Follow TV Tropes


Villainy Discretion Shot

Go To

Lister: I don't care that you've killed three men...
Loretta: Five.
Lister: ...whatever. It's not your fault, it's the way you're programmed.
Loretta: So you take me for what I am — a psychopathic, schizophrenic, serial killing femme fatale?
Lister: Forgive and forget, that's what I say.
Red Dwarf, "Gunmen of the Apocalypse"

When a character is explicitly known (but not often actually shown) to have committed acts that are considered a Moral Event Horizon moment, but who are either discreetly downplayed or conveniently not discussed. This is both to avoid scaring the audience and, presumably, to allow people to continue to like these characters (in a genuine way, not the "so deranged it's interesting" way) without being seen as a monster.

This is Offstage Villainy, but not a sympathetic type; rather, a variation of the Gory Discretion Shot on a grand scale.

Happens a lot in comedy: nobody cares about or bothers to refer back to all the people Sam & Max have directly or indirectly killed, or have been implied to have killed.

Compare and contrast with Bait the Dog; the only difference between this trope and that one is that we actually get to see the Kick the Dog moment, which causes us to reconsider our sympathy for the character. Also compare A Million Is a Statistic, which is more likely to let the character keep their audience sympathy.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Played very straight in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's. Signum, Vita, Shamal, and Zafira are constructs designed to protect the Book of Darkness. They've been around for centuries, and it's hinted that they may have killed hundreds of people prior to joining Nanoha's circle of (very forgiving) friends. Hayate happens to witness the Wolkenritter fighting in the past in a Pensieve Flashback, and while she objects to what they're doing, she mainly sees them as victims and sympathizes with them.
    • In the next season, they accept several new friends into the fold. Although most of them have not been explicitly shown killing, Cinque did kill Zest, and it can be safely assumed that most, if not all, have some blood on their hands by season's end, considering that they attacked and disabled the Einherjar, and the only people they were not allowed to kill in the last battle were Subaru, Erio, and Fate.
  • The Fullmetal Alchemist manga, and Brotherhood anime, has this when it comes to Barry. He's only ever shown killing one person on screen, the officer who came to investigate his and Alphonse's fight.
  • Kenpachi gets a textbook one in Bleach. It's stated that instead of going through the normal political channels to become a squad Captain, he challenged and killed an existing captain in front of 200 witnesses. While this is supposed to add to his badass legend, the fact that we don't know anything about the victim or the particulars of the fight could have very well made this a seriously disturbing Kick the Dog moment.
  • It's difficult to tell if this or Offstage Villainy is at play during Lelouch's time as Emperor in Code Geass. A person in a crowd comments that he would kill people and their entire families for speaking against him, but this behavior is never shown. It is certainly implied he had no trouble using violent methods to eliminate Britannia's system of nobility, but who likes lazy aristocrats anyway? It seems like this technique was used so that those who liked the character would assume his bark was worse than his bite, whereas those who didn't would conclude (as colorfully expressed on this site) that he was "worse than four Hitlers".
  • Many characters in One Piece arguably get this treatment. The details of how Kuma came to be known as a "tyrant" are never shown, many Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains work for Big Bads, and it's implied that Buggy blew up inhabited areas with his cannon before the story began.
  • Played straight with (most of) the Noah's Arc Circus performers in Black Butler, but not in the Book of Circus anime, which adds a wonderfully creepy scene of them kidnapping a little girl - and killing the officers who come to rescue her - that wasn't in the manga.
  • Really all of the Apostles in Griffith's new Band of the Hawk in Berserk qualify, but especially Irvine and Locus, because both seem to be fairly decent, noble people. You can only become an Apostle by crossing the Moral Event Horizon, so all of them must have done something horrifically evil in the past; the audience just hasn't been shown whatever it was.
    • Speaking of Apostles, Rosine gets a fairly straightforward one in a flashback at the end of the Lost Children arc. We see the very moments leading up to her sacrifice of her parents but it ends once the Beherit activates.
  • While Daranimaru Goryo of Muhyo and Roji does some fairly nasty acts when he's shown, such as charging an orphan $50,000 for an exorcism, and laughing about a single mother going insane after her daughter's death, many of the Goryo group's more ruthless business practices are never shown, and they attempt to open a law office in Muhyo's territory by challenging him to a ghost removal contest. Goryo wins, but returns Muhyo's office to him after Muhyo saves him from Ark.
  • Koga and his pack from Inuyasha massacred Rin's village with the intent of eating the villagers. Conversations he and his pack have in their first few appearances make it clear that this is a normal occurrence. After Kagura kills most of the pack to trick Koga into trying to kill Inuyasha, this is hardly ever mentioned again, and they stay on fairly good terms with the other heroes. (Yes, they stopped hunting humans for food after that, but it seems Koga only made that decision to impress Kagome.)
  • Deconstructed in Monster. We've already seen Johann kill people in the flesh. What is so damn frightening about him is his ability to indirectly kill others via sheer charisma.
  • In the My-Otome manga, Nagi is said to have started wars in the past over minor slights. He's quite the Jerkass in his panel time, but he seems to be portrayed as the least evil version of Nagi, particularly when he sacrifices himself to save Manshiro.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Kyouko deliberately allows familiars to roam around free because killing them won't give Grief Seeds (which are necessary for her to use magic and avoid becoming a witch herself), and only kills them once they are full-fledged witches. While this practice outrages Sayaka, the implications of doing so are never completely explored, especially after Kyouko is portrayed in a more sympathetic light.

