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One-Way Trip

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A hero is in a tight spot and determined to go through with The Plan. Both the audience and other characters wonder how they plan to get out of it. That's when the hero drops The Reveal: they'd expected to have to make a Heroic Sacrifice all along, because Someone Has to Die, so escape wasn't necessarily part of the plan.

Often, this hero isn't alone either; they've taken others along with them who were assuming the hero had some plan up his sleeve to allow them to survive. In this case it's usually clear that the stakes are so high it's hardly a Moral Event Horizon for the hero to sacrifice his companions for the greater good. In fact, it's usually considered a small price to pay for saving thousands of other lives. When the others find out, they typically are shocked and horrified, and quickly realize they've got three options:

  1. Refuse to cooperate, in which case they will likely become the Doomed Contrarian.
  2. Reply 'I'm (gulp) OK with that.'
  3. Take a Third Option.

Can lead to a justified Deus ex Machina in which The Cavalry plucks the Badass in Distress out of danger at the last instant.

Compare Suicide Mission.

Often an ending or Death Trope, so beware of spoilers.


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     Anime & Manga  

  • In Buso Renkin, Kazuki punts himself and Victor to the Moon, in the knowledge that there will be no rescue.
    • For the winner of the fight, specifically. He pulls a Taking You with Me, knowing that his odds against Viktor aren't all that great. And even if he were to win, he's still given up his best chance at returning to normal.
  • Done subtly in Code Geass.

  • In The Abyss, Bud Brigman uses up too much of his oxygen getting to the nuke and disarming it to return to the undersea habitat. He even uses the phrase "I knew it was a one-way trip". Subverted in that he's saved by the aliens. Also, it's the aliens who stop 50-foot waves from flooding coastal cities and not him. To be fair, the aliens were inspired by Bud's message.
  • In The Avengers, the Omniscient Council of Vagueness launches a nuke at Manhattan in the hopes of shutting down the portal that is spewing the Chitauri invasion forces. Fury warns Iron Man about it. Just before the Black Widow shuts down the portal, Tony flies the nuke Superman-style into the portal with Captain America telling him it's a one-way trip (because, despite the portal being two-way, the Avengers can't risk leaving it open and have to shut it immediately). The boosters use up the power of the ARC reactor, and Tony releases the missile as it flies towards The Mothership. His out-of-power suit starts falling back to towards the portal and barely makes it through before it closes.
  • Deep Impact:
    Mark: How do we set the nukes inside the comet and get out before they blow?
    Orin Monash: We don't.
  • Executive Decision:
    Kurt Russel: 'We're not gonna make it!
    Stephen Segal: 'You will' (pushes him to safety and falls)
  • Mandalay: Dr. Burton and, shortly after, Tanya are both aware their trip to Mandalay is this trope, what with a deadly plague ravaging the city. The former is, in fact, counting on it so he can atone for his mistakes. The latter, on top of preferring certain death to be a sex worker, warms to the idea because she will be with a man who loves her (and won't manipulate her) and also will be helping people, thus finding a new purpose in life.
  • From Midway: a Japanese sailor stops the pilot attempting to board the aircraft he's working on: 'Sir, there's a hole in the right fuel tank!' Pilot: 'Did you fill the left one?'
  • In Monsters vs. Aliens, there was only enough fuel in the jetpacks for the monsters to get to the Big Bad's UFO.
  • The Thing (1982). An alien capable of duplicating and replacing people infests an Antarctic camp. If it makes it out into the world, humanity is doomed. After it's apparently destroyed, the two survivors (one of whom may be an alien replacement) talk it over.
    Childs: The explosions set the temperatures up all over the camp. But it won't last long though.
    MacReady: When these fires go out, neither will we.
    Childs: How will we make it?
    MacReady: Maybe we shouldn't.
  • From Star Wars: "Escape is not his plan. I must face him alone."


