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Kick the Morality Pet
aka: Kick The Wrong Dog

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The Flash: Can't [kill me], can you? I'm the last piece of your conscience. That's the one thing you'll never do.
Lord Superman: I've done a lot of things I thought I'd never do these last two years. One more won't hurt.
Justice League, "A Better World (Part 2)"

The Hero has been taking a turn for the Anti-Hero lately, exploring The Dark Side with the help of an Evil Mentor, learning anger, or generally indulging in less than heroic behavior or abilities.

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On the way, their friends will try to stop them, but the hero will ignore them because they're enjoying themselves too much. They're this close to Jumping Off the Slippery Slope thanks to Evil Feels Good and assorted perks to lapsing their morality, and just when it looks like they're about to Kick the Son of a Bitch and give him what's coming to him, they either miss the intended target and hurt an ally by accident, or abruptly realize they're being an abject Jerkass and attacking someone who's trying to help them for no good reason.

They've just hit the nadir of this downward spiral and the start of their return to the straight and narrow. By hurting their friend, possibly the Morality Pet, Love Interest, or The Chick for extra oomph, they do the one thing capable of prompting a Heel Realization before they do a full Face–Heel Turn (or cement the turn, at least). Cue cries of "My God, What Have I Done?" and "What Have I Become?!?" while shedding Tears of Remorse and Cradling Their Kill, they'll say they're sorry and try their hardest to resuscitate the dog they've just kicked.

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If they weren't evil beforehand, whoever was inducing them to this behavior will quickly prove it by not turning back like the hero just has. They'll likely scold the hero for chickening out, thinking "They Were Holding You Back", and remark that evil does not spend its time petting bunnies (well, not during weekdays anyway). If powers are involved, expect them to go Drunk On The Darkside and/or One-Winged Angel.

Alternatively, this trope may be used as a Moral Event Horizon crossing to show that the character is too far gone to pull them back to their senses, which will result in either an Ignored Epiphany or the character displacing the guilt onto someone else. This, paradoxically, may be used to mark them as more evil, since intentionally harming someone that you actually care about to some extent takes more dedication than harming someone who you don't care about. If the villain's relationship with the morality pet was their only redeeming quality, callously throwing it away can make them a Complete Monster.

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See also Minor Insult Meltdown and Moment of Weakness.


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • In Villains United, Cheshire was blackmailed into joining the Secret Six with threats that a bomb was implanted in the back of her daughter's head. By the end of the mini-series, Cheshire conceived a replacement child via seducing Catman. Neither Lian or her father Roy ever learned about this, which allowed Cheshire to continue her emotional manipulation of Roy long after Lian's death.
  • Invoked in Starbrand & Nightmask when the Kree Starbrand murders her own Nightmask, knowing that Nightmasks are supposed to act as Morality Chains for their Starbrand. She's a Knight Templar who believes heavily in Utopia Justifies the Means, so she decided that having a moral lighthouse guiding her would just hold her back from doing her job.

    Films — Animated 
  • Coco: Miguel gets called out for deciding to risk both his own and Héctor's lives to get a better deal on his blessing, culminating in him to pull a Kick the Dog moment at Dante when he tries to get him to come back, after which he realizes what he's been doing wrong.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Parodied in both Ace Ventura and The Naked Gun: The protagonist is trying to convince the others that the Reasonable Authority Figure is actually a villain in disguise and Crosses the Line Twice while trying to prove it. In the case of Ace Ventura, he's actually right.
  • Blade: Trinity starts with the vampires arranging a Kick The Wrong Dog moment for Blade: The "vampire" that he was chasing simply had fake teeth.
  • Downfall: Jospeh and Magda Goebbels are die-hard fanatics to Adolf Hitler but they do love their six children, innocent of their parents' evil deeds. But when Hitler commits suicide and Germany's downfall is at hand, Magda (with Jospeh's approval) murders the children to prevent them from growing up in a Nazi-freed world.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Ego the Living Planet genuinely fell in love with Meredith Quill but knew that staying with her would jeopardize his life-long goal to assimilate all life in the universe. So he deliberately planted a brain tumor in her head that would eventually kill her, cutting off his one tie to Earth. Revealing this to their son turns out to be a bad idea as it instantly snaps Peter out of his reverie and turns Peter against him.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: As the journey progresses, Frodo falls more under the Ring's influence. It climaxes in Osgiliath when the Ring influences him to stand in the open so one of the Nazgul can take it. Luckily, Sam reaches him just in time to tackle him out of the way. Unluckily, his attempts to remove the Ring draw the still-enthralled Frodo's possessive wrath, and Sam barely escapes getting his throat cut with his friend's sword. When Frodo "wakes up" and realizes what he almost did, his self-loathing horror is palpable.
  • Return of the Living Dead 3: At one point, when zombie Julie gets really hungry, she attacks Curt, her own boyfriend, who is forced to fight her off.
  • Just like in the Animated Series, Spider-Man 3 has Peter Parker become a jerk thanks to the alien symbiote increasing his aggression. He eventually goes on a date with Gwen Stacy (after getting dumped by Mary Jane), walks into the bar MJ is working at and proceeds to enter a song and dance meant to humiliate her. Finally, the bouncer gets fed up and tries to throw him out. Peter easily deflects him, but also instinctively knocks MJ down when she tries to grab him. Peter finally realizes the symbiote is turning him into a monster and tries to get rid of it.
  • At the end of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker force chokes Padmé Amidala nearly to death when she tries to convince him what he's doing is evil. Unfortunately, the incident doesn't prompt him to stop, instead, he just blames Obi-Wan Kenobi for turning her against him.
  • X-Men: First Class includes a dramatic confrontation where Magneto is deflecting bullets from Moira MacTaggert trying to stop him from destroying the US and Soviet fleets. One of the bullets flies off and hits Charles in the spine. For a moment, there's a look of pure horror and guilt on Erik's face, then he decides it was Moira's fault. Xavier vocally disagrees and talks him down by playing on the other man's guilt.

