Follow TV Tropes

Following

Mortons Fork / Live-Action TV

Go To

Morton's Forks in live-action TV.


  • 7 Yüz: Dilek is confronted with such a dilemma in "Eşitlik", where she seekis justice and damage control after a sexual video from the past is uploaded. If she wants press charges against her ex-boyfriend, the publicity from the case risks drawing attention to the video, inadvertently making it even more popular.
  • Usually invoked Once per Episode on 'Allo 'Allo!, where René is constantly put in a position where he can help the resistance and be shot by the Nazis, or collaborate with the Nazis and get shot by the resistance. Rule of Funny keeps him alive. One episode has this happen where he is forced to collaborate with the Nazis, the Resistance, and the Communist Resistance, all who will kill him if they find out he's been working with the other.
  • Advertisement:
  • The A-Team, "Chopping Spree". Friendly orders the team (minus Murdock) to tell him who they are and who their bosses are before he kills them. Hannibal refuses. When the guy persists, Hannibal points out that they're going to get shot anyway.
    Sam Friendly: I said talk!
    Hannibal: Or what? You'll kill us?
  • In the final episode of Blackadder II, Blackadder is captured by a Spanish Inquisitor and given a choice: admit to being "in love with Satan and all his little wizards" and get his testicles chopped off with a scythe and roasted over a fire, or not admit it and be held upside down in a vat of warm marmalade... and get his testicles chopped off with a scythe and roasted over a fire. Naturally he chooses the former, but is "rescued" before the threat can be carried out.
  • Black Mirror: In "The National Anthem", an English princess is kidnapped and the kidnapper offers terms of her safe release with one demand: the Prime Minister, Michael Callow, must have sex with a pig on live television, at a certain time on a certain day, or Princess Susannah gets the chop. If Callow does not go through with the demand, his reputation will be destroyed because he allowed a beautiful, beloved young princess to come to harm just to protect himself; if he... does it, then his reputation will be destroyed because he fucked a pig on television. In the end, Callow does... it, and Princess Susannah is safely released half an hour before the deadline into the completely deserted streets of London, just as the kidnapper planned. The kidnapper, it turns out, was a Mad Artist who planned the whole thing as a kind of grotesque social commentary. Before he goes to do the deed, he is reminded that he can't be quick and get it over with because he'll seem too eager, but he also can't take his time because it might look like he's enjoying it.
  • Two examples from The Caesars:
      Advertisement:
    • In "Tiberius", popular general Germanicus has been poisoned by the governor of Syria, Piso, and his wife Plancina; Germanicus' widow, Agrippina, demands that Piso be tried for the crime. Tiberius is widely suspected of having ordered Germanicus' murder to remove a threat to his continued reign as Emperor, and he grimly acknowledges that if he does prosecute Piso, it will look as though he is letting him take the fall, whereas if he does not prosecute Piso, it will look as though he is protecting him for simply following orders. Either way, Tiberius knows he will be blamed for Germanicus' death.
    • In "Caligula", the eponymous Emperor has revived a tradition from the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius that wealthy Roman citizens should bequeath some of their fortune to the Emperor in their wills... but adds a condition that the size of their bequest will be taken as a sign of loyalty. Those who leave their entire estate to the Emperor will be deemed fully loyal, whereas those who bequeath only a small part of their estate will be deemed treasonous, and treason is punishable by death and seizure of the traitor's full estate. A Senator unwisely lampshades the Morton's Fork nature of this law, and is promptly executed for treason.
  • Advertisement:
  • Carry On Laughing!: In "The Sobbing Cavalier", which is set in the English Civil War, the opening scene shows Sir Jethro reading messages sent by both the Cavaliers and the Roundheads, which both threaten death to anyone who supports the opposition.
  • In one episode of Charmed (1998), Phoebe and Paige have been afflicted by a demonic possession, leaving Phoebe mummified and Paige dying. Cole lays out Piper's options: A) cast a spell that ejects the spirit possessing Paige which will save her life, but that spirit is the only one who can undo Phoebe's mummification, meaning she'll be trapped for all eternity, B) cast a spell to eject Paige's soul, leaving only the possessor with a now-healthy body who's capable of restoring Phoebe, or C) do nothing (or take too long making a decision) and Paige's body will die anyway, sending both Paige and the possessor to the afterlife, and leaving Phoebe stuck. Naturally, Piper finds a fourth option.note 
  • Stephen Colbert's survey: "George W. Bush—great president or the greatest president?"
