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The Only One

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"You're the only man alive that can handle this mission, Kremmen."
— The introduction to every Captain Kremmen radio episode

There's a crisis, and our beloved protagonists are the only people who can handle the problem.

Unfortunately, this is because all the other people who could take care of it are woefully incompetent.

If the series is about a local police force, the FBI are ivory-tower glory hounds. If the series is about an FBI agent, the local police are all useless types. If the series is about the military, government higher-ups will only be interested in pleasing the voters. If the series is about the government or an anti-military type, then the military will be The Evil Army commanded by a General Ripper type who is just itching to Nuke 'em back to the stone age, never mind the asking questions part. If the series is about a rogue hero, all levels of government and law enforcement, plus the military, are either corrupt or clueless, with the possible exception of a Reasonable Authority Figure who will still be be unable to help because of mountains of red tape. And everyone else will just think that it isn't for them to deal with (at least, at first). In those cases where the people who are supposed to be handling the situation are not also bad guys, you can end up with a Red Shirt Army.

Sometimes this is actually warranted by the show's premise, notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dark Angel, Stargate SG-1... okay, any show featuring The Chosen One.

A variation that often occurs, particularly in shows or movies where there is a Race Against the Clock situation, is that those who are responsible for taking care of a particular situation (such as the bomb squad) will, for some reason, not be able to make it in time to resolve the problem that the protagonists are facing. In this scenario, the experts may be fully competent and on the side of the angels, but are prevented for some reason from taking care of the problem themselves, meaning that the untrained protagonists are forced to be the only ones who can take care of the problem. This often works to increasing tension; will the non-expert cut the right wire?

Compare the subtropes One Riot, One Ranger, where it is justified by a specific decision on the part of the authorities, and It's Up to You (the gamer equivalent). Compare I Work Alone, where the hero chooses this voluntarily. Also compare The Main Characters Do Everything, where extras aren't shown to be competent nor incompetent, they just never get to do anything. Contrast Hero of Another Story. See also Evil Only Has to Win Once, because inevitably the stakes are cataclysmic. When it's The Hero and the Big Bad specifically, you may be looking at Only I Can Kill Him.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Kirby: Right Back at Ya!: Kirby a Star Warrior destined to fight off the Big Bad of the universe.
  • My Hero Academia: The bearers of One for All are the only ones that can resist All for One's Quirk-stealing power - so they are the only ones that can deal with him.
  • Valkyria Chronicles: The main characters amount to a single squad of civilian draftee militia. Much like in the game, the country's actual professional army is presented as a bunch of tactically incompetent blowhards who want to hog all the glory and use the Uriah Gambit on the protagonists. They never amount to anything useful and get blown to bits by the enemy.

    Comic Books 
  • Green Lantern:
    • At one point during Hal Jordan's stint as Parallax, things got so bad for the Green Lantern Corps (namely, everyone else being dead or depowered) that Ganthet teleported to Earth and threw the only working Power Ring at a random person. Eventually they got better.
    • This happens to the Corps every so often. When Hal Jordan was still a rookie, the villain Legion had defeated the entire Corps with its gigantic yellow suit of armor, but Hal figures out that if he covers Legion in mud, his ring will work on him. When cracking the armor open turns out not to have been the best idea, Hal flies into the Central Power Battery and supercharges his ring, giving him the strength to defeat the villain on his own.
    • After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the GLC is reduced to the three Lanterns of Earth and a small handful of others spread around the universe. When the sole remaining Guardian is driven mad by solitude, it's pretty much up to Hal to save the day again.
    • In First Flight, when Sinestro destroyed the central Green Lantern battery, all of the remaining Green Lanterns are left powerless. Only Hal was able to get green element's power working again and fight Sinestro one on one.
  • Early on in Nova (2007), Richard Rider is the only (known) Nova left alive, but keeps putting off the topic of maybe getting some new Novas so he doesn't have to work alone, and not run the risk of going totally insane from too much power. It doesn't help when the first person to be deputized lasts about a day before suffering a fatal case of "knife in back". Eventually the Worldmind gets fed up of this and just gets some more people while Rich's back is turned.
  • Rogue Trooper is the last living Genetic Infantryman, if you don't count his biochip buddies.
  • Runaways: The premise of the second series is that the titular team is the closest thing Los Angeles has to a superhero team after their evil parents drove every other superhero out of the area, and thus have to deal with all the supervillains who decide to move out west in hopes of escaping from the superheroes on the East Coast. This premise falls apart after Civil War, when The Order (2007) is deployed to California to become its government-sanctioned superhero team.
  • Superman:
    • Justified in Silver and Bronze Age Superboy stories, as Clark is Earth-1's first and only major super-powered superhero (aside from the teenaged Aquaman as "Aquaboy," plus a few minor heroes such as the original Air Wave) until he reaches adulthood.
    • Brainiac's Blitz: Since the whole Justice League is off world, Supergirl is the only super-hero left on the planet who is powerful and resourceful enough to try to fight Brainiac.

