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Not Quite the Right Thing

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Sometimes, it hurts to do the right thing. Sometimes, it's damned if you do and damned if you don't. And sometimes, what seemed a good idea at the time turns out otherwise. It sounded like the right thing... but it turned out to be Not Quite the Right Thing. May lead to Heel Realization and My God, What Have I Done?.

Whenever a device like this is used in a plotline, it's sometimes used to provide some sort of moral ambiguity to the situation (in which case, there truly wasn't a right thing). Usually leads to a Downer Ending or a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, and is a major part of shows with Black-and-Gray Morality. It can get messy when mixed with a good/evil Karma Meter. A lot of the time, however, this just means that they have to learn from their mistakes and find out the real Right Thing.

Unfortunately, all too often Truth in Television. There's a reason they say No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

When everyone involved is aware that all options are bad and that there's no right answer, it's a Morton's Fork instead. If a character tries to learn from these mistakes and do the correct thing after, they might be a Moral Pragmatist. If this happens because they're deceived into believing that it was the right thing, they may be in the Wrong Side All Along courtesy of the Manipulative Bastard (especially the Treacherous Quest Giver).

Contrast The Extremist Was Right.


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    Films — Animated 
  • In Encanto, it's revealed that Bruno has been secretly patching cracks in Casita's walls for a long time to keep his family from worrying. It is a noble intention but those were Casita's warning of internal problems with the family. By hiding it just kept the family oblivious of it until it was too late.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games: Upon witnessing the human Twilight Sparkle drain Rainbow Dash of her magic and create a dimensional rift, Sunset Shimmer rushes to intervene, slamming Twilight's device shut. While Twilight pleads innocence and claims to not have realized what her pendant was doing, Sunset delivers a blistering "The Reason You Suck" Speech in defense of her friends, accusing Twilight of endangering their lives and being extremely reckless. Unfortunately, Twilight's too distraught to realize what Sunset is trying to say through her anger and runs away in despair, which leaves her easy prey for Principal Cinch to manipulate into committing even more dangerous actions. Sunset quickly realizes where she went wrong and becomes ashamed, but Twilight had already fled before she could calm down.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Black Adam: In Adam's backstory Adam's son Hurut was chosen by the Council of Wizards as their Champion, with him using his powers to defy the tyrannical Ahk-Ton. In response, the king ordered Hurut's family killed, resulting in Adam being fatally injured. To save his father's life, Hurut gave Adam his powers. Unfortunately, this ends up causing a chain of disastrous events as Hurut ended up being easily killed by Ahk-Ton's assassins without his powers, and Adam, in response, would use his new powers to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, culminating with him killing Ahk-Ton and nearly destroying Kahndaq. Appalled at Adam's actions, the Council of Wizards would then confront and imprison him, but not before he massacred them to a single man, Shazam.
  • The officers of the USN Caine from The Caine Mutiny get a big dose of this from Lieutenant Greenwald, the defense attorney that get Keith and Maryk off for relieving Captain Queeg of command. Queeg was incompetent and paranoid, but Greenwald points out that he was like that from years of serving on active duty in the Atlantic. Instead of bearing with their captain and helping him out, (which Queeg had actually asked them to do and like decent officers should) they scorned, mocked, and undermined him until a dangerous situation came up and the captain broke down at a critical moment, putting everyone's lives in danger. He tells them that Queeg has been serving the Navy faithfully for far longer than any of them, and all they did was bitch and complain about the man and then have the nerve to try to act like what happened was on Queeg's shoulders alone. He's disgusted with them (and himself) since he knows for a fact they just ruined the guy. Lieutenant Maryk, really the only officer among them who tried to help Queeg out, has had his own naval career likewise destroyed.
  • Courage Under Fire features this in the form of Karen Walden. While she was well within her rights as an officer to threaten her men with court-martial and even summary execution for refusing to obey orders in the field, she insists on invoking With Us or Against Us and promising that she would make them pay for their previous actions even after they rally behind her after all. This proves to be exactly the wrong way to motivate them at the critical moment. When faced with the decision of trying to rescue her or evacuating, they promptly leave her behind to die.
    • This can be further extended to the squadmates in question, as well; although Walden had made clear her intention to ruin their careers and attempting a rescue would have been incredibly dangerous, all three suffer crippling guilt from their actions later on.
  • For One Night: a young student tries to stop segregated proms at her school, causing racial tensions to explode in town. To be fair, though, the reporter Desiree Howard added fuel to the fire by breaking the story.
  • The ending of the movie Gone Baby Gone totally qualifies with Patrick's final choice. He takes the little girl back to her mother, who is horribly neglectful, and away from the police who had kidnapped her for her own good and killed several people to cover it up. Patrick ends up losing his fiancée as a result, and the ending of the book sees the girl back with her mother in the same situation. It's generally agreed that there wasn't a right choice by the girl,note  so he took the lawful route: the crime couldn't stand, regardless of other circumstances.
  • John Carter bravely saves the wounded Colonel Powell from a probable quick death at the hands of the Apache and thereby (unintentionally) condemns him to die a lingering and lonely death from exposure and blood loss in a cave. Even worse if you consider the battle with the Apache took place out in the open probably close to the cavalry camp meaning rescue - though unlikely - might have been possible if Carter had left Powell for dead.
  • A Most Violent Year: Cutting Julian loose after the shoot-out on the bridge. If Abel had kept him around, he'd have endangered the terminal deal further and put himself in the distinctly unlawful position of protecting a fugitive — but firing him and turning him over to the hands of the police ultimately shatters Julian's already fragile mental health, resulting in his suicide. Given Abel's motto of always doing the most right thing, this possibility seems to weigh heavily on him.
  • The ending to the Richard Gere/Edward Norton film Primal Fear, where it is revealed that while Edward Norton's character truly was horribly abused and was striking back at said abuser, he is also a murderous sociopath who faked his mental illness. Gere's character, who had just succeeded in defending Norton's character via an insanity plea at his murder trial, is left shellshocked by the revelation.

