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You Did Everything You Could

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"You simply cannot save everyone! Just accept it. If you aren't willing to risk the life of even one person, then you'll never save anyone!"
Archer, Fate/stay night

In every Medical Drama, almost every Cop Show, basically any show where the characters often have someone else's life/future in their hands, there will come a time when they will fail and the person they're trying to save will die (or wind up paralyzed, or in jail, or some other long-term bad thing). The character will feel incredibly guilty, but an understanding friend or colleague — sometimes even the person whose life they just ruined — will insist, "You did everything you could" or "You tried your best" or variants thereof. Sometimes the character will say the phrase him/herself, in which case the "you" becomes "I".

Usually this helps, and the character is able to move on. Sometimes they don't, and fall into depression, and after a while will have another stock phrase thrown at them: "You can't keep blaming yourself!".

On the other hand, it's sometimes countered with a taunt of "Your best wasn't good enough!". Or the if the character in question is feeling particularly self-flagellatory, it can even become a bitter "My best wasn't good enough." Sometimes, it may still be good enough to keep you your job.

Speaking of blaming yourself, there are other stock phrases for that. And there's also a second stock phrase for reassuring someone blaming themselves.

Compare Samaritan Syndrome, Survivor Guilt, Guilt Complex (when it's clear that this is true, but the character cannot stop blaming themselves), and Wangst when this trope goes too far.

As this is sometimes a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • It could be interpreted that this is what kicks off the entire plot of Monster. After being assigned by the higher-ups in the hospital to save the life of a famous opera singer instead of a Turkish man, Dr. Tenma tries to console himself by getting one of these during a dinner with his fiancee, Eva. She gives it to him, immediately followed by the line, "After all, not all lives are created equal." The shock of this helps him make his decision to save the life of the title character.
  • Black Jack: One of the few times when Black Jack has failed to save someone, that someone was the surgeon who saved him as a child and inspired him to become a doctor in the first place. Black Jack's mentor's spirit(?) assures him that he did what he could — specifically, he says, "To think that doctors are above life and death is just arrogant, don't you think?" It was his last words.
  • In episode 4 of Death Parade, two people are judged by protagonist Decim. One is a young man who committed suicide because he felt no one loved him, the other is a middle-aged mother and reality TV star who was murdered by her assistant after striking her. Near the end of the episode, having both realized that they failed to make the best of their lives, they break down crying. Decim embraces them, telling each that they did the best they could.
  • Inuyasha: Kikyo reacts this way towards both Inuyasha and Kagome when Naraku kills her for real; she softly reassures Kagome that even if she couldn't save her life, she nonetheless saved her soul, and when Inuyasha is breaking down over being too late to save her, she smiles and gently reassures him that the fact that he came for her is all that matters.
  • In Gundam Build Fighters Try, during Yuuma's Heroic BSoD, Meijin Kawaguchi (who's old friends with Yuuma's sister) tries to pull him out of his funk. Kawaguchi dismisses the phrase "I did my best" as nothing more than salve for a wounded ego; he insists it's not meant to be used on oneself, but to encourage another person to keep going.

    Comic Books 
  • In the first issue of The Power of Shazam!, Captain Marvel tries to rescue people trapped in a burning building. However, the structure collapses and Captain Marvel is only able to shelter a few people under him while others close by were killed. Naturally, Cap is beating himself up for failing them, but a firefighter firmly tells him, "Coulda, woulda, shoulda. You made a difference!"
  • After the end of The Death of Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen gives a talk like this to Superman when it looks like the Man of Tomorrow will not be able to save him from one of Conduit's death traps. Subverted in that he survives.
  • In issue 47 of Star Wars: Legacy, when the Galactic Alliance is unable to rescue more than 20% of the population of planet Dac from the One Sith's "Final Protocol", Admiral Gar Stazi is told by his aide Jhoram that 'we did all we could'. His response:
    A fine epitaph for a world, Jhoram... "they did all they could."