    Fan Works 
  • Bait and Switch (STO):
    • Double Subverted in the original novella, where the USS Bajor is explicitly not the only ship available to respond to the distress signal from Dreon VII. Instead, Eleya's ship is just fifteen minutes closer than the Jadzia Dax and Amaterasu and is able to get things under control before the others arrive.
    • Played with in The Headhunt. The Bajor is actually the second starship on the scene of a jailbreak at Facility 4028, but the other ship is a century-plus-old Miranda-class. The Galaxy-class Bajor has capabilities the USS Brisbane doesn't, so her crew takes the lead.
    • In Remembrance of the Fallen part of the reason Eleya is given the assignment of tutoring Tia and Sobaru is because Sobaru is Bajoran, and Eleya is the only other Bajoran on the Starfleet Academy campus at the moment who has taken Principles of Electronic Countermeasures (officer recruitment on Bajor has apparently been somewhat thin in the past couple of years).
    • Shakedown Shenanigans directly references the Enterprise-B debacle. Eleya insists on her ship being fully completed, fueled, and armed before she will allow it to be launched for its shakedown cruise. Then when she picks up a distress signal during said cruise, it's made clear that she's going off-mission and because she wants to, not because she's the only ship available (in the Vulcan system, almost as much a crossroads as Sol).
  • The four get so sick of this trope in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World that they basically end up saying, "No, we're not the only ones who can do this. Fuck off."
  • In Son of the Sannin, the kidnapping of the Senju twins (the story's equivalent of the Sasuke Retrieval Arc) takes place during the Sound Invasion, which limits the rescue team to the Konoha 15 (none of whom are older than 14) since nobody more powerful than them can afford to leave the village. Shikamaru actually realizes en route that the whole thing was specifically orchestrated that way so Akatsuki could capture Naruto and take his Tailed Beast, but by that point Naruto is dead set on continuing anyway since the alternative is letting a madman get their hands on his little brother and sister.
  • Vow of Nudity: When Haara wants to assemble a team to rescue her former master from the volcano mines, the mission's mandatory nuditynote  scares off any adventurers who could help. This forces her to enlist Walburt despite his complete lack of qualifications for a stealth mission.

