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It's the Only Way

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Roku: Shit! The volcano is erupting! Get everyone to safety while I hold it off!
Ta Min: Um, honey? If we already know that I'll be able to get everyone in this considerably tiny village into boats, and we don't care all that much about our possessions, why do you need to put yourself in mortal danger?
Ta Min: *sigh*

A crutch commonly used to justify a foolish or ridiculous course of action. There is almost always a more sensible course of action available if the characters involved would just bother to think, but that might ruin the contrived plot and/or prevent a tragic situation. And the audience better not try to think of any alternate solutions either, because "It's the only way!"

In many dramas, it is "the only way" in the messed-up mindset of the character saying it — television characters are frequently less reasonable and more focused than real people.

Compare with I Did What I Had to Do, the Well-Intentioned Extremist's accessory after the fact. Compare also the correlated trope When All You Have Is a Hammer…. Less common is another character Stating the Simple Solution in response. Death by Pragmatism is when The Only Way is enforced by killing off the person saying sensible things.


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  • Blue Beetle: Subverted when Dani Garrett is about to fly her ship into a volcano, and Jaime asks if she's sure it can survive it.
    Danni: Only one way to find out!
    Jaime: No! No! There are other ways to "find out"! Like tests and experiments!
    Danni: Oh, yeah. Sorry.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animation 
  • The Little Mermaid (1989): King Triton says this before laying waste to Ariel's grotto, thinking it will end her obsession with the human world once and for all. It backfires horribly.
    Triton: So help me, Ariel, I will get through to you! And if this is the only way... so be it.
  • My Little Pony: The Movie (2017): When Twilight's friends call her out for trying to steal the seaponies' pearl, she uses this as her justification. They don't buy it.
    Applejack: What were you thinkin'?! I mean, stealin' their pearl?!
    Twilight: It was the only way to save Equestria.
    Pinkie Pie: Except it wasn't!
  • The Year Without a Santa Claus: Snow Miser and Heat Miser refuse to learn to get along, so Mrs. Claus decides to pay Mother Nature a visit.
    Mrs. Claus: Alright, enough of this! Now I hate to do this to you, but you leave me no choice! I'm going over your heads!
    Snow Miser: You're kidding!
    Heat Miser: You wouldn't dare!
    Mrs. Claus: I can and I will!
    Heat Miser: M-Mrs. Claus! (to Snow Miser) Look what you did, you old blizzard! Now she's going to tell mother!
    Snow Miser: What I did, you hot dog? This is your fault!

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Aliens: "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure." And it wasn't that bad an idea because every colonist save one was long since dead and the majority of the marines were either KIA or awaiting a Fate Worse than Death. Not to mention everyone save the corporate stooge was 100% on board with denying Weyland-Yutani their murderous, murderous prize by this point.
  • Eve Archer in Face/Off believes that taking a blood sample from Castor Troy-as-Sean Archer is the only way to establish his identity. She could have simply taken DNA samples from him and her daughter (hair, fingerprints...) and run a comparison. Either way, additionally demanding a sample from Sean Archer-as-Castor Troy would have been a good idea.
  • Hellraiser is the story of a woman named Julia who kills men and collects their blood in order to revive a former lover. A visit to a blood bank would have solved her problem in a much less grisly way.
  • Justified in Interstellar. Their spacecraft has been damaged by Explosive Decompression and starts to spin at a rapid rate. The protagonists decide to dock regardless of the risk because the fate of the entire human race depends on their mission.
    Cooper: Get ready to match the Endurance's spin with the retro-thrusters.
    Case: It's not possible.
    Cooper: No... It's necessary.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Avengers: Infinity War:
      • Thanos is convinced that the only way to solve the problem of limited resources is to kill half of all life. Other solutions such as doubling the resources don't occur to him, even as he acquires literally omnipotent means. Word of God says he could have found another way and gotten it done easily, but he has a point to prove and is blind to other possibilities.
      • Strange surrenders the Time Stone to Thanos in exchange for Iron Man's life, leading to the Snap and a universal crisis. When confronted on this, he states this was the only way to win in the long term.
    • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: Strange is called out in-universe for using this excuse to justify bad plans that get other people hurt or killed. The most obvious example is his Defender alternate who decided the only way to protect the multiverse was by personally killing America to steal her powers.
  • Spoofed in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
    Sky Captain: "Is it safe?"
    Dex: "Well, there's only one way to find out."
    (Sky Captain and Polly step across the booby-trapped threshold and are relieved to be unharmed)
    Dex: "I meant throw something."
  • Parodied (kind of) in the movie Snakes on a Plane, where the villain releases hundreds of venomous snakes onto a plane containing a single person he wishes to kill. When one of his lackeys wonders if there might have been a simpler plan with a higher chance of success, the villain snaps something to the effect of, "Do you think I didn't exhaust every other option?"
  • In the climax of Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, Jack Black challenges the Devil to a rock-off, and for the stakes declares the Devil can take (just) his partner Kyle Gass back to Hell as a sex slave if they lose. He then melodramatically urges the understandably upset Kyle that "it's the only way!".
    • Although, when you really think about it, it actually IS the only way. What better motivation to rock really hard than threats of rape by Satan himself?
      • Also, he had the deal center on his partner being taken by Satan so that he would be free to block the unholy lightning attack with his guitar and blow the Devil's horn off. Of course, how he expected that to work is another question entirely.
  • Weirdly justified in Transmorphers: A nuclear bomb needs to be placed next to a reactor. They attempt to throw it in, which is (of course) unsuccessful. So, our hero decides to put it in himself, despite the requisite 100% chance of death. Turns out he's actually an android, and therefore the only one capable of fooling the defense system, which is programmed to sense only organic material. It's no less melodramatic, though.
  • In X2: X-Men United, Jean Grey sacrifices herself, supposedly because it's the only way to save the team; there has been considerable debate among fans about the multiple other ways they could have survived, or ways she could have saved them that would not have involved her death. However, to be fair, the movie had already gone and shown many examples of Jean's lack of control of her powers throughout has proven a danger to herself and those around her, with the entire dam collapse happening because she lost control in her fight with Cyclops. Who is to say that she'd even be able to safely control her powers during the climax or if right as she managed to lift the jet, it exploded because she accidentally overloaded it. It then actually makes sense why she'd rather just risk her own life rather than doing it with the others, many of whom were rescued children.

