  • "The Curse of Millhaven", by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, is a Murder Ballad about an Enfant Terrible. At one point in the song she says she's trying to change but immediately gives up and instead tries wholeheartedly to be awful.
    Since I was no bigger than a weevil,
    They've been saying I was evil
    That if bad was a boot, that I'd fit it
    That I'm a wicked young lady,
    But I've been trying hard lately
    Oh fuck it! I'm a monster! I admit it!
  • Creature Feature's Such Horrible Things
    I am not a bad man
    Even though I do bad things
    Very bad things
    Such horrible things
    But it's not quite what it seems
    (Not quite what he seems)
    Not quite what I seem...
    Ah, Hell...
    It's exactly what it seems.
  • The narrator of Rivers Cuomo's "Hot Tub" spends most of the song trying to convince a woman to have casual sex... The bridge has him lamenting that pursuing meaningless sex instead of lasting relationships can leave him feeling unfulfilled, only to conclude that "I admit this is a problem / To be solved another other day", and subsequently go right back into the Intercourse with You chorus.
  • Ice-T's New Jack Hustler has the protagonist briefly contemplate the destructive effect his drug dealing and accompanying violence is having on his community and the horrifying implication that this is exactly what was intended, but he can't wrap his head around that and drug dealing is making him more money than he could ever hope to have otherwise, so he goes right back to it.
    Got me twisted, jammed in a paradox
    Every dollar I get, another brother drops
    Maybe that's the plan, and I don't understand
    Goddamn! You got me sinking in quicksand!
    But since I don't know, and I never learned
    I gotta get paid, I got money to earn
  • Actor/comedian Denis Leary gives us the page quote from his song Asshole, a satire and skewering of the American middle class in the early 90s. Throughout the song its main character talks about how, despite all the reasons he has to be content with life, he's actually an anger filled Jerkass whose true joys come from a nearly endless series of petty cruelties and abuses he inflicts on the people around him, along with just general self-centered/douchebag behavior. Around the middle of the song he considers the idea that maybe he's wrong to act this way, but, as seen in the quote, after only a second or two he dismisses the thought and refuses to change.
  • In The Megas' second album, "History Repeating:Blue" Dr. Light gets a song that's a Dark Reprise of one of Wily's songs from their first album, "I Want to be the One (To Watch You Die)". In it, Light seems to wonder at one point if what he's done isn't so different from Wily, and he expresses remorse for turning Rock into a weapon against his rival. He then decides it doesn't matter, Wily needs to die, and Light wants to watch it happen.
  • At the end of Hope Rides Alone by The Protomen, the citizens are asking questions like "what have we done?" and "where did we go so wrong?" They then do nothing whatsoever to act on this.
  • In Stone Sour's double concept album House of Gold and Bones, the antagonist Allen realizes in the song "Black John" that villains never win, and that he should at least give the main character The Human a chance. He goes through with this halfway, the next song "Sadist" is Allen trying to convince The Human to quit while he's ahead.
  • Voltaire's "When You're Evil". After a long, gleeful, litany of varying acts of nastiness and reveling in his Villain Cred ("The Devil tips his hat to me") , the narrator appears to waver and mournfully, (albeit selfishly) sings "It gets so lonely being evil", and says how sometimes he just wants to see other people smile and have companionship... but then snaps right back, and furthermore claims that his moment of weakness was just a lie to mess with your head. Played rather well in this Labyrinth fanvid.
  • "Paradise (Stay Forever)", the ending theme of Paradise Killer, opens with the narrator lamenting that "now I'm a killer" and love's driven him out of his mind. Then he thinks of the woman he's doing all this crap to be reunited with (likely The Hero, his ex-wife, who was exiled some time ago), and decides it doesn't matter. Even worse, later verses imply that he expects her to eventually accept his lies.
    Say you don't love me, Lady
    'Cos you got me goin' outta my mind!
    Now I'm a killer, baby-
    Well, I'll see you in our perfect 25.
  • In the bridge of "Kill Bill", SZA has a moment of clarity in which she mentions she's a mature woman who's seeing a therapist to help her with her breakup and thinks about how there are many other men out there... only to immediately conclude that she only wants her ex, following into the chorus in which she starts fantasizing about killing him and his new girlfriend.
    I'm so mature, I'm so mature
    I'm so mature, I got me a therapist to tell me there's other men
    I don't want none, I just want you
    If I can't have you, no one should
    I might
    I might kill my ex, not the best idea
    His new girlfriend's next, how'd I get here?
    I might kill my ex, I still love him though
    Rather be in jail than alone

    Podcasts 
  • The Adventure Zone: Balance: Played for Laughs when the party kills a mook on what was supposed to be a pacifist mission, and decide to throw his body off a cliff to cover it up. Just before they do that, they opt to go through his pockets, and Griffin decides that they find his wallet, which contains pictures of the guy's family. They consider this for a Beat, and then...
    Taako: They look racist.
  • Wooden Overcoats: Rudyard spends most of the series needlessly and relentlessly antagonizing his absurdly popular rival, Eric. However, in the episode "Rudyard Makes a Friend," he briefly wonders if maybe the reason Eric is so popular is because he's actually a nice guy, and if maybe he's the real problem. Unfortunately, the person he voices this thought to hates Eric even more than he does.

