Ignored Epiphany

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Maybe I shouldn't be singing this song
Ranting and raving and carrying on
Maybe they're right when they tell me I'm wrong...

Denis LearyAsshole

A close cousin to My God, What Have I Done?, this version tends to happen mostly to Villain Protagonists, Anti Villains, Fallen Heroes and sometimes Anti Heroes. Whereas My God, What Have I Done? tends to make a difference in a character's behavior and personality, the Ignored Epiphany has a moment where the Villain or gray character has a moment of clarity or revelation about themselves and their actions, seeing it in perspective for perhaps the first time and realizing exactly how useless and off base their various self-delusions and justifications were. It's often a low moment for these characters, and may provoke sympathy from the audience. The character may acknowledge it various ways, with a sigh, a bitter laugh, muttering "What Have I Become?" or possibly saying to someone or themselves "I've really messed this one up". A common variant is a character starting to so say "My God, What Have I Done?, stopping halfway through, then blaming the whole thing on some other person or outside force.

And then... there's nothing. No Heel Face Turn, no last minute redemption or even an attempt to undo the harm they've wrought. Nor is there any mental trauma equivalent to a Villainous BSOD or mental breakdown. Just... nothing.

There's generally little, if any change in the character. The moment itself is fleeting, and whether it be their natural temperament reasserting itself, or their Fatal Flaw preventing them from changing, outside events do something that force them out of this frame of mind and right back into their usual one, or simply the feeling that they've spent this long and put this much effort into whatever it is they're doing, and now they have to go through with it.

One interesting version of this involves a character realising they've crossed the Moral Event Horizon... and therefore, there's no turning back. You have no hope of redemption, so there's no point worrying about it any more - may as well embrace the Dark Side, and hope that being Drunk on the Dark Side will help you forget your troubles.

Compare Heel Realization which is when a character has an epiphany and realizes for the first time that they're one of the bad guys. Then again, they might be on to something if the Deadly Change-of-Heart is any indication. This may happen before pulling a Redemption Rejection when offered that Last Second Chance. Overlaps with Jerk with a Heart of Jerk.

Examples of Ignored Epiphany include:

Anime and Manga

  • Shion has one in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. It really accentuates the already significant horror of the scene.
    • More specifically, in Meakashi-hen, she had just killed Satoko when she abruptly remembered that Satoshi had asked her to protect his little sister. She had an Oh Crap moment for a sec, before deciding something like, "Oh well, too late!" and cheerfully bounding off to continue the killing.
  • In the Manga version of Sailor Moon, Queen Beryl actually has one of these, very briefly musing how she's sold her soul to Metallia and that there's no going back.
  • Vegeta is a weird case. He was reduced to a sobbing Final Speech, disgusted by what he'd turned into and begging Goku to destroy Frieza so that it wouldn't happen to anyone else. Once revived, he's right back to being a huge Jerkass and threatening to take over the universe; he then remains a dormant villain for years, and while he does eventually make a Heel Face Turn, the exact moment is hard to pinpoint and it doesn't seem to be related to the first epiphany.
    • Him being disgusted at himself was just something FUNI added in. In the Original version, he never says anything of the sort, but just begs for Frieza to "fall by a saiyans hand", as revenge for his race.
  • Light Yagami gives one of the quotes on the quote page after making his second kill. After a very short Heroic BSOD, however, he shrugs it off and proceeds to kill so many people that a death god is surprised.
  • Paul from Pokémon has done this one time, when he battled Cynthia and got royally curb-stomped, she told him he needed to treat his Pokémon with love and respect, which he scoffed at.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Jaden as the Supreme King believes that he killed Jim, one of his newer friends, in a heated duel. Then he casually turns to Axel and asks "So are you next?".
  • Neo Roanoke in Gundam Seed Destiny is fully aware that he's a monster, and that what he does--brainwashing Tykebombs into serving as Sociopathic Soldiers—is beyond the pale. Yet he never does anything about it, and continues on his way despite his doubts, convinced that it is too late to turn back now. It's only with the revelation that he too has been brainwashed that he turns around.

Comic Books

Cassidy: Yeh do it an' yeh're one of the monsters...But yeh know what? Yeh wake up the next mornin' an' yer still alive...Yeh sort yerself out a bit...An' a wee tiny part've yeh starts to believe in a second chance.
Jesse: An' then you do it again.

  • Mr Gone from The Maxx knows every little psychological detail of why he does what he does. He even feels bad about it. That doesn't stop him.
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck uses one of these for maximum effect. After his greatest failure, Scrooge spends decades wandering the planet, building his fortune. When he finally comes home, his sisters (who abandoned him after his crossing the Moral Event Horizon) have gathered his family to greet him... but he storms past them, demanding they arrange for the people seeking donations to get away. Hortense, furious at the change in her brother, tells him he can either stop them from leaving or never see them again, at which point all and sundry walk out (a young Donald Duck giving Scrooge a kick in the ass for good measure). Scrooge, realizing how badly he's screwed up, is about to run after them... when he sees his Roster of the Rich and realizes he's the richest man in the world. The last panel shows him laughing in celebration... as his family walks away, leaving him Lonely at the Top.
  • In Superman: Red Son, Pyotr at one point laments his own evil deeds, most notably having killed that universe's versions of Thomas and Martha Wayne. He even attempts to commit suicide while Drowning His Sorrows, but is saved by Superman. At one point (if I remember correctly) Pyotr says something along the lines of how Superman makes him want to be a better person than he is. But once Stalin dies and Supes becomes head of the Soviet Union, Pyotr promptly goes right back to being a ruthless, scheming bastard who actively attempts to depose Superman.
  • In issue 59 of Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic and Tails get trapped in a pocked dimension with Horizont-Al and Verti-Cal, who are now locked in eternal combat thanks to the events of issue 50. At the end, after Sonic and Tails win with The Power of Friendship, they give Al and Cal a speech about how they should go back to being friends. They briefly ponder this...then decide "Naaaaaaah!" and return to killing each other.
  • Hughie from The Boys has a moment of this when Butcher manipulates him into walking out on Starlight. She desperately begs him not to leave and calls out to him in tears, but Hughie is so angry, confused, and ashamed that he leaves her without looking back. As the narration from that scene puts it:

