Follow TV Tropes


Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer

Go To

"I don't like when they encounter something amazing in Engineering or wherever and call up to the bridge and say 'Captain, you'd better get down here.' Explain what it is! THAT IS WHAT PEOPLE DO. I don't call up my friends and say, 'Utahraptor, you'd better get down here.' and he says 'Why?' and I say 'Oh Utahraptor, if only we had descriptive language; if only I could describe something using my words. But you know as well as I that I can only point and say, lookit.'"
T-Rex (on why this trope bugs him), Dinosaur Comics, #1270

A giant bug-eyed monster has just appeared in the engine room, and is asking to borrow a cup of sugar. Someone on the bridge calls down and asks what's going on.

Now, if this were a real spaceship note , your duty would be to give a short, concise description of the problem. To do otherwise would be irresponsible to the point of criminality.

But this is TV, and we need The Captain in this scene. That is why you Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer. Instead, you say something like, "You'd better come see for yourself," or the ubiquitous "Sir, I think you'd better (come) see/take a look at this...", giving the character a reason to enter the scene, with the added bonus of allowing a surprised reaction to the crisis when he arrives.

Occasionally, some rationale is offered. Perhaps the person who encountered the weirdness is simply too stunned to explain what's going on. Another possibility is that the situation is too sensitive to discuss over a possibly insecure line of communication. Or perhaps the person who encountered the weirdness doesn't know what's going on, and is calling someone who might be able to figure it out. May also be a case of You Wouldn't Believe Me If I Told You.

Of course, there's the option of you giving out a description, then the Captain responds "What!? I'm coming down there to see for myself!"

Variation crops up in most Space Opera. Though less common in other genres, it still occasionally shows up as a way to perform the Room Shuffle in response to an unexpected guest or sudden crisis (Often phrased as, "There's No Time to Explain, just get here right away!"), or to hold off The Reveal until the moment of maximum drama. Can lead to some Fridge Logic that if this ship is the Weirdness Magnet that it has a reputation of being, why isn't there any training to reflect that? Compare Figure It Out Yourself.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • A too-flustered-to-explain variant occurs in the first season of Strike Witches, with Lynette unable to explain to Mio that Yoshika is fondling Shirley. For the most part, though, the show avoids this.

    Comic Books 
  • Justified in the 2008 Dan Dare miniseries, as Sergeant-major Wallis doesn't want to announce to the already rather shaken civilians present that a horde of monsters is coming their way.
  • In Ex Machina, Mayor Hundred's chief of staff drags him to the Brooklyn Museum of Art to look at a painting of Abe Lincoln with the word "nigger" across his face, claiming he needed to see it for himself.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: For whatever reason the communications officer felt the need to call Suprema and every other officer out of the room to hear the broadcast that explained why their earth prisoners were really there and how the Green Geni had broadcast a lying call to help to earth that painted the space police as the villains. By the time they return to the room to apologize and explain the misunderstanding Diana and the Holliday Girls had escaped and gone to the Geni.

