Reformed but Rejected

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"It's not easy to regain trust once you've lost it."
—Tear, to Luke, in Tales of the Abyss

Turning over a new leaf is hard. Especially when no one believes that you're sincere about it, and won't forgive willingly.

This is the companion trope to the Civilian Villain, who pretends to have reformed, but in reality is only biding his time while he plots his latest nefarious scheme. The hero, however, is not fooled. By contrast, the desire of the Reformed but Rejected character to leave his evil ways in the past is completely genuine—but the hero still refuses to be "fooled."

Unlike The Atoner, this character was usually not overwhelmingly evil; while he may have done bad things, he hasn't gone completely overboard. His sins are more along the lines of "stole some bread" or "robbed a bank", not "destroyed ten inhabited planets and built pyramids of skulls while laughing wildly." Thus, he is generally not of the opinion that he needs to spend the rest of his life and possibly his afterlife as well trying to make up for his misdeeds, and is in fact due some good karma. All he wants is a chance at a normal honest life. It's getting people to give him that chance that presents a problem.

Often the disinclination to believe that a character has truly become good is not limited to just the hero or heroes, but is the reaction of society in general. The reformed character can find this a bitter pill to swallow, particularly if they have "done their time" in prison, or paid their debt to society in some other way, yet find that society is not prepared to let bygones be bygones.

Things get even more frustrating for the character whose bad reputation is completely unearned, because he was wrongly accused, possibly even convicted, perhaps even made to do the time—but he never actually did the crime. Yet he still faces the exact same rejection as the genuine wrongdoer.

In the best case, the reformed (or genuinely innocent) character finds the strength of will to withstand the scorn and derision of the heroes and/or society at large, and is eventually able to prove themselves truly changed (or is able to maintain the good character they never actually lost) despite the enormous pressure. They succeed in making a place for themselves in honest society, however humble that place may be. (They may even realize that their previous attempts were Buy Them Off and, if not spending the rest of their lives atoning, do more to make up for what they did.)

In the worst case, the pressure is too much and the reformed character's resolve falters and fails. He returns to his old bad ways, often ending up in jail again. Or, if he was originally innocent, he may become so bitter that he will decide he has no choice except to become what reputation has made him. He may even become so despairing that he takes his own life rather than live with non-stop contempt and derision. To rub salt in it, the heroes might take this as proof that he really had never changed at all, and in the case of bad writing this will be how the story interprets it.

This character is prone to attracting the attention of an Inspector Javert, who is convinced that "men like you can never change." Javert is likely to hound the character non-stop, hoping to catch him in a criminal act, or possibly even goad him into committing one.

A character who reforms in a particularly unsubtle way and does not face rejection and scorn afterward, but instead finds the heroes welcoming him with open arms and perhaps a nice cake, has undergone Badass Decay.

The greatest danger for a Reformed but Rejected character, however, is not Inspector Javert, but bad karma. It might be safer to just stay bad.

Contrast The Farmer and the Viper, where someone given the opportunity this reformer seeks turns it against his benefactors. Also contrast with Easily Forgiven where a formerly villainous character is quickly forgiven for any crimes they may have committed as soon as they start helping the good guys. Compare Deadly Change-of-Heart, where the villain never even gets to start their journey to redemption; and Redemption Failure, where they embark on said journey but are turned around by external forces half-way through. See also Villain Ball Magnet. May result from a Third-Act Misunderstanding.

Like any trope dealing with Heel Face Turns, this page is likely to contain spoilers. Tread carefully.

Examples of Reformed but Rejected include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Fairy Tail, cool metal-dragon mage Gajeel gets this treatment at first when the Master lets him into Fairy Tail after his guild of nasty meanies has been destroyed. General incredulity is quelled after he unexpectedly appears in the talent show in a silly Nice Hat with a guitar and sings a heartwarming song about acceptance, but the main characters remain suspicious despite his total adorableness. Subverted in that just around the time the reader starts to like him, he seemingly betrays them, only to turn out to be a Double Agent who was on their side the entire time.
    • Jellal gets the same treatment. It takes a multiple chapters to convince the only person likely to still have any faith in his ability to turn over a new leaf that he's developed amnesia and believes from the bottom of his heart that he needs to help her cause. Granted, once she accepts him he starts to get a little more slack, until the new council says they don't care that he has amnesia and became good or that Nirvana would still be rampaging were it not for his aid and arrests him anyway.
  • In Digimon Adventure 02, even after Ken lost his Digimon and went into an emotional breakdown after he realized what he had done as the Digimon Emperor, most of the kids (mainly Miyako and Iori) were still very wary of his intentions. This was especially true when he used Wormmon to kill a rampaging Thundermon, rather than calming or trapping it. Then they learn in the next episode that the rogue Thundermon was actually created from a Control Spire and they start trusting him more.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S, Regius Gaiz rejects Hayate in this manner, but this affects Gaiz more than Hayate since everyone who matters accepts her.
    • Auris notes after Hayate suggests correctly, as it turns out that Gaiz has ties to Scaglietti that while Hayate was a criminal 10 years ago, Gaiz has been serving for 40 years, although this seems mainly motivated by her being offended by the accusation. It's indicated at a few points that Hayate works as hard as she does in order to remove the stigma associated with her being at the center of the Book of Darkness incident.
  • Faust VIII from Shaman King went through this too after his Heel Face Turn, specially in regards to Yoh's friend Manta Oyamada. (To be fair, his pre-HFT treatment of Manta was horrifying, so the poor kid can't be blamed for being shit scared of him.)
  • One Piece: Hachi, in his original appearance, was one of Arlong's pirates and got his tail kicked by Zoro. When he reappeared later, he was much nicer, but it took a lot of effort on his part to get Nami (who went easy on him but still made it clear that she didn't trust him at all) to forgive him for the things that he'd done. Basically, he had to be shot down by humans and claim that this was fair punishment for the things he'd done to Nami, after she realized that the Arlong Pirates had just been mimicking humans all along.
  • During an arc in Pokémon: Best Wishes, Meowth claims to have been fired from Team Rocket, and Pikachu is suspicious of him much longer than the kids. He turns out to have been lying the whole time to buy time for Jessie and James to carry out their plan in Nimbasa City's subway.
  • Habara from Daily Lives of High School Boys had not been the Enfant Terrible-grade Bully known as Archdemon for eight years and is more a generically sweet girl... except all the teenage boys in town are still too scared of her old self to approach her, let alone ask her out.