  • In The Return of the King Frodo's only concern is that they have enough supplies to reach Mount Doom. Samwise mutters that they might be wanting to make it back as well. He never loses hope till the end when they get rescued by the eagles anyway.
  • In Emergence, the hominem community has discovered there's a planet-wrecker bomb in orbit around the Earth, scheduled for re-entry at a known time. The only way to stop this event is for a small crew to go up in a stripped-down space shuttle and disarm it. There is no way for the shuttle to have enough fuel for the crew to make a return trip. When Candy discovers that the hominems' information is incomplete and that there's a still-active threat to the hominems in the form of the Khraniteli, a group of surviving h. sapiens who want to exterminate hominems, she figures out how to get the bomb and a warning to her people down in one piece (after she disarms the warhead!). Then it dawns on her that she could ride down, too.... (Her crewmates are both dead. One killed the other, she killed the killer.)
  • Played with in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The titular Chamber is accessed via a sewage pipe, and the characters debate how to reverse the trip. Luckily for them, Dumbledore's Phoenix is strong enough to carry them all out. And when they revisit the place in Deathly Hallows, they just bring brooms. Similarly, in the first book, the end-of-book mission required the trio to drop down a hole with no idea whether there'd be a way back (there was).
  • Angels & Demons: When the camerlengo boards the helicopter with the antimatter bomb, Langdon follows him aboard, expecting him to drop the bomb where it can explode safely (such as in a quarry, or far out to sea). Unfortunately, it turns out that the camerlengo is going nowhere except straight up — and there's only one parachute... however, as the camerlengo is the big bad, he jumps out with the parachute leaving Langdon to explode with the antimatter. Langdon prefers to jump without a chute. He makes it.
  • Cold War novel Hullo Russia, Goodbye England is based on this. The RAF pilots who will deliver British retaliation in the event of nuclear war know that by the time they're in the air, there will, in all probability, not be a Britain to return to. American pilots who will operate from Britain and do a similar job know this too. Much very black humour is derived from this, especially the attitude of a veteran pilot who started out bombing Germany in World War II and was at least assured of a country to fly back to.
  • A villain version occurs in The Outrider series by Richard Harding. The Big Bad sends an assassin to kill the hero Bonner, but actually to reveal that I Have Your Wife. Bonner only realises this after he examines the man's vehicle and finds there's not enough petrol for the return journey. They're in a Scavenger World and the Big Bad knew that Bonner would get the best of his assassin, so why waste petrol?

     Live Action TV  

  • On Stargate SG-1., our heroes have just tossed a grenade down to the engine core of a Goa'uld ship to destroy it. O'Neill asks what they do now. Bra'tac says "Now we die." O'Neill immediately counters with "Well, that's a bad plan!"
  • Doctor Who :
    • In "The Doctor Dances", Jack Harkness leaves Earth with a bomb about to go off, only to discover he has no Escape Pod and cannot jettison it. He prepares himself for death, ordering the computer to make him a martini. As he sips and contemplates his previous time facing imminent execution, the Doctor and Rose rescue him with the TARDIS.
    • When the Doctor pilots the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS in order to reboot the universe.
      Amy: River. Tell me he comes back too.
      River: The Doctor will be at the heart of the explosion.
      Amy: So?
      River: So all the cracks in time will close. But he'll be on the wrong side.
  • The finale of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica had the titular ship going on a mission to rescue Hera from the Cylons. The area where the Cylons were was filled with dangerous obstacles and it was the Cylon homeworld, meaning they'd do everything they could to protect it. Adama even says in his Rousing Speech that it's likely to be a one-way-trip. Luckily, thanks to Starbuck, they find coordinates to get themselves out and even find Earth.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In the episode "Yesterday's Enterprise" the Enterprise-C was on a mission to rescue a Klingon outpost from a surprise Romulan attack. They fell through a rip in space and time and came out over 20 years in the future in another sector. The Federation is now in a losing war against the Klingon Empire, when they should be allies. Enterprise-C's Captain Garret is informed by this version of Picard, after much consideration, they could Set Right What Once Went Wrong, go back though crippled, and die against the Romulan attack trying to protect Klingon lives. This one action by a then-loathed enemy could change the perception of the whole Klingon Empire about the Federation. That they would give their lives for Klingon would move the two groups towards peace, not the war that has come to them. After talking it over with her surviving crew, Garret chooses to go back.
  • A non-fatal example occurs in the season2 finale of Star Trek: Discovery. In order to keep the rogue AI Control from using the enhanced computer on Discovery to achieve sentience and exterminate all life in the galaxy, our heroes devise a plan to send the ship 950 years into the future. It's made clear that once this is done, Discovery won't be coming back to the 23rd century.