The strange thing was, he knew she was right. Without being sure exactly why, he knew he was making the wrong choice. But he dredged up what he needed to keep going. To put one leaden foot in front of the other.

Film -- Animated

  • The Onceler does this twice in the 1972 Animated Adaptation of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. Once when the Bar-ba-Loots were sent away, and again when the Swomee Swans and Humming Fish leave. The latter instance segues into his rant from the climax of the book. The epiphany only sticks after it's too late to fix anything.
    • O'Hare provides a comical example during his portion of "Let it Grow".

The things you say just might be true
It could be time to start anew
And maybe change my point of view...
Nah! I say let it die!
Let it die, let it DIE, Let it DIIIIEEEEEEEE!

Film -- Live Action

  • Vader has at least one such moment in Star Wars before doing his Redemption Equals Death Heel Face Turn. When Luke turns himself in to the Imperials during Return of the Jedi, the two have a talk together where Luke tries to turn him away from The Dark Side. At the end Vader simply says "It is too late for me, son", hinting that he knows he's on the wrong side but he doesn't think he can go back at this point. Then, he takes Luke up to face the Emperor, knowing the Emperor's plans to corrupt Luke's soul.
    • The Expanded Universe takes this further, for instance in one comic a group of Falleen (a reptilian alien race whose planet was decimated both by an escaped bio-weapon that Vader was producing on their planet, and the subsequent "sterilization" which involved incinerating the millions who may have been infected) attempt to assassinate him. They fail of course, and the female assassin warns Vader that he cannot run from his crimes, to which Vader replies "I have no choice".
      • The clincher on that is that Vader was being kind by executing millions... he had been advised by everyone to destroy the planet and species completely.
    • His attempts to betray the Emperor but his evident fear of him throughout the series may also be linked to his Face Heel Turn, and how Palpatine was able to get him to betray the Jedi Order on an implied promise of teaching him how to save and create life (thereby rescuing Padme from death), only to reveal that he didn't actually know how. Anakin stuck with the Dark Side because he doesn't want to face the reality that he committed murder and treason for a lie.
    • The novelization of Revenge of the Sith suggests at the end that the reason everything around him explodes when Anakin becomes Darth Vader and dons the suit, is because at that moment he realises how far he's fallen, and he's trying to kill Palpatine. He just can't bring himself to do it, because Palpatine is all he has left.
    • Suggested as early as A New Hope. He was never on board with the whole "blow up Alderaan thing".
  • Towards the end of Hong Kong Wuxia film Duel to The Death, Ching Wan tries to convince an embittered Chinese lord against the plan that said lord made with the Shogun of Japan to betray China. It makes the lord think, but just a minute later he tries to backstab the hero, only to hit and kill his own daughter instead.
  • In Final Fantasy the Spirits Within, Well-Intentioned Extremist General Hein has a couple of epiphanies where he realizes what he has done as a result of his zeal for destroying the Phantoms but goes ahead with his firing of the Zeus cannon anyway, even though it kills him and many others on board the space station with him, and proves to be utterly unsuccessful.
  • In Death to Smoochy, Rainbow Randolph decides that it is time to end his vendetta against Smoochy. He talks of "gracefully marching foward" and "admitting that the rhino has won." That is until he picks up a a photo of Sheldon with his ex-girlfriend. Angelo's panicked reminder of his resolution falls on deaf ears as Randolf screams and curses that he's going to end Smoochy once and for all.
  • In Spider Man 3, Eddie Brock has been exposed fabricating photos of Spider-Man committing crimes to win the staff position at the Daily Bugle. He's seen in the church, seemingly repentant as he admits to being "humbled and humiliated". Then he prays for God to kill Peter Parker, who exposed him. Then he becomes Venom.
  • In John Woo's Broken Arrow, Deakins kills a man by crushing his throat, then remarks, "I just realized something. I never actually killed anyone before. I mean, I dropped bombs on Baghdad, but, uh... never face to face." Beat "I don't know what the big deal is, I really don't."
  • In The Bad and The Beautiful, we first meet Jonathan Shields at the funeral for his father, a former Hollywood big shot who died penniless after his studio went bust. Despite the fact that literally everyone at the funeral except himself was paid to be there and pretend to be mourning, Jonathan takes nothing away from the fate of the man he calls "the king of the heels," except that he'll have to work extra hard to ram the Shields name down the throats of everyone who didn't pay him in the proper respect. He then spends the rest of the movie being a bigger bastard than his dad ever was.
  • In Young Adult, Mavis Gary has to deal with the fact her high school boyfriend's actually happy with his wife and newborn daughter, and she herself has been behaving in an increasingly immature fashion; but just as Mavis says "I need to change", she learns a *very* minor character still considers her a winner, and her narcissism is once again fed.
  • In The Godfather Part II, when Michael returns from Cuba to be told that his wife had a miscarriage while he was gone, he starts to think about what's happened to his immediate family since he became don and talks to his mother about it, asking whether it's possible to be so focused on the idea of protecting your family that in the meantime, you lose them—basically spelling out the entire main theme of the three films. But his mother tells him that "you can never lose your family," and he's reassured that he's doing the right thing. Later in his confrontation with Kay, he tells her he knows they've been growing apart and that she blames him for the miscarriage, but they'll get past it: "I've learned that I have the strength to change." She tells him how blind he is; that it wasn't a miscarriage but an abortion, because she wouldn't bring another child of his into the world, which enrages him so much he forgets any idea of repairing the damage he's done.


