Kirk: My God, Bones... What have I done?
McCoy: What you had to do. What you always do. Turn death into a fighting chance to live.
When the hero lets the Big Bad go, or refuses to off a dangerous character (thanks to the Karmic Death scenario), he will sometimes be quite depressed that justice wasn't served. Invariably, his Lancer will tell him, "You did the right thing". Invariably, this will never satisfy the hero.
A common subversion is to have the speech of this type, then have the hero say, "I was out of bullets," or other conveyance that he was unable, rather than unwilling, to kill.
Also see I Did What I Had to Do.
Compare with Not Quite the Right Thing in what either is or seems to be the right thing doesn't bring good results.
Contrast You Did Everything You Could.
- Said by Midori to Mai in My-HiME at the start of the HiME Carnival arc when Nao reminds her of what happened to Alyssa, whose child Mai had destroyed. After she leaves, Midori told Mai that she had no choice, since Alyssa was planning to nuke the school from orbit (it was the only way to be sure). And the fact that they didn't know what destroying a Child does at the time. Unbeknownst to them, the victim was, rather than anyone innocent, the head of the Searrs foundation responsible for the entire invasion and a conspiracy to control the HiME Star.
- Near the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Misato tells Shinji he did the right thing after killing the 17th Angel. Seeing as the 17th was also the only person in the show who showed any kind of unconditional affection for Shinji, and Shinji was in truly desperate need of affection from anyone, this just serves to break Shinji even further and sends him over the Despair Event Horizon.
- In Bleach, Kaien's last words to Rukia as she performsnote a Mercy Kill on him as he is possessed by Metastacia. Rukia mentally disagrees with this, as she believes that she ran away (on her and Kaien's captain's orders) because she was afraid to face him, came back because she couldn't bear the shame of doing nothing and stabbed him because she was unable to see him in pain, and bears the weight of her guilt for years. While she earns his siblings' forgiveness, she later learns that Metastacia's body returned to Hueco Mundo and got absorbed by Aaroniero, with Kaien's body and memories along with it. Rukia realizes she could not even say she was freeing him by doing so, leading her to once again question what she did and have a temporary Heroic BSoD.
- In Girls und Panzer, Yukari has this opinion about Miho's decision to abandon the flag tank in the finals of the last tankery tournament to save the crew of another one from drowning, resulting in her old school being defeated for the first time in a decade, and her decision to transfer and give up tankery. She says that the teammates Miho saved are likely grateful for Miho's decision, and she is proven correct.
- An interesting case occurs in the Avatar: The Last Airbender fic How I Became Yours. Katara gets this after bloodbending Mai to death. From the author's perspective, it is the right course of action. Many viewers, however, disagree, as bloodbending, the primary function of which is to control the victim's actions, could have been used to merely incapacitate the victim, and it doesn't help that the victim was more sympathetic than the author intended.
- In Perfection Is Overrated, similar to the My-HiME example above, Mai tells this to Shizuru after killing Hitomi's child to save her and Natsuki results in Hitomi's own death, saying that Shizuru, like she did back when she destroyed Alyssa's Child, chose to do what she believed to be right.
- When Anakin ends up beheading Count Dooku in Revenge of the Sith, he gets a bit bent up about it considering it wasn't the Jedi way. Palpatine, however, ensures him that he did the right thing, since Dooku was far too dangerous. Of course, this might be Not Quite the Right Thing, as this ends up being one step for Anakin in turning to the dark side.
- Dr. McCoy pretty much says this in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock after Kirk is forced to self-destruct the Enterprise.
- Thor: Ragnarok: At the end, when Thor and the refugees watch Asgard burn, Thor whispers "What have I done?", but Heimdall assures him that he saved Asgard from extinction.
Erek: I see. He feels guilty.
- Twice, after the war. Jake's most heinous act by far was flushing the Pool ship's pool into space, which killed approximately seventeen thousand unhosted Yeerks. After the battle, Cassie meets with Erek, who is shocked and disgusted that Jake would do such a thing. Defending Jake, Cassie heatedly replies that Jake "did what he had to do":
Cassie: No. Not guilty.
Erek: Then what?! He used me, blackmailed me, manipulated my programming to get me to crack the engine systems and take control of the ship.
Cassie: You drained the Dracon beams.
Erek: What did Jake expect me to do? I had given him control when he needed it. I wasn't going to enable him to kill.
Cassie: Jake had Rachel with Tom. Rachel and Tom are both... And the ship got away anyway. Thanks to you.
Erek: And I'm supposed to feel regret because Jake ordered his cousin to take out his brother and I wasn't going to let him kill everyone else on the Blade ship?! So, you too, huh Cassie?
Cassie: Jake did what he had to do.
Erek: Did he? Somebody flushed the onboard pool into space. Did he have to do that too? They were unhosted Yeerks. They were harmless!
Cassie: We needed a div—
Erek: A what? A what did you need? A diversion?! You're telling me you needed a diversion so Jake massacred seventeen thousand sentient creatures?! A diversion''?!
- Similarly, during the war crimes trial of Visser One, one of the Visser's defense lawyers says that Jake himself should be under indictment as a war criminal for his actions. Jake, who has been clinically depressed for some time due to guilt, is cut deeply by this remark. Cassie, Marco and Ax later tell him that his actions were, if not wholly moral, were completely necessary; furthermore, Cassie makes the case that "you can't equate the victim and the perpetrator" when it comes to war crimes.
