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What You Are In The Dark / Live-Action TV

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People displaying their true colours when no one's watching in live-action TV.


  • 7 Yüz: Mete of "Büyük Günahlar" unwittingly reveals his true colors when he shares his story with the party, supposing that no one will ever know the truth or challenge the details of his account. He's wrong, of course; by sheer coincidence, one of the party guests is none other than the daughter of the man he harassed, threatened, and tormented.
  • 24: Allison Taylor goes through this in both the seventh and eighth season finales:
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    • At the end of season seven, she and her husband have just discover that her daughter Olivia orchestrated the murder of a corrupt executive that was behind the death of their son and Olivia's brother. At this point, she has the chance to cover it up and let her daughter go free with nobody being the wiser. But as much as it breaks her heart she chooses to turn Olivia over to the authorities, even though doing so permanently shatters her family which as it causes her husband to divorce her.
    • The above results in her being desperate to get a peace treaty between the United States, Russia, and fictional nation Kamistan signed during the eighth season. The only problem is Russia is secretly resorting to terrorism on the country in an attempt to break the deal off. As a result, she winds up Jumping Off the Slippery Slope and begins engaging in morally questionable tactics to keep things going. And then at end of the day the moment of truth comes: everyone who knows the truth about the conspiracy has been detained or otherwise removed from play, she's had both parties blackmailed into complying, and is going to keep the public unaware of her hand in the coverup. In the final minutes her conscience still ultimately catches up to her, and when the time for the signing comes she instead announces to the public the truth behind the coverup and her hand in it.
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  • In an episode of ALF, Alf is falsely accused by the Tanners of finally giving in to temptation and eating Lucky; naturally, when Lucky is found alive and well (after Alf runs away to find him), they have a lot of apologizing to do. In the last scene, Alf feeds Lucky and pretty much describes this Trope while talking to him:
    Alf: Never thought I'd see the day when they'd let me feed you. They actually trust me! You know, I could go to the refrigerator right now and make myself a BLT, a bacon-Lucky-and-tomato sandwich! (Laughs} But I won't... Cause they trust me... (Beat, looks at Lucky) But don't get too comfortable!
  • Andromeda:
    • Captain Dylan Hunt is given the chance to frame his former friend Telemachus in order to restore the Commonwealth, a case of Utopia Justifies the Means. He chooses not to, but not without some reservations.
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    • In an alternate timeline, Gaheris Rhade survives the long night instead of Dylan and realizes what a huge mistake he made by betraying the Commonwealth. He sets out to restore the Commonwealth but had very little success. When given the opportunity to go back in time and let Dylan be the one to save the universe, he took it knowing that doing so would erase all evidence of his attempts to atone and that his best friend along with the rest of the known worlds would only remember him as a traitor.
      • It turned out that history was much kinder to Gaheris than he anticipated. He was remembered as a hero who died trying to save the Commonwealth and Dylan found it in his heart to forgive Gaheris and believed he had the best of intentions.
  • Babylon 5:
    • In the episode "Comes the Inqusitor", the Threshold Guardian tests Delenn and Sheridan to see if they're able to live up to this trope. They ultimately pass.
    Sebastian: How do you know the chosen ones? No greater love hath a man, than he lay down his life for his brother. Not for millions, not for glory, not for fame — for one person. In the dark. Where no one will ever know, or see.
    • Also in the episode "Soul Mates", Londo gets dispensation from the Emperor to divorce two of his three wives (he must stay married to one). He invites his wives to the station and tells them he'll make a decision who to keep. Two of his wives flatter and kiss up to him, while one, Timov, is brutally honest about how she feels about him (in less than flattering terms). However, when one of the other wives has Londo poisoned, Timov donates blood to him to save him—and then tells Dr. Franklin not to tell Londo she did this. Had she done nothing and Londo died, she'd be guaranteed to inherit from him (along with the other wives, since he hadn't decided yet who to divorce) and remain financially secure—but she didn't want to "win her battles that way". Londo decides: He divorces the other two and keeps Timov because he appreciates her sincerity, of knowing truly where each stood.
    • In the fifth season episode "Objects at Rest", Lennier must choose whether to save Sheridan, the husband of the woman Lennier has always loved and plans to marry when Sheridan dies of premature old age. He starts to flee, stops, realizes that he can't go through with it, and returns to help, only to be too late; Sheridan has managed to rescue himself in the meantime.
  • Being Human: Done by a villain. George tries to convince Herrick to let the main characters go far away and never return, leaving Herrick to claim that he's killed them. George says that nobody would know, and Herrick responds that he will know that he allowed himself to show mercy to those he considers below him, and he specifically uses the words "I'll know".
  • The Big Bang Theory: In "The Financial Permeability", Penny is suffering from more financial troubles than usual, and Leonard decides to help her out by getting her ex-boyfriend, Kurt, to repay all the money he owes her. During their confrontation, Kurt humiliates Leonard, but decides to pay Penny back all the money without telling her that it was Leonard who prompted him (possibly because he wants to seem like a Nice Guy and get back together with Penny, which he did). Leonard also decides not to tell Penny about his involvement, an act which Sheldon praises him for.
    Sheldon: Well done, Leonard. The true hero doesn't seek adulation; he fights for right and justice simply because it's his nature.