  • In Richard Adams' Watership Down, General Woundwort is offered an alternative to bloodshed by Hazel, and a chance to prove himself a "visionary" leader. He considers it for a moment, but then rejects it offhand in favour of his carefully planned destruction of the enemy warren.
  • Lord Soth has at least one, and arguably up to three of these during the Ravenloft novel Knight of the Black Rose. The first, in his backstory, begins with Soth having just been found guilty at his trial. As he is carted through the city of Palanthas in disgrace, a mob angrily taunts him and throws fruit and rocks at the once heroic knight. One of them shouts "The Kingpriest is right! Evil exists even within the Knights!" This gives Soth a moment of remorse and reflection that he has provided just that proof for the fanatical Kingpriest, and about how this will allow the Kingpriest's Corrupt Church to strengthen its grip on the world... but then a rock hits him and he forgets all about that and goes back to angrily cursing the crowd.
    • After his escape from prison, Soth returns to his Tower, where the rest of the Knights besiege him. As this drags on longer, Soth becomes more corrupt and starts falling further and further from the hero he used to be. At one point, after an argument with his wife, he hits her. Looking at himself in the mirror afterwards, Soth realizes just how far he's fallen, goes back, begs forgiveness of his wife and the gods, and gets a divine vision of a Redemption Quest: to stop the Kingpriest from inadvertently causing the Cataclysm. Soth charges off on his quest... until he runs into a group that accuse his wife of being unfaithful, and Soth promptly charges right back, allowing The End of the World as We Know It so he can confront her about this.
      • Lastly, a more arguable case: after wandering into the magic border of Ravenloft, the Demiplane of Dread, Soth is presented with a vision of himself and what might have been if he had fulfilled The Quest above: himself with his honor restored, his dead wife by his side, and the son she was pregnant with there with him. Soth is told that if he merely repents and asks forgiveness from the good gods this might come true. Soth hesitates for a time, but his pride prevents him from doing so, and he instead fights the other version of himself, and kills his son when the son tries to interfere. An arguable case because we don't know what Soth was thinking while he hesitated, (the chapter is told through the point of view of another character), and there's a good chance it was a cruel joke on the part of the dark forces that control the demiplane.
  • The Scarlet Letter—in the middle, Roger Chillingworth realizes that his desire for revenge against Rev. Dimmesdale for cuckolding him has turned him into "A fiend!" Hawthorne's narration says that this sort of moral clarity sometimes only occurs to people once in many years. However, Chillingworth's long since lost any purpose in life other than revenge, and so continues down the path.
  • In The Case of Sergeant Grisha, Major General Schieffenzahn is briefly convinced to rescind the order for Grisha's execution (and has a What Have I Become? moment too); but a snowstorm prevents him making a phone call, and by the time communication is restored, he's abandoned his forgiving whim.
  • Edward knows that stalking Bella in Midnight Sun is wrong and he even points it out to himself; he just doesn't care. For that matter, Bella tells herself dozens of times throughout all of the books that Edward is dangerous, Jacob is dangerous, she's in danger, she shouldn't be with Edward, etc. She never pays these revelations much mind, and goes right back to ogling Edward right after.
  • The Dragonlance character Raistlin does this in the alternate future where he becomes a god. When Raistlin has destroyed all the gods except Paladine (the chief god of good), he speaks with the immortal chronicler Astinus. Astinus tells Raistlin what will become of him after Paladine's death: an eternity of helpless, angry loneliness. Raistlin hesitates... then laughs bitterly and kills Paladine anyway.
    • It's worth noting that this version of Raistlin was almost totally insane prior to this conversation, and seems to have snapped for good after learning of his fate. The main-timeline Raistlin, thankfully, subverts this trope.
  • In Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Chronicles the hero, Uhtred, spends the first couple of books as a violent, arrogant, murderous thug whose only real virtues are loyalty to his oaths and being one of the best fighters around. Half-way through the second book a prostitute tells him exactly what she thinks of him, and he's forced into something of a personal re-evaluation after which... he doesn't stop being arrogant, murderous and unfaithful to his wife. But he does start to feel a little guilty about it.
  • Paradise Lost:
    • When Satan sees the beauty of Earth for the first time, he is deeply saddened and laments on how he used to be part of the beauty created by God, and that if he had been a lower angel, he would have been perfectly happy continuing to serve Him. Then he rejects the idea of repentance by concluding that any apology he gave would be insincere because he's gone too far into making evil his good, so he can't turn back.
    • When Belial suggests that if all the fallen angels just say they're sorry, God may let them back in. Mammon shoots down the idea outright, but suggests that they could at least try to make Hell into a nice place and live basically at peace with God. It's Beelzebub (on Satan's earlier advice) who convinces everyone to just go with evil and try to corrupt humanity.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters, Granny Weatherwax uses headology on Lady Felmet to show her all the evil she's committed. There's a moment when Felmet acts like she's about to pull a Heel Face Turn, or at least a Villainous Breakdown, but she shakes it off and then says she knows exactly what she's done, and she likes it.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel Fulgrim, Fulgrim realizes he is committing a horrible crime when he fights his brother Ferrus Manus, but his sword convinces him to kill him. (Then it lets him realize it, so it can destroy him.)
  • Jack Torrance has one of these in Stephen King's The Shining. In the chapter "The Snowmobile," Jack experiences a moment of clarity in which he becomes aware of exactly how the hotel has been manipulating him and turning him against his family. However, he keeps on thinking about the issue so intensely that he changes his own mind, concludes that everything is his five-year-old son's fault and that Jack himself is doomed whatever he does, and destroys the snowmobile, the family's one real chance to escape. It's worth pointing out that it's not just a case of him changing his own mind; as a result of its (very tangible, very unpleasant) influence, his thoughts take a different direction as long as he's not actually inside any of the buildings that make up the hotel.
  • Alice in Wonderland: "Alice often gave herself very good advice, but she very seldom followed it."
  • Harold Lauder, a highly intelligent but deeply disturbed teenager, has one in Stephen King's The Stand. Prior to the plague outbreak, he was a fat pimply high school outcast that embodied Wangst. After spending weeks living in Boulder, he manages to make a place for himself in the community. His work helping to bury bodies causes him to feel a sense of comraderie with his fellow workers. At one point, one of the workers calls him "Hawk". Harold thinks the guy is making fun of him; calling fat, pimply Harold Lauder "Hawk", only to realize that he isn't fat or pimply anymore. For a brief moment, Harold can see that all of that petty high school bullshit that he was carrying around was just that: bullshit. He goes home that day resolving to abandon his plans to betray the Free Zone and become an honest and upstanding citizen. Too bad the Big Bad sent Nadine Cross to seduce him back to the Dark Side.
  • Years before becoming the biggest Knight Templar out of many in The Warlord Chronicles, Nimue was just a druid's apprentice who, for a single day, considered throwing magic and the gods aside, marrying the main character (who had been in love with her since they were just kids) raising a family and owning a farm. Considering that many years later Nimue's actions resulted in the death of Merlin, the betrayal of Arthur, the maiming of main character Derfel, the deaths of many of Arthur's most loyal warriors and thus, indirectly, Arthur's death at the hands of Mordred and the weakening of Britian's ability to resist the Saxons not to mention the misery these actions caused her, it might have been better if she'd done just that.
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • When Gandalf offers Saruman a Last Second Chance, he genuinely struggles and seems perhaps on the edge of accepting before his Pride and jealousy of Gandalf cause him to refuse.