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Parting of the Ways": Future Earth is facing a Dalek invasion. The Doctor, on a space station that broadcasts all of the planet's TV shows, can modify the transmitter to broadcast a Delta Wave that will fry the Daleks' brainstems. However, he doesn't have the time to refine the transmission field to only broadcast the wave to the Daleks, and not Earth. Thus, his options are either letting the Daleks live and putting the entire universe at risk, or committing another double genocide like he did to end the Time War. However, at this point the Daleks have likely destroyed most of the humans on Earth, and the Doctor points out that humanity has spread to other worlds. So how does this dilemma get resolved? With something unexpected: Rose becoming a literal Deus ex Machina and destroying the Daleks.
    • "The Witchfinders": People accused of witchcraft are put on trial by "ducking" — being dunked underwater. If they die, they're declared innocent. If they live, they're considered guilty and executed by hanging. Sadly Truth in Television.
  • The Drew Carey Show: Mr. Wick pulled this off in one episode. "Johnson, pick a hand!" (They both said YOU'RE FIRED!)
  • The Flash (2014): In the Season 5 finale, it's revealed that the reason Eobard Thawne was helping Nora stop Cicada was because Cicada's dagger was suppressing his powers, which leads to this situation; if they destroy Cicada's dagger, then Cicada is stopped, but Thawne will gets his powers back and escape due to the dagger disappearing in the future. If they don't destroy the dagger, Thawne will still be depowered and thus not a threat, but Cicada will continue to hunt and kill metahumans. After trying all other options, Barry destroys Cicada's dagger, thus defeating (and retgonning) the villain, with the intent of then facing Thawne, but the latter manages to get away.
  • Frasier:
    • An episode focused on Frasier choosing between a suit or a sweater for a date. When he chooses the suit, he meets a woman and begins dating her. When he chooses the sweater, the woman just misses him and runs into a new radio station employee. The Morton's Fork element comes in when the suit storyline plays out: Frasier becomes overly attached and smothers the woman with gifts. She ends up leaving him. Both storylines end with Frasier sitting alone in his car, listening to a re-run of his show.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • King Robert explains how a Dothraki invasion would put him in a Morton's Fork. If he faces the Dothraki horsemen in open battle, he'll be defeated. If he barricades himself in his castles, the Dothraki will rape and pillage the countryside so badly that he'll lose his kingdom anyway.
    • Six seasons later, Daenerys uses the Dothraki in conjunction with her dragon in a devastating, two-pronged assault, averting Hollywood Tactics in the process. A shield wall bristling with spears provides excellent defense against light cavalry such as the Dothraki, but the tightly-clustered men are vulnerable to aerial strafing runs with Drogon's fire breath. Scattering, on the other hand, renders the aerial assault ineffective, but leaves the individual men easy pickings for the Dothraki. Daenerys' opponents are left with the choice of staying in formation and burning to death, or breaking formation and being cut to ribbons.
    • At the end of Season 7, Cersei faces this with her decision to not honour her word to help Jon and Daenerys fight against the Night King, actively hoping the two will wipe each other out while she reinforces her position with the Golden Company in Essos. Jaime points out that this presents two scenarios: a) the Night King wins, Jon and Dany's forces are brought into his fold and they easily overwhelm and crush the much weaker Lannister forces, or b) Jon and Dany win, turn on Cersei when they realise she betrayed them, and their larger forces will crush the much weaker Lannister forces. Not that she actually listens to him.
  • Season 3 of The Good Place reveals one: Chidi was sent to the Bad Place because his constant dithering and indecisiveness made everyone who interacted with him miserable. Much of his indecisiveness, however, was a result of him obsessing about the extensive moral implications of any action that he might take, such that he might worry about the environment impact and worker treatment related to the ingredients of a muffin when deciding whether to buy one. As it turns out, the moral implications that concerned him are factors that affect a person's eternal fate, but global interconnectedness of civilization and industry means that almost any action will have a net negative moral evaluation. As such, the only choices are fret endlessly about the extensive moral implications of all possible actions, and be sent to the Bad Place for making everyone miserable, or do not worry so heavily and invariably be sent to the Bad Place due to all of the moral consequences that could not possibly have been foreseen.