    Comic Books 
  • After Veronica's defeat in Strangers in Paradise, we see her duct-taped to a chair while Tambi looms over her, knife in hand. Veronica is later found distributed across a large part of Long Island. Tambi is still portrayed as mostly sympathetic, and Katchoo still hugs her when they meet.
  • Happens with some Chick Tracts that involve evil people finding redemption, presumably to avoid having them come off as Karma Houdinis. One tract, in which a prisoner has several other prisoners killed for refusing to smuggle contraband in, has the event happen offscreen.
  • Used with many of the desperadoes Lucky Luke encounters in order to explain their notoriety. If rumours and wanted posters are to be believed Phil de Fer, the original Dalton gang, Joss Jamon, and most specifically Pat Poker and Billy the Kid have quite a remarkable body count. In Billy's case, it is said that many of his victims were fellow criminals and Luke himself calls him worse than the Daltons (the new ones at least).

    Fan Works 
  • In the CATverse, Jonathan Crane is a multiple murderer who is prone to extremely Disproportionate Retribution and has experimented on innocent civilians. While the stories make a point not to sugar-coat his personality or his behavior, his more violent actions are generally not given much focus, and he has both a truly nasty childhood and sympathetic moments with his henchgirls. His henchgirls are more Affably Evil than anything else and are presented as likable characters, but are still party to kidnapping, torture, and murder. There is one major exception to this - in Small World, Crane commits a graphic murder and tortures a child multiple times, his mother and sister respectively, even disturbing his henchgirls.
  • Liu Bei knows how to do this in Farce of the Three Kingdoms. Cao Cao is envious.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Kind Hearts and Coronets makes murder seem like a rather jolly gentleman's pursuit by never dwelling on its impact (except for a few scenes after the death of Henry showing Edith's grief) and by making the murders themselves seem rather funny. The audience can be forgiven for watching this film and either forgetting that Louis is a serial killer or rooting for him in his cull of detached family members.
  • Anakin's massacre of the Sand People ("not just the men, but the women and the children too") in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones is disturbingly rarely reflected upon (Palpatine briefly mentions it near the beginning of Revenge of the Sith, but that's all). This is particularly troubling as this behavior would seem much more indicative of ties to the Dark Side than the petulant behavior on which the film spends more time. None of the Jedi know, and it turns out not to be very relevant at all. Even Padmé, to whom he confesses the act, doesn't seem too distressed by it. His slaughter of Yoda's younglings, on the other hand... It's discussed in much more detail in the Matt Stover novelization: the point is made that Anakin was totally out of control, killing the Sand People out of blind rage. His murders in Ep III are cold-blooded and premeditated.
  • In Batman (1989), only minimal attention is actually paid to the dozens of people Joker has killed.
  • In Suicide Kings, the film will show you Lono repeatedly hitting an abusive drunk in the face with a toaster, Lono beating a money launderer senseless with a golf club, and Lono shooting a pair of Evil Debt Collectors, but when it comes time for Lono to kill the Star-Crossed Lovers Max and Elise, the camera cuts away just before the shots.
  • Justified in Layer Cake; the protagonist is a cocaine dealer responsible for getting an awful lot of product out onto the streets, but he himself finds the end result of his work to be distasteful and deliberately steers clear of cocaine users. A more sympathetic example than most, as it's implied that because of this he's making plans to leave the business behind him.
  • In King of New York, it's understood that, yes, the Villain Protagonist is a drug lord and, yes, he does sell nickel bags of coke and smack all over Harlem, but it's a purely intellectual understanding. We never see any of his men hand over any drugs to shaking addicts jonesing for a fix.
  • Tuco of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has a rap sheet that indicates he's a rapist and mass murderer. He doesn't do anything nearly that bad on camera and is presented as a humorous character- and the Long List of his crimes is itself somewhat Played for Laughs. It's possible some of the crimes were made up because he had reason to increase the price on his own head.
  • Stans in Predators is a death row inmate who admits to having killed 38 people just because he could, and casually talks about committing rape, yet is portrayed as a loveable jerk who is concerned about others and sacrifices himself to save them

