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Stab the Scorpion

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A mysterious character, sometimes a temporary ally or enemy, sneaks behind the protagonist. We see as they lift a knife, take careful aim at the hero, and strike.
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Only to see it wasn't the hero they struck, but a scorpion or snake poised to strike, or even an actual enemy. Either way, rather than killing the hero, the stranger has just saved their life. Sometimes, the target isn't even a threat but is used to gain trust, the message being "If I Wanted You Dead..., you would be by now".

Note that they aren't necessarily being sneaky about it—just less than straightforward. A hero cringing in fear or trying to reason with their ally happens just as often. Equally doable with a gun, or by throwing a knife which barely misses.

If misunderstood, it becomes a usual—if not outright mandatory—set-up for the Hero with Bad Publicity.

Only somewhat justified by the fact that telling someone there's a scorpion on them may cause them to panic, which in turn may make the scorpion panic and sting. And walking up to someone with a knife raised will have certain other implications, hence the sneaking.

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If the characters know each other, the stabber may respond to any thanks they get with "I missed."

Can be parodied in more mundane series with a mosquito.

See also Stab the Salad, Bait-and-Switch Gunshot, and Blofeld Ploy. A possible form of Superdickery. Compare Attack Hello.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Films — Animated 
  • Harlock: Space Pirate. Shortly after undercover agent Logan is shown contemplating shooting Kei, he shoves her over a railing to her apparent death, only to be shown he's throwing her into the mecha hand of a spacecraft which lifts her away to safety.
  • In Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, Beau is suspected by Velma to be somehow involved in the onset of the zombies. At one point, Beau lifts up a large rock and appears ready to chuck it at her, but he instead throws it further out to show Velma that she was about to walk into quicksand. Velma's suspicions are somewhat mitigated.
  • The Secret of NIMH sees Mrs. Brisby, a frightened mouse, entering the Great Owl's den. At the mercy of her natural predator, she is then additionally stalked by a large spider...before the Great Owl appears and crushes the spider.
  • Titan A.E.:
    Cale: You're never gonna have a better shot, Korso.
    Korso: No. I won't.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Braveheart, the Irishman is portrayed as a belligerent (and crazy) person in his first scene. In the very next scene, he charges towards the unsuspecting William Wallace... only to throw his sword at The Mole instead.
    Stephen: You sure the Almighty didn't send me to watch your back?
  • Cargo (2013): Vic is introduced having been crouching down, then firing a shot in Andy's direction that was actually aimed at zombie coming at Andy from behind.
  • Meg Ryan does this during an argument with Lou Diamond Philips in Courage Under Fire. Tragically, he believed that she was shooting at him, and he shoots her in the stomach.
  • Lenina Huxley saves John Spartan this way in Demolition Man. They've just taken out a bunch of mooks and Spartan thinks they're safe, but then Huxley suddenly picks up a gun and points it at Spartan. Spartan gets a millisecond of shock before she shoots the mook that was sneaking up to Spartan with a knife.
  • Lampshaded in the German police-spoof Der Wixxer. The protagonist was trapped in a bathtub and was attempted to kill á la Saw. He manages to defeat the trap, upon which a suspect (whom the building belongs) enters the room, sternly glancing at the protagonist, approaches him slowly and ominously, pulls up his sleeves, complete with a Now-I'm-Going-To-Finish-You-Off - expression. Then, out of the blue, he quips, "Jesus Christ, what's going on here?!" and helps him out of the tub.
  • The Eiger Sanction. Jon Hemlock knows that one of his fellow climbers is an enemy agent, but doesn't know who. A man called Meyer has a Sinister Switchblade of the type used for the Plot-Triggering Death; at one point Hemlock is sleeping when Meyer creeps up holding the knife...and cuts the end off a climbing rope that had frayed. Then later Hemlock is on the edge of a cliff when Meyer comes up behind him with hand outstretched...only to grab hold of him for support.
  • Melina's introduction in For Your Eyes Only - She's hunting the men chasing Bond, with a crossbow.
  • Averted in Gamera vs. Barugon. One of the treasure hunters notices a cave scorpion making its way up his partner's leg but does nothing to stop it. After all, it's one less mook to split the take with!