    Film - Animated 
  • Played seriously in Inside Out: Joy's misguided attempts to keep Riley happy all the time backfire disastrously; after she and Sadness are accidentally ejected from Headquarters, Anger, Disgust, and Fear try and fail miserably to keep Riley happy and their efforts end with Riley nearly running away from San Francisco to return to her hometown in Minnesota, thanks to an ill-conceived idea on Anger's part. Just as the control panel begins turning grey and locking them out, rendering Riley apathetic and leaving Anger, Disgust, and Fear in horrified regret, Joy and Sadness return. The previous three emotions swarm around Joy, begging her to fix the problem; Joy, having learned that she went too far in excluding Sadness and preventing her from helping Riley signal to others that she needs help, she surprises them all when she tells Sadness that it's up to her. Sadness, having been ostracized and mistreated by Joy for almost all her existence, is reluctant and afraid at first to take control until Joy firmly tells her, "Yes you can, Riley needs you". This gives Sadness the confidence to take the controls; just as the control panel almost completely shuts down, Sadness successfully removes the idea bulb, reactivating the controls and bringing Riley to her senses just in time so that she can leave the bus and return to her parents. Once Riley has returned to her house and her relieved parents, a silently contrite Joy allows Sadness to return Riley's Core Memories (turning them from joyful to sad in the process) so that Riley can understand why all these things she loved hurt so much. The emotions watch in sheer amazement Riley breaks down in sobs and finally admits to her parents that she misses Minnesota and her parents in turn admit to her that they also miss Minnesota and the three of them huddle in a Group Hug.
    • There's some fridge brilliance in this one action because Sadness is effectively the only one who could remove the idea bulb; since she has moved from Minnesota to San Francisco and Sadness has been prevented from signaling that Riley is homesick and miserable in this new city, Riley is outraged and repelled by San Francisco and Anger and Disgust therefore are unable to remove the bulb. Fear is also unable to remove the bulb because Riley's long-lasting fear of losing everything she loves overrules her immediate fear of taking a long (and potentially dangerous) bus journey by herself, and Fear himself was opposed to the idea of running away and outright stated that it was drastic but he was overruled. Even if Joy were there, Riley does not yet have any happy memories of San Francisco, so Joy would probably have been just as powerless to remove the bulb. Sadness, however, could bring Riley to her senses with the simple but painful realization that running away to Minnesota would not work; her family's old house is sold, her friend Meg has already found another friend, she would have no place to stay, and she would be even lonelier since she'd left her parents in San Francisco, and only Sadness could remove the idea and make her understand this truth and abandon her plan.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Barbarella. Parodied when Dianthus (President of Earth and Rotating Premier of the Solar System) has to send Barbarella on the mission because the universe has been at peace for so long they no longer have armies or police, "and I can't spare the Presidential band!"
  • Die Hard:
    • In the first Die Hard movie, McClane is in the building seeing everything up-close, so he is able to respond to the criminals effectively. However, the authorities have their playbook and go through it step-by-step — despite it becoming increasingly obvious that the criminals have read that playbook and either respond with a specific countermeasure or integrate it into their plans.
    • In Die Hard 2, the terrorists are renegade U.S. troops, the military troops sent to take out the terrorists are in cahoots with them, and for most of the movie the airport security guards actively oppose McClane's heroic efforts.
    • From Live Free or Die Hard:
    Farrell: Then why are you doing this?
    McClane: Because there's nobody else to do it right now, that's why. Believe me, if there were somebody else to do it, I'd let them do it. But there's not, so we're doing it.
    Farrell: Ah. That's what makes you that guy.
  • In Blue Thunder, the villains are part of a Government Conspiracy that has the local police department on its side. Frank Murphy is forced to hijack the titular Black Helicopter and fight an aerial battle against police and military forces in order to provide cover for the evidence he's collected to make it to a reporter. Averted at the end when the U.S. Justice Department does in fact start an investigation.
  • Subverted in Lethal Weapon 3, in which Riggs persuades Murtagh that they are the only ones present who can defuse a bomb because, of course, "the bomb squad never arrives on time!" Unfortunately, Riggs fails the Wire Dilemma, the bomb goes off, and the building collapses, causing millions of dollars worth of damage... and at that point, the bomb squad arrive, having made it in plenty of time to defuse the device had Riggs and Murtagh not interfered.
  • As the Batman franchise went on, the role of the police became diminished to the point of utter uselessness, meaning the city was defenceless without Batman.
  • It's so prevalent in the Star Trek films that you'd think Starfleet wants Earth to be destroyed, especially in pre-TNG era settings, where the Enterprise is often the only ship nearby, even when "nearby" is "the capital of the Federation" (Earth). That or the Negative Space Wedgie epidemic in the galaxy is so bad that all of their ships are busy dealing with them.
    • Star Trek: The Motion Picture: It's not that any other vessel or crew is incompetent, but whoever is responsible for the disposition of Starfleet's resources needs a stern talking-to. The only starship available to intercept V'Ger is the Enterprise, which is not only at the tail end of a major refit but currently orbiting Earth.
    • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise against the Khan-controlled Reliant; Kirk refers to themselves as the only ship in the quadrant.note 
    • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier has Kirk's crew charged with saving the diplomat hostages in their malfunctioning Enterprise-A. Kirk actually calls out the Admiral assigning him on this. The movie tries to justify it by saying that while there are other ships in the area, their commanders don't have the experience Kirk has.
    • Star Trek: Generations: The Enterprise-B is just being taken for a test stroll around Earth and doesn't even have most of its weapons or medical crew, and yet it's miraculously the only ship within range of the Negative Space Wedgie, even though it's still very close to Earth, which presumably has a lot of ships nearby.
    • Star Trek: First Contact: The Enterprise is part of a huge battle against the Borg, but it appears that only Picard has the tactical instinct to quickly destroy the enemy due to his past assimilation. When the time-traveling escape sphere flies off toward Earth, it's unclear why the Enterprise is the only ship that seems to be following it, but it's possible the other ships are more damaged from the battle due to the Enterprise having been ordered away, which again stems from Picard's past history.
    • Star Trek (2009): Most of the local Starfleet ships are busy in the Laurentian system, so the ships available to respond to Vulcan consist of whatever happened to be in drydock in Earth orbit at the time, and Starfleet's forced to call up the corps of cadets from the Academy in order to crew them. Then the Narada blows away all of them save the Enterprise (because the Enterprise was late to the party because Sulu goofed).
    • Star Trek Into Darkness: The Enterprise is on the receiving end of a Curb-Stomp Battle from the Vengeance in orbit of the Moon, and not one other starship comes by to investigate.
    • Star Trek Beyond: Yorktown Starbase is left undefended apart from some weapons platforms because Krall duped Sulu and Uhura into sending Starfleet the wrong rescue coordinates, so the fleet that would normally be to aid in the defense is out looking for them and Kirk et al. are left to fend off Krall's attack by themselves.
  • Spoofed in The Hidden (1987) when the Chief says that when the cop protagonist is reassigned:
    "My department will then crumble, crime will run rampart, the city will fall into ruin, rampaging hordes will control the streets and life as we know it will end!"
  • In The Fifth Element, Korben Dallas is the only man for the job who has the certifications for a (ridiculously) long list of weapons and spacecraft, and is still alive.
  • Justified in Executive Decision after Sergeant Matheny, the squad's explosives expert, is critically injured and paralyzed, aviation engineer Dennis Cahill (who has been left behind to "keep an eye" on Matheny) is forced to try his hand at defusing the bomb. He does just that, in a manner that Matheny admits he never would have thought of. Similarly, Dr. Grant joins in the final assault on the terrorists because there are not enough commandos left to take out all the terrorists at once.
  • Jason asserts this about him and his friends in Mystery Team, claiming that they're the only ones capable of doing what the police can't.
  • In the Spider-Man Trilogy, five super-powered villains show up throughout the series but Spidey is apparently the one and only superhero.
  • Superman is obviously the one and only superhero in his films to the point where the Earth seems screwed when a single super-powered menace shows up or natural disaster happens, requiring him to act. In fact, that universe can't even stop a single, non-powered mad scientist from nearly nuking the planet.
  • The first two films in the Blade Trilogy shows the lone, titular hero going up against an entire world of vampires with only one aging ally for support. The third film gave him two more allies but they were simply really tough and didn't have any powers.
  • This trope is averted in Iron Man where Tony Stark believes he is the only superhero in that universe and seems annoyed when he gains allies. Obviously, these films are a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has set out to avert this trope in superhero movies.
  • Hot Fuzz lets us know that Sgt. Angel is far and away the most effective officer in London. Subverted in that this only makes his coworkers annoyed and gets him reassigned to a village out in the boondocks. At the end of the movie, they want him to come back as crime has skyrocketed in his abscence.
  • Jonah Hex. After The Remnant commanded by Quentin Turnbull steals a Secret Weapon, Army Lieutenant Grass assures President Ulysses S. Grant that his elite military unit is ready to handle it. So Grant assigns him...the task of finding Jonah Hex. Grass isn't happy but obeys orders. Later Hex telegraphs Grass with Turnbull's Evil Plan and Grass is waiting to intercept Turnbull with an ironclad cutter, which is promptly blown out of the water by Turnbull leaving only Jonah (who's held prisoner on Turnbull's ship at the time) to save the day. Though a conversation Grant has with his advisors does justify the trope—given Turnbull's willingness to attack civilian targets he could strike anywhere, so the US military (which was drastically reduced in size and resources from the force Grant commanded during the Civil War) is spread thin trying to cover all potential targets. Jonah can afford to chase after Turnbull but there's nothing to stop Turnbull from changing his plan and striking elsewhere.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick has the title character as the only guy in the universe tough (and ruthless) enough to take down the Big Bad (Riddick's home planet was filled with such badasses, so of course it was destroyed in a suprise preemptive strike).
  • Subverted in Star Wars; when Obi-Wan says that Luke is their last hope, Yoda responds by reminding him that There Is Another.
  • The Mystery Men accidentally kill the only one qualified to be the One, so the city has to settle for their attempt to salvage the day.
  • Rambo in all but the original film.
    • Rambo: First Blood Part II: Rambo knows the local terrain of a supposed POW camp, making him perfect for a one-man reconnaissance mission.
    • Rambo III: Col. Trautman has been captured by the Soviets during the height of the cold-war. The US military can't be seen to intervene leaving Rambo, who is not only highly skilled but not with the military, the only man they can send in with any hope for success.
    • Twice in Rambo IV; he knows the local area and has a large enough boat, so the missionaries choose him to sneak them into Burma. Later when the missionaries get captured only he knows where he dropped them off so is required to escort a crew of mercenaries to the correct location.
  • Gant is pulled out of retirement to go on the mission to steal the titular Firefox because he was the only person the CIA could find who could (1) pilot a supersonic jet fighter, (2) speak fluent Russian, and (3) fit into one of the custom-tailored flight suits used by the fighter's test pilots.