Comic Books

  • Averted in the Batman comics, where the Penguin reforms, and is incredibly famous with celebrities and rich people wanting to hang around those they feel are "dangerous." Recently, he's legitimately gone straight and is making a killing with his chain of nightclubs.
    • Another old comic actually went the same way as the first example, with Batman opposing the ruling of the parole board and tracking the Penguin mercilessly. But when Batman cracks down on his suspicious-looking business, he discovers (much to his chagrin) that the operation was almost legitimate... except for the security, who were fellow ex-cons that the Penguin had hired as a favour, to help them gain employment. Sadly, though, this violation of parole means that the Penguin has to return to prison... but Batman puts in a good word for him this time. (The Penguin's love interest also happens to be a honest woman.)
    • The Joker also went straight when he found out an old associate left him millions of dollars in his will. He had to return to crime, however, when he found out the majority of the money was fake.
      • Though thats of course a blatant subversion- he hadn't reformed at all, and only stopped committing crimes because he was friggin' loaded and wanted to enjoy his dosh, not because he had developed anything like a conscience or had any intention of staying away from crime forever.
    • There are other examples of the Joker truly reforming, but they are short lived. The main one is one where he gets plastic surgery and a normal life after he believes he has finally killed Batman, even getting a girlfriend. Of course, he then finds out he was wrong and the predictable happens.
  • X-Men:
    • Rogue suffered from this pretty badly when she first joined the X-Men. Professor X had to guilt-trip the team out of quitting when he took her in (Binary, AKA Carol Danvers, attacked her on sight and did storm off) and even then it took multiple Heroic Sacrifice moments on her part to actually win them over. Moreover, after she had established herself as a loyal member of the team, Dazzler joined up complete with grudge for yet more drama. Carol Danvers was completely justified, considering what Rogue did to her powers and Mind Rape. To this day they don't get along.
    • Things went somewhat easier for Magneto as far as the X-Men themselves were concerned (the transition aided by the end of their last battle and multiple Enemy Mine encounters since), but the treatment by the rest of the world in addition to his own instability kept things from sticking (at least, that was/is the official line).
    • Emma Frost zigzages the Trope; some members are willing to forgive, others, such as Kitty, coldly refuse to accept her reform as genuine, and their trust in her has been tested many times. In fact, this is the very reason Emma sponsored Kitty for membership on the team, because she knows that if she ever did turn evil again, Kitty would be the one to discover it and expose her. Emma does not even trust herself.
  • In the "Tarnished Angel" arc of Kurt Busiek's Astro City, the former supervillain Steeljack emerges from jail tired of the supervillain life and seeking only to put it behind him and live normally. However, the only work offers he gets are for supervillain jobs. When he uncovers evidence of a truly evil plot, he takes what he has learned to the city's superheroes but is repeatedly rejected, scorned, and attacked. After many difficulties, he eventually manages to stop the actual villain, proving himself capable of true heroism in the process. While this does not make him beloved of the city's heroes or citizens, it earns him enough elbow room from them to start building a new life for himself.
  • Watchmen. Rorschach continually harasses dying ex-supervillain Moloch because he's skeptical about Moloch's claims that he's given up crime.
    • To be fair Rorschach did get good info from him the first time.
  • The Red King was the Big Bad of Planet Hulk, a despotic tyrant who ruled over his entire planet with a level of ferocity and detached cruelty that seemed incalculable to any of his subjects. He was killed and replaced by the Incredible Hulk. However, after the holocaust that destroyed Crown City, his body was discovered by the roaming wildebots of the plains, who gave him new life as a cyborg and gave him perspective on the harshness of his actions as Emperor. His daughter, Princess Omaka, refuses to recognize him as a changed man; this is partially because he killed her mother and her brother and burned her arms off when he was king. Skaar, the son of Hulk, is much more understanding, but possibly only because he wasn't alive to see the horrors he wrought as planetary leader.
  • The entire premise of Thunderbolts 10 - 70-ish is about this trope. After the team has been outed to be (former) supervillains, they instantly seem to end up on the most wanted list. It takes several heroic moments for them to be somewhat accepted (and not even publicly until either Zemo or Osborn takes care of that).
  • A sad form of this one is the original Tinkerer, a former mad scientist who served as Marvel General Villain (mostly the Fantastic Four), over a decade after he gives up villainy he's arrested for violating the Superhuman Registration Act when he uses some of his old toys to stop a robbery. It turns out he was protecting his two grandchildren that he had been taking to get ice cream.
  • Possible example, as the plot hasn't finished: Luann has Dirk, a Jerkass Jerk Jock Testosterone-poisoned Domestic Abuser who was arrested after beating his girlfriend Toni and now works as a garbage man, coincidentally on the same block as his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend Brad (the title character's older brother). He claims he's found Jesus in jail and he'll be leaving, never to return (Brad thinks he's dying; readers think he might be joining the priesthood or simply changing shifts or moving). Toni's response is to threaten him with a creepy phone call he made and Brad has Luanne's classmate pretend Toni moved. Dirk is not convinced but doesn't retaliate; he even rescues Brad's mom after a bookshelf falls on her, causing Brad's parents to refer to him as a "creepy, evil superhero".
  • Spider-Man's occasional nemesis the Scorpion actually went though a Villainous Breakdown and reformed, vowing to go straight . . . and promptly ran into Spider-Man in a bad mood, who thrashed him and thereby put him back on the road to crime.
  • Eddie Brock found himself affected by this at times, as whenever he does try to be a hero nobody trusts him and he usually ends up going back to "eat Spider-Man's brain" mode. But when you're renowned for wearing a malevolent alien parasite with a taste for human flesh, that's understandable. He finally gets his recognition in the Spider Island arc, where he saves all of New York from being turned to spider-monsters.
  • Les Legendaires plays this trope brutally straight (while mixing it with The Atoner) in the Anathos Cycle with Darkhell's daughter Tenebris when she joined the Legendaries. While most of them were at least tolerating her presence, Shimy was convinced keeping her in the group was a major danger, even going as far as scheming with Gryf in order to kill her when the other wouldn't be looking. Granted, considering Tenebris did commit horrible crimes as a villain and the Legendaries had suffered a case of Sixth Ranger Traitor in the previous book, her reserves were founded, but still...


