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Ever since Socrates, the power of the question to provoke insight has been well acknowledged. This sometimes translates into people using a continued line of questioning to upset or enlighten other characters. Among the most powerful forms of this is finding a single question, formulating it so the answer forces your target to face something difficult to admit, and keep pounding it.

Whether it's The Obi-Wan trying to force his student through a vital lesson, or a villain trying to reduce a hero to a wreck, or a hero trying to show a villain how wrong he's been all this time, or somebody desperately trying to force the kid on the sidelines to realize they are meant to do something....more, the key is to find a question with an answer that cuts close to the bone and not let up.

May involve but is not necessarily related to Armor-Piercing Slap.

The Constantly Curious often comes up with an Armor-Piercing Question in total innocence, being, like many children, Too Dumb to Fool.

This is, in fact, a real technique occasionally used in psychotherapy, education, religious groups, and even debates; it's occasionally known as the "Socratic Method"

Compare Break Them by Talking, Hannibal Lecture, What Is Evil?, The Only Way They Will Learn, Figure It Out Yourself, Koan, Cryptic Conversation. Super-Trope to And Then What?

Examples of Armor-Piercing Question include:


Anime and Manga

  • Lampshaded in Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo when Leopard asks "Do you humans understand what you are?" and gleefully comments how this question always short-circuits a human mind.
  • Stepford Smiler Seta Soujirou, while fighting Rurouni Kenshin, was already starting to suffer from a Villainous Breakdown, is muttering that Kenshin wasn't around to protect Soujirou when it mattered. Kenshin destroys what's left of Soujirou's cool with one question: "Is it too late to start over?"
    • Revenge obsessed villain Enishi flips out when Kenshin asks if his dead sister is smiling for him.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima plays this for humor, with Yue reducing Kotaro to a shivering heap with a series of these types of questions. ("What is love?" "What is the meaning of your existance?", etc.)
    • There is a more recent example played by Negi, which should amount to a Crowning Moment of Awesome, on Smug Snake Kurt Goedel as he calls him out on the real nature of the Magic World ( with state secret level information, that Negi could not possibly normally know about (thing is, he had his personal information source on this specific issue in the person of Chao...)), and on why he only wants to save the people of his country and not the whole world (meaning he is virtually leaving 17 out of 18 of the Magic World to die). This is particularly satisfying as finally his composed attitude breaks down, when even a Curb Stomp Battle brought about by Negi's Super-Powered Evil Side didn't faze him.
    • Negi himself was recently asked an earth-shattering one that he can't bring himself to openly answer: "Which girl do you like the most?"
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Barry the Chopper upon defeat mind rapes Al by asking him how he knows he is even real. This leads Al to question whether he ever existed and if his memories weren't implanted by Ed. Naturally, this turns Al against Ed for a few episodes. Later in the series, the final words of Homunculi also pierce their armor.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann..

 Nia: So does this mean you hate me too Adiane?

Adiane: Hate you? I really couldn't care less about you. I was told to kill you, so that's precisely what I'm going to do! Whether I hate you or not is irrelevant.

Nia: So you're saying that you're willing to kill me simply because you were ordered to do so?

Adiane: Of course I am, what of it?

Nia: If my father ordered you to take your own life, would you do that too?

    • An even better example comes later in the series, when Nia is taken over by her Anti-Spiral programming, and insists she no longer has any emotional ties to her past life. Simon responds to this by asking why she's still wearing her engagement ring.
  • In Naruto, after the revelation that Danzo might have manipulated Mifune into making him head of the alliance, Gaara notes that if people cannot trust each other, there is no future for the world. While the Tsuchikage mocks his ideals, Gaara asks the other Kages "When did all of you throw yourselves away?" and in so doing, causes the Tsuchikage to remember "how (he) was before (he) became a stubborn old man" and veto a potential plan to eliminate the eight- and nine-tailed beast hosts.
  • Subverted in Gundam Wing during the final encounter between Wufei and Treize Kushrenada:

 Wufei: How many people do you think have died for you?!

Treize: Do you really want to know? As of yesterday 99,822 people.

Wufei: What?!

Treize: Lady, how many fatalities today?

Lady Une: We have confirmation of 82 White Fang soldiers and 105 of our own.

Treize: I see. Give me their names later today.

