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Save the Jerk

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"I will protect even those I hate, so long as it is right."
Kaladin's third Oath as a Windrunner, The Stormlight Archive

We all know that it's good to put others first, at least if you're a story's hero. Heroes are expected to save the innocent and risk their life for other people, regardless of their personal feelings — that's what makes them heroes in the first place. This is easy if the person is someone the hero likes, or even if they're a complete stranger. But what about antagonists — that is, people who make the hero's life worse? Well, if the hero chooses to save them, their selflessness will shine even brighter, as they're choosing to put themselves in danger for someone who they may not even like. That's what this trope is about.

The jerk can range from a school bully to an Abusive Parent; a crazy ex or a Mean Boss; that annoying kid who broke your window, or a bitter rival. Whoever they are, they're not necessarily an outright villain. Sometimes they're just an Anti-Hero who gets on the hero's nerves, or they're a neutral party who just has a bad attitude. Somehow, someway, they'll find themselves in a situation that only the hero can save them from, and the result can go one of two ways. They'll either start to redeem themselves, maybe even leading to a better relationship between them... or they'll be an Ungrateful Bastard who continues to make the hero's life hell regardless. The second version is especially likely if the hero is a superherothey may thank the hero's alter ego while continuing to give them noogies in the hallways at school. However they react, though, the hero is proven to be a good person willing to go the extra mile even for someone who probably wouldn't do the same for them, and if the jerk isn't grateful, it only reflects worse on them.

That said, the hero may not always be eager to jump up and save their enemy. Many a Refuse to Rescue the Disliked argument can happen, where the hero has to be convinced to do it. Once their good nature is appealed to, they'll agree to help, but they won't be happy about doing it. Also note that this only applies to characters who are aware the other party is a jerk. If someone is Oblivious to Hatred, for example, rescuing the jerk doesn't have the same impact since they wouldn't have the same moral dilemma. There needs to be at least some acknowledgement by the hero that the character is someone they dislike or find unpleasant. See also Entitled Bastard, for when the Jerkass forces the heroes to do this. Expect the hero to be a Knight in Sour Armor to put aside their personal feelings to save the unlikable douche while gritting their teeth.

Supertrope to Save the Villain. Contrast Murder by Inaction.

No Real Life Examples, Please! As this trope concerns people who the work classifies as Jerkasses, we aren't here to do the same to real-life people.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Z: This happens whenever one of the good guys, usually Goku, has to rescue Vegeta, who has gotten himself in over his head thanks to his pride. Vegeta never thanks Goku and remains his usual jerk self. In fact, he often interprets being rescued by Goku as an insult, since that clearly means that he failed at something and needed rescuing in the first place.
    Vegeta: [spitting in anger] He's even saved my life! Like I was some kind of helpless child!
  • In My Hero Academia, Bakugo and Midoriya's relationship has always been defined by these moments, in which Bakugo gets himself into danger and Midoriya rushes to help him. Bakugo, meanwhile, is a jerkass to him throughout the series and remains an arrogant hothead even after he mellows out some. This trope is actually deconstructed here, as Midoriya's insistence on saving him not only puts himself (or his friends) in unnecessary danger, but it also offends Bakugo, as he perceives the help not as a selfless act but as a show of superiority. In fact, he started bullying Midoriya in part because Midoriya tried to help him once.
  • Pokémon: The Original Series: In "Charizard Chills", Charizard is hit with a Poliwrath's Ice Beam and ends up almost freezing to death. Despite how defiant and rude Charizard has become, Ash still does his best to nurse him back to health. This causes Charizard to realize how much of a jerk he was to Ash and strives to become more obedient.
  • Fairy Tail: Lucy starts out hating the guts of her distant and icy father, enough to disown herself from him when his efforts to retrieve her for an Arranged Marriage threatens the lives of her "real" family at the guild. Even after he loses his fortune, Lucy wants nothing to do with him when it looks like he hasn't changed as much as he claims to have. With that in mind, when his new workplace gets held up by a dark guild, Lucy instinctively fears the worst and rushes there as quickly as possible, taking out an entire legion of evil wizards on her own. It turns out he was never in any danger because he was late for work, but since he shows up just in time to see what his daughter has done, it inspires him to start reconnecting with her.