  • Raj from Awaara.
  • The entire plot of Kevin Bacon's character in The Woodsman.
  • Norman Bates. Easily Forgiven by his town, but not by the family of Marion Crane in Psycho II. Lila Crane and her daughter eventually play a huge part in driving him back to mania.


  • Much of the main plot of Les Misérables is bound up with Jean Valjean's attempts to re-enter society after spending a ridiculous amount of time in prison after stealing a loaf of bread (to be fair, much of the sentence was actually due to his failed repeat escape attempts). The original Inspector Javert chases after him every step of the way. Eventually, Valjean is able to prove himself a decent—even heroic—individual, causing Javert to commit suicide because he simply can't deal with this concept.
    • At the beginning of the book, Valjean is portrayed as a truly mean jerk, corrupted by the prison process and his own dark thoughts during his time there. An encounter with a bishop and a small boy cause him to reform, and he realises that the only way to reintegrate himself into society is to hide the fact that he is an ex-convict, since that automatically leads to rejection.
  • Subverted in The Scarlet Letter. Shunned by the Puritans for her adultery, Hester is forced to bear an "A" on her dress. She continues to dwell near the community out on the outskirts out to bear responsibility for her actions (and wait for her lover). The community later commends Hester for her charity work and resuming kindness in the face of her past sin. Double subverted that Hester does not accept being accepted, loathes the idea that the magistrate consider having her remove her A, and looks to cope with her sin on her own. Considering it has plenty to do with the Defiled Forever trope, that's quite impressive.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Jaime "Kingslayer" Lannister is first seen as a true villain who attempts to murder an eight-year-old boy in his very first scene. Through Character Development over the course of the next three books, however, he is revealed as more a deeply bitter and disillusioned man than a truly evil one. An encounter with a female knight, plus a personal tragedy, causes him to start re-evaluating his life and his actions, and he begins to try to reclaim the knightly ideals he abandoned as a teenager. His efforts to this point have been met with nothing but jeers and open disbelief on the part of everyone he meets, and whether or not he will succeed in reforming remains to be seen, but his intentions toward that end are genuine.
    • Jaime was never exactly evil, and the actions that earned him so much enmity are things where he still thinks he did (and probably did do) the right thing. It can be argued that Cersei is the influence behind most of the legitimately villainous acts. "The things I do for love..." Though, interestingly, she thought that was the wrong thing to do for love, and argued that she could have simply frightened Bran into keeping silent.
      • The man saved hundreds of thousands of people in King's Landing from a horrible, fire-related death at the hands of Aerys the Mad. He was subsequently reviled and held up as the very opposite of everything that a Knight should be (It's worth noting no one in the series knew about the spoilered bit - he never even tried to explain it thinking no one would care because of his betrayal, and as it turns out he was right, with the exception of Brienne). You would get a little bit bitter too. He also shows genuine remorse for the whole eight-year-old thing.
    • In the same series, another "soiled knight", Sandor "The Hound" Clegane. Although believed to be dead, he may in fact have joined a monastery in an attempt to reform. (Though his face is not clearly seen, a novice monk is described who is almost certainly this character.) Again, it remains to be seen whether he will escape his bloody past.
    • Tyrion Lannister also has some shades of this; he was never evil, but he's deformed and ugly, and the people of Westeros believe that Beauty Equals Goodness. Despite being the Only Sane Man in the entire realm and all that protected the people from their sociopathic king, he was hated and reviled by nearly everyone he encountered. Becoming a patricide has not helped matters.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Deus Sanguinius, the Blood Angels decide at the end to execute all those who had followed Arkio. Some even argued for it for Rafen, who had served as their champion against him. Rafen gets their lives as his reward, though they will be subjected to rites of purification. (Mephiston warns him that many will not survive the rites; Rafen says that they will survive.)
    • In Red Fury, Ajir cannot comprehend how Rafen accepted two of these "penitents" into his company, and when one goes to help him, he bitterly rejects it.
  • Xanth, from The Edge Chronicles is an example of someone who actually was that bad before his Heel Face Turn, but still isn't accepted by anyone except Rook (The Hero) and Magda. They do form a solid Nakama, however.
  • Happens a lot in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Leia refuses to accept Anakin's Heroic Sacrifice as anything other than ten minutes of contrition that doesn't excuse two decades of atrocities. Almost no-one other than Cade Skywalker believes that the Yuuzhan Vong are capable of reform, and pretty much no-one trusts anyone widely known to have used the Dark Side of the Force at any point in their lives, ever again.
    • By this point the fandom has a hard time trusting anyone who has ever been on the Dark Side, given the lunatics Running the Asylum and Jacen in recent years...
  • In one of the St Clares books, new girl Mirabel is angry at being sent away to school, so she pulls every prank she can to annoy the teachers and hopes that the other girls will enjoy the pranks... which they don't, since she's simply making a nuisance of herself and holding up the classes (and occasionally gets them all punished). Finally, Mirabel realises what an idiot she was and tells the principal, Ms Theobald, that she intends to turn over a new leaf since she was tired of being silly. Ms Theobald gives her a "The Reason You Suck" Speech that basically goes, "Oh, I see. You haven't really realised the errors of your ways at all, have you? No, you just got tired of having everyone think you're an idiot, so you've decided to play it nice. I really thought you had something more than this in you, but now I see that you're just a total cow, and you're not worth putting any effort into," in response, and Mirabel never gets to explain what she meant.
  • Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files often finds himself in this boat with the White Council. He tries his best to live as an honest, if somewhat unusual, wizard but the Council is constantly watching him for a slip-up. They even term it the " Sword Doom of Damocles"; one more mistake and they'll have him eliminated.
    • Of course, he's freed of this at the end of the first book in the series; it's just that most members of the White Council of Wizards still think he's a ticking time bomb. And in Proven Guilty, the eighth book in the series, Harry does come under the Doom of Damocles again, indirectly. He takes an apprentice, Molly Carpenter, who is a warlock in the judgment of the White Council, and she is under the Doom; if she again commits an act of black magic, she dies, and Harry dies with her for failing to keep her on the straight and narrow.
  • From The Bible, Paul of Tarsus spent years persecuting the early Christians, but after a trip to Damascus and a case of divine blindness he was converted to the same beliefs of the people he was having killed. Needless to say, the early church was pretty suspicious of him at the beginning.
  • In Guardians of Time Trilogy by Marianne Curley, Marduke's trusted helper, Rochelle, suffers this big-time. Only trusted by Arkarian initially, eventually everybody by Ethan comes around, until the end, where he does too, getting together with her as his soulmate--only to be thwarted immediately by a Heroic Sacrifice on her part, and go momentarily bloodthirsty...only to let it go and decide to let the curse placed on anyone who kills her turn the murderer to stone at sunset. The only solace depressed readers have in the face of this possibly Bittersweet Ending-making even, as the trilogy ends right after it, is that at least they can be together in the heavenly realm after he lives out his mortal life.
  • In There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom, Bradley starts off as the most feared bully in the school. After a few sessions with Carla, the school psychologist who is the only person to have faith in him being a good person, Bradley vows to turn over a new leaf and be a better person. Unfortunately, his genuine but clumsy attempts to be kinder to his family and peers were chalked up as either more tricks or sarcasm at first. Fortunately everyone eventually accepts that he really is being a nicer person.
  • Vanessa in Fablehaven is distrusted strongly enough by the main characters, partially for their actions as The Mole and partially because their means of doing so was quite insidious. Thus, when they claim to have changed (at least, when allowed out of their absolutely safe prison), including being genuine friends with one of the characters, no one believes them and most of the crew refuses to take them back. Eventually, they do so out of sheer desperation.
  • In A Clockwork Orange, the sociopathic protagonist Alex is released into society after having been subjected to a treatment which acts as a Restraining Bolt; though still evil at heart, he is incapable of committing violent acts and is therefore considered by the state to be reformed. He is turned away from his parents' house, gets attacked by his former victims and subjected to police brutality, unable to defend himself.

