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"I've heard a great deal about you, Fa Mulan. You stole your father's armor, ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, deceived your commanding officer, dishonored the Chinese Army, destroyed my palace, and... you have saved us all."
Emperor, Mulan

In any Cop Show where the protagonist is a Cowboy Cop especially prone to causing mayhem in the process of catching the bad guys, episodes will often end with their boss dragging them into their office. Da Chief will then proceed to go down The Long List of regulations the Cowboy Cop has bent or broken, capping the list with the one heroic thing they did that will make the boss give them a begrudging congratulations instead of the axe.

Example: "You threatened civilians, wrecked three squad cars, started a public disturbance in a night club, blackmailed a librarian, threw the head of the city council into the lake, destroyed the Hope Diamond, dropped the destroyed diamond shards into a nearby volcano after tripping on your flip-flops' shoelaces, destroyed my yacht's propellors, hit me in the eye with a champagne cork, left a virus on the mint's computer in an attempt to increase speed, unleashed all the inmates from the asylum, set three buildings on fire, knocked four down, locked the mayor in his own building... and saved The President's Daughter from terrorists."

To the President: "Remind me why that last one gets him off the hook?"

Contrary to the trope name, however, they rarely actually murder anyone that didn't have it canonically coming to them.

A common way of subverting What the Hell, Hero?

Compare I Have Just One Thing to Say, Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking, Arson, Murder, and Admiration, Dramatic Pause, Chew Out Fake Out, and possibly Refuge in Audacity.

See also The Extremist Was Right.

Examples of Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving include:

Anime and Manga

  • A variation in in Fairy Tail. In Master Makarov's first appearance, he admonishes everyone in the guild for various misdeeds (including Natsu for blowing up several fight scenes). Just as it looks like he's about to give them all severe punishment, he says something that boils down to "Screw the Council! True Fairy Tail mages don't need to be intimidated by authority!" And the crowd goes wild.
    • They also invert it. When the council goes over a list of violations by Fairy Tail, including many, many counts of propety damage, and associating with the criminal Jellal, not to mention all the things they did before the new council was selected, one of them mentions that the guild did stop a dark guild from taking over an ancient magic that would have turned the whole country into a giant magic war zone. The other members then decide that this is also a violation, because they didn't wait to get permission to save the day.
  • The girls of the bastion in So Ra No Wo To violate quite a few military laws in the last few episodes. Harbouring an enemy soldier without informing their superiors, disobeying direct orders, lying to a superior officer, assaulting a superior officer, tying up said superior officer in their illegal distillery, going AWOL and attacking friendly units (although in fairness, they attacked first). All in all, it's a good thing they're friends with Rio, who is princess of Helvetia and third wife to the Roman Emperor by that point.
  • Episode 5 of Digimon Savers has a perfect example: Satsuma is furious at the team for disobeying his orders, to the point Kudamon does most of the scolding for him. When it seems like he's going to unload on Masaru and Tohma in particular...he quietly congratulates them for making it back, smiling to Kudamon's confusion. This could be explained by the fact the last time he went to the Digital World it was a disaster. Knowing his team did it successfully gave him hope that Digital Dives could actually work.



Ross: "I agree to One. Simple. Test. And you trash a shuttle, wreck Vegas and reveal yourselves to the public in a way we cannot hide or go back from... and for what? For what, Mr. Richards?"
Reed Richards: "That's a hand-held death ray, General. Pretty easy to reverse-engineer and produce."
Ross: "... I love you, boy."


Fan Fiction

  • In MGLN Crisis, Hayate dresses down Arisa and Suzuka for taking the golem into combat, and after silencing their protests, congratulates them for their heroism.
  • In Rules Of The Game, Harry is given a dressing down by Snape for directly disobeying orders, throwing his' friends into danger, and saving Professor Snape.


