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Relieved Failure

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Everyone has a different reaction to failure: some erupt in rage, some concede with dignity... and some are actually relieved to have failed. A variant on the Graceful Loser, characters who fall under this heading don't necessarily accept defeat calmly (though this is possible) but regardless of how upset or gentlemanly they are in the face of failure, they're ultimately grateful to have lost.

The reasons for this vary: perhaps the character was stuck in a contest they no longer wanted to win but couldn't afford to leave; maybe they finally realize how much happier they are without the pressure to succeed; there might even be a host of unexpected benefits to losing; in some cases, they may have belatedly realized that winning would have only occurred at a cost they wouldn't have been able to pay. One way or the other, they're defeated and all the happier for it. Do not be surprised if the words "I'm glad it's over" are used at some point. They may even have a plan that hinges on them failing; see Failure Gambit.


A possible hallmark of the Apologetic Attacker, who may only attack out of obligation and don't actually want to hurt their opponent.

See also Know When to Fold 'Em and Pyrrhic Victory, which may result in this trope.

Compare Deliberate Under-Performance, Springtime for Hitler, Happily Failed Suicide and Mistakes Are Not the End of the World.


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    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who:
    • At the very beginning of "The Holy Terror", Empress Berengaria is abruptly deposed by the guards and denounced as a false goddess in the wake of her God-Emperor husband's death; Berengaria herself barely raises an eyebrow at this fall from grace, actually demanding to be taken to a cell. As it turns out, she's been bored senseless with the imperial lifestyle and is very eager to experience the imprisonment, torture and ritual execution that will ensue now that she is no longer a goddess — eventually becoming a Death Seeker and resisting all efforts at saving her life.
    • In "Jubilee", President Rochester is absolutely over the moon to be ousted from power by his wife and reduced to living in a ditch in the middle of a Dalek invasion (once he's finished panicking, of course). Rochester has spent most of his presidency driving himself completely insane with the self-inflicted delusion that he was only "pretending" to be a vile despot in order to appease imaginary Dalek masters, and now that the Daleks are finally here, he doesn't have to pretend anymore — he can just be a slave.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • At the end of Casino, Ace Rothstein has lost his position as the unofficial head of the Tangiers casino and his rich lifestyle in Las Vegas. Now once again working as a lowly sports handicapper, he's sad to see his "paradise" go, but after having to deal with all the chaos that ensued thanks (in part) to his efforts to maintain his reputation, he's just grateful to still be alive and still able to make money.
  • In Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Jean Girard is happy to lose to Ricky Bobby (though technically, they both lost to Cal Naughton) as he can leave racing behind after losing to a Worthy Opponent.

