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Won't Do Your Dirty Work

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I'm a fool to do your dirty work
Oh yeah
I don't wanna do your dirty work
No more
Steely Dan, "Dirty Work"

For when you're tired of Just Following Orders.

There are lines many of us won't cross, whether it's being told to shoot an unarmed victim, assault a woman, cheat to win, or be an unfaithful spouses bit on the side, attack some kids, help someone die, terrorize old people, and so on. If enough trauma and bad blood builds up between asker and asked, no matter how much invective or vitriol is used, the latter simply won't take that final leap. Rather, the underling gets tough and says: "You know what? If you want it that bad, do it yourself."

Not necessarily restricted to more heinous actions. Being asked or forced to cater to someone's whims for an extended period of time for no good reason can invoke this trope as well, depending on how grating the person is. Once the last straw is placed, it can be the fuse-lighting event for a glorious comeuppance where the haughty and overbearing are made to live by their own rules, and much enjoyment is had by everyone else.

Goes well with rants of all shapes and sizes. Saying "That's an Order!" may no longer work after this trope is invoked. May lead whoever was asked to do the dirty work to Resign in Protest or otherwise say Screw This, I'm Outta Here. Might also be the cause of a Mook–Face Turn.

Compare with They're Called "Personal Issues" for a Reason, which can justify this response, Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work, when someone villainous does the deeds because the hero won't stoop to that level, Not What I Signed on For, where the underling is pushed to a line they won't cross, and This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself, a more positive variant. See also Dirty Business, when the acts themselves are the main focus, and Villain No Longer Idle, when the bad guy gets the message and acts accordingly.

Contrast Spare Them The Dirty Work when someone takes it upon themselves to do the dirty work so that someone else won't have to.


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    Comic Books 
  • Button Man: Harry Exton has no problem taking other lives for money, but usually these are other Button Men who chose to fight Harry for the same reason. On at least one occasion Harry is called up for an execution job by his employers, only to refuse when he learns that the target is an innocent man with no combat experience, telling the other men assembled to do it themselves before leaving.
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel): Played with in issue #109 when due to a case of Poor Communication Kills, Cobra Commander (badly shaken by Snake Eyes attacking him while he was holding court at the Cobra Consulate building) orders Xamot and Tomax to "get rid of" a group of Joes the pair have taken prisoner in the country of Trucial Abysmia. He wants them released, the Crimson Twins think he wants the prisoners executed. They gather several of the nastiest Vipers and begin using euphemisms like "see to", "take care of" or "do what has to be done." The Vipers, not being stupid, either play dumb ("Take care of? You mean, like feed them?", ask for clarification ("Could you be more specific?") or bluntly ask that the orders be delivered in writing.
  • Towards the end of Transmetropolitan, the Smiler orders his Secret Service agents to kill Spider Jerusalem. The agents tell him to get bent. The Smiler decides to kill Spider himself... only for Spider to reveal he has a live microphone.