  • In Kindergarten Cop: Kimble is being questioned by the school principal after the former beat up a student's abusive father:

Miss Schlowski: Now Mr. Kimble, I have checked, and there's no record of you teaching anywhere in Florida, or in the US, for that matter. Now, let's see... I thought that introducing a ferret to the class was a terrible idea, but the children seem to like it. I thought that the whistle and drills were outrageous--
John Kimble: It was all I could think of--
Miss Schlowski: Please...allow me to finish. I thought that the whistle and drills were outrageous...but it worked. Now, I don't know what kind of cop you are, Mr. Kimble, but you are a very good teacher. Now. I want you to answer one more question--don't lie. What did it feel like to hit that son of a bitch?


Cpt. William Diel: Two men were shot, one man lost a pinky!
Inspector Carter: But nobody died.
Cpt. William Diel: You destroyed half a city block!
Inspector Carter: That block was already messed up.
Cpt. William Diel:You lost a lot of evidence!
Inspector Carter: We've still got a little bit left.
Cpt. William Diel: What you did was dangerous, and completely against policy! And on top of that
... You did a good job!
Inspector Carter: ...Say what?


Chief: Didn't you cause about a bazillion dollars worth of damage? And I sure as hell ain't covering for you! I don't give a damn how sexy you look floating down in your little pants! And as for the rest of you...I just want to say how very proud I am of all of you. Undercover Brother, the world is safe once again thanks to you.

  • Used at the end of Mulan, with the Chinese Emperor himself giving the talk to the title character.
    • Such an epic quote, Disney felt it was all that was needed for the film's first trailer.
      • Although they changed the word stole to took.
  • The Magic Voyage used this at the end with the native chief to Christopher Columbus.

Native Chief: You stole our idol! Destroyed our sacred temple! And... made squishy with the Swarm Lord. How can we ever thank you?

  • In the Disney Channel original movie Motocrossed (inspired by Shakespeare's Twelfth Night), a teenage girl takes the place of her twin brother (who broke his leg) in a motocross championship. After winning, she reveals herself to be a girl. While there's some question as to the legality of her win, there Aint No Rule about the winner being female, and the fact that she registered under the name "Andy" (her brother's name is Andrew) means that she can't be called on that (her name is Andrea). Then comes out the CEO of the sponsoring factory, who at first appears to be outraged at the girl tricking everyone. She then promptly praises her for winning in a "man's sport" and signs on the entire family.