  • Long, long before the Heads I Win, Tails You Lose trope applied to video games, Ralph did that to trick Norton in an actual coin toss on The Honeymooners. (And when Alice called him out on it, he claimed it was a trick he learned from her.)
  • Played for comedy in How I Met Your Mother: Lily and Marshal have a bet to see who can collect 5 people's phone numbers first. If Marshall wins, they'll have sex in the bathroom; if Lily wins, they'll have sex in the bathroom. Lily comments that this is their standard wager.
  • In one episode of Important Things with Demetri Martin, a sketch has him choosing whether to sit next to a beautiful young woman or an old man at a wedding reception. Both scenarios end with the same savage beating by the same group of thugs.
  • A self-inflicted one in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Serendipity". A doctor murders a pregnant woman and inserts a tube with the blood sample of another man into his arm, so that his DNA sample doesn't match the DNA evidence at the crime scene. It turns out that the man he took the blood sample from is a pedophile who is being pursued by the NYPD. Either he keeps quiet and gets framed for child molestation, or he gives up his DNA and proves that he murdered the pregnant woman.
  • In M*A*S*H:
    • Colonel Potter deliberately invokes this when the doctors suggest he bring Frank Burns to Tokyo with him on leave instead of having him become temporary commander:
      Potter: Look, what it boils down to is who gets stuck with Burns. If you were in command, what would you do?
      Hawkeye: I'd bring him to Tokyo.
      Potter: That's why you're not in command. Dismissed.
    • In another episode a racist officer is disproportionately assigning black soldiers to the most dangerous assignments. His reasoning is that they get more rotation points which gets them shipped home sooner, or they get wounded and he can push for their discharge on medical grounds. When the main characters reveal that he just confessed his entire racist attitude in front of a legal officer they present him with this trope. Either resign his commission or they bring him up on charges. When he complains that either choice puts him out of the Army he gets no sympathy.
  • The crux of the "Film Producer" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus. A movie producer pitches a terrible idea to a cabal of sycophantic writers then asks them what they think of it. The first one says he likes it and is immediately fired for being a Yes-Man. The next one says he doesn't like it and is fired for criticizing the producer's brilliant idea. The third bounces between Yes and No while trying to find a satisfactory response and is fired for being indecisive. The fourth one briefly saves himself by answering "splunge", which he claims means exactly what the producer wants to hearnote , but when he tries it again later he gets fired for being stupid.
  • Two Nickelodeon shows, Zoey 101 and Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, both presented the situation of a boy fighting a girl as a Morton's Fork. If the boy wins, he will be seen as a monster for beating up a girl. If he loses, he will be seen as a wimp for being beaten up by a girl. The former show had the coach of the boy's wrestling team weaponize this by putting Zoey on the team even though she wasn't any good, knowing that all of her opponents would choose to forfeit rather than go down either branch of the Fork.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Tempest", in order to save a space colony, a man who is switching between two worlds must figure out which one is real and which one is a Lotus-Eater Machine. After making his choice, it turns out that both worlds are Lotus Eater Machines, so no matter which one he chose, he (and everyone on the colony) were screwed.
  • The People v. O.J. Simpson: When Fuhrman's history of racism is exposed and he is recalled to the stand, he refuses to answer any question asked of him, each time citing his fifth amendment rights. Before excusing him, Cochran simply asks him if he manufactured any evidence in the Simpson murder investigation. Either way he's screwed: if he answers that he didn't, he opens himself to more scrutiny. If he continues to cite the fifth, it makes it look like he did. Fuhrman chooses the latter.
  • In the penultimate episode of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, the senshi find themselves facing down Mamoru, who's been possessed and corrupted by Metallia. If they lose the battle, the world will be destroyed, but the only way to win the battle will also trigger the end of the world. They win the battle and the world does end, though a Heroic Sacrifice helps it get better.
  • Red Dwarf
    • In the three-parter "Back in the Red", the crew members wind up in a nanite-reconstructed Red Dwarf and are promptly accused of stealing and crashing a Starbug and bringing stowaways on board, which will earn them two years in the brig. By the end, they have proven themselves innocent, but in the process gained a charge of using confidential information for their own ends. The punishment is two years in the brig.
