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Unnervingly Heartwarming

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When it comes to Heartwarming Moments, they're usually pretty straightforward: it's a scene featuring a romantic, cutesy or purely happy moment. For the most part, they're not all that complicated and frankly, aren't meant to be anyway.

However, there are exceptions.

Enter the Evil Twin of heartwarming. Here, what should be a perfectly ordinary heartwarming moment is deliberately undermined by eerie, disturbing, unpleasant or flat-out horrific elements. The reasons for this (in-universe and out) vary: in some cases, it's meant to convey an element of danger, indicating that however heartwarming this scene might be, the participants probably shouldn't relax just yet; in others, it might indicate insincerity or even manipulation of some kind; and in a few cases, there's nothing immediately dangerous or villainous going on in this moment, and the characters are just intrinsically creepy by nature.

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Whatever the case, the intended response to this isn't so much "D'aaaaaaw" as "Errrrrrrrr..."

May tie in with Creepy Cute or Creepy Good, which may feature such moments. Overlaps with Dramatic Irony when the heartwarming moment is undermined by knowledge that the readers have but the characters don't.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In AKIRA, current Big Bad Tetsuo has been using his undisputed power over the ruins of Neo-Tokyo to acquire Sex Slaves; one of the few who survive the mutual drug trips, Kaori, ends up serving as something of a Morality Pet to Tetsuo, even hugging him when his withdrawal pains briefly overwhelm him. Later, when one of his soldiers enters their quarters to alert him to ongoing troubles, Tetsuo warns the man not to wake Kaori, who is still hugging him in her sleep. This might have been a genuinely touching scene... but Tetsuo is still clearly in a lot of pain, the expression on his face indicates that his sanity is hanging by a very narrow thread, and his arm has begun to mutate into a hideous mass of tentacled flesh.
  • The end of the Moon saga in Land of the Lustrous is a rather mundane scene of all of the titular race finally living out a peaceful existence on the Moon, with many of the focus characters finally getting what they wanted or repairing broken relationships. In any other series, this would be the epilogue of the story, but here it serves a secondary purpose of explaining why nobody will come save the protagonist—who at the time was tricked into disposing of their whole race, watched as their species got whisked away, and at the end of this chapter was slowly melting in a grotesque form to be molded into something unearthly.
  • The Osomatsu-san episode "ESP Kitty" focuses on a cat that can speak out loud the thoughts of anyone who comes near it. The climax of the episode reveals that Ichimatsu Matsuno is very insecure about himself, and that he isn't sure that his brothers like him at all. His brothers reassure him and tell him that he's fine the way he is and that they'll always love him as a brother. All this is well and good—except for the fact that their brother Karamatsu is nowhere to be seen the whole episode, having casually gotten abandoned for food while he's strung up and used for ransom. The hypocrisy of their treatment of Ichimatsu versus Karamatsu is explicitly shown in the end, where the brothers walk off together while Karamatsu tearfully watches them in the distance.
  • In Mission: Yozakura Family, Dr. Kawashita congratulates Shirai on her recovery from her terminal illness several years after she left the hospital. While normally this would be a heartfelt moment, he does so while standing in front of dozens or hundreds of bodies that break apart with the slightest pressure after being treated with Hazakura like her. He then cheerfully informs her that he had the Asanos who worked so hard to get her treated murdered to hide the evidence and tells her to cherish the life they gave her, all while she's staring in wide-eyed horror at him.

    Comic Books 
  • Bernard the newsvendor spends most of Watchmen as a selfish grouch who (for example) refuses to lend his cap to a young boy (also named Bernard, or rather, "Bernie") reading comics at the news stand when it starts to rain, on the logic that "in the end, a man stands alone". In theory, this should make the moment when he does lend Bernie his cap (and lets him take a comic for free) all the more heartwarming... except that this change of heart is caused by Bernard reading a headline about how Russia has invaded Afghanistan, bringing the world one step closer to nuclear annihilation, and giving his sudden generosity and Ironic Echo a deeper, darker significance.
    "I mean... I mean we all gotta look out for each other, don't we? [...] I mean, life's too short... inna final analysis."