  • At the end of Boomsday, Gideon Payne is positively giddy when he loses his bid to become President, as he's since fallen in love with an immigrant escort, and he would not have been able to marry her if he'd become President.
  • In Stephen Manes' Chicken Trek Chicken in the Bag's chicken-eating contest has a $99,999 grand prize, with a year's worth of free chicken as second prize. The chef and lone waiter at a restaurant that lost its franchise decide to join the competition and come in second. They're perfectly happy with this because it means they don't have to eat their own cooking.
  • At the end of the Dr. Gideon Fell mystery The Hollow Man, Dr Fell narrates his reconstruction of how the murders took place: Grimaud killed Fley, but was wounded in doing so. He returned to his house and tried to set things up, as he had previously planned, so that it would look like Fley had attempted to kill him. This involved moving a huge mirror, which, with the wound he had received, was too much for him, and he collapsed, realising that he was about to die. "And, stranger than any of his dreams, he was glad."
  • Played with in the finale of The Magicians: Quentin has failed every single adventurous goal he's set himself and, as a result of his depression, believes it was for the best; he even abandons magic to live a "normal" life of Executive Excess, believing himself to be much more mature as a result. However, he eventually realizes that he isn't really happy or wiser at all, and he's just believing his own line of self-justifying bullshit; consequently, the novel ends with Quentin's school friends ushering him back into the world of magic.
  • In the short story A Time For Heroes, a guard is ordered to prevent Heroic Wannabe Prince Daras from going on a foolhardy quest to rescue his fiancée from an Evil Sorcerer. To that end, the guard is entrusted with using any means necessary to keep the prince from leaving his room... but at the same time, he's also ordered not to harm Daras or even offend him, and warned that he will be punished for disrespecting the royal heir in any way. As such, when Daras opts to invite the guard into his room and knock him out, the guard is immensely relieved to have found a third option - for even though it involves failing in his duties, nobody can say he didn't try.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played with in American Horror Story: Asylum: during the episode "Spilt Milk", the Serial Killer Bloody Face AKA Dr Oliver Thredson is finally defeated when Lana escapes from Briarcliff and reveals his true identity to the police. Finding himself cornered in his home by a gun-toting Lana with the police following close behind, he smiles and admits to being relieved at no longer having to keep secrets. Given that he's a Consummate Liar, however, it's impossible to tell if he's being serious or just lying to get Lana's guard down. The latter is likely, given that his final act is to make a grab for a hidden pistol right before Lana guns him down.
  • American Horror Story: Hotel eventually reveals that Iris and the other staff members of the Cortez have been actively hiding the Awful Truth from Detective John Lowe: he's actually the Ten Commandments Killer and James March's apprentice, having been corrupted into his service many years ago. However, when John reveals that the secret's finally out, Iris sighs with relief and mutters "oh thank Jesus," admitting that she'd gotten tired of constantly lying to him.
  • In House of Cards (UK), Prime Minister Henry Collingridge is forced to step down from his position after barely a few months in office, having been undermined in a series of scandals engineered by Francis Urquhart. Though Henry has fought valiantly to clear his name from all accusations and is visibly crestfallen at his defeat, he's secretly relieved to be out of his joyless tenure as PM — to the point of privately breaking down in tears and admitting that he's glad he doesn't have to "fight those bastards anymore."
  • Monster Garage had a meta example. After the "Grim Ripper" build failed (the first in the show's history), host Jesse James called up producer Thom Beers and told him what had happened. Beers replied "That's great!" and explained that the failure validated them.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Legion," the eponymous villain is a gestalt entity that can only exist when people are alive and conscious aboard his space station. After going to increasingly vicious lengths to force the Boys from the Dwarf to stay with him, Kryten is able to pacify Legion by knocking out the crew one by one, leaving the gestalt with only Kryten's existence to model himself on... and as a mechanoid, Kryten is programmed to help and obey humans — giving Legion no choice but to help the crew leave. As he carries the unconscious bodies back to Starbug, Legion admits that after sharing the uniquely neurotic personalities of Lister, Rimmer and the Cat, returning to a state of nonexistence feels like promotion.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "A Game of Pool" ends with Jesse Cardiff winning a hard-won game against the ghost of Fats Brown and becoming the new pool champion... and yet, Fats is smiling in relief. It turns out he'd grown tired of having to defend his title from beyond the grave, though his role as a champion forbade him from just throwing the match; he genuinely wanted someone to beat him fair and square, and Jesse has obliged him. The epilogue reveals that Jesse is now trapped in the role of pool champion long after his death, while Fats is finally free to spend his afterlife fishing.
  • Veronica Mars: Veronica ultimately loses the Kane scholarship, which she's been working hard towards all of Season 2, and thus her ability to attend Stanford. However, she ultimately realizes she's glad to be going to Hearst after she comes to understand how much Wallace and Mac — who are both going to Hearst — mean to her.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "The Measure of a Man", due to a lack of legal staff to decide if Data is Starfleet property, the acting JAG officer tell Riker and Picard to make arguments for and against the notion respectively, with the caveat that the JAG officer will immediately end the hearing and declare Data Starfleet property on the spot if Riker doesn't try his hardest to win. Riker makes his argument very successfully, and is relieved when he loses anyway.


  • One early scene in Shakespeare’s Henry V features three English nobles who have been bribed by the French to kill King Henry. When the king reveals that he knows all about their plots, they claim that they are glad that they failed to commit the sin of regicide and face death with dignity.
  • Invoked in Ordinary Days, when Deb throws out the notes for her graduate dissertation when she realizes that she doesn't want it or even know how it's going to improve her life.
  • At the end of November, President Smith decides to commit career suicide by officiating a wedding between his head speechwriter and her girlfriend (the play was written back in 2007, before the national Defense of Marriage Act was repealed.) He knows that by breaking a federal law and officiating a same-sex marriage, he will alienate voters and lose re-election, but decides that being President is too stressful and offers too few opportunities for graft.