    Asian Animation 
  • BoBoiBoy: Adu Du served as the series' Starter Villain, but after two changes in alignments resulted in him ranging from neutral to unpredictable, he's a more minor antagonist. BoBoiBoy Movie 2 starts with him sabotaging BoBoiBoy's field mission, but he failed and got beat up by an angry Mama Bear alien. Although he just defeated him earlier, BoBoiBoy "[couldn't] just leave Adu Du and Probe like [that]", and went to save them. It's implied by the hero's friends that he's done this several times before, much to their chagrin.

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man: Spider-Man has often found himself coming to J. Jonah Jameson's rescue due to the latter being a target of supervillains, some of which were created by Jameson himself. Despite this, Jameson rarely, if ever thanks the Wall-Crawler and is more likely to continue his crusade against the hero than admit he is wrong about Spider-Man.
    • Similarly, early on in her career, Carol Danvers rescues Jonah from the Scorpion out for revenge on him yet again. Jonah shows the same amount of gratitude as he does with Spidey, even demanding his employees run an attack piece on Ms. Marvel the next day.
  • Speaking of Ms. Marvel, later on in Ms. Marvel (1977), she has to save her father from a supervillain. Her father is a sexist asshole who refuses to be saved by "a frail" even though he was moments from death. Carol gets so annoyed she punches him out.
  • X-Men:
    • In Days of Future Past, the X-Men have to save Senator Robert Kelly from an assassination attempt by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, prompted by his attempts to make the Mutant Registration Act into law, mainly because if they don't, the mother of all Bad Futures follows. They do save him, but he still spends the next two decades signing off on getting the MRA passed anyhow.
    • In an early Cable issue, he's forced to rescue Henry Gyrich, government jerkwad par excellence. Gyrich is spectacularly ungrateful to the '90s Anti-Hero who could well make his head explode if he wished. Cable settles for merely punching him out.

    Fan Works 
  • Better Bones AU: Bramblestar is portrayed as a very flawed cat who is abusive to Squirrelflight, leading to them breaking off their relationship. Nonetheless, Squirrelflight is determined to save him when his body gets possessed by Ashfur, because that's what she would do for anyone.
  • Snow Way Out Rodney is mentioned to be just as jerky as in canon and Mr. J has enough with him. However, when a hungry coyote tries to eat Rodney, Mr. J throws a rock at it to force it to drop Rodney. Rodney is actually grateful and apologizes.

    Films — Animated 
  • Downplayed in Miracle in Toyland. Jesse's father was a neglectful one throughout the film, despite Jesse's attempts to have a relationship with him. Despite his own tendency to be a Jerkass, Jesse's Character Development turns him into a much more selfless character by the end, and he manages to win his father over by risking his life to save him from dying on a snowy mountain.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie:
    • Mario stops Donkey Kong from falling and later saves him from drowning, despite the two of them being rather unfriendly towards each other.
      DK: Mario, you saved my life.
      Mario: Yeah well, I won't tell anyone.
      DK: Good, please don't.
    • Much earlier in the film, Francis, a vicious dog, repeatedly attempts to maul Mario and Luigi (which also ruins their plumbing job) after Luigi accidentally crushes one of his treats. Thanks to a bit of timely dodging on their part, Francis dives right out the bathroom window, and the brothers have to act quickly to rescue him lest he plunge to his demise before their clients return.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Avengers: Infinity War: Iron Man rockets off into space to help save Dr. Strange, later interrupting when Ebony Maw is torturing him. Since they spent their scenes together (both before and after) bickering, Tony makes clear he's not doing it because they're friends, and also Strange is holding one of the film's plot devices.
    Iron Man: I gotta tell ya, he's not my friend. Saving his life is more of a professional courtesy.
  • Dr. Dolittle: Downplayed. Two rude rats have been heckling John when one of them appears to go into cardiac arrest. John gives him CPR (though as it turns out, he just had gas and was in no real danger). By the next day, neither one of them is the least bit grateful for it.

