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Shouldn't You Stop Stealing?

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Black Mage: Hey, didn't we find out a while ago that your whole purpose for stealing stuff was to get cash for the medicine for your dad's illness which we have already cured?
Thief: Yeah, so?
Black Mage: So shouldn't you, y'know, quit stealing stuff?
Thief: No.

When a character is revealed to have had an actual reason for his apparently villainous actions, it frames their actions in a better light. However, sometimes, the behavior continues even when the justification no longer applies. That's this trope.

For example, a villain who robs banks to pay for his sick daughter's medical treatment might be reasonable, but it becomes completely irrational when the daughter isn't even sick anymore.

Sometimes justified when the character has got himself so deep into whatever he was doing that it's no longer possible for him to leave, or if he's fallen prey to The Dark Side Will Make You Forget.

In some cases this trope keeps the Conflict Ball rolling—we wouldn't have much of a character, after all, if we could solve his problems by just giving him whatever reasonable thing it is he wants. Other times it's a simple character quirk, or a poorly-thought-through excuse intended to make a villain sympathetic but ultimately just inviting more Fridge Logic. In some cases, it's played for comedy, revealing that the character... kind of exaggerated how necessary their actions were.

Compare Chronic Villainy. Can turn into You Keep Telling Yourself That if someone calls them out on it. Compare Cut Lex Luthor a Check, which doesn't require that the villain ever had an excuse for his unrepentant villainy.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Ayakashi Triangle: Shirogane spends the entire series bitterly opposing any romance between Matsuri and Suzu, having turned the former into a girl as an attempt at Relationship Sabotage. At first, Shirogane was a villain mostly acting out of spite to the heroes who defeated him. After his Heel–Face Turn and befriending them, Shirogane still tries to get in their way because he basically hates all romance, and has since couples started hanging out at his shrine.
  • In Kaiji, the titular character keeps going back to illegal Deadly Games as a result of Chronic Hero Syndrome after bearing witness to all the suffering the masterminds inflict on people like him. His Honor Before Reason ends up seeming more like an excuse to keep getting himself into more dangerous gambling scenarios and after a while, even the friends that he saved start to get sick of his shit because even when he wins big and finds a way out, he just worms his way back in because it's never enough.
  • One Piece:
    • In the past, Usopp lied to cheer up his dying mother, then he lied to cheer up his sick friend. After his intro arc, he's mainly lied out of habit, though it sometimes comes in handy.
    • A few story arcs in, it's shown Nami's thievery and generally money obsession was needed to buy back her hometown from Arlong. Once that's no longer an issue, she steals because she enjoys having money—she even picks all the villagers' pockets as she leaves! Nami was shown stealing from a bookstore as a child because her family was poor. Apparently, it was already a habit by the time Arlong came along.
  • Green from Pokémon Adventures. She steals and cons her way throughout the first arc, going after both money and rare Pokémon. Though it's never outright stated, it's pretty obvious that she's doing it to gain resources to eventually go up against the man who kidnapped her as a child. After her goal is reached, it turns out her fingers are still as quick as ever, as she easily filches one of Kimberly's special rings without the old lady even noticing it until it was pointed out to her.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Spider-Man, the Green Goblin / Norman Osborne goes on at length about how "Spider-Man is the only one who could stop us now!" ...Stop you from doing what, exactly? At this point in the film he's already killed everyone he set out to get revenge on, and he seemingly goes after Spider-Man just because. Helps that he's kuh-RAZY.

  • Played with on a multi-generational level in Artemis Fowl. The Fowl family eventually accumulated so much money that they could stop relying on crime and go legitimate...and found out they didn't like being legitimate after all. In the first book, their finances are actually in significant trouble; Artemis and his mother still live in a mansion, but they've had to lay off all the staff except Butler and Butler's sister Juliet, whose family has a Legacy of Service to the Fowls. His father is missing, presumed dead, and his mother is mentally ill, so Artemis kidnaps a fairy and ransoms her for one ton of gold. In later books, he doesn't need to keep stealing, and was actually starting to change for the better before being mind-wiped.
    • After his father returns, he also tries to move towards a more legal business plan.
    • Mulch is set for life after stealing a few of those gold bars and Faking the Dead, but he likes stealing so much that he falls right back into his old habits.
  • Discussed in Dragon Bones: Ward has been Obfuscating Stupidity to make himself less of a target for his abusive father. He doesn't drop the act immediately when his father dies, which causes him some problems in the long run. Later on, he makes an effort to tell a possible ally immediately that and why he pretended to be stupid, as this potential ally doesn't like liars, and would distrust him ever after if he continued the pretending after the reason for it is gone. (His father believes in Klingon Promotion, so this was a good reason to pretend to be a harmless idiot.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad Franchise:
    • Examined in Breaking Bad. After Walter White's initial efforts at starting a meth business end up in catastrophe, some of his former colleagues and friends offer to financially support him through his cancer treatment. He refuses their offer due to his Pride and lingering resentment towards them. Later on, when Walt succeeds at his meth business and makes enough money to support his family after his death, he still cannot quit because he's too tied up in the underworld to get out cleanly — and because he's getting to like the power a quiet suburban life doesn't give him. By the midpoint of the final season, there are no more threats to his "empire" and he's made more money than he could spend in a lifetime. Faced with the fact that Victory Is Boring, he finally decides to get out of the game for his family...just as, unbeknownst to him, Hank has discovered his secret.
    • The prequel Better Call Saul operates similarly. Jimmy McGill, a.k.a. Saul Goodman, was a former Con Man and Jerk with a Heart of Gold who initially only had ties to the criminal underworld through circumstance and prided himself on doing the right thing. However, after crossing the Despair Event Horizon as a result of his brother's betrayal and Best Friend's death, he decides Then Let Me Be Evil and quits a lucrative position at a major firm to become the Amoral Attorney we see in Breaking Bad.
  • Leverage: The team's resident thief, Parker, sometimes continues to pickpocket things from random people even after they all decide they're only going to use their respective skills (hitting, hacking, grifting) to take down marks who are cheating innocent people. When she does this, either Sophie and/or Nate tell her to put the things back.
  • Amanda on Highlander started stealing over 1,000 years ago because she was a poor orphan struggling to survive in a plague-infested town. Unfortunately she hasn’t been able to stop stealing since then.
  • Nancy on Weeds started selling marijuana as a way to make extra money so she can maintain her family's suburban lifestyle. However, when she actually burns down her house to get away from the suburbs it becomes apparent that she likes the excitement of being a drug dealer and she will keep doing it no matter how much money she has and what state her family is in.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Deconstructed with Kleptomancers in Unknown Armies. They're adepts (magic-users) who draw power from stealing. It doesn't matter how big or small the item stolen, though more valuable items give more power. It's never enough. If a Kleptomancer goes a full week without stealing something, they lose all their powers and start from Square One. Like actual kleptomaniacs (which many Kleptomancers start as), there's no goal, no point to stealing things - they have to steal. Period.