    Live Action TV 
  • Series finale of Burn Notice - The "only way" for Jesse to get Charlie out of the safe house is for Madeline to push the big red button on the bomb and sacrifice herself in the process. Except of course for the countless other ways they could have easily rigged that big red button to be pressed when the bad guys opened the door. Or the countless other kinds of booby traps the characters have rigged up over the past seven seasons.
  • The Event uses this trope like there's no tomorrow. Unless a character hasn't thought up "the only way" yet, in which case you can be sure they will insist "I'll find a way!!!" when pressed about the fact that they have no gameplan.
  • There are better methodologies of discerning the superiority of one thing over another, but that doesn't mean that Harry Hill doesn't have a personal favourite.
  • In the pilot episode of Star Trek: Voyager, the crew decides that the only way to prevent the Kazons from taking control of the Caretaker's Array is to remain in the Delta Quadrant (rather than taking it back home) so that they can blow it up. Apparently, none of them have ever heard of time bombs. Also, nobody brings up the far more logical argument that the Array had already killed half the crew the first time it was used, and they didn't have any way of ensuring it would be safer this time.
    • Somewhat justified in that the Kazon were already there. In the middle of the battle, it was decided to destroy the array.

    Newspaper Comics 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: Konrad Kurze brought peace back to a lawless planet by basically becoming a combination of Batman and the Punisher, dismembering criminals and leaving their mutilated corpses as a warning to others. However, this only lasted as long as he was on the planet, and when he was taken by the Emperor the planet quickly fell back to its lawless ways, and Konrad was later called out for this.
    Konrad Curze: There was no other way.
    Sevatar: No? What other ways did you try?
    Curze: Sevatar...
    Sevatar: Answer me, father. What politics of peace did you teach? What scientific and social illumination did you bring to this society? In your quest for a human utopia, what other ways did you try beyond eating the flesh of stray dogs and skinning people alive?
    Curze: It. Was. The. Only. Way.
    Sevatar: The only way to do what? The only way to bring a population to heel? How then did the other primarchs manage it? How has world upon world managed it, without resorting to butchering children and broadcasting their screams across the planetary vox-net?
    Curze: Their world were never as... as serene as mine was.
    Sevatar: And the serenity of yours died the second your back was turned. So tell me again how you succeeded. Tell me again how this all worked perfectly.
    Curze: You overstep your bounds, First Captain.
    Sevatar: How can you lie to me like this? How can you lie to yourself? I stand here, inside your mind, witnessing a theater of your own memories. Your way is the Eighth Legion way, now. But it has never been the only way. Just the easiest way.

    Video Games 
  • Fuga: Melodies of Steel: The Soul Cannon requires the Heroic Sacrifice of one of your Kid Heroes in order to power it. Typically, it only becomes available as an option when the Taranis' HP falls below a certain threshold; however, this threshold rises during boss battles — hit 50%, and the radio will start urging you that the Soul Cannon is your only option. Just to ensure the temptation is there for much longer as you face a difficult fight.
  • Tales of Monkey Island: Spoken by Zombie Guybrush to a surprised Morgan near the end of Chapter 5, when he takes out his last shred of life and tosses it into the rip to close up the Crossroads, trapping the Pirate God LeChuck and allowing her and Elaine to use the Coup de Grâce on him simultaneously.
    • Before that, De Cava says this in Chapter 3 when he says he's weaving the husks of Manatee Throat Grubs for an artificial cochlea, unaware that the actual cochlea had been stolen by his own crew during the time they were in the manatee.

    Web Comics 
  • Subverted in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! when Galatea concludes her new invention has to be destroyed before it falls into the wrong hands.
    Galatea: I've set the ship to destroy itself!
    Bob: What?!
    Galatea: It's the only way, Uncle! Don't you see? It's the only way!!!
    Bob: But couldn't you just take the machine apart? Or break it?
    Galatea: ............... oh. um...
    Bob: What is the matter with you?!
    Galatea: I think I'm doing very well for my age!

    Western Animation 
  • In the quoted example from Avatar: The Last Airbender above, it may in fact have been justified as Roku's holding back the magma is the only thing that gives the rest of the village enough time to evacuate.
  • Played for laughs in the Bizarro Episode of Teen Titans. Why are alien tofu invading the Earth, kidnapping cows and running substitute-meat fast food chains with the intent to blow up the planet? "It is our WAY!"
  • In the Adventure Time episode "Another Way", Finn is harassed by enemies who give him exactly two courses of action (usually bad and worse) then declaring "IT'S THE ONLY WAY! AAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Then Finn finds Another Way through the obstacle.
  • Justice League Unlimited. In "The Return", the Green Lantern Corp decide to concentrate their firepower to destroy Amazo, even though John Stewart points out it will destroy half the Earth.
    J'onn J'onzz: It's the only way.
    Dr Fate: Mmm...those words are always used to justify destruction!
    J'onn J'onzz: We can only guess how much power the android has amassed as it has worked its way across the galaxy. It has to be stopped, Fate! Here and now. Not just for the sake of this world, but for all worlds.
    Dr Fate: Then for the sake of all worlds, I will continue to seek a better way.