  • Blake's 7. Being the cynical self-serving Anti-Hero that he is, Avon finds himself in this situation several times. In "Horizon" the others have teleported down to a planet and been captured, leaving Avon in sole charge of both the Liberator and Orac with an incoming Federation flotilla providing the perfect excuse to flee. He does a Big Damn Heroes instead. In "Countdown", Avon risks his life to defuse a Doomsday Device ticking down the last seconds instead of teleporting out of there. Then brutally deconstructed in "Orbit" when Avon tries to have Vila Thrown Out the Airlock in a Cold Equation situation.
  • Boy Meets World: While on a road trip with Eric and Shawn, Cory attracts the attention of a beautiful college girl who has just recently broken up with her boyfriend and is drawn to Cory due to his Nice Guy tendencies. When she propositions him, Cory rejects her at first because he's loyal to his girlfriend Topanga back home and doesn't want to betray her, only to find out through a phone call that Toponga rejected coming on the road trip with Cory and lied about it. Eric finally comes in and, when asked about the situation, tells Cory that if he did cheat, the only people who would know are the girl and Cory himself. Ultimately he turns the girl down and remains faithful.
  • One episode of The Brady Bunch has Jan, who's been feeling down on herself lately for not being as talented as her older sister (this is the situation that prompted her to say "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" for the first and only time), win a prestigious award at school by earning a certain number of points on an essay; she'll be given the prize in front of a school assembly, and the family plans a big party for her. As she ecstatically tallies up the values to celebrate, she discovers that the teacher made a mistake, and another girl actually scored more than her. She's the only person who knows this, and as long as no one brings it up, she'll get the award and all of the praise that comes with it. An Inner Monologue reveals her attempts to justify keeping the secret, but during the assembly, she can't go through with it and tells a teacher the truth. Though the teacher is forced to announce that Jan didn't win, she does praise the girl for her maturity and strength of character in doing the right thing, even if it cost her the prestige she so desperately wanted.
  • A main point in Breaking Bad. In the pilot, Walt is a put-upon family man with two depressing jobs whose cancer diagnosis inspires him to cook meth so his family won't lack for money. As the show progresses, he embraces his worst impulses and evolves From Nobody to Nightmare. A strong "in the dark" moment occurs near the end of season two - Walt allows Jane to choke on her own vomit, with no witnesses, since she was blackmailing him and endangering the operation.
    • An even bigger one comes in at the end of Season 4, where he poisons an innocent child in order to put in motion his Batman Gambit against Gus.
    • This is also used to show that all Walt's pretensions about doing it for his family are nonsense; when his son sets up a money-raising website for his cancer (and unwittingly provides an absolutely perfect way for Walt to funnel his drug money into his family's bank account without them asking questions,) Saul is delighted, as it's even better than the "large inheritance from obscure family member" he'd previously suggested, while Walt is furious at the idea that they would think the money came from "charity" (a word he uses with contempt), instead of from his ingenuity and skill. A later moment of Alcohol-Induced Idiocy has him persuade the cop trying to discover the identity of his alter-ego that the mysterious "Heisenberg" is not the deceased Gale, because he can't bear the idea of someone else taking the credit for his high-quality meth and criminal badassery.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
    • In the second season episode "The Defense Rests", Jake catches Sophia's boss Geoffrey — a man he's desperately trying to impress in the hopes that Sophia won't break up with him if he proves that her work life isn't incompatible with their relationship — doing cocaine in the men's bathroom of the party they're attending. Since it's only the two of them there, he could easily have looked the other way, or even used it as leverage to get Geoffrey on his side. However, it's never even presented as something Jake needs to consider: he arrests Geoffrey on the spot, even though he knows Sophia will definitely leave him for it. Even better, this trope is hugely Downplayed for Jake, and only gets acknowledged when Terry realises what Jake did:
    Jake: Ugh, I should not have gone to that party. Should not have gone into that bathroom. Should not have arrested her boss.
    Terry: I don't see it that way. You did everything right. You were a good cop.
    • Season 5 episode " Nutriboom" has another great example. Jake is offered the chance to get out of an extremely punitive contract with a cult like pyramid scheme he accidentally signed up to earlier in the season if he'll look the other way whilst he and Boyle are literally standing in a dark basement. His response sums up why this trope happens:
    Jake: Because you don't know about my big ass moral compass.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Played subtly straight and strongly backwards in "The Zeppo", while the rest of the Scooby Gang is busy taking care of a huge, horrific, wide-scale, apocalyptic, personally heartwrenching catastrophe, an undead delinquent jock who runs into Xander decides to blow up the high school for kicks. This would kill the Scooby Gang, and leave the Hellmouth open, ending the world. Xander, not wanting to risk getting the world destroyed by distracting his more powerful friends from their own disaster, decides to take care of the problem instead, after Faith screws his brains out he singlehandedly chases down and corners the jock; and by refusing to be swayed in the face of near-certain death, intimidates him into backing down. Afterwards, even though most of the episode revolved around Xander's feelings of inferiority, he feels no need to mention the escapade to his friends or stand up to Cordelia to prove his badassery, as it's enough that he knows what he did.
    • In "Who Are You?", Faith spends much of the episode in Buffy's body living it up, and messing with Buffy's life. She also finds several unexpected sources of goodness thrown her way, such as a loving parent who isn't a wannabe demon, a loving boyfriend, genuine gratitude, and actual friendship. She is all set to leave Sunnydale in Buffy's body, having gotten her revenge as well as a get out of jail free card. Then she sees a report on a TV while at a bus depot of a hostage situation in a church, and drops everything to save those people.