  • Phase V of Zenith features Dr. Michael Peyne being condemned to Death by De-aging by the Lloigor as they celebrate their victory. Over the next few issues, Peyne is left alone with his thoughts as he slowly regresses into infancy; however, in his final moments, he's visited by Ruby Fox. She apparently wanted to say goodbye, and even appears to comfort the baby. This might seem heartwarming at first... but even if this moment wasn't delivered by a stark-naked Humanoid Abomination, it swiftly becomes clear that Ruby is just gloating over a dying victim, her tone swinging from condescendingly soothing to smugly sadistic. The scene ends with Ruby throwing baby Payne into the air, where he shrinks into a fetus and vanishes.
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    Fan Works 
  • In Forum of Thrones, little Briar Catelins misses her beloved Honorary Uncle Maron Mullendore and keeps asking when she might see him again. She recalls how he took care of her and comforted her when she was sick. The problem is that Maron is a merciless sadistic crimelord who kept Briar prisoner to blackmail her sister; even his nice treatment of Briar isn't a result of a genuine Morality Pet feeling or Lima Syndrome, since it just adds an extra layer of glee for him to know that the little girl adores him while he's threatening her life to make her sister work as an assassin for him.

    Film — Animated 
  • In The Addams Family (2019), a version of this is played for laughs. After Wednesday interrupts her little brother Pugsley from attempting to shoot a crossbow bolt at something, citing that he should be practicing for his upcoming Addams family Mazurka ritual and insists that she wants to help him with as much. Pugsley is surprised and asks her why she wants to help him. She then proceeds, as the camera very slowly zooms in on Wednesday, suspenseful music plays, and Wednesday herself allows a humorously unnerving wide-eyed and raised eyebrow sporting look to come on her face, to respond with, "Because you are my brother. And...I love...you."
  • In Chapter 2 of The House (2022), after the Developer accidentally swallows poison and has to be taken to hospital, the Odd Couple end up being his only visitors, even taking him back to the House - where their extended family is hosting a welcome home party for him, applauding him as he enters. However, as bizarrely sweet as this is, it's still undeniably creepy because the Developer has been driven insane by the Odd Couple's unwanted squatting... and the family are not only staring totally dead-eyed at him as he entered but are starting to look very weird. And the final scene features the Developer regressing to animal intelligence and joining the family of giant beetles in destroying all his hard work.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Thanos and Gamora's first interactions in Avengers: Infinity War reek of this trope: on the face of things, their first meeting features Thanos offering assistance to a young and extremely frightened Gamora, taking her in and even giving her a balancing game to play - during which he congratulates her on her success. It's a genuinely heartwarming moment in which Thanos gets to show off his paternal side after spending most of his previous appearances as nothing more than a genocidal extremist... but the whole scene takes place on a planet that Thanos has just conquered; in the background, his army is executing half the population, even as he encourages young Gamora to continue the game and ignore the sight of her people being shot dead en masse.
  • During the climax of Candyman, Helen agrees to sacrifice herself to save the life of the infant that the eponymous villain has kidnapped. The scene that follows is portrayed almost romantically, with Candyman demonstrating surprising tenderness towards his victim, complete with slow piano music, a Bridal Carry, and a held gaze as he assures her that they will be immortal as living urban legends. However, Candyman has still essentially ruined Helen's life by getting her framed as a murderer, so the romance of the scene has a distinct undercurrent of wrongness about it. And then Candyman reveals that under his coat, he's just a skeleton wreathed in the many hundreds of bees that killed him, and as he leans in for a kiss, we see even more of the damn things pouring out of his mouth...
  • In the finale of Hannibal, the eponymous Serial Killer finds himself getting into a friendly chat with the kid sitting next to him on the plane, and even shares some of his lunchbox when prompted. All very sweet - except for the fact that the item that the kid has just helped himself to is a sample of Paul Krendler's brains.
  • In Let the Right One In, after Oskar saves vampire Eli from a would-be vampire hunter, Eli rewards him with a kiss on the lips, which would be adorable... if her mouth wasn't filled with the vampire hunter's blood.