    Fan Works 

  • Resident Evil (2002). As Alice and Matt near the exit, Alice feels responsible for not saving all of their comrades who died.
    Alice: I failed all of them. I failed.
    Matt: Listen to me. There is nothing else you could've done.
  • Appears in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope when Obi-Wan sacrifices himself so Luke can escape.
    Leia: There wasn't anything you could have done.
    • After Owen and Beru were killed by Stormtroopers:
    Obi-Wan: (to Luke) There wasn't anything you could have done had you been there. You would have been killed too, and the droids would be in the hands of the Empire.
  • Plio says the exact phrase to Aladar on the Disney movie Dinosaur when he fails to rescue Bruton from the rockslide.
  • In the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie, after Umbridge discovers the DA and Dumbledore takes the fall:
    Ron Weasley: You did everything you could. No one could win against that old hag.
  • Schindler's List. Oskar Schindler has a breakdown once he finally secures the safety of the Płaszów concentration camp survivors.
    Oskar: I could've got more ... if I'd just ... I don't know, if I'd just ... I could've got more...
    Stern: Oskar, there are twelve hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
  • Downplayed in Turning Red. Mei's failure to get first place in a spelling bee when she was younger remains a sore spot for her and serves as one of her emotional triggers. In order to remain calm when reminded of it, Mei imagines her friends consoling her in this way.