  • Done early on in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla. The victim, in this case, is a poisonous spider. In a twist on the usual formula, the stabber grabs the stabbee from behind and stabs the spider off his neck, drawing blood from him as well.
  • Her Alibi. Tom Selleck, smitten with a murder suspect, crafts an alibi for her and lets her stay at his secluded home. Cue her tossing a huge Bowie knife at him... to pin the enormous beetle climbing the wall behind him. She does this again at the end of the movie.
  • Holes: Stanley (Caveman) is returning to his sleeping quarters after a late night of digging early on in his stay at Camp Greenlake. He turns to find Mr. Sir pointing his revolver seemingly at him and thinks it's all over when Mr. Sir fires. Mr. Sir was not aiming at him, however, but at the deadly and extremely poisonous yellow-spotted lizard that had snuck up behind him. In a display of both how dangerous the lizards are and how Mr. Sir takes his duties of looking after his wards, he shoots off its head right as it leapt to bite the fleeing Stanley.
    • Earlier in the movie and in the book, Mr. Sir says, when Stanley is seen eyeing his revolver nervously, "Don’t worry. This is for yellow-spotted lizards; I wouldn't waste a bullet on you." And when he chases after Zero during the latter’s fleeing Camp Green Lake, he seems to take legitimate offense at the apparent assumption of the warden that he would shoot the fleeing Zero.
  • Done in a hilarious verbal version in Hot Fuzz, when Sgt. Angel first arrives at his hotel in Sandford:
    Joyce Cooper: I trust you had a pleasant trip. Fascist!
    Sgt. Angel: I beg your pardon?
    Joyce Cooper: (writes in her crossword puzzle) "System of Government characterised by extreme dictatorship." Seven across.
    Sgt. Angel: Oh, I see. It's "fascism."
    Joyce Cooper: Fascism. Wonderful. Now, we've put you in the Castle Suite. Bernard will escort you up there.
    Sgt. Angel: Well, actually, I could probably make my own way up. Hag!
    Joyce Cooper: I beg your pardon?
    Sgt. Angel: "Evil old woman considered frightful or ugly." It's 12 down.
    Joyce Cooper: Oh, bless you!
    • This gets an Ironic Echo later when they're actually shooting at each other and dispense with the subtext to levy the insults directly.
  • Into the Grizzly Maze: When Beckett confronts Sully on the beach, Sully suddenly raises his shotgun and aims it directly at him. Then Sully yells "Get down!" and it is revealed that Sully is actually aiming at the bear that has appeared behind Beckett.
  • In I Saw What You Did, Tess is running for the garage where her sister Libby is trying to start the car. The viewer (but not Libby) sees an arm reach out and grab her and drag her behind the garage. While it looks like the murderer Steve Marek has grabbed her, it is actually Mr. Austin who is stopping her from getting to the car because Steve Marek is hiding in the back seat.
  • The Island (1980): When Maynard is leaning over, about to ignite the Powder Trail to destroy the magazine, Beth walks out holding a crossbow that she levels at Maynard. She then raises the crossbow several inches and fires: shooting Windsor who is standing behind Maynard with an axe.
  • An assassin in John Wick does a variant where the "scorpion" is not directly "stabbed": he appears to be setting up a sniper shot at a sleeping Wick, but he instead shoots Wick's pillow with the intent of making Wick aware of a hostile assassin in the room.
  • Hot Shots! Part Deux. But with a screwdriver and squeaky bed. Yeah...
  • In The Karate Kid Part II, Mr. Miyagi and Daniel stumble upon Miyagi's rival, Sato, trapped and helpless under a storm-felled wooden beam. Daniel looks on in horror as Miyagi raises his hand to strike (with Sato cursing him for a coward the whole time) only to have Miyagi strike the beam, splitting it and allowing them to pull Sato free.
  • The beach house shootout from The Killer is kicked off by one of these. Specifically, Jeff and Lee are holding guns on each other, when Jeff fires off a shot... at an assassin approaching the house outside the window. This unfortunately leads to Lee shooting Jeff in the arm in retaliation, though it isn't fatal.
  • In Land of the Dead, when Charlie ominously aims his rifle at Slack's head and shoots, missing her head by barely an inch to hit the zombie that was sneaking up on her.
    • Then Slack gets to return the favor later, but nicks poor Charlie's ear in the process.
  • In Legend, Lily is apparently about to kill the unicorn with its mate's horn. Instead, she uses the horn to strike at and break the chain holding the unicorn, freeing it. Likewise, at the last moment Jack (Lily's lover), who had been trying to decide whether to shoot her with an arrow to prevent her, instead decides to shoot the evil being Darkness.
  • Nightwish: Dean suddenly approaches his girlfriend Kim with a tire iron to kill a rattlesnake that was sneaking up on her.
