Past Victim Showcase

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A hero in the hands of the villains receives an indirect threat (and a spur to their own personal feelings of impotence and despair) by being shown evidence of a past ally's suffering at the same villain's hands.

In fantasy, this is often put across by the display of an heirloom which the previous character owned and which was taken from him by the villains. In more modern or realistic settings, they are shown photographic or video evidence of the unpleasant changes the villains put the last hero through, often with a taunt of "Not very pretty now, is he?"

A frequent component of Revenge by Proxy, since the point of that is making the hero, not the victim, suffer.

The villain may actually display the ally or his corpse. If he is still alive, this may provoke a Mercy Killing on The Hero's part.

See also Finger in the Mail and Forced to Watch.

Examples of Past Victim Showcase include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Bleach, Kurotsuchi showed Uryu a picture of his mentor's soul after Kurotsuchi had finished experimenting on it. Made more horrific by the fact that said mentor was also Uryus grandfather, and by the careless manner in which Kurotsuchi talks about it; to Kurotsuchi, he's just making conversation, and when Uryu informs him about his relation to the victim, Kurotsuchi isn't bothered in the slightest.
  • During the third season of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, Jail sent a taunting broadcast to the Time-Space Administation Bureau showing the rise of the Saint's Cradle, including a video of the suffering Vivio. This was most certainly among the worst ideas in the entire history of bad ideas, contending with heavy-weights like marrying Jocasta.
  • Prettyboy Griffith in Berserk after a year of torture. While his horribly mutilated body is displayed, what is left underneath the iron mask that he wears is never revealed—but it made even the battle-hardened Guts recoil in horror.
  • A variation: when the protagonist of Gunnm wakes up after her Heroic Sacrifice, she is asked by the Neglectful Precursors to become their agent on the surface. When she refuses, they show her a picture of what's left of her real body.

Comic Books

"It's a psychological complaint, common among ex-librarians. You see, she thinks she's a coffee table edition. Mind you, I wouldn't say much for the book's condition. There's a hole in the jacket and the spine appears to be damaged."

Fan Works


  • Jack Nicholson's Joker does this to Vicki Vale in the first Batman movie by showing her what he did to his last girlfriend. The first time he does it, it's when he asks the girlfriend in question to remove the mask she wears as a result of her transformation into a "living work of art" by the Joker. The second time, Joker just lays the mask on the table as he tells Vicki that the girlfriend threw herself out the window, before saying, "But...YouCantMakeAnOmelette without breaking some eggs."
    • Heath Ledger's version echoes this somewhat, with the twist that the "example" is himself. He usually opens saying, "Wanna know how I got these scars?" while holding a knife to his victim's mouth.
    • He brings up how he tortured cops in order to goad the cop guarding him into attacking so that he can involve him in another little scheme. A chilling display of emotional manipulation. Ironically, the Joker is doing this as part of a Batman Gambit.
  • Galaxy Quest has a video of the aliens' former commander being tortured.
  • The Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski had Bunny Lebowski being kidnapped, and when the inept protagonist didn't give them the million dollars they asked for, they sent her husband what appeared to be her severed toe.
  • In The Last Starfighter the assembled good guys were forced to watch a broadcast by the villain of the torture and execution of the good guys' master spy.
  • The convicts in Escape from New York prove to their warden they have the U.S. President by giving him the finger. Literally.
  • Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: C3PO is told that Jabba the Hutt "became displeased with his former protocol droid and terminated it". We are shown its mutilated remains. The worst part was that it was still sufficiently functional to scream. The Expanded Universe book "Tales From Jabba's Palace" states that the droid in charge was actually adding pain sensors to the tortured droids and relishing their anguish. It Got Worse after that.
  • In Advent Children Kadaj does this with the bloody I.D cards of two of Rufus's former agents, saying, 'Fine, swear on these!'
  • Bloodsport: "You are next." Said after the "Big Bad" pummels a fighter the main character befriended briefly beforehand.
  • In The Scorpion King, Memnon gets a message by carrier bird, and everyone thinks the Akkadian is dead. When he opens the message, he discovers that it contains Thorak's amulet instead.