A shadow passed over Saruman's face; then it went deathly white. Before he could conceal it, they saw through the mask the anguish of a mind in doubt, loathing to stay and dreading to leave its refuge. For a second he hesitated, and no one breathed. Then he spoke, and his voice was shrill and cold. Pride and hate were conquering him.

    • Played with in Gollum's case. Seeing Frodo asleep at the top of Cirith Ungol, he teeters extremely close to a Heel Face Turn, but goes right back to being The Starscream a few minutes later, but only because Sam wakes up and, in his confusion, abuses him as he always does. Gollum didn't take it well at all.
  • Tolkien loves these. In The Silmarillion we have Sauron's repentance before Eonwe at the end of the War of Wrath, which he then takes back when Eonwe asks him to return to Valinor to be judged. The last king of Numenor Ar-Pharazon also has one when he catches sight of the Undying Lands, and momentarily hesitates before invading them.
  • In the Disney Fairies series, Vidia is infamous for plucking feathers from Mother Dove, whose molted feathers are used to make fairy dust. The first book, Fairy Dust and the Quest For The Egg, reveals that Vidia didn't enjoy plucking the feathers, but convinced herself that Mother Dove was making the pain seem worse than it really was. Later in the story, she has to pluck a feather from a golden hawk, who has the power to share its pain, and thus she feels just what plucking feels like for herself. The narration points out that she could have acknowledged that what she'd done was cruel, but instead she decided to believe the hawk had made the pain feel more powerful.
  • Darth Bane has one when he realizes that he inadvertently killed his own father by unknowingly tapping into the Dark Side of the Force. His shock and guilt are strong enough to sever his connection to The Force, and he realizes that the Dark Side will ultimately destroy him. Unfortunately for everyone in the galaxy (especially himself), his desire for power overcomes this brief moment of remorse.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Regained, Eramus has repeated moments of this after some revelations. He gets called on it, frequently.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: Roland Sullivan from Lethal Justice is the personification of this trope! He started out as a relatively decent guy and family man. Then Arden Gillespie entered into the picture. He became addicted to her, and engaged in Your Cheating Heart. He helped Arden suck up all the money belonging to an elderly couple, causing this couple to be Driven to Suicide. Then, to cover up their crime, they frame Sara Whittier (AKA Alexis Thorne), their own employee for it! Sara is found guilty and imprisoned for a year. It is only when they framed Sara that Roland had a Heel Realization. He made no attempt to make it right. He lost sleep over it, forced Arden to set up some pictures of Sara in their offices (as a reminder of how low they sunk), and tried to spend more time with his family. He and Arden practically blackmail each other. He actually wants to find Sara to apologize to her...and use Buy Them Off on her. He still uses his ill-gotten gain to live the high life. He still cheats on his wife with Arden. Sure, his internal monologues claim that he has no willpower, but it seems that he just uses that to excuse his behaviour. His wife finds out that he cheated on her, throws him out and makes moves to divorce him. He actually tried to claim that he did all this for his wife and brags that he'll bring in lots of money and they'll all live the high life, but she rejects this, and points out that she never wanted to live any high life. She makes it clear that she knows that he and Arden framed Sara and urges him to do the right thing. He just blows that off. Later, he says to Arden, "I just realized something. You don't have a conscience, do you?" Arden simply retorts that it is too late to worry about something like a conscience. Roland is clearly a Horrible Judge of Character if he only made this realization at this late date. He makes no attempt to do the right thing or break away from her. He gets involved in another money-stealing scheme with Arden. Sure, he tried to refuse, but he still went and got involved. By the end, he gives off the attitude of a man who wants to get caught and punished. The fact that he has multiple instances of Ignored Epiphany just makes him very unsympathetic.