Live Action TV

  • This is a recurring theme on Law and Order Special Victims Unit. As in Real Life, sex offenders on the show are often unable to leave their pasts behind, even after serving their time. Detective Eliot Stabler also exhibits distinct Javert-like tendencies toward many of the perps on the show.
    • In Real Life, of course, it isn't just sex offenders who find it hard to get back to a normal life on the outside. Anyone who's got a felony on his record can find himself unable to get a decent job, rent a suitable apartment, establish a line of credit, etc. This, regardless of true guilt or innocence. And it doesn't have to be a proven crime—even in the face of a charge that never went to trial, or in the face of a full acquittal, the allegations alone can be enough to turn society at large against you and even sour your family, friends, and neighbors. All the more if you're famous and rich enough that people can assume you circumvented justice (c.f. Michael Jackson).
      • A recent example featured a family of crooks that completely falls apart, culminating in the obsessed father of the kidnapped MacGuffin Girl pretending to rob the hotel Stabler sent them to because he realized he could never lead a normal life and be a good father.
  • Cole from Charmed, to the point that he was eventually driven back to The Dark Side by his attempts to get back into the good guys' good graces.
    • Probably didn't help that blasted witches couldn't decide whether they wanted to help him or vanquish him.
  • And, of course, from the point of view of his fans, good ol' Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer certainly qualifies. Even after his attempts at redemption, he is almost never really trusted by the Scoobies, who continually hound him with abuse and scorn.
    • On the other hand, 120 years of him killing for fun. Plus, when he was originally forced to beg for their help, he spent a lot of time telling them how much he hated them and how he was going to kill them all, first chance he got. The abuse and scorn wasn't exactly one-sided. Even when he started trying to be what Buffy wanted, some of his attempts were... off, and the gang knew quite well that he was motivated by feelings for Buffy rather than a genuine desire for redemption. There's a difference. Even if he was planning not to repeat his past evil actions, he didn't actually feel remorse for them. Speaking pre-Season Seven.
      • Also, there's a lot of confusion about just how responsible vampires are for their actions. When soulless Angel kills Ms. Calendar, it's made arguably clear that Angel wasn't responsible, his evil counterpart Angelus was. This line gets a lot more blurred around Spike, because he doesn't even get a soul until the seventh season, by which point he's insane and being manipulated by the Big Bad anyway, so there's even less reason to trust him.
      • Faith is an interesting case in that after her descent into Complete Monster-ness she seems to have genuinely reformed post coma, being genuinely nice to Buffy in a dream sequence and telling her how to stop the ascension. However after recovering, Faith being haunted by Buffy coming after her and traumatized by her father figure being killed causes her to Freak-Out. Her reaction, to swap bodies with Buffy and act like a complete Jerkass, is treated as the worst thing that she had ever done.
      • After Faith gets her own body back she runs to LA, where she goes on a rampage, tortures Wesley, in a bid to be killed by Angel. He instead sees it as a cry for help and tries to put her on the path of redemption, however Buffy is having none of that and comes to town, still holding a grudge and intent on killing her.
    • Andrew in the 7th season possibly fits this trope, though most of the heroes just find him really annoying.
  • The Master in the Doctor Who special The Five Doctors. Though his motives are more for personal gain than any kind of reformation, he does genuinely want to help the various Doctors in their current predicament, but none of them believe him. Ultimately, he decides it's easier just to be a villain.
    • Five did admit his own fault and unlike the other Doctors, he showed remorse for disbelieving the Master on this occasion (of course, it's not like the Doctors had good reason to believe him in the first place).
  • High school student Rick from Degrassi. Had anger issues and pushed his girlfriend into a rock by accident, putting her in a coma. Came back a season later, having undergone anger management, but everyone hated him, to the extent that two students dumped a bucket of paint and feathers on him. Rick snapped, took a gun to school, paralyzed one of the students who bullied him previously, then died after a struggle with another student from his own gun.
    • Let's not forget Spinner, who was one of Rick's main tormentors (though not without reason - his anger was justified, considering that Rick put his friend in a coma.) After coming clean about his involvement in the prank that caused Rick to snap in the first place, he was expelled and spent the next season trying to find his way back into his friends' good graces. Jimmy especially wasn't convinced that Spinner had changed, and it took him longer than anyone to forgive Spinner, but eventually the two did make amends.
  • Boyd Crowder tries to go straight in the first part of S2 of Justified but Raylon thinks he's faking and other criminals try and get him to help them. Eventually he gives up on trying to reform.
  • The Supernatural episode "Metamorphosis" has an unusual case with the character of Jack. Instead of reforming after evil acts, he has yet to do anything wrong when the boys and the Inspector Javert Travis are planning to, um, accuse him, other then slowly becoming a Rugaru against his will. After the boys tell Jack what's happening to him, he makes a genuine effort to fight it, but said Inspector eventually lures him into feeding by threatening his wife, forcing Sam to take care of him.
  • This forms a large part of the premise of Life, wherein Charlie Crews has been framed for murders he didn't commit, imprisoned for 12 years, and then cleared—but people either still think he did it or think he should just take his settlement money and go away. Of course, he's also trying to find out who actually committed the murders.
  • Levchenko (former war scout turned gangster) in the Russian film The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed. Winds up doing a Suicide by Cop combined with Redemption Equals Death
  • Lionel Luthor in Season 4 and the start of Season 5 of Smallville. Eventually everyone gets over it.
  • This happened twice to Heroes villain Sylar. His Face Heel Turn presumably stuck the second time, though.


