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Poison and Cure Gambit

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Lao Che: And now, you give me the diamond.
Indy: Are you trying to develop a sense of humor or am I going deaf?
(Lao Che and his goons start laughing and he pulls out a vial)
Willie: What's that?
Lao Che: Antidote.
Indy: ... To what?
Lao Che: (begins laughing) The poison you just drank, Dr. Jones!
This plan involves unleashing some kind of poison or plague and then either selling the antidote or cure (typically at an exorbitant price) or blackmailing a person into working for them in order to get it.

Subtrope of Find the Cure!. Not to be confused with simply Carrying the Antidote. Sister Trope to Monster Protection Racket. Has nothing to do with Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo.

Due to the nature of this trope as a possible plot twist, beware of unmarked spoilers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You: In Chapter 74, a pharmaceutical spy poisons Kusuri's parents and offers to provide the antidote if Kusuri agree to work for him. Rentarou undoes the gambit by tricking the spy into shooting a vat of the neutralization drug, allowing the parents to recover without the spy's antidote or Kusuri enabling her drugs to be used for unsavory purposes.
  • Assassination Classroom: During the Assassination Island arc, half of the class is infected with a deadly Synthethic Plague by an unknown enemy, who demands that the class surrenders Koro-sensei for the cure. The second half of the arc revolves around the remaining half of the class infiltrating the hotel where the enemy has set up base in order to steal the cure. After the arc's climax, however, the assassins who engineered and released the plague reveal that since they knew that their employer Takaoka was going to destroy the cure and they didn't want the stigma of being responsible for a bunch of middle schoolers dying, they only used a plague that looked deadly, but would have healed on its own.
  • Buso Renkin: After one of his Homunculus embryo the Papillon Mask Creator attaches itself to Tokiko, he offers Kazuki a cure in exchange for Kazuki's Kakugane, a rare alchemical device that can turn into a powerful weapon and possesses healing properties. This is also an unintentional Xanatos Gambit, given that the cure is a useless fake - if Kazuki makes the trade, then Papillon gets to study Kakugane technology and he still gets to turn one of his greatest enemies (at the time) into a minion. If not, then he loses out on the Kakugane but still gets Tokiko as a minion. However, because the Kakugane is what brought Kazuki Back from the Dead, he can't remove it or he'll die so he doesn't make the trade and accidentally knocks out the Papillon Mask Creator with one punch, at which point Tokiko arrives and tells him that the cure was fake.
  • Attempted in the 2001 Cyborg 009 series. The Egypt episode has a bunch of villains whose plan culminates in dropping a bomb filled with poison into Cairo, while the team and especially Francoise (who is in full It's Personal mode, and has the perfect powers to defuse the crisis) attempts to defuse it.
  • Full Metal Panic! features an injury-based version: When Amalgam hijacks the new Humongous Mecha Mithril was building for Sousuke, Mr. Kalium (AKA Andrei Kalinin) shoots engineer Gavin Hunter in the gut. He then explains that they're so far away from civilization that Hunter will die a slow, painful death unless he tells Amalgam what they want to know, in which case they'll treat his wound. Hunter tells him to go to Hell.
  • In Heavy Object, Hermes Pharmaceutical developed a riot suppressant gas which they soon discovered has a 99.8% lethality rate. They sold this to their nation's police anyway and then extorted any rich victims of the gas in exchange for the antidote.
  • How Not to Summon a Demon Lord: The corrupt Paladin Batutta and the Church have been using magic to infect the townspeople of Zircon Tower City with the deadly Marked Death Disease so that they can make money curing them.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency, Joseph manages to appeal to Wamuu's Blood Knight nature by convincing him that if he was given a month to train, then he could give him the fight of his life. Wamuu ends up agreeing but puts this trope into play to make sure he doesn't weasel out of their battle. It turns out that he and his fellow Pillar Men all carry hollow rings filled with deadly poison, which he fuses into Joseph's heart using his powers. In 33 days, the ring will break apart and release the poison within, killing Joseph. The only way to safely remove the ring (and the poison within) is by taking the antidote held in Wamuu's mouth piercing. To further complicate things, Wammu's cohort Esidisi fuses his own ring into Joseph's throat, and that ring can only be neutralized by the antidote within his nose piercing, thus necessitating defeating him as well. Their leader Kars mercifully decides not to put in his own ring, not as interested in Joseph as the other Pillar Men are.
  • In Ninja Scroll, Dakuan (a spy for the Tokugawa government) forcibly recruits Master Swordsman Jubei to help him prevent a group of super ninjas from completing a scheme that would help overthrow the government by making use of this trope. Jubei has already had several run-ins with the ninjas in question, but declines to help Dakuan and is about to simply walk away from the whole situation when Dakuan reveals that a shuriken that Dakuan used on Jubei earlier was poisoned, and Jubei will die within days unless he helps Dakuan.
  • In Chapter 22 of The Rising of the Shield Hero, Naofumi poisons a guard, whom he then tells will die unless he receives an antidote from him. He uses it to turn the guard into a guide to find Melty.
  • In one chapter of Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration, a corrupt doctor acquires a vial of smallpox and intends to infect a town with it so he can make money curing them. Fortunately, Kenshin, a good doctor, and a cart driver are able to stop him.
  • In Vinland Saga, Hild feeds poisoned soup to Thorfinn and his friends, and agrees to give them the antidote if Thorfinn fights her alone. Turns out she was bluffing.

  • One of Chris Rock's bits on "Bigger And Blacker" accuses essentially the entirety of Western medicine of this, citing the fact that few diseases have been fully cured (as opposed to "patching it up" so that you can live long enough for them to "get more of your money") in recent years. One hopes that the Insane Troll Logic involved is merely Rule of Funny and that Mr. Rock is aware of the real reason (that the easy-to-cure diseases have already been cured, and what remains is more challenging). After all, if his reasoning was correct, "they" would never have invented or implemented the polio vaccine in the first place.