      Faith-in-Buffy's-body: Because it's wrong.
    • In Season 5's "Intervention", Spike is captured by Glory, who brutally tortures him for information on the Key. Spike knows that Dawn is the Key, and all of the Scoobies, Buffy included, firmly believe that Spike will sell them out and that they have to kill him before he does. Instead, Spike endures the torture and openly mouths off to Glory, later confessing to Buffy (who was posing as Spike's Buffybot at the time) that he couldn't live with himself if anything happened to Dawn and was perfectly willing to let Glory kill him first.
    • In Season 7's episode "Potential", Xander gives a speech to Dawn all about this:
      Xander: They'll never know how tough it is, Dawnie, to be the one who isn't chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know.
    • Although considering in the Season 8 comics Dawn and Xander hook up and get a place and Buffy ends up living on their couch in a world without magic but still has vampires it's not so bad to not be near the spotlight.
    • It does not matter that they tormented him in high school or that they have forgotten about him in the years since then, Jonathan is going to step up and be the hero for the town of Sunnydale because it is the right thing to do.
      Jonathan: I'm serious, I really miss [high school]. Time goes by and everything drops away; all the cruelty, all the pain, all the humiliation, it all washes away. I miss my friends. I miss my enemies. I miss the people I talked to every day, I miss the people who never knew I existed. I miss 'em all. I want to talk to them, y'know. I want to find out how they're doing, I want to know what's going on in their lives.
      Andrew: You know what? They don't want to talk to you. All those people you just mentioned, not one of them is sitting around going "I wonder what Jonathan's up to right now?" Not one of them cares about you.
      Jonathan: Well, I still care about them. That's why I'm here.
  • Burn Notice:
    • Runs with this a lot. It's usually a situation where Michael has to choose between getting his life back and helping his friends.
    • In probably the definitive example of the series, in Season 3, Michael is told that he's about to be unburned, he'll be accepted back by his government, he'll get everything he ever wanted. All he had to do was accept, and oh, by the way, Fiona's in trouble, but don't worry about that, she's his past, and he needs to look towards his future.
      Michael: Fiona is not my past! (fast-draws and shoots Strickler dead)
    • Also one of their marks that they were using to get to their target has one. Despite him clearly wanting to move up in the Bad Guy's operation, when his boss tells him that the "new recruits" he has been working with will be sacrificed in their next score, the guy lies to his recruits that the boss wouldn't be using them so they wouldn't be killed. After Michael reveals what he intends to do, the guy helps Michael then goes legit.
    • One episode has this work against them with a ruthless mob boss being tricked into stealing a large shipment with Sam acting undercover as an enforcer from the higher-ups who wanted the boss dead but changed sides upon being promised a big cut. Earlier, in order to convince the boss to get involved with the heist personally, Sam reluctantly relates a real story from his SEAL days about how he did everything he could to get an injured comrade to safety. The heist goes off as planned, but the boss, who was supposed to drive away and be intercepted by authorities with the shipment while Sam pretended to be captured, has a moment of conscience and goes back to "save" him, abandoning the shipment and forcing Team Westen to come up with a new plan.
      Michael: A spy's job is to get into the head of his adversary, to know how he'll behave and use it against him. But human behavior is about as predictable as the weather. Sometimes the most hardened criminal can decide to be noble at the most inconvenient time.
  • Charité at War: Anni's daughter Karin is permanently disabled, and in Nazi Germany, it's expected that she gives up the "unworthy life" for euthanasia. There's a moment when Anni is alone with Karin and considers just doing it quickly herself — she puts a hand on her baby's face, looking like she's going to suffocate her, but after a moment she starts crying, cradles Karin softly in her arms, and decides to fight for her life.
  • Community:
    • Played with in one episode — Pierce, who has everyone convinced that he is on his deathbed, gives Britta a blank check for a large sum of money to be donated to the charity of her choice but offhandedly suggests that she could spend it on herself and no one would know. As it happens, Abed is making a documentary of the events of the episode, and Britta, in an odd cross between responses one and two, donates the money to the Red Cross and, without prompting, tearfully admits that she would've kept the money if she wasn't being filmed and that she's very ashamed of herself.
    • In a friendlier use of the trope, in one episode, Jeff, to stop a fight between Troy and Abed, makes up "imaginary friendship hats" which quickly get discarded. Later on, when the friends are starting to make up, Jeff actually goes all the way back to retrieve and dust off the imaginary friendship hats, even though he admits he could've easily just stood outside the room for a minute and come back.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Played for Laughs (sort of) when the Fourth Doctor finishes assembling the Key to Time and feigns being power-mad in a incredibly hammy way. Romana sees immediately that he's faking it and finds it slightly tiresome, until the Doctor explains what his point actually is — what if he wasn't?
    • "The Parting of the Ways" has the Ninth Doctor facing one of these choices. He's facing a two million and a half-ish army of insane Daleks. They've killed everyone else, and firebombed the Earth. Jack's dead, the lovely young woman from the previous episode is dead, Rose is as far as he knows stuck in the past, and he's got a weapon that could kill all the Daleks in an instant. And the Dalek Emperor is egging him on, wanting to see him become "The Great Exterminator". The Daleks would be dead, and so would everyone still alive on Earth, but there are still other humans out there. So, which is he? Coward or killer? He chooses coward ("any day!"). Fortunately, he then gets saved by a conveniently timed Bad Wolf.