  • In C. S. Goto's Dawn of War trilogy, fellow Blood Ravens try this on Gabriel after he had to order Exterminus and tell him another captain would have done the same. Gabriel is angry, the question is whether the other captain would have let the situation arise in the first place.
  • In Warrior Cats, Cinderpaw gets this lesson from Yellowfang after she fails to prevent Silverstream's Death by Childbirth (though she does save the kittens). In this case, her worries were compounded by the fact that Silverstream is from a rival Clan, and having another Clan member's death on your hands is not a very good place to be in this world.
    Yellowfang: I've spoken with Tigerclaw. He's furious about the kits, of course, but he's not angry with you, Cinderpaw. He knows you did your duty, just as any medicine cat should.
    Cinderpaw: But I lost her, Yellowfang.
    Yellowfang: I know. And that's a hard lesson to learn. But sometimes, no matter what we do, cats die and there's nothing we can do about it. This is something you must learn to live with if you are to continue on this path. Now come, the elders are complaining of aches.
  • The Ada Cambridge poem "The Hand In The Dark" is someone reassuring an overworked philanthropist that it's okay to sleep because accepting the human limitations that everyone in the world has isn't sinful.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, the orders of the Knights Radiant are focused around specific oaths and Ideals that they have to swear and fully accept in order to access the various levels of their powers. The core Ideals of the Windrunners focus on protecting others. The main character Kaladin is able to swear the first three ideals of the Windrunners, but his obsession with protecting his friends and allies leads to multiple mental breakdowns as he witnesses people dying all around him who he cannot save. In the fourth novel, Rhythm of War, he is finally able to accept that he cannot save everyone. In doing so, he swears the Fourth Ideal, which grants him the power to manifest his Shardplate, as well as letting him let go of his guilt and be at peace.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the The Adventures of Superman episode "The Defeat of Superman", Jimmy Olsen uses the "I did everything I could" variant when apologizing to Superman for not being able to save him from the Kryptonite. Shortly thereafter, he does find a way out.
  • House. Cameron says this to House in the first season episode "Damned If You Do". As expected, he doesn't respond kindly.
    Cameron: I just wanted to say that I know that you did everything you could.
    House: I don’t need verification from you to know that I'm doing my job well. That's your problem, not mine.
    • Also occurs in season six, when the patient dies due to a fat embolism, after a leg amputation, which House could not have done anything to prevent. When Foreman tells House that is wasn't his fault, House is not consoled because that was exactly what was eating him up; he did everything he could (everything anyone could), and it still wasn't enough. Compare to the quote above.
      Foreman: You can't blame yourself for her death. This wasn't your fault.
      House: THAT'S THE POINT! I did everything right; she died anyway. Why the hell do you think that would make me feel any better?
  • Desperate Housewives: "One Wonderful Day"
    Bree: [the doctor has just called to tell Bree that Rex is dead] No, no - of course. You did everything you could.
  • Lost: "Whatever the Case May Be"
    Rose: For what happened to Claire. It's not your fault. You did everything that you could do and you came very close to dying yourself.
  • Friday Night Lights
    Coach Gary Gaines: [half time speech] Perfection is being able to look your friends in the eye and know you did everything you could not to let them down.
  • Parodied in Frasier; an old friend-turned-bitter rival of Martin's is in the hospital with serious problems and Frasier's trying to persuade Martin to bury the hatchet. Martin, typically stubborn, refuses. Frasier gets a phone call, and responds to the caller with a somber "I'm sure you did everything you could..." Martin, who obviously can't hear the other end of the conversation, freaks out and decides to resolve his problems with his old friend. He stubbornly refuses Frasier's offer of a ride to the hospital because he can drive himself. Except he can't; the phone call was from his mechanic, who was calling to tell him that his car's transmission is kaput.
  • Abused by Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. He tells Glenn and Olly "you tried, you really tried" when they fail to steer Nicola Murray out of an embarrassing photo opportunity... which Malcolm had deliberately steered her into as part of his latest scheme. His reassuring words were just a means of covering it up.
  • After Kima is shot in an undercover operation gone bad on The Wire, Major Rawls tells a guilt-ridden Detective McNulty that even though he hates him and would like to be able to blame him, the shooting was not his fault.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Dr. Bashir thinks he has doomed Odo to his death by failing in his last-ditch effort to find the cure for the disease that he was infected with by Section 31. O'Brien attempts to use this Stock Phrase, but Bashir completes it for him and says "It's a small comfort, isn't it?"
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Peak Performance", Data is challenged by a visiting advisor to a very difficult game called Strategema. After Data is defeated, he believes that the problem is a malfunction in his programming (since he played the game precisely the right way) and asks to be relieved of duty. Picard tells Data that there are always circumstances where it isn't possible to win even if you do everything correctly.
    Picard: It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.
  • Horatio Hornblower has examples from the naval/military setting, involving troubles with leadership and participating in "the wrong war".
    • Matthews, a reliable, dependable lower-deck sailor tries to assure Acting Lieutenant Hornblower who was in command of a ship that he did all he could to save a man who went down after losing his close friend. He stole food and was severely punished, and then tried to desert several times. Hornblower gives him a chance to prove himself worthy several times, but he never succeeds. When he wants to bring him to justice, Bunting considers it a Cruel Mercy and opts for an equivalent of Suicide by Cop, forcing Hornblower to shoot him. Matthews says that Bunting was beyond saving. Hornblower gets depressed and says that Captain Pellew would know what to do and that he would find a way. When they do speak, however, Pellew says much the same thing as Matthews and that dealing with men bent on self-destruction is just a cost of command.
    • Archie Kennedy says this almost word-for-word to Horatio after Mariette's death and the failure of the Muzillac mission. Horatio beats himself up for failing to save her because he persuaded her to go with him. The military operation was doomed from the start. Horatio feels it deeply, and Major Edrington asks Archie to take care of him.
  • One of the most emotional stories on Scrubs had Dr. Cox lose three patients after giving them transplanted organs that unknowingly came from a donor infected with rabies. JD tries to comfort him by pointing out that the disease is so rare there is no way any doctor would have thought to test for it, and it would have been irresponsible to do so with the patients waiting for those organs. He also repeats what Cox told him, that once you start blaming yourself for deaths that weren't your fault "there's no going back". It doesn't work; Cox spends the next episode in a drunken Heroic BSoD, only recovering when JD instead tells him that he admires him because after all these years of watching people die "you still take it this hard."
  • Emergency!:
    • In one episode is Roy and Brackett trying to assure Johnny that he and Roy had done everything possible to save an officer friend of John's, despite a busy radio making communications harder to get through.
    • Another time Chet says this when stopping Johnny from walking into one of his pranks after the kid who's mom had initially stopped them from entering her home because she didn't believe that the kid had actually eaten poison died at the hospital.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Bloody Mary" (S01, Ep5), Dean tries to convince Sam to forgive himself for Jessica's death and says, "Well you shouldn't blame yourself, because there's nothing you could've done."
  • On M*A*S*H, Hawkeye used adrenaline and open heart massage to revive a patient. Sometime later in the session, Radar passes the sad news that the patient died, sending Hawkeye into a funk. Trapper tries to rationalize:
    Trapper: Hawk...he was gone once. You bought him four hours he never would have had.