    Comic Books 
  • German comic Fix und Foxi has the (mostly) Lovable Rogue Lupo pull this off once. First, he lets loose a bunch of moths and sells people a spray against them. Said spray gives people an allergic reaction, causing sneezing. He sells them a cure - which makes people unbelievably thirsty. Then he sells them a special lemonade which cures their thirst - but totally messes up their hair. Then he sells them wigs. Which are badly made, with the hair falling out. Then finally, they get it. Cue the mob.
  • In Lucky Luke, Snake Oil Salesman Dr. Doxey is willing to poison entire towns to sell his "cures". The only saving grace is that he limits himself to non-lethal poisons, as dead victims obviously wouldn't be able to buy the cure from him.
  • In the Punisher MAX storyline "6 Hours to Kill", Frank is blackmailed with a cure to assassinate someone. He instead decides to take down as many criminals as possible before dying.
  • In Red Sonja the thought-to-be-deceased King of Zamora is revealed to have created a "plague" (actually a poison) that he gave to his enemies in order to trick Sonja's former companion Annisia into massacring entire cities, believing them to be infected, while he holds the antidote.
  • The basis of Spider-Man 2099's backstory; when he tried to resign from Alchemex, his boss gave him a drink spiked with a drug so powerful, the withdrawal symptoms were lethal, meaning that he'd have to keep working for them in order to keep a steady supply and not die.
  • A heroic trickster variation. In an issue of Star Wars (Marvel 1977), Luke tells an imperial officer he has poisoned him and will give him the antidote once he gives Luke access to computer records. Feeling stomach pains, the officer complies, and then Chewbacca knocks him out. Turns out Luke only put soap flakes in the officer's soup.
  • Teen Titans: Beast Boy gets the drop on a villain this way. He's such a goofy and friendly guy that it's easy to forget just how nasty his animal-shifting ability can be; like turning into a highly-toxic spider, stinging a villain, and giving him a choice - either he cures the city's kids and turns himself in, or he dies from the venom. The villain wisely chooses the former.
  • In one X-Force story, Elixir uses his powers to give Vanisher an inoperable brain tumor in the shape of the X-Men logo to force him to cooperate with them.

    Fan Works 
  • Alfred Pennyworth uses a variation against Xander in The Plagiarist in that he administers the antidote first, then offers the poison once Xander proves to not be a threat. As he explains, several antidotes are equally deadly as their poisons if they have nothing to counteract, and while many might have an Acquired Poison Immunity, no one does the same with antidotes.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

  • Traitor's Face: During Act 3, Azula poisons Karai, then demands that Zuko return in exchange for the antidote.


  • Batman 1939: Batman convinces a Body Snatcher to stay in one body and help the heroes escape capture by drugging her real body, convincing her it's poison, and withholding the "antidote."

Celebrity Deathmatch

  • In Final Stand of Death, it was revealed in Deathbowl '98, Mel and Victoria weren’t killed in the lighting collision, rather they died of heart attacks. It was once thought due to shock after either knowing or seeing what happened to Emma, Geri, Melanie, and the Hanson brothers. Later on, after abandoning their Fusion Gundam disguises and Melanie C (who was left behind for a reason), the Spice Girls wondered why were they in a match against Hanson when there was no reason, according to them. Gillian informs them that they had arsenic in their system, and heart failure is one of the deadlier effects. Cue Nick saying something about stealing.

Harry Potter

  • In Perfect Situations, in order to get Draco Malfoy and his goons to leave her alone, Daphne Greengrass force-feed him what she claims is a poison that will be lethal in ten months' time and says that he can have the antidote at the end of the year if he behaves himself. Actually, it's all a bluff.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

  • In Vengeance of Dawn, Breaking Dawn, a disgraced former student of Princess Celestia, slips an amnesia-inducing poison into Cadence's drink, planning to "miraculously" cure her later as part of her plan to get back into Celestia's good graces. She doesn't actually have a cure for the poison and is relying on her friend Laurel to come up with one. Twilight beats her to the punch by purging Cadence of the poison's dark magic first.
  • The Weedverse: In Eigengrau Zwei: Die Welt Ist Grau Geworden, Dim poisons Grimy's tea with the intent of using this as leverage to force the other to cooperate with them. He then kills Grimy anyway.

Randy Cunningham: Ninth Grade Ninja

  • The villain of the Matt McColm action movie Body Armor creates nasty viruses and makes money off them by then selling the cure.
  • Dune (1984): Mentat Thufir Hawat is required to milk a cat daily for the antidote to the poison he has been administered by the Harkonnens.
  • In Escape from L.A., Snake is infected with the Plutoxin 7 virus, which will kill him in ten hours unless he gets the President's daughter and the EMP satellite control device she stole. Subverted in that at the end, it's revealed that "Plutoxin 7" is merely a fast-acting, hard-hitting case of... the flu.
  • Indiana Jones:
    • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom involves a one-person version of this trope in the Cold Open where Indiana is tricked into drinking poison. "And now, doctor Jones, you give me the diamond."
    • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has a more lethal variation in which Donovan shoots Indy's father in the stomach to coerce Indy into retrieving the Holy Grail. "You can't save him when you're dead! The healing power of the Grail is the only thing that can save your father now! It's time to ask yourself what you believe!"
  • James Bond has this done to him as Cold-Blooded Torture. While being held prisoner in North Korea in Die Another Day, his captors would sting him with scorpions and then his torturers would watch the poison take effect for some indeterminate amount of time before injecting the antidote. Multiple times.
  • In Mission: Impossible II, it's a bit more subtle than usual: The Big Bad wants stock options of a company he sold the antidote to, allowing him to get his share when said company makes big bucks.
  • In The Monster Maker, Dr. Markoff infects Lawrence with acromegaly and refuses to supply the cure unless Lawrence's daughter Patricia agrees to marry him.
  • The film Phase IV 2002 turns out to have this as the motive for the murders: A pharmaceutical company murders everyone who knows they've created an actual cure for AIDS, because current lifelong care is more lucrative.
  • Quite a few of Jigsaw's Death Traps in the Saw series involve exposing victims to a slow-acting poison and then forcing them into a Life-or-Limb Decision to get the antidote. Saw II has likely the most notable example: the main game's victims are trapped in a house that's filling up with Deadly Gas, with multiple antidotes scattered throughout and locked behind various traps.
  • In Secret Agent Super Dragon, the Big Bad used this to coerce some spies to turn Double Agent. Of course, being the Big Bad, he never got around to giving those he turned the antidote.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014): What Shredder and Eric Sacks's Evil Plan amounts to; they will unleash a lethal biotoxin upon New York City, and then profit from selling an antidote derived from mutagen extracted from the Turtles' blood.
  • In Ultraviolet (2006), Big Bad Daxus plans to unleash a plague targeting humans, to which he has the cure. This is because hemophages are nearly extinct, and he needs a new plague to justify the Arch-Ministry's continued existence.
  • V for Vendetta: The Norsefire group get their position by spreading a plague through several areas, and blaming it on supposed captured terrorists. Its leader Sutler wins the election by a landslide, and the party then distributes a cure through a medical company they control.