    Roleplay 
  • Bobby Jacks of Survival of the Fittest. He quickly comes to the realisation that he's one of the bad guys, but immediately after he decides that he's gone too far to try and repent. He even supplements this with a quote from Macbeth (the exact same one which Macbeth himself uses in this selfsame situation).

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is what happens to a Dark Elf in Burning Wheel when they've almost, but not quite, maxed out Spite. (Maxing Spite is a bad idea.)
  • This is how characters in the New World of Darkness slide down the Karma Meter. Every Morality check forces them to stop and ask themselves whether they can truly justify what they've done; if it's failed, they think, "Yep." and carry on unperturbed.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, this is the hat of the Dark Eldar — they deliberately continue the nightmarishly hedonistic ways that brought their civilization to ruin, primarily because they'll be utterly destroyed if they don't. On rare occasions, the epiphany sticks, and a Dark Eldar abandons their old life to join a Craftworld.

    Theatre 
  • Doctor Faustus considers many times throughout the play whether he should rescind on his Deal with the Devil. He always convinces himself that he's too far gone to repent, so there is no point. He is eventually more repentant when on the brink of death, but this is too late for Marlowe's God. Although Faustus was aware of religion, he chose to defy it.
  • In Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, the characters are trapped in their past behavioural patterns, most notably Mary with her morphine addiction and James with his alcoholism and hurtful tongue.
    Mary: The past is the present, isn't it? It's the future, too.
  • In Oliver! Fagin, while "Reviewing the Situation," considered going straight and the situations it might result in, but finally decided:
    I'm reviewing the situation.
    I'm a bad 'un and a bad 'un I shall stay!
    You'll be seeing no transformation,
    But it's wrong to be a rogue in ev'ry way.
  • William Shakespeare is fond of this trope.
    • After the scene in which Banquo's ghost memorably interrupts his feast, Macbeth has a quiet one of these. In the end he winds up deciding that it would be as bloody and dark a path if he were to turn back on his ambitions then as if he were to go forward, so he keeps going and soon after jumps completely off the slippery slope.
      "I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er."
    • Also used it in Hamlet, where Hamlet's Evil Uncle has a moment where he realizes what a truly evil and unforgivable thing he's done by killing his brother and marrying his brother's wife. He even realizes that repenting is useless as long as he still profits from his act, so he prays for the strength to give up everything he's gained. When he finds he can't do so, he abandons any thought of repenting and just does his best to hold onto the throne.
    • Richard III has his worst moment when the ghosts of his victims plague him in a nightmare. He shouts for mercy. But in the morning he declares that conscience is a fraud "devised to keep the strong in awe. Conscience, avaunt!"
  • In Turnabout Musical, the song "Decree of the Prosecutor" has Edgeworth go through one. He reflects on his actions and wonders if using underhanded tactics in the court makes him no better than the murderous people he prosecutes. He eventually decides that it's worth it, because "every criminal earns his punishment,/ so [he's] always done all [he] could/ What's the harm in filling in the blanks to some extent?/ If it's for the greater good?/ Indeed. If the defendant is clearly guilty, then [his] methods, no matter how extreme, should not be an issue at all!" He then wonders if his true motivations are actually caused by his personal feelings of "pretentious piety", but dismisses the notion on the grounds that it's best to use extreme methods to ensure that other people are spared the pain of loss that he himself went through.
  • In A Very Potter Musical, Harry tries to convince Voldemort that he regrets his evil deeds, and sad music starts to play...
    Voldemort: Well... maybe there's one—NO! points wand at musicians THERE ISN'T! [the musicians surrender]

    Visual Novels 
  • One genuinely heroic example in Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. When Shirou finds that his ideal and way of life are distorted after being challenged about them by Rin, he logically realizes that his processes are wrong. However, he also decides that he won't listen to her warning, because:
    Shirou: There's no way that wanting to help people can be a mistake.
  • In the Meakashi-hen arc of Higurashi: When They Cry Shion brutally kills Satoko and remembers that the last thing her disappeared boyfriend Satoshi had asked of her was to protect his little sister. At first, she's horrified... but then she realizes that she always knew in the back of her mind that Satoshi would have never wanted any of this and that the "demon" (aka the Hate Plague) had taken over her mind to make her lose her sanity and forget her feelings of loss, as well as make her commit bloody revenge. It is at this point that she considers herself irredeemable and not deserving of any sympathy, hence her tears when Keiichi shows her mercy. Regardless, at the very end, after it's stated that she can't sense the Hate Plague affecting her mind anymore, she feels so much remorse that she commits suicide (not shown in the anime), apologizing to Satoko and everyone else in her mind in her last moments. Of course, the next arc shows that perhaps it really wouldn't have been too late. An even later arc shows that Shion remembered this epiphany to become a better person in her next life, namely turning into Satoko's loving surrogate sister, willing to sacrifice her life for her.
  • In three of the four "true" endings of Nicole, the kidnapper is momentarily shaken by the way the other potential love interests refute his reasoning for kidnapping the people he did, but he quickly shrugs it off and continues being a Smug Snake. In his own ending, he subverts this and has a Villainous BSoD instead.
  • The villain of the second arc in Shikkoku no Sharnoth realizes he's in the wrong and that happiness is just in front of him if he just stops, but in the end he is just too insane to do it.