Video Games

  • In City of Heroes, Julianne Thompson had trouble getting heroes to support her ideas for improving the world because of her criminal record charges... that had been manufactured against her by a crooked politician she was trying to expose. Obviously, at some point she snapped, because she eventually became Countess Crey, one of the game's nastiest enemies. You can meet an alternate version of Thompson in Another Dimension where Nemesis has taken over; there, free of her criminal background, she's one of the leaders of La Résistance.
  • Ghaleon in Lunar: Eternal Blue is attacked by the hero's party whenever he appears—understandably, since he was the Big Bad in the first game (this was a thousand years ago too, so Ghaleon has pretty much become the world's legendary symbol of evil). However, this time he is on the heroes' side from the start, although proving this eventually requires... you-know-what.
  • In Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song, one of the short stories Broken Bird Schiele tells your hero takes a particularly cruel twist on this: A reformed pirate raises several children he had orphaned, only to have them take out their revenge after reaching adulthood.
  • In Trauma Team, Maria loudly and violently rejects CR-S01's genuine attempts to make amends for the crime he might have committed, driving him into a Heroic BSOD which he has to be talked out of by the agent who captured him. After this, he does manage to convince Maria of his good intentions, but the initial rejection was pretty harsh.
  • A non-villain example in Luke fon Fabre from Tales of the Abyss. Luke begins the game as a selfish, bratty, extremely naive man-child with few feelings of empathy. After his What Have I Done moment, he spends the rest of the game trying to convince the entire world that he's changed his ways. The above quote comes after Jade shows that he clearly doesn't trust Luke after meeting up with him, and Anise has a similar reaction when meeting with Luke again.
  • This happens for a short time in World of Warcraft if you play a Death Knight. After the prologue area, you are teleported to Stormwind or Ogrimmar, and face lynch mobs demanding your death. Thankfully, speaking with Thrall or Varian provides enough reputation so this isn't too much of an issue for death knight players.
    • Later, in Borean Tundra, Thassarian is sent on a Suicide Mission by General Arlos (who is later revealed to have been brainwashed by a Scourge agent).
  • After getting over the influences of Soul Edge, Siegfried runs into this quite a few times, most often from vengence-seekers searching for Nightmare, the Azure Knight.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins this is a possible fate for the game's first Big Bad, Teryn Loghain Mac Tir. After being beaten in a duel by the Warden, Loghain surrenders peacefully and seems to express genuine remorse for his past actions. The player is then given the option to either execute him on the spot, or offer him a chance at redemption by allowing him to join the Grey Wardens instead. If allowed to join, Loghain is sincere in his desire to redeem himself and will even be willing to sacrifice his life to kill the Archdemon in the Final Battle. However, for many players (and Alistair, for whom Loghain's betrayal at Ostagar was personal) it was far too little far too late, and many players just cut his head off right there.
  • Definitely how Cyan views Celes in Final Fantasy VI, and despite his outward reactions, there's enough of this going on subconsciously that Locke initially believes it when Kefka spins some story about how Celes was a spy planted among the Returners (she wasn't).
  • Happens to Aribeth in Neverwinter Nights even if the player character personally forgave her. Then it happens again before you meet her in Hordes of the Underdark.
  • Mass Effect lets you do this to various people. Subverted with Elnora, who puts on a facade of being an air-headed repenter, but in fact displays disturbing sociopathy in her Apocalyptic Log.
    • Most characters...Saren, or The Illusive Man, or even Harbinger or Morinth are people Shepard can at least be civil to. Not so with Gavin Archer: Shepard shows utter disgust that he tortured his autistic brother regardless of alignment, and if s\he sees him in the third game s\he treats him like utter shit.

Web Animation

Web Comics

  • Trudy in General Protection Fault, who planned on a form of Redemption Equals Death by staying behind in a war-torn dimension under alien attack to allow her counterpart to live in the primary dimension, only for her counterpart to switch places with her and send her home instead after fooling the rest of the cast about her identity. She reluctantly accepts this, and Fooker, one of the few people who knows the truth, is highly suspicious of her, reminding her that he knows her identity and he will take action against her if he feels the need to do so.
    • Averted with Fooker. He suspects that his being (falsely) convicted of the shooting that the "Fookinator" performed will make things more difficult in civilian life despite having the charges cleared, because "exonerations make fewer headlines than convictions." While one of his employers at Regional Telecom (one of Dwayne's friends) briefly questions him about it, no one so far has viewed him as a murderer, and three systems administrators don't believe it, instead suggesting that while he was away, his programming skills deteriorated.

Web Original

  • Sahar, at Super-Hero School Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe. A ruthless psychic who took advantage of every person she could find (male or female, since she's a gorgeous bisexual) who had a psychic ability she could learn to copy. But she fell in love with one of her targets, and never recovered... until she decided to try earning such skills with trades, and found one person who would trust her. Most of the school thinks she's just up to another ruthless scam. She's currently trying to make it up to every person she feels she has wronged over the last couple years, and she's got her loved one back.
    • Phase is also a good example. Formerly one of the heirs to the mutant-hating Goodkind family, the fact that her family has disowned her, stripped her of most of her inheritance, and even conducted horrifyingly inhumane experiments on her apparently isn't enough for some students of Whateley, who either refuse to associate with her or are actively hostile. (Fortunately for her stability, there are also plenty with the common sense to realize that the above means she has even more reason to resent the Goodkinds and their policies than most mutants.)
  • Lord Darigan from Neopets is a textbook example of this. Despite being an Obviously Evil Bat Out of Hell, he was in fact a Well-Intentioned Extremist who was trying to take back from Meridell and their Jerkass ruler, King Skarl. However, even though his side won, their land wasn't restored, and he underwent a Face Heel Turn out of nowhere. Then, when he returned, he defeated Lord Kass and saved Meridell. You'd think he'd be in the Gallery of Heroes now, right? Nope! He's STILL in the Gallery Of Evil and considered a villain! *WHAP WHAP WHAP*

Western Animation

  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, young proto-terrorist Jet decides to start a new life. He goes to the heroes with an offer of assistance, but is immediately attacked by Katara, who continues to be violent toward him even after he drops his weapons, raises his hands, and swears he wants to help. They continue to be mistrustful toward him despite Living Lie Detector Toph insisting that he is telling the truth. Eventually his good intentions are proven, immediately followed by... guess what.
    • Justified by Jet having proven to be an adept liar, manipulator, charmer, and tale-teller in his first appearance and that the last time the Gaang and Jet interacted he tried to trick Katara and Aang into murdering a whole village of innocent people.
    • Later in the same series, this scenario is repeated almost verbatim with a repentant (though hopelessly tongue-tied) Zuko. See this quote:

