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Tom: Well, I guess Peyton did prove guys are better than girls. At least when it comes to playing Chaotic.

Kaz: Yeah, except Peyton used girl creatures, and Crystella used guy creatures.

Sarah: Which proves that... girls are better than guys?

Everyone: Hmm...
Chaotic, Battle of the Sexes

This is when a show sets up a moral dilemma, then finds a way to resolve the plot without actually answering the question it set up. Used mostly to avoid giving an Anvilicious answer to a moral question that is not particularly clear-cut, to avoid alienating the part of the audience that might think you picked the wrong answer, or just to make a happy ending out of what was a morally-complex story. Expect this in works invoking ethnicity and/or gender tropes in ways that might otherwise be blatantly liable to charges of Unfortunate Implications, e.g. relating to Mars and Venus Gender Contrast. Usually, a Debate and Switch is pulled in one of the following ways:

  • The antagonist is originally set up as doing something that falls in the moral (and legal) gray area, then jumps off the slippery slope or is revealed to be a Straw Hypocrite.
  • The evidence points to the antagonist having committed a crime over the issue under discussion, then new evidence is uncovered that shows that the motive was actually more clear-cut.
  • The protagonists are put into the morally gray situation, then Take a Third Option.
  • The protagonists are put into the morally gray situation, then another consideration makes it much more black-and-white. The decision is made on that consideration, with the original considerations becoming moot. No Third Option necessary, just a Second Question.
Examples of Debate and Switch include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Inuyasha, one of the driving points of the narrative is whether or not the eponymous character would use the Shikon no Tama to turn into a full human (or a full yokai.) The point is moot since Kagome destroys the Jewel at the end of the manga. Any wish would be 'wrong'..
    • Then again, quite a bit of emphasis is put on the fact that Kagome loves him just as who he is, making it ultimately a "Be Yourself" aesop.
  • Death Note poses the question: does utopia justify the means if you plan on ending all crime by killing all criminals? Said question is rendered moot by the fact that the perpetrator, Magnificent Bastard Light Yagami, develops from an arrogant sore loser into a Villain Protagonist with a god complex who kills all who oppose him. L, though, is only slightly better, opposing "Kira" not out of a sense of duty or justice, but because he's an arrogant sore loser as well, and finds fighting crime and solving complex mysteries a hobby. This was arguably for the better; who cares about morality debates when you've got Xanatos Roulettes piling up like no other?
    • In the manga L did act out of a sense of justice. The episode when he promises to himself to not let Kira get away with the murder of FBI operatives is the clearest illustration, but it was cut out from TV series. Also, Death Note was never really about whether Utopia Justifies the Means, but about the corruption by power, although the point was somewhat muddled in adaptations.
    • This is also present in the way someone responds to Light trying to justify his actions.
      • A lot of the morality debate is cut from the manga, and the final debate between Light and Near is cut down to its bare minimum, including Light expressing his belief that he's not only getting rid of the criminals, but creating a society where people are free to do good. Near similarly believes Kira's forcing his own views onto others under threat of death, "neither peaceful nor just," and asks everyone else what they think about it, to which they respond with tacit approval. While there is considerably more examination of the ramifications of Kira's new world order in the manga, the authors ultimately leave it up to the reader to decide, but note that Light was corrupted by having the power to kill at will.
  • One episode of The Daughter Of 20 Faces deals with how the protagonists are supposed to be sympathetic when they're major thieves. The main character befriends a lonely little girl, who happens to be the daughter of the head of security for a museum holding the object the protagonists want to steal. In doing so, she learns how to sneak past the security guards and that Gasp stealing a priceless object from the museum could cause big trouble for the kindly security chief and his innocent daughter. Chiko's huge betrayal of her new friend is softened by the revelation that the little girl was actually evil at the end of the episode, and everything she said about her father was probably a lie.
  • Done in Mahou Sensei Negima, of course. Is it right to stop Chao Lingshen, who is obviously not a bad person and seems to have a good motive? Negi spends so much time worrying about it that his students basically just tell him to shut up after awhile, because if it was so important she ought to just tell him. Eventually, they decide it doesn't matter what they're doing is right or wrong, they just don't want to be turned into ermines and Chao hasn't convinced them otherwise. Some fans think it was intentional in order to set Negi up for Fate, who also seems to have a good goal and bad methods. He notably worries much less about it, anyway. Which may have been why Chao set up the moral dilemma in the first place.
    • Well, that isn't exactly a very good example, after all, the morality of whether or not to stop Chao Lingshen's plot is resolved. They decide that since the plan would require the suffering of completely innocent people for it to happen. A much better example would be Fate's Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory plot, which Negi already has plan that will postpone the annihilation of the magic world
  • Monster does this, although it must be noted that the moral ambiguities it toys with have been debated for centuries and probably will continue to be debated for centuries after: Is all life equal? Do some people deserve to die? Is it right to kill a killer? Is evil irredeemable?
  • Fushigiboshi no Futagohime: Fine and Rein find out that Mirlo is in an Arranged Marriage with a rather undesirable dimwit, and are out to break it up. Reviewer Al1701 pointed out that this action seems short-sighted, since the deal for the marriage is in exchange for dimwit's father repairing the Waterdrop Kingdom's cloudmaker. That is, until the whole Arranged Marriage turns out to be a big ruse by the Moon Kingdom chancellor. Doesn't stop this from being one of the best eps of the whole series.
  • In a Trigun flashback, we see Vash trying to find a way to rescue a fly from a spider's web. His brother Knives solves the problem by crushing the spider. When Vash protests, he claims it was just practical and that if Vash wanted to rescue all flies, the spider would just starve to death, which is a valid point. Vash and their caretaker just say it's wrong though, and moments later Knives turns into an Axe Crazy Omnicidal Maniac. It's a shame, because the series manages to turn Vash's goody-two-shoes character archetype into a well rounded and interesting Deconstruction. His opponent, not so much.
    • This isn't so much the case in the manga where it's revealed that Vash and Knives are Plants that humans use for power in this context Knives sees the conflict between the spiders and butterfly as inevitable and synonymous to his own.
      • While his motivations become understandable in the manga, his actions are no saner, especially after his early failure backfires so drastically as a consequence of the conditions he's forced humanity into. Later in the manga we encounter a fleet from the evidently-surviving Earth, which incorporates Plants into the regular crew and officers, implying that entire moral debate is now resolvable; they get there just after Knives finishes his descent into Omnicidal Maniac territory and can no longer be talked to.
  • In Bakuman。, several older and less successful mangakas start submitting works for jump, prompting a debate between Takagi and Mashiro over whether they should be given a chance for a comeback; Takagi doesn't think so, while Mashiro, whose uncle kept trying to get a series even after his contract was canceled, strongly disagrees, and Nizuma believes that writers should not be treated as disposable. It turns out that Nanamine is using these mangakas as his way to try a second time with an improved version of his "system".