  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Sauron's messenger at the Black Gate shows Frodo's armor and cloak and Sam's sword to his companions; Sauron (who doesn't know about the Ring or that there were two hobbit infiltrators) wants to imply that their spy will be tortured if they do not surrender. Gandalf doesn't take the messengers offer, but does take the hobbit's things. Especially meta-effective because at this time the reader doesn't yet know about the real circumstances, and so is as clueless as the characters about the hobbits' and the Ring's fate.
  • The trope namer: Stephen King's short story In The Deathroom. "Here is your friend Tomas. Not very pretty now, is he?"
  • Emperor Ublaz "Mad Eyes" in Redwall does this to a pirate captain under his command when he reveals the body of the captain's brother. The captain immediately decides to go through with the revolt he was planning.
  • In Under the Yoke, the second Draka novel, an Alliance agent is captured by the Draka, who send him back in a shipping container - horribly mutilated but still alive, with pictures detailing his torture and "Thanks for the lovely chat" carved on his forehead.
  • When Able Team are first briefed on Neo-Nazi Corrupt Corporate Executive Unomondo (the closest thing that series had to a reoccurring Big Bad) they told how one of his accountants who turned state's evidence got a big set of pictures—his wife and children being lowered one inch at a time, one picture at a time, into tubs of acid. The man killed himself the next day.
  • The Pale Woman in Fool's Fate, the last book of the Realm of the Elderlings series, does this to Fitz when torturing the Fool to death.
  • In the first Covenant trilogy, Lord Foul sends a tortured and broken Waynhim back to Revelstone as a messenger, with a threat to make the entire Land as broken as the wretch.
  • After torturing Azil for over a year in Dragons Winter, Kojiro sends him back to Karadur broken in both body and soul.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Mirror Dance:

Baron Bharaputra: "Ry is an artist, in his way. ... The last man who attempted to assassinate him and had the misfortune to live ended up serving drinks at Ryoval's private parties, and begging to offer gratification of any kind to any guest on request."
Baronne Bharaputra: "What did you ask for?"
Baron Bharaputra: "White wine. It was before your time, love. I watched, though. The man had the most haunted eyes."

  • In one Forgotten Realms novel, Entreri had stolen the statue that allowed Drizzt to summon Guenhwyvar, and let Drizzt see it just long enough for him to figure out what the small object was.

Live-Action TV

  • Police Squad! played this for all it was worth. In one episode, mobsters have kidnapped a boxer's girlfriend to make him throw a fight. They start by showing a few of the normal items, then they show him her toaster (complete with toast popping up). During the fight, he checks the crowd and the mob's man is sitting there, with her clothes dryer...
  • Firefly's Niska is very fond of using this trope. As a means of getting Mal and Co. to cooperate, he shows them the mutilated hung corpse of his wife's nephew!

Mal: No...I'm sure he was a...very bad man.
Niska: My wife's nephew. At dinner, I am getting earful.

Tabletop Games

  • Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000: Gaunt's Ghosts novel The Guns of Tanith has the Chaos commander Sagittar Slaith broadcast footage of the captured and tortured Ghosts on screens in his captured city to the other Ghosts he knows are still out there.
  • The 2nd Edition D&D supplement The Complete Book of Elves included several stories about elven attitudes and Time Abyss mindset. One of the most disturbing was about how an elf's children hunted down and captured the dwarf who'd killed their parent, then left a severed dwarf limb on the killer's doorstep every year as a warning to anyone who would dare to threaten an elf. The worst thing is, the vengeful children had also acquired a ring of regeneration. They've been invoking this trope each year for more than three decades and counting...

Video Games

  • Andrew Ryan does this to Jack in BioShock (series) by showing him a room filled with those who'd opposed him previously, some of which Jack had learned about and gotten to know through the audio diaries but never met.
    • The trope reappears in Bioshock 2, where your friendly Mission Control was strapped into a Big Daddy suit and only had control of his mouth and part of his mind. You need to Mercy Kill him.
  • One from KotOR II:

Player: "You know what happened to the last Rodian (the last 2 Rodians, the last 3 Rodians, etc.) who told me I couldn't enter?"
Rodian door guard: "Um..."
Player: "You got his job."

  • Hawk's backstory in Wing Commander Prophecy involves the recovery of Iceman's ejector pod... with Iceman's dismembered body inside. Ironically, it's Iceman's son that he's retelling it all to, in order to pass on the Survivor Guilt.
  • In Saints Row 2 Jessica and Maero do this to Carlos, tying the victim to a truck and dragging the unlucky gangster along the ground. Given the reaction of the Boss, this was a big mistake.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Ganondorf holds up Midna's broken helmet to demonstrate that he just defeated her—just before shattering it.

Web Animation

  • This was spoofed by Homestar Runner during a short storyline in which Strong Bad's laptop was stolen. Attached to the ransom note was one of the keys from the computer's keyboard, which Strong Bad referred to as the computer's toe, in a shout out to this tropes depiction in The Big Lebowski.

Web Original