  • In Operation Delta Force, Major Tipton is constantly at odds with Delta Force Captain Lang, because a mistake on Tipton's part years ago lead to the death of Lang's brother. But at the end of the movie, Tipton realized he's been forgiven when Lang suddenly fires a shot in his direction... and kills General Praetorian, the film's Mook Lieutenant, who is about to shoot Tipton.
  • Paradise Road has a scene in which a Japanese prison guard dramatically holds up a sword as though about to decapitate Cate Blanchett's character after subjecting her to a day and night of torture, but brings the sword down and slices off a lock of hair instead.
  • Pig Hunt: At the gas station, the hippie stranger suddenly steps towards Brooks and draws his kukri. But instead of attacking her, he uses it to flick away a rattlesnake on the ground she was just about to tread on.
  • The Trope Namer is Predator. Dillon has been annoying the rest of the team for the entire mission so far, including demonstrating dangerous incompetence, as well as recently revealing that he set them up on what they believed to be a rescue mission. In a lull in the jungle action, Mac, who had earlier threatened Dillon "You give away our position again, I'll bleed you", gestures to him to come close and turn around. Dillon does, and Mac's combat knife takes careful aim at the base of Dillon's neck. There's a stab. Dillon jumps and sticks his pistol in Mac's face-and Mac displays the scorpion he had just picked off Dillon's back, now impaled on the knife.
  • Princess of Mars: While being held prisoner, Dejah Thoris snatches a knife from Tars Tarkas' belt and stabs at his back. She then holds up the knife, showing the spiderling impaled on the tip.
  • Resident Evil Film Series:
    • In Resident Evil (2002), the Red Queen offers to provide a code to let the party escape a lab they're trapped in if they kill Rain Ocampo, who's infected with the T-virus. Rain kneels down and orders the others to accept the deal and kill her by cutting her head off with a fire axe. As she and the Red Queen shout for Alice to do so, Alice raises the axe high in the air and... hits the television monitor the Red Queen is shouting through, cutting her off, and refuses to kill Rain.
    • Used in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, where a STARS sniper with several redneck attributes is shooting zombies from his rooftop position. L.J., a black man, comes into his view and obliviously attempts to open a deserted car, while the sniper takes aim at his head and fires...to hit another zombie directly behind L.J.
  • Romancing the Stone—Jack and Joan are waiting out a rainstorm in Colombia in the wreckage of an old plane. He whips out his machete and cuts the head off of a very long snake that was right behind Joan. Then he cooks it for them.
  • The Sting, when a man steps around the corner into an alley and fires a silenced gun, apparently at Hooker. He kills Loretta, the waitress from the diner, then reveals that she's actually the assassin Loretta Salino, who's been assigned the hit on Hooker and was about to kill him.
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, this accompanies The Reveal that the T-800 is on John Connor's side:
    "Get down."
  • Undercover Brother: Undercover Brother has a mook on the floor, at his mercy. He then stomps down at the mook's head, and a Sickening "Crunch!" is heard. It's revealed UB had... smashed his chips. The mook is still unhappy about it — they were his snack.
  • Van Helsing: When Van Helsing arrives in the village and tries to tell Anna he has come to help her, she asks him to prove it. He responds by suddenly points his crossbow at her. As she ducks, he pulls the trigger and fires at the incoming vampire brides.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit:
    Jessica Rabbit: (Aims a gun at Eddie Valiant) Valiant.
    Eddie Valiant: I always knew I'd get it in Toontown.
    (as he turns around, A shadow of Judge Doom with a gun appears on the wall)
    Jessica Rabbit: Behind you!
    (Shoots at the shadow; it falls back and the gun drops on the floor)
  • Z for Zachariah: A variant occurs where the "scorpion" isn't dangerous. Romantic rivals Loomis and Caleb go on a turkey hunt, and Caleb falls several steps behind Loomis and shifts his rifle in the direction of Loomis's back before the two fire at the turkey. However, he really is only shooting at the turkey.
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    Web Animation 
  • Smoke of Bunnykill 3 does this with Snowball, killing a bunny mook that was sneaking up behind him, before the two join forces.
  • RWBY: In "Heroes and Monsters", Qrow unveils his full scythe and charges at Ironwood, who is initially shocked but then stands guard as he thinks Qrow is about to attack him. As he jumps into the air, Qrow flies right past Ironwood and bisects the Griffon lunging towards him. Justified Trope: Qrow's Semblance is being The Jinx and had he not personally dealt with it, Ironwood could have been seriously hurt due to the bad luck Qrow could have brought him.

