I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure

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So, from now on, when-EVER Private Pyle fucks up, I will not punish him! I will punish all of YOU! And the way I see it ladies, YOU OWE ME FOR ONE JELLY DOUGHNUT!

If you are evil enough, one way to turn someone to your side or motivate him to stay there is to threaten to hurt someone he cares about. This "friend" might indeed be the target's best friend or a love interest; however, if the target is the kind who tries to protect everyone, almost anyone may serve as a hostage.

This trope is a signature tactic of a Bad Boss. It is also a form of Villainous Demotivator. Those who have their friends and loved ones under constant threat should they fail might be driven to greater efforts. However, in the long run this situation can hardly be good for morale or loyalty to the Big Bad. The target may, and likely will, perform a Heel Face Turn should the opportunity present itself (and it will) in a desperate bid to save their family and themselves from their circumstances.

Can be Played for Laughs if the "friend" is someone the hero doesn't like.

Compare Even Mooks Have Loved Ones, where the Big Bad doesn't directly target his underlings' loved ones but merely shows callous disregard for them. If you actually punish his friend for his failure, that's a form of Revenge by Proxy. See also Blofeld Ploy.

Examples of I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In the Water 7 arc of One Piece, the CP9 make Robin help them in obtaining the blueprints of Pluto in order to spare the lives of the rest of the Straw Hat Pirates.
    • In Luffy's flashback arc, Sabo's father forces him to come home by threatening Ace and Luffy's lives, and tries to get him to deny his involvement with them in that same way, but ends up having to bribe the official.
  • A particularly brutal version happens to Yuri in Angel Beats!. When she was younger, some crooks broke into her house while her parents were away. They then took her 3 younger siblings, and told her that they would kill one of her siblings every 10 minutes if she didn't give them something valuable. She tries but fails, and the cops arrive 30 minutes later...
  • In the introductory arc of Yu Yu Hakusho, one of the teachers tells Kuwabara that if he doesn't stop fighting and get his grades up, one of his friends will have his work permit revoked. Then, after Kuwabara keeps his end of the deal, the teacher tries to deliberately misgrade his tests so that he won't have to honor his end (And gets caught by the principal).

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Smythe in the Secret Six likes to keep his slaves in line by slaughtering everyone around them to teach them a lesson. Do as he says or people totally unrelated to your failure will get horribly killed.

Fan Fiction[edit | hide]

  • In the Portal 2 fanfic Blue Sky, GLaDOS uses Atlas and P-Body to capture the entire population of the town Chell has settled in, threatening to kill them if Chell does not cooperate and do the testing.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In Sherlock Holmes, it's implied that Professor Moriarty threatened to kill Holmes in order to coerce Irene Adler into cooperating.
    • In the sequel, he kills Irene Adler and sends men to kill Watson and Mary, even after Holmes personally tells him that Watson will no longer be a part of his investigation. Of course, this ends up biting the bad guy in the end, as Watson ends up stopping his assassin, which he wouldn't be doing if he was still on his honeymoon. It's also the same threat that ends up forcing Holmes to grab Moriarty and jump into Reichenbach Falls.
  • In X Men Origins Wolverine Stryker forces Kayla Silverfox to conspire with him this way by threatening to kill her sister, Emma Frost.
  • In the film Full Metal Jacket, the first part of the film is about the training of the new recruits in the US Marine Corps. One of them, nicknamed "Gomer Pyle," can't seem to improve in his training, so Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann stops punishing him and starts punishing everyone else. The other recruits take it out on him in the infamous "blanket party" scene, where they pin him to his bunk with a blanket and beat the crap out of him with bars of soap wrapped in towels. After this, Pyle starts to show improvement in his training, but also starts to develop a psychotic breakdown, ultimately culminating in the murder of Hartmann and his own suicide.
  • In Under Siege, the Big Bad is having his Mooks lead the crew of the captured battleship into the hold. On the way, one crewmember assaults one of the criminals. Not only is he shot for his trouble, the Big Bad immediately shoots the guy next to him, claiming this is the price to pay for disobedience.
  • In Die Hard, John McClane is messing up Hans Gruber's plans. John's wife's coworker (whom he met once) tries to get in Gruber's good graces by attempting to talk his "friend" McClane into giving himself up. McClane, fully aware of what kind of a person Hans Gruber is, tries to get the guy to admit he's lying but to no avail. Gruber smiles, and shoots the guy for his trouble.
  • In "Time Limit" an officer has made propaganda for the North Koreans while a POW and is going to be court martialed. One officer wants to know why and finds that after the one POW who betrayed the other men was strangled by the man who drew the short straw, the Korean commander called in the ranking POW and told him that he was going to do everything he was told or the other sixteen men would be taken out and shot right in front of him. He gave in.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • In The Shamer's Signet, Dina is forced to use her Shamer powers on anyone her captor sees fit, for trivial things. If she refuses, he'll kill Tavis, the random kid who was with her when she was kidnapped.
  • Altered Carbon: Kawahara threatens to lock Kovacs' girlfriend into a mind-shattering virtual interrogation hell if he doesn't do as she demands.
  • This is a popular tactic of Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series.
  • This is how the kids control Erek King in the last few Animorphs books. One of Jake's biggest What the Hell, Hero? moments.
  • The children's book The Whipping Boy is based on the 15th century real-life practice of punishing a companion to a prince as the royal line was considered divine and only another from the royal line could do the punishing on pain of death. In real life, a whipping boy would be a lifelong companion to the prince so that their emotional bond would make the whipping a real punishment for the prince. In the book, the whipping boy was chosen to start a new life in the castle with the young prince, who was a Royal Pain. This trope is played with, however as when the two are kidnapped, the whipping boy is more educated than the prince, so believing the prince to be the whipping boy, he is the one punished.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Southland: This happens in the episode "Derailed". Marta Ruiz, the matriarch of the Avenue drug gang, wants Janilla dead for agreeing to testify against her sons for a drive-by shooting. Marquece, Janilla's ex-boyfriend and a member of the Grape Street gang, after being taken into custody, reports to Marta that the police have her and that he doesn't know where she is. Marta reminds Marquece that the Grape Street gang owes Avenue money, and after Marquece promises to fill her in on Janilla's new location as soon as he finds out, Marta threatens to have Marquece's entire family killed if he screws up again.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Anya wants to undo a wish she granted as a vengeance demon that killed an entire fraternity. D'Hoffryn, her boss, says it will require the death of a vengeance demon and Anya offers herself, as a way to repent for her sins. Then D'Hoffryn summons up Anya's friend Halfrek and casually kills her.