Live Action TV

  • Angel:
    • Lindsay gets one in Season One's "Blind Date". He decides he can't let Wolfram and Hart kill some kids and so helps Angel and company save them. Naturally, his bosses were aware of it, but they know him, and with the offer of a promotion, a raise, and "ungodly benefits", he ends up joining them again.
    • Angel's epiphany, from the season 2 episode Epiphany, is completely forgotten for the entirety of the season 5 arc.
      • Not so: in Season 2, Angel abandoned his friends, believing that he could defeat Wolfram & Hart alone. In Season 5, it seems he's gone off the deep end again...but he does tell his friends the plan during the second-to-last episode, revealing that he had to keep everything a secret because the Circle of the Black Thorn has been watching his every move. So he did learn his lesson, but had to ignore it at the time until the very last episode when he had everyone go out and kill the Circle and cripple Wolfram & Hart.
  • Brutus, sort of, on Rome. In late season one he feels only betrayed by Caesar and gives in to his mother, going along with the plot to kill the dictator. He goes through with it, but then Antony comes in and they share a look where Brutus' guilt is written all over his face. He then cries out in agony over what he's done. However he seems to get over it rather fast, and stays allied to Cassius to the very end.
    • This is a common issue in works based on Real Life. Authors and audiences want to see deep moral conflicts in the characters, and see them doubting or guilty over the things we feel they should be doubting or guilty over. Of course, the problem is that the real characters may not have felt that at all—so we get fictionalized versions that show great doubts and agonizing self-evaluation in private, then instantly go back to behaving like it never happened when the story continues to follow reality.
  • In a classic Saturday Night Live sketch, after a series of superstitious medieval trials, Steve Martin goes on a monologue laying out a better way to determine guilt, describing a modern American jury trial. He then immediately discards the idea.
    • This "Nah!!" bit was a Running Gag on SNL in the early years, especially for Martin. See Theordric of York, medieval barber-surgeon" for another example.
  • Lampshaded on an episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Will is blackmailing Hilary because he knows she dropped out of school and plans to make her do humiliating things at dinner:

Hilary: Will, if you have an ounce of compassion, you'll let me off the hook.
Will: That's a good point. (pause) Nah! We'll do it anyway!

  • Lampshaded in Wizards of Waverly Place where Alex comments on having got a weird warm and fuzzy feeling after helping Hugh Normous and upon learning that this is what happens when you do good comments that it's not bad, but that she doesn't plan on making a habit of it.
  • A couple of times in the Doctor Who episode "Last of the Time Lords", the Master seems to almost listen to the Doctor's advice, only to go ahead with whatever he's planning.
    • The Doctor himself has a some what unintentional example in the series six final. After the Doctor learns of The Brigadier's death one of his oldest friends in the show, this event show him clearly realizing and accepting his own mortality only to reject it again when he find a way out
  • Naked Chef's Jamie Oliver showed a group of American West Virginian school kids the basically inedible chicken parts go into their McNuggets and they still wanted to eat them. A follow-up article revealed the kids also rejected his healthy lunch for their usual pizza and soda, although they said they'll still try new foods so I guess that's something. (Then again, the fact that we decree any part of a chicken inedible, when one clearly can eat it, is more than a little elitist.)
  • An episode of Everybody Loves Raymond had Frank and Marie living in a retirement home, and almost immediately getting kicked out. Despite the home giving a full list of complaints against the two of them, the pair blamed each other and guilted Robert and Amy into giving up their home, which they paid for, so they could live there again.
  • Londo Mollari from Babylon 5 comes to have doubts about both the political games he is playing with his co-conspirators on Centauri Prime and the alliance with The Shadows before being involved with them for long, but resolves to keep going, saying that it is too late to turn back now.