Comic Books

  • In The Walking Dead, after the misogynistic Thomas murders two of Hershel's daughters, Rick decides to implement a "You Kill, You Die" law and declares that Thomas should be hung. This decision is debated by others, but it comes to an end when Patricia lets him out believing that he's mentally ill and not responsible for his actions. Thomas proceeds to strangle her and is shot by another of Hershel's daughters.


  • Happens twice in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. First, in Captain America: Civil War, the original debate over the Sokovia Accords gets overshadowed by Bucky's attack on Wakanda, replacing the original conflict for a "those who defend Bucky VS those who fight to apprehend him" conflict. Even then, after that movie the Avengers are still splintered into pro-Bucky VS anti-Bucky factions...until Thanos arrives and forces both sides to put aside their differences for the greater good of the universe, ending the moral dilemma right then and there. Worst, Ant Man II/Scott Lang, the only one in the pro-Bucky side who willingly submitted himself to the authorities and was paying the price for siding with the pro-Bucky camp, gets forcefully dragged into the fight with Thanos due to Thanos' own actions. Simply put, the only post-fingersnap death that is gonna stick is the death of the internal conflict that Civil War put forth.
    • This gets set in stone in Avengers: Endgame: The Sokovia Accords are abolished, and all the ideological and moral debates raised by Thaddeus Ross and Tony Stark go completely unanswered.
  • In the first X-Men movie, Magneto isn't trying to Kill All Humans; he wants to turn the leaders of various nations into mutants. Now that's still ethically highly questionable, but... oh, never mind, the process is fatal, and he won't believe this. And just to make sure Magneto has a firm grip on the villain ball, his "process" is powered by an unwilling Rogue.
    • Magneto's entire philosophy can be considered an example: In the first film, he wants to shift humanity's prejudices by converting the world's leaders into mutants. By the 2nd film, he wants to hijack the bad guy's plan and use Dark Cerebro to Kill All Humans; a definite Moral Event Horizon but one that doesn't diminish his commitment to mutantkind. The 3rd film shows just how far throwing one's lot in with Magneto will get his recruits when many of them are hit with cure darts and Magneto's reaction is to casually dismiss them as expendable "pawns" to be sacrificed in favor of the larger goal.
    • The X-Men Cinematic Universe deals with this trope in its finale (which is a true finale, unlike the MCU which is just the end of the Thanos arc and of Phase 3) the same way the MCU did: in Dark Phoenix, everyone is too busy fighting Dark Phoenix to bother pondering wether Magneto or Xavier is right, and New Mutants (the very last movie in the X-Men Cinematic Universe) has a demon bear as its main villain, thus the question of which side was right, the X-Men or the Brotherhood, goes completely unanswered. In fact, with the main villain of Dark Phoenix being an out-of-control mutant and the mutants in New Mutants being presented in a monstrous light, the ultimate conclusion seems to be that the humans were right.
  • State of Play, so much so the main plot is made moot by the last 10 minutes of the film. And because of this the Big Bad for the most part goes unharmed. Cal McAffrey clearly didn't know how to sort out the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, or prioritize the Sliding Scale of Villain Threat.
  • In the 2009 Star Trek movie, Kirk offers assistance to the about-to-be-crushed-by-a-black-hole Romulan ship, whose crew committed genocide by destroying Vulcan. Spock objects to this. Before any actual debate could happen, Nero, the ship's captain, tells Kirk to go screw himself, thus giving Kirk all the moral cover he needs to hasten their inevitable destruction. Kirk even says to Spock that offering them a chance for survival is the logical choice.[1]
  • The Contender: So, will Laine win the Vice Presidency despite the furore of controversy surrounding her? Will she prove to the world that the bending of the truth and exposure of someone's shady moral history should never be used for political gain and need not necessarily ruin your chances of a high-powered career? never mind, the girl in the photos wasn't actually her after all. Oh, and her main rival's a backstabbing liar. Crisis averted.
  • In Machete, the villainous politician seemed to be concerned about illegal immigration and wants to protect the US border by building a giant wall, even if it lead him to associate with racists and killed illegal immigrants, setting up the character as a Well-Intentioned Extremist. But then it was revealed that he was a Corrupt Politician who was in cahoots with a drug cartel and that building the wall will result in the drug cartel having an exclusive access to the US border, which would make the US border more dangerous if he had succeeded.
  • Some see the whole movie of Fighting the Odds: The Marilyn Gambrell Story as this. The problem with this movie is that it brings up a lot of issues without actually talking about them. Particularly the complicated socio-economic background of most of the kids.


