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"Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in."
Michael Corleone, The Godfather, Part III

So you've been working as a secret agent... or for The Mafia... or as an assassin... or for an Evil Overlord... or as a health inspector when you decide it's time for you to retire.

Ha! Good luck with that, because once you join a shadowy organization of this sort, you can never leave. If your bosses don't force you to keep working, they'll soon start saying, "He Knows Too Much." Expect Retirony and a Contract on the Hitman to follow. If it doesn't, then the author may drop a bridge on you just to prove that crime doesn't pay.

Depending on genre, one solution is to become a One-Man Army and simply destroy the former organization. One would think that after having half (or even a third or a tenth) of their forces destroyed they'd get the point and just leave him alone, but they never do.

See also Mandatory Unretirement, Thrown From the Zeppelin.


Anime and Manga

  • Cowboy Bebop: death is the only way to leave the crime syndicates. Especially the Red Dragon.
  • In Crying Freeman, The Freeman got abducted, then forced to work as an assassin for the Sons of the Dragon and obviously he isn't allowed to leave them as they initiated him against his will in the first place.
  • In Noir, the secret organization Soldats has absolutely no problem assassinating people who used to kill for them.
  • The teams in Witch Hunter Robin.
  • Implied in the climax of ~Jin-roh: The Wolf Brigade~. After the protagonist Fuse shoots dead his Love Interest, we see another member of the unit in a nearby derelict building, de-cocking his Broomhandle Mauser which he had aimed at them.
  • Implied in Hellsing with Millennium. If they're willing to set you on fire if you fail your mission or were about to spill their secrets, do you really think they'd let you retire?
  • Akatsuki in Naruto. As Konan unfortunately finds out.
    • It's quite a bit more complicated than's more like the new administration was running counter to its original goals and thereby disgusted original members like Konan.
  • In Death Note, at the Yotsuba group's "meetings of death," one member, Hattori, gets scared of going to jail and says he wants to quit the meetings. After Higuchi warns him that a statement like that might get him killed and Ooi reminds him that he's too deeply involved to escape blame, he apologizes and retracts his statement, but later gets killed anyway.
  • Darker Than Black: The Syndicate (and probably everyone else). They don't get a lot of choice about joining, either.
  • In Bakuman。, writers cannot simply end their series when they want to, as long as there's still some life in the series, and if they simply abandon their series, they will never be able to write for Jump again. Mashiro and Takagi manage to secure a compromise in which they quit their current series to launch another that can compete with Eiji's works, and Eiji himself cancels his own series after becoming the most popular manga artist in Jump.


  • A standard in evil organizations (see Hydra for Marvel Comics) and villains' mooks. No one can leave The Joker's gang alive, or the Red Skull. Even Always Chaotic Evil races are so: Skrulls (Marvel Comics) are said to be euthanized when old. Ninja clans in particular are notorious for this rule.
    • The Hand is especially nasty, since they can raise the dead. Even death isn't an escape.
  • Less sinister version in Ex Machina. During a crisis, Mitchell's second-in-command starts saying he's going to quit, only for Mitchel to interrupt forcefully and say he needs him because he needs someone questioning him every step of the way, even if he can't always agree.
  • Late in The Seventies, the Marvel villain the Purple Man had a Cut Lex Luthor a Check epiphany. He realized that he didn't really need to be a supervillain to get what he wanted, because he had a Compelling Voice (actually, super-pheromones, but it works the same), so people would just hand him whatever he wanted, and thank him for the privilege. So he tried to quit being a villain and take up a life of hedonistic debauchery. Cue almost a decade of stories in which some Big Bad (like the Kingpin or Doctor Doom) would track him down and force him to help with their latest Evil Scheme. Since then, he's apparently become resigned to his fate, and his last several appearances have shown him trying to Take Over the World.
  • Nextwave sees Dirk Anger contemplating/attempting various suicide methods. He eventually succeeds in hanging himself...accidentally, but to his annoyance, Beyond Corporation did not accept the terms of his retirement and brought him back as a zombie. A green one, who craved brains. It's that kind of series.
  • This trope is the whole plot of RED.


