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Mercy Lead

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"Gimme three steps, gimme three steps mister, gimme three steps toward the door.
Gimme three steps, gimme three steps mister, and you'll never see me no more."

Sometimes, when the hero escapes right in front of the villain, they smirk and say "Oh, I think we can give him a five minute start." Alternatively, a criminal protagonist who's technically still due for arrest but has just assisted the law enforcement in something bigger will be given a Mercy Lead as an act of gratitude and good will.

Noble Demons and Worthy Opponents do this the most, to show that they respect the hero, and that they have style. After an Enemy Mine scenario, heroes usually give the villain a Mercy Lead, and the villain often reciprocates. May be justified by making the need to clean up after the problem they united against more urgent than catching the other.

Less honorable villains may also promise a head start, but in such a case you can pretty much expect them to subvert the trope by breaking their word, or start the pursuit after about five seconds.

You might think there would be a case of heroes giving a villain a head start for no reason other than to maintain the status quo, but no hero would hold that big an Idiot Ball. Yeah, right.

Not to be confused with the lead bullet used to put some poor sod out of their misery.

The Pardon may function similarly, when the villain has done something to merit official mercy, but goes back to a life of crime.

Compare I Am Not Left-Handed, Just Toying with Them.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Zenigata has done this several times throughout the history of Lupin III. Usually tricked into it, as Zenigata has the choice between the world-class master thief, and the guy responsible for the recent plot.
    • In a particularly poignant episode, Lupin has just stolen some kind of treasure in an armored van, and is running away with it while being chased by the police. He then discover that Zenigata has locked himself into the van, and is slowly suffocating to death, as the van is airtight. In spite of having a chance to both get rid of his nemesis and secure the loot at the same time, Lupin decide to leave the van behind, to allow the police to get to it and save Zenigata. Later, when the police is about to definitely snare Lupin, Zenigata prevents that by blocking the road with his car, thinking that, just for this time only, he owes Lupin one.
  • One Piece: Captain Smoker, a powerful marine with the ability to turn into smoke and that has been chasing the Straw Hat Crew since they were the first pirates to escape from him, gives the Straw Hats one of these after the events of Alabasta Arc after he formed an Enemy Mine with them.
  • In Spiral, the main showdown with Rio: the first to get both the tape of her confessing to murder and the hostage, Hiyono, wins. In the interest of fairness, mostly because she had the key to defuse a bomb around Ayumu's neck, Hiyono was given a ten minute head start before Kousuke and Rio could attempt to capture her again.

    Comic Books 
  • In Grant Morrison and Dave McKean's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Batman is given an hour to run and hide by the Joker after the inmates take over the asylum. When the Mad Hatter complains that they're all bored, the Joker responds, "Oh, all right then. Let's just pretend it's been an hour."
  • In Shaman's Tears #8, the Nesting Ones give Jon Sable a gun with a single bullet and a very short head start before setting out to hunt him through the sewers.

    Fan Works 
  • Limitless Potential: After delivering his New Era Speech, Sigma announces that the inhabitants of Abel City have until sunset to try and find shelter or escape the city before the missile strike destroys the city.
  • In This Bites!, as thanks for killing Lily Carnation, Sengoku informs the Straw Hats that the Marines are on their way to the island.