  • Emo Phillips told a joke in which as a child, he had a lemonade stand where the first glass was free and the second was $5. The second glass contained the antidote.
  • A group of tourists goes on a guided tour of a rubber factory. First they see the floor dedicated to baby pacifiers, then the floor dedicated to condoms. One tourist notices that one in ten condoms is removed from the assembly line, goes through a separate machine, then gets put back with the rest. On asking, he is told that the machine pokes a hole in the condoms that go through it. After all, they've got to sell pacifiers somehow.

  • Used in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents - several of the protagonists claim to have dosed a pair of corrupt rat catchers with poison and force them to explain their scam in order to get the antidote. However, the "poison" was actually a laxative, and the "antidote" is... more laxatives. One of the protagonists actually wants to use real poison, but another talks him out of it.
  • At one point, Artemis Fowl tricks a sprite into drinking a bottle of Holy Water, then offers her a shot of magical springwater that will counteract the Holy Water's effects in exchange for the opportunity to study The Book (the fairy equivalent of the bible).
  • In The Belgariad, the Nyissan court tries this when Garion is briefly Made a Slave, dosing him with drugs that will kill him from withdrawal if he doesn't continue to receive them. Or that would, if he wasn't a sorcerer who can transmute his blood to purge the drugs from his system. Cue the Oh, Crap! from a queen facing down The Chosen One and his legendary sorceress aunt with a sudden lack of leverage.
  • In Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie, master poisoner Castor Morveer and his apprentice Day use this a number of times. In some instances the trope is played straight, while in other cases there was actually no poison at all; in one of those cases, the proffered antidote is actually the real poison.
  • In BIONICLE Adventures 6: Maze of Shadows, Nokama is fatally wounded by the Rahi Nui's poisonous stinger tail. A plant monster called Karzahni gives her a temporary cure and will only give her a permanent cure if the Toa Metru agree to retrieve a sample of energized protodermis for it, as the plant monster hopes it will turn it into something mobile. In the end, the Toa get the cure, but the plant monster is killed by the energized protodermis instead of transforming.
  • A variation occurs in John Collier's famous story The Chaser: The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday sells a Love Potion for a pittance which the owner strongly implies will turn the main character's beloved into a Love Freak. The antidote in this case is the "chaser" of the title, which is some sort of poison to "solve" that problem.
  • The villainous corporation in Confessions of Super-Mom makes both insulin and cereal, and deliberately uses the cereal to give children diabetes.
  • As part of the Big Bad's Boxed Crook gambit in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel Mission: Impractical, he doses the Sixth Doctor, Sabalom Glitz, and their companions with a poison and offers them the cure as additional incentive to do his bidding. Moments after reluctantly agreeing and leaving, Six reveals to the companions the poison doesn't work on Time Lords and uses Glitz's supplies to whip up a cure, which he passes around. Glitz isn't informed he's already cured until the end.
  • In The Dresden Files, Harry pulls a unique subversion by poisoning himself so that he can strong-arm a faerie with an interest in his survival into cooperating with his plan.
  • Seen in Dune in a unique variant, directed at one person. When Thufir Hawat is captured by the Harkonnens, they administer a "latent" poison to him that will remain in the body but can be temporarily neutralized by frequent ingestion of an antidote. The technological poison sniffers won't register the antidote, which is harmless, and the poison within his body can't be detected. If the antidote is withdrawn, the poison will activate.
  • The Elder Scrolls In-Universe Books: In A Game at Dinner, Prince Hlaalu Helseth of Morrowind holds a banquet, and then informs the guests after the meal that he has poisoned the utensils of those who were spying on him for other nobles. He offers a glass of antidote to anyone who confesses. The "antidote" is actually the poison; the man who takes it, and admits to spying for Helseth's stepsister the Queen of Wayrest, dies in agony. The anonymous narrator, himself a spy for Helseth's vassal House Dres, remained silent and is horrified enough by the experience to beg his mistress for reassignment.
  • Parodied in Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain. When Mollusk takes Zala to meet an old assassin friend of his from the Celebrants of Oblivion, the man manages to convince her that he had poisoned her (thinking Mollusk brought her there for him to kill) and that she needs to drink a flask so that she doesn't die. He then reveals that it was the real poison and that the actual cure is in a pill. When she takes the pill, he gives her a hypodermic needle and says that's the cure to the poisoned pill.
  • This is the plan of Père Noël in Gift From The Princess Who Brought Sleep, having Margarita make an airborne toxin of Gift and selling the cure on the black market. The only problem is that Margarita wanted to just kill everyone with the poison.
  • Occurs twice in the Gentleman Bastard series.
    • In The Lies of Locke Lamora, the Spider poisons Locke and promises him the antidote only if he agrees to help her. He immediately knocks her unconscious and loots the antidote.
    • In Red Seas Under Red Skies, Archon Stragos poisons Locke and Jean and demands their help in exchange for the antidote. Stragos's alchemist only creates enough antidote for one person before he dies, and Locke and Jean are forced to flee the city. Later, Jean insists Locke be the one who drinks it, only for Locke to reveal he already slipped it into Jean's finished drink.
  • In The Ghost Brigades, the CDF induces an organ failure in a captured alien scientist that will kill him after several hours of painful seizures unless they give him an "antidote" that will stabilize his lymph analogs, temporarily. He talks.
  • An outright benevolent example is set up at the end of The Golden Enclaves: Insofar as most of Magical Society knows the only thing that has been determined about whatever is ripping the foundations out of various Enclaves and casting them into the Void is unaffiliated with and beyond the control of the big boys in New York or Shanghai; however the legendary Speaker of Mumbai has managed to at least work out how to give warning, her clan has obtained an ancient spellbook from which the first Enclave Foundation Stones were created, and if they do not lend themselves to similar extravagance or oblige letting in riff-raff to help maintain it having such a relic set up before the original Foundation Stone is obliterated is the difference between fixable damage and being wiped from existence. Meanwhile, the scary-powerful-and-just-plain-scary kid who was mixed up in both the destruction and re-creation of the Scholomance has gotten with some of her school chums to track sightings of the indestructible all-devouring horrors known as maw-mouths so she can put them down. The fact that the actors have a connection (Galadriel Higgins is the half-Welsh quasi-posthumous by-blow of Deepthi Sharma's great-grandson) is not widely known. Outside of the High Councils of the Enclaves and those most deeply involved in the horrible blood sacrifices that have been used to create the critical Foundation Stones for all these centuries, very few can conceive of how the action of destroying a monster so far away can be connected to the instantaneous destruction of an Enclave. And while the extended Sharma family is keeping thier active collaboration very quiet (the impossibility of knowing which maw-mouth is linked to what Enclave ahead of time even with precognitive aid helps), it has been agreed that the only way to get those horrors fueled by an eternity of blood and pain abandoned as a way to shelter wizards is a looming-yet-unpredictable threat of obliteration.