Londo: I have made many choices lately, Vir. And today, for the first time I am not sure those choices were right.
Vir: Perhaps some good has come out of this tragedy. It's not too late to make some new choices.
Londo: No. The blood is already on my hands. Right or wrong, I must follow the path to its end.


Since I was no bigger than a weevil,
They've been saying I was evil
That if bad was a boot, that I'd fit it
That I'm a wicked young lady,
But I've been trying hard lately
Oh fuck it! I'm a monster! I admit it!

  • Actor/comedian Denis Leary gives us the first page quote from his song Asshole, a satire and skewering of the American middle class. Throughout the song its main character talks about how, despite all the things he has, his true joys come from a near endless series of petty cruelties he inflicts on the people around him and general self-centered douchebag behavior. Around the middle of the song he considers the idea that maybe this truly is wrong, but, as seen in the quote, his response is "Nah!"
  • Voltaire's "When You're Evil". After a long gleeful litany of varying acts of nastiness and reveling in his Evil cred ("The Devil tips his hat to me") , the narrator appears to waver and mournfully, (albeit selfishly) sings "It gets so lonely being evil..." but then snaps right back, and furthermore claims that his moment of weakness was just a lie to mess with your head. Played rather well in this Labyrinth fanvid.
  • Alestorm - Pirate Song

And for what?
I've killed and I've shot
And reddened the cold tears of children with blood
And If I could go back and make my amends
I'd make all those mistakes again
I'd kill every last one of those bastards, my friend

I am not a bad man
Even though I do bad things
Very bad things
Such horrible things
But it's not quite what it seems
(Not quite what he seems)
Not quite what I seem...
Ah, Hell...
It's exactly what it seems.

Tabletop Games

  • This is what happens to a Dark Elf in Burning Wheel when they've almost, but not quite, maxed out Spite. (Maxing Spite is a bad idea.)
  • In Warhammer 40,000, this is the hat of the Dark Eldar—they deliberately continue the nightmarishly hedonistic ways that brought their civilzation to ruin, primarily because they'll be utterly destroyed if they don't.


  • After the scene in which Banquo's ghost memorably interrupts his feast, Macbeth has a quiet one of these. In the end he winds up deciding that it would be as bloody and dark a path if he were to turn back on his ambitions then as if he were to go forward, so he keeps going and soon after jumps completely off the slippery slope.

"I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er."

    • Shakespeare is fond of this trope. He also uses it in Hamlet, where Hamlet's Evil Uncle has a moment where he realizes what a truly evil and unforgivable thing he's done by killing his brother and marrying his brother's wife. He even realizes that repenting is useless as long as he still profits from his act, so he prays for the strength to give up everything he's gained. When he finds he can't do so, he abandons any thought of repenting and just does his best to hold onto the throne.
    • Richard III has his worst moment when the ghosts of his victims plague him in a nightmare. He shouts for mercy. But in the morning he declares that conscience is a fraud "devised to keep the strong in awe. Conscience, avaunt!"
  • In Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, the characters are trapped in their past behavioural patterns, most notably Mary with her morphine addiction and James with his alcoholism and hurtful tongue.

Mary: The past is the present, isn't it? It's the future, too.

Video Games

  • Kratos has one in the first God of War game, when he sees a pile of soldiers killed by the followers of Ares, and has a Flash Back to making his bargain with Ares. At the end he whispers "What have I become?" but then promptly forgets about it. Of course, the gods keep screwing him over, and at one point in the second game he says that he's what the gods have made him.
    • He says this again, word for word at the end of Ghost of Sparta, after killing Morpheus and burying the bodies of his mother and brother, the gravekeeper simply looks to him and responds, "You have become Death."
  • Arthas in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne arguably has one of these when he climbs up the steps towards the titular throne; he hears the voices of his former teachers and friends scolding him, warnings that he is making a terrible mistake. Then the Lich King commands him to return the blade, so Arthas does, striking the Frozen Throne so hard that it shatters and releases the armor trapped within. Then Arthas puts on the armor, fusing his and Ner'zhul's souls to become a new Lich King.
    • The voice of the Prophet saying "Your young Prince will find only death in the cold north" is heard but Arthas wasn't present when he said this nor did he meet the prophet again.
  • Both Atris and Kreia have several such epiphanies throughout Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II and decide to continue their evil ways just the same. "It is such a quiet thing, to fall. But far more terrible is to admit it." Both characters then proceed to attempt to bring about the Annihilation of All They Hold Dear, proudly proclaiming how wrong they were about everything when they force the protagonist to kill them. Depending on how things play out, Bastila may have met a similar fate in the first game.
  • Ryan has a very brief moment in one of his audio diaries where he admits that Rapture has gone straight down the tubes and it's pretty much his fault, only to go right back to his old ways.
  • Dragon Age II gives us the final boss of Knight-Commander Meredith. During the battle, at one point, all allies and enemies will become stunned, and she will ask how such evil can be so powerful. She then wonders if she is wrong, that everything she is doing is madness. She then hardens her resolve in her next statement, and says she must hold fast to her convictions, and the battle continues.
    • Anders apparently has one, but most of it is off-screen between Acts II and III. He tries to put his obsession with the mages' plight aside and learn to reign in Vengeance. If he actually killed the mage he rescued during his personal quest, he outright calls himself a monster. Yet, by Act III, the obsession is back. And its much, much worse.
  • Near the end of Portal 2, GLaDOS is terrified that the voice of conscience she hears is her own voice for the first time. After the final battle, she locates the Caroline subroutine responsible for it and unceremoniously deletes it.
    • Word of God states that this is exactly what was intended. GLaDOS learns a lesson but chooses to reject it, and Wheatley learns a lesson but is in no position to repent.