    Films — Animated 
  • Despicable Me 3, Where in the end scene, [[spoiler:Dru and the minions steal one of Gru's flying vehicles in the middle of the night waking Gru and Lucy. Lucy's ready to chase after Dru before Gru stops her saying, "Honey, he's my brother! [beat] Let's give him a 5 minute head start." [insert not-evil laugh]]
  • In The Jungle Book (1967), Shere Khan gives Mowgli a 10-second count because he's impressed at Mowgli's attempts to stand up to him and not run in fear. The trope appears subverted because Mowgli foolishly looks for a weapon instead of running and getting away due to the head start, but then it turns out that the 10-seconds gave Baloo just enough time to catch up to Shere Khan and save Mowgli.
  • At the end of The LEGO Batman Movie, Batman gives all his villains a 30 minute head start.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in Black Panther (2018). During the robbery at the British Museum, Klaue shoots the security guards but tells an unarmed witness to run, only to shoot him In the Back. When asked why he didn't just shoot him on the spot, Klaue says that it will make the crime scene look more disorganised if the bodies are spread out, convincing the police that amateurs were involved.
  • In the introduction to Blade II, Blade lets a vampire called Rush go after Rush tells him where to find Whistler. Blade catches up to Rush later.
  • In Blade: Trinity, Blade tells a man who sided with the vampires he has twenty seconds to get out of here. Subverted as when the man starts running, Blade immediately says "Twenty!" and shoots him.
  • In Death Ring, Matt is released on the island and given a two hour head start before the hunters start Hunting the Most Dangerous Game.
  • In Death Wish II, a hospital orderly discovers that Kersey has murdered a patient. After learning that the patient raped and murdered Kersey's daughter, the orderly gives him three minutes before he sounds the alarm.
  • Subverted in Double Indemnity: when Keyes catches Neff in the act of recording his confession, Neff asks him for a few hours to get away before he calls the cops. Keyes, however, points out that Neff's gunshot injury will prevent him from getting very far. This turns out to be quite correct; Neff tries to run but collapses, and in the background Keyes can be heard calling for an ambulance — and the police.
  • In the climax of Fast Five, Dom is given a 24 hour mercy lead by Hobbs in exchange for helping to kill the Big Bad. Said lead is all Dom needs to disappear forever... at least until the sequel.
  • In Freejack, gritty Noble Demon mercenary Vacendak has come to like the protagonist he's been chasing. So he gives him a 5-minute head start before he and his team begin their latest pursuit. He does so by closing his eyes and counting off the seconds, while the hero, once he realizes Vacendak's serious, sprints down the city streets to try to find somewhere to hide.
  • At the end of John Carpenter's Vampires, Jack gives his friend Montoya a two day head start after learning he was bitten earlier in the film and is slowly turning. Apparently it's a tradition within their hunter group if something like that happens.
  • At the end of John Wick: Chapter 2, after John kills Santino within the Continental and breaks the rules, Winston is forced to officially excommunicate him and gives him a one hour lead out of respect. In the third film, this very act of mercy leads to the High Table forcing Winston out of power.
    • Also, the third film starts in the final minutes of said lead. One assassin tries to kill Wick before it is over, pointing out no one is around to know that he's violating the lead, and no one will question it this close. A doctor also stops working on Wick the second the lead ends.
  • In Jumper, the main character finally confronts his long-gone mother, who left him at the age of five because she was part of the group that kills Jumpers. After they talk, she gives him a head start because she really doesn't want him to get caught.
  • Les Misérables (1998). As Valjean knocks out Javert and prepares to flee, he's confronted by another officer, who asks him if Javert is dead. After Valjean tells him "no", the officer declares "That's a pity", then turns around and tells Valjean, "Make it look good", essentially telling Valjean to give him a Tap on the Head and allow him to escape. (The backstory on this moment is that the soldier has only known Valjean as the beloved Mayor Madeline and Javert as a brute).
  • Inverted in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when the Queen's wolves track down Susan & Lucy.
    Maugrim: Please don't try to run. We're tired and we'd prefer to kill you quickly.
  • In Minority Report, caretaker-of-precogs Wally sees the images predicting the involvement of Anderton, the protagonist and his superior, in a murder. Wally tells Anderton that he will give Anderton two minutes' lead out of respect before activating the alarm.
  • The entire premise of The Naked Prey, in which a white hunter is given a head start and then hunted down by African tribesmen.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
  • The Predator. Justified given that the entire Predator culture is based on Hunting the Most Dangerous Game. After the Ultimate Predator has secured the crashed spacecraft so the humans can't get it, he sends them a message via the translation software saying that he's been entertained by them killing each other, but he will now allow them several minutes to join forces so they can kill him or escape.
  • Played with in The Quick and the Dead, when Herod gives a mook who's displeased him thirty seconds to get out of town. The mook takes off at full speed, and Herod waits the full amount of time, but then calmly pulls out a gun and shoots the still-rapidly-fleeing figure dead, showing that there was no way he could have gotten away in the time given.
  • Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity: When Hunting the Most Dangerous Game, Zed gives those he hunts a ten minute start.

