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Reformed, but Rejected

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Perhaps showing up at Thanksgiving with a Call-Back to X-Men 17 was not a good idea.

"It's not easy to regain trust once you've lost it."

Turning over a new leaf is hard. Especially when no one believes that you're sincere about it, and/or won't forgive willingly.

This is the companion trope to the Falsely Reformed Villain, who pretends to have reformed, but in reality is only biding his time while he plots his latest nefarious scheme. The hero, however, is not fooled. By contrast, the desire of the Reformed, But Rejected character to leave his evil ways in the past is completely genuine — but the hero still refuses to be "fooled."

Unlike The Atoner, this character is not necessarily overwhelmingly evil, and it is easier if he hasn't gone completely overboard. His sins could be more along the lines of "stole some bread" or "robbed a bank", than "destroyed ten inhabited planets and built pyramids of skulls while laughing wildly." Whatever the case, he is generally not of the opinion that he needs to spend the rest of his life and possibly his afterlife as well trying to make up for his misdeeds, and is in fact due some good karma. All he wants is a chance at a normal honest life. It's getting people to give him that chance that presents a problem.

Often the disinclination to believe that a character has truly become good is not limited to just the hero or heroes, but is the reaction of society in general. The reformed character can find this a bitter pill to swallow, particularly if they have "done their time" in prison or paid their debt to society in some other way, yet find that society is not prepared to let bygones be bygones.

On the other hand, there are times where this reaction may be totally reasonable. A long history of being a complete jerk and general thorn in the side of the heroes does not really do much to engender popularity with them. The villain may really want to reform and may have taken honest steps to do so, but the heroes may simply just be so sick of dealing with them and the messes that they cause (especially if they already have multiple failed attempts on their record) that they frankly just don't care. Like Then Let Me Be Evil, it runs the gamut from a cheap excuse to avoid taking responsibility, to an explanation that has some truth but still doesn't cut it, and all the way to a perfectly valid reason where the heroes are completely in the wrong and really have no one but themselves to blame.

In the best case, the reformed character finds the strength of will to withstand the scorn and derision of the heroes and/or society at large, and is eventually able to prove themselves truly changed despite the enormous pressure. They succeed in making a place for themselves in honest society, however humble that place may be. (They may even realize that their previous attempts were Buy Them Off and, if not spending the rest of their lives atoning, do more to make up for what they did.)

In the worst case, the pressure is too much and the reformed character's resolve falters and fails. He returns to his old bad ways, often ending up in jail again. He may even become so despairing that he takes his own life rather than live with non-stop contempt and derision. To rub salt in it, the heroes might take this as proof that he really had never changed at all, and in the case of bad writing, this will be how the story interprets it.

This character is prone to attracting the attention of an Inspector Javert, who is convinced that "men like you can never change." Javert is likely to hound the character non-stop, hoping to catch him in a criminal act, or possibly in the most extreme cases even goad him into committing one.

The greatest danger for a Reformed But Rejected character, however, is not Inspector Javert, but bad karma. It might be safer to just stay bad, though the opposite may happen too.

A character who reforms in a particularly unsubtle way and does not face rejection and scorn afterward, but instead finds the heroes welcoming him with open arms and perhaps a nice cake, has undergone Badass Decay.

A subtrope to Rejected Apology. Compare Accuser of the Brethren. Contrast The Farmer and the Viper, where someone given the opportunity this reformer seeks turns it against his benefactors, or Redemption Rejection, where a villain is offered a chance to reform, only for the villain to refuse. Also contrast with Easily Forgiven, where a formerly villainous character is quickly forgiven for any crimes they may have committed as soon as they start helping the good guys, no matter how serious they were. Compare Heel–Face Door-Slam, where the villain never even gets to start their journey to redemption (or attempts to, but is rebuffed because their old actions really were too far beyond the pale for anything resembling a convincing redemption (in the author's eyes at least)); Redemption Failure, where they embark on said journey but are turned around by external forces half-way through; and finally, Forgiveness Requires Death, where the price to earn the forgiveness of the wronged person is one's own life. See also Villain Ball Magnet and Trapped in Villainy. May result from a Third-Act Misunderstanding. If the heroes did forgive him, but still give him this sort of treatment, then it's Forgiven, but Not Forgotten. A Regretful Traitor may be a victim of this, since they genuinely regret having betrayed their friends, but the betrayal may have cut too deep for their friends to forgive them.

Like any trope dealing with Heel-Face Turns, this page is likely to contain spoilers. Tread carefully.