    • Subverted in "Midnight". Faced with the Ultimate Evil Monster of the Week that has possessed someone, some of the passengers propose throwing her out into the deadly light. The Doctor asks if they're willing to go through with it, and for a moment it looks like they won't ... until they say, yes, they won't shy from it. This becomes a problem when the beastie tricks them into thinking the Doctor is possessed. The Doctor narrowly avoids death as a result. But it's also why they, with the exception of one person, survive.
    • Subverted in "The Waters of Mars". No one in the universe would ever have been the wiser if the Doctor had simply walked away from Bowie Base One, as everyone on the base was fated to die in a massive explosion. But the Doctor cannot bear to hear their cries of terror as their doom closes in on them, and he goes back to save them. However, this is portrayed as a bad thing, as he knew full well that their deaths were necessary to preserve the timeline and would lead to great progress in the coming decades; and when he decides to go back, his euphoria and realization that he can save anyone (and do anything) he wants now that there are no other Time Lords to stop him sends him plunging straight into A God Am I territory. It takes the lead scientist of the mission, who's openly disgusted with his statements about being "Time Lord Victorious", killing herself to keep history intact to make him realize just how bad he's become.
    • The Tenth Doctor faced this in "The End of Time". After disaster has been averted, he realizes that Wilfred is sealed in a death trap, and the only way to save him is for someone else to take his place. Nobody would have ever known that Wilfred, an old man, could have been saved. Wilfred even begged the Doctor to just walk away and let him die. Yet despite this and his near-crippling fear of death, the Doctor chose to save Wilfred at the cost of one of his own lives.
    • Played straight in "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" when soldiers on an alien world confront Madge, a mother from the 1940s who was searching for her children, with their guns trained on them. One soldier, Billis, goes against her commander's orders and lowers her weapon:
      Billis: She is a crying, unarmed female civilian. I'm thinking of the visual.
      Droxil: Nobody's looking.
      Billis: Doesn't mean there's no visual.
    • In "A Town Called Mercy", Jex says that no one would blame the Doctor for letting the townspeople give him to Kahler-Tek, that the Doctor would be a hero. The Doctor flat-out refuses and says essentially that more death will do no good to anyone.
    • The two-parter "The Magician's Apprentice"/"The Witch's Familiar" hinges on this challenge coming up more than once for the Twelfth Doctor. His failure to do a heroic deed in the dark starts off the story: he chose not to rescue a young boy from a hand mine field upon realizing he would grow up to be Davros, creator of the Daleks — only leaving behind his sonic screwdriver and perhaps inspiring the villain's ways in the process. In his attempt to atone for this moment of weakness with his own death when the now-dying person most affected by this calls upon him, he passes a similar challenge when Davros offers him the chance to destroy all the Daleks (thus committing genocide) at once. Moreover, at the end he is able to return to the past and finish his rescue of the boy upon realizing that he wasn't responsible for Davros becoming evil, but rather for giving the boy an understanding of mercy that manages to endure in the Daleks.
    • A recurring theme in "Extremis" is that the truest good can only be done without any chance of hope, reward or witness. By the end of the episode, the Doctor is alone in a room, surrounded by murderous aliens, with both his companions dead and the human race imploding around him. And he's not even the Doctor: the aliens created his universe as a simulation and seem to be playing through it, like a video game, in order to figure out the most efficient strategy for taking over the world. His universe is nothing more than that, and he's about to die as soon as an alien touches him. What does he do? Use his position as a "jumped-up subroutine", along with his perfect replica of the sonic sunglasses, to send a message to the real Doctor leaking the aliens' plan and all the information he has on them. Along with a "PS" asking the Doctor to save everyone. From the Doctor.
    • "The Doctor Falls": This turns out to be Missy's ultimate fate. Killed by her previous incarnation after she just stabbed him in the back, so the Doctor will never know that she was coming to his aid. Truly dying without hope, without witness, without reward. Subsequent seasons have overridden this as the Master's Final Death, but the Doctor still does not know that for a few moments Missy was reformed because the next incarnation reverts into one of the worst Masters yet.
  • In Due South, Fraser chases bank robber and killer Victoria Metcalfe through the mountains and gets snowed in with her. It’s indicated it led to the first time he gave into her charms and had sex with her. He could have let her go because no one knew what happened, but he felt honor bound as a Mountie to arrest her and bring her in.
  • Family Matters:
    • When offered a bribe, policeman Carl Winslow rephrased response #1 as "I can't shave with my eyes closed." He then explains it means he wouldn't be able to look at himself in the mirror.
    • Another example happens during the final season. During a college party, Steve Urkel is surprised when a drunken Laura comes on to him sexually. Given that he always wanted Laura almost his whole life, Steve could have easily taken advantage of the situation. Instead, he helps put her to sleep and leaves the party. Later, Laura admits to her girl friends that while she was tipsy, she wasn't that drunk and wanted to see what Steve would do. Him being a gentleman finally won her heart.