  • In the second Artemis Fowl book, The Arctic Incident, on-the-run criminal dwarf Mulch Diggums is given a two day head start by the authorities in exchange for aiding their efforts against the Big Bad.
  • In Andre Norton's Catseye, Troy demands an hour's lead in his deal with Rerne — and enforces it later.
  • Ben Snow: In "Frontier Street", a crooked gambler gets spooked and shoots a deputy. Ben, who witnesses the shooting, draws his own pistol but tells the gambler he will give him a five second head start.
  • Discworld:
    • Discussed in Jingo: The culture of the D'Regs places extremely high importance on granting anyone, even your worst enemy, three days of hospitality. Ahmed is called "71-hour Ahmed" because, while still under the burden of hospitality, he killed a man. A mass-murderer, yes, but what matters to the D'Regs is not that he did it, but when he did it. When Vimes calls Ahmed on this, Ahmed points out that if Vimes gives a suspect this, it's in a city you can walk across in an hour, whereas if Ahmed does it, he's in the middle of a desert that swallows armies whole.
    • The guards give Rincewind a count of ten to escape in The Last Continent, because it's not right to have a final showdown in a kitchen.
    • In The Fifth Elephant Wolfgang promises Vimes a one hour head start out of werewolf custom. However, he sees nothing wrong with sending his people ahead to ambush him the minute that hour is up.

