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Why Couldn't You Save Them?

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"You coward. We are at war with these animals! You think you're better than him?! You let the Joker keep on killing! You couldn't save Lois, or Jason, or anyone!"
Robin to Batman, Injustice 2

All right, I have no idea what's going on, but thank you for saving me from— Hang on, where's Alice? And Bob? And Carlos? And Danielle? Shouldn't they be here, too? ... What do you mean it's too late for them?! They were right next to me!

Why couldn't you save them?

This is basically when a character is saved from being killed/infected/captured/whatever, but their friends aren't and they hate the fact that they lost them all just because their rescuer didn't have time to save them.

Sometimes happens after someone says "Come with Me If You Want to Live"—if the guy saves only you and not your friends, you know that makes him a dark and edgy Anti-Hero with a pragmatic outlook. Or they set the whole thing up in order to separate you from your friends.

Subtrope of Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like. Related to Survivor Guilt, and to the first listed outcome of It's All My Fault where it turns into blaming someone else. Compare Failure-to-Save Murder.

WARNING: As this is a Death Trope, spoilers below will be unmarked.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Dragon Ball Z, the Buu saga, Goku and Vegeta picked up Mr. Satan and Dende leaving Gohan and the young half Saiyans behind on Earth when Buu destroyed it. Vegeta then asked this to Goku, who then realized that with no Earth, there's no Dragonballs and saving Dende didn't do much but provide a healer to get their butts kicked again and again.
  • In My Hero Academia, All Might admits this is the Fatal Flaw of being The Cape; As powerful as you are, you are just one person, and can't be everywhere at once. For every person that All Might has saved, there have been others that suffered because he wasn't there. This eventually becomes a plot point when it's revealed that Shigaraki's hatred of All Might also comes form the fact that, despite he shows himself to the public as someone who can save everyone, he never saved him, and Shigaraki was actually saved by All For One.

    Comic Books 
  • Superman: Grounded had a woman chiding Superman for not saving her husband. However it was cancer that killed him, something that is beyond Superman's powers and even if it was, he was busy dealing with another matter that threatened the whole world. So one gets the feeling she's just dealing with grief and trying to find something to blame.
  • In Spider-Girl, Moose Manfield tried to have the Carnage symbiote used to cure his father of his cancer. Spider-Girl ends up destroying the symbiote, resulting in Moose resenting Spider-Girl and blaming her for his father's death.

    Film - Live Action 
  • In The Dark Knight, when Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes are tied up next to barrels of oil, each independently expecting Batman to save them. He goes after Rachel, but because the Joker lied, he gets to Dent in enough time to save him from death, but not from getting half his face burnt off. Needless to say, Rachel had even worse luck.
  • Serves as the lead character's reason for hating robots in I, Robot. A robot saved him while letting somebody else die as he was statistically more likely to survive. As that someone was a twelve-year-old girl, he has a pretty severe case of Survivor Guilt. "That was somebody's baby. Eleven percent is more than enough. A human being would've known that."
  • Played with in the children's Christmas film The 12 Dogs of Christmas, where Mikey's beloved pet dog, Yeta, is presumed dead — she was first taken by the dog catcher and then was 'already gone' when his friend tried to get her out. The fact that the friend, Emma, was able to rescue her own puppy leads Mike to think that she just didn't try. So Emma sneaks out to try to find out what happens to the dogs that vanish from the dog catchers, is able to find and save Yeta, and brings her home.

  • A large part of Katniss' trauma after the events of the second Quarter Quell in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire when it is explained to her that she was always the target for rescue. She is furious that Peeta wasn't a priority and that he hadn't been saved.
  • Invoked in The Wee Free Men. When escaping death from a collapsing dream world, Tiffany can only grab Upper-Class Twit Roland, but can't reach her brother. So she doesn't even try. She and Roland appear to escape but Wentworth and the Pictsies are left behind. The Queen of the Elves then takes pleasure in describing their deaths and what an awful person Tiffany must be to willingly save the idiot who didn't personally matter to her rather than her own brother. Tiffany tries to comfort herself by telling herself that it would be better to save Roland, and live than try to save Wentworth and die. A small part of her, goaded by the Queen, tells her that this might be logical, but it still doesn't feel... right.
    • Roland does it again in a later book after his father dies of natural causes and he asks Tiffany why she didn't save him (when she had to deal with a nurse who thinks prayer is better than medicine).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor gets called out on this a LOT, especially by companions, but even more so by himself as part of his Chronic Hero Syndrome. Subverted in the episode "The Fires of Pompeii" as Donna actually convinces the Doctor to at least save someone. He chooses the family they first met at the beginning of the episode.
  • In 24 season 7. Renee Walker promises Marika that she will protect her from his boyfriend Colonel Dubaku, who she has just learned is The Dragon. She fails as Marika does a Heroic Sacrifice while Jack Bauer and Renee are chasing Dubaku to cause his car to flip over, and when Marika's wheelchair-bound sister finds out, she accuses Renee of being responsible for her death. Ouch.
  • There was a guy in that Stargate Atlantis episode with the stolen Wraith teleporter/ecto-containment device. When he learned his wife couldn't be saved, he decided to kill everyone.
  • In the CASUAL+Y episode where Jeff Collier dies, the staff of the ED and the paramedics waiting there know that there was an explosion at the crash site some of their number are still at. When Dixie returns with a single patient and two other paramedics, when ambulances are double-crewed, Tamzin demands to know why Dixie didn't bring Jeff back, even if it was just his body.
  • The doctors of ER have occasionally gotten hit with this by distraught loved ones, even though they've clearly done everything possible to save the patient.
  • In Charmed (1998), Piper briefly expresses this sentiment toward Leo after Prue dies, because he got there too late to heal them both and she feels he prioritized her only because she's his wife. Though the next episode reveals that the real source of her anger is Prue herself.
  • In the backstory of Tony DiNozzo of NCIS, he saved a young boy from a fire, but failed to save the boy's sister. Said boy would grow up resenting Tony because of this.

    Video Games 
  • Kurtis from Disgaea.
  • Heather Ross from Trauma Center, after Emilio's death.
  • Dr. Chakwas does this in Mass Effect 2 if you wait so long before starting the Suicide Mission that she's the only survivor of the Normandy's crew.
    • Happens on Horizon as well, when one of the colonists you saved complains that the Collectors got away with some of his friends.
  • Snow from Final Fantasy XIII gets this a lot from Hope early on. He spends a significant amount of the game trying to answer why.
  • Madison from Alpha Protocol, if you rescue her instead of defusing the bomb in the museum.
  • In the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance game the player is given a Sadistic Choice to save either Jean Grey or Nightcrawler at the cost of the other's life. If Nightcrawler is saved, he will give the player a huge chewing out for not saving Jean instead. Jean on the other hand, though also upset will be a bit more understanding in that it was clearly a lose-lose situation from the get-go.
    • If you save Jean, Mystique will be revealed to have decimated the X-Men in a Distant Finale for not saving her son. When Mystique asks this question, she doesn't play around! Meanwhile, if you save Nightcrawler, Jean will become Dark Phoenix again. You just can't win, huh? If you want the good ending, you'll have to have gotten Magneto as DLC; only he can save both.