  • By the last book of The Inheritance Cycle Eragon is the last sane, free Dragon Rider left after Brom is killed by Durza and Murtagh is enslaved by Galbatorix, who mind controls him into killing Oromis and Glaedr.
  • Only You Can Save Mankind gleefully subverts this. You respawn, while the aliens are Killed Off for Real. Also, you're not the only one who can save mankind. Not that it needs saving, anyway.
  • Douglas Hill's Last Legionary. The last survivor of a planet of highly-skilled and galaxy-renowned mercenaries versus a shadowy Warlord and his powerful organisation. Fortunately, Keill Randor is a One-Man Army with unbreakable bones.
  • Subverted in the Ea Cycle where many prophecies talk about the Maitreya but it turns out that they were translated from a language without the definite article.
  • Not the hero, and certainly others were fairly competent, but during his final campaign, we see that not even Captain Pellaeon, the second-in-command, knew what most of Grand Admiral Thrawn's plans were. This meant that when Joruus C'baoth used the Force to take control of the entire Imperial fleet, he couldn't piece together the plan from the hundreds or thousands who had some hint about those, but it also meant that when Thrawn was killed and Pellaeon stepped up, he had to call a retreat. A sketched-out five-year plan was found later, but, well, it was written with the assumption that the Empire would win that particular battle.
  • In the wretched tie-in novel for Planetfall an alien diplomat will be unable to stop himself from raping and murdering Earth's diplomat unless the sound of a soprano saxophone is played when they meet, and the protagonist is the only Space Patrol officer who can play one. This just raises further questions.
  • Star Trek: Ex Machina:
    • Lampshaded at one point.
      "Scotty, there are lives at stake on Daran IV and there aren't any other starships out there."
      Scott sighed. "Of course not. There never are, are there? Sir."
    • The novel also provides an explanation for the ludicrous situation of having only a single starship in Earth's solar system to protect the Federation capital. Apparently, losses in recent years have stretched Starfleet thin (Continuity Nod cluster ahoy), and there was great concern in some quarters precisely because of the limited defense. The V'Ger incident proved these critics right. Why the same situation crops up in later films still needs explaining, sadly, but that's not this novel's concern.
  • Paradise Lost: Among all the war and greed of the world seven generations after Adam, the only man to remain just is Enoch, who made it his mission to preach righteousness and pass on justice to his descendants. He prefigures Christ, The Only One able to save man from their sin come Paradise Regained.