Zuko: Hello, Zuko here. But I guess you... probably already know me. Sort of. Uh, so...the thing is, I have a lot of firebending experience, and I'm considered to be pretty good at it. Well, you've seen me... you know, when I was... attacking you. Uh... yeah. I guess I should apologize for that. B-b-but anyway, I'm good now. I mean, I thought I was good before, but now I realize I was bad. But... anyway... I think... it's time I... joined your group and taught the Avatar firebending. (Pull back to show he's talking to a frog.) "WELL? What's your answer?!"
Frog: (croak)
Zuko: ...Yeah. That's what I'd say too. How am I supposed to convince these people I'm on their side?

  • Eventually, he comes to them peacefully, even going so far as to kneel before them in surrender, Katara still attacks him and chases him off, suspicious due to his earlier vulnerable moment. Later, thanks in part again to Toph's truth-telling abilities (though hampered when he accidentally attacks her), he is able to grudgingly win acceptance. Katara remains unconvinced and swears to dog his footsteps and take bloody vengeance if he screws up even slightly.
  • A few episodes later, she does end up forgiving him.
  • Batman the Animated Series,
    • Happened in an episode where The Penguin had come out of jail and finally decided to 'go straight'. Batman, of course, refused to believe such thing was possible, and hounded him mercilessly... eventually, he does return to his old ways, after being betrayed by a woman he'd fallen for, and Batman has to bring him down. While remaining subtly convinced that he never really reformed.
    • In the episode "Harley's Holiday", Harley Quinn tried to reform. The chain of events that got her sent back to Arkham started with her panicking after setting off a detector in a department store. The clerk never got a chance to explain that they just forgot to remove the security tag on the dress she just bought.

Harley: They won't even let me keep my new dress! And I actually paid for it!

  • At the end of the episode, as she is being returned to Arkham, Batman gives her the dress, remarking that he had a bad day too, once. She tosses the dress aside and kisses him, a move that has both Robin and Poison Ivy picking their jaws up from the floor.
  • Ethan, the new Clayface went through this in The Batman. Part of his plea bargain involved never transforming again and taking treatments to reverse the effects. He tried to relive his life as a security guard but no one save Bruce Wayne trusted him. And then the Joker threw him out a window. By the end Clayface decided he couldn't fit in with society and broke off to fight the Joker. Luckily, Ethan was eventually cured, although he got really close to Redemption Equals Death.
  • Batman Beyond had Bruce doing this for a revived Mr. Freeze, while Terry thinks the man has honestly changed. He has, but unfortunately when his treatment starts to wear off and his benefactors turn out to be using him for their own ends, Fries decides that he wasn't meant to have a normal life and goes after them, using a modernized version of his old suit.
  • Avalanche in X-Men Evolution wasn't so lucky, partly due to that Jerkass Cyclops.
    • And three certain meddling kids and his own bad reputation coming from the multiple times he and his group attacked the X-Men. Heaven forbid Scott (and Kurt, but everyone conveniently forgot that he was as much of a Jerkass to Avalanche as Cyclops was) isn't that forgiving to a Draco in Leather Pants, huh?
      • Exactly, Avalanche has never given him a reason to trust him, Scott was justified to be cautious.
    • Rogue inverted this trope in Evolution, refusing to trust the X-Men for most of season 1 for what she thought was a series of attacks on her. These were staged by Mystique.
  • In The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob, after one of his many stints in prison, has legitimately reformed. However, Bart and Lisa don't believe it (with good reason, given past experience), and when Bob's brother's plot is foiled, they both get taken away to jail.
  • In the Word Girl episode "Tobey Goes Good," Tobey appears to have legitimately reformed but is eventually pushed back to the brink of villainy, confirming Word Girl's belief of his insincerity. He later claims "I hadn't changed into a no-good do-gooder! It doesn't pay to be nice!"
  • Starscream in Transformers Armada didn't technically pull a Heel Face Turn, as he mostly joined up so he'd have a chance to kill Megatron (and because Megatron had tried to kill him). Most of the Autobots didn't accept that he could turn good, which is probably what prompted him to switch back.