    Video Games 
  • Golden Sun: Early in the game, you meet Ivan, a young boy who can read people's minds, and uses this power on the main characters. He apologizes for not asking permission when it turns out they can tell he's doing something to them (it seems only Adepts are aware of it happening) and they use it to find out where some local thieves hid their loot. However, once he joins you for good there's nothing stopping you from using it on everyone you see without comment from the people it's used on, or the party. Only a few Adepts react to Ivan's Mind Reading, and even then only if they're important to the plot. In Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, it's revealed Ivan no longer uses these powers, hinted to be because A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read... but once again, nothing's stopping you from using the same powers on people.
  • At the end of Sonic Adventure 2 Rouge is asked by Knuckles if she plans to continue hunting for jewels to steal, with Rouge replying that she's done with "that line of work". In Rouge's very next appearance, we find her breaking into one of Eggman's bases to steal a treasure he's rumored to have. And if you thought this was a case of Just Like Robin Hood, the end of Team Dark's campaign has Rouge scheme to steal the Master Emerald again.

  • Thief from 8-Bit Theater. His stealing is explained to be for the purpose of buying medicine for his dying father but after it's shown to be part of this elaborate con and take over plan, he keeps on stealing despite being in fact very rich. Of course that could just be how he got rich, not to mention he does have no morals and is an Impossible Thief who steals, cons and lies to insane degrees.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Possibly Haley. Initially, The Reveal suggests that she hoards wealth only to save her father (she steals it because that is her skill set). In a flashback in the prequel book, she states that she's doing it to get 10% of his future income for the rest of his life (which makes it sort of a retroactive version). Later on, it's clearer she enjoys money for its own sake as well — polishing and singing to her gold. Now that she finally has enough money, she so far hasn't made any particular attempts to accumulate more, but that may be due to lack of opportunity. Haley's plan to hand over the ransom money and then steal it back is either this, or Pay Evil unto Evil.
    • When Vaarsuvius explains to their mate that the Deal with the Devil was necessary to achieve the arcane power to defeat a vengeful and very powerful dragon that was threatening V's family, Inkyrius points out that the goal has been accomplished but V still hasn't relinquished the power. Inky offers an ultimatum: give up the power and they have a chance to reconnect as a family, or keep hanging onto the power and prove that it is what V has really wanted all along. Unfortunately, Vaarsuvius has several other important goals that could be achieved with said power, and uses that as justification to teleport away instead apologetically. About half a story arc later, Inkyrius files for divorce.

    Western Animation 
  • Mr. Freeze from the DC Animated Universe was originally motivated entirely by trying to save his cryogenically frozen wife; after she's saved, he goes on a crime spree. Played for tragedy, as by the time his wife is saved, his condition has taken most of his body away, and he can't be with her: the crime spree is so that others can share his despair.

    In the comic book version (based on The DCAU, as before Freeze was just a typical villain), Freeze accidentally kills his wife, firing his cold ray into her stasis tube by mistake while fighting Batman and shattering her. At first he blames Batman for this and wants revenge, but over time he became just another criminal. Eventually, he has her resurrected with a Lazarus Pit, but that just causes her to become a villain named Lazara, who blames her husband for what happened to her.
  • In Ultimate Spider-Man (2012), the Rhino turns out to be a kid using a LEGO Genetics Super Serum to take revenge on Jerk Jock Flash Thompson for all of his bullying. Well, that explains his first episode, in which he indeed targets Flash. It doesn't explain any of his later appearances, where in a very rapid and very egregious case of Motive Decay, he is a mainstay of the Sinister Six and attacks Spidey alongside them for no reason that's ever been explored, and his origin never comes up.
  • Subverted in Steven Universe: the episode "Tiger Millionaire" establishes that Amethyst moonlights as a wrestler as a way to vent her insecurities. Four seasons worth of Character Development later, the episode "Tiger Philanthropist" kicks off with Amethyst quitting wrestling since, now that she's more at peace with herself, she no longer needs that outlet.
  • The flashback episode of Gravity Falls implies that Grunkle Stan's obsession with money is either to satisfy his father (who told him he wasn't welcome home until he'd made a fortune to replace the one he'd "lost" by accidentally sabotaging his brother's prospects) or to finance the portal to rescue said brother from an alternate reality. His father is dead, he has his surviving family's respect (more or less), and his brother returns safely, but he continues to be the same old greedy con artist as ever. Mitigated by the finale indicating that he did finally give up his scamming ways after reconciling with his brother, indicating that his money-related issues were tied more closely with that issue than had been shown.