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    Comic Strips 
  • Possible example, as the plot hasn't finished: Luann has Dirk, a Jerkass Jerk Jock Testosterone-poisoned Domestic Abuser who was arrested after beating his girlfriend Toni and now works as a garbage man, coincidentally on the same block as his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend Brad (the title character's older brother). He claims he's found Jesus in jail and he'll be leaving, never to return (Brad thinks he's dying; readers think he might be joining the priesthood or simply changing shifts or moving). Toni's response is to threaten him with a creepy phone call he made and Brad has Luanne's classmate pretend Toni moved. Dirk is not convinced but doesn't retaliate; he even rescues Brad's mom after a bookshelf falls on her, causing Brad's parents to refer to him as a "creepy, evil superhero".

    Films — Animation 
  • The Lion King II: Simba's Pride: Kovu is a complicated example. He saves Kiara from a fire, but the fire was staged by his siblings and mother so that he would have an excuse to join the Pridelanders. He claims to be a rogue, and to want to join Simba's pride, but is actually joining on behest of Zira so that he can have an opportunity to kill Simba and take his place. However, he starts to genuinely turn good, and Simba starts to trust him. That is, until Kovu unintentionally leads him into a trap. The Outsiders attack Simba and try to get Kovu to do the same, but he refuses. Nuka instead leads the attack, and ends up dying. As a result, Kovu is considered a traitor by both sides and rejected by everyone except Kiara.
  • At the end of My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, Big Bad Sunset Shimmer sees the error of her ways thanks to the Elements of Harmony, and tries to become a better person. The sequel, Rainbow Rocks, has the character as this trope, with even those who don't constantly give her death glares and verbal jabs behaving passive-aggressively towards her, including her new friends. She ultimately does become accepted by the end of the film, and the rest of the Equestria Girls series has her as Forgiven, but Not Forgotten, though one of the latter specials has the villain's motive be that she thinks Sunset was Easily Forgiven.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Birth of a Nation (2016): The community is understandably hostile toward a man with a history of pedophilia, but he does seem to be a genuine atoner and is the only white man in the movie to treat a black man as an equal, or even a superior, while requesting a baptism from Nat as part of his desire to become a better person.
  • In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch wanted revenge on Iron Man for making the weapons that killed their parents, even though he Took a Level in Kindness and became a Technological Pacifist since then (and wasn't the one who even let the terrorists have them to begin with).
  • In Days of Wine and Roses, after Joe Clay joins Alcoholics Anonymous, becomes sober and tries to make amends to his father-in-law by offering to pay for the damage he did to his greenhouse. His father-in-law, however, is still very angry with him, not over the greenhouse, but because he was the one that introduced his daughter to alcohol (she never drank until she met Joe), and doesn't seem to want to reform. In his mind, Joe may have been willing to pay for the damages he caused, but the real damage couldn't be fixed.
  • Norman Bates. Easily Forgiven by his town, but not by the family of Marion Crane in Psycho II. Lila Crane and her daughter eventually play a huge part in driving him back to mania.
  • The plot of The Woodsman is focused on Walter, a convicted child molester trying to make a fresh start and live a reformed life after serving out his prison sentence. Almost all of his friends and family have abandoned him, and his past crimes make him the subject of a great deal of suspicion and hostility from the people around him. The frustration and despair nearly drives him to give in to temptation, but he manages to refrain.
  • In You Again, The Bride with a Past Joanna is trying to start a clean slate with future sister-in-law Marni, whom she ruthlessly bullied in high school. Unfortunately, she attempts to do this by refusing to acknowledge their past relationship and pretending that she never met Marni before (instead of, you know, apologizing). Marni's brother (Joanna's fiance) doesn't know that Joanna was a bully, despite them having gone to the same high school, and the rest of Marni's equally oblivious family adores her. Marni, still emotionally damaged from Joanna's abuse, is determined to protect her brother by exposing Joanna as a fraud through any means necessary.


    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible: Paul of Tarsus spent years persecuting the early Christians, but after a trip to Damascus and a case of divine blindness he was converted to the same beliefs of the people he was having killed. Needless to say, the early church was pretty suspicious of him at the beginning, figuring that he was just trying a ruse to infiltrate the community — especially since he was converted while travelling to carry out a warrant to arrest any Christians he found.

    Web Animation 
  • The Return Of Ganondorf: Parodied. Ganondorf abandons his evil ways, but Link isn't buying it, expecting Ganondorf to drop the act any moment... but, he doesn't. Link's continued obsession with his former foe ultimately drives him insane.