    Multiple Media 
  • Subverted in BIONICLE. When Vakama turns evil and Matau attempts to turn him back, Vakama has no problem beating him up and almost killing him. Despite Matau's efforts and heartfelt speech, Vakama couldn't bring himself to believe that Matau had gone through Character Development, and thought he was the same Jerkass he had been when they last met, so he felt no remorse after hurting him. That is, until Matau managed to prove to him then and there that he has truly changed.
  • Danganronpa: Junko Enoshima does this to basically everyone she has affection for. She is capable of love and bonding, but due to her sadomasochistic obsession with despair, she intentionally cultivates feelings to cause herself pain when she kills her loved ones. Her sister Mukuro Ikusaba, her boyfriend Yasuke Matsuda, and her classmates from the first game all wind up either brutally murdered or traumatized by her, specifically because of her twisted love for them. Invoked and lampshaded in Danganronpa 3, as she routinely attempts to harm or kill Mukuro as a way of causing herself despair. Mukuro just shrugs it off happily.

    Visual Novels 
  • Inverted in the second Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth game. Horace Knightley, the murderer of the first case, is a close friend of Simon Keyes, and pretty much the only person Knightley would be nice to. Simon is a False Friend that sets up his arrest and murder because he hates Horace as Horace's father killed Simon's... or so he thinks. It's actually the other way around, but he feels no remorse after learning about that fact.
  • The House in Fata Morgana: A Requiem For Innocence: The one and only person Lord Jean-François Barnier shows affection for is Ceren, whom he even tries to protect when the peasants invade his castle in revolt. The interlude scenes between them are rather tender and show a softer side of him. But as he himself says, he puts himself first and her second- which he proves when he stabs her for disobeying his orders to stay safe inside, with no remorse whatsoever, even cackling in glee and taunting Jacopo about it.

    Webcomics 
  • In Collar 6, Butterfly, aka Evita Kappel has one of these moments when she lashes out at her slave Gunther because he worries about her mental state. She immediately regrets it. Though she'd already been established as a villain, this also serves to back up Gunther's theory that her use of her husband's "black books" has started affecting her personality.
  • Drowtales: Ariel was heading toward the Anti-Hero/Anti-Villain grey area, but after accidentally killing a slave she became more of an Emotionless Girl, and more recently more of a Plucky Girl type. Because of this she ended up sparing an enemy and avoided directly killing someone else, though given the Crapsack World of the setting both of those choices may come back to bite her.
  • Happens in the Webcomic Zap!, with the protagonist learning to use his forgotten Psychic Powers to control people.
  • In the Secretary arc in Nature of Nature's Art, XZ "breaks up" with SV by quitting the college, and he goes into an Unstoppable Rage and kills her. Whether he did a Heel–Face Turn before he also died is up for debate.

    Web Original 
  • In the climax of Volume 7 of RWBY, General Ironwood has gone around the bend, issued arrest orders for the heroes, and intends to raise Atlas and leave Mantle to die at the cold and Grimm. Oscar, who has spent much of the Volume spending time with Ironwood, tries to appeal to Ironwood and get him to change his mind. When Ironwood refuses to budge and swears to let no one get in his way, Oscar remarks that Ironwood has become as dangerous as Salem. In response, Ironwood shoots him without hesitation or mercy.
  • A strange mixture of in-universe and out-of-universe examples: in Twitch Plays Pokémon Crystal, the Mob accidentally releasing Togepi instead of Lazer Gator caused them to take stock of themselves, eventually leading to its new and distinct themes and plot.


 
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Alternative Title(s): Kick The Wrong Dog

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Kaos fires Glumshanks

After being manipulated by the Darkness, Kaos turns against his loyal follower Glumshanks and throws him out.

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