  • My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult. The book asks the interesting question of whether or not it is wrong to have a child(Anna) solely to provide blood/tissue/organs for a sicker child(Kate), then gets out of answering by killing Anna in a car accident and having her kidneys donated to Kate anyway. In the movie, however, this does not happen; after Anna wins, Kate dies.
    • Another Jodi Picoult example: Handle with Care asks if it is okay to sue your doctor for not telling you about a disability, and if it is okay to abort a disabled child. Claire wins the case anyway, and the child dies after they win.
  • This happens in Mercy. The whole thing is about the ethical issues of euthanasia and mercy killing, and it turns out that...oh, wait, it doesn't. Not only do we not get an overall view on euthanasia, we don't even get to find out the views of 90% of the characters. It's the kind of 'debate' where people stand around chatting and occasionally eat a biscuit.
  • Winds of the Forelands has at its center a smoldering racial conflict, and the Big Bad is a leader of the oppressed race who claims he will liberate it. He's also a Hitler-esque tyrant who would make everyone's lives worse if he actually won, so it's up to the heroes to stop him and let oppression continue. Apparently, the only reason it even comes up is so the villain's followers can be portrayed as misguided rather than evil.
  • In Twenty Years After, d'Artagnan wants to kill Mordaunt, but not out of a sense of justice—he is blinded by a desire for vengeance on the sins of Mordaunt's mother, twenty years ago. Athos, on the other hand, is tired of violence and wants to let Mordaunt go, in spite of his own terrible crimes. The dilemma is made moot when Athos kills Mordaunt in self-defense after trying to save him.
  • In David Isaak's Shock and Awe, one of the protagonists is an ex-special forces operator with many personal grievances against Muslims, including losing her brother in 9/11. A mysterious billionaire offers her the chance to strike back with vigilante attacks, culminating in an audacious plan to hit Mecca with a dirty bomb. Along the way, she starts doubting whether she is really doing the right thing and thinking that maybe this is going too far. Before she gets a chance to work it out, however, the billionaire is revealed to be in league with another bunch of terrorists, who take the radioactive material and try to use it on the US.

Live Action TV

  • In one Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode, a woman is believed to have drowned her baby because it had Tay-Sachs (which is confirmed). At the end of the episode, it is revealed that she had had an affair and gotten pregnant, and killed the baby because she didn't want her husband to know. Even the Assistant District Attorney complains that the woman was convicted only "because I turned her into a whore".
    • In another episode, what looks like a rape turns into a right to die debate until it turns out the woman who runs the "lemme help you suicide" website entered into a suicide pact with someone and didn't fulfill her end of the bargain. The debate then becomes about whether that's murder, manslaughter, or something else.
    • Another Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode discusses whether it is acceptable to apply capital punishment to a woman, who by this point has already been proven to be a serial killer. The woman hangs herself. (It should be noted that this pissed off the characters as well.) Even before this, the episode has already pulled another Debate and Switch by implying that the woman has been trying to support her son. The boy isn't even hers; she had kidnapped him.
    • A husband played by John Ritter cuts his unfaithful wife open and kills her fetus, claiming he was enraged by the thought of her having her lover's child. The trial is not so clear-cut because killing a fetus isn't murder unless there's proof that it took a breath outside the womb. As he's on the stand, Cabot presents him with evidence the fetus actually belonged to him and he killed his own child, prompting him to admit the baby cried before he killed it. Notably the episode ends before the verdict is read; the viewer is meant to assume his insanity defense was rejected solely on the basis of the murder charge being provable.
    • In another episode, a prostitute accidentally gives birth prematurely at five months. Despite doctor's warnings that the child will be severely mentally handicapped and will have health problems her whole life, the woman decides to keep her baby (it's implied she doesn't fully understand the consequences being born so early will have for her child). In the end, she runs off, giving power of attorney to Olivia. Olivia gets a call from the hospital before the closing credits; the baby's heart has failed. Olivia could choose to save the baby, but the baby would require lifelong hospitalisation and would have to be kept on a respirator 24/7 — or Olivia could choose to let the baby's heart fail, which could be interpreted as more merciful. The episode ends after Olivia was presented with the choice, showing her conflicted...though notably, the baby doesn't appear or get referenced in any later episodes, meaning Olivia either decided to let her die, or they tried saving her and she died anyway.
  • In the Star Trek Voyager episode "Scientific Method", it is revealed that the crew have been the subjects of medical experiments by an alien species (a thinly-veiled allusion to animal testing). Janeway finally manages to get the experiments aborted by flying Voyager into a pulsar, which is stated to be nearly-certain death, which scares the aliens off and destroys one of their ships that doesn't get away in time. Of course, Voyager survives. The reason this is this trope is that Janeway is only acting that way because of the experiments of the aliens.
    • Notably averted in "Death Wish", when a Q is forcibly prevented from committing suicide. Despite Trek's history of third options as well as this trope, in the end Janeway rules that preventing his suicide is wrong and he promptly eats poison.
  • In the Star Trek the Next Generation episode "Haven", the episode begins with Deanna Troi facing an arranged marriage. The episode is one extended debate over personal choice vs. cultural expectation which is soundly side-stepped by the plague ship mentioned almost in passing at the beginning of the episode suddenly having aboard it the woman Troi's husband-to-be has dreamed of all his life (literally).
  • Star Trek Deep Space Nine: The episode "Dax". The titular character, a symbiont who lives inside of a Trill host, is accused of committing a crime. However, the crime in question was allegedly committed when the symbiont was bonded to Curzan, and it has since been passed to Jadzia. Since there is no way to remove the symbiont from Jadzia without killing her, the case becomes a question of whether or not it is right to punish Jadzia Dax for a crime committed by Curzan Dax. Both sides make strong points... Which are all rendered moot by the last minute revelation that Curzan didn't commit the crime in question. The issue of whether or not Trill symbionts can be held accountable for their past host's actions is ultimately never addressed.
  • Much of the Doctor Who episode, "Boom Town", is dedicated to a debate on capital punishment, where the Doctor is put in the position of making the choice. Before the Doctor has properly made up his mind, Blon Slitheen looks into the TARDIS and is turned into an egg.
    • In the very next story the Doctor realises the only way to stop the genocidal Dalek fleet from wiping out everyone on Earth (and then moving on to other planets to wipe out their inhabitants too) is to send out a pulse that will not only kill all the Daleks, but also himself and everyone on Earth. The Doctor is saved from trying to decide whether it's moral to kill a load of people in collateral damage (when inaction will lead to their death anyway) to save everyone else when Rose becomes an almost literal Deus Ex Machina and saves the day by effortlessly wiping out the Daleks without any further casualties.
    • On a later Doctor Who episode, "The Almost People", they spend a long time making it clear that the gangers are just as real as the people they're duplicating, and not just tools. Helpfully, at least one of each pair dies before making it back to the TARDIS, smoothly avoiding any dilemmas when they get back to their families.
    • The episode "The Beast Below" sets up an interesting moral dilemma by revealing that the entire future-city of London is kept alive by a star whale, which must be tortured regularly in order to keep it from escaping. This brings up the moral issue of whether to free the whale, dooming the city, or continue torturing the whale. However, the issue is avoided when... it's revealed the whale wanted to help them anyway and it stays of its own accord because it couldn't bear watching children cry! Phew!
  • Star Trek Enterprise had an episode where the switch was an even bigger moral decision. Initially it's about whether to interfere in the natural arrangement of a pre-warp society (a stone-age species is kept in benign slavery by a more advanced one), but then it suddenly turns out that the disease that's been spreading among the dominant species (and for which the crew was helping to find a cure) is a "natural development" of their evolution (which may well "solve" the problem of the stone-age species' subjugation by killing their caretakers). So naturally, the crew decide to give them relief of the symptoms rather than a cure, in a proto-development of the Prime Directive (its most appalling application in the entire history of the series, which is ironic as it was intended as a justification for it). And then people wondered why the Star Trek franchise took a breather.
    • This was actually the result of Executive Meddling, in the original script Phlox refused a direct order from Archer to give the species in question the cure he had developed. The higher-ups were worried that a major conflict between the characters might upset the audience, so Archer's decision was changed at the last minute to agree with Phlox. Unfortunately this had the opposite effect as viewers began calling Protagonist-Centered Morality.
  • In an episode of The 4400, one of the returnees has the ability to heal genetic defects in utero. It is later revealed that this returnee is a Rwandan war criminal and the rest of the episode debates whether his ability to heal should preclude him from getting sent back to Rwanda to pay for his crimes. It is later resolved by revealing that every genetic defect he fixes is taken into his own DNA, making him sicker. Either way, this man is assured a death sentence; it becomes a choice of whether he dies quickly via execution or slowly, but helping others along the way.
  • A fifth-season episode of Babylon 5 has to do with Doctor Franklin learning that one of the (minor) alien species, the Hyach, once had a "sub"-species that they exterminated (along with all halfbreeds) before becoming an interstellar society, and then hid all evidence of the genocide from outsiders. It turns out that the Hyach have a species-wide congenital condition which will eventually destroy them as it becomes more common through their "closed" breeding population—and the extinct cousin species had the genes to neutralize that congenital defect, making crossbreeding "mandatory" for them. The Hyach ambassador wants Franklin to help find a solution because they can't figure it out, and he's one of humanity's foremost xenobiologists (and therefore one of the foremost xenobiologists in the galaxy, since most of the other races don't care enough about outsiders to study their biologies). When faced with the question of helping the Hyach, or letting the whole species reap what it has sown through the genocide and subsequent cover-up, Franklin ultimately decides to leave the Hyach to their own fate. (Again, the individuals who carried out the actual genocide were mostly long dead by then, so the Doctor decided that naturally their descendants deserve to die for being born to such evil ancestors. Gah.) Although he didn't exactly refuse help he just said he couldn't do anything by himself and only could if they covered it up and got help from the full Alliance.
  • Averted earlier in Babylon 5, when the same Doctor decides to operate on a child despite the facts that his parents insist that the operation will cause him to lose his soul and become a demon. After the operation the child seems fine, and the parents accept him back. Then kill him, because they believe him to be an empty shell without a soul. (The episode leaves the subject of whether or not there's any basis for the belief ambiguous; the child is clearly healthier after the operation, but Franklin does notice what he dismisses as some air escaping when he makes his initial incision, and the soul is treated as a physical commodity in other parts of the series.) Ironically, since the episode aired medicine has advanced to the point that the procedure would not require an incision today and the entire plot would be avoided.
    • The Mimbari could also test to see if he still had a soul afterwords.
  • Angel Season 4: It's an interesting question whether the heroes should defeat Jasmine only because she has stripped humanity of free will. The revelation that she eats people cheapens the debate a bit.
    • It's more complicated than that. Jasmine was shown to be an arrogant being who seemed more concerned with glory and worship than she did helping people. We also see the last world Jasmine visited before she got bored of it. Granted, the inhabitants may have different standards than humans, but it's not a very nice looking place, nor are they very nice people.
      • She did create a utopia out of LA though. Crime and poverty had disappeared and everyone was truly happy. Also Jasmine had always had her eye on earth and the last planet was just a test case.
      • Also, upon having her plan to brainwash the world foiled, Jasmine's immediate reaction is to try to destroy the entire planet, a rather extreme case of Jumping Off the Slippery Slope that quite neatly avoids any moral ambiguity, no matter how Lilah (who happens to be evil herself) tries to spin it.
  • Airing bravely (or perhaps coincidentally) in the midst of the Terri Schiavo debate's worst excesses, Malcolm in the Middle had a plot requiring Hal to choose whether to pull the plug on a similar patient. In the end, in a parody of this trope, Hal solves the problem with a hitherto unconsidered third option. We never learn what this option is, only that it involved Radio Shack and a hat.

  Hal: "Once I realized how much he loved birds, the answer was so obvious!"

  • Private Practice did this with an episode where the doctors were asked to sterilize a woman living in a relationship with her biological brother (the pair had met without knowing about their blood relation). Much screentime was spent by the cast agonizing whether or not they were encouraging incest by agreeing to the procedure or not. In the end, the question became moot when it was revealed that the brother had known all along, causing the couple to break up.
  • Law and Order has refined this into an art form. Earlier seasons generally pulled it off better, relying on the debate being resolved with a previously-introduced detail. Later seasons used the Ass Pull with impunity, as every half-hearted Chewbacca Defense became a brilliant legal strategy the DAs were too incompetent or ill-prepared to overcome until they picked up on the one fact they missed during all of their trial prep.
    • One prominent example occurs during the first season, when a woman is on trial for bombing an abortion clinic. The moral issues of abortion are debated, even going so far as to polarize the main cast members (and, it's implied, the jury), but then the ADA pulls the rug out during cross-examination by pointing out that, by killing a pregnant woman, the bomber also murdered her unborn child. Cue one guilty verdict.
    • Subverted when a man kills the insurance executive who vetoed an extremely expensive treatment for his terminally-ill daughter. During the trial, the insurance company reverses its position, putting her on the medication and giving strong credibility to the justification that the murder saved his daughter's life. But the judge refuses to allow the jury to hear about this, insisting the trial should be about an eye for an eye.
    • "Scrambled": a woman is charged with Felony Murder after she hires an ex-cop to break into a fertility clinic and destroy her eggs and he kills a worker who walked in on him. The case hinges on whether or not one's own eggs can be legally the property of someone else, for the purposes of establishing the predicate felony. Except during the break-in the cop destroyed another couple's eggs too, but they didn't initially come forward to report the 'loss' for other reasons.
    • Happens three times in "Progeny", another abortion episode. The killer uses the "preservation of life" justification of killing the abortion doctor to save a woman's unborn fetus. McCoy first points out that since the doctor's intended patient was really the killer's partner and her scheduled abortion was a ruse to lure the doctor out that her fetus was never in jeopardy. He then digs up evidence the defendant's motive was revenge against abortion doctors after he failed to prevent the woman carrying his child from getting an abortion. The defendant's spiritual advisor, an anti-abortion advocate who insists on making a jury debate the value of the "preservation of life" argument, claims he was the defendant's co-conspirator, having provided the gun and transportation for him to kill the doctor. On the stand, he claims the justification defense but McCoy asks him why, if he believes its morally right to kill abortion doctors, did he not just pull the trigger himself instead of giving the gun to the killer? The answer was that no matter how much he decried abortion, he still knew it was wrong to kill anyone, thus he did not believe in his own defense.
  • Season 8 of Smallville introduced Davis Bloome, a.k.a. Doomsday, who, due to his split personality, discovers he is responsible for the deaths of several people in Metropolis. At one point he is goaded into becoming Doomsday; under the other side's influence, he smothers the person, and Doomsday recedes, allowing him control. Once Clark and Chloe figure out that he's been killing criminals to keep Doomsday at bay, they have to decide if Davis is still a good guy making the most of a horrible situation or a horrible killer. They seemed to be leaning toward the former, then he gained his freedom and promptly hopped off the slope by killing Jimmy, cementing him as a bad guy.
    • Clark in Season 9 was faced with the difficult question of what to do about the Kandorian refugees: should they try to pass as normal humans and live regular lives or acquire their rightful Kryptonian powers? Being normal left them vulnerable to paranoid humans who had no qualms about killing them off but under Major Zod's leadership, the empowered Kandorians were destined to conquer Earth. Clark gives them a third option: shaking their faith in Zod and using the Book of Rao to send them to another plane of existence where they can make a new start.
  • Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, which can usually be counted on to examine social problems at some length, fell into this trap in Season 4.5. In light of recent discoveries the policies of the Adama/Roslin administration are brought into question—the two had fielded an Ends Justify The Means approach to getting to Earth, especially Roslin who followed her visions on blind faith. Even in the midst of the latest scandal, Roslin is irresponsibly letting the government get out of control without allowing another leader to step into power, and Adama is considering allowing the Cylons—the same Cylons that nuked the 12 Colonies and then tormented the population of New Caprica for a year — citizenship into the Colonial Fleet. While Adama may have justification for contemplating this move, the show is right to suggest it, as well as Roslin's childish behavior, deserves to be re-evaluated with care ... however, when Adama and Roslin's opposition turns out to be led by Felix Gaeta and Tom Zarek, who summarily attempt to kill many of our beloved characters and succeed at killing numerous secondaries, the writers opt for a different approach. It seems that getting our protagonists into tough spots was not on the agenda, after all.
    • Battlestar Galactica had a recurring theme of What Measure Is a Non-Human?, about whether the Cylons are really "alive" and had souls. But according to Caprica, the Cylons originated when a human's memories and personality are coded into a digital avatar. So basically, the skinjob Cylons have bodies molecularly indistinguishable from humans, and their minds are essentially human minds, and assuming Caprica doesn't end with a massive wave of amnesia, the BSG characters should know this from history class. So they are as human as anyone else. Why the hell are even they considered robots by any criteria except Karel Capek's?
      • Well, they're still hulking metal monstrosities. Also, it's it would seem that the fact about uploaded human minds never becomes public knowledge, and it's quite possible that the only ones to know will be dead before the war breaks out.
        • In BSG there was a pretty clear distinction between the "skin jobs" which were physically, biologically, psychologically, and basically in every other possible way human other than their mystical reincarnation abilities; and the "hulking metal monstrosities" which even the skin jobs kept as mindless slaves. There's really no reason the word "Cylon" would be used for both, unless it's in the same way that "Colonial" can be used for anything from a person to a starship — but then again, I don't remember any debates in the show over whether it was fair to let the Vipers be "forced into combat" by their human pilots!
  • On Lie to Me, a cop plants a gun on a teen he mistakenly shot while chasing another suspect. The FBI wants Lightman to withhold his findings and stand by as the teen (who was paralyzed in the shooting and subsequent fall) is falsely charged with attempted murder because the same cop is undercover, rooting out suspected terrorists within the ranks of the police. Lightman proves that the cop misled the FBI: he'd already uncovered everything they needed to take down the terrorists but said nothing because he was angry about the friendly-fire death of his daughter in combat.
  • JAG had a soldier in Iraq charged with killing an unarmed, surrendering insurgent on camera. Lt. Vukovic examines the crime scene and finds the insurgent was actually trying to detonate a hidden cache of explosives.
  • The District had a white plainclothes officer shoot and kill a black armed undercover cop after he chased off some punks trying to rob him. The officer claims the undercover pointed his gun at him but the strong suggestion that race played a factor in his judgement call (and 2 previous unrelated incidents where a white cop mistakenly shot a black cop under similar circumstances) leaves many in doubt about his story. Until the police locate one of the youths the undercover chased off, who confirms that he pointed his gun before getting shot and everyone agrees they need to train officers to identify themselves sooner during tense situations.
  • Subverted twice on The Practice: On 2 occasions, one of the attorneys was defending an old friend for making a questionable judgement call, only to find out in private that the defendant had ulterior motives and was just using their friendship to get a good defense. As they were bound by attorney-client privilege not to disclose the new information, they still had to present the original argument with a straight face to the jury:
    • Rebecca defends a childhood friend, an off-duty cop who shot an armed stranger he believed was going to rob a convenience store. She digs up dirt on the victim including a murder charge that was dropped on a technicality. The murder victim in that case was an old friend of the defendant's: he killed the suspect out of revenge, then planted a gun on him to make it look like a robbery.
    • Jimmy defends an old school buddy who was being sued after he outed an HIV-positive subordinate of his out of fear he might infect other co-workers. During their conversations, the defendant reveals that he was a homophobe who was glad that the employee's hostile working conditions prompted him to resign.
  • On Judging Amy, Amy has to decide on the custody of a boy in a coma. Lots of folks think the boy has faith-healing powers and they touch him to get cured of their ailments. The Government has raised eyebrows about the unsanitary conditions of the transfer of germs from visitors day in and day out but the public strongly believes in the boy's powers and Amy will catch heat if she rules in favor of the government's motion. The Government, fearing the negative press, drops their motion, giving Amy no choice but to rule in favor of the family and taking all the political heat for it.
  • The short-lived TV series First Monday about Supreme Court decisions used this trope regularly whenever the difficult decision of finding in favor of the constitution was made to seem like a defendant was getting Off on a Technicality or a sleazy individual was getting away with something for which There Should Be a Law.
    • A doctor gives his patient's blood to a police investigator who couldn't get a warrant for the suspect's DNA, pitting the need to get a serial rapist off the streets against doctor-patient privilege. The rapist's girlfriend gives the police a lawfully-obtained sample of his DNA in the form of his toothbrush.
    • The CIA challenges the publishing of a book that contains confidential trade craft secrets that could potentially endanger the CIA's mission but the publisher argues the First Amendment trumps the need for secrecy. The CIA also gets one of the justices disqualified from ruling on the case because she would have ruled in their favor. The Justices theorize the book is really a full of Blatant Lies meant to fool the CIA's enemies and the court challenge was designed to drum up publicity for it. However, they can't know for certain if this isn't part of some bigger Xanatos Gambit by the CIA who wants them to think they're ruling against the CIA's interest so they Take a Third Option and drop the case altogether, ceding to the lower court ruling.
  • Parodied on Sparks, when Alonzo Sparks has to go up against his old law professor, who made fun of his stuttering, even nicknaming him "Porky Pig". Nervousness causes his stutter to come back, until the professor makes the mistake off pissing him off, which motivates him to speak perfectly. Midway through this closing argument, the judge gets word of another case that already made the decision, and says the whole thing is "moot", to Alonzo's protest.
  • Frequently on Supernatural, usually in the form of whether to let someone who is doing bad things against their will (e.g., a werewolf) go, or kill them. The person usually dies or makes some sort of Heroic Sacrifice by episode's end.

Video Games

  • In Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia It turns out Albus had interfered with Shanoa sealing Dracula because the ritual would kill her, which Barlowe had hidden from her. Whether stopping Dracula justified a human sacrifice could have been explored, but it turns out Barlowe is crazy and was doing the whole thing to break the seal on Dracula. Unlike most versions of this trope, however, the initial question is revisited, at least in part: at the end of the game, Shanoa uses the Dangerous Forbidden Technique to defeat Dracula, knowing full well she will die in the process. She only survives because Albus, whose soul is still with her, chooses to take her place as the sacrificed soul. In the end, a human sacrifice (Albus) did stop Dracula, though an important distinction is made; Barlowe tried to sacrifice another's life without their knowledge or consent, while Albus sacrificed his own, knowing full well what he was doing, and Shanoa tried to do the same as Albus.
  • Rather similarly, the first plot of Tales of Symphonia is that the Chosen must sacrifice herself in order to save the world. The rest of the cast decide that sacrificing their friend and saving everyone else is the right thing to do, but then they learn that it would actually only save their world for some time — and that it's going to make another world suffer in the way they've been suffering up until now. Now the debate is whether to save one world at the cost of the other. Then they decide to find a way to save both worlds without sacrificing anyone.
  • A near perfect example of the debate and switch can be found early on in Dragon Age. After the hero and his/her party defeat the legions of undead in the village of Redcliffe, they storm the castle to find that the son of the local noble has been possessed by a demon. The hero is told that there are only two ways of dealing with the magically powerful and demon-possessed child: kill the child and end the horror, or kill the child's mother in a ritual of evil dark magic that will allow you to permanently remove the demon with no harm to the boy. Upon being told this, the hero can ask "is there no other way?" to which the people who just told you that you have to kill someone reply "well, I suppose you can take a little side trip across the lake to the tower of wizards where you can find someone who can help you remove the demon without killing mother or child with no strings attached," thereby rendering the previous choices completely pointless This is only an example to the player, as the third option carries a significant risk of making things much worse, but if it did end badly, the game would be Unwinnable. It also depends on the mages surviving their own quest line.
    • Averted hard in the sequel — no matter what stance you take in the overarching Mage vs Templar plot points, even a neutral Hawke has to pick a side once Anders blows up the Chantry, who whilst governing both sides contains one of the few reasonable and neutral leaders in the game. There is absolutely no way to avoid this.

Western Animation

  • In the third season finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang spends a considerable amount of time agonizing over whether he can bring himself to kill Ozai in order to save the world. However, he avoids the whole thing by using a technique that was never hinted at previously to make him unable to firebend anymore and makes it a non-issue. Of course, the whole thing would be a Fantastic Aesop, even if that hadn't happened: He would have to kill him because what made him so powerful couldn't be removed, but things aren't like that in real life.
    • Also applies to the Lost Aesop in "The Waterbending Master", in which Katara's necklace allows her to join Master Paku's class.
      • Though that one's only an in-story debate and switch; from the audience's perspective, the eponymous master is clearly being a Jerkass from the start.
    • The existence of Jet and the Freedom Fighters could have raised an interesting question about vigilantes and tough decisions in a wartime setting, when Jet attacked an old fire nation man. However, he soon jumps off the slippery slope by nearly flooding an entire village with allies still inside it.
  • The second season of Justice League Unlimited raised some serious questions about how much power a league of superheroes should be allowed to have, and whether or not the U.S. government was justified in trying to restrain them, but those questions were more or less pushed aside when it turned out that Lex Luthor was secretly provoking the conflict with sinister intentions... and Brainiac was manipulating Lex the entire time. Word of God admits that this was due to not wanting to come off as too much of an Author Tract... considering Civil War, it's hard not to say they may have had a point. At the least, they had Green Arrow try to provide an 'answer'..
    • The last season of the series shows the League has been given military garrison and regularly has checks from members of the US Government now, and the members of the group agreed they need limitations (like the not keeping a super-zappo-laser on the Watchtower). So yeah, the show didn't skirt the issue and found a reasonable solution — at least for the Americans.
  • South Park is pretty fond of its Spoof Aesops and its Straw Hypocrites. The episode can be 20 minutes of straight up Flame Bait, but once Stan's given his "I've learned something today..." speech, the story pretty much succumbs to the Rule of Funny.
  1. Which it is, because it means they capture the criminals and get their hands on the Narada's juicy and powerful future-technology.