    • In "Who's Afraid of the Big Black Book?," Carl is passed up for a promotion to police captain in favor of the commissioner's son. When a conflict between two local gangs threatens to break into all-out war, the new captain is paralyzed by indecision and begs Carl to help him. Even though Carl is still angry and could easily say that the problem isn't his responsibility, he realizes that innocent people are in danger and devises a plan that averts disaster. Later, the trope occurs again when the commissioner comes down to praise his son: Carl could easily reveal the truth and shame the captain in front of his father, but chooses not to, and the captain himself, rather than taking the credit, admits that Carl came up with the whole idea and should receive the promotion instead. The commissioner is impressed by both men's integrity and gives Carl the position of captain.
  • Farscape: John has traveled to an unstable alternate universe along with Scorpius, and needs to kill an innocent to find vital information (it's complicated). Thing is, this innocent just happens to look like a cross between Aeryn and Chiana. He can't bring himself to shoot her. Scorpius can.
  • Firefly:
    • If Simon had abandoned River no one would have paid attention and River would not have remembered it. Once in a while there is no middle ground between being great and being loathsome and as it happens he chose to be great. He did the impossible and that made him mighty.
      • Which is why he can wear as many fancy vests as he wants.
      • From "Jaynestown":
      Kaylee: What's so damn important about bein' proper? It don't mean nothin' out here in the black.
      Simon: It means more out here. It's all I have.
    • Jayne gets one in "Ariel". When he is about to be spaced by Mal on account of betraying Simon and River, Jayne asks Mal to "make something up" to the rest of the crew and not reveal that he betrayed them. This realization that he at least cares is what makes Mal spare his life.
  • Frasier: In one episode dealing with Niles and Maris' divorce hearing, Frasier is faced with the prospect of being asked, under oath, whether he knows about Niles' feelings for Daphne. Either he lies and commits perjury, or he tells the truth and ruins his brother. This pushes Frasier into a moral dilemma in which he explicitly points out to Martin, who is encouraging him to just lie about it, that he feels that "ethics are what we do when no one else is looking!" He even adds that he learned that from Martin. The episode never actually reveals whether Frasier managed to resolve his dilemma, as the matter is ultimately resolved without him having to testify.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Jaime's most compassionate acts in his life are known only to Brienne. In the first case he killed the Mad King to save King's Landing from a wildfire explosion that would have murdered hundreds of thousands of innocents, and in the second he lied to Locke to spare Brienne's life.
    • Jorah both plays this straight and deconstructs it. On one hand, given an opportunity to come back to Westeros with a full pardon and leave the hard life of Essos for good, he chose to remain loyal to Dany and personally foil an attack. On the other hand, as Dany and Tyrion note, given ample opportunity during several years service, he never once divulged his past to her. Dany all but implies that had it not come to light in the shameful way that it did (being outed by Tywin) and had Jorah been honest from the start, she would have forgiven him.
    • Lancel Lannister did not have the easiest time in his life, being the butt of Robert Baratheon's pranks, manipulated like a pawn by Tyrion, and not taken seriously by anyone. But then he becomes a member of the Faith Militant and finds himself chasing a suspicious child, who leads him to a cache of Wildfire set to explode. The child stabs him, leaving him unable to stand. When he sees how the wildfire cache is set to go off, he makes every effort he can to stop it, despite knowing he is going to die, likely never to be found. Unfortunately, he fails.
  • Home Improvement: Played for Laughs when Tim introduces Al to a not-soundproof booth.
    Al: (seeing Tim pantomiming to him, pretending he can't hear him) Huh. This is actually very good. In that case, I should be the host of this show!
    Tim: ... (turns to the camera)
    Al: And another thing—that's a stupid haircut you have!
    Tim: (raises an eyebrow)
    Al: And one more thing— I am the very model of a modern Major-General, I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral, I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical— From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical!
    Tim: Al!
    Al: Yes?
    Tim: Can you hear me?
    (Beat)
    Al: ...I can hear you!
    Tim: Think about that, Al...
    (Al gawks as it slowly dawns on him)
    Tim: Major-general Borland! (salutes)
    (Al pulls down the shade on the window of the not-soundproof booth)
  • House:
    • Chase spent most of the first two seasons being a near-amoral Doctor Jerk-in-training, charming patients with lies and treating them like experiments while doing whatever he can to advance his career. Then comes the episode where House orders him to perform an autopsy on the body of a baby that died in his care. Alone in the morgue, Chase prays for the baby's soul before cutting up its body.
    • He also kills a despot under his care, aware that he is disobeying all the oaths he took, risking losing his career and getting jail time, and risking his marriage. Just because he considers it the right thing to do to save thousands.
      • It's even more complicated than that: he is the one that helped convinced the team to treat the dictator. Then, when an intruder tries to assassinate him, Chase reacts instinctively, shouting a warning that alerts the guards and saves his life. Eventually, after hearing first-hand from the would-be assassin and the dictator about the atrocities this man and his forces have committed and will commit in the future, Chase understands/realizes that saving this evil man's life (again) means that he shares in the responsibility for all the future victims. He can't even just walk away at this point and let some other doctor do it, because he's already saved his life from the assassin.
  • The Legend Of William Tell: Will has run into a mine fire to save the last prisoner, trapped in a pit. The bars over the pit are burning Will every time he touches them, The mine's going to blow any minute, and when he gets a good look at the man he realises it's his new girlfriend's ex-boyfriend. Will is desperately in love with the girl, no one outside knows who the prisoner is, and no one will question it if he comes back out alone.
    Kalem: No one will reproach you, William Tell. You cannot lift the grid and the mine is catching fire. You have done all you can.
    Will: You mean I can leave him?
    Kalem: And have Laliya, your love.