    Video Games 
  • In Persona 5, Hifumi Togo's defeat in her Confidant story is revealed because of her mother rigging shogi matches from behind the scenes. After the Phantom Thieves defeat her Shadow, Hifumi lost her first match. And while news of her defeat reaches those who follow Hifumi's shogi career, she decide to take it as a good thing in order to be a shogi player on her own terms.
  • Subverted in Riven: when you finally track down Gehn, he's relieved to have failed in his efforts to kill his son Atrus, and even claims to be grateful for being imprisoned in Riven, as it allowed him the time he needed to rethink his life. He's lying: if you've seen his efforts to indoctrinate the natives into worshipping him as a god, it's clear that he hasn't changed at all — and if you make the mistake of letting him go free he'll kill Atrus in cold blood and do the same to you.
  • Yandere Simulator: In her first year, Raibaru was the president of the Martial Arts Club and didn't lose a single duel until the end of the first semester, when Budo Masuta defeated her. However, instead of feeling sad, she felt relieved, because she had wanted to quit martial arts for some time and felt that her winning streak obligated her to continue to practice them. She quit martial arts and promoted Budo to the new club leader.
  • Gehrman, the Final Boss of Bloodborne, is relieved to die by your hand, as it's the only way he can be freed from the Fate Worse than Death imposed on him by the Moon Presence.
  • In My Harem Heaven is Yandere Hell, rich girl Sayuri had a severe mental illness that her Abusive Parents refused to acknowledge. In their efforts to make her conform, they threatened the friendships helping her to cope, forced her to get engaged in her teenage years, and piled on immense amounts of study in useless disciplines. The first time Sayuri snapped because of this, they were able to cover it up; she was luckier the second time, which involved kidnapping her best friend and assaulting several innocent people who were trying to help her. Thankfully, the friend was able to escape before Sayuri added murder to her list of crimes. The public fallout was so awful that her parents effectively disowned her and the engagement was dissolved, which Sayuri had wanted in the first place. She serves her prison sentence peacefully and comes out a much calmer, safer person. (She even manages to reconcile with her friends, as they are truly exceptional people.)

    Western Animation 
  • Dexter's Laboratory: Zig-Zagged with the episode "Average Joe". Dexter is devastated after getting an average grade in an aptitude test. He slowly accepts that he may not be a genius and soon embraces it a bit too openly with a Totally Radical kid who looks like one of the band Hanson from the 1990s, although because Status Quo Is God in that show, it's never brought up again.
  • In The Dragon Prince Soren gets ordered by his father to kill the princes. Soren doesn't really want to kill two innocent children, but he tries to do it anyway, because he is also a "Well Done, Son!" Guy, who doesn't want to disappoint his father. However when he gets paralysed after fighting a dragon, he admits he is actually relieved, since this means that he won't be able to kill the princes anymore.
  • King of the Hill: In the episode "Uncool Customer," Peggy, coming to terms with the fact she is no longer cool, meets uber-cool mom Kate Savage and decides to befriend her. The episode has Peggy attempt to emulate Kate's lifestyle, leading to a disastrous showing at a party for Kate's daughter. When the embarrassed Peggy attempts to flee the situation, she discovers the secret to Kate's coolness: she devotes the lion's share of her life keeping up with the latest trends, gossip, and what have you, so much so she has little to no time for herself. Rather than be angry at Peg for discovering this, Kate is relieved as now she no longer has to be a slave to the lifestyle and can instead be a regular, "uncool" mom like Peg.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In the episode "The Point of No Return", Twilight finds an Extremely Overdue Library Book that she promise to return to Dusty Pages. Noticing this, she starts to panic as this ruins both her perfect record of on time books and Dusty's perfect record as a librarian. Dusty, however, feels relieved over the loss as she feels that losing her perfect record has lifted a weight off her shoulder and encourages Twilight to feel the same way by pointing out the book she had been trying to return is titled "The Impossible Pursuit of Perfection".
  • In The Penguins of Madagascar episode "Two Feet High and Rising", King Julien banishes Mort from his habitat when Mort won't stop touching his feet. The Penguins take Mort in and help cure him of his foot obsession, eventually succeeding. Shortly afterwards, King Julien floats away on his Super Comfy Pamper Time Floaty Throne when Maurice accidentally puts too many balloons on it, and the balloons pop when the throne floats over a hot dog cart. Mort lassos Julien's feet in the balloons' strings, but the only way to pull Julien to safety is to touch his feet (and Julien even begs for Mort to do so). After Mort pulls Julien to safety, a grateful Julien accepts him back into his habitat, and this exchange occurs between the Penguins and Marlene:
    Private: We tried to make Mort foot-phobic, but we failed.
    Kowalski: Ironically, if not for our failure, Julien would be... sleeping with the hot dogs.
    [Marlene looks at Kowalski, confused]
    Kowalski: Dead.
    Skipper: Exactly. That's not failure, that's redefined objectives.
    Marlene: [still confused] Riiiight.

    Real Life 
  • Sometimes, people whose lives are touched by chronic or terminal illness — or even persecution — are relieved at the end of their lives by the prospect of not having to deal with their suffering any longer.
  • Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay has expressed the opinion that Serial Killer Dennis Nilsen was actually a little relieved to be caught, given that he confessed to everything as soon as the police arrived at his door about the human remains found in his sewage.