  • Hawkg- er, Shayera Hol went through this a little, especially with Wonder Woman, upon her return in Justice League Unlimited after she had turned out to be The Mole for her people, who in turn, almost destroyed the Earth. WW and Shayera eventually came to see eye to eye, though they never exactly became friends again. In a subversion, though, she is not rejected by the League at large (Superman, Flash, and J'onn (or Batman) vote for letting her stay; GL withholds his vote but it's obvious that he trusts her) but she resigns voluntarily before they can announce the result of their vote.
    • Can't exactly blame Diana—it seems that the Thangarians were particularly interested in humiliating her with the way they handled things—forced to kneel, legs apart in front of a male jailer. She does get several Crowning Moments of Awesome in the rest of the film as she goes for payback. Being civil is about the best Shayera could hope for, especially since she's not the type inclined to ask for forgiveness, anyway.
      • It was really less about humiliating Diana and more about her having no real weaknesses to exploit. Batman? Take his belt. Flash? Gravity. Superman? Red solar radiation field. But Wonder Woman's strength is comparable to Superman's, while she lacks a Kryptonite Factor. Best one could do is tie her up with her own rope and make sure she has no leverage to use.
  • A genuinely reformed Yuck from Yin Yang Yo is suspected by the twins (and only them) of actually being a Civilian Villain... and their harsh treatment of him—up to and including beating him senseless and smashing a statue he'd made dedicated to their new friendship in the process -- finally drives him back to evil. Nice Job Breaking It, Javerts!
  • In The Apprentice episode of Xiaolin Showdown, no one but Omi believes that Jack is really on the good side. It's revealed later that he didn't think any of the monks, Omi included, believed he could be good, even though his change was genuine, and he returned to being evil because he was afraid he would fail, as per everyone's expectations.
    • When Chase Young used a Shen Gong Wu to induce Omi into becoming Heylin, Kimiko commented, not knowing the truth about the Wu, that she'd expect Raimundo to betray them. Raimundo didn't take offense.
  • Viper on Jackie Chan Adventures. In her first episode, she was a superthief who (mistakenly) stole the snake talisman from Jackie, double-crossing him after she discovers its power. After giving it back, she goes legit, working as a consultant for a security company, but whenever Jade calls upon her for help, Jackie always dismisses Viper for being a superthief, always prompting Viper to say "EX-superthief".
    • Twice in the series (once in Season 4 and once in Season 5), Finn, Ratso and Chow got themselves on probation and Jackie refused to believe they were reformed for real. Ironically, it was around the time Jackie really started believing them that they revealed that all it took to revert them back into their criminal ways was a chance to score big.
  • After having been the Big Bad for the first two episodes, a reformed version of Nightmare Moon (now Princess Luna), shows up on Nightmare Night in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's second season's Luna Eclipsed. Seeing how the day she appeared on was all about ponies fearing her old, evil persona, her arrival on a black chariot, and her booming, boisterous voice that she insists all princesses must speak in for their subjects to listen to them speaking in Spock Speak and Royal We, everypony is too frightened to even give her a chance.
    • Of course, this is because they LIKE being scared. They haven't seen her ever since her attempt to make eternal night, but at the very least word got out she was reformed. They just figured she knew about the holiday and was having fun with it, and presumably future appearances of Luna will have her treated like royalty.
  • Kovu in The Lion King II: Simba's Pride is a complicated example. He saves Kiara from a fire, but the fire was staged by his siblings and mother so that he would have an excuse to join the Pridelanders. He claims to be a rogue, and to want to join Simba's pride, but is actually joining on behest of Zira so that he can have an opportunity to kill Simba and take his place. However, he starts to genuinely turn good, and Simba starts to trust him. That is, until Kovu unintentionally leads him into a trap. The Outsiders attack Simba and try to get Kovu to do the same, but he refuses. Nuka instead leads the attack, and ends up dying. As a result, Kovu is considered a traitor by both sides and rejected by everyone except Kiara.
  • Family Guy had James Woods terrorize most of the town, especially the Griffin family for several episodes. In the episode "And Then There Were Fewer," James Woods invites the Griffins and many other people to his mansion for a dinner in their honor. He claims that his girlfriend converted him to a Christian and he wants to make amends with everyone that he wronged. Naturally, everyone thinks he is lying. No one ever got to see if James Woods was true to his word since Diane Simmons killed him.
  • Jonsey of 6teen, when the Underground Video store was in trouble!