Visual Novels

  • One genuinely heroic example in Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. When Shirou finds that his ideal and way of life are distorted after being challenged about them by Rin, he logically realizes that his processes are wrong. However, he also decides that he won't listen to her warning, because:

Shirou: There's no way that wanting to help people can be a mistake.

  • The villain of the second arc in Shikkoku no Sharnoth realizes he's in the wrong and that happiness is just in front of him if he just stops, but in the end he is just too insane to do it.


  • Happened once or twice to Black Mage of Eight Bit Theater. Then Fighter started talking and it all went stabways.
  • Parodied in No Need for Bushido when Ken threatened to have a moral epiphany and stop mugging strangers if the rest of the group doesn't help him perform a play for his favorite Kabuki actor. Since this is the only source of income for the group, Ina quickly agrees, only for Ken to immediately tell her he never planned on going through with his threat in the first place.
  • Redcloak of Order of the Stick has a moment like this in Start of Darkness when he has the opportunity to help his brother kill Xykon. What he does instead becomes the subject of an awesome Hannibal Lecture from Xykon that effectively defines Redcloak's character for the entire story to date.
    • There's also Belkar, whom Vaarsuvius uses Owl's Wisdom on to grant him the ability to use healing scrolls. That wisdom gives Belkar the chance to reflect upon the good he could do by devoting his life to healing instead of killing, then Vaarsuvius dismisses the spell, with Belkar reverting to his old self.
    • Later on, a half-dead Belkar has a genuine epiphany, as he realizes that being a blatant murderer and psychopath is eventually going to get him killed by one of the genuinely-good guys. This does not convince him to turn away from evil, however—he just realizes that he has to learn how to fake being on the same side as the rest of the team. And it works.
      • Of course, the leaders of his genuinely good-guy group see through it immediately, but play along as it means that the little psycho would be easier to control for the remaining months of his life.
  • Played with in just the second strip of Chopping Block.

Weary of being a slave to these homicidal impulses, Butch seriously considered getting a lobotomy. But for that he'd need a referral from his Primary Care Physician, whom he'd buried under the back porch last Tuesday. Damn HMO.

Agatha: I'm the bad guy, because, for whatever reason, you didn't tell your nasty little friend who you are. And now she's sad. So you're mad at me--because now she's all teary and sweet and needs rescuing. And I'm the evil madgirl with the deathray and the freakish ancestors--and the town full of minions--and the horde of Jagers--and the homicidal castle full of sycophantic evil geniuses and fun-sized hunter-killer monster clanks and goodness knows what else...and you know what? I can work with that!

  • In Errant Story, Ian has this realization, but his attitude is pretty much "Aw, shucks," and he continues on his plans of genocide:

"Oh, dear Lord, I actually have zombie minions. Yep, I guess I really am evil now."

  • One Least I Could Do story arc made it look like Rayne might come to terms with his skirt-chasing after learning that he blew his chance with his hot boss Marcy because she moved on after spending years waiting for him to make a move. But then he gets over it by hanging out with his niece, and by the next week's strips he's back to being a man-whore.

Web Original

  • Bobby Jacks of Survival of the Fittest. He quickly comes to the realisation that he's one of the bad guys, but immediately after he decides that he's gone too far to try and repent. He even supplements this with a quote from Macbeth (the exact same one which Macbeth himself uses in this selfsame situation).
  • Snake has one of these at the end of this hilarious flash video.
  • One way of looking at Dr. Horrible's final song has elements of this. The song plays with double meanings that underline the tragedy of the scene, most importantly the first, "Here lies everything/The world I wanted at my feet." Arguably, Horrible acknowledges here that everything that has just happened is (at least partially) his fault, and Penny is dead because of his recklessness and his drive to join the Evil League of Evil. They offer him a place, though, and he accepts, even though he hasn't forgotten his loss.
  • In A Very Potter Musical, Harry tries to convince Voldemort that he regrets his evil deeds, and sad music starts to play...

Voldemort: Well... maybe there's one--NO! points wand at musicians THERE ISN'T! [the musicians surrender]

This realization is what motivated me to, uh, completely forget about it and continue drinking for about eight more years.

  • Even though The Nostalgia Critic has a barrel-ton of Guilty Pleasures himself, when it comes to a movie he sees no good in (like the Jim Carrey remake of The Grinch), he never fully comprehends how others can like it. In the specific case of the Grinch movie, at the end of his review he contemplates taking a more tolerant, open handed view and saying that if people take pleasure in it or see something in it that he doesn't, then maybe that's what counts... then essentially says "Nah, I'm right, they're wrong!"