    • In "Quarantine", when Rimmer puts the rest of the crew in quarantine, only to turn out to have caught a holo-virus himself which has driven him insane, Lister realises that arguing with him will only make him more irrational, so carefully doesn't react to him wearing a gingham dress and army boots Consulting Mister Puppet, and explaining that he can't release them because the King of the Potato People won't let him. Rimmer then says that if other Dwarfers don't see anything odd about this, they're clearly completely mad, and he therefore shuts off the oxygen in the quarantine chamber. "That'll teach you to be breadbaskets!"
  • Scrubs:
    • Early on, Cox gives J.D. some cynical advice that J.D. doesn't want to accept, and says that if J.D. doesn't follow it, "well, you're not gonna make it as a doctor, that's all." At the end of the same episode, after J.D. admits that he followed Cox's advice despite his misgivings and the fact that he wanted to try to do more to convince his patient to stop smoking, Cox rebukes him again, saying, "if you can't stick to your convictions, you'll never make it as a doctor." At which point J.D.'s head explodes.
      Cox: I can't believe your head exploded. If your head explodes, you'll never make it as a doctor. I mean, come on, you look ridiculous.
    • Dr. Cox notices that Doug is (unintentionally) eavesdropping on him and warns him to stop it. Then he says to himself;
      Dr. Cox: "If this kid [Doug] doesn't leave I'm gonna kill him!"
      Doug: ... *begins to leave*
      Dr. Cox: "... Now, if you leave, I'm going to know that you were listening to me and just go ahead and kill you anyway!"
  • In the Season 3 premiere of Son of the Beach "Penetration Island", after the Bulimic terrorists take over the show and start killing everyone, in one of the games they have the contestants do, the winner gets a luxury prize, while the loser gets death. While the loser of course is killed, it's revealed soon after that the "luxury prize" the winner got was death, her having been killed offscreen.
  • Stargate:
    • Stargate SG-1 had an example in the episode "Avatar". Teal'c got stuck in a training simulation. Under no circumstances would he ever give up, so the program shut off his emergency exit. The only other thing to do was to win, but it sent waves after waves of unbeatable foes. Fortunately, it turned out he just needed to do some very precise things to beat it.
    • In an episode of Stargate Atlantis, after everything goes predictably wrong, Rodney is asked what options they have. His response?
      Rodney: Let me see, we've got quick death; slow death; painful death; cold, lonely death...
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In "The Measure of a Man", Riker gets assigned as a prosecutor to determine whether Data has rights as a sentient being. If he accepts, Data will be stripped of his rights if Riker wins. If he refuses to serve (or accepts, but does not perform his duty properly) Data will get denied the opportunity to defend himself, thereby getting stripped of his rights. Riker chooses the former (despite his misgivings), since at least that way Data would have a chance.
    • In "Contagion", Geordi suggests restarting the Enterprise's computers to purge it of an ancient computer virus. Riker isn't keen on Geordi's plan, since it involves turning everything off including the deflector shields while they're "nose-to-nose with a Romulan Warbird." Geordi points out whether it's Romulan disruptors or their own warp engines, they're just as dead if they don't do this.
    • In "Booby Trap", the Enterprise comes across an ancient starship inside an asteroid field, but finds itself trapped the same way that ship was. If they put all their energy into overcoming or destroying the lure, they'll just be wasting it, making them vulnerable to the radiation present. If they don't put any energy into overcoming the lure, their shields will eventually fail, also making them vulnerable. Or as Riker puts it, "If we resist, we'll die. If we don't resist, we'll die." Thankfully, Geordi finds a third option: instead of forcing their way out, they'll use a quick burst of impulse power and careful use of the thrusters to ease their way out.
    • In "Unification: Part II", Picard, Data and Spock are captured by Sela, who tries to make Spock read a speech as a distraction for a Romulan invasion force, or they will die. Spock tells her "Since it is logical to conclude that you will kill us in any event, I choose not to cooperate." Sela, however, foresaw this possibility, and activates a holographic Spock which would deliver the speech.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "I, Mudd", Harry Mudd explains why he broke out of jail and stole a spaceship:
    Mudd: Do you know what the penalty for fraud is on Deneb Five?
    Spock: The guilty party has his choice. Death by electrocution, death by gas, death by phaser, death by hanging . . .
    Mudd: The key word in your entire peroration, Mr. Spock, was "death".


Top

Example of:

/
/

Feedback