    Webcomics 
  • Happens in Buck Godot, after Al manages to knock out the assassin that was sent to seduce and trick him into selling his bar wakes up again in the middle of a big fight, gun aimed at Al. She angrily states no-one ever managed to knock her out. Because she never let anyone get close! She then shoots an enemy behind Al.
  • In General Protection Fault, this is subverted when Fooker and Maddie are on a mission against Dr. Nefarious; a scuba diver comes up behind them, but then gets shot by a woman. Fooker later reveals that he knew that the woman was one of Dr. Nefarious' men because the diver belonged to a friendly intelligence agency.
  • Parodied with a fake cliffhanger in The Non-Adventures of Wonderella: "I NEED TO SHOOT YOU—TO SAVE YOUR LIFE!"
  • In The Order of the Stick, Elan politely informs Therkla that he already has a girlfriend and isn't looking for a relationship. She gets an angry look on her face and draws her weapons... then throws a shuriken at the demon she spotted sneaking up behind him.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, during the Dangerous Days arc, an unusually dark and vengeful Torg walks up to Riff, who'd previously confessed to giving information about Aylee to Hereti-Corp(the villains) and wordlessly levels a shotgun at him. Then he actually does shoot Riff, but immediately apologizes and says he was aiming for the bad guy behind him. It turns out Riff was wearing a bulletproof vest.
  • In this The Sword Interval strip, Agent Porter (who Fall knows and is not happy to see) points a gun at her while saying her surname... then shoots the plant monster sneaking up behind her.

    Web Originals 
  • In Trinton Chronicles, Aurora performs this act in the first scene of her meeting Sara. While in the ice maze Sara is walking by herself after leaving another group of people in a huff. She runs into Aurora, who promptly throws a knife at Sara's head. The knife misses by a few centimeters and it turns out Aurora saved her from some Big Creepy-Crawlies that had been poised for an attack on her.


 
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That Was My Last Bullet

After Heather and Sarah gun down Volkoff's men, Heather turns her gun to Sarah and shots... at the last man that was behind Sarah.

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