  • In the stage musical of Little Women, Jo blames herself for Beth's death, irrationally feeling as if Beth wouldn't have gotten sick if she had stayed at home with her instead of moving to New York. But Marmee assures her that no one did more for Beth than she did and she couldn't have changed what happened.

    Video Games 
  • Part of what helps Dagger get over her Heroic BSoD in Final Fantasy IX is Zidane and company assuring her that she's not to blame for the long stretch of tragedies that have befallen the world. One Important Haircut later, she seems to agree.
  • Commander Shepard from Mass Effect gets this quite a bit throughout the trilogy from subordinates and friends, especially in Mass Effect 3 as the bodies and defeats pile up against a near-unstoppable force. Arguably the most notable is after the Fall of Thessia, where s/he nearly goes into a complete Heroic BSoD.
    Liara: You couldn't possibly have been prepared for this.
  • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, Towa tells Rean that he did all that he could to bring Crow back to the academy.
  • Decision: One of the lines randomly spouted by militia at the end of a level is this trope, despite having no relation to how well you did on the level.
  • In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Fuyuhiko fights tooth-and-nail to prevent Peko being convicted of murder — not because she's innocent, but because there were a lot of mitigating standards, and Monokuma's twisted idea of "justice" entails execution for any murder, no matter how involuntary it was. Through the trial, Fuyuhiko's arguments become weaker and weaker until eventually Peko herself tells him to be quiet, citing this trope.
  • Trauma Center (Atlus):
    • In Under the Knife 2, Derek loses a patient after having to deal with a Sadistic Choice in triaging GUILT victims. The staff console him, but it doesn't stop him from losing faith in his abilities and lose his Healing Touch for almost a whole chapter.
    • If you fail to save a patient in Trauma Team, it's not an immediate Game Over (unless you lose too many), and you're reminded that sometimes you just can't save everyone.
    • Later, during the outbreak of a pandemic, Hank is getting frustrated when patients all around him are dying despite their best efforts. Naomi responds that people aren't gods, and so can't save everyone, and that all they can do is their best for the patients before their eyes.
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail:
    Fidget: We did everything right, Dust. Everything we were supposed to do.
    Dust: And sometimes that is not enough.


    Web Original 
  • Limyaael's Fantasy Rants: Limyaael advises against this in writing. She says that authors should not invalidate guilt on the protagonist's part (as in) and should keep it genuinely ambiguous as to whether the protagonist could have made a difference. This opinion being expressed by other characters is fine, but if an author constantly makes it so that the protagonist's failures have no consequence ("It doesn't matter that you couldn't/didn't save him from the housefire, he would have died that day from Lethal Disease #9567 anyway!") ever, the protagonist verges into Invincible Hero territory, and the story loses realism and depth.

    Western Animation 
  • After spending half of Ninja Turtles's fourth season in a guilt-induced funk, Leonardo makes the first step towards recovery after he admits this to himself.
  • Parodied brilliantly in The Simpsons — "You can't keep blaming yourself. Blame yourself once, then move on."
    Mr. Burns: Don't feel so bad. After all, that kidney you donated to me really hit the spot.
  • Parodied in Xtacles: "You did everything you could.....from inside this car".
  • Subverted in an episode of Futurama. When asked how an injured robot is doing, Professor Farnsworth solemnly states, "We did all we could", then immediately perks up and announces that the robot is "good as new".
  • Quoted by Kopaka in Bionicle: Mask of Light, when Gali manages to successfully cure Tahu with her water powers after the latter has been poisoned and brainwashed by the Rahkshi.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: After arriving too late to prevent Gordon from being seriously wounded, Batman falls into a depressed funk. Robin tries to snap him out of it:
    Robin: You're only human. You do all one man can do — more than any man is expected to do.