    Web Comics 
  • Better Days:
    • Some time after Rachel had gotten dumped by Tommy for cheating on him, she decided to meet Tommy at his parents house to try to convince him that she had changed. However, Tommy couldn't trust her, and so he left the house telling her that he was now happy with 'someone else' (Lucy).
  • Bittersweet Candy Bowl has Tess, who all the upperclassmen hate thanks to events that the main cast of the comic didn't witness.
  • General Protection Fault:
    • Trudy, who planned on a form of Redemption Equals Death by staying behind in a war-torn dimension under alien attack to allow her counterpart to live in the primary dimension, only for her counterpart to switch places with her and send her home instead after fooling the rest of the cast about her identity. She reluctantly accepts this, and Fooker, one of the few people who knows the truth, is highly suspicious of her, reminding her that he knows her identity and he will take action against her if he feels the need to do so.
    • Averted with Fooker. He suspects that his being (falsely) convicted of the shooting that the "Fookinator" performed will make things more difficult in civilian life despite having the charges cleared, because "exonerations make fewer headlines than convictions." While one of his employers at Regional Telecom (one of Dwayne's friends) briefly questions him about it, no one so far has viewed him as a murderer, and three systems administrators don't believe it, instead suggesting that while he was away, his programming skills deteriorated.
  • In the Paradox Space story Summerteen Romance Eridan tries to redeem himself in the eyes of his fellow trolls by kicking away a bomb... directly into Gamzee's sandcastle. It doesn't work.
  • Scoob and Shag: After trying to capture Shaggy and attacking the resistance's meeting point, Ger eventually turns back to the side of the heroes, aids them in their future efforts and appears genuinely remorseful about his actions. However, the others still don't trust him, and consider him a traitor.
  • Slightly Damned: After his fight against Kieri, Kazai swallows his pride and apologizes for his actions to his sister several days later. However, while Kieri lets him join her group, she's still angry at him for attacking Buwaro, and coldly rejects his apology. Likewise, Rhea has grown to hate him and wants nothing to do with him. Ironically enough, it's Buwaro himself who treats Kazai with the most kindness and sympathy, with J a close second.
  • Zebra Girl: After Sandra returns, the others naturally don't seriously consider the idea that she could have changed. Sandra was already aware that it wouldn't be easy, but poor communication, misunderstandings and overeager minions constantly conspire to make it even worse between then. As you might think, this leads to a lot of Dramatic Irony - like Sam's unwitting inversion of Oblivious Mockery:
    Sam (sarcastically): "Unless she had a profoundly enlightening experience she'll probably be even worse than we remember."

    Web Original 
  • Eret from Dream SMP. After betraying L'Manburg during the War for Independence when Dream promises him a position as king, Eret comes to regret his decision, but is despised and mistrusted by his former friends. When Wilbur and Tommy are exiled by Schlatt, Eret tries to serve as an ally to them, only to have his offers be rejected constantly by the two.
  • Lord Darigan from Neopets. Despite looking like an Obviously Evil Bat Out of Hell, he was in fact a Well-Intentioned Extremist who was trying to take back from Meridell and their good but incredibly selfish ruler, King Skarl. However, even though his side won, their land wasn't restored, and he underwent a Face–Heel Turn. Then, when he returned, he defeated Lord Kass and saved Meridell. You'd think he'd be in the Gallery of Heroes now, but instead he’s STILL in the Gallery Of Evil. Though this could be chalked up more to the creators just neglecting to update the Galleries.
  • Whateley Universe:
    • Sahar, at Super Hero School Whateley Academy. A ruthless psychic who took advantage of every person she could find (male or female, since she's a gorgeous bisexual) who had a psychic ability she could learn to copy. But she fell in love with one of her targets, and never recovered... until she decided to try earning such skills with trades, and found one person who would trust her. Most of the school thinks she's just up to another ruthless scam. She's currently trying to make it up to every person she feels she has wronged over the last couple years, and she's got her loved one back.
    • Phase is also a good example. Formerly one of the heirs to the mutant-hating Goodkind family, the fact that his family has disowned him, stripped him of most of his inheritance, and conducted horrifyingly inhumane experiments on him apparently isn't enough for some students of Whateley, who either refuse to associate with him or are actively hostile. (Fortunately for his stability, there are also plenty with the common sense to realize that the above means he has even more reason to resent the Goodkinds and their policies than most mutants.)
  • Worm: The supervillain Skitter sacrifices all of her ill-gotten gains because it would give her the best chance to Saving the World from an unknown threat. She rebrands herself as a hero, but, predictably, isn't largely accepted. To be fair, she did murder one of the greatest heroes in the world and the director of a superhero team just before her Heel–Face Turn.
    • At the end of Worm, capes declare that there's an amnesty for all parahumans, effectively rendering all villains neutral unless they actively decide to continue as villains. A number of villains take this opportunity to become heroes, but the majority of the unpowered population oppose this, especially the anti-cape contingent. It's explained in the sequel, Ward, that the opposition feel that A, since the unpowered weren't consulted when capes decided to establish the amnesty, they don't have to accept villains becoming heroes just because the capes say so; and B, the amnesty essentially allows many villains who were never arrested or convicted of their crimes to get away with said crimes, even those who'd killed or inflicted large amounts of damage. However, they also oppose villains-turned-heroes who did serve time for their crimes and are truly repentant, which somewhat undermines their points.