D'Hoffryn: Never go for the kill when you can go for the pain.

    • Also invoked as a threat in 'Lover's Walk'. Spike, distraught over his failed Unholy Matrimony, kidnaps Willow and Xander and forces Willow to make him a love spell. Made oddly terrifying by how heart-broken and depressed Spike is.

Spike: And if at first you don't succeed ... I'll kill him, and you can try again.

  • Combined with I Have Your Wife, this is the reason the characters do most of what they do in Prison Break.
  • On Law and Order SVU to keep child slaves in line the mistakes of one would be punished on all of the others. This ensured the kids wouldn't run away when sent out to work or prostitute, because they were certain the others would be beaten or even killed if they ran.
  • In a double example, the White Collar episode "Front Man" has Neal being coerced to perform a series of tasks for a gangster, who threatens to kill his hostage (a young girl) if he refuses. While doing the first task, he is told that if he doesn't get the required information from a female travel agent in a certain amount of time, a sniper will kill her (the travel agent). You can even see a red dot appear on her head and clothing occasionally, reminding Neal of his deadline.
  • Toward the end of Season 7 of 24, Tony Almeida and his men break into a Muslim illegal immigrant's apartment, take his brother hostage, and tell him to do as he says if he wants his brother to live.
  • Minnie in Lark Rise to Candleford has a stepfather who uses this tactic to brutalise and subjugate his wife and her daughters.
  • A non-villainous example occurred on The Mentalist: the new boss, in an attempt to get Jane to at least think a bit more before he acted like a complete jerkass, informed him that if he screwed up, nothing would be done to him; Lisbon would be canned instead. For once Jane is rendered completely speechless.
  • After Teal'c betrays his god Apophis in the pilot episode of Stargate SG-1 to help humans, he finds out that his wife and son were exiled from their home (which was burned and branded with the symbol for "shol'va" - traitor). They are forced to live on the outskirts of the village as untouchables. When his son reaches the age of joining, Teal'c wife has to beg the priests to allow Rya'c to undergo the ritual. It took her to finally divorce Teal'c and marry a friend of his in order to wash away his "shame".