  • This is somewhat doubly subverted in the Dragaera series, on account of the different Sympathetic P.O.V. between the Taltos and Khaavren entries. In the former, Vlad knows that his powerful friends have slaughtered scores of people in the past, often in horrible ways (they all possess weapons that kill people's souls), with many of their victims being humans like himself. As far as he knows them, though, they are loyal friends sharing his Deadpan Snarker sense of humor. On the other hand, the latter series shows or at least tells about some of these actions directly (like Morrolan not only killing a god but also slaughtering an entire village, men, women, and children, of his worshippers). Then again, Vlad himself is a mobster and professional killer at least for the first half of the series.
  • In The Dresden Files, Marcone is regarded as a crime lord and general vile scum. The worst thing he definitely does is run a brothel. A clean, safe, honest brothel where the prostitutes are treated well. It's hinted that he does worse, but exactly what is never said. Combined with the frequency that he fights with the good guys, he can come off as something of a Designated Villain. Next to ancient vampire armies, fallen angels, and literal forces of nature, the mob boss of Chicago is relatively low on the Sorting Algorithm of Evil.
    • Marcone is a bit of a subversion - part of his characterization is the dichotomy between the sort of bastardy typically associated with his unlawful enterprises and the fact that Marcone himself is not all that much of a bastard, and has rather high standards.
      • The short story Even Hand shows more of how he earned his reputation. He's definitely an extremely ruthless and dangerous man who personally executes criminals who break his rules and nearly orders a civilian's death in order to keep a secret.
  • Ulrich van Bek in The War Hound and the World's Pain by Michael Moorcock has done so many terrible things while fighting in the Thirty Years' War that his soul explicitly belongs to the Devil, but we never get told precisely what they were (mostly because he's telling the story, and he doesn't like talking about them), making van Bek come across as a regular hero while searching for redemption. Subverted later in the book as van Bek's companion rapes a woman they've come across, something that van Bek seems to find entirely unremarkable - we still don't know what he's personally done, but it's a jarring reminder that his morals are severely compromised.