    Real Life 
  • After WWII, a lot of people still hate Germans or call them Nazis, much to the chagrin of people who were never involved with the atrocities. This is true even if their parents and grandparents weren't involved, either. Basically, the whole country is trying to put the past behind them and Germans are still embarrassed if their flag is put on display for whatever reason, as WWII resulted from national pride.
  • Critics of publicly accessible criminal registries tend to cite this trope as a major contributor to high recidivism rates in jurisdictions that use them. Effectively, a criminal registry (and potential legal requirements to inform new acquaintances, romantic partners, or employers of their criminal past) can severely limit employment and socialization prospects for ex-convicts, even those who legitimately want to turn over a new leaf and are trying hard to do so.
  • During the nineties, David Brock was, by his own admission, an attack dog for the Republican Party, authoring The Real Anita Hill, which argued that Anita Hill was deluded when she accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. However, in 1997, he suddenly switched parties, becoming a Democrat, releasing a largely sympathetic biography of Hillary Clinton, and later going on to found the unabashedly liberal Media Matters for America. While he's become very influential in the Democratic Party thanks to Media Matters, many rank-and-file progressives have not forgotten about his past behavior, and have not forgiven him for it.
  • In his Il Principe, Niccolò Machiavelli explicitly advocated caution towards former opponents who switched sides, because "someone who betrayed trust of his former allies may as well do the same to you".
  • It is not unheard of for school bullies to meet their victims in public many years later and apologize for their actions towards them. Sometimes the victim will refuse to forgive them and still think they're same rotten jerk that they knew back then, since the painful memories won't let them forget what happened. Similarly, internet trolls or those that engaged in cyberbullying may have a change of heart and find themselves being completely shunted by their former victims.
  • One could make the case that this trope extends to many a felon who has "served his time" in jail. While they are technically free, they will find themselves ineligible or at the bottom of the résumé list for a large number of jobs, since with a large pool of applicants, many companies will first whittle the list down by rejecting all ex-cons before an interview is scheduled. The lack of availability of work prospects drives many back to a life of crime. There is a growing movement in US human resources to consider candidates with felonies on a case-by-case basis, depending on the circumstances of the crime and relevance to the position.
  • Superstar QB Michael Vick, who was the most despised athlete in the country after he was jailed for two years for illegal dogfighting, in which Vick aided in both running a dogfighting circle and in the deaths of some dogs themselves. After his stint, Vick offered remorse in that he said he grew up in a "Dirty South" culture where it was not seen or understood as wrong and promised to use his experience to educate others in that culture about the inhumanity of dogfighting. Many felt he did not deserve a chance to go back into the NFL. Vick has managed to earn back the good graces of a lot of fans due to his cleaned-up behavior and work with the American Humane Society and his improbable revival of his career, becoming an even better QB than he was before jail. However, there is still a contingent of fans (especially in Atlanta, where his departure sunk the franchise for a few years) who feel Vick will never change and/or does not deserve his second-chance opportunity.
  • This was the case when Frank Abagnale was originally released in that he wasn't trusted by anyone. One of his first jobs after being released from prison was at a supermarket. When he was about to be promoted to assistant manager, the store did a background check and immediately fired him. Fortunately for him, he was able to turn this into a career in that he began consulting as a fraud investigator for local businesses. This ultimately turned into an international business for him.
  • Astrid Proll, a member of the Marxist-Leninist terrorist group the Red Army Faction, left the group on bad terms, and rather than hand herself in to the West German authorities, decided to exile herself to the UK. She got married (although there is a suggestion that if was a sham marriage for citizenship - they at least were close personal friends) and took a job teaching car maintenance to college students and was even making enquiries about joining her local Liberal Party. So there was a lot of disquiet about the West German police coming to deport her for past crimes when it seemed she was trying to make a clean break with her past. She went along willingly and served her sentence, and is a respected academic in Germany - but she is still banned from setting foot back in the UK, despite testimonials from the students she taught and her neighbours at the time. So, unforgiven twice over.