  • In the Inheritance Cycle, this gambit is used to ensure that Arya can't escape prison, as only her captors have the antidote.
  • In Jhereg, Vlad and Kragar uncover an episode of this in the history of their target, Mellar: He won a noble's favor and aid by getting said noble in touch with a witch that could cure a plague. Mellar had hired the same witch to spread that plague to create that opportunity in the first place.
  • Barbara Hambly's novel The Ladies of Mandrigyn pulls a particularly delicious version of this gambit: At the beginning of the book, a poisoner slips Sun Wolf a particularly dreadful poison and then casts spells daily to keep it from affecting him, but will not remove it from his system until he's completed a task. Much later, he decides dying horribly is better than the alternatives, and escapes to crawl off and suffer the effects of the poison... which turns out to be the lost shamanic initiation everyone's been searching for the whole book. It's just better known as a poison because it is torturous and only a few are equipped to survive it.
  • In the Lionboy books, the Corporation induced an asthma epidemic in the general population in order to sell inhalers.
  • In the Magic: The Gathering novel Agents of Artifice, Gemreth's demon injects Jace with a painful venom before it interrogates him, promising the antidote if he passes the test.
  • In William Gibson's Neuromancer, protagonist Henry Case betrayed a prior client and was punished with a toxin that crippled his ability to access cyberspace. His present employer heals the nerve damage as payment, then implants sacs of the same toxin as insurance.
  • The Corporations of Oryx and Crake, particularly HelthWyzer, made a business out of creating new diseases, inserting them into their vitamin supplements, and then selling the proprietary cures at high prices. This practice comes back to bite the human race in the butt later, when Crake takes it to the next level.
  • An Implied Trope in Steinbeck's The Pearl. After being stung by the scorpion, Coyotito seems fine until the doctor gives him a pill and says he thinks the poison will hit within an hour. Sure enough, it does and the doctor then cures him. Even the uneducated Kino is very suspicious.
  • Seen a few times in Perry Rhodan, typically as a longer-term blackmail plot: apply a relatively subtle, slow-acting but deadly futuristic poison to the victim (or, for extra dog-kicking points, to somebody else the victim cares about), then regularly supply them with just enough counteragent to keep the poison in check but not actually neutralize it for good. The method has been used by planetary dictators, intelligence agencies of the more unscrupulous persuasion, and at least one starship captain using it to blackmail her own (admittedly likewise shady) crew; naturally, employing it is a pretty good sign of the perpetrator having crossed the moral event horizon some time ago.
  • In Poison Study, this is how the commander's food taster is kept loyal, with a dose of the cure needed every day. To make it harder for the subject to obtain another supply of the cure, the poison does not exist. The "cure" is an addictive drug with painful withdrawal symptoms.
  • Fails epically in the first book of John Ringo and David Weber's Prince Roger series. Roger and his Marines are poisoned and ordered to fight for a tin-pot dictator with this gambit... which backfires amazingly because they're from a totally different planet. Even worse for the would-be poisoner, the poison used actually helps the humans, inspiring The Medic to check another poison for providing a mineral necessary for biological functions but unable to be manufactured by their food replicators, and finding that it can help stretch out the supplements required by the civilian team lacking the nannites doing the conversions.
  • The Saga of Darren Shan gives a twisted example, regarding how the title character became a vampire. Darren's friend Steve asked the vampire Mr. Crepsley to blood him, but Crepsley refused. Darren, who is obsessed with spiders, can't resist stealing the extremely poisonous one that Crepsley performs in the circus with. But when the spider bites Steve, Crepsley says that he will only give the antidote to save Steve's life if Darren agrees to join him as a vampire. To add another twist on top, it was someone's, plan, but not Crepsley's — both Darren and Steve are about 12 years old, and blooding children is illegal. Crepsley was manipulated into it by Mr. Des Tiny, who then goes on to manipulate Steve into believing that Darren conspired with Crepsley to poison him in the first place...
  • A Scanner Darkly: New Path is behind Substance D while providing rehabilitation for its addicted users, which also includes doing farm work - growing more of the drug.
  • In The Space Merchants, advertising companies use unethical methods to get people to buy their products. The drink Coffiest contains an addictive alkaloid that gets you hooked for life. There's a cure, but it's so expensive it's cheaper to just keep drinking the stuff.
  • The Stainless Steel Rat:
    • One person who tries Recruiting the Criminal Jim DiGriz doses him with a slow-acting poison and promises him the antidote upon completion of his mission. Subverted when Jim does so, then belatedly realizes he's passed the deadline by which the poison was to take effect; the employer later admits that it was a bluff.
    • In The Stainless Steel Rat for President, a member of Jim's family is captured, so Jim surrenders himself. He's completely strip-searched, but the Secret Police fails to realise that Jim has impregnated a deadly virus into his fingernails, which he uses to scratch the dictator. Jim then agrees to provide the antidote if everyone is released. However, as Jim refuses to kill, he was just bluffing about the virus, which is actually a mild toxin to provide the symptoms, with an injection of water as the antidote.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series, Baron Fell of Jackson's Whole has this as the basis of most of his business, selling both traditional military weaponry and their defenses, as well as manufacturing chemical and biological weapons along with their cures.
  • Early in The Well of Moments, Jasmine pulls this on a client who tried to stiff her out of payment. It gets turned back on her later by someone else.
  • Thomas of Magnus, the hero of Sigmund Brouwer's Wings of Dawn, uses this — the price of being given regular doses of antidote is continued cooperation from the agents pursuing him, all of whom claim to be with the good guys and want him to join them. In reality, this is a Batman Gambit to weed out which side is lying; knowing that the villains have fewer compunctions about fighting dirty and think they're smarter than he is, Thomas is slipping non-lethal doses into every meal and providing them with flavored water as the "antidote". When he "inadvertently" allows them enough information to determine the recipe of the supposed antidote, the villain works it out and seizes the opportunity to... poison himself. OOPS.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Almost Human has one episode involving an organ-trafficking scheme in which people desperately in need of new hearts are fitted with bio-mechanical hearts that are set to fail after thirty days. The timer can be reset, of course, for a very exorbitant fee.
  • The Americans: Philip and Elisabeth poison the son of the Secretary of Defense's maid in order to get her to steal a clock and then return it after they've planted a bug on it.
  • In the fifth season of Arrow, it is revealed that one of Oliver's off-screen victims as "The Hood" in the first season was Justin Claybourne, a man who first got involved with a black market group to spread weaponized polio in one of the poorer areas of Starling City, then bought up exclusive rights to a new polio cure and offered to sell it at exorbitant prices.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Edgars Industries create a virus that kills only telepaths, but also make a cure. They intend to turn some into slaves and kill the rest. PsiCorps itself finds out about this and takes messy revenge. (They keep the cure.)
