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Pull-the-Trigger Provocation

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"If it hadn't been for that smirk, I wouldn't have been able to kill him."
A character is on the verge of crossing a line that can't be uncrossed, but is wavering, when he suddenly receives a provocation that drives him to commit the act, or at least attempt to. A (usually) more lethal version of Fisticuff-Provoking Comment.

For instance, The Hero has a gun to the head of his Arch-Enemy, but is held back by his Thou Shalt Not Kill principles. As he struggles internally, his foe brags about stuffing his girlfriend into the fridge, and it's the last straw that makes him pull the trigger.

This doesn't necessarily have to involve a gun, or even killing. It can involve "pulling the trigger" on any action which (seemingly) cannot be taken back and will (usually) alter things in a dark way, such as declaring war or turning to The Dark Side. The only constant is that the character must be hesitating, and there must be a singular provocation that pushes them over the edge.

If a protagonist does this and it's a more idealistic work (or Status Quo Is God), it'll turn out not to be so irrevocable after all, or a third party will intervene to prevent them from actually crossing the line. If not, this is often a Start of Darkness, or at least It Gets Easier and Gaining the Will to Kill. Do not press the Berserk Button lightly.

See also You Wouldn't Shoot Me, which specifically applies to guns, and usually doesn't have the holder carrying through. Get It Over With, Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred! and Please Kill Me if It Satisfies You have the target trying to invoke this.

Compare Kill Him Already! when the provocation comes from the character's friend or ally. Contrast Villains Want Mercy. If they decide to pull an I Surrender, Suckers instead, that might have been a provocation enough for the hesitating character to "pull the trigger". Compare also to Give Me a Reason, where the person about to "pull the trigger" would really like to do so and asks the person on the other end for provocation.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Three Jokers: In the climax of the first issue, Batgirl and Red Hood (Formerly Jason Todd, the second Robin) are keeping an eye on a captive Joker known as The Clown (Representing the Silver Age Joker). The Clown brings up how he killed Jason Todd back when he was Robin, mentioning that Todd begged him not to kill him, saying "If you let me live, I'll do anything you say... I'll be your Robin." Todd finally snaps and shoots The Clown in the head.
  • Blacksad: Blacksad is about to kill Ivo Statoc, the Corrupt Corporate Executive who raped and murdered his former girlfriend, but still has his doubts whether he can really go through with a Vigilante Execution even after he already put Statoc's bodyguards in the hospital to get to him. Fortunately, Statoc's arrogant gloating about his own coldblooded nature and flashing a confident smirk angers Blacksad enough to pull the trigger.
  • Captain Britain (Jamie Delano & Alan Davis): The assassin Slaymaster beats and blinds Betsy Braddock, the new Captain Britain. Her brother Brian, the first superhero to use the name, then delivers a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to the villain, fuelled by Unstoppable Rage. At the end, he holds a huge, jagged piece of rubble aloft and prepares to bring it down on Slaymaster's head, then stops, realising what he'd be doing. Slaymaster chooses that moment to taunt Brian — and Brian crushes him after all.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • Big Hero 6: In the final showdown, Hiro and his friends nearly manage to talk down Callahan from going through with his plan. Until Krei speaks up, trying to make an offer. It visibly makes the Big Bad solidify his choice to go through with his plan.
  • Tarzan: A failed example during the final showdown, when Tarzan gets his hands on Clayton's gun.
    Clayton: Go ahead. Shoot me. (he laughs as Tarzan hesitates) Be a man.
    (Tarzan presses the barrels right to Clayton's throat... and mimics the sound of a loud gunshot)
    Tarzan: Not a man like YOU! (he smashes the gun into a million pieces)

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Ballad of Cable Hogue: A band of thieves abandons Hogue in the southwest desert, leaving him to trek miles without water. By chance, Hogue stumbles onto a site where an aquifer breaks the surface. In gratitude, Hogue swears to God that he'll abandon his sinful ways. Hogue soon sets up shop along a stage route, selling spring water to thirsty travelers. When one of Hogue's old criminal cronies shows up to rob him, Hogue points a rifle at him. The criminal taunts him with, "You ain't got the guts, Hogue." Despite his promise to God, Hogue pulls the trigger, killing his nemesis.
  • Coffy: When Coffy finds out her boyfriend is a Corrupt Politician and was working with the criminal organization that she blamed for her sister's addiction, she went to his home to kill him. As she has her shotgun pointed at him, he tries to explain that working with the drug traffickers was a pragmatic compromise to use their money to put him in a position of power where he could improve conditions for the entire black community. Coffy isn't sure whether to believe him, until she finds out he's been sleeping with a white woman, then she shoots him in the groin.
  • Deadpool (2016): It was never very likely that Deadpool would let Big Bad Francis/Ajax live, but Ajax's taunting about Deadpool's foolish belief that Ajax could cure his appearance certainly didn't help matters.
  • Death Becomes Her: During a tense confrontation at the top of the stairs with a rejuvenated Madeline, Ernest snaps when she insults him and nearly strangles her, before leaving her tottering on the top step. She begs Ernest to pull her up and he begins to... Until she shouts "Hurry up, you wimp!" Ernest responds by poking her shoulder and sending Madeline down the marble stairs in a bone-shattering tumble (she gets better... sort of).
  • Django Unchained: Dr. Schultz utterly loathes Calvin Candie for his racism and sadism, but he's willing to leave without any bloodshed. Then Candie tops off his previous humiliation of Schultz by trying to force him to shake hands, just to shatter his remaining dignity. This triggers Schultz's Rage Breaking Point, and he shoots Candie dead on the spot.
  • Return of the Jedi: In the climax, Luke is hiding from Vader, refusing to fight him or be goaded anymore. When Vader susses out his sister's existence and brags that they can just turn her instead, Luke flies into a rage, starts channeling The Dark Side (which Yoda and Kenobi both told him was a point of no return,) and brutally curb-stomps Vader. Fortunately, after cutting off Vader's hand, Luke manages to regain control of himself and pull back to the light side.