      Wolfgang is perverting a family tradition in which individual humans could volunteer to be hunted by his family, with certain courtesies such as the head start. In the original game, the whole thing was voluntary, the head start was genuine, some people actually survived, and if they did they would win a modest fortune.
    • In Going Postal, Moist von Lipwig offers to do this for Reacher Gilt during the race between the clacks and the postal service, supposedly to give the Grand Trunk time to turn their message into clacks code. He does this to taunt him, since it's obvious semaphore messages travel vastly faster than the physical messengers of the post office, and Moist should have no chance of winning whatsoever, much less the luxury of letting his opponent have extra time.
  • Killing Time: After CCG employee Archer Danile makes it clear to Tim that he isn't going to offer him immunity, he does urge him to leave town before the next morning with a hint of respect.
  • A heroic example: In the last book of the second Kushiel's Legacy trilogy, Kushiel's Mercy, Astegal is promised a good horse and an hour's lead if he can best Imriel in a duel. He can't.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness: When the country of Karhide sentences someone to exile, they have three days to get past the border, a nod to the ancient tradition of Sacred Hospitality. Furthermore, it's an unofficial custom to warn them in advance of the actual sentencing so they have time to get their affairs in order — a courtesy the paranoid monarch does not extend to the disgraced Prime Minister Estraven.
  • In Neogicia, the leader of an enemy faction has Saly captured and asks for demonstration of her Bio-Augmentation induced powers to give him an idea of what he's up against. His incentive to get Saly to cooperate, in addition to a No, Mister Bond, I Expect You To Dine treatment, is to let her walk out of the room in which there is only the two of them if he gets what he wants.
  • Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere:
    • Subverted by Assassins Croup and Vandemar. They agree to give the Marquis de Carabas one hour of head start, but get bored waiting, teleport straight to him long before the hour is up, and proceed to torture him to death. In this case, this is not so much a "mercy" lead, as the Marquis swapped a rare pottery figurine with Croup in exchange for "three answers to three questions, and an hour's head start".
    • In the graphic novel, they promise not to *touch* him for the next half-hour. They don't. This does not stop them from following him, tearing a ladder he's using off the wall and then standing over his broken body, counting the seconds until they can really start.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • This is apparently codified into Imperial law in the Star Wars galaxy. Legal assassinations require notifying the victim, allowing them to defend themselves (including giving them a blaster if they are unarmed), and allowing them three minutes to escape.
    • In Dark Lord—The Rise of Darth Vader, a squad of clone commandos disobey Order 66 and allow their Jedi partners to escape. Climber and his commandos disable their fellow clones' equipment long enough for the Jedi to flee "for old times' sake," but warn them that they won't hesitate to engage if they catch up.
  • In Without Remorse, Kelly convinces Ryan to give him a one hour head start before trying to arrest him in exchange for the information that will allow Ryan to completely shut down what parts of Baltimore's drug network Kelly hadn't managed to kill.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Adventures of Superman: Invoked in "Jimmy the Kid". Invoked. After threatening Lois and knocking Jimmy unconscious, "Kid" Collins demands that Perry give him ten minutes before he calls the police. Given the threat to his reporters, Perry caves. It doesn't end up mattering, because Superman turns up soon afterwards and tells Lois to send the cops to Gridley's place.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Angelus toys with Ms. Calender for a bit, letting her scramble out of her classroom. "Oh, good. I need to work up an appetite first." ("Passion")
    • A video recording of Mr. Trick welcoming Buffy and Cordelia to Slayerfest '98. He explains that they have "exactly 30 seconds—(checks his watch) No, that's 17 now—to run for [their] lives." ("Homecoming")
    • In "The Wish", Vamp Xander and Vamp Willow snuggle a bit, prompting Cordy to screech that she can't win, since Xander and Willow are an item even in the Wishverse. Xander agrees with the "can't win" sentiment, and vamps out. "But I'll give you a head start."
  • Angel: Angelus offers Lilah a ten-count before he chases her in "Cavalry". She doesn't need telling twice.
    Angelus: Ten, there's a girl who takes advantage of her opportunities!
  • Doctor Who: In "Victory of the Daleks", the Dalek-created synthetic human Professor Bracewell has just embraced his humanity to deactivate the devastating bomb hidden inside him, only to realise that the technology that makes his body is far beyond what his time period should have, and he must be disassembled. It takes the Doctor and Amy several lampshaded attempts at giving Bracewell a good lead to run, telling him it will take them fifteen, twenty, no, thirty minutes to get what they need prepared to disassemble him. He eventually realises what they're doing and scurries off to enjoy the rest of his human life.
  • Subverted in Game of Thrones episode "Battle of the Bastards:" Ramsay Bolton lets Rickon Stark free to run towards his brother Jon Snow. However, he runs in a straight line, allowing Ramsay to shoot an arrow into him just before he reaches Jon.
  • Halo (2022). While in the Spartan training program, John-117 tries to stop Soren-066 from deserting, but ultimately lets him go saying he's got five minutes before he sounds the alarm. Soren wants ten, but John sticks to five. When they meet up as adults, Soren complains that he could have done with ten minutes because the aircraft he stole got shot down and he was forced to escape-and-evade while eating bugs to stay alive.
  • Subverted in an episode of House, where Dr. House offers a doctor who's committed a criminal offense a chance to walk away. The subversion comes in when, after the guy is safely out of earshot, House tells Foreman to call the cops.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. The Hirogen do this a lot, given that the 'hat' of their species is Hunting the Most Dangerous Game.
    JANEWAY: What are you waiting for?
    TURANJ: I am a hunter. You are my prey. Run.
  • Lost: In a flashback, after committing her crime and initially evading capture, Kate goes to see her father one last time at the army recruitment center he works in. After a tearful scene, her father agrees to wait an hour before he calls the authorities.
  • Father Brown: The Egomaniac Hunter gives one to Father Brown in "The Lair of the Libertines": giving him the time it takes them to finishing loading their rifle in which to run.
  • Blake's 7.
    • In "Volcano", Servalan secretly lands on a planet whose population has been conditioned to avoid all aggression. She orders her Mook Lieutenant to shoot two locals who've witnessed their presence. Despite the Mook Lieutenant giving them a chance to run for their lives, they placidly wait to get shot instead.
    • In "Weapon", Servalan has got her hands on the titular Secret Weapon, but plans to keep it for her own use rather than return it to the Federation. She gives Blake and the others the chance to outrun the weapon with a Hyperspeed Escape, but this is actually because she wants to make the Federation think that Blake has stolen the weapon. She intends to destroy the Liberator once it's out of sight of the Federation warships.
    • A variant in the final episode. Blake, who's done a Face–Heel Turn and is working as a Bounty Hunter, has captured Tarrant and threatens to turn him in to the Federation. Tarrant escapes, and Blake lets him run because he actually hasn't defected at all and the whole thing is a Secret Test of Character. It ends badly for all involved.
  • Once Upon a Time in Wonderland: The Rabbit gives one to Cyrus.
  • Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin: Principal Clanton's answer to Imogen's statement that her unborn baby is innocent and shouldn't pay for her mother Davie's sins? Give her a head start on being chased down by A.