  • During a Behind the Bastards episode "The Non-Nazi Bastards Who Helped Them Rise to Power", host Robert Evans relates a story of how Adolf Hitler, after fleeing the failed Beer Hall Putsch, was cornered by the police in a friend's apartment and threatened to shoot himself. Said friend's wife, whom Hitler regarded highly, successfully managed to talk him down and Hitler was arrested relatively peacefully. The rest, as they say, is history.
    Evans: It's, like, she did the right thing, and we got Hitler.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Shows up a few places in Exalted. The Usurpation, several actions of the Scarlet Empress, and even occasionally the Primordial War had results that were kind of good in the long run but the methods to achieve them and their (undecided) ultimate consequences are still a bit... iffy.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Declaring Exterminatus on a planet is generally a delicate matter, as it involves the total and complete annihilation of an entire planet's population. In theory, it's used when they cannot be saved from Chaos or genestealer infection, and this outweighs the planet's benefits (in terms of providing men, materiel or resources), but unfortunately what with Chaos plots and Inquisitors going rogue/falling to Chaos, there are quite a few occasions where Exterminatus merely furthered the enemy's plans.
    • Kryptmann's Gambit: an extreme version of the above dilemma, in which Inquisitor Kryptmann managed to bait an entire Hive Fleet away from countless inhabited worlds by... getting them to go for other inhabited worlds which he Exterminus'ed before they fell, denying the Tyranids the biomass they needed to replenish their losses. Finally the fleet was weak enough that it could be stuck in a stalemate with the ork system of Octarius, at the cost of Kryptmann's standing (he's been declared Excommunicate Traitoris), several trillion people and (much more importantly) several inhabitable planets. Also, the fact that Octarius is now in a Forever War between the two species with the most to gain from it: tyranids devour biomass to create new lifeforms (usually better adapted to whatever they're fighting), while orks create spores when they die that mature into more orks. And orks pour into the system all the time, having heard about the fight to be had. Whichever side wins the war will be essentially unstoppable. This later gets another wrinkle when Ghazgul joins the fight and his leadership turns it into another Armageddon-style eternal stalemate; these massive battles become foci of WAAAGH energy, and every Ork in the galaxy is being empowered by it.