    Web Animation 
  • Mega Man Dies at the End: While having an experience in the afterlife, Mega Man is told he has only one chance at redemption, but instead interprets it as a sign that he needs to be an even bigger asshole.
  • Solid Snake has one of these at the end of this hilarious Flash video.
  • Terrible Writing Advice: Half the jokes in a given episode are based around this. While giving his supposedly great writing advice, JP will often think of a valid objection to said advice or an alternate approach that actually is good advice, only to then dismiss it as being ridiculous.

    Web Original 
  • John Cheese on Cracked recounts how he was asked to be best man at his friend's wedding where they wouldn't have alcohol, and began to grow anxious and irritable because of not being able to drink. Eventually he cut his toast short and made up an excuse to leave early so he could drink. He realized that he was actually afraid of going without alcohol.
    This realization is what motivated me to, uh, completely forget about it and continue drinking for about eight more years.
  • The Onion plays with this trope in a Real Life context in There Was Definitely A Point During That Stoning Where We All Thought, 'Is This Weird?'

    Web Videos 
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: One way of looking at Dr. Horrible's final song has elements of this. The song plays with double meanings that underline the tragedy of the scene, most importantly the first, "Here lies everything/The world I wanted at my feet." Arguably, Horrible acknowledges here that everything that has just happened is (at least partially) his fault, and Penny is dead because of his recklessness and his drive to join the Evil League of Evil. They offer him a place, though, and he accepts, even though he hasn't forgotten his loss.
  • Even though The Nostalgia Critic has a barrel-ton of Guilty Pleasures himself, when it comes to a movie he sees no good in (like the Jim Carrey remake of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!), he never fully comprehends how others can like it. In the specific case of the Grinch movie, at the end of his review he contemplates taking a more tolerant, open-handed view and saying that if people take pleasure in it or see something in it that he doesn't, then maybe that's what counts... then essentially says "Nah, I'm right, they're wrong!"
  • Taco-Man Plays a Video Game has an episode in which Taco-Man becomes so drunk, he awakens in a world based on several Atari 2600 games. After he escapes, he swears never to drink again. A cut to "Later That Night" shows Taco-Man sitting at home and reading a newspaper, appearing to subvert this trope. However, a cut to "Later Later That Night" shows him getting drunk at the same bar he visited at the beginning of the video, zig-zagging it.
  • There are quite a number of Undertale fan videos on YouTube that show Player Character Frisk facing off against Sans, the final boss of the No Mercy path. In many of these videos Frisk's famous determination is finally wavering and Frisk is on the edge of a breakdown due to the actions Frisk has taken to get to this point. Frisk is even all but begging Sans to hurt and punish them further for their crimes and is about to hit the Reset Button to undo all the damage to the timeline... and then due to either one last burst of crazed determination or the influence of Chara/The Fallen Child, Frisk continues attacking Sans and succeeds in killing him, thus likely making the damage to the timeline permanent. Here's one example.

    Real Life 
  • This trope, along with Never My Fault, is one of the many traits of sociopaths and narcissists, since it is nearly impossible for them to feel guilt; even if they do, they tend to sweep it under the rug.
  • Also a defining trait of fanatical people (whether religious, political, or otherwise). Whenever they discover evidence that their ideology might be wrong, they will make any excuse, no matter how strained or ridiculous it sounds, rather than change their minds.
  • Early in World War II, during the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis carried out conventional acts of genocide via having death squads (Einsatzgruppen) massacre whole villages of Jews and similar undesirables. Problems started cropping up when the soldiers participating in the massacres started collapsing in horror at repeated murder, and even Heinrich Himmler vomited at the site of one such atrocity. Instead of acceding to these feelings of horror, however, the Nazis simply decided they needed a more detached and mechanical means of mass murder, and thus the original Final Solution was born.

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Fast Tony

Ice Age The Meltdown features a humorous example. Upon discovering his assistant Stu was killed, leaving only his shell behind, Fast Tony is grief stricken... before promptly offering to sell the empty shell for everyone to buy a new nice mobile home.

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