    • Instead he endures the burns, frees the man, and reunites him with the girl. It turns out to be a Secret Test of Character. Apart from that, he has several chances to kill Xax, which would make things an awful lot easier for him, and never takes them for various reasons; Xax has helped him, Xax is helpless, or he simply can't bring himself to do it.
  • This happened to Al Bundy on Married... with Children a lot. Numerous times, he had the chance to either gain large amounts of money illegally or cheat on Peg with some hot babe with nobody knowing. Amazingly, most of the time he chose the more moral choice. (The rare times his didn't, which may have been a case of Depending on the Writer, some Deus ex Machina was sure to ruin his plans. Usually.)
  • The Moment of Truth: In a relatively non-controversial episode, contestant Ray Hernandez declared that he would never cheat on his wife even if he could be guaranteed than she would never find out — and the lie detector confirmed it.
  • Monk even gets one. When he confronts the man who created the bomb that killed his wife in the hospital bed. The man in question is in constant pain only relieved by the drugs the hospital is giving him. When left alone with him Monk switches off the machine, but then a few seconds later turns it back on saying "This is Trudy turning it back on".
  • The Office (UK): Neil takes Tim aside to offer him a management position. Tim turns it down, instead recommending his Sitcom Arch-Nemesis Gareth for the job. Gareth gets the job, but never finds out Tim's role.
  • Killian Jones aka Captain Hook from Once Upon a Time has two moments of this:
    • The first is when Peter Pan offers to let him escape Neverland and take his crush Emma with him, if he kills Emma's father David. Since he and David are alone at the moment, no one would ever know and he'd get to comfort Emma after. Hook's response is a subtle "fuck you" and a renewed effort to keep David alive.
    • The second is when Peter Pan tells him that Emma's First Love Neal is alive, in Neverland, and being held captive by none other than himself. Faced with keeping the secret and leave his lover's son to die or telling everyone and jeopardizing his chances with Emma, Hook again chooses to do the right thing. It slows down his and Emma's Relationship Upgrade, but it still happens and he's able to live with himself afterwards.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): There's the episode "The Voyage Home" where two astronauts are landing from space. Eventually one finds out his partner is an evil alien. The alien tells him if he shuts up, no one will know, he'll disappear. The astronaut alters the trajectory so they blow up. The ending narration is almost verbatim the title of this trope., "The true measure of a hero is when a man lays down his life with the knowledge that those he saves...will never know."
  • The Outpost:
    • During the climatic fight in the Season 2 finale, the Mistress decides to grab all the outpost's gold and sneak away in the chaos while no one's looking... until she sees a Prime Order soldier about to kill Janzo. Then she flies into Mama Bear mode, attacking the soldier and getting fatally stabbed herself in the process.
    • While it appeared that Sammy (the fake Alton) was just a greedy coward, when he hears the Prime Order is coming, rather than run, he offers to fight with the soldiers. He proves himself in combat, saving Gwynn's life and taking a nasty stabbing himself.
  • Revolution: The first season finale puts Tom Neville to the test. He takes control of the Monroe militia and is now making the rules. He is talking to Major Mark Franklin in a tent where it's just the two of them. Franklin is a Sebastian Monroe loyalist and doesn't want to work for Neville, so Neville tells him that he'll give him a horse and let Franklin ride back to his wife. Because, after all, he's not like Monroe. Oh, and he'll have to confiscate Franklin's gun. Neville fires a couple shots through the front of the tent with Franklin's gun, shoots Franklin dead with his own gun, and puts Franklin's gun in Franklin's hand. That's right, he just murdered Franklin in cold blood. Then, when his son and a militia soldier rush into the tent, Neville just claims that he tried to be a nice guy, Franklin tried to kill him, and he had to shoot him in self-defense. The scene more or less confirms the direction Tom Neville is going in.
  • Saved by the Bell: The College Years: Zack, Slater, Alex and Leslie undergo this in "A Question of Ethics" when faced with a difficult exam given by a tough professor. After rooting around in a dumpster for hours looking for a copy of the exam, they finally break down, admit to what they did to the professor and hand over the test. Even with his hard approach and obvious disappointment in what they did, he was still proud of their honesty and actually said that this was the ultimate test.
  • Sesame Street: Occurs briefly in this show, of all places. During the song "The Ballad of Casey Mc Phee", Casey (portrayed by Cookie Monster) is entrusted with the job of delivering cookies, milk, and ice cream to a party on the other side of the mountain. When an avalanche blocks the train tracks, Casey realizes that he's alone, so nobody will see him eat some of the goods. However, he quickly comes to his senses and decides it would be wrong to do so - so he eats the snow instead.
  • Smallville:
    • In the episode "Nemesis", Clark could have left Lex to die, but ultimately chooses not to. As his friend Chloe lampshades, he doesn't get to choose who he saves.
    • In "Masquerade", Chloe is tempted by the sin of lust in the form of Clark.
      Desaad-illusion-Clark: What if we missed our chance?
      Chloe: What are you talking about?
      Desaad-illusion-Clark: One kiss...come on, we never have to tell anyone.
  • The Sopranos: Dr. Melfi gets an awesome one of these in season two. After getting raped, she realises that she could tell Tony, and he would ensure that the rapist died screaming... and chooses not to.
  • At the climax of Stargate SG-1's Pilot Movie, Teal'c, the First Prime of Apophis, is about to execute hundreds of innocent captives at his god's command. Then O'Neill begs him...