    Live-Action TV 
  • From Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Garak used to be a member of the Obsidian Order, the Cardassians' version of secret police. Considering what perfectly normal citizens will cheerfully do in the name of Cardassia (one notable Cardassian torturer had his daughter at 'work', while still behaving like a kind and loving father), the exact details of what a member of the Order gets up to is best left unmentioned. If he wasn't such a Magnificent Bastard and on the side of the Federation (and he's only working with the Federation because he detests what the Dominion has done to his beloved Cardassia), he'd be a villain. Noteworthy is the time when Garak responds to a dream of Bashir's where he was the enemy. "Are you saying that after all these lunches we've had together, you still don't trust me? There may be hope for you yet."
    • Notably averted in the episode "The Die is Cast" when the audience does get to see Garak interrogate and torture Odo. In this case, the resolution of the torture session involves Garak desperately pleading with the subject to give him something, anything, so he can justify stopping. The look of relief and horror on his face when it finally ends shows he's far less comfortable with cold-blooded torture than he used to be. Later episodes firmly establish that he's still the resident dog-kicker (and quite good at it), but only when it's absolutely necessary.
  • The number of people that have been killed one way or another by Lana of Smallville, who has yet to be arrested. Looking back on it, it's pretty impressive.
    • Unless it's relevant to the plot of the particular episode, very few people in Smallville seem to pay mind to the fact that just about every other villain of the week that wound up dead somehow by episode's end was last seen in a scuffle with Clark. Only once does Lana acknowledge the subject of her weekly stalkers winding up impaled on something thanks to him over the course of the entire series.
    • The new sheriff does mention in passing all the crime scenes Clark has been associated with. But after she gives him the old "I got my eye on you, boy" riff for a few episodes to establish that she's a hard-ass, she becomes just as numb to the recurring coincidences as all the other Smallvillians.
  • It's outright stated that Doug from Scrubs has killed many of his patients due to his complete ineptitude as a doctor. The hospital staff have named a cause of death after him ("Upstairs, they call that a Doug."). Hell, while he was in the middle of reciting a (long) list of people he had killed, another patient of his flatlined. This is Played for Laughs.
    • It gets particularly odd when you consider that a patient dying because of a mistake on the part of any other character is something entirely serious. The only episode that treated Doug as a serious character at all was the one where he discovered that his tendency to kill people made him an excellent pathologist... EXCEPT for having trouble taking care of the bodies after analyzing them.
  • Hilariously parodied in The Carol Burnett Show in a sketch involving a doomed romance between a man on his way to death row and a woman with a terminal disease. The man's guard likes his prisoner and tells him so, adding that, "I'm sure all the people you killed had it coming... all 48 of them." The man replies, "I'm not so sure... Mom and Dad had their good points."
  • Another comical example is Black Adder. Various incarnations of Edmund have definitely committed a fair amount of murders and other unscrupulous deeds on innocent and not-so-innocent people, but when shown at all, they're generally in a humorous style to downplay his sociopathic tendencies.
  • For most of her time in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Anya was treated as an entirely comic character, her anecdotes about the various horrific punishments she inflicted during her centuries as a demon being more likely to cause a moment of bemused awkwardness in the conversation than any outrage or shock. Eventually somewhat rectified (long, long after her introduction) with the episode "Selfless".
    • Harmony, once just an idiot classmate, is killed and turned into a vampire, which in the terms of the series means it's a demon wearing Harmony's body. The demon, who was literally biting Willow at one point (that doesn't cause a turning) is treated like a big ding dong and laughed at as if it was just Harmony forgetting what the capital of the United States is. This activity continues to many later episodes, including Xander (who has a serious hate-on for all vampires, much more than Buffy).
  • Used to brilliant effect in the earlier seasons of Dexter, in which the eponymous character is a mass murderer with a body count of, at the very least, three dozen people. It's stated numerous times that he only kills murderers (or in one instance, a child molester who was stalking his girlfriend's daughter), his actions are sometimes shown to prevent further deaths, and it's made abundantly clear that most of his victims are vile, disgusting, irredeemable scumbags far worse than him. All of this assists greatly in portraying Dexter as a Sociopathic Hero and perpetuating the Black-and-Grey Morality of the series.
    • Later seasons gradually avert the trope, as Dexter's grip on his "code" becomes more slippery. This came to a head at the end of Season 7 when he attempted to murder a police captain in order to keep himself out of prison.

    Video Games 
  • The Burning Legion in Warcraft. They've invaded and destroyed countless worlds, yet the players only see their failures in their campaign against Azeroth.
  • Tom Nook from Animal Crossing. He has a virtual stranglehold on the economy and property market of Animal Crossing, and practically enslaves you within the first ten minutes of the game; it doesn't help that he's a tanuki, who are right little bastards when you read up on them.
    • Used as the basis for an infamous Let's Play, The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing, in which Nook literally enslaves the narrator for unspeakable purposes. Most of the other portrayals of Nook either fall into his "merely" being an autocratic slum lord, mob kingpin, and black marketeer, or else paint him as the nicest landlord you will ever have.
  • In the backstory of Planescape: Torment, the original incarnation of The Nameless One did something so terrible that even a lifetime of atonement wouldn't be enough to make up for it, which led to him seeking immortality in hopes that several lifetimes of atonement might do the trick. It doesn't work The game never gives specifics as to the nature of his unforgivable act.
  • Tactics Ogre tries to subvert this trope by continually mentioning that Denim/Leonard partook in a massacre where 5000 people were killed - an entire city wiped out. Of course, by Chapter 4 everyone has forgotten about it.

  • Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures does this all the time, with what sometimes seems like half the cast. (More like a third or a fourth - not counting all the unnamed 'cubi milling around on the edges, torturing/killing/eating the souls of random victims.)
  • Karl Kroenen in Abe Kroenen is an assassin who worked for Hitler before he went to serve Rasputin and whose body count numbers in the dozens if not hundreds (and that doesn't even count people he's killed in battle). However, mentions of his brutalities are brushed off or nervously laughed at.
  • 8-Bit Theater is perhaps the purest distillation of this trope, due to a combination of the Crapsack World setting and being a deconstruction of the typical sociopathic RPG party, with atrocities committed left, right, and centre by protagonists, antagonists, and others both onscreen and offscreen, with precisely one death that wasn't done comedically (and that was for about two pages).
  • While Belkar Bitterleaf, the Token Evil Teammate of The Order of the Stick has done and proposed plenty of evil things on-panel (mostly the occasional casual murder of innocent civilians and city guards, and taking a worrying amount of joy in combat), his worst crimes have been out-of-sight. Roy is informed by the Celestial Bureaucracy that their files measure his morality on a chart labelled in "kilonazis", currently ranking somewhere shy of "a hypothetical offspring of Cruella de Vil and Sauron". We're also told, however, that Roy and the rest of the party have been a stabilising influence, and indeed the worst of his actions happened before the comic began. (For example, past affiliation with slavers, and the mass killing of fifteen unarmed people in a Bar Brawl that he didn't even consider unreasonable.)

    Western Animation 
  • Nobody in Drawn Together ever seems to note that Captain Hero single-handedly caused the destruction of his home planet, killing everything on it, after the episode "Little Orphan Hero". Of course the same could be said for his other obliviously destructive actions, such as maiming or murdering all of the participants of a charity fundraiser to give himself a sense of pride, causing innumerable car crashes to please Clara, and generally wreaking havoc on everybody around him. Being a Black Comedy though, this may just be used to cement him as a Heroic Comedic Sociopath, and the Negative Continuity probably doesn't help.
  • It's entirely probable that the title character of Invader Zim has a body count in the millions, stretching across numerous solar systems, yet he's mostly treated as an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain. While most of his past acts weren't really evil, just incredibly incompetent, it's amazing he isn't treated more seriously.
  • In Disney's Darkwing Duck, of all places, the comedic villain Megavolt is mentioned as having been sent to the electric chair twice. Granted, this is basically a joke about the villain's electrokinetic properties, but it also brings up the Unfortunate Implications that the most Harmless Villain on the show is either a multiple murderer (the more likely scenario) or a child rapist.
    • In his origin story, the villain Bushroot actually kills two people, and later their dead bodies are shown onscreen being examined by the cops (granted, he cocooned them in vines, but the resulting mass is still clearly man-shaped and clearly dead). He gets the same comedic treatment as the rest of the show's characters.
  • The Venture Brothers has Dr Venture's Joycan, Powered by a Forsaken Child (though it isn't stated whether Venture killed the orphan or merely acquired the heart after he/she died of something else).
    Dr. Venture: [talking about the orphan] It's not like I used the whole thing!
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Heloise commits all kinds of Kick the Dog acts, and it's hinted that she tortures people for fun. Yet all this happens off-screen so she can continue being the Anti-Hero.
  • In the The Lion Guard episode "Return Of The Roar," Kion's friends state that Janja and his hyena pack have killed enough of the gazelle they're attacking to feed them for months and they're still attacking. Despite this statement, there are no dead gazelle anywhere to be seen.
  • In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Anakin begins to strangle a defiant Poggle the Lesser using the Force. The rest of the interrogation is never seen, but when Anakin comes back to the other Jedi with important information, they pointedly wonder just what Anakin did to get their uncooperative prisoner to talk. Keep in mind that so far, the series has distinctly avoided Anakin's dark side.