    Web Comics 
  • A curious inversion in Looking for Group; when Richard is brought to demon court for not engaging in evil lately, the prosecution brings up how, whilst time traveling to the past, Richard slaughtered an entire village, which confuses Richard... until the prosecution continues to explain that said village would've aided the local Evil Empire in a way that would've ensured the coming war would've dragged on longer.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Roy made the decision to destroy Girard's Gate in order to prevent Xykon, who was on his way, from getting his hands on it, since the heroes couldn't feasibly protect the gate with Xykon closing in on it. While this does delay the villains' plans, it ends up being the biggest mistake he could make as it destabilizes the prison holding the Snarl enough that the gods begin to consider destroying the world to create a new prison.
    • Later, the Monster in the Darkness began deliberately marking doors they hadn't explored yet to sabotage Team Evil's attempts to find the gate sealed in Kraagor's Tomb, a clever plan that pairs well with his teammates' low opinion of his intelligence and cunning. Unfortunately, after circumstances he couldn't have foreseen (Team Evil chasing the Order of the Stick through a marked door and finding plenty of monsters inside), it combines horribly with Redcloak's egotism and paranoia, causing the goblin cleric to conclude not that the Monster in the Darkness made a simple mistake (let alone was actively sabotaging them) but that the gods themselves must be intervening to prevent their victory, leading him to take dangerous and self-destructive steps to accelerate the search.
  • In Pandora's Tale, Isabelle is the most insistent about freeing Pandora from slavery... only for her actions to result in Pandora imprinting on her, effectively making her Pandora's "owner".
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: The aftermath of one of the battles causes Onni to fall into a coma after magically helping the crew long-distance, while his younger sister among the crew, Tuuri, ends up in a situation that could potentially be bad news for her. Knowing Onni doesn't deal well with uncertainity, she asks the other members of Mission Control to not tell Onni about it if he wakes up, planning to do so herself over the radio. However, Reynir, another member of the crew, can still communicate with Onni via Talking in Your Dreams, and ends up checking on Onni as soon as he gets the opportunity to do so. Onni's first instinct is of course to ask Reynir how Tuuri is doing, and Reynir lies to him to respect Tuuri's wishes. However, that battle also left the crew's vehicle in a very precarious state, and it ends up breaking down, dooming the radio in the process, before Onni recovers. Tuuri's situation changes from "possibly bad" to "certainly bad" that very evening. Tuuri's reaction is ultimately to commit suicide, which lets her inform Onni on the way to the afterlife. She however uses phrasing that makes it sound like it's Reynir's fault that Onni wasn't informed earlier.

    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe, religious nut Reverend Englund becomes aware that there is a half-demon student at the school who he thinks will Take Over the World by enslaving people, killing others and using her mind slaves to breed demon spawn. While the Reverend has fought otherworldly invaders and all manner of creatures who did harm, in this case he's actually wrong: Sara/Kellith has actually decided that she's going to do good for the world and promote peace and love. So the Reverend gets the Syndicate (i.e. the organized bad guys) to help him kill her… and what would have been a controlled attempt to kill just one person gets hijacked by the Chessmaster, resulting in a large part of the school getting blown up, a number of security personnel and teachers getting maimed and/or killed and all the students being incredibly traumatised.

    Web Videos 
  • At the end of the Briawoods arc in Critical Role, Percy's Revenge Before Reason has gone into overdrive and Orthax, the shadow demon he made a pact with, is starting to outright possess him, demanding he murder Delilah Briawood, the last on his list of targets. Thanks to an "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight by the party and a struggle of wills, Orthax is expelled from Percy's body and defeated, and he gives Delilah Restrained Revenge. She's killed by his sister Cassandra instead, and the party throws her body in a vat of acid to hopefully prevent her coming back as an undead. Many episodes later, at the start of the final arc, the party finds Delilah's patron God of Evil was able to resurrect her anyway in a clone body. In a later discussion, they realize that had they let Percy kill her while under Orthax's influence, the demon would have devoured her soul, preventing her from ever returning.