  • While the shot never does actually get fired due to an interruption, the Skulduggery Pleasant series contains the following exchange when Skulduggery captures the man who killed their mutual friend, Ghastly Bespoke.
    Ravel: Is this an arrest, or an execution?
    Skulduggery: I haven't decided yet.
    Ravel: I really am sorry about Ghastly.
    Skulduggery: (stepping backwards "to avoid bloodspatter") Execution it is.
  • Star Wars Legends: In the X-Wing Series novel "The Bacta War" Iella Wessiri and Elscol Lorro manage to corner the Imperial Flirry Vorru after he shoots several troopers. He then surrenders to Iella and Elscol. Lorro still tries to shoot Vorru but Iella stops her and convinces her not to. Vorru taunts Iella that he will never face New Republic and that she's not capable of shooting him. She admits that she can't but Elscol could. Elscol fires her weapon but it turns out that Iella had set Elscol's weapon to stun after stopping her from shooting the man before, winding up with Vorru being only stunned.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This turns out to be the reason Bryce was killed in 13 Reasons Why. After being beaten up by Zach and left by the river, Bryce is found by Jessica and Alex. He begs them to help him, as he can't walk or call for help, and if he's left out here all night he'll probably die of exposure. Even though Bryce is an asshole who has hurt him and everyone he cares about Alex can't bring himself to leave Bryce to die like this and helps him stand. However, when Bryce begins threatening violent retribution against Zach and accuses Jessica of setting him up to her face (he having raped her), Alex shoves him into the river and lets him drown.
  • In the Cold Case episode "Justice", William holds a gun to the rapist of his sister, and shoots when the latter brags that all his victims loved it.
  • Game of Thrones: Tyrion has a crossbow trained on his father Tywin for sleeping with Shae and for a lifetime of abuse. But he's wavering and Tywin doesn't believe he'll do it. And he really seems like he might not, especially after Tywin restrains himself from calling Shae a whore. Despite everything, Tywin seems to be winning Tyrion over... until Tyrion refuses to go back into the bedroom where he killed Shae and Tywin says, and promptly gets killed:
    Tywin: Are you afraid of a dead whore?
  • The Magicians (2016): In the episode "The Flying Forest", Penny ends up needing to get his hands sliced off as a result of them getting subjected to a curse. Quentin is reluctant to do so, but eventually proceeds to chop them off in rage after getting goaded into it by Penny.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Probably happens, but left slightly ambiguous in the episode "The Most Toys". Data has been captured by Kivas Fajo, a rich jerkass Collector of the Strange, who intends to keep him as a collector's item, and spends the episode trying to break him into submission. Fajo also employs a special force-field belt, that prevents Data from touching him, meaning that Data cannot physically subdue him. Near the end, Data has turned the tables and has a very deadly, extremely painful weapon pointed at Fajo, who starts taunting him for not being able to summon the rage necessary to kill, pointing out to him that his programming prevents him from doing so as it dictates respect for all living things. Fajo then threatens to exploit this against the android, telling Data that he will kill as many people as it takes to make him obey him. Turns out, however, that Data doesn't need anger, just the cold and perfectly logical realization that allowing Fajo, who is just one person, to live and continue to be a threat to the lives and health of many other people is a greater evil than killing him. Data then calmly says "I cannot permit this to continue" and aims the weapon... and gets beamed up by O'Brien, who sees that the weapon is discharging and is able to dissipate it harmlessly. Data suggests it "may have" malfunctioned during the teleport, although it’s implied that Riker might not believe him but is willing to let it slide.
  • Once a Season in The Wire:
    • When Bodie and Poot hold a gun to Wallace for snitching, the final straw is when Wallace starts crying.
    • Ziggy shoots Gleikas after being stiffed on the payment on his car heist and getting slapped around and thrown out.
    • While no provocation is needed, as his fate is already sealed Omar and Brother Mouzone shoot Stringer Bell after he tells them to just do it already.
    • Bug's dad admitting having had sex with men in prison is enough to push Chris Partlow to lose his cool and beat him to death in an alley instead of walking him into a vacant house to kill and hide.
    • In one of the final scenes of the series, as the New Day Co-op gather to discuss what to do next, Slim Charles shoots Cheese after the latter casually admits he was the one who betrayed his own uncle Prop Joe.

