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Protector Behind Bars

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The Hero feels strongly about his Protectorate. Obviously, imprisonment will prevent him from doing any protecting, and often goes hand-in-hand with situations where the protectorate is in grave danger. This horrifies him — often more than an impending execution, even. Partly because, being in prison, the Protectorate could be facing any number of dangers without his knowledge.

Can also apply to any other character that the prisoner knows in danger and feels strongly about. When the character is not the Protectorate, the prisoner usually is aware of a peril of which the other character is not.

Because Men Are the Expendable Gender, more likely to be a man anguished over a woman (or child) than vice versa.

This allows even a Lawful Good character who would normally insist on Self-Restraint to break prison, since it's not for his own sake that he wants out. For any character, it provides a powerful motive to escape, and so it invariably leads into the Great Escape.

From the Protectorate's POV, if that's shown, this may be Deus Exit Machina followed by Deus ex Machina, although the prisoner can be considerably less powerful than that, or even the character he's trying to aid. Compare Anti-Interference Lock Up.

Not to be confused with someone who protects people while they're in prison.


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    Comic Books 
  • In the "Tarnished Angel" arc of Astro City, Steeljack has been imprisoned by Honor Guard after they refuse to believe his warnings about an impending citywide supervillain attack. Out of options, he breaks free and gets back to the city because he realizes that the small-time crooks of his neighborhood had no one else to protect them from a murderer.
  • In Sin City, John Hartigan is behind bars and unable to protect Nancy, a young girl who had previously survived a Serial Killer. His anguish over her possible anguish drives him to get parole and go rescue her. Turns out to be an Exploited Trope: the finger Junior showed Hartigan wasn't actually Nancy's. Junior and his cronies couldn't find Nancy on their own for years, so they manipulated Hartigan into doing it for them.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Brave, Fergus locks Merida up to keep her safe while he and his men chase down and slaughter a large black bear. However, the bear they are chasing is Merida's mother Elinor. Merida already told her father, but he did not believe her. With Merida locked away, she couldn't come to her mother's aid.
  • In Tangled, Flynn is anguished at the thought not so much of his impending execution as the danger that Rapunzel is in — it is not until he realizes that Mother Gothel plotted the whole thing that he begins to struggle, and his pleas are about the terrible danger she is in.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the movie Face/Off, this happens to FBI agent Archer briefly after his face transplant, when Castor (who stole Archer's face, after Archer had Castor's face transplanted to his to infiltrate Castor's gang in prison) taunts him and tells him he's going to take over his life and the role of husband and father to his family, while Archer is locked up and mistaken for Castor.
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Bard begs the guards to release him so he can shoot the remaining black arrow when he realizes that Smaug is approaching Laketown (and therefore, his children).
  • In The Santa Clause 2, Bernard is the only one who's concerned about Curtis' plan to create a Toy Santa to temporarily replace the real deal while he's dealing with the "Mrs. Clause". Once Toy Santa goes off the deep end, Curtis has to be the one to inform the real Santa of what's going on, as Toy Santa placed Bernard under "house arrest".
  • Terminator:
    • Kyle Reese in The Terminator is restrained inside a police station while the T-800 model 101 is in the middle of a killing spree, but Kyle manages to release himself in time to protect Sarah Connor once again.
    • Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sarah Connor is locked up in an insane asylum and desperately begs to be released so she can protect her son John from future attacks by Skynet.
      Sarah: Please. He's in great danger. He's naked without me.
  • A variation in Time After Time, where the hero is caught by the police with him being suspected of Jack the Ripper's latest murder spree. He begs them to send someone to protect his girlfriend.
  • In Wendy And Lucy, Wendy is apprehended for shoplifting, and worries about her dog who is tied up outside the shop, whilst she is taken into custody. The dog, Lucy, goes missing before Wendy is able to return.

  • Jean Valjean's reason in Les Misérables for pleading with Javert to delay his imprisonment was due to him wanting to avoid being this for Cosette.
  • Played straight and then subverted in the end of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Once they find his Room 101 fear, Winston would gladly betray Julia.

    Live Action TV 
  • In The A-Team episode "There's Always a Catch", when he, Face, and B.A. are captured by Decker and the M.P.s, Hannibal isn't nearly as concerned about them as he is about Doug and Shana, their clients, as Garber threatened their lives earlier.
  • Lieutenant Olivia Benson, from Law & Order: SVU, in Season 11's 9th episode, "Perverted", despite her colleagues' protests. She is framed for murdering Clyde Vandyne, a biker, with her fabricated DNA found on him. It is revealed that the real murderer (and the one who framed her) is Brady Harrison, whom Benson had collared.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. Averted when Tom Paris is sentenced to thirty days in the brig. Voyager is attacked and while Tom begs to be let out, he isn't; and it turns out one of the extras was able to pilot the ship just fine, as the Doctor gleefully points out to him afterwards.

    Video Games 
  • This can happen to Ethan in Heavy Rain if he's arrested twice. Jayden will save him the first time, but if it happens again Ethan will spend the rest of the game locked in a holding cell. And if the real killer isn't brought to justice, Ethan will hang himself after he's found guilty for the Origami murders.
  • In Persona 4, Yu is eventually arrested by his own uncle, a detective, when there's clear evidence that Yu is withholding evidence about a high-profile serial murder case. Dojima drags him to the station and begins to interrogate him. The problem is, this leaves Dojima's daughter (and Yu's cousin) Nanako defenseless at home, and then it's revealed that she's the killer's next target...

    Web Comics 
  • In The Order of the Stick, Elan's worries in prison revolve as much about the danger that Nale's infiltration of the team puts Haley in as about his own innocence.

    Western Animation 
  • Defied in the DuckTales (1987) episode "Hero For Hire"; Launchpad fakes a fatal crash so that he can avoid getting sent to prison and being unable to rescue Doofus.
  • In a Shout-Out to Face/Off, an episode of The Simpsons has Sideshow Bob switch faces with another cellmate. When Marge and Bart visited "Bob", he tried to warn them of Bart being in danger, but the new mouth made him unintelligible and caused him go get locked in a padded cell.