- The book itself leaves things a bit more up to reader interpretation, and it's obvious that the characters saying so were significantly less sure of what they were saying than they would like to be.
- Inverted in Ender's Game, when Ender needs reassurance from Bean that he did the right thing in completely crushing Bonzo.
- Used by Slim at the end of Of Mice & Men.
Slim: You hadda, George. I swear you hadda.
- The Martian: When Commander Lewis first contacted Watney after learning he was still alive on Mars, she took responsibility for his being stranded, and promised to buy him a beer if he got back to Earth. Watney's reply:
Commander, pure bad luck is responsible for my situation, not you. You made the right call and saved everyone else. I know it must have been a tough decision, but any analysis of that day will show that it was the right one. Get everyone else home and I'll be happy.
I will take you up on that beer, though.
- Standard sitcom line delivered to a protagonist like the Naïve Everygirl who chooses to be nice to or understand The Alpha Bitch, a favorite Broken Aesop.
- Said by the detectives to many a suspect on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit who decides to cooperate and help nail the worst bad guy.
- Babylon 5
- Zack is acting as a double agent between the legitimate forces of government and the Knight Templar forces looking to overthrow them. Just about everyone tells him he's doing the right thing at one time or another. He finds this less than comforting.
- In an earlier episode, a doctor kills an escaped prisoner in self-defense. Franklin tells her "You did the right thing," she replies "I did the necessary thing, this is not the same as the right thing."
- Londo tells Vir something similar to the doctor's response after he assassinates Emperor Cartagia. Londo also notes that the fact that doing this made Vir sick to his stomach is proof that Vir's soul is far pure than Londo's own.
- In the Criminal Minds episode, Hashtag'', Morgan has to shoot a teenage Unsub to save the life of a hostage. He briefly angsts about shooting a kid before Hotch reassures him doing so is the only reason the hostage survived.
Derek Morgan: I shot a kid on national television.Aaron Hotchner: You shot a serial killer, and if you hadn't, that hostage wouldn't be in surgery right now; she'd be dead. You did the right thing.
- In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Bouncing Back", both Coulson and Simmons try to assure Fitz that he did the right thing in destroying Will once it was revealed he was a walking corpse possessed by Hive.
Coulson: You did what you had to do. We both did. Sometimes there's no choice but the hard choice. That's the job.(later)Simmons: Will died saving me. What you did was kill a thing, a monster. You've been nothing less than extraordinary this whole time.
- In the S.W.A.T. episode, Never Again, due to a core part of his upbringing, Hondo is left shaken after he fatally shoots one of a crew of Israeli veterans turned bank robbers, only to realise the robber was a woman. Deacon talks him out of it by pointing out the woman was shooting back at them, and it was a choice between killing her or putting other police officers and civilians in danger.
Deacon: Lying on that coroner's table, she might have looked like the girl next door, but you didn't shoot a woman, Hondo. You shot a killer.
- Stated word-for-word by Kermit the Frog, playing as Captain Smollet, in Muppet Treasure Island after Jim Hawkins lets Long John Silver escape with the treasure. Moments later we learn that out of the Hispanola's jolly boats, Silver took the one that was... unsafe.
- In Call of Duty: Black Ops II, you're given a Sadistic Choice as Farid. Either you shoot Harper to maintain Farid's cover, or attempt to shoot Menendez and get shot to death for trying. Choosing the former will have Mason tell Farid that he had no choice. Farid, still in shock, is then led away by Salazar.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, after bringing Boone to Coyote Tail Ridge, where he participated in the Bitter Springs Massacre and killed several of the Great Khans' non-combatants, you're given the option to effectively tell him this, saying the only thing he did wrong was not bringing enough ammo. Doing so not only angers Boone, it gives you evil karma.
- In Mass Effect 2, the loyalty missions sometimes offer the opportunity to say this on Paragon options (Renegade has less concern over morality or squadmates' feelings) when you talk your squadmates out of doing something you believe they will regret, such as in Garrus' loyalty mission, in which you can persuade him not to kill the teammate who betrayed him and led to the rest of their group's deaths. At the end of the game, if you destroy the Collector base, the rest of the group will unanimously approve regardless of how moral or loyal to Cerberus they are.
- Myst has two cases of this. One Bad Ending is a subversion, where the person you help proceeds to gloat. The other one involves you handing a needed page to Atrus's linking book to Myst so that he can deal with his sons' betrayal, and is played much more straight.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
- Said by Iroh to Zuko when he gives up on his latest crazy scheme to find Aang... an episode before the stress of doing something so against his Determinator nature drives him into a feverish frenzy.
- Later said by Aang to Katara following her Sword over Head moment with her mother's killer. Subverted, as it left no reassurance for her. She even questions why she did it.
Katara: I don't know if it was because I was too weak to do it, or because I was strong enough not to?
- Aang reassures her himself, however.
- Iroh tells Aang that he did the right thing by abandoning his training, possibly locking him out of the Avatar State in order to pursue his love for Katara. He mentions that, in his experience, power is overrated compared to love.
- Gravity Falls: Near the end of "Boss Mabel", Mabel finally loses her temper and starts barking orders like Stan.
Mabel: What have I become?!
Dipper: What you had to, Mabel. What you had to.