Real Life

  • One of the reasons prisons have such a massive return rate is the social stigma against convicted (or acquitted, or even suspected, or even exonerated) felons. Prison time (or just being arrested) makes it very difficult to get a job, or a home, or even credit. There is a stigma of having been in prison, regardless of guilt or innocence, due to the reputation of how violent they can be and how a person can change while locked up in such a place. Many felons (especially the more rape-y, murder-y ones) really are just horrible people and they come by their reputation legitimately, but for those whose stint in the penal system actually did reform them, this stigma is still going to bite them in the ass.
    • The most intriguing story in the NFL over the last few years is the case of superstar QB Michael Vick, who was the most despised athlete in the country after he was jailed for two years for illegal dogfighting, in which Vick aided in both running a dogfighting circle and in the deaths of some dogs themselves. After his stint, Vick offered remorse in that he said he grew up in a "Dirty South" culture where it was not seen or understood as wrong and promised to use his experience to educate others in that culture about the inhumanity of dogfighting. There was a large sect that felt he did not deserve a chance to go back into the NFL despite being his main profession (the fact his job pays more than most people's was certainly a factor). Vick has managed to earn back the good graces of a lot of fans due to his cleaned-up behavior and work with the American Humane Society and his improbable revival of his career, becoming an even better QB than he was before jail. However, there is still a contingent of fans (esp. in Atlanta, where Vick's departure sunk the franchise for a few years) who feel Vick will never change and/or does not deserve his second-chance opportunity.
  • When it comes to catching someone cheating on their significant other, the cheater will sometimes try to reform, but the person who he or she cheated on may never forgive them or forget what they did by constantly reminding them that they were unfaithful and/or will never mend their cheating ways. Worse if it comes from the victim's family members who keep reminding them or the cheater how said cheater will never change and that they can do better. It's no small wonder that people who try to make up for cheating fall back on cheating again or leaving the person outright.
  • This also happens in day-to-day situations, like two close friends that fight because one of them spread something that was supposed to be a secret, or when one of those friends gets mad at other people and ends up insulting his/her friend by mistake...and then, the friendship gets cold...