  • In Hamilton, Burr is enjoined in a duel with Hamilton, but is hesitant to shoot at his former friend-turned-rival, and is strongly considering wasting his shot in the air, confident that Hamilton will do likewise. But then he sees Hamilton putting on his glasses. Convinced that the only reason Hamilton would don glasses is to improve his aim, and refusing to let his children be orphans, Burr shoots Hamilton, killing him.

    Video Games 
  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!: Jack is willing to spare the Meriff despite having been wronged by him, but the latter's attempt to pull an I Surrender, Suckers and shoot Jack leads to him responding by shooting him to death right then and there.
    Jack: ARGH! I was gonna let you live, you dumb bastard!
  • God of War III: As Kratos tries to save Pandora from being consumed by the fires that protect Pandora's Box, Zeus walks up behind Kratos and pleads "For once in your pathetic life, don't fail. Don't fail her you like you failed your family." Unfortunately, bringing up Kratos' family happens to be one of his Berserk Buttons, and he has a lapse on concentration that causes him to let go of Pandora, then turns around to pummel Zeus in the face.
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us: In the opening cinematic (in an alternate universe,) the Joker has Mind Raped Superman into destroying Metropolis, and killing Lois and their unborn child. When Batman is interrogating the Joker, Supes shows up, enraged. He grabs the Joker in a chokehold and is wavering over what to do, when the Joker makes a tasteless joke about how "maybe he won't kill his next family". It pushes Superman into killing him in messy fashion, punching right through him and tearing out his heart in what soon proves to be his Start of Darkness.
  • Mafia: After mortally wounding Sam, Tommy starts lowering his gun, only to finish them off once Sam makes the mistake of talking about the good times he, Tommy, and Paulie had together, the latter he'd murdered beforehand.
  • Yakuza: in a scene added in the Kiwami remaster, Nishikiyama is preparing to commit seppuku after a long trip over the Despair Event Horizon ends with his sister dying of her illness. Before he can go through with this, his troublesome underling Matsushige comes in and starts badmouthing Nishiki, comparing him negatively to (currently imprisoned) Kiryu. Rather than kill himself, Nishiki quickly rounds on Matsushige and guts him with his dagger, coolly telling the man as he dies that Kiryu took the fall for Nishiki killing Dojima. Once Matsushige's dead, Nishiki decides It Gets Easier and completes his Face–Heel Turn, becoming the villain he is in the main plotline.

  • Ensign Sue Must Die: Spock resolves to kill Sue, and has a phaser set to "Pocket Death Star" pointed at her, but is wavering, with his hand shaking. When she starts bragging about being a perfect marksman, he scowls and blasts her full-force. (But she turns out to be immune to phasers.}
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • In one strip, Haley gets cornered in a basement by the members of her former Thieves' Guild, under orders from the guildmaster to kill her. She starts talking about how difficult it's going to be knowing the names of all the former friends and comrades she's going to fight... but when she sees Toby, who runs the guild's dog-fighting ring, she remembers that most of the people in the guild are assholes, stops feeling guilty about hurting them and sinks two arrows into his chest.
    • When Roy gets into a fight with a vampire who was raised from the corpse of one of his friends, the vampire attempts to demoralize Roy with an underhanded taunt about the accident that killed his baby brother Eric. But the vampire accidentally words the taunt in a way that would be completely out of character for Roy's friend to say even if he really had turned evil. This convinces Roy that the vampire isn't actually his friend, but a monster that has hijacked their corpse, and he starts fighting more fiercely as a result.
  • One Sev Space comic (made before the release of Attack of the Clones) has Yoda telling Obi-Wan that he has foreseen that Anakin will turn to the dark side. Obi-Wan asks if it is due to a Sith Lord or emotional scars from losing his mother, and Yoda says it's worse than that, leaving Obi-Wan wondering what hideous evil could produce such anger... as it turns out, Jar Jar Binks is back.

    Western Animation 
  • The Futurama movie, "Into the Wild Green Yonder", mentions an extinct species called the Striped Biologist Taunter. They're implied to be a whole species of this, who taunted biologists to kill them. They get revived at the end, where it is revealed that Striped Biologist Taunters have target patterns on their bellies, and one of them says to the camera, with a smug attitude, in plain English, "What are you gonna do, shoot us?"
  • An early episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has a group of buffalo planning a stampede to drive off the settler ponies in an overly-simplified allegory for Native Americans and settlers. The Mane 6 have attempted to talk them down, and at the start of the stampede, it seems that they've succeeded, as the chief of the buffalos hesitates to actually go through with it. Until Pinkie launches into a reprise of her friendship song, which the chief absolutely hates, causing him to charge into town.

    Real Life 
  • It is alleged that Tsar Nicholas of Russia was once agonizing over signing a particularly controversial order, when an aide de camp approached him and tried to comfort him with the words "Majesty, we know how difficult it must be for you to decide...", not realizing that the one thing the Tsar hated above all else was the idea that others perceived him as a weak, indecisive leader. If true, it was likely hearing these words that convinced him that he needed to sign the order... the year was 1914, and the order was the declaration of war on Germany that triggered World War One.