    Western Animation 
  • An early episode of Adventure Time mixes this with Secret Test of Character. While seeking out the heroes' Enchiridion, Finn finds a trio of fairies trapped in quicksand. Naturally, he frees them, only to find that they're evil and quickly use everything he does to justify destroying old ladies. Finn nearly has a Heroic BSoD until Jake reminds him that A. it was still the right decision to make at the time and B. there's no logical reason for all these old ladies to be here, so they have to be illusions and Finn hasn't actually caused any harm.
  • Arcane: Episode Three is absolutely rife with this.
    • Powder tries for a Big Damn Heroes moment. If she hadn't intervened, her family would probably have escaped by the skin of their teeth. Instead, they get blown up by her uncontrolled bomb.
    • A livid Vi hits and blames Powder for the bomb that killed their foster family, which she immediately regrets. When she leaves to calm down and avoid hurting Powder more, this only breaks her sister further because of the perceived abandonment. Silco winds up taking in the resentful Powder himself and Vi is drugged and dragged away by Marcus, confirming Powder's belief that Vi abandoned her and destroying their relationship for good.
    • During Act 2 and 3, it's a recurring theme that while both of them love Jinx, neither Silco nor Vi can really help her with her mental health issues and their attempts to do so just make things worse, Silco by invalidating her former identity as Powder and Vi by invalidating her current identity as Jinx. It culminates in the final episode, when them fighting over her pushes her further and further into a breakdown and Jinx snaps and fires wildly, accidentally killing Silco and then abandoning Vi entirely once he dies.
  • In the Carmen Sandiego episode "The Stockholm Syndrome Caper", Ivy gets captured at the exact time Carmen crashes in the middle of a forest. With Shadow-san occupied elsewhere, Player has to make the call about who to send Zack after first; since Ivy is less trained and skilled than Carmen and she's actively the prisoner of people who A) think she's Carmen and B) wouldn't hesitate to hurt her either way, Player decides to prioritize her over Carmen. This ends up causing Carmen to nearly freeze to death because while Ivy escaped her captors, making her rescue unnecessary, Carmen was injured in her crash and couldn't make it to shelter before succumbing to the elements.
  • Futurama:
    • "Jurassic Bark": Fry changes his mind about resurrecting his dog when he found out Seymour lived far longer without Fry than he did with him, so Fry figured that meant he had a long fulfilling life. Long? Yes. Fulfilling? No — he never got over Fry's disappearance, and spent the rest of his life waiting in front of Fry's old workplace. Fry never finds out about this. We call that a Downer Ending.
    • Thanks to Time Travel in Bender's Big Score this ended up becoming the right thing again. A copy of Fry is sent back in time and lived the other 12 years of Seymour's life with him in the 21st centurynote . This was probably done because the original ending crushed souls with its sadness.
  • Gargoyles: In Macbeth's backstory, he was officially killed by Canmore, who was unaware that his pact with Demona meant that neither of them could die until one killed the other. After Macbeth's son Luach took the crown and went into battle against Canmore, rather than reveal to everyone that he was still alive, Macbeth decided that the best way for his son to win was for everyone to believe he was dead, with him slipping into obscurity throughout the ages. However, in the present, we get a Wham Line when the Weird Sisters deliver an Armor-Piercing Question to Macbeth:
    Phoebe: Did your own death save your son Luach from Canmore?
    Macbeth: No.
  • Star Wars Resistance: In "Signal from Sector Six", Kaz and Poe rescue a woman, Synara, from a derelict freighter, and she's taken to the Colossus and registered. Unfortunately, she's actually one of the pirates who attacked the ship, and the gang she's part of has been hired to take down the Colossus, so all this does is give her the perfect inroad as a spy. However, Synara eventually ends up Becoming the Mask and becoming a useful hero, so maybe it was the right thing in the end.
  • The Weekenders, "Band": Carver writes a note to Chum Bukkit, his favorite band, on a napkin. His handwriting is so terrible that, when the band reads them, they come up with song lyrics which they incorrectly attribute to Carver. Eventually he admits the truth, simply because he thinks that lying about the band dedicating their local show to them was enough lies. Turns out that because of that, Chumbucket doesn't have to pay royalties. Carver is seething.
    Carver: [clenches teeth]
    Tino: You Did the Right Thing.
    Carver: Still... [clenches teeth again]
  • In W.I.T.C.H., the main characters ultimately agree that the best thing to do regarding their friend Elyon being the Princess of Meridian is to not tell her, believing that doing so would cause her unnecessary stress and panic while trying to deal with the Big Bad. This works...until said villain, who is Elyon's older brother, realizes that they're doing this and decides to tell her everything himself, causing her to despise her friends and join his side, making everything worse.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Wrong Right Thing


"I Will Wait For You"

Just as the Planet Express team was about to revive Fry's dog, Seymour, Fry calls off the experiment after learning he lived for twelve more years after he had been frozen and believed he moved on with his life. As the final scene shows, however, this was not the case.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / DownerEnding

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