  • Lord of the Rings: During the Scouring of the Shire, Frodo realizes that Lotho Sackville-Baggins has lost control of the ruffians that he originally brought into the Shire to enforce his new regime. It turns out that Lotho had already been murdered before Frodo came back, but otherwise Frodo was fully prepared to rescue him from the ruffians, despite all the trouble he caused and despite a history of bad blood between Lotho's family and Frodo's own.
  • Warrior Cats: At the beginning of the series, Sandpaw bullied Fireheart and his friends relentlessly alongside her friend Dustpaw, in part because of Fireheart's kittypet heritage. In the middle of one battle, Fireheart noticed that Sandpaw was about to fall into a gorge, which she didn't notice due to being in the midst of a fight. When he sprung forward to save her, she snapped at him for daring to help her... but changed her tune when she realized how close she was to dying. This incident warmed her up to him, and by the end of the series, she became his friend, and then his mate.
  • In Words of Radiance, second book of The Stormlight Archive, Kaladin saves King Elkohar from assassins, even though Elkohar is a classist, ineffectual ruler who's caused him a lot of misery. The honorable act restores Kaladin's Oathbound Power as a Knight Radiant and enables him to swear its Third Ideal:
    "I will protect even those I hate, so long as it is right."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Big Time Rush: Played for Laughs and downplayed in "Big Time Christmas". The "jerk" in this scenario is just a security guard attempting to keep the band out of Miranda's show, where they aren't allowed access to, but his constant kicking them out makes them start to hate him. However, at one point when yelling at them, he starts to choke on his sub. Everyone declares it a "Christmas Miracle" and rushes into the show... only to realize that they're horrible people. In going back to save the guard's life, he changes his mind about the band and lets them into the show.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: Many episodes in the first season have the Rangers having to save Bulk & Skull, who at that time are a pair of obnoxious jerks who spend their free time harassing and bullying the teens.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • In the episode "Psi-Moon", Rimmer is taken captive on a moon which gives physical embodiment to all his self-loathing (and since this is Rimmer, that's a lot of self-loathing). Despite thinking he's a smeghead, Lister immediately decides to go in and rescue him.
    • A few episodes later in "Quarantine", Rimmer contracts a hologrammatic virus that sends him completely insane but will kill him in short order. Rather than just wait out the craziness, the others whip up an anti-virus to save him, even though they've just spent the last five days at each other's throats because Rimmer dumped them in quarantine out of petty spite. Though the last scene suggests they intend to make his recovery period as maddening as possible.
  • The Good Place: The cosmic beings wanted to see if humans are capable of becoming better people. They devised an experiment that involved tricking them into thinking they were in heaven. Towards the end, the humans start suspecting that they're being manipulated and decide to run away. As the final test, Brent (ultimate stereotypical embodiment of white male privilege) was swallowed into a hole in the ground. Two of the humans decide to save themselves and run away. Chidi decided to try to help Brent.
  • Jarod, or The Pretender frequently saves or helps Miss Parker, the hound sent by the Centre and its leadership to capture him back.

    Video Games 
  • Hollow Knight: You have the opportunity to save the arrogant and bumbling Zote not once, but twice. If you do so, he'll complain and insist that he could have handled the situation.
  • Mass Effect 3: At the end of the first act, Shepard has to save the Citadel Council, who spent the last two games ignoring and dismissing them, before flat-out denying Shepard's warning and painting them as crazy. Fortunately, this time they finally show some gratitude.


    Western Animation