    Live Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: On the opinion of Varys, Daenerys is the only viable candidate to the Iron Throne; stronger than Tommen and gentler than Stannis. Presumably as of the end of Season 6, his opinion is stronger than ever. However, this is downplayed in Season 7. Varys thinks she's The Only One, but this largely depends on her not becoming like Aerys "with the right counsel."
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Len from Kamen Rider Dragon Knight not only starts out like this, he wants to keep it that way at first because he doesn't believe anyone from Earth can be trusted with the Kamen Rider Advent Decks, particularly Kit, who is the mirror twin of the Rider who betrayed the team. The fact that most of the Earth Riders actually tend to be bad guys (though a few are innocently duped or framed) doesn't help matters any. He gets better about it as the series goes on, and then it's revealed that he wasn't the last of the Ventaran Riders to escape being vented anyway.
    • In Kamen Rider Blade, BOARD gets ransacked in the first episode. We start the series with two members (one being our hero) and a mysterious, unaligned Rider who considers everyone his enemy as the only good guys who are alive and free, and a lot of questions as to what is really going on that they have to solve on their own. At least they got to salvage some of the lab equipment (most notably their monster detector.)
  • Nicely averted on Criminal Minds. While are heroes are always the best, the local cops are almost always helpful and competent. Jurisdiction Friction is played down—in fact, the characters make a point of respecting and aiding the locals.
  • In The X-Files, federal agents Mulder and Scully were often the only ones who could defeat the Monster of the Week - partly because of the astonishing amount of corrupt law enforcers they encountered, and partly because they were usually the only ones who believed or accepted that the threat actually existed in the first place.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor is often the Only One who can save the day, because he's a Sufficiently Advanced Alien who's way above everyone else and the other Time Lords are either apathetic (in Classic Who) or gone completely (in the 2005 revival). It's long been suggested in the Fandom and the Expanded Universe that the TARDIS is deliberately putting the Doctor into these situations. The Eleventh Doctor episode ''The Doctor's Wife'' expressed it more or less thus:
    The Doctor: You never went where I wanted to go!
    The TARDIS: But I always took you where you needed to be.
  • The local police force vs. FBI variant is the central plot of an In the Heat of the Night episode, in which the Sparta DA's daughter is kidnapped and Gillespie's force—using their small-town savvy—competes (almost literally) with by-the-book FBI agents to locate her.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Celebrimbor tells Elrond the story of his father, Eärendil, a mortal man convinced he could ask the Valar to fight in the war against Morgoth. In the night he left, Elwing begged him to stay and asked him why it must be him to go on this mission. His answer was that he was the only who could do it.
  • Star Trek:
    • The starship Enterprise seems to be the only ship in the sector when a crisis goes down a lot of the time. Most egregiously in Star Trek: Generations, in which the crisis takes place near Earth, the capital of the Federation, and the Enterprise, whose best Applied Phlebotinum won't be in until Tuesday, is still the only ship close enough. Apparently, if the Romulans ever decide to bring the fight to our heroes, they'll only have to get past one ship...
    • But fully justified in the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise, as the NX-01 Enterprise is the only Warp 5 spacecraft available until the NX-02 Columbia is completed mid-way through the fourth season.
      • The lack of sufficient defenses is made painfully obvious when a Xindi probe carves a large swath through the Western hemisphere with its prototype planet-destroying beam. The probe is intercepted and destroyed, but too late for the millions of casualties. When the Enterprise arrives back to the Solar System, pursued by Duras, Archer is surprised to see system defense ships quickly react to the invader. They might not be equipped with Warp 5 drives, but you can do with Warp 3 when you don't have to leave the system.
    • Likewise justified in the series Voyager. Since the entire premise is that Voyager is stranded halfway across the galaxy from home, there will obviously be no other Starfleet authorities or reinforcements around for them to fall back on.
      • Also finally averted in the Grand Finale as the Dominion War has apparently made Starfleet wise enough to keep a sizable fleet near Earth, allowing 18 ships to immediately converge on a Borg transwarp aperture which Voyager opens less than a light-year away.
    • Downplayed in TOS, as while the Enterprise was the only ship in the sector more than once, mostly it was in relatively remote sectors (several other times they weren't the only ship in the sector, just the only surviving ship). Then promptly taken to the cliched extreme in The Motion Picture, when the Enterprise is the only available ship at Earth.
    • In the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode "Spock Amok" viewers are treated to individuals who are the only ones who can perform particular tasks when the body swapped Spock and T'Pring are called to do jobs that only the other can do - whether it's an alien species who will only talk to Spock or a fugitive who will only surrender to T'Pring. With the two trapped in each other's bodies Spock and T'Pring are forced to handle their respective situations as best they can.
    • Deconstructed in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Sarek". Ambassador Sarek has spent decades arranging diplomatic negotations with the Legarans and has been the lone Federation diplomat that they trust. However, at his advanced age, he is struggling with Bendii Syndrome (the Vulcan version of Alzheimer's Disease), something his aides are trying to hide. Under his condition, Sarek's emotions are unintentionally affecting the Enterprise crew, which forces Picard to confront him and ask whether he is really the only one capable of conducting negotiations. Thankfully, they reach a solution that enables Sarek to fulfill his duties: Sarek temporarily transfers his emotions to Picard through a mind meld, allowing him the necessary mental clarity.
    • Star Trek: Picard goes to significant lengths to justify this in the finale. As Picard's son Jack is revealed to be a living transmitter for the resurgent Borg, every Starfleet officer below the age of 25 is compromised into the next generation of Borg and the new Starfleet system comprises all of the new ships. As whom ever of the above ages fights to keep their borgified colleagues and family safe, Picard and his old command crew are forced to retreat to the Fleet Museum to Break Out the Museum Piece. There they find the old Enterprise-D, repaired and refurbished by Geordi as the last ship starworthy and untouched by the system.
  • If Criminal Minds averts this trope, CSI: Miami plays it completely straight. The Crime Scene investigators are the only law enforcement personnel who care about getting the criminals. The DA's only care about getting convictions, even if it is a wrongful one. Judges are at best unhelpful or helpless, at worst are corrupt and seek to hinder the CSI in any way possible. Other cops just don't care. Parole Boards are more focused on bureaucracy than on doing their job of making sure bad people stay in jail.
    • Similarly, cops are unable to do anything without Horatio - a CSI. Down to the point where SWAT teams, in full gear, will wait patiently for Horatio to show up - with a suit and a handgun - before entering a location. Of course Horatio enters first. Most evident in an episode where gunfire was heard in a house,— the cops surround the house, then wait for Horatio before going in to check what happens. (One has to wonder what happens if there are two crimes in Miami at the same time.) Another episode has Horatio personally escorting a truck filled with confiscated drugs that are to be incinerated.
    • There are several episodes where Horatio is the first responder to 911 calls. Arriving before patrolling officers.
  • The trope is also present to a large extent in CSI: NY, with those of the CSIs who are actually cops often going in first ahead of the SWAT teams, but without the heavier gear and never with helmets.
  • Used to the extreme in Heroes where more or less every character has once been declared "the only one who can stop" the bad guys (Sylar, usually.)
  • In 24, Jack Bauer is the only one allowed to save the day. He is one of usually five people in CTU that isn't a mole, as well.