    Films — Animated 
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2: When Stoick tries to drag Hiccup out of the dragon sanctuary, Gobber, after learning that Valka is alive, just tells Stoick, "You might want to take this one... hooboy..."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Alien, Science Officer Ash does this to Captain Dallas twice. Possibly justified by Ash having no interest in being helpful.
    • The first time occurs after the alien Face Hugger releases itself from Kane's face and disappears.
      Ash: I think you should have a look at Kane. Something's happened.
      Dallas: Serious?
      Ash: Interesting.
    • The second is when Kane wakes up. The novelisation has Dallas envisioning all kinds of horrible scenarios as he rushes to Medical, only to find Kane awake and alive, so it wasn't very nice of Ash to do this.
      Ash: Dallas, I think you should see Kane.
      Dallas: Has his condition changed?
      Ash: It's simpler if you come.
    • In the novelisation, Dallas assures himself on the first occasion that Ash would have said something different if Kane was dead. On the second, poor Dallas is tormented by nightmarish images of what might have happened to Kane while rushing to the sickbay.
  • Almost every time the Sea Tiger's intercom rings in Operation Petticoat, chances are good Lt. Cmdr. Sherman will have to deal with this sort of call. One sequence revolves around about half a dozen of them happening in a row, chasing him from one end of his sub to the other and back.
  • One of the most famous examples actually zig-zags the trope, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Without Kirk's knowledge, Spock goes down to Engineering and takes a lethal dose of radiation while saving the ship. Kirk calls down to Engineering.
    Kirk: Engine Room? Well done, Scotty.
    McCoy: Jim! I think you'd better get down here.
    Kirk: Bones?
    McCoy: Better... hurry.
    • Given that it was the ship's doctor and not the engineer who answered, and given the very personal nature of the situation, discretion was called for and the trope is justified. Then again, it's still played straight to the hilt: we did just pull the captain off the bridge in a crisis situation, ostensibly with no explanation, after all.
    • As McCoy says that last line, Kirk turns to look at Spock at the science station, but only sees an empty chair. That, combined with the tone of McCoy's voice, tells Kirk exactly what he needs to know, and he immediately charges through the ship to get to Engineering.
    • And perhaps the most important detail to take into account, Spock had knocked McCoy out with the Vulcan Neck Pinch. He was likely still groggy when he contacted Kirk and too disoriented to articulate what happened.
    • Not to mention, this is incredibly emotional for him too. It's entirely plausible that he simply can't bring himself to say the words.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness also has this. In fact, it's the exact same setup as Wrath of Khan, down to the lines — only Kirk is the one dying, Spock is the one being called down, and Scotty is the one doing the calling.
  • In Interstellar, Cooper's father-in-law gives Cooper a call on CB, refusing to explain the situation on his end but instead requests him to come down to the farm and see for himself. Cooper does and sees the harvesting machines acting up, which could have been explained on the CB already. However, Coop is literally the only person on the farm with the technical know-how to actually maintain and fix said machines, so perhaps his dad thought it would be better if he just came in person.
  • In Predator, the fact that the person doesn't give a clear description is played for drama. Hawkins is the first member of Dutch's team to be taken by the alien, but all Poncho can find is a pile of internal organs rotting on the ground. When he returns to report, Poncho can barely comprehend what he has seen.
    Poncho:'d better take a look at this...
    Dutch: Did you find Hawkins?
    Poncho: I...I can't tell.
    (Reaction Shot from Dutch)
  • In Predestination, when the Barkeeper offers John to try his real job, the latter asks what his job was but the Barkeeper refuses to explain right out, given that John is hardly going to believe him unless shown firsthand.
    John: What is it?
    Barkeeper: I'll show you. [moving towards the backdoor]
    John: No. Fuck that, no. Stop playing games. Just tell me right now.
  • The Mask. Dorian Tyrell sends his minions to rob a bank. Later on, one of them shows up unexpectedly and is somewhat unresponsive to Tyrell's question. It turns out that another minion is upstairs dying from gunshot wounds.
    Tyrell: Why are you here?
    Minion: There's trouble. You better come upstairs.note 
  • Margin Call, Sam gets a call from Will close to midnight to return to the office and Sam offers the logical alternative to have the mysterious problem emailed to his phone. Will replies "I don't think that would be a good idea." This is enough to get him to turn around. Later, Sam's boss Jared leaves the room and makes a call to the CEO at 2am that lasts barely a minute and gets him to come back as well.
  • Sahara (2005): Al follows a stray soccer ball down the street and into a basement room. He runs out and tells Dirk he better come see what's in the room, which we don't see until Dirk does ... the painting showing the wreck's location.
  • In Jurassic Park, after seeing the live dinosaurs in the park, Grant asks Hammond how he did this and the only answer he gets is "I'll show you" and the scene cuts to them driving up to the lab.

  • Subverted in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, where the Greystones' servant says he has to show something to Drawlight. He says it can be seen from the edge of the canal... and then he kicks Drawlight into the canal.
  • In The Princess Bride, Buttercup's parents do this to each other just to be jerks. "You look; you know how."
  • Dean Koontz's Phantoms. In one house Deputy Frank Autry finds a room with bullets (not complete cartridges, just the part that shoots out of the gun) all over the floor. He realizes that they're all of the bullets that have been fired at the mystery monster during the book. He calls his superior Sheriff Bryce Hammond on the radio.
    Autry: Sheriff?
    Hammond: What is it, Frank?
    Autry: We're still here at the Sheffield house. I think you'd better come over. There's something you ought to see.
    Hammond: More bodies?
    Autry: No, sir. Uh, something sort of weird.
    Hammond: We'll be there.
  • Inverted in the Horatio Hornblower series. Hornblower doesn't give his crew a straight answer—he simply gives them whatever relevant orders re necessary to carry out his plans. He does this for two reasons; one so that success will be more impressive to them, and two because he's mortally afraid of talking about an idea only to have it not work — a sort of self-imposed Unspoken Plan Guarantee, if you will.
  • Within three pages, His Majesty's Dragon has Royal Navy Captain William Lawrence being told "there is something queer in the hold" of the French ship his crew just captured. No hints concerning the new bulkhead or heavily secured crate beyond are given.
  • War Junkie by Jon Steele. "Trust me, words cannot describe what is coming up the road." In this case, an air-to-surface missile launcher from a helicopter gunship, mounted on the back of a goods truck.
  • Happens in the first Artemis Fowl, although justified in this case as both people are in the same room: Foaly tells Commander Root to come look at the screen instead of explaining that Butler is putting on a suit of medieval armor in order to fight a troll.