    • In "Ceremonies of Light and Dark", a dual-latent-poison version (similar to the Dune example above) is used. When Lord Refa visits Londo on Babylon 5, Londo has a drink waiting for him. Londo asks Refa to end his association with Mr. Morden and the Shadows, and when Refa asks why he would do that, Londo famously replies:
      Londo: Because I have asked you; because your sense of duty to our people should override any personal ambition; and because I have poisoned your drink.
      Then, Londo explains to Refa that the poison won't kill him right away, but rather would fester in his body and not do anything, but turn deadly when it met a second poison, which is also harmless on its own, and which Londo also has and is capable of administering (remember, having a taster won't help, since the taster won't be susceptible to the second poison). Refa complies. For a while.
  • Blake's 7:
    • In "Cygnus Alpha", a Scam Religion has been created around this trope, as the high priest has the only stocks of a medicine that must be administered for the rest of your life to fight off a local disease. Later he reveals that the disease is harmless and burns itself out in a few days.
    • In "Traitor", the protagonists encounter Forbus, a Reluctant Mad Scientist who's been refining a brainwashing drug. Turns out Servalan infected him with a disease that causes an agonising death. After making him a cripple, she doles out an antidote that keeps the infection at bay, as long as he continues his work. Forbus constructs a homemade bomb to kill them both, but unfortunately Servalan shoots him first.
  • Burn Notice
    • A first season episode has an assassin trying to kill Michael. Near the end of the episode, the assassin has a hot dog and goes into anaphylactic shock because Michael sprinkled crushed peanuts on his hot dog (the man being violently allergic to peanuts), then took his epipen. The assassin talks as much as he can until he loses consciousness.
    • A later episode has Michael and Sam pretending to do this to force a middle man to play along with selling Michael's services to the Villain of the Week. They jab a syringe filled with a harmless substance into him and tell him it'll kill him without an (equally fake) antidote, which they will only provide if he cancels the actual guy said villain wanted to hire and sells Michael as the expert he needs.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Pandorica Opens", River Song pulls one of these while negotiating the sale of a Vortex Manipulator with a black market salesman in a bar.
    River: This is a Callisto Pulse. It can disarm micro-explosives from up to 40 feet.
    Dorium: Interesting. What kind of micro-explosives? [drinks wine]
    River: The kind I just put in your wine.
  • Father Brown: In "The Two Deaths of Hercule Flambeau", Lisandra poisons Father Brown with a poison that will take 35 hours to kill him. She says she will provide him with the antidote if he persuades Flambeau to surrender the stolen holy artifact to her.
  • Game of Thrones: Tyene Sand insists that Bronn call her the most beautiful woman he's ever seen before giving him the antidote.
  • A variation in Merlin (2008) in that it's the hero who pulls it off, using a villain's ploy against them. On realizing that Morgana is the source of the spell that renders all of Camelot under an enchanted sleep, Merlin tricks her into drinking water spiked with hemlock. As she lays dying Morgause (who cast the spell in the first place) bursts in and Merlin breaks a deal with her: he'll give her the name of the poison if she lifts the spell over Camelot. She agrees in order to save Morgana's life (though if she hadn't, the spell would have been broken anyway with Morgana's death).
  • Gogol's introductory episode in Nikita has the Russian paramilitary group capture Nikita and inject her with a Division-developed poison, with the antidote to be administered after she completes an assassination for them. Alex manages to smuggle the antidote out of Division for Nikita, who then ensures the assassination fails.
  • Star Trek:
    • Villain of the Week Kivas Fajo pulls this in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Most Toys" when he poisons the water supply of a Federation colony so he can then sell the cure to the Enterprise. However, his real goal is to get his hands on Data so that he can add a Soong-type android to his collection of rare things. One of the things that tips off the Enterprise crew that Kivas is up to something is when they find out he happens to be transporting exactly as much of the (very rare) cure as is needed to restore the water supply, no more and no less. Plus, the fact that tricyanate is MUCH more expensive to manufacturer than the cure (hytritium), so he would not make a profit on this venture (quite the opposite, it would cause him a huge loss).
    • In the Season 1 episode Symbiosis, aliens in a pre-warp civilization believe that they're suffering from a plague, and they need to keep buying medicine from a neighboring planet to treat it. The aliens supplying the medicine know that the plague actually disappered long ago and the "cure" is an addictive drug with withdrawal symptoms that the aliens believe to be plague symptoms. Citing the Prime Directive, Picard refuses to allow the crew of the Enterprise to tell the aliens the truth - and also refuses to assist them when their access to a supply of the "cure" becomes threatened, suggesting that the aliens are soon going to find out the truth about the plague and its "cure" the hard way.
    • The Doctor does this to a corrupt and compassionless Jerkass hospital administrator in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Critical Care"; disgusted at how the civilization lets certain people die based on their standing in society while wasting the medicine that could have saved them on more important patients who didn't need it, the Doctor deliberately infects one of the main hospital staff with a virus so that he would be forced to change his usual procedure in order to be treated himself. This was foreshadowed earlier in the episode when Nelix did something similar to a prisoner they were interrogating about how to find the missing Doctor. Neelix tricked him into eating a toxic meal that wasn't deadly but would cause severe pain for several hours, which was treatable, but only the Doctor was authorized to give the cure, so he would have to tell them where to find the Doctor to make the pain stop.
  • Elizabeth does this to get Jim out of prison in the season finale of Terra Nova. She was bluffing. The "cure" she injected was a sedative.
  • 'The Chaser', an episode of The Twilight Zone (1959), was based on the short story (described above) with the same title. The main character buys a Love Potion from a man who hints that he won't like the results. He doesn't, and when he returns to the potion seller, the only "antidote" available is an untraceable and undetectable poison.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Ravenloft, this is the modus operandi of Darklord Ivan Dilisnya. He created a Perfect Poison called Borrowed Time, which will be a guaranteed kill on anyone at sunset unless they take "Mercy", which is only good for a day. He naturally uses this to ensure loyalty out of all of his employees... and he's not above using Borrowed Time as a recruitment tool.
  • In Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, many turn to the Chaos God Nurgle to escape the effects of a crippling or deadly plague, only to discover Nurgle created it in the first place. The Tome of Decay says Nurgle cultists end up happy upon learning that, because it means Nurgle took active steps to recruit them, meaning he has "chosen" them. Being a sufficiently Benevolent Boss can get people to excuse many sins, and Nurgle is at least polite enough to try to ensure his disciples are Cursed with Awesome once they learn to stomach all the Body Horror.