  • Tale of Tales basically runs on being deliberately unsettling. In particular, there are several moments when Princess Viola's husband acts tenderly towards her (as tenderly as he can, at least). He is also a huge, brutish Frazetta Man ogre to whom she is married against her will and who regularly rapes her, not to mention that he makes a bloodbath of her would-be rescuers. The ogre and Viola share one particularly affectionate moment with hand-holding and held gazes right after that bloodbath and right before Viola manages to kill him.
  • Tragedy Girls is a Slasher Movie about two teenage serial killers, so what few heartwarming moments there are fall squarely into this category.
    • The titular Tragedy Girls, Sadie and McKayla have the closest and truest friendship you could ask for, share everything, are extremely physically affectionate, and would do anything to help one another. This is because they're both violent psychopaths who are drawn together by their mutual interest in murder.
    • They both have genuinely good relationships with their parents; Sadie regularly cooks for her father and behaves affectionately towards him, and McKayla's parents obviously adore her and are very concerned for her well-being when the murder spree begins. All of this helps underline how painfully clueless they are about what monsters their daughters are—and that they're responsible for the killing spree in the first place!
  • War of the Worlds (2005):
    • The scene where Ray soothes Rachel to sleep is inter-cut with ominous shots of Ogilvy watching them.
    • When Ray realizes that he has to kill Ogilvy to prevent the Martians from finding their hiding place, he goes to Rachel and gives her an emotional hug, while his face is grim over what he has to do. He also tenderly kisses her hands when getting her to sing so she won't hear the sounds of Ogilvy being murdered.

    Literature 
  • In one of the minor encounters of The Book of Lost Things, David is captured by a huntress who has been Hunting the Most Dangerous Game by grafting the living heads of children onto the bodies of animals. She treats him quite civilly, complimenting David's intelligence and encouraging him not to lose hope, even washing his face and kissing him. It's eerily sweet... but the Huntress has also been very open about the fact that she's planning to graft David's head on a fox's body and then hunt him down the next day: she's encouraging him to be hopeful because she wants her prey to be an entertaining hunt.
  • In the Nevermoor books, the Big Bad genuinely wants Morrigan to be his apprentice, and expresses admiration for her abilities multiple times. He even helps her out of a bind a few times. However, all this is undermined by the fact that he's a complete sociopath who (incorrectly) believes that Morrigan is, deep down, just as bad as he is, and constantly tries to lead her down a dark path, meaning that even his already-limited Pet the Dog moments are ruined by all the manipulation and headgames. Consequentially, whenever he compliments her or offers his help, Morrigan is creeped the hell out, and seems to dislike his positive attention even more than she dislikes him openly threatening her.
  • In The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky, Schaffa becomes a kind Parental Substitute for Nassun, who desperately needs the support and affection. The reader knows Shaffa from The Fifth Season as a merciless, villainous Mage Killer with many child victims, who terrorized Nassun's mother in particular and would have killed Nassun were it not for the Evil Earth manipulating his mind to advance its plans.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has Petyr Baelish's interactions with Sansa. Outwardly, it's a relief to see her treated with kindness after her life in King's Landing, and the author has mentioned that Baelish does genuinely care for Sansa a lot. However, Baelish is one of the main reasons she ended up tormented and humiliated in King's Landing in the first place; plus, he makes her pose as his daughter while at the same time forcing kisses on her - even iffy considering he was in love with her mother.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Early in the second season, Spike and Drusilla are completely devoted to each other despite the fact that she is quite out of her mind. Their first episode ends with them going off to relax and watch tv together - after Spike has just casually murdered the local Big Bad, who looks like a little kid.
    • In "Once More, With Feeling" Tara sings the seemingly heartwarming love song "Under Your Spell" to Willow, which is extremely uncomfortable for the audience, who are aware of the Dramatic Irony in Tara's lyrics, as she doesn't know that she has literally been put under a spell by Willow to make her forget a fight they had recently had.
  • In Dexter this applies to much of his relationship with Lumen in Season 5, which is styled as a typical courtship...but they're essentially an Outlaw Couple of Serial Killers. A particular moment in the episode "Hop A Freighter": we see them cuddling on the floor, using Harrison's toys/stuffed animals to represent Jordan Chase's bodyguards, cameras etc. It's like a couple planning their next romantic outing (which it kind of is), if it weren't for the fact they're planning on abducting and murdering a man. He deserves it, but still...