    Films — Animated 
  • Despite always being a very hesitant partner in crime to Jenner, Sullivan in The Secret of NIMH only drops out of Jenner's plan at the very last minute, although with a much less defiant attitude than most examples.
  • Boss Wolf, the leader of the wolves who follow Lord Shen in Kung Fu Panda 2 loyally and unquestioningly follows all of Shen's orders... until Shen orders him to fire his cannons at Po and the Five while the good guys are fighting his wolves. Knowing his own men would inevitably be killed, Boss Wolf hesitates, and when Shen repeats the order, Wolf refuses, throwing away the torch he would have used to fire the cannon. Shen immediately kills him for this and attempts to fire the cannon himself.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Kirk tries to invoke this as part of a feint to get Khan to fight him man-to-man after Khan's failed assassination attempt. It doesn't work, as Khan instead opts to leave him "Marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet... buried alive, buried alive..."
  • In Training Day, when various ghetto residents, including many Gangbangers who've been forced to obey Alonzo, come out to see the end of the fight between Alonzo and Jake, Alonzo tries to get them to kill Jake for him. Bone, the lead gangster, refuses and tells Alonzo he needs to do it himself, with the clear implication that if Alonzo can't beat Jake on his own, he'll lose all his Villain Cred, which in turn would make the local residents lose their fear of Alonzo.
    Alonzo: Somebody drop this fool for me.
    Bone: [steps forward with a gun, then drops it in the street] You got us twisted, homie. You gotta put your own work in around here.
    Alonzo: Oh, it's like that, Bo—
    Bone: Yeah, it's like that.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad: In "Felina", after Walter slaughters the Neo-Nazi gang, he and Jesse have a final exchange with a gun between them:
    Walt: Do it... You want this.
    Jesse: Say the words! Say you want this! Nothing happens until I hear you say it!
    Walt: I want this.
    (Jesse hesitates, he then notices that Walt is already heavily wounded and lets the gun slip from his hand)
    Jesse: Then do it yourself.
  • In the fifth season of The Expanse, Naomi attempts to reconnect with her long-lost son Filip, who was taken from her as a baby by his father, Marco, who tried using Filip as a hostage to force Naomi to continue supporting his terrorist agenda. She winds up being taken captive aboard Marco's ship, and after she manages to thwart one of Marco's plans, he orders her Thrown Out the Airlock. The problem is that Marco gives that order to Filip and Cyn, (who is Marco's Token Good Teammate and regards Naomi as practically like his daughter) who at first are so dumbfounded they can't even really respond, and when Marco repeats the order, Cyn furiously refuses, an extreme rarity since Cyn regards Marco as a visionary and generally goes along with Marco's orders even when he doesn't like or understand them.
    Marco: Space her.
    Cyn: [stares at Marco in disbelief] What?
    Marco: You heard me. We treated her with respect. And she betrayed us, gave aid to our enemies, tried to take my life!
    Cyn: I know, but... it's Naomi.
    Marco: You will do what I tell you to!
    Cyn: DO IT YOURSELF! If it has to be done, you can do it. I'm not going to let Filip be part of this. Unless you think you can make me, hmm? Maybe I finally got old enough, huh?
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: In "Papa's Got A Brand New Excuse", Will's deadbeat father Lou returns hoping to repair their broken relationship. Unfortunately, Lou has to cancel plans for his and Will's cross-country road trip. He reveals this to Phil, who was already wary about Lou coming back into Will's life. When Lou asks Phil to tell Will he is cancelling the trip on Lou's behalf, Phil tells him that he won't do his dirty work for him.
  • Killing Eve: Villanelle is used to doing the dirty work for the Twelve, to the point where she's prepared to kill her mentor, Konstanin, who is one of the few people who care for her, just because they tell her to, and to kill a (to her) random woman who was nice to her because Konstanin asked her to and because she wanted him to help her find her family. However, later in Season 3, she finally starts to break away from this attitude, refusing to help Konstanin or kill Carolyn when it looks like Carolyn is about to kill Konstanin.
  • In Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, Mike talks Gypsy—the usual pilot on the Satellite of Love—into letting him take the helm. Seconds later, Mike crashes them into the Hubble Telescope. He tries to see if Gypsy can fix the problem, but she's having none of it.
    Mike: Hey, Gypsy, can you...?
    Gypsy: Uh uh! No way! This is your dishwashing liquid, you soak in it!
  • In HBO's Rome, troubled Mook Lieutenant Timon finally hits his Rage Breaking Point when his mistress Atia casually orders him to flay her captured rival Servilia's face off. A disgusted Timon violently throws her into a wall and proceeds to free Servilia from her bonds, all while proclaiming...
  • Scorpion: When Happy and Toby go public with their relationship, Walter tells them they either have to break up or one of them leaves Scorpion. After an episode of agonising, they announce their decision: Screw you, Walter. They're staying together, and they're staying in Scorpion, and if Walter doesn't like that, he'll have to fire them himself. Walter, who's spent the episode with various team members telling him he's a jerk, wisely lets it go.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "The Hunted", the Enterprise travels to the planet Angosia, which is applying to join the Federation, but discover that the Angosian government has been abusing their war veterans (they programmed to be the perfect soldier, only to effectively shun them after they returned, because they could not readjust to a previously normal life). When one soldier, Roga Danar, escapes, the Angosian prime minister, Nayrock, asks Picard for help, but brushes away many of Picard's inquiries by answering that these are "matters of internal security, which is not your concern.". Later, when the soldiers rise up and try to hold the Angosian leaders hostage, Nayrok pleads for Picard's help, but Picard points out "In your own words, this is not our affair.", and he leaves, having seen enough of Angosia's hypocrisy and respecting the soldiers' right to decide their future against their government.
  • The Walking Dead (2010): Spencer tries to get Negan to kill Rick so that he can take over the community. Negan sees right through this and doesn't like it when people don't have the guts to do their own dirty work. It doesn't end well for Spencer...

  • Steely Dan uses this trope in the song "Dirty Work", which is about a man tired of being used for sex by a woman in an unfaithful relationship.

    Western Animation