    Urban Legends 
  • [Insert disease here] is occasionally accused of having been intentionally created and introduced into the populace in various Urban Legends and conspiracy theories.
  • The "Big Pharma" conspiracy theory, according to which major pharmaceutical companies are hindering medical research so that affordable medical products can't replace expensive ones and thus reduce profits.

    Video Games 
  • The original Baldur's Gate has a side-quest where you're poisoned by an assassin, so you'll die in 10 days if his partner in crime isn't ready to help you... for a price of removing the geas his "partner" put on him to make him cooperate.
  • The Joker does this in Batman: Arkham City, poisoning Batman with the same disease that's slowly killing him and making the Dark Knight find a cure. Batman merely responds that he's fine with both of them dying, but the Joker anticipated that and managed to poison people all over Gotham with it, so now Batman really has to find a cure. Ultimately, Batman cures himself, and Word of God is that he manages to save Gotham, but the Joker's actions lead to him not getting the cure and, so he dies.
  • In the third time loop of Bravely Default, DeRosa, Profiteur, and Dr. Qada plan to do this but are stopped by your party before they can get started. Qada, who created both the poison and the cure, has a hard time deciding whether he wants his name to go down in history as the great hero that created the cure, or the diabolical villain that created the poison.
  • Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls reveals that the Towa Group rose to fame by selling air purifiers to counter the poisonous gases that were released into the world after the Tragedy. Turns out they were behind the release of the poisonous gas in the first place.
  • Played with in the Dead Rising franchise. The company that makes the zombie plague medicine Zombrex intentionally starts zombie outbreaks, but not so they can sell their already-expensive drug at even more extortionate prices (although that's surely considered a bonus). They do it so they can actually make the drug in the first place, since the main ingredient in it is Queen Wasps, and there's sadly no way to make more of those without making more zombies. For what it's worth, they are trying to create a permanent cure for the virus, and so far have managed to make Zombrex last twice as long as it originally did (24 hours as opposed to 12). The cure is finally developed in the aftermath of Dead Rising 3 when one of the orphans made immune by Carlito Keyes is discovered (it's the Player Character, Nick Ramos, naturally).
  • Used on a global scale in Deus Ex, with the synthetic disease "The Gray Death" (and very expensive vaccine "Ambrosia").
  • Food Fantasy: Calamus Wine's former Master Attendant poisoned all their servants, and would only grant the antidote to whoever submitted to the master. The poison only took effect after a varying period of time, and would induce great pain instead of immediately killing its victim, but if the master didn't think someone would be useful, no amount of begging could save that servant. Almond Tofu's elderly Master Attendant was a former servant who escaped with Calamus Wine's help, but finally succumbed to the poison many years afterwards.
  • What kicks off the plot of Jak X. During the reading of Krew's last will, Krew reveals in a recording that he always wanted to win the Combat Racing Championship and demands that everyone present drive for him, revealing that the wine they toasted with was poisoned with minute doses of a slow-acting poison known as Black Shade. Krew gives them an ultimatum: win the next Kras City Championship as his team and receive the antidote when they win, or die.
  • In Nugget's and Ms. Applegate's routes of Kindergarten, Nugget has the protagonist eat a chicken nugget to prove he wants to be his friend. He later reveals that the nugget was poisoned and that the protagonist will die at the end of lunch if he doesn't get the antidote, which Nugget will only give him if he can get Buggs to eat another, more potent poison nugget.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, one path through the level 11 quest takes you through the Copperhead Club, where you encounter the owner Shen Copperhead. Each time you meet him, he poisons you, and won't remove the poison (or give you the Plot Coupon you came there for) unless you go on a Fetch Quest for him... and when you do, he does it again, despite all your best efforts to avoid it. Eventually, you get fed up with him and just beat him up and take it from him.
  • It's strongly implied that Agahnimnote  did this (releasing a plague into Hyrule, then arriving incognito as a sorcerer able to halt the plague) in the lead-up to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
  • As the plot of the Game Mod Marathon Rubicon unfolds, the player can learn that this is The Plan of Dangi Corporation. Which of the game's endings you get hinges on whether the player does anything to stop it. Naturally, the ending where the player does nothing to stop it is not pleasant.
  • In Mega Man 10, Dr. Wily secretly spreads the Roboenza virus to afflict robots and leave humans helpless, then reveals that he caused it and says that anyone who wants to cure their robots should come work for him.
  • The title character in Nick Chase and the Deadly Diamond is forced to steal the stone in order to receive the antidote to the toxin "Mr. X" had poisoned him with.
  • This shows up in Octopath Traveler during the second chapter of Alfyn's path. When he arrives in the town of Goldshore, he finds another apothecary, Vanessa Hysal, has been in the town some time curing a fever for free, only for another malady to strike the town and her to sell the cure for that, but at high prices. It turns out she deliberately poisoned the villagers with her fever cure so she could get rich off the real cure.
    Alfyn: What happened to your "sworn duty to ease suffering?"
    Vanessa: Here's some advice, little puppy. Don't trust anything you can get for free. A stately mansion, lavish dresses, fine wine... Why shouldn't everything I want be mine?
    Alfyn: You're free to have what you want, but I won't let you deceive the weak and vulnerable to get it. Using your knowledge to inflict pain for profit? You're a disgrace to our profession. Doesn't it make you feel anything to see people suffer?
    Vanessa: Should it? The ailing, the injured... They're just means to an end. Just like the kittens I test my tonics on. They bring me leaves by the bucket. And when they've outlived their usefulness... they die. Do you cry when you toss away a broken flask? Well then, why should I?
  • Presentable Liberty has this as part of the backstory, but with a twist: The cure ends up causing organ failure. Dr. Money tries capitalizing on this too by selling new organs, but they tend to fail very rapidly. Turns out, a legitimate cure does exist, and you were injected with it so your organs would become incredibly valuable.
  • In the real-time tactics game Soldiers of Anarchy, The End of the World as We Know It was caused by a virus that caused uncontrollable cellular mutations quickly followed by death. During the game, the COTUC route has the player's squad finding out that the epidemic was caused by NOAH's predecessor, a medical firm who engineered the virus in order to get rich on the vaccine... only for the cure to prove ineffective, while the NOAH route implies COTUC somehow had a working cure all along, probably having stolen it out of NOAH's labs after sabotaging the original research to make their own survival appear miraculous to the common folk. Now, NOAH are getting close to synthesizing the cure once more and are actively trying to restore the world as atonement while COTUC are not only experimenting with the virus to make it even deadlier but intend to eliminate NOAH as well to secure their position as the last major power in the world - fully intending to release the improved virus if they think they're losing.note  Hoooly shit!
  • In the final chapter of Titanic: Adventure Out of Time, Colonel Zeitel has poisoned Lady Georgia. He demands the painting for the antidote.
  • Touhou has a non-poison version. Mystia Lorelei uses her blindness-inducing Magic Music to sell grilled lamprey to humans as a blindness cure, with the intent of getting them so used to fish they stop eating poultry (she's a bird youkai).