  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, Watch Commander Sam Vimes gets this from Lord Vetinari at the end of Feet of Clay.
    • Inverted in Monstrous Regiment; in spite of all the things they've personally done to end the war with a reasonably victory-flavored outcome for Borogravia, the country's political leaders are a hair's breadth away from giving the protagonists what amounts to a consolation prize and quietly forgetting anything of the sort happened, just because said protagonists are women (in a country where Straw Misogyny is part of the religious doctrine). It takes the intervention of Sergeant Jackrum, who is well-known, well-respected, and above all knows things about half the ruling council that would get them hanged (Namely, they're women too), to turn this around.
  • At the end of Harry Potter, Harry and Ron get this speech from Dumbledore. At first, it seems that they might actually get expelled, but they get bonus house points for Gryffindor instead, and they win the House Cup.
    • Harry goes through this all the time; when the adults and faculty of the school refuse to listen to him, he invariably winds up needing to save the day himself, often breaking a ton of rules in the process. He might get punished along the way, but never suffers at the end of the book. The earliest example is probably when he, Ron, and Hermione defeated a giant Troll loose in the school halfway through Book 1. As Harry stopped listening to the teachers so much in the later books (and the teachers likewise realized it's a good idea to pay attention when Harry says someone wants him dead), the series started to move away from this.
  • Commander Blaine gets one of these at the beginning of The Mote in God's Eye for leading his marines in a coup de main against a rebellious planet's shield generator. If he had failed the admiral would have had no choice other than orbital bombardment, killing most of the population and dooming what remained to a slow death by starvation. In the end, Blaine's action was successful, so he was promoted and given command of a battlecruiser.
    • One character in that series (in fact, I think it's the one delivering this particular chewing-out) says that officers are, instead of following whatever stupid idea comes to mind, supposed to follow The Book, which he then categorizes as "largely a bunch of stupid ideas that worked."
  • In one of the books in the X Wing Series, Aaron Allson's Wraith Squadron, a couple of the pilots get one of these after pulling off a brilliantly executed plan, drawing off a Star Destroyer with just two X-Wings and two A-Wings, saving an entire evacuation convoy, including one last transport that had trouble getting off the ground. But they went against procedure by broadcasting unencrypted towards the enemy they'd fooled, taunting him. Wedge says that they should split the difference and hammer a medal into each of their skulls.
  • As seen below, the latest Star Trek novel (Before Dishonor) had several original characters, including a Vulcan, stage a mutiny after Picard ignored the Admirals yet again. They were...forgiven. So, yeah.
    • Picard himself was pretty much forgiven when his actions helped save the Earth from a Borg attack. By the end of the novel, Ambassador Spock (who was aboard the Enterprise during the novel) recommended that Starfleet pass a new General Order stating that in the event of a Borg invasion, Starfleet should automatically defer to Captain Picard.
      • Which is exactly what happens in the Destiny trilogy — with a fleet of a thousand Borg cubes rampaging through the Federation and Klingon Empire, President Bacco says, "Tell [Picard] that if he has any idea how to stop the Borg, no matter what he has to do, he has my unqualified authority to do it. If he has to toss Starfleet regulations and Federation law out an airlock, so be it. If we're still here when the dust settles, he can count on full pardons for himself and his crew, no questions asked."
  • The backstory for two of the characters in The Tar-Aiym Krang was that they faked a malfunction aboard their ship in order to attack AAnn forces which were about to invade and enslave/depopulate a world the Commonwealth wasn't officially bound to protect. At their court martial:

Ensigns Bran Tse-Mallory and Truzenzuzex were ordered stripped of all rank and dismissed from the service. As a preliminary, however, they were to be awarded the Church Order of Merit, one star cluster. This was done. Unofficially, each was also presented with a scroll on which those citizens of the colony planet known as Goodhunting had inscribed their names and thanks ... all two hundred and ninety-five thousand of them.

  • Beregond from the Lord of the Rings books. During the siege of Minas Tirith, he deserted his post and killed the porter with the keys to the Silent Street, as well as two members of the Guard. However, he only did this to protect Faramir from a premature funeral pyre, and only slew the others because they would not listen to him and attempted to kill him first. After the crowning of King Elessar, Beregond is brought before the new King. King Elessar spares him from execution because of the circumstances, but discharges Beregond from the Guard and orders him out of Minas that he may be reassigned to Faramir's newly-formed personal Guard in Ithilien as its captain.
  • Done in the Dale Brown novel Shadows of Steel.
  • In the Honor Harrington short story Let's Go to Prague two Manticoran Marines, on a lark, decide to take leave on an enemy planet, accidentally get involved with an intelligence operation and screw up the carefully laid plans of the officer in charge, brazen and bull their way through to save the day and not only get forgiven, one of them gets the girl (namely the intel officer).

Live Action TV

  • From the 1970s police drama McCloud, where Chief Clifford would give McCloud one of these about Once an Episode.
  • Several episodes in various incarnations of Star Trek have the Captain/Commander/Admiral berate the underlings for breaking regulations, who of course escape demotion by having saved the day. A notable subversion occurred in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, where Lieutenant Tom Paris acted contrary to the captain's wishes to do the Right Thing... and got chewed up and demoted to Ensign for his troubles. This stuck for several episodes, and was worth a small ceremony when he was reinstated, which was remarkable in a franchise known for its liberal application of snapbacks and the Reset Button.
    • It's often used as the "thing" in And Another Thing moments - typically, the Captain will give their subordinate a full dressing down, dismiss them... then stop them at the door and remark "Nice job out there".
    • Also notable is Data during the Klingon civil war, who, while given temporary command of a starship, disobeys orders and exposes the Romulans as they cross the border. Data himself, being completely logical, states to Picard that ends do not justify the means and expects to be reprimanded. Picard is the one who claims that Data did the right thing.
  • After the fall of President Clark's regime on Babylon 5, the new President Luchenko comments that there was much discussion of whether Sheridan should be given the Medal of Honor for restoring the legitimate government, or taken out and shot for leading a rebellion (and mentioned that she wishes she could do the logical thing, and do both). The upshot is that Sheridan and the other rebels are granted amnesty, on condition that he immediately resigns from EarthForce.
    • Which he does, and gives copies of the amnesty agreement to the press, before Earth finds out about the Interstellar Alliance...

Luchenko: If we decide to pursue this, who should we negotiate with? You?
Delenn: No. The three of us [Delenn, G'Kar, and Londo] make up the advisory board of the new alliance. We have our duly elected President, as you do.
Luchenko (already knowing the answer): And where can I find this President?
[[[Smash Cut]]]
General: You!!
President Sheridan: Funny thing about retiring. You no sooner pick out the places you want to go on vacation than someone comes at you with another job offer.

  • This is practically the whole reason for Cuddy's existence in House. Except she's less threatening and more yappy, like a small dog. However, she is a well-developed character in her own right, even if House goes behind her back and rarely takes her seriously.
    • House always manages to avoid getting fired when he does crazy, irresponsible stuff to patients. He cures 90% of his patients so he gets away with it with nothing more than this trope.
      • It's actually revealed at one point that the hospital basically has a "House is getting sued for doing insane crap again" fund. When Cuddy tells House this, it's revealed that they're under budget with this fund.
  • Being as it is based on Buddy Cop Movies, The Good Guys uses this at least twice an episode.
  • In the Young Blades episode "Secrets of the Father":

"The" D'Artagnan: I ordered you confined to the garrison... and you disobeyed my orders yet again, knowing it would assure your expulsion from the Musketeers... and (Beat) you saved my life.
D'Artagnan: Well, nobody's perfect.

  • Often the case with Jimmy Mcnulty of The Wire. Described by one of his peers as " a picture postcard of a drunken, self-destructive fuck-up", none of this stops Mcnulty from taking on cold and dead cases and knocking them out the park. May not be saving lives, but he's certainly saving the Homicide Unit's clearance rate.

Video Games

  • Subversion: The beginning of the Adventure Game Space Quest VI features the hero, Roger Wilco, stripped of the rank (and uniform) of starship captain for everything he did in the last game; the recognition of him saving the universe in the bargain is only enough to return him to his iconic position of janitor.
  • Laharl gives one of these to Etna in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness after she uses him as bait in a plan to one-up her blackmailer, nearly getting him killed in the process. Laharl's justification is not that she preformed a heroic deed, but rather for pulling it all off with style. Her diary entry states she was expecting to be killed for betraying him, but she's glad he had the maturity to understand the situation and did what the king would have done.
  • Team Fortress 2: After eating one of his trademark "Sandviches," the Heavy will sometimes yell "You're a loose cannon, sandvich! But you're a damn good cop!"
  • After disobeying orders in Rainbow Six Vegas 2 in order to take down the Big Bad, your superior pretty much plays the trope straight over radio. He ends it by disguising a promotion as a firing.
  • In The Elder Scrolls Four, after you complete the final quest for the Fighter's Guild, the Guildmaster tells you that for your reckless actions, you are to be stripped of your position as her second in command... and that she will be stepping down to offer you her title.
  • In Wing Commander 2, Admiral Tolwyn gives you one in the ending.

Tolwyn: Blair! You have a lot to answer for, pilot! Disobeying orders, dereliction of duty, theft of Navy property, endangerment of personnel… Nice work… Colonel Blair. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m proud to serve with you on this ship, Maverick.

  • The quote from Mulan was used after the Shan Yu battle in The Land of Dragons in Kingdom Hearts II.
  • Essentially the entire plot of Trauma Team is this. The main character killed many in a terrorist attack but is apparently the best surgeon in the world and thus he is allowed to perform surgery in exchange for a reduced sentence. Also, he has amnesia from the attack so he doesn't remember killing people.
    • I might be wrong, but I'm fairly sure it was revealed that he DIDN'T do it, at least not knowingly. His mentor tricked him into releasing the biological agent.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, if you end the Blight, all of Fereldan hails you as a hero regardless of how much theft, murder, smuggling, desecration, betrayal, and dealing with demons you did along the way.
  • The ending of Fallout: New Vegas can do this depending on the player's actions, juxtaposing the number of people helped versus the number of people ended by The Courier. This can end up Crossing the Line Twice when a homicidal Courier may leave a carpet of bodies (or body parts) behind them as they murder their way through almost every group they meet, but nonetheless ends up, say, saving Hoover Dam in the end and being rewarded with a medal.

Western Animation

  • A reversed version from Fillmore!:

Vallejo: Principal Folsom isn't sure whether to give you guys a commendation or to give you detention. On the one hand, you put Stainless away. But on the other hand, you destroyed an entire shipment of brushed steel stalls, you ruined a month's supply of macaroni, and you allowed the most notorious graffiti vandal in the history of the school to escape.


Proctor: Well, let's see here Mr. Samson. On the driving portion you totaled every car but the one you were driving. On the pistol range you refused to use a gun, and — heh heh, here's my favorite — on the written you drew the little guy with wings from the Led Zeppelin records.
Brock: Icarus. So, uh, what are trying to tell me here, little man, that you don't like Zep?
(The proctor stands and rips the written portion in half)
Proctor: My father is General Trayster. You saved his life. The man spoke of you as a god...And you did not disappoint.
Brock: Oh yeah. I used to babysit you.

  • Parodied in South Park. The boys set up a make-believe detective agency and a police captain, seemingly going along with the gag, agrees to let them "work" as real detectives. He then immediately turns serious and sends them after genuine criminals, namely to bust a drug ring. The boys reluctantly go along, and unintentionally provoke the drug runners, and later some crooked cops, to panic and get themselves killed (repeatedly). The captain reprimands the boys for each of their bloodbath results, but always ends with something like "But dammit, you get the job done!" The boys, for their part, think real police work sucks, and when offered a promotion at the end of the episode, decide to resign and open a make-believe dry cleaners instead.
  • In Justice League, where Green Lantern chews out Supergirl for nearly getting them all killed when she was expecting to be praised for her actions.

Supergirl: So, aren't you going to give me the "You did good" speech?
Green Lantern: You're headstrong, unprofessional, and reckless. If you ever jeopardize yourself or your teammates again by running off half-cocked without a battle plan, I will personally see that you are kicked out of the League, and I don't care who your cousin is. And incidentally... you did good.

  • In Young Justice, Batman delivers one of these in episode four. Particularly notable for coming from Batman, who in a lot of media is obsessively controlling to the point of being unable to deal with any deviation from his orders, no matter how justified. He scolds the team for not obeying his order to not interfere, and then praises them for reacting well once contact with the enemy inevitably changed the game.

Batman: A simple. Recon. Mission. Observe and report. You'll each receive a written evaluation detailing your many mistakes. Until then...good job.
Kid Flash:Uh, what?
Batman: No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. How you react to the unforeseen is what determines success.

  • In The Simpsons, Apu gives us this example when Homer resigns from a brief stint working at the Quik-E-Mart:

Apu: He slept, he stole, he was rude to the customers. Still, there goes the best damned employee a convenience store ever had.