    • It's not just Jack. Often someone(usually Chloe) will be fired from CTU, only to be brought back later in the day because (presumably) no one else there knows how to use a computer. In fact, operatives have broken the law and still been brought back because they're the only ones who can do whatever it is they do.
    • Especially Tony. After he did a 2-3 episode stint as The Mole because of an I Have Your Wife situation, he was told that he could be charged with treason and given death, but if he was very cooperative and very lucky, he'd "merely" do 20 years in a federal prison. Not only is he allowed to stick around for the duration of the current crisis, he came back the next season because CTU needed him just that much.
  • Justified in Stargate SG-1 as the public (and, therefore, any help outside of the SGC) don't know about the Stargate program. Unjustified in instances when this isn't the case.
    • Similarly, the number of times it's SG-1 offworld when a crisis erupts, or that they can't contact the base, or that the endangered aliens specifically ask for that particular team makes you wonder what all the other teams are doing wrong... or right.
      • Ask yourself, knowing people often number things according to quality (and SG-1 are said to be the point team because they are the best - aiding the assumption), would you want SG-24 helping you or SG-12?
      • They're the point team because they have lot of experience and specialized knowledge which makes them perfect for first-contact or other unsettled situations where assessing what's going on in a timely manner is critical. Most teams aren't going to have an anthropologist/linguistic expert or an expert on Gate physics/Goa'uld technology. Who can defend themselves and are willing to deal with what SG-1 does on a daily basis...
      • It was also said that some teams are specialists of their own. SG-9 was the lawyers and diplomat team specializing in dealing with legal issues, like when SG-1 was put on a prison planet in S2-E3 Prisoners. SG-3 came back to the SGC and Hammond told them they did the right thing in coming back. Meanwhile several teams (SG-3, -5, -18, and -25) are mainly combat support.
    • The show was also named Stargate: SG-1. Presumably if they had a Stargate: SG-3 we would get to see SG-3 running around and taking care of business; we just don't because they're not who the show focuses on.
    • Somewhat less justified with the various one-shot or recurring scientists. In "The Crystal Skull", the (presumably) second-best archaeology expert can't make heads or tails of the crystal skull and help Daniel. In later episodes, Dr. Lee is often called upon for scientific expertise; he usually just makes things worse. The impression given is that the SGC does try to hire experts other than the members of SG-1, but no one else is as good as they are.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the Chosen One, the only one who can defeat the vampires, demons, etc. etc.
    "In every generation, there is a Chosen One. She alone can stop the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer."
    • Later inverted by the appearances of Kendra, Faith, and eventually, the entire Slayer Army.
    Xander: I knew all that "I'm the only one" business was just an attention-getter!
  • The FBI agent characters in NUMB3RS, especially Don, are not exactly incompetent, but it often tends to look like they need Charlie before they can solve cases. Granted, he's one of the main characters, so cases where they didn't need him wouldn't take up whole episodes, but still, there's got to be someone in that office who can catch a criminal without calling in a mathematician.
  • Taken to extremes in Las Vegas. The hotel security team is a veritable crime fighter unit that hunts down (and sometimes judges and punishes) suspects all on its own. LVPD is mostly content with picking up the criminals at the end of the show. Moreover, said hotel security team only consists of Ed, Danny, and Mike. Literally every bad guy is personally captured by Danny, never mind there being dozens of other guards in the hotel.
  • Sharpe: Sharpe's Challenge:
    Harper: You and me, we're going to stop a rebellion? Just the two of us?
    Sharpe: I don't see no bugger else.
  • From Community episode "Introduction to Statistics".
    Pierce: "Is Jeff out there? He is the only one that can help!"
  • The titular Merlin is the last Dragonlord. It is revealed when Merlin's dad dies that there can be only one and the power passes from one individual to another father-to-son upon death.
  • This is usually averted on Grimm. As a Grimm, Nick has special abilities that make allow him to deal really well with Wesen related crimes. However, the other main characters are no slouches themselves and are often quite capable of resolving the situation on their own. Renard tends to neutralize threats that Nick is not even aware of. Monroe protected Aunt Helen from an attack and later saves Hank when Nick is injured.
    • Averted in a slightly different way in that the Grimm powers can pop up in anyone sharing the bloodline, and the bloodline has been around since the 1400s at minimum. So not only is Nick not the only person around with the anti-Wesen power set, others can and occasionally do show up that aren't necessarily part of his 'family' beyond some unspecified common ancestor centuries ago. They even have their own bestiaries with sometimes-complimentary, sometimes-contradictory information.
  • According to the Presidential Succession Act it would be extremely rare for the Secretary of State to be sworn in as President, but in the Madam Secretary episode "The Show Must Go On", Liz McCord ends up being Acting President for a few hours due to a series of coincidences: Air Force One has gone off the air over the Pacific due to a cyberattack that knocked out communications, the vice president had to have emergency gallbladder surgery, the Speaker of the House is also on Air Force One, and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate is non compos mentis because of a stroke his staff has been keeping secret until the end of his term.
  • As The Orville is an Indecisive Parody of Star Trek, it's not uncommon for the USS Orville to be the closest ship available to respond to a crisis, despite being only a mid-level exploration ship rather than a dedicated combatant. Given a justification in the pilot: the Planetary Union Fleet has a severe staffing shortage, which is a major reason Captain Mercer got command of Orville in the first place after wrecking his career following his divorce.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Living City campaign featured the most incompetent 15th level fighters imaginable as its local police, called the "City Watch". It was claimed that the police weren't incompetent, just portrayed that way so that the players could be the main heroes and not just call the cops to handle problems. Of course, many players believe that by that point, even if they weren't incompetent, they wouldn't be able to do much against high-level threats anyway.
    • Justified in the D&D setting of Eberron. Elite City guards are level 2 or 3 warriors. Warriors is an NPC class weaker than a fighter. This means that effectively the PCs are the city's only hope against anything, as all but the lowest level of players severely overpower guards (and mid level players can wipe the floor of an entire precinct).
      • The setting has a few higher-level characters, but they often come into play only at a time where the PCs already out-level them.
      • Also, this justifies the inclusion of the Warforged, hideously expensive sentient golems used in the latter stages of the Last War (which happened to last about 100 years). They were worth their price because of the unorthodox strategies they allowed. (try besieging someone who has no need of food or water; also, consider the ease of logistics when operating somewhere where delivering supplies would be difficult) and because they came out of their Creation Forges classed as fighter 2. PC classes represent an enormous potential in this setting, so for many jobs they were indeed The Only Ones capable of doing them. After the war, they also were The Only Ones capable of handling jobs like salvaging sunken ships or working in other hazardous conditions.
  • Somewhat averted in the Shadowrun RPG where the police (Lone Star) are a dangerous paramilitary unit that all player characters should try to avoid. Although, in some campaigns (fortunately, not in any of the official campaigns) they still become bunglers when the player characters are around.
    • Of course, Lone Star is also portrayed as something of a compromise between competence and budget. Knight Errant, which isn't the official police but does significant security business, is the big player. I think the whole point of the game averts this, though, as the basic outline of a run is your shadowrunning team facing security/police. Yes, the point is to win, but the point is also to have it not be a cakewalk.