  • Farscape:
    • The episode "Bone To Be Wild" ends with Scorpius making the acquaintance of M'Lee, a bone-devouring predator in the guise of a Damsel in Distress. For some reason, the normally-heartless commander demonstrates a surprisingly compassionate side, taking her in and even hugging her. It's made abundantly clear that this scene isn't as adorable as it first appears: M'Lee is clearly sizing Scorpius up for her next meal, and Scorpius is most likely being Affably Evil so he can use M'Lee for his own ends - further evidenced by the fact that he doesn't seem too concerned when the guard he'd assigned to her mysteriously vanishes in the next episode.
    • In "Look At The Princess Part 1," Scorpius reintroduces himself to Crichton by striding into the room and warmly hugging him around the shoulders, treating him as a long-lost friend. It's a bizarrely sweet touch neatly undercut by the fact that Scorpius has tortured Crichton very brutally in the past, and is likely planning on doing the same if he can manage to recapture him; for good measure, the merest sight of Scorpius prompts Crichton to suffer a flashback.
  • Invoked in the Friends episode "The On With the Butt": after Joey gets fired as Al Pacino's "stunt butt," the gang tries to cheer him up, but he says that his mom will be disappointed - because she was so happy that she would get to his see his butt in an Al Pacino movie; Chandler responds, "Something so sweet and... disturbing about that."
  • Hannibal: Any time Hannibal is nice to Will (or Margot or Abigail or, you know what, anybody) is creepy, even if he genuinely seems to mean what he says, because he's still a cannibalistic Serial Killer who won't hesitate to manipulate, torment, and ruin the lives of the people he claims to care about. Especially Will, who suffers a lot by his hands, and yet the final season confirms Hannibal's in love with him, which Will reciprocates by the time of the finale.
    Hannibal: Office hours are for patients. My kitchen is always open to friends.
  • The Haunting of Hill House:
    • In episode 5, "The Bent-Neck Lady," Nelly's dance with Arthur appears to be a heartwarming moment of husband and wife re-enacting their wedding party, complete with Heavenly Day playing in the background. Trouble is, Arthur died months ago, and the whole thing takes place in an illusion cooked up by Hill House to keep Nelly complacent; the heartwarming elements are frequently undermined by the camera Cutting Back to Reality - revealing that Nelly is dancing alone through the ruined house. Plus, the big Orbital Kiss reveals that the illusions of Nelly's family are being subtly replaced by the ghosts of Hill House...
    • In the series finale, Luke is unexpectedly reunited with Abigail, Nelly and his mother in a surprisingly adorable scene. However, something's immediately off: his mother seems a little too eager to keep him pacified, Nelly keeps whispering "don't" and "go," and Luke's growing alarm undercuts any sentimentality of the moment. Luke is temporarily dead in this scene, and the heavenly setting is another attempt by the House to keep him calm while it devours him.
  • The Haunting of Bly Manor: The scene in which Miles apologises to Dani for his earlier misbehaviour by giving her a bouquet of flowers might have been cute and heartwarming... except for the fact that Miles appears to be flirting with Dani, even stroking her hair. Quite apart from the off-putting nature of a ten-year-old flirting with his adult au pair, Dani is clearly alarmed by the hair-stroking and not at all comfortable with anything in this scene. For good measure, it's revealed that Miles is frequently possessed by the ghost of Peter Quint, meaning that an adult is essentially using the body of a child to make sexual advances on a grown woman.
  • In Liquidation, the tender and loving relationship of Chekan and Ida is coupled with the fact that the two of them are vicious bandits with zero empathy for anyone except each other. For example, Chekan hurries to buy eclairs (Ida's favourite treat), and immediately afterwards coldly shoots two men. When Ida sees the box of eclairs covered in blood, as soon as she learns the blood isn't Chekan's they both just shrug the matter off.
  • The Sandman (2022):
    • Late in "Dream A Little Dream Of Me," John Dee - currently wandering around in the middle of the night while dressed only in his pajamas and slippers - is given a warm coat by a friendly stranger. John is puzzled but clearly touched by the gesture and asks if he can return the coat once he reaches his destination, but the man just brushes it off. It's a short but sweet moment - or it would be if it hadn't been for the fact that the stranger is none other than the Corinthian, who is actually helping a fellow villain in the hopes that he'll use the Ruby to destroy Dream.
      John: Thank you.
      Corinthian: [smirking] Thank you.
    • In "A Hope In Hell," John Dee is picked up by a concerned motorist by the name Rosemary, and they strike up a friendly conversation during the car trip to his destination, even commiserating over how dishonesty ruined their lives. Now, John has murdered at least three people during the previous episode, so the scene is already a little unnerving; then he casually confesses to the fact that he was institutionalized on several counts of arson and murder, and Rosemary very slowly begins to realize that she's Alone with the Psycho. John never once says an unkind word at any point, agreeing with Rosemary's points concerning morality and even patting her rottweiler, but the tension just keeps escalating as neither Rosemary nor the audience has any idea what John's going to do to her once he reaches his stop and finds the Ruby.
    • Late in "24/7," Judy and Bette comfort each other over their recent romantic failures, tentatively discuss the relationships they really want, and even share a kiss that soon gives way to sex. It'd be a genuinely sweet moment, especially given that it's implied that Bette's been harbouring a crush on Judy without even realizing it... but in reality, the two of them are under the influence of John Dee, who is using the Ruby to Mind Rape the inhabitants of the diner into abandoning their "lies", so the whole thing smacks of Questionable Consent and comes across as off-putting even before the Loss of Inhibitions gives way to violence.
    • "The Doll's House" features Desire and Despair meeting to discuss recent events, and the two come across as supportive siblings: Despair expresses eagerness to listen to Desire, Desire calling Despair "sweet sister, " stroking her hair, and generally doing their best to cheer her up - even giving the impression of genuinely caring about her more than they care about themselves. However, the two of them are bonding in their efforts to come up with a plan to undermine Dream. Plus, Despair responds to the news of the Dream Vortex by using her fishhook sigil to gleefully slice her cheek open, making the whole scene even creepier.
    • During "Collectors," the Corinthian takes in Jed Walker and basically plays the part of a cool babysitter while they wait for his sister Rose to arrive. During their time together, Corinthian takes Jed out for ice-cream, allows him to order a big plate of chicken fingers from room service, and assures him that his abusive foster parents will never be able to hurt him again. In turn, Jed seems to genuinely like his new "friend." However, the audience knows by now that Corinthian is a living nightmare and Serial Killer who has already murdered said abusive foster parents - and is only charming Jed so he can use him as bait for Rose, so those kind acts inspire fear and apprehension more than anything else.
  • This is essentially the premise of WandaVision. Wanda and Vision are living a seemingly idyllic life as a married couple in a town reminiscent of an old-timey sitcom, but the lack of an explanation for how Vision is Back from the Dead, various hints that there is something off about the town and all of its residents coming off as Stepford Smilers can make even the show's most heartwarming moments seem disturbing rather than uplifting.
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    Video Games 
  • The epilogue of Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls shows that Nagito rescued Monaca from death. Any other time, saving a little girl would be seen as heroic and adorable, but given that both are manipulative bastards planning on turning Monaca into the next Junko Enoshima, it comes off as extremely creepy.
  • The good ending of Eversion has the hero rescuing and embracing the Princess... only they're now both monsters.
  • In Octopath Traveler, the third segment of Primrose's route has her reunite with Simeon, a gardener and poet who worked at her home before her father was murdered by three mysterious assassins, leaving Primrose traumatized and destitute. The two reminisce on Primrose's childhood, and present-day Simeon expresses signs that he was smitten with her even back then. Their reunion after many years is a sweet moment... except that Primrose was a young girl in their flashback, and Simeon was already a grown man. This has hebephiliac implications and is a very good sign that something is wrong. Sure enough, it is later revealed that Simeon himself is responsible for the murder of Primrose's father and is a sadistic sociopath who had deliberately become close to Primrose in her childhood so that he could inflict maximum emotional pain on her at a later time, all for the purpose of his own amusement.
  • The Secret World
    • The player's interactions with The Black Signal AKA "John" are layered with this: he genuinely wants to be your friend, and most of his scenes with you feature him demonstrating respect, admiration, and even a bit of affection for you. At times, he even seems to be leaning on you for emotional support... but the fact remains that John is a disembodied Eldritch Abomination who has casually Mind Raped several people across Tokyo and will gladly murder a child if you can't stop him in time. Being his friend is not a good thing.
    • At one point, it's possible to stumble upon a letter from Lilith to Uta Bloody Valentine, in which the legendary Humanoid Abomination treats Uta as if she really were her long-lost daughter. It's a surprisingly sweet moment... except for the fact that the Mother of Monsters is giving Uta the "So Proud of You" treatment for becoming a cold-blood psychopath and adopting the life of a professional assassin.

    Visual Novels 
  • Saya no Uta: Fuminori and Saya's relationship progresses from ordinary heartwarming to this the further the story goes on. Every scene they spend together makes it clear how deeply and genuinely they love each other and would do anything for the other, and how their entire existence revolves around each other's happiness... usually just as they're either plotting or committing some horrible act. For example, a relatively early scene has a cute conversation about how they love finally getting the chance to eat together and how happy it makes Fuminori feel... except said food is the brutally murdered Omi. It really becomes noticeable when they're exchanging words of affection and having emotionally fulfilling sex- while in the middle of raping Yoh Tsukuba, whom they've reduced to an Empty Shell and Sex Slave. There's also the fact that Fuminori is willing to help Saya turn all of humanity into her species because he loves her. Essentially, their relationship is mutually loving but toxic, and the further they continue with it, the worse people they become.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: When BMO befriends a sapient bubble in the episode "BMO lost" it gets popped in the end. After hearing Bubble's voice again, BMO thinks, he goes crazy. Bubble assures him, that his is fine, having been "air" the entire time, but he forgot as he got trapped in the bubble. In the end BMO is still sad that air, now that he isn't lost anymore, wouldn't need him to feel at home. Air responds with this:
    Bubble/Air: "Nooo, see that's what's so great. Now we can be together forever, BMO, every minute of every day. No more privacy, no more quiet, no more alone. Every room you ever go in, I'll already be there... waiting... forever and ever, until the end of time."
    To which BMO's response is a simple "Yaaaaay!!" while happily waving his hands around.
  • Archer: In the Season 10 finale, Archer finally wakes up from his 3 year coma only to find his normally awful mother Malory had been keeping an Unbroken Vigil the entire time, and is genuinely overjoyed that he's awake. Then she has to go and make it unbelievably weird by referring to their relationship as a "love story". Archer is suitably grossed out.
  • DuckTales (2017): The ending of the episode, "What Ever Happened to Della Duck?!", is beyond heartwarming. Della finds helpful aliens in the form of the Moonlanders, who's civilization is made of gold, allowing her to fix her ship. Only for the two Moonlanders that found her to have this conversation.
    Penumbra: I can't believe you're just gonna let that Moon hater run free. You've gone Earth-soft.
    Lunaris: That Earth dweller managed to defeat our greatest enemy like it was nothing. She could be useful.
    Penumbra: Or dangerous. (to Della) Watch your back, Earth dweller.
  • Played for laughs in the Rick and Morty episode "Edge of Tomorty": here, Rick ends up temporarily stranded in a universe where the dominant life-forms are giant parasitoid wasps; to his surprise, the wasp version of him turns out to be a lot nicer than most Ricks in the multiverse, and invites him to stay for dinner. What follows should be a heartwarming moment: Wasp!Jerry and Beth are shown to be Happily Married, Wasp!Rick respects Beth's decisions without trying to manipulate her, his relationship with Wasp!Morty is a lot healthier, and overall, everyone seems perfectly happy. It's just that the meal is a caterpillar version of Mr Goldenfold - who is screaming in agony as the family devours him alive. And Morty eats the poor bastard's larvae as well. All while sentimental music plays in the background.
  • Steven Universe: Pearl teaches Connie sword fighting and sings "Do it for Her". At the start, it comes off as your typical training montage but, as the song goes on, it becomes clear Pearl is projecting her unresolved war trauma onto Connie and starts encouraging her to be self-sacrificial for Steven. This does not go unnoticed, as Steven is obviously alarmed.
    What they don't know
    Is your real advantage
    When you live for someone
    You're prepared to die

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