    Live-Action TV 

In General:


  • American Greed In "From Bouncer to Millionaire Fraudster" it is described as happening in real life as when the authorities search Cohen's house for evidence of his fraud, one of the agents tells his supervisor "she has to see this book". When she asks what it is (assuming he's found an incriminating ledger), he insists on her seeing it with her eyes without him describing it. It's a list of his targets for the killing spree he's planning.
  • Babylon 5: It is ALWAYS "Captain, I think you need to see this" or "you'd better get down here". (They really need to work on adding some security to those links.) The station is five miles long, so the captain may have to travel a considerable distance to "see this." The lifts and core shuttle help speed up the trip, but they also break down or get sabotaged a lot, typically while the captain is trying to use them.
  • Fairly egregious on Doctor Who:
    • Invoked in "Robot". The Brigadier tries to explain to the Doctor what the situation is like before he leaves, but the Doctor refuses to have any of it for Drama Queen reasons:
      Brigadier: The thing is, there's been another robbery–
      The Doctor: [heading out of the door] Tell me on the way, Brigadier, tell me on the way! [as if a stage school teacher] You must cultivate a sense of urgency!
    • "The Stolen Earth": Independently and in different countries, Sarah Jane Smith and Martha Jones desperately try to find out what's just happened to the entire planet, only to have whoever's nearby insist that they have to see it for themselves. Sylvia Noble (Donna's mum) and the Torchwood team have similar reactions, but in their case the info is only hidden from the viewers.
    • Subverted in "The Time of Angels". Christian and Bob request clarification when told to "Come and see" by a squadmate: "It's not a school trip. Just tell me." It is, in fact, the Weeping Angel — using their companions' voices. They still come and see, despite being frustrated with their companions' vagueness, and it still kills them.
  • Eureka, pilot episode. "That's not all we've found — better come take a look."
  • The Fall: A technician examining Spector's computer interrupts Gibson while she's watching one of the interrogations, telling her there's some videos on it that she'd better see.
  • Shows up occasionally on Firefly, usually with Wash calling Mal up to the bridge.
  • Apparently averted in the fifth season finale of Game of Thrones when Olly comes to tell Jon that his uncle Benjen has returned to Castle Black. Subverted when he follows Olly outside and learns, too late, that it's really just a ploy to set up his assassination.
  • A rather cruel example comes from the Inspector Morse episode "In Service of All the Dead", when Morse and Lewis climb a bell tower. Morse is badly winded by the climb and clearly suffers from terrible vertigo (he can't bear to look up or down, or even move around). Lewis, by contrast, is skipping around happily when he sees a corpse far below and tells the elderly Morse that he'd best come see for himself.
  • Shows up in Lost.
    Jack: You wanna tell me where we're going, Sayid?
    Sayid: It's better that you see it for yourself.
    Jack: No, I'm not so sure it is.
  • NCIS:
    • Abby has been known to continue this even while Gibbs is standing right in front of her. Abby's excuse for wasting time explaining technical details of her forensics before getting to the useful information also explains this. She works alone in her lab most of the time, and even though she doesn't want an assistant, she still likes to have company.
    • Ducky does it as well. Why simply tell Gibbs about the results of his autopsy when he could show him in gory detail?
    • And McGee and his technobabble...
      Tony: Oh, twenty bucks says McGee's about to say something nobody understands again.
      McGee: The GPS coordinates came bundled in a proprietary packet. Since it was a beta, I thought—
      Gibbs: I'm starting to think you can't help yourself, McGee.
  • A rare example from not only a non-genre series but a comedy, at that: In The Office (US), Kevin calls Michael from a supermarket and tells him he'd better get over there and see... what turns out to be a pregnant Jan.
  • In The Orville, Talla calls Ed and Kelly to the science lab without explanation. Justified in that Talla needs to report vandalism ("Murderer" painted in red on a wall) directed at Isaac, who is facing angry crewmates demanding retribution for the Union's losses in defending Earth from the Kaylon. Talla's brevity is warranted; she doesn't know where the two are and wants to avoid starting conflict with any irate crew who happen to overhear.
  • Inverted in Stargate SG-1. In "Fallen", SG-3 come across someone who appears to be one of the natives of Vis Uban, but turns out to be an amnesiac Daniel Jackson, post-descension. The next scene involves SG-3 showing up and informing Jack O'Neill that "we found something you might want to see," but rather than making him go anywhere, it turns out that they actually brought Daniel along with them, so he immediately enters the scene. It's not even drawn out for drama; the audience clearly sees that it's Daniel in the same instant that SG-3 recognize him initially.
    • It's still pretty common for someone to call Sam's lab or Daniel's office to insist they report to the Gate Room immediately.
  • Star Trek in its various incarnations is far and away the most common user.
    • Justified in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Enterprise Incident", when Dr. McCoy calls Scotty (currently in command) to sick bay to let him in on a situation (that Kirk's supposed insanity and death were faked as part of a secret mission) that can't be discussed over an open intercom.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Skin of Evil", a monster made of sludge rises out of a pool of slime. When Commander Riker is ordered to report on the situation, all he can come up with is, "Trouble."
    • The most egregious example has to be in "Hide and Q" when Picard asks Data, an android who generally can't stop oversharing, to describe what happened on a planet. Data replies, "You may find it aesthetically displeasing, sir. I could put it in a report."
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
      • Major Kira, commanding the Defiant, returns through the wormhole. On the station, Commander Sisko asks the major what she found. Kira, visibly terrified, says, "Trouble!"
      • Again in "The Reckoning" when Odo calls Sisko to the promenade, saying that he'll "let [Sisko] be the judge" of whether or not what's going on is a problem. Somewhat justified in that what's happening is that Kira's been possessed by a Prophet, and Sisko, who knows them best, really is the best judge on if it's a problem.
  • Stranger Things: In "Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street", Police Chief Jim Hopper is called via radio to check out for himself an apparent suicide at Benny's Diner.note 
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part One", Ash insists Dean comes to the Roadhouse to find out what he has learned about the Yellow-Eyed Demon, but this may be justified as he did not feel comfortable discussing his discovery over a phone line.
  • Happens on an episode of Vera when one of Vera's assistants finds blood in the barn near where the murder victim's car was found.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Star Fleet Battles. Captain's Log magazine #47, short story "Into the Eagle's Nest". After a battle with the Romulans, Ensign Caldwell calls up the bridge from the shuttle bay. Justified because the Ensign was ordered by a superior officer to only tell the Captain what was going on face-to-face for security reasons.
    Ensign Caldwell: You'd better get down to the shuttle bay as soon as you can. There's something you need to see here.
    Captain Lester: What is it, Ensign?
    Ensign Caldwell: Just come quickly! Please, Sir?