    Theme Parks 
  • At Universal Studios:
    • E.T. in E.T. Adventure is the only one that can save the Green Planet from dying, due to his healing touch.
    • Lampshaded in Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast when Jimmy mentions to Carl and the guests that they're the only ones that save the Nicktoons as well as the entire planet, since only they know of the Yolkians' evil scheme to enslave the earth.

    Video Games 
  • In World of Warcraft, the current player is always the only one who can solve whatever problem a questgiver has, whether it be retrieving a MacGuffin from twenty feet away or slaughtering a horde of invading Mooks. This despite the presence of armed guards nearby who (for Player Versus Player balance reasons) could often singlehandedly defeat every creature in the zone, and faction leaders stronger than anything else in the game except raid bosses.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV, the player character, as the Warrior of Light, is the one hope Eorzea has of fighting off the Garlean Empire and the Primal threat. While Eorzea has its own military and others with the power of the Echo can resist the Primals' influence, the player character is the one best qualified to decisively solve the realm's many problems.
  • In Mega Man Battle Network, NetBattling is a skill so well known that there are classes about it in elementary school and there are people who do it professionally as a living. Despite that, the only people who appear to be competent at it are Lan and his rival Chaud, who are ten years old. The Spiritual Sequel Mega Man Star Force had a somewhat plausible explanation for why the ten year-old hero was the only person capable of saving the day — there were probably less than a hundred people around the world who could Wave Change, including the villains, none of whom had more than a year or so of experience. Given that, there's no real reason why a kid couldn't be more talented than everyone else in the field.
    • In the Battle Network games, it is HandWaved by Rockman.EXE/MegaMan.EXE and Blues.EXE/ProtoMan.EXE being specially made, and thus being inherently more powerful than most other Navis. (Forte.EXE/Bass.EXE, designed as a NetNavi that could operate independently of an Operator, is a similar case.) And they would be more powerful from the start after the first game (in which they only save people because they happen to be in the best position to do it out of people who can try) if not for the Bag of Spilling taking effect. That said, there really isn't anything that stops people responsible for the aforementioned Navis' creation from making more Navis capable of dealing with the danger, so the point stands.
  • In most of The Legend of Zelda games, Link is the only one who can liberate Hyrule and or save Zelda. If any other characters attempt to save Hyrule, they will usually either end up being killed or captured.
    • Perhaps the most egregious example is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword where Link actually lives in a Knight Academy, yet none of the other knights (with the exception of Groose) ever help him in his quest. Somewhat justified by Link still being The Chosen One and Zelda's father keeping everything except that Zelda is missing from the rest of the (small) population.
  • Particularly frustrating in Star Lancer, where you're part of a large squadron, and the briefings will usually break up a mission into several parts each to be handled by a different part of your squad. But your squadmates are so incompetent that you can expect to have to do every part of it yourself, even if that means constantly afterburning through the whole mission to try to be in two places at once. Even worse, even if you handle your part of the operation flawlessly, if you didn't also cover the parts other pilots were supposed to do, you will get raked over the coals by your superiors for "your" failure. This is so bad that there are actually missions where you get reprimanded for failing to accomplish things (like torpedoing an enemy ship) that you cannot possibly do since your ship doesn't carry torpedoes. In one mission, if you try, your copilot will take over and force you to go home, and you get reprimanded for it.
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition seems to have this as a driving force of the plot. The world is in crisis after a particularly gigantic tear in the Veil opens, releasing demons and untold horrors upon Thedas. Due to what is implied to be the manipulation of a Hidden Villain, every major faction is at each other's throat instead of focusing on the demons. The two people most capable of reuniting them, the Warden and Hawke, have mysteriously disappeared. This leaves you, the Inquisitor, to reinstate the eponymous Inquisition and bring the factions to heel to combat the tear in the Veil.
  • In Professor Layton's London Life, a pixellated RPG packaged with most versions of Professor Layton and the Last Specter, Layton explains that the Player Character is The Only One who can prevent The End of the World as We Know It. Why? Because they are a kind soul who gains their greatest happiness from doing good deeds for others, and only a truly happy person can save the day.
  • The Danganronpa series is well known for this trope. No matter how many people were around to witness it, no matter how many clues you find, no matter if crucial information is easily accessible to the public or not, nobody but you is going to be solving that murder, and everybody else (save maybe two other people) is going to be dragging you off course. Hell, some chapters even make it a plot point — each game features a killer that actively puts out false information since they know nobody else is going to look for clues.
  • Zig-zagged in The World Ends with You. Only one pair of Players in the Reaper's Game has to complete the objective in order to accomplish the mission, but that isn't always Neku and his partner. For example, on Day 3, after Neku and Shiki defeat the bat Noise that is the target for the day's mission, they realize that it isn't the target with only minutes left to spare. Beat and Rhyme then erase the Noise's true form, a much smaller bat, at the last possible second. However, there are times when Neku and his partner are the only Players who can accomplish the mission. By the end of the first week, Neku and Shiki are the only Players left, with Rhyme erased and Beat staying with Mr. Hanekoma. Week 3 begins with Neku as the only Player in the game, and he would have been helpless against the Noise had Beat not pulled a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Doom Eternal: Various broadcasts and audio logs make it clear that the Doom Slayer has been the only soldier in the conflict with The Legions of Hell who has been able to, not just hold them at bay, but tear through their forces and outright push them back. This is partly thanks to his enhancements that he received eons ago that have also made him universally feared among demonkind.