  • X has a Tearjerker along the lines of a villainous Armor Piercing Question. The question, asked of a 14 year old schoolgirl named Yuzuriha Nekoi. "Why is it wrong to kill humans?" Which, in intent, amounts to something like "Why are you guys the Good Guys and we (the Well-Intentioned Extremists) the Bad guys?" The Tearjerker? Her pet spirit wolf, who has been with since essentially birth, springs forward to fight for her. And is immediately killed, causing said Genki Girl to go through a less over-dramatic version of a Heroic BSOD.
    • Yuzuriha finds an answer to that question, by the way, which is "Because someone will always grieve for your victim".
  • Kaze no Stigma: "So what are you doing with your powers now? I wouldn't call this protection, would you? And you're not defending anyone by trying to avenge the past. Tell me, who are you protecting now, Kazuma?"
  • Death Note: After 25 episodes trying to get rid of each other, L knows he's lost and Kira (Light) will kill him at any moment. Up until this point they never openly admitted their mutual antagonism (at least Light didn't) until L asks him "Tell me, Light, from the moment you were born, has there ever been a time where you've actually told the truth?" In the anime the sound of the rain stops and the focus is on Light's shocked face to show how earth-shattering the question is.
    • It should be explained that L and Light both understood that they were opponents in a game that would end in the other's execution in the name of justice, so they never spoke aloud about their competition for fear of the other gaining the upper hand. It's extremely significant that the outrageously over-the-top cautious L puts the game on hold to ask Light directly if he really is just that horrible of a person.
  • In Inuyasha, during the final battle with Naraku, Kagome begins to question Naraku on his motives for his actions, noting that he couldn't have played such cruel and effective games with people's hearts if he didn't understand the human heart, and claiming that he still hadn't absorbed the shikon jewel because it would transform him into a true demon in body and heart. She shatters his composure for a moment with the question, "The Shikon Jewel didn't grant your real wish, did it?" It is revealed in the next episode, as Naraku is still thinking about this question, that his real wish was for Kikyo's heart, which he could never have; as it turns out, the Shikon Jewel never grants it's possessor's true wish, but twists their wishes to its own ends.
    • Earlier, Naraku's own subordinate asked him what he was going to wish for on the Shikon Jewel once all of his enemies were dead. This made Naraku realize for the first time that he didn't know what he really wanted, leaving him open for the Armor-Piercing Question mentioned above.
  • In Medaka Box, Ajimu asks Zenkichi just how he plans to "defeat" Medaka. In other words, what exactly does Zenkichi want from his upcoming battle with Medaka? After some soul-searching, during which he deconstructs his own Subordinate Excuse, he finally has his epiphany: "Ah, I see. I want to go out with Medaka-chan."
  • In episode 7 of Hell Girl, when budding actress Ayaka is banished to Hell, she says that through acting, she can become anybody. Hone Onna promptly asks her: "So...is there a real you in there?"


Comic Books

  • Superman Red Son: "Why don't you put the whole world in a bottle, Superman?" Lex Luthor sends this in a letter rather than saying it. This question brings Superman to his knees.
    • The whole story actually builds to this one question. It is asked as Superman, who has been able to spread his dictatorship peacefully up to this point, is finally forced to use force to take over the rest of the world. It both references his (only) failure to reenlarge a shrunken city and compares him to fellow alien conqueror Brainiac, who shrunk the aforementioned city in the first place, and who is being used as a tool by Superman at this point to maintain his dictatorship (which actually makes "putting the whole world in a bottle" a valid option for him).
  • House of M leadup ("What would you have me do?"). The Avengers are coming to kill the Scarlet Witch because she is destroying reality. Quicksilver confronts Magneto about it. Magneto asks the question. Quicksilver repeats the information. Magneto repeats the question.
  • In Serenity Rose, this is done three times in as many pages when we're shown excerpts from the documentary "American Gothic"; The creator of a trashy, unoriginal comic is asked how many goth comics he's actually read after he continually derides them, the bassist of a goth/punk band is asked whether every fashion statement has to be political after she repeatedly rails against teenage girls who only subscribe to the lifestyle superficially, and nihilistic maniac superstar Rivet Hed is simply told straight up that "In the 16th century, they burned people like you at the stake."
  • If not parodied, then certainly not taken seriously in Green Lantern. Hal Jordan has gotten a blue (hope-powered) ring against his will, and it won't unlock its full powers for him until he answers a question: "What do you hope for?" Since he can't make the ring leave him until he unlocks its full powers, and until then it just sits on his hand asking again and again, and he gives a series of insincere answers like "World peace," Hal eventually snaps, "I hope you stop asking me that question!" The ring accepts this as a sincere answer.
  • Jack Chick is notorious for having his uber-religious protagonists deliver what they think are armor-piercing questions to Straw Evolutionists. The questions may be armor-piercing in-universe, but they never stand up to scientific scrutiny.
  • It was only asked of Spider-Man once, but the question was so profound that it didn't need to be repeated: "Did the radiation enable the spider (who bit you) to give you powers, or was the spider trying to give you those powers before it died of the radiation? What came first, the powers or the radiation?" The question hit Spidey as hard as any foe ever did, and he had no idea what the answer was.
    • And then there that other question: But as you go, given this last chance, remember one thing... The man died, the Spider was reborn. I... was reborn. So the question is... are you you? Or are you me? Are you the man who dreamed of being a spider? Or the spider who dreamed of being a man? Are you the one or are you the other?
      • Worth noting that he decided that it didn't matter...
  • In the Extremis run, Tony Stark manages to double this up with a sort-of Shut UP, Hannibal when he delivers this to John Pillinger, an anti-war activist/documentarist who is interviewing him in regard to the weapons Tony designed for the military over a decade ago, when Tony was nineteen.