    Video Games 
  • Inverted in Crysis, where it's the "captain" that calls the "crew", and a rationale is offered.
    Prophet: Nomad. Get to the rendezvous ASAP. There's something here you need to see.
    Nomad: What have you got, Prophet?
    Prophet: Just get up here. You wouldn't believe me if I told you.


    Web Original 
  • CinemaSins dubs this the "You better come take a look at this" cliché.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Batman Beyond Terry says he can't return to the cave immediately because something has come up. When Bruce asks what, he is told to look out the window as it is something he has to see for himself (in Terry's defence, it is the Bat Signal, so he probably thought Bruce would get a kick out of seeing it above Gotham again).
  • Parodied in (what else?) The Simpsons: In "Lemon of Troy", Nelson bursts into Mrs. Krabappel's class and says, "Everyone come quick! No Time to Explain!" All the children start to run across town, but have to stop when Nelson needs a drink of water. Someone asks if it wouldn't be faster just to tell them what happened, and he snaps, "No! I said there was no time to explain and I stand by that!"
  • "Doc, you'd better come see this!" Doc Saturday of The Secret Saturdays might have been more prepared for trouble had Drew yelled "Doc, a giant bird is attacking!" This is a case where even just yelling "Help!" would have been more effective.
  • Justified in Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode "Old Friends Not Forgotten". Yularen has Anakin and Obi-Wan fly all the way into orbit to receive the transmission instead of beaming it to them because it's their first contact with Ahsoka since she left the Jedi Order.