  • There is a villainous example in Our Little Adventure. The Evil Empire wants to have an anthem created for it and Umbria/Zaedalkaah is the only bard in the entire empire. Even though as a bard she's not all that great, she completes the song anyway. Her orchestra is a better fit for the trope though as they have no experience whatsoever with music.

    Web Original 
  • Justified in The Adventure Zone: Balance. The protagonists are the only Reclaimers who have ever actually reclaimed anything, as they are the only people able to handle the Grand Relics without succumbing to their malicious thrall... because they're the Relics' original creators.

    Western Animation 
  • Kim Possible: In "Ron the Man", while chasing after Drakken, Kim finds out that Professor Dementor had stolen a Pan-Dimensional Vortex Inducer a week prior, and gets pretty peeved that the world thought it could get along without her:
    Kim: Why am I just finding out about this now?
    Wade: Um, local, federal and international law enforcement are on the case. They thought they didn't need you.
    Kim: Well, I guess they thought wrong.
  • Happens in The Man Called Flintstone when Fred and Barney find themselves the... well, the only ones who could stop the Villain's plot; The Chief and the James Bond expy (that Fred had been impersonating because they looked alike) had both been incapacitated, while their double agent was actually the Big Bad.
  • The Simpsons do it all the time, whenever a problem or commotion happens in Springfield (which may or not have been caused by the Simpsons), one or two of Simpsons take the initiative to solve it or get other people in Springfield to help in doing something about it.
    • Lampshaded in The Day the Violence Died where the problem of the week is solved, not by Bart and Lisa, but familiar-looking Lester and Eliza.
    Bart: Well, I wasn't the one who solved the problem, and neither was Lisa. There's something unsettling about that.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Dear God, the Mane Six. And the Princesses. Especially when the Canterlot Royal Guard are involved. The season 3 finale, "Magical Mystery Cure" takes this to ludicrous extents, where it turns out that without Rarity, everyone's fashion sense deteriorates; without Rainbow Dash, the weather falls out of whack; without Fluttershy, the animals get unruly; without Applejack, her farm falls apart; and without Pinkie Pie, everyone becomes miserable and unhappy. This despite many of these jobs having other ponies who could pick up the slack for them.
  • In The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, it is Scooby and Shaggy's responsibility to recapture the 13 ghosts released from the Chest of Demons because they were the ones who set them free in the first place.
    Vincent Van Ghoul: Only you can return the demons to the chest!
    Shaggy and Scooby: Why us?
    Vincent Van Ghoul: Because you let them out!


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Only One


Elizabeth becomes Acting POTUS

"The Show Must Go On". Air Force One goes offline while returning from the Australian prime minister's funeral, meaning an acting President is needed. Coincidentally, the Vice President is undergoing emergency surgery and the Speaker of the House was also on Air Force One, so they go to the president pro tempore of the Senate... who in this clip turns out to have suffered brain damage from a series of mini-strokes and is incompetent. This leaves main character Elizabeth McCord, the Secretary of State, the first person in the presidential line of succession to be both available and competent, and she is sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / YouAreInCommandNow

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