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Metal Wolf Chaos, people Richard find to be Metal Wolf sympathizers are killed along with their family members within four separations, their old classmates AND their friends and coworkers. Kevin Bacon is understandably concerned.
  • In Red Dead Redemption this becomes John Marston's primary motivator after his wife and son are kidnapped.
  • In Ocarina of Time, after exiling Talon of Lon Lon Ranch and taking the place over, Ingo the Stablehand threatens to treat badly the horses that Malon loves if she goes against him, which sets the stage for Link kicking his ass in a horse race on Epona, who he befriended as a kid earlier in the game.
  • In Psychonauts, Genius Ditz Sheegor only works for Mad Scientist Dr. Loboto because he has her beloved pet turtle Mr. Pokeylope and threatens to make him into soup. You have to rescue him as part of the game, after which Sheegor will convert to your side and Mr. Pokeylope himself will come up with a plan to defeat Loboto.
  • Officers Tenpenny and Pulaski pull this in San Andreas, threatening to make sure Sweet dies if CJ doesn't do what they want him to do. Later Toreno pulls this as well but is less malicious about it.
  • In Case 5 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, the Big Bad forces the accused to work for him under the threat of prosecuting her sister for a crime she thinks she's committed.
    • Similarly, in the sequel, Maya gets kidnapped by Shelly de Killer in order to force Phoenix to get Matt Engarde a "Not Guilty" verdict, when Engarde was really guilty. Well, he didn't actually kill Juan Corrida, but he did create the circumstances leading to Corrida's death. The player may either get Engarde acquitted, in which case an innocent woman is found guilty and executed, or get Engarde declared guilty, in which case Maya is killed. The only way out is to Take a Third Option and Get de Killer to betray Engarde.
  • In World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King you find letters after killing mage-hunter captains of races on your faction (a human and a troll, respectively), reading the letters becomes a very poignant Player Punch when it says that they've been forced to work for the blue flight under threat of their family's death.

Web Animation[edit | hide]

Grant: Why do I get hit whenever he says something?!
Girem6: Semantics. Hitting the partner of the offender encourages discipline.
Grant: Oh... well in that case, those boots make you look fat.
[Grant gets hit again]
Grant: Why did I get hit that time?!
Girem6: Because I blame your friend for that comment.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Slade uses this tactic in Teen Titans to (temporarily) convert Robin over to his side. He infects the rest of the titans with nano bots and threatens to kill them if Robin doesn't become his apprentice and follow his every order.
  • Though it's never directly stated, it is heavily implied in a few episodes of X-Men: Evolution that the only reason why Colossus is a member of Magneto's Acolytes is because Magneto somehow threatened his family members who are still in Russia.
  • Tirac from the My Little Pony pilot threatened to kill Spike in order to make Scorpan obey him.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • The Nazis often threatened to kill not only those who tried to resist them, but also their entire families if they tried to defect. This included anyone found harbouring Jews in their homes. Erwin Rommel killed himself specifically to avoid this fate after he was found to be complicit in the plot to kill Hitler.
  • It's also the reason that people in show trials confess to imaginary crimes—if they don't, their families will pay the price. The Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin and the "People's Court" of Nazi Germany, among others, were particularly notorious for it.
  • A story making the rounds in the US intelligence community is about some Chinese exchange students in Soviet Russia, involved in a prank gone wrong. They were arrested, and interrogated by the KGB. The interrogation lasted for hours, and the KGB could get nothing. Finally, they contacted the Chinese Embassy for assistance. A Chinese agent walked into the room, said something to the students, and left. Afterward, the students confessed everything, received whatever punishment was due them, and were sent back to China. Later, the KGB agents wanted to know what the Chinese agent had said to get the students to cooperate. A Chinese translator translated as follows: You will tell the Russians what they want to know. In exchange, you will be killed. If you do not tell the Russians what they want to know, you will still be killed. In addition, your villages will be massacred.
  • This is often done in Marine Corps basic training. When one person messes up, the instructors prefer to start with just the offender, but if mistakes continue or they want to make a point, then they get the next guy as well or the whole damn platoon. If the instructors actively dislike you and want you out, then they start punishing the whole platoon except you. When the other recruits are your only support, and the instructors make all of them resent you... either you better be exceptionally mentally tough, or you're quitting (yes, you actually can quit, it's just very hard to unless they really don't want you). The Full Metal Jacket example above is a particularly nasty case of this.
    • Conversely, it is extremely easy to quit the officer accession programs during that period- just say the word and you're out. That's the whole point- only those who can endure it mentally can finish the program and earn the right to lead Marines. Plus they can taunt you with the prospect of quitting. In Boot Camp, the staff is just trying to toughen you up. At the Academy, they really are trying to make you quit.
  • In ancient Rome, if a slave killed his or her master, all of that master's slaves would be executed. The idea being that anyone would be willing to risk their own life for freedom, but few would be willing to put the lives of dozens or even hundreds of other slaves at risk.
  • North Korea reportedly has a series of "family camps" where the families of accused political dissidents are imprisoned for being related to the accused.
  • The idea of the whipping boy is that noble children cannot be physically disciplined, so a common-born child would be disciplined in their place, where the hope that this would make the noble child feel guilty.