    O'Neill: I can save these people! Help me! Help me.
    Teal'c: Many have said that! [turns and fires on his fellow Serpent Guards, then throws O'Neill his weapon] But you are the first I believe could do it!
    • A pretty impressive case, as his authority was second only to his god's, he's committed genociderepeatedly — in his god's name, he had a wife and son, and he's betrayed them all in order for a single moment of rebellion. O'Neill is pretty cool about it.
      O'Neill: Hey, come on!
      Teal'c: ...I have nowhere to go.
      O'Neill: For this you can stay at my place, let's go!
  • Star Trek have a bunch:
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "The Most Toys", Data faces an Inverted Trope instance where killing an evil character is portrayed as the ethical course of action. Data is kidnapped by a trader named Kivas Fajo who collects rare items. Data is put on display in a trophy room until he makes an escape with one of Fajo's underlings whom he befriends. Fajo kills the underling and is faced down by Data holding a weapon. Fajo tells Data to return to the trophy room and obey him or he will simply kill another underling and that the blood will be on Data's hands; the only other alternative is to kill Fajo, but he is confident that Data cannot take the action because has no emotions (thus no desire for revenge or justice) and his ethical programming prevents him from killing. Data leaps beyond his programming and decides the most ethical action is to kill Fajo to prevent more deaths. Fortunately for Fajo, the Enterprise arrives and beams Data out just as he's about to shoot Fajo, cancelling the discharge during the beaming. With others out of danger, Data takes the route of having Fajo apprehended for murder, among other things.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
      • An interesting variation of this occurs in "Hard Time", when Miles O'Brien is given the memory of having been in prison for twenty years after being falsely accused of espionage by an alien civilisation. Miles feels that he failed this kind of test as these false memories include killing his cellmate because he believed the man was hoarding food for himself, Miles only realising after the murder that the food was actually for both of them, but Doctor Bashir convinces O'Brien that the fact that he feels this much grief over the act proves that he is still the good man.
      • "In the Pale Moonlight": Sisko faces this when given an opportunity to bring the Romulans into the war against the Dominion. The problem is, doing so involves deception and eventually murder. He gives in.
      • An additional example occurs at the end: After delivering his monologue about how he had to lie and cheat to turn the tide of the war, Sisko states he can live with it, repeating it in a manner that suggests it's the truth, and then promptly deletes his log.
      • Then, in the final season, we found out about Section 31, who planted moles in Romulans and utilize biological weapons in an attempt to conduct genocide against the Changelings, with both Starfleet Command and Federal Council implicitly approve their actions.
    • Star Trek: Voyager:
      • Janeway insists that it's all the more important to uphold Federation values when they are so far from home. Unfortunately, due her Depending on the Writer status, and the sometimes questionable outcomes of the Prime Directive, this comes across poorly most of the time.
      • In the episode "Blood Fever", B'Elanna Torres is afflicted by Vorik's pon farr, which mixes with Klingon instincts. When she and Tom Paris are in the caves of a planet on an away mission, she becomes increasingly sexually aggressive toward Paris. Given his history, he could've very easily given in. But as a sign of Character Development on his part, he recognizes something is very wrong with her, and adamantly refuses.
        Paris: I'm your friend, and I have to watch out for you when your judgement's been impaired. If you let these instincts take over now, you'll hate yourself...and me too for taking advantage of you. I won't do that.
      • An early astronaut stumbles across some Negative Space Wedgie and ends up in the Delta Quadrant. Though he realizes his chances of rescue are non-existent, he continues to do his work, dutifully recording and exploring. He eventually spots a piece of alien hull, and realizes that it was worth their effort, and his sacrifice to explore the galaxy, to learn that humanity isn't alone in the universe.
      • Similarly, Seven of Nine is aboard the ship to get information, but the singularity is about to close and trap her there. The crew only cared about getting her back alive and not about the information and data, but when she hears the recording of the astronaut's last words, she risks it all to get the data when no one could find issue with her failing to get it. She even recovers the man's body which is given a proper space burial.
      • In "Nothing Human", the crew discover that the medical knowledge that can be used to treat B'Elanna Torres was gained from involuntary experimentation on inmates in a refugee camp.
        Tuvok: If the Doctor uses knowledge that Moset gained through his experiments, we would be validating his methods, inviting further unethical research.
        Chakotay: We'd be setting a terrible precedent.
        Paris: We're in the middle of the Delta Quadrant. Who would know?
        Tuvok: We would know.
    • Star Trek: Discovery:
      • Purposely placing the Mirror Universe Emperor, who had conducted multiple genocides, to be the captain of your teleporting ship, so she can blow up Qo'nos to win the war you're on the verse of losing — after she tells you explicitly what will do. All Starfleet Command, no Section 31 involved.
      • While retrieving a plot critical time crystal from Boreth, Captain Pike is shown a vision of what he's destined to become — a mutilated invalid who can't even speak — and told that if he takes the crystal, that future is guaranteed to come to pass. Despite being reduced to tears by terror and despair at what he saw, Pike steels himself by reciting his oath as a Starfleet officer, and takes the crystal.