    Visual Novels 
  • The Royal Masquerade has this as part of the villain's Evil Plan. Renza Fierro, who has been pretending to be Julia's friend up to this point, reveals that all the drinks she gave her out of seeming generosity were actually laced with a slow-acting poison called cantarella, and Julia must help her become queen if she wants her to give her the antidote for it. When Julia refuses, Renza locks her in a room to die from the poison. She only survives because she's able to steal the antidote later.
  • Yo-Jin-Bo employs this trope, albeit mostly offscreen: In Bo and Ittosai's paths, the ninja Kasumimaru reveals that he persuaded Ittosai to turn mole by managing to cut him with a poisoned knife during battle, and then promising him money and the antidote in return for his help against the heroes. Interestingly, Kasumimaru apparently handed over the antidote as soon as the agreement was made, since it's never an issue even when Ittosai inevitably reneges on the deal.

  • In 8-Bit Theater, Matoya poisons the "Light Warriors" to coerce them into retrieving her magic eye for her. However, because she's blind, she doesn't realize which poison she'd given them, and it turns out to be the one that causes sanity-straining nightmares.
  • Subverted in Dreamkeepers, where the poison the Resistance gave to a corrupt official is incurable, but slow and painful. They offer to give him a painless suicide capsule if he talks.
  • In Drow Tales, this forms two key elements of Snadhya'rune's strategy to get elected Empress and force her own "enlightened" views down everyone's throats.
    • Snadhya'rune runs a nether cult that is obsessed with the idea of tainting, which basically involves infecting a Fae's soul with a demon, and as such has been spreading the taint far and wide. Getting tainted generally means being consumed by the demon, but Snadhya'rune has learned how to master control over it via Split-Personality Merge and is promoting it as a form of "enlightenment". At least two of the people Snadhya'rune has "enlightened" completely switch loyalties, leading some to fear that Snadhya'rune is utilizing it as a means of brainwashing.
    • She threatens to annihilate all of the clans with a deadly infectious flower. Only those who bend to her rule will be given the cure. Surprisingly enough, a significant portion of the population strongly supports her goals. She has her first Villainous Breakdown in the entire strip when Sarghress assassins kill the scientist responsible for the "Cure" part of the gambit. Making sure another scientist can make the cure becomes a very high priority for her. Unfortunately, said scientist left No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup due to a desire to keep her work a secret. As a result, Snadhya's flower plague quickly spreads beyond the control of everyone, including her.
  • In Garanos, the Big Bad Gharsena is the one who made the disease Gailen is dying from, a fact she uses to force Gailen to be her mole. When Gailen figures it out she attempts to kill her, but Gharsena just magically accelerates the disease until it kills her.
  • Given a Mad Scientist twist in Girl Genius when it turns out the poisoner is also the cure - as long as he's alive and close by there is nothing to fear from the poison. Of course, he failed to properly take into account that the one poisoned is also a Mad Scientist. She can't cure herself, but she can make another creature have the same preserving effect as the poisoner. And another twist: It turns out he botched the experiment and he starts to get sick from not being around her, though he's able to go much longer without contact than she is. He finally admits it was a bad idea and agrees to cure them both.
  • One strip of Precocious shows Bud selling his famous "Muffins of Doom" from a booth, then his customer sees something else, panics, and drops the muffin he was eating, and Autumn is shown in a booth selling "Antidotes".
  • In Sluggy Freelance, Sam the vampire tracks Dr. Schlock to his motel room, where Sam can't go without an invitation. Sam gets around this by shooting Schlock in the leg, forcing him to either allow Sam to enter and patch him up or else bleed to death.