  • The Presidents Analyst: Sidney Schaefer believes he will not be allowed to resign since he knows too much about the president. After a paranoia induced dream he deserts and is pursued by people who want him dead or captured. [1]
  • The Godfather trilogy, as seen in the page quote, but also The Mafia in general. This may be Truth in Television.
  • Kill Bill: When The Bride tried to resign from the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, they tried to murder her. She did make it look like she cheated on a professional hitman, so it might be something other than she knows too much.
    • The second installment indicates that she didn't quit as much as walk off her current assignment and allow Bill to think that she was dead so that she could avoid having him raise their child as an assassin, although it's likely that quitting normally was not an option.
      • It was more like Bill was pissed off at having his girlfriend dump him for no apparent reason and shack up with a record store owner in the middle of nowhere, who mistakes him for her father.

  Bill: There are consequences to breaking the heart of a murdering bastard.

  • Mr And Mrs Smith had a double whammy of this.
  • Averted in Men in Black, where the technology to alter people's memories means an agent can retire without the agency worrying that He Knows Too Much. Although the second movie shows that it's possible for the agency to find an ex-agent and restore his or her memory if needed, which verges into Mandatory Unretirement (if things get to that point, they're not going to take no for an answer).
  • In The Brothers Grimm:

 Mercurio: (ordered to shoot the protagonists) Sir, I'd like to... resign from my-- (Blam!)

Gnl. Delatombe: (puts away his still-smoking gun) Resignation accepted.

  • Basically the whole plot of Sexy Beast. Though in this case the obstacle in the way of retiring from the London mob isn't so much the organization itself as a single psychotic member.
  • Nuns on the Run: The problem the heroes find a way to overcome.
  • Die Another Day: The James Bond film implies that MI 6 has a compound in the Falkland Islands for keeping agents deemed a danger (which may include those who decide to resign).
  • The Crying Game. Fergus refuses to do a mission for the IRA when Jude asks.

 Fergus: No way, Jude. I'm out.

Jude: (practically rolling her eyes) You're never out.


 Fitz-Hume: Ah, Colonel we were just talking and uh we've had loads of fun here... and uh you know we met new friends... and had a great lunch... wasn't that a great lunch?

Milbarge: Yah, the tuna and cream caserole was beautiful.

Fitz-Hume: ...Was great! And uh, anyway we were just talking and we'd like to go home now. So uh thanks for the bruses and you can keep the stool samples...

Col. Rhombus: Boys... it'd be a shame to have to kill you now.

  • The entire plot for Operation Endgame at first seemingly revolves around setting up a situation where all prospective defectors and/or resignors are tasked with killing one another.
  • And similarly, Mean Guns.


  • Aubrey-Maturin: Secret agent Duhamel falls victim to this when trying to defect.
  • From the Harry Potter series, the Death Eaters are this sort of organization.

  Sirius (talking about his deceased brother): From what I found out after he died, he got in so far, then panicked about what he was being asked to do and tried to back out. Well, you don't just hand in your resignation to Voldemort. It's a lifetime of service or death.

  • X Wing Series:
    • Gara Petothel/Lara Notsil. After discovering that Good Feels Good and the Power of Friendship is something she'd not felt since she was little, she wants to give up her plans as The Mole. It's never that easy.
    • Wedge and Tycho keep trying to retire and always end up getting called back by the next Really Big Galactic Crisis. They're getting older.

 Wedge: "We keep trying to retire. Give up this life of shooting things."

Tycho: "We're really men of peace at heart."

    • Uli Divini was a genius teen surgeon during the Clone Wars who had enlisted for one tour, after which he would go back to his homeworld and presumably start or join a practice. Instead, since the new Empire was short on doctors, they executed an Imperial Military Stop Loss Order, or IMSLO. As a result of that, Uli served for twenty years, getting rather jaded in the process. He tends to Princess Leia after she is tortured, and since he seems like a pretty decent guy she demands to know why he still works for the Empire; he tells her that he can't leave, he'll be shot. He joins the Rebellion when the Death Star is destroyed, somewhat to his own surprise.