  • In an episode of Taxi, Alex makes a wager with his lowlife Mean Boss Louie, where both compete to see who can make more money in fares in one night. During the competition, Alex has the perfect opportunity to take advantage of a Japanese Tourist and get away with it; the man can't speak English, and tries to pay him way too much money for the fare. Alex almost does so, but can't bring himself to do it, taking only the correct fare. Meanwhile, Louie, being the Slimeball he is, has no problem trying to take advantage of a blind customer who's new to the city, but fails because the guy uses his very acute hearing to count the clicks on the meter, and pays him the true fare after chewing him out. Alex's honesty is later rewarded; although Louie makes more money in actual fares, Alex makes far more in tips (being a far more likeable cabbie) and after getting a third-party decision from Latka that tips do count, Alex wins the bet.
  • Teen Wolf: When Peter Hale offers to turn Stiles into a werewolf in the season one finale, Stile's answer to Peter proposition is that he doesn't want it. Of course, Peter said he could tell he was lying, so there's definitely more to this.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Still Valley", out of all the Confederates, Sgt. Joseph Paradine is the only one to realize that it's better to go off to war and lose than win by Black Magic that would tarnish their souls. He believes that if is the Confederacy is going to be buried, it should be in hallowed ground.
  • Victorious: Subverted, where Robbie has nightmares about a giant evil Rex (his puppet), but rather than discover this is what he may be, he sees Rex as a separate person and not an extension of himself.
  • The West Wing: Has a version of this: Toby and the President are able to secretly bring together a Republican and Democratic senator to create a bipartisan fix to the Social Security system, but they can't claim any credit for it, or the two senators won't propose the plan. They decide to let the senators claim they came up with the idea by themselves. Ronald Reagan was fond of saying "there is no limit to what a man can achieve if he doesn't care who gets the credit."
    • Another example occurs during the final season. Two weeks before the Presidential election Democratic nominee Matt Santos leaves his briefcase in a waiting room where it's found by a staffer for his Republican rival Arnold Vinick. The staffer looks through it (assuming it belonged to one of their team) and finds a checkbook that shows Santos has been making child support payments to a woman who used to work for himnote . Vinick refuses to leak this information to the press even though causing a scandal for Santos could win voters back to his side. Instead he personally returns the briefcase and promises that his camp won't reveal this information.
    • This shows up in a big way with Deborah Fiderer, President Bartlet's second private secretary. Charlie, Bartlet's personal assistant, insists that she is the right woman for the job, but when the president interviews her, she's high out of her mind on anti-anxiety medication, which doesn't exactly impress him. Later in the interview, Deborah reveals that she previously worked in the White House personnel office, but something happened that got her fired—and she refuses to divulge the details, even when Bartlet, the President of the United States, directly orders her to. It turns out that Deborah was the one who recommended that Charlie for the job as the president's assistant, despite a powerful Democratic Party donor insisting that his son get the position. Bartlet figures this out for himself, but realizes that Deborah went out of her way to protect Charlie from any potential trouble. That, plus her razor-sharp memory, is enough to convince him to hire her.
      • In another incident, someone sends an anonymous letter to the White House saying that "President Bartlet should drink water with arsenic in it" in response to the administration's failure to protect the resources of underdeveloped nations. it turns out that Deborah herself sent the letter—but Bartlet is impressed by the fact that she used the title of "president," demonstrating her respect for the office.
    • In the Season Two arc about the revelation of the President's multiple sclerosis, various members of the senior staff are being indicted by the Republican-majority Congress to testify about whether or not they knew about the diagnosis. When Leo is called in, he recognizes one of the Representatives—Darren Gibson—as someone he knows personally: he was among the members of a delegation having a private meeting with Leo on one of the first nights the president had an MS attack in public. Unfortunately, Leo, who's a recovering alcoholic, drank with the other men, and when Garrison came back to get a briefcase he left behind, he found Leo getting himself drunk. As it happened, Leo being inebriated kept him from helping the President that night. Garrison tells his fellow Representatives about the incident and plans to reveal it, but Majority Leader Cliff Calley suddenly stops him before he can ask the question before the committee, instead calling the hearings to a holiday recess. When Garrison angrily asks why, Calley tells him that the purpose of the investigation is to find out if Bartlet lied, not reveal embarrassing secrets and break the public's trust in the administration. Even though it would be a perfect opportunity to get dirt and push the GOP's agenda, Calley refuses, explaining that such selfish actions are "killing the party."
  • In the Westworld season two episode "Reunion", this is a key part of William's pitch to potential investors in the titular park, beyond just creating a massive pleasure resort where people could drink, fight, and fornicate at will. He argues that observing people's impulses when they're not bound by the conventions of society, instead interacting only with androids programmed to serve their whims, could be a gold mine for market research and data mining. William's own character arc over the show, having been revealed in the first season to eventually grow up into the Man in Black in his old age, winds up teaching him a thing or two about this trope.
  • The Wire:
    • Detectives Herc and Carver have a moment where they could pocket some money from a drugs bust, but realize they would get caught, and leave it. Then some of the money goes missing anyway, and the very angry Daniels wants it back. It turns out that the money had somehow gotten buried in the spare tire well of their patrol car's trunk. They admit that Daniels doesn't have any reason to believe them, as they couldn't even trust each other.
    • Later, they're confronted with a similar situation, except with no possibility of discovery. They look at each other, nod, and start stuffing cash under their Kevlar vests.
    • Carver later refers back to that incident — and to other, worse moral lapses — when he sadly tells Herc that "It all matters. Everything we do." (Herc doesn't seem to get the point.)


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