     Video Games  

  • In Mass Effect 2, the central mission involves going through a mass relay that no one's ever gone through and come back from. Everyone on the team goes into it knowing there may be no coming back, although several of them believe you can pull off a miracle. After the jump, Anyone Can Die, and the One-Way Trip nature of the mission hits home when the Normandy is disabled in battle and crash lands on the Collector base.
    Miranda: We all knew this was likely a one-way trip.
  • About halfway through Final Fantasy X, Tidus finds out this is the case for every High Summoner and then the whole party learns a short time later that at least one Guardian is expected to be sacrificed as well. To top it off, the Powers That Be know that each time this sacrifice is made there is NO HOPE of it lasting
  • The Libyan Demolition Truck in Red Alert 2 has this trope as one of its lines. Justified because it's a nuke on wheels, which if used right, could cause nuclear fallout on a part of an enemy base.


  • The Order of the Stick:
    O'Chul: Escape had not really crossed my mind. here (contains potential spoilers)
  • Subverted in Homestuck. Rose's plan to defeat the now omnipotent Big Bad is to take a session-destroying bomb to the source of his power; she says to Dave that "she is not coming back"... and Hussie cuts off for the day. It turns out that Rose was referring to her dreamself.
    • Double subverted, as when it comes time to actually enact the plan, her waking self is dead.
    • And then triple subverted when she dies on her Quest Crypt, causing her to come back strong.

     Western Animation  

  • One episode of The Angry Beavers involves Norbert and Dagget sneaking aboard a space shuttle. They realize a bit too late that it's a one-way trip... towards the sun!
  • Batman does this in the Justice League finale "Starcrossed" by crashing the Watchtower... manually. Superman rescues him in the nick of time.
  • Tecna of Winx Club decides to enter the Omega Portal and close it the only way she can�from the inside�to save Andros from exploding, though she knows that she will most likely never be able to survive there with all the escaped convicts around, much less ever be found Timmy manages to find her by building a super computer linked to her


  • Leave A Legacy, an Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes fan fic, has an entire basis on Janet knowing that she will not survive the mission. Possibly a dead fic.

     Real Life  

  • Occasionally comes up as a strategy in warfare, either due to limited range of vehicles, or because the scale of destruction means that there won't be a safe haven for them to return to once they launch their attack:
    • The Doolittle Raid in World War II wasn't strictly supposed to be this, with the plan being for very stripped-down US Army B-25 Mitchell medium bombers carrying extra fuel to launch from Navy aircraft carriers, bomb targets in Japan, and then land at friendly airfields in China. The Navy task force was discovered a day before they planned to launch, forcing the Army bombers to launch several hundred miles farther away from Japan than they intended, and most of their intended airfields in China were captured by the Japanese. Several bombers ended up crash landing in the sea or in China, and one managed to make it to the neutral Soviet Unionnote , where the crew was interred for some time. The motivation for this raid? The Americans badly needed a victory to rally morale, due to a string of losses in the first few months of the war. As a side benefit, the Japanese, thinking the Americans had a land base within range of the Home Islands, ended up diverting considerable resources to their defense, years before the Americans would be able to launch any real attacks. As a result, Admiral Yamamoto got the political support for his plan to take Midway atoll, a move which was found out by American codebreakers and enabled the US Navy to score a crippling victory against Japan in the Battle of Midway.
    • Due to the likely results of a full-scale nuclear exchange, most nuclear strike-related missions, both by the bombers and their escorts and support aircraft, are predicted to likely be this, either because some earlier bombers wouldn't have the range to hit targets in Russia and make it safely to friendly territory, or simply because there would be few to no intact airfields they could land at after the nukes were launched by both sides. Nevermind if you got caught by the enemy's substantial defenses on the way.
    • A common urban legend is that kamikaze pilots were only given enough fuel to reach their target, forcing them to commit to their Suicide Attack once they took off. This was not the case for a fairly simple reason: There are plenty of legitimate reasons why you would want to abort an attack (mechanical failure, changing weather or battlefield conditions), and losing a valuable pilot to a simple fault with their aircraft would be a waste.
  • Virtually all (unmanned!) space missions follow this, with the spacecraft (or at least most of it) not designed to come back to Earth after having completed its mission. On manned space exploration, it's often considered that the first manned mission to Mars (if we ever go there) will be an one-way trip, with the astronauts remaining there preparing the ground for subsequent missions while being supplied from our planet.