  (IMSLO is) A retroactive order mandating that, no matter when you'd been conscripted, once you were in, you were in for as long as they wanted you - or until you got killed. Either way, it was kiss your planned life goodbye. Imperial Military Stop Loss Order. An alternative translation, scrawled no doubt on a 'fresher wall somewhere by a clever graffitist, had caught on over the last few years: "I'm Milking Scragged; Life's Over."


  "After every major victory, I hope the fighting is over, but it'll never be over. Even after we defeat the Imperials, there will be someone... another threat to peace..."

    • Subverted in another book of the X Wing Series, when Warlord Zsinj mentions that it's about time for one his subordinates to retire. Face Loran, impersonating another of Zsinj's subordinates, asks if he should take care of that himself.

  "I meant an actual retirement, Zurel. He goes away to live in a cottage somewhere and writes his memoirs."

  • In Catch-22 the main characters have to fly a certain number of missions before they are discharged. The number of missions keep increasing however...
  • The Firm: This is a defining characteristic of the titular firm, Bendini Lambert & Locke.
  • If you're an agent of the Laundry in Charles Stross's novels you can't quit. Ever. In fact, you probably weren't even given much choice in joining — most Laundry agents were too close to unleashing Eldritch Abominations by accident and simply weren't safe to leave in civilian life. If you screw up they'll put you on unimportant duties but they can't fire you for the same reasons. It's strongly hinted that Laundry agents don't even get to quit once they're dead.
  • In The Dresden Files, this is how Lara Raith treats her employees. After several of them are crippled/fatally wounded in an attack by an Eldritch Abomination, she orders her people to take them to her (life-force sucking) sisters, who are also wounded. Harry protests, knowing that if the sisters feed on those people, the people will die. Lara calmly states that they know too much about the White Court to allow them to be let go, and that with the sheer severity of the injuries sustained, their quality of life is borderline nonexistent. Harry, naturally, finds this to be reprehensible, and Lara retorts that he seems to have forgotten that she's a monster. A neat, habitually effective, incredibly efficient monster.
  • Vladimir "Viktor Suvorov" Rezun, a defector from the GRU, Soviet military intelligence, started Aquarium, one of his books on the subject by reminiscing about how he was told, when joining, "Theoretically there's only one way out for any member of the organization--through the chimney of the crematorium." And then the recruiter showed him a film of somebody who tried to leave being put into the furnace alive. [1]
  • The Dark Forest from Warrior Cats. In The Last Hope, Beetlewhisker tries to leave, but Brokenstar kills him.

Live Action Television

  • Babylon 5: once a psychic is conscripted into the Psi Corps, they are not allowed to leave. Anybody who does leave is hunted down and executed. The telepaths who take sleeper drugs are sometimes killed or commit suicide.
  • The Prisoner is based entirely around this trope. Possibly excepting the last episode.
  • Heroes — the shadowy Company started by "the 12" doesn't like quitters. One guy does manage to quit, but he has the advantage of being invisible.
    • He still had to fake his death to do that.
  • In the 1970s The Bionic Woman episode "On the Run" (the final episode of the series), Jaime Sommers tries to resign from the OSI but discovers that if she does so, she'll be confined to a government compound for the rest of her life. (This storyline was inspired by The Prisoner.)
  • The Pretender: The Centre won't accept Jarrod's resignation although he doesn't exactly try and stay below the radar after he escapes.
  • Alias: Sydney Bristow tries to quit SD-6, The C.I.A. and just about any other intelligence agency, even being called back into action in the series finale, after achieving ... Happily ever after isolated on a remote island
  • UFO: In "Kill Straker!", Colonel Foster is subject to alien brainwashing. The others contemplate killing him because He Knows Too Much about SHADO, and therefore can't just be fired.
  • Burn Notice: Played with — Michael didn't want to leave his old organization, but everyone there wants him to just sit down and shut up. "Management" threatened him about leaving them, but he seems to be doing all right so far. And then, of course, Season 3 comes along and gives him a "Be Careful What You Wish For" as his search to get his job back leads to Strickler selling out Fiona to an Irish terrorist, Michael's CIA contact Diego being killed, and Michael's killing of Strickler having even further unforeseen consequences.
  • In The Fixer, John Mercer can either work for Lenny Douglas or go back to prison.
  • Chuck thinks he's free to leave the CIA in the second season, but he would have been assassinated by his own handler had he actually quit. As of the fourth season, Chuck's attempts to find a job outside the CIA after being given explicit permission to leave are foiled by the CIA, which is apparently willing to go back on its deal with Chuck and blackmail him into working for them again.
  • In Angel, the evil law firm Wolfram and Hart doesn't just have its employees sign contracts that are in effect until death, they extend beyond the grave.
  • Defied on The Wire. Cutty returns from prison and joins Barksdale's crew (Avon having recruited him in prison). After he can't pull the trigger on an enemy Mook, he apologizes to Avon, saying "The Game ain't in me no more" and clearly expects to be killed in response. Avon lets him go with a Man Hug.

 Slim Charles: He was a man in his time, y'know?

Avon: He a man today. He a man.

  • In 30 Rock Jack learns that the Bush administration is doing this, forcing him to instead lead a costly, embarrassing, and useless military research project to get fired.
  • A large part of the plot in La Femme Nikita, as well as The CW reboot series Nikita.
    • Sort of. Late in the second season of Nikita, Percy admits he's tired of the whole conflict and offers Nikita a deal to make Division leave her and her crew alone if they just stop interfering in Division operations. Nikita turns it down, as she refuses to let the fight end on anyone's terms but her own — after all, she's in it to save the world.

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40000
    • The Inquisition.
    • The Tau's Fire Caste (the military). There are only two ways to get out: death, or by opting to take a third "trial by fire" (the first two are given to all Fire Warriors), after which they are allowed to become military advisers instead of continuing to fight.
    • While some Imperial Guard regiments have a fixed length of enlistment, others are more like this; some literally keep fighting until they are too depleted to be useful, then muster out all survivors, while others let enlisted men retire only at periodic reorganisations, while taking reinforcements at all times. Depending on when he joins, a soldier in one of these may serve for two years or twenty. Officers have a more defined idea of retirement age, but talented ones may be called back into service when necessary.
  • Pretty much every evil organization in Feng Shui is like this. The Ascended are particularly ruthless in this regard when it comes to their Pledged pawns.
  • Common behaviour for the clans and sects in Vampire: The Masquerade, since they really don't want their secrets leaking out to enemy factions.

Video Games

  • Kingdom Hearts: Organization XIII operates this way. Marluxia, Larxene, Xion, and Roxas all have Axel, the group's official assassin, sent after them when they go rogue. When he eventually turns traitor, too, second-in-command Saïx comes calling. The Trope Namer is a line spoken by Saïx to Roxas when he tries to stop Roxas leaving the organization for good. Saïx is beaten by Roxas in battle and Roxas defects from the organization.
  • In Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, C.J. finds out that this is also true about gang-banging. So, in a Crowning Moment of Awesome, he takes over the entire state.
  • Deus Ex. The biggest downside of all that neat nanotechnology you have is probably the kill-switch no one told you about that can be activated if you ever decide to change sides.
  • The story in the original Bushido Blade states that the player's chosen character is part of a small assassin cell that has a "You only leave when you die" rule in place. They want out.
  • Eternal Champions has Shadow, who was part of an assassin agency. When she found herself sympathizing with their victims and unable to kill anymore, she threw herself off the roof of their headquarters - they gave her no other way to leave.
  • Shadow Warrior's Excuse Plot has Lo Wang quitting Zilla Enterprises after learning of his employer's plans to rule Japan using creatures summoned from the dark side. Master Zilla decides to use said monsters to kill Wang. Much ninja asskicking ensues.
  • The Loputo sect in the Fire Emblem 4 and Thracia 776 canon. In Thracia 776, Salem questioned the Lopto Sect's actions and defected. He was almost killed trying to escape. He even has this to say about the Loputo order

  Salem: "The Loputo order does not tolerate traitors. That's the rule..."

  • A City of Heroes story arc involves a Crey employee who wants to move out of Paragon City with his wife. They go to some extreme measures to try to keep that from happening.
  • Part of Taki's All There in the Manual Backstory in the Soul Series. In order to leave Japan and investigate Soul Edge, she has to abandon her ninja clan. One of steps involved in doing this is fighting her pissed-off master, who wanted Soul Edge for himself.
  • Kasumi in Dead or Alive, who left to search for her brother.
  • The Sith on Manaan in Knights of the Old Republic has a double subversion. The young Selkath who are being trained as Sith claim that one who wanted to leave was allowed to do so, but if you look a few rooms over, you find him dying, and this convinces the Selkath to run away.
  • In Dragon Age if an Antivan Crow like Zevran fails an assassination he/she is considered dead to the Crows. Some Crows like Ignatio are willing to merely pretend the errant Crow is dead. Others want to make absolutely sure that is the case one way or another. If the Warden lives, Zevran will tell him/her that he knows the Crows will keep coming after him and that he will keep on fighting them for his freedom which is canon in Dragon Age II. If the Warden dies, Zevran will return to Antiva and take over the organization. It is both a victory and a defeat. Zevran has his life and a position of power and influence — but he never truly escapes the Crows.
    • The Wardens themselves aren't big on people walking away from them, although even if you try, you still have the taint in your blood and a sharply reduced lifespan before the "last walk".
  • Mass Effect 3: This turns out to be the case for anyone who decides to quit after joining Cerberus, including most of your crew from the second game. A number of missions center around helping various former team mates fight off Cerberus retribution, and at least one former crew-mate's survival relies entirely on a dialogue choice when you first run into them in the third game.

Web Comics

  • Order of the Stick: When Haley quits the thieves' guild, the leader, Bozzok, gives her a head start before the ditzy-but-powerful assassin Crystal is sent after Haley. Of course, she has to reenter Greysky City later in the story. Like the thieves guild rules say "You can only leave in a coffin. And vampires can't even leave in one of those."
  • Kevin and Kell: The cult in The Wild. Rudy is forced to recruit for them at an airport, watched by several agents who plan to eat him if he attempts to run away. Kevin manages to sneak him past the agent at the exit by disguising him as his seeing-eye dog. On the other hand, when Ralph joins and never amounts to anything, the pack doesn't try to stop Kell from retrieving him.

Western Animation

  • Justice League: Task Force X — better known as the Suicide Squad, though they couldn't use that term on a kids' show. At the end of the episode of the same name, the criminals think they're done after one mission. Nope... they've got a long time to work off their sentences. They're let off once the parent organization (Cadmus) is disbanded at the end of the season.

Real Life

  • Stop-loss policies in the military allow the army to keep you in it past the time you agreed to enlist for and can even stop you from transferring to somewhere else.
  • This is quite standard for criminal gangs and syndicates the world over. Once you join a criminal organization, you're in it for life, and the only way to leave it is in a body bag.
  • Some countries forbids their heads of state to quit office, even if it's the only thing they can ethically do. The closest example of this trope is Mexico, since the Mexican Constitution states the only way a Mexican president can be able to quit office is being judged for federal crimes (like high treason) or dying due to natural causes or accidents. This law was created after the Mexican Revolution for preventing a president to quit so easily and for avoiding a coup d'etat.
    • Actually, (according with Wikileaks) there is a way for a Mexican president to quit office, but implies suspending the Constitution (so any laws regarding the presidential mandate will become void), and no Mexican president will resort to that, even in the most direst circunstances, since it could be used against the president itself in any time.
  • Technically this is the case for M Ps in the House of Commons in the UK. Of course, there is a loophole; M Ps who wish to resign apply to become the Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds. This is an obsolete but paid position, which causes them to be dismissed under another law. In practice, of course, the whole thing is just a formality and M Ps are frequently spoken of as having resigned directly.
  1. When questioned, he says "I don't know if the film's real, but I was shown that".