    Video Games 
  • Played with in Baldur's Gate, where Bodhi gives you a non-specific amount of time to escape a dungeon at the asylum. Once you get far enough, she declares the time to be up and attacks you. Though it's in no way clear when she was supposed to come after you, the dialogue implies she's breaking the deal both of you understood you had.
    • There does exist a mod that will let Bodhi come after your party after a certain number of rounds have passed. Thus, it's possible that your party can escape the dungeon altogether without ever encountering her, or can wait at the beginning point and spawn camp her when she shows up.
  • In I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream: If Nimdok manages to convince the escaped death camp prisoners that he's on their side, their leader gives him a head start before they inevitably hunt him down.
  • In Jagged Alliance 2, approximately halfway through the game, the Big Bad Deidranna will send Miko, the leading and best mercenary from the first games, after you (he switched sides after being offered a ton of cash). Upon realizing that he's fighting former comrades, he gives you a head start.
  • LEGO Marvel Super Heroes ends with the heroes and villains teaming up to fight Galactus. In the final cutscenes:
    Doctor Doom: You can't arrest us, Fury. We made an arrangement.
    Iron Man: You made an arrangement with them?
    Nick Fury: Yes. In return for your assistance and services rendered, we are going to count to thirty.
  • Parodied in Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. Carmelita offers Sly a ten-second head start at the end of the game. Sly spends nine of those seconds standing there, and then kisses her on the tenth one - which distracts her enough that she doesn't see him handcuffing her to a railing.
  • In StarCraft: Brood War, Kerrigan is shown catching up the UED with her forces after giving them a very short Mercy Lead However, the scene plays it out as if the UED was merely exiting the sector.
  • In Sonic Adventure, a Black Chao named Chacron will sometimes appear in Chao Races. Unlike the other racers, it will idly lounge at the starting line once the race starts. You will soon find out that this is a mercy lead, as once one of the other Chao is halfway through the race, it will get up and take off at a ridiculously high speed, very easily overtaking the other racers unless they have high stats themselves.


    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in American Dad!, when Stan and his boss give Jeff 30 seconds head start before they hunt him like an animal. Within 5 seconds he steals their car.
  • Danny Phantom:
    • Even though Danny promised Valerie he would surrender himself if she helped him save Danielle, she tells him to just go at the end of the episode "before I change my mind."
    • Subverted in "Maternal Instincts" where Vlad has Danny trapped and depowered. After insulting his math grade, he tells him he is sending ghost animals after him, giving Danny a 5-minute head start, only to send them out after 5 seconds.
      Vlad: 5 minutes, 5 seconds...Ooh, apparently I'm bad at math, too.
      • By the end of the episode Danny's depowered Vlad and turned the animals against him.
        Danny: I'll give you a 5-minute head start, Plasmius.
        Vlad: Really?
        Danny: Minutes, seconds. You know how bad I am at math.
  • At the series end of Justice League Unlimited, the Legion of Doom has helped save the world from Darkseid's forces and the League tells them they're going to be arrested anyway. Atomic Skull protests, and Batman gives them five minutes head start before they go after them.
    Skull: Five minutes? Are you kidding?
    Wonder Woman: Four minutes, fifty seconds.
    (The villains run, with Giganta stopping to snog the Flash before following them)
  • Inverted in the pilot of Futurama. Fry has trapped Leela in a cryogenic chamber set for 1000 years and is free to escape, but he adjusts it so that she'll only be frozen for a few minutes.
  • In one The New Scooby-Doo Movies crossover with The Harlem Globetrotters ("Ghostly Creep From The Deep"), the gang and the team are holed up in a decrepit old mansion. To while away the time, they play a game of basketball to ten points. The Trotters spot Scooby and the kids eight points. They score, giving them ten, only for the Globetrotters to tie it on a single play (having the ball bounce five times in their basket).
  • The Simpsons: In the "Treehouse Of Horror XVI" segment "Survival Of The Fattest", Mr Burns gathers several characters so he can hunt them down across his estate.
    Burns: Now, because I am too kind, I will give you all a five-minute head start. You may commence running.
    Comic Book Guy: Five minutes of running? Shoot me now! *BANG*

    Real Life 
  • In Dark Age Europe and The Middle Ages, the tradition of hospitality was so strongly honored that mortal enemies would stay their hands when sharing a common roof. It was the height of chivalry or gentlemanly sportsmanship for the stronger to give the weaker a mercy lead before giving chase.
    • It is from this tradition, incidentally, that two belligerents will take it outside before a quarrel comes to blows.
  • The Union Cavalry did this for one Confederate partisan sentenced to be shot.
  • This is a tenet of international law, when both parties are in a neutral port. According to Section 13, Article 16 of the Hague Convention of 1907:
    ''When war-ships belonging to both belligerents are present simultaneously in a neutral port or roadstead, a period of not less than twenty-four hours must elapse between the departure of the ship belonging to one belligerent and the departure of the ship belonging to the other.

    The order of departure is determined by the order of arrival, unless the ship which arrived first is so circumstanced that an extension of its stay is permissible.

    A belligerent war-ship may not leave a neutral port or roadstead until twenty-four hours after the departure of a merchant ship flying the flag of its adversary.''