    Web Original 
  • Stampy's Lovely World: The plot of Episode 760, "Impossible Choice", revolves around this. In Episode 749, "Ten Years Later...", Stampy's oldest dog Barnaby is poisoned, and the Big Bad uses the antidote to save Barnaby's life as leverage for the eponymous Lovely World, forcing Stampy into the titular Sadistic Choice between his beloved dog's life and being able to set foot in the community he's been building for over a decade. Stampy manages to haggle it down to just the Funland, though, and later episodes have him engaging in Passive-Aggressive Kombat against the villains to get his minigame paradise back.

    Western Animation 
  • In Adventure Time episode "Jake vs. Me-Mow", Me-Mow uses this to blackmail Jake into assassinating the Wildberry Princess. When Me-Mow talks in her sleep, she stated that even if Jake helped her kill Wildberry Princess that she planned on double-crossing him and letting the poison kill him anyway. It doesn't take, however, when Me-Mow reveals that the toxin is enough to kill 50 dogs, leading Jake to realize he can just supersize his liver by 51 and absorb said toxin.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • In one episode, the Scarecrow releases a chemical that takes away all sensation of fear, making people dangerously reckless, with the plan of selling his fear toxin as the "antidote".
    • And in an earlier one, Corrupt Corporate Executive Roland Daggett has stray animals infected with an incredibly virulent new strain of rabies that he plans to sell the cure for.
  • The Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: M.I.S.S.I.O.N." had Numbuh Four manipulate Mr. Boss, Count Spankulot, Soccer Mom, and Stickybeard into forming a bowling team to compete against his dad's team by giving them soda he claims to be poisoned and refusing to give the antidote until they comply. When the assembled bowling team almost wins, Numbuh Four ends up ruining everything by accidentally blurting out that the villains were never poisoned.
  • Danny Phantom: In the episode "Masters of All Time", Vlad, suffering from another outbreak of the Ecto-Acne disease that afflicted him after he first became half-ghost, approaches Danny for help in curing it, and infects Sam and Tucker with the disease as well to ensure Danny's cooperation.
  • Dragons: Race to the Edge: In the episode "Triple Cross", Viggo, having been betrayed by Krogan and Johann, forces Hiccup to help him by poisoning Toothless with red oleander. Subverted toward the end when he informs Hiccup that Toothless was never in danger since red oleander is harmless to dragons.
    • Earlier in the episode "Buffalord Soldier", Viggo's plan was to unleash a deadly plague and then capture a Buffalord (a rare species of dragon who's saliva is a universal cure) to use as a bargaining chip.
  • Dragons: The Nine Realms: The local lunatic with a hatchet Buzzsaw pulls one in the sixth episode of season 6 in order to get his hands on the Book of Dragons. Only, There Is No Cure.
  • In the Drawn Together episode "The Other Cousin", Clara poisons Hero and promises to give him the antidote if he shows her cousin Bleh a good time. This becomes a What Happened to the Mouse? moment in the broadcast version when he's not seen getting the antidote in the episode (the extended DVD version does in fact show Clara giving it to him).
  • One episode of Gargoyles double subverts this. Demona tries to pull a deal of this kind by shooting Elisa with a poisoned dart and coercing the gargoyles to help her in return for the antidote. Unbeknownst to her Elisa's badge deflected the dart. The Gargoyles spring the trap anyway, out of curiosity, and so Demona will think she succeeded. An extra twist comes up in the end, when Demona gloats that there is no antidote right before she gets away. It was a Xanatos Gambit that would result in the deaths of at least one of her foes and possibly more as a fringe benefit. Thank God for that badge...
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: In "The Rock", Valmont infects Jackie with a poison that will turn him into stone, offering the antidote in exchange for all of the talismans that Jackie has collected thus far. Jade then breaks into Section 13 in order to save her uncle. Of course, Jade missed one, the Horse Talisman, and Tohru responds by smashing the antidote. Good thing said talisman grants you healing powers...
  • This launches the main plot in the One-Episode Wonder Korgoth of Barbaria. A Faux Affably Evil thief invites Barbarian Hero Korgoth to dinner while he talks about hiring Korgoth for a job. When Korgoth refuses to take the job after dinner, the thief reveals that there was a deadly parasite in Korgoth's food, and the only way he'll give Korgoth the elixir to cure it is if Korgoth does the job.
  • Transformers: Animated: In "Black Friday", Blackarachnia gives some of the Autobots a lethal dose of her venom and will only provide the cure if Optimus steals something for her that can help her get rid of her organic half. She ends up being betrayed by Prometheus Black, who wants to remove her robot half instead and use her for his experiments. Optimus saves her and she escapes, but she leaves the cure for Optimus to find.

    Real Life 
  • There was a thought experiment that played with this trope. The premise was that your best friend is dying of a unique disease, and the only cure is held by a doctor who wants more money for it than you can get. It's supposed to provoke questions of what morality truly means.
  • The S'Hamala or Chumash of California had antap, or medicine men/women, who poisoned enemies and then blackmailed them.
  • This trope can get used as an accusation against Bribing Your Way to Victory in video games. It's telling if a game has a tough obstacle or major inconvenience that is easily solved with a cash-exclusive item that seems almost tailor-made for that...


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Selling The Antidote


"The poison you just drank"

Lao poisons Indy in order to get both the diamond and the urn as well.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / PoisonAndCureGambit

Media sources: