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Katara: What's going on with you? In the desert, all you cared about was finding Appa, and now it's like you don't care about him at all.

Aang: You saw what I did out there. I was so angry about losing Appa, I couldn't control myself. I hated feeling like that.

Katara: But now you're not letting yourself feel anything. I know sometimes it hurts more to hope, and it hurts more to care. But you have to promise me that you won't stop caring. C'mon, you need a hug.

Aang: Thank you for your concern, Katara. (he walks away without returning the hug)

Heroism is hazardous work for both the body and the mind, it's fairly common for heroes to end up facing at least one emotionally, mentally, or psychically charged event capable of causing a Heroic Blue Screen Of Death that temporarily renders them catatonic. Of course, this wouldn't be a gripping New York Times Best Seller if it didn't happen at the worst possible time to ramp up the tension as the audience is left hoping the Sidekick can protect the hero until he or she snaps out of it.

Keeping the computing metaphor, some heroes have a hardier Operating System than the norm, which when faced with the Heroic BSOD instead enters Heroic Safe Mode. During this period the hero "shuts down" non-essential thought processes and focuses entirely on "fight or flight", hoping that when the danger is over they can "restart" in safety. Especially strong willed heroes who go into Safe Mode while loved ones are in danger will usually protect them to near suicidal extremes. In other cases, they may wind up snapping at their own friends who try to push them out of Safe Mode. Luckily, these loved ones can usually push the restart button with a Cooldown Hug. They will (at best) talk in monosyllables, become either completely emotionless or absolutely enraged, but they will always, always terrify friend and foe alike with an unfiltered Death Glare. When a hero fully reboots from this mode back into their standard operating procedure, Post Dramatic Stress Disorder usually kicks in, or the full-on Heroic BSOD may kick in after the direct danger to the hero and/or their companions has passed.

Where this gets interesting is if the hero has a Split Personality or Adaptive Armor that is not normally in the driver's seat. With the hero "out to lunch", the passenger may decide to take survival into his, her or its own hands (neurons?) and control their body until the hero is well again. This varies depending on the nature of the Split Personality. For example, a soul bound Empathic Weapon might default to Attack! Attack! Attack!!, while a more evil Enemy Within might decide it's a good time to unlock the hero's Super-Powered Evil Side.

Once they reboot, they may well regret having not helped save someone, run away, or killed many dozens of mooks... but as friends will remind him, at least he (and they) are still alive.

This is Truth in Television to a greater degree than a lot of Split Personality Tropes. Many forms of disturbed personality deal with their pain by creating a kind of secondary self who is less bothered by the pain, because this self is just observing while "that other self" is actually experiencing the pain. This function may be the reason for the existence of the Real Life, non- Hollywood Psychology phenomenon of people who have a Split Personality.

In a less extreme form, it is considered a healthy coping mechanism. People using this strategy to deal with dangerous or otherwise overwhelming situations will often say to themselves something like, "I have to focus on survival right now. I'll deal with these feelings later." This is different from repression, because the person is not trying to forget or suppress emotions, only to delay dealing with them until it's safe to do so. People capable of shifting focus away from their own emotions, without suppressing them, are often very resilient; so this is a trait often seen in characters whose professions often take them into emotionally charged situations--soldiers, emergency workers, spies, police, superheroes, and similar.

See also Super-Powered Alter Ego, and It Never Gets Any Easier.

Examples of Heroic Safe Mode include:

Anime & Manga

  • In Naruto, before the battle versus Pain, Naruto asks Tsunade if Kakashi is on a mission or... Tsunade says nothing, Naruto understands and goes into Heroic Safe Mode
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yami usually takes over whenever Yugi is in trouble in the early manga and anime. Later on, Yami appears more often because Yugi is more conscious of him.
  • Judai seems to live in this mode in Season 4 of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX after crossing the Despair Event Horizon last season.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Hallelujah Haptism tends to take over when Allelujah is impaired, or otherwise unable to complete his mission.
  • As a suit of biological Powered Armor, the Guyver has this trope as a safety feature. If the owner receives catastrophic brain damage, psychic attack, or emotional trauma, the suit goes into a killing frenzy to protect them while it restores their grey matter. Poor Sho though, has this happen while fighting his Brainwashed and Crazy dad.
  • Bleach: Hollow Ichigo comes out whenever Ichigo is too injured to suppress him, first during the fight with Captain Kuchiki and later during a fight with Ulquiorra. During that later fight, Ulquiorra puts a hole in Ichigo's chest which would normally kill him outright, but Hollow Ichigo surfaces instead. Good news: "Wasn't there a hole in my chest?" (It healed.) Bad news: "Did I do that?" (He's skewered his ally, Ishida.) Can be seen as a Call Back with a Downer Ending to his fight with Byakuya; Ichigo calls the fight unfair and does the final blow against Byakuya. However, when his hollow surfaces in his fight with Ulquiorra... Ulquiorra dies before Ichigo can get his fair fight, even if it would mean he would end up crippled to get one.
  • To Aru Majutsu no Index
    • The eponymous Index has a literal safe-mode installed onto her, that activates any time the main consiousness goes down. The computer analogy is quite literal. The safe-mode even shouts out status messages.
    • Touma in his fight with Vento, in which he was being trashed around up to the point where they were next to one of the people he wanted to keep safe. When one stray shot that would have killed a few dozen civilians was blocked by the person he wanted to protect, we discover that he was worried sick about collateral demage and wasn't fighting at full capacity.
    • At the same time, Accelerator was fighting Amata Kihara. In the course of that fight, Accelerator was left without the collar that enabled use of his powers and should've been rendered a brain-damaged wreck. Instead he kept getting up, attacking, and woke to even greater power than he'd had before to finish Kihara.
  • Zone of the Enders. Dolores is generally a ditzy Humongous Mecha, but danger reverts her back to her factory settings as an amoral, ruthlessly efficient killing machine. Jehuty is the opposite: She starts out with factory settings when Leo falls into the cockpit, but gains personality as the story progresses.
  • Ranma of Ranma One Half starts acting like a cat when overwhelmed by his fear of cats. While this is usually Played for Laughs, it is also dangerous because he retains his old strength but doesn't care about pulling his punches anymore.
  • Delf of Zero no Tsukaima is of the Empathic Weapon variety, and can do this for his wielder, Saito, using magic he has absorbed to forcefully move his body when he is too injured to move on his own.
  • Akemi Homura of Puella Magi Madoka Magica goes into a long-lasting one of these after seeing all her friends die horribly and/or destroy the world, repeatedly. She only acts emotionless because she doesn't want a Heroic BSOD to get in the way of protecting Madoka from Kyubey.


  • In the recent "Batman RIP" storyline the hero was a victim of a psychological attack, but survived because he had auto-hypnotized himself into having a "backup personality" — named the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh — that would take over in such a case. Talk about being Crazy Prepared.
    • To extend the computer metaphor, the Zur-En-Arrh personality is so single-mindedly focused on crime fighting that has been described as "Batman on DOS."
  • Spider-Man has gone into these on several occasions. One implied example is in the classic issue #33[1]; at one point, Spidey lets himself get beat up so that he can gather his strength, then unleashes a flurry of hits on a bunch of thugs who are attacking him. He eventually realizes that he's no longer hitting anything, and that everyone's knocked out. This kind of thing only happens when one has entered into Heroic Safe Mode.
  • Iron Man's is built into his armor. The AI takes over when Tony becomes unresponsive and pilots the armor to safety. It is also capable of fighting.

Films — Live-Action

  • Serenity: Zoe's response to Wash's death . She was in no way paralyzed with fear. Her response when everyone else asked where he was reeked of "must focus on the matter at hand, my emotional state is not important right now." It seems that she was determined almost to the point of suicide during the climactic fight, since she casually walks away from cover straight toward the waves of oncoming Reavers while firing her shotgun. The DVD Commentary says Joss Whedon and Gina Torres, Zoe's actress, argued about it. She felt Zoe would be more angry, and Joss explained that Zoe was suppressing it right up until the aforementioned point.
  • Star Trek: Insurrection reveals that Data has a literal Heroic Safe Mode. When in specific failure modes, his ethical subroutines take over control, leaving him in a state where the difference between right and wrong is the only thing he is capable of acting on.
  • And in Star Trek: First Contact he has acquired the ability to toggle his emotion chip, keeping him from freaking out in combat the way he did in Star Trek Generations.

 Picard: Mr. Data, there are times I envy you.



  • Drizzt Do'urden the Dark Elf, of several different books... no unnatural factors, but while his normal personality is pacifistic and compassionate, he will — if pushed too far — turn into "The Hunter", a beastlike personality he developed from decades living alone in The Underdark, one of the most lethal, monster-infested areas in the world. While Drizzt is driven by morals and ethics, The Hunter is driven entirely by survival instincts — he'll attack anything threatening with all the strength at his disposal, flee from an enemy who proved too strong, and not care one whit about others... This is explained in all of the official materials that show the RPG mechanics of the universe the character is based in - he took a level in Barbarian during his time in The Underdark, a class that has Unstoppable Rage as one of its features.
  • In John C. Wright's The Golden Age and The Phoenix Exultant, Phaethon uses his "emergency persona" — a high-speed unemotional persona developed by him for space accidents, but quite useful when he's under attack, too.
  • This is what certain characters in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series call "Assuming the Void." (or, alternatively, "The Oneness.") All emotion and feeling is pushed aside so the individual can focus on the situation at hand without being impaired by "minor" things such as taking a mortal wound or seeing someone they love get critically injured or killed.
  • Gifted individuals in the Sword of Truth series can partition their mind, which allows them to protect the core of their sanity against unbearable agony while sacrificing everything else. In the first book, Richard Cypher uses this technique to endure repeated torture from a Mord-Sith, Denna.
  • Kiesha'ra: When Araceli takes away Andreios, Danica's reaction is described by Zane thusly:

 "Danica?" I touched her arm and felt trembling beneath my fingertips. She did not respond, not yet.

Now Nacola hurried into the room and knelt beside her daughter. "Shardae?"

Danica balled one hand into a fist for a moment, shaking... and then relaxed as with a conscious effort. She took another deep breath, and suddenly I felt her force back the grief that had been rising — force it back and lock it tightly away.

As if I was suddenly struck blind, I lost her; she hid her soul from me even more carefully than she had when we had been enemies conversing for the first time.

She lifted her head finally, smoothing her hair back with her hands. For a moment, her face was vacant of expression. Then I saw the blankness drop, and it was replaced by a casual facade that was even more disturbing.

"Well," she said, without a tremble in her voice.


She shook her head, cutting me off. "There was nothing we could do."

This calmness frightened me more than any blade I had ever faced....

  • Tobias of the Animorphs is a boy living in the body of a hawk, and he experiences the mind of the hawk as well as his own. The hawk is much freer from the problems of anxiety and sadness than humans in general or the human Tobias in particular (even physical pain doesn't bother the hawk as much as it would a human), and the hawk mind is perfectly capable of carrying on the normal functions for a hawk body. So for Tobias, allowing the hawk to be the dominant personality is a highly useful coping mechanism.
  • Vimes from Discworld has what he calls "The Beast", which is his instinctual sense of self-preservation writ large and leads to this trope. He spends most of his time trying to override it, because he knows nothing causes Police Brutality better than someone in full 'fight' mode at a bad time.
  • John Steakley's "Armour" has the main character create what he calls "The Engine" in order to survive being repeatedly dropped into combat where he is out-numbered thousands to one. As Felix puts it, the Engine "is a remarkable creature. It was a wartime creature and a surviving creature. A killing creature. The Engine is not me. It will work when I cannot. It will examine and determine and choose and, at last, act. It will do all this while I cower inside".
  • In Atlas Shrugged, Dagny does feel emotions at her core when she allows herself to, and takes a month-long vacation (her first in over 10 years) to cope with the hopelessness of the rail company she runs. When she finds out that a key tunnel in the transcontinental line has been destroyed, she spends the next day and a half shutting out every cognitive process not related to fixing the problem.
  • In Wolves Of The Calla, the sixth Dark Tower book Jake goes into Safe mode after His friend is blown up by one of the Wolves. In true Gunslinger fashion, this translates in Tranquil Fury
  • In the Doctor Who novel Winner Takes All, the Doctor is forced by the villains to use Rose like a puppet / video game avatar without any way to ask for her consent. And worse, in order to save her and others, he has to physically hurt her and make his control over her body even more absolute. He gets really, really furious once he realises what he must do. More so than ever in the TV series. He punches the wall, throws things around. And then he simply shuts down, becomes calm and cold and just does it - while being utterly terrifying in the eyes of the kid who is with him at the time. Then he proceeds to use the rescue plan to arrange for the entire military force of the villains to be atomized. And he doesn't give them any chance to reconsider. Not even one. [2]
  • X Wing Series: Myn Donos of Wraith Squadron is stuck like this through most of the first book, after his squadron was killed in an ambush. Other characters aren't afraid of him, but they definitely find him strange, and ones who knew him before are unnerved. Even Safe Mode can't protect him when his astromech - the only other being to survive - is destroyed. Fortunately his squadron mates are able to break him out of the subsequent BSOD, and in a later book when he threatens to go into Safe Mode again he's called out on it.

Live-Action TV

  • Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly and Serenity (see above) has been in this mode after the ragtag Independents lost the war against the well-meaning but authoritarian Alliance.
  • Chuck is a little ambiguous on how the Intersect skills work, but Depending on the Writer, Chuck flashes and then the Intersect takes control of his actions, until it has ceased.
  • Seen repeatedly on ER when the doctors and nurses go on autopilot to get through the latest tragedy.
  • In Doctor Who, the Ninth Doctor was prone to this kind of behaviour when shit was starting to hit the fan and people started dying. Especially in the beginning, as part of his implied war veteran characterization. At first, Rose the civilian had real trouble understanding the reason for his detachment and thought it was callousness - when actually, keeping a cool head and repressing his emotions was what he needed to do in order to get the job done. In the course of the series he kind of eased up on this behaviour as part of his healing process - only to end up having a Heroic BSOD because of his emotional investment. The pair eventually came to share a steady supply of post-crisis Cooldown Hugs. Well, not so much "Cooldown" Hugs as "Thank God It's Over And I Can Safely Show How Worried I Was, Please Just Hold Me For A Sec" Hugs. [3]

 Rose: Mickey! I'll have to tell his mother he's dead, and you just went and forgot him, again! You were right, you are alien.

Doctor: Look, if I did forget some kid called Mickey--

Rose: Yeah, he's not a kid.

Doctor: It's because I'm trying to save the life of every stupid ape blundering on top of this planet, alright?!


Tabletop Games

  • In Warhammer 40000, learning how to enter Heroic Safe Mode is one of the core tenets of Eldar aspect warrior training.
  • In BattleTech, there was an old optional Gunslinger rule called "Phantom 'Mech". The user had to be consider himself a dead man walking, have a genetic predisposition, and must be acting to save his allies. If it worked these would result in the mech suddenly moving in strange ways and becoming nigh-impossible to target properly, but the mental strain would force the warrior to retire into seclusion afterward.
    • Canonically, only three characters ever achieved this: Patrick Kell, Yorinaga Kurita and Morgan Kell. The first was killed in battle by the second, after holding off more or less an army, the second lost in battle to the third, and they both retreated to secluded monasteries for 17 years before reemerging. Then they fought again with the same result, and Yorinaga committed suicide. Morgan Kell lived for decades more, rarely taking the battlefield, but utterly destroying any enemy he decided to face.

Video Games

  • Hyperdimension Neptunia has the heroine herself who fails to convince the three goddesses to fight evil. The result is that she gets curb stomped and is forced to use her normal state.

Web Original

  • Dan in Trinton Chronicles can go into a messiah-mode when knocked out and under much duress.
  • In the Red Panda Adventures, the titular hero deliberately gives himself amnesia in order to resist interrogation while captured by the Nazis.

Western Animation


 Aang: I know I was upset about losing Appa before, but I just want to focus on getting to Ba Sing Se, and telling the Earth King about the solar eclipse.


Real Life

  • Happens whenever somebody says that they've done something "on autopilot".
    • As a general rule, people practicing emergency procedures (ranging from escaping a house to engaging an attacker, see below) are advised to practice them repeatedly so when the real emergency comes, they will be able to do it "on autopilot".
  • Martial arts specifically make you able to fight without thinking. Accidents may ensue if an attack-like gesture provokes a violent reflex before you can stop yourself. Played for laughs in some anime.
    • Some martial arts attempt to teach you to react only to actual threats, not "just" attack-like gestures, pushing this into more "heroic" territory.
    • Some others, such as aikido, teach you to defend yourself without injuring your assailant[4], so if your conditioned reflexes are accidentally triggered it's no big deal.
  • Soldiers are trained to fight at least partially this way, with things like giving and following commands, moving quickly from cover to cover, staying low, marksmanship, etc. all hammered into them repeatedly until it becomes almost a spinal reflex. This way, they are less likely to hesitate in combat, performing these numerous smaller tasks without having to think about them consciously.
    • Cops are often trained that way, too. There's a good reason for this. When you're confronted with an armed suspect that's shooting at you, if you don't react quickly enough, you'll be killed.
    • Many soldiers have complained about what happens when they come home, and they can't get back into Normal Mode, to extend the metaphor. On some level, they're still acting like they're in combat.
    • This also lends itself to mindsets. The military trains for various types of emergencies, individual to base-wide. Having trained for emergency chemical response as part of the job, your mind switches to evaluate and take action in events like witnessing a car accident or finding someone unconscious. This allows you to deal with the situation at hand and deal with freaking out at a better time.
  • The preferred coping strategy for corporate office workers to keep from going mad at the realization that this is all they're going to get out of life. The entire raison d'etre for the "office comedy" genre in TV and film.
  • Anyone in emergency medicine. When you're seeing humans (or animals) that are near death every day, multiple times a day, all you can do is shut down your own emotions because they only get in the way. They care — they wouldn't be practicing medicine for a living if they didn't — but there's no time to cry over a dog that's got hit by a car when in the next room you have a cat with a shredded leg at risk of amputation.
    • Going back to the military example above, talk to anyone trained as a medic in any military organization. Their job consists of stabilizing life-threatening injuries in emergency situations, in a situation where any one of the people around them is another potential patient. As far as emotionally hazardous professions go, this one is pretty high on the list. During operations, sometimes medics have to do all the above while being actively *shot at*, Geneva convention or no Geneva convention.
  • Most every form of physical performance relies on committing minor, rudimentary details to muscle memory with repetitive practice, so you can save your decision making skills for deciding which action to take and when, rather than thinking about how to surmount an obstacle.
    • For example, many digital artists find their workflow improves when they learn a significant amount about whatever programs they're using, so they can just draw and use shortcuts so their "flow" won't be interrupted.
  1. the one where he's trapped under a machine when the building is flooding; you know the one
  2. Well, he kind of generically threatened that he was going to destroy their planet if they hurt one hair on her head. But at that point she wasn't in any immediate danger yet, and he wasn't in his I-really-mean-it mode yet, instead telling others that he just intended to destroy the villain's technology to make them stop doing what they were doing.
  3. It's like a Cooldown Hug, except the huggee is wise enough to know that he needs one. And it's more about active restoration of humanity than about calming down "hot" anger. Defrosting Hug?
  4. which could be considered a different kind of "safe mode"