Western Animation

  • Zuko has one of these in the season two finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender. After Zuko improves his life by listening to Iroh, adopting a more positive outlook and more or less giving up his chase for the Avatar, Azula gives Zuko the chance to capture or kill the Avatar together, which would finally restore Zuko's reputation and allow him to return from exile. Zuko almost listens to Iroh's plea not to listen to Azula and join Aang's quest instead, but Azula's Hannibal Lecture convinces Zuko to join her attack on his uncle and the Gang.
    • He arguably has another one in "The Beach," wherein Zuko has to come to grips with why he's still so angry and unsatisfied after returning to the Fire Nation. Despite having everything he's ever wanted he's still not happy, and after being pushed he realizes that what he's really angry at is himself, and the reason why is because he doesn't even know the difference between right and wrong anymore. (After all he's been steering his whole life around the idea that right meant being a good Fire Nation patriot, soldier, and a loyal son, but now he knows his country and father are on the wrong side of the war and about to commit genocide). Then he reconciles with Mai and continues to go along with things in the Fire Nation for about another half dozen episodes before finally doing his Heel Face Turn for real.
      • In the same episode, Azula herself has one just before Zuko does, where each of the Five-Bad Band is sharing some hidden aspect of themselves and their flaws. Azula's is how she resented how their mother, Ursa, lavished attention on Zuko, and her perception that Ursa considered her a monster. She then wraps it up with "She was right, of course, but it still hurt!" This epiphany came back with a vengeance in the series finale, alongside a Villainous Breakdown.
  • A sad case in Moral Orel's "Grounded". Orel undergoes a near death experience to talk to God, and the resulting Dream Sequence grants him a profound epiphany about his faith. Then his father spanks him until he forgets it.
    • Clay himself has one in "Nesting". He apologizes to Orel for shooting him in the leg and being a bad father, but Orel's decision not to tell his father what Ms. Censordoll was planning in leaving the election prompted Clay to take it all back and say he was glad that he shot Orel.
  • On The Simpsons, Mr. Burns experiences one after Maggie returns his beloved childhood teddy bear, asking Smithers to write down a list of all the nice things he plans on doing like donating to orphanages and feeding the hungry. Smithers realizes that he doesn't have a pencil and Burns responds "Eh, I'm sure I'll remember it."
  • Demona on Gargoyles gets one at the finale of the epic four-part episode "City of Stone". At the prompting of the Weird Sisters, she comes to the realization that all the events in her descent into villainy could be laid at her own feet, thereby shredding her justification for her genocidal hatred of humans into tiny pieces. After the Sisters stop talking, though, Demona angrily proclaims that she was tricked into saying that and has to be restrained by magic, leading Goliath to lament that she has learned nothing. Demona's still a villain the next time we see her.
    • Demona is made of this trope. Earlier in "City of Stone", in the earliest part of Demona's Start of Darkness, when her first plan goes wrong, she reacts to the death of her clan and the permanent freezing of Goliath and the others in stone by saying "What have I... what have they done to you?!!" In a great Call Back, at the very end of the series John, (a human hunting gargoyles) accidentally shoots his brother while trying to kill Goliath and says the exact same line.
    • Another Demona example: in the episode "Vows", Demona and Goliath travel back in time, and past-Demona reacts with horror at what she will become and helps Goliath defeat future-Demona. Goliath then delivers an incredibly touching speech urging Demona to amend her ways and live for the moment... only for future-Demona to wake up, tell Goliath she remembers his pathetic words of advice, spit in his face, and fly off into the night.
  • Used rather infuriatingly in Batman: The Animated Series - "Harlequinade". A hilarious episode, but the amount of abuse Harley puts up with comes to a ridiculous point when she realizes the Joker is planning to nuke Gotham, without rescuing their friends at Arkham or their pet hyenas, and goes ballistic. She comes to the realization that Mister J "might not be the guy for me" (believe me, that's a huge epiphany for Harley to have) and fires her grappling hook at him, knocking him senseless. This causes a plane crash that had absolutely no excuse for not being fatal. When he emerges unscathed, she holds him at gunpoint; he proceeds to verbally beat her down until she cries, snaps, and pulls the trigger. That's right, Harley Quinn tries to whack the Joker. Of course, it turns out she picked up a gag gun by mistake, and nothing happens. And what happens within seconds of Harley's huge emotional breakdown? Joker comes out with a fluffy romantic line and they're back to being lovey-dovey. Even Batman sulks after seeing that!
    • Happens again in the appropriately titled "Mad Love". The Joker crosses Harley's Moral Event Horizon when he throws her out a window for upstaging him when she placed Batman in a Death Trap as a gift to the Joker. As the episode ends Harley is back in Arkham, badly injured but looking saner than ever before in the series. Her expression is serious, her crazy grin gone, and her inner monologue shows that she now knows that "The Joker is an insane, twisted-" And then she sees a flower and "Get Well" card the Joker sent to her. "-Angel!" And the insane grin returns. This is entirely in character.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Judge Frollo has one of these at the beginning of the Disney adaptation, when the Archbishop makes him realize that dropping a deformed baby down a well after killing its mother (in front of a cathedral, no less) is not a good thing to do. It lasts long enough for him to spare the child, then he reverts back to his Knight Templar self for the rest of the movie.
    • He seems to have one of some sort in the song Hellfire when he sings "God have mercy on her/God have mercy on me". True to the trope, immediately follows it up with "But she will be mine, or she will burn!"
  • A possible case from Pinky and The Brain: a psychologist determines through hypnotism that Brain's desire to rule the world was actually created in him subversively and accidentally by the scientists at his lab. What Brain really wanted was to go back to his family, who lived in a can with a picture of the world on it. But his mind was warped by the experimentation to the point that all he could remember was his desire for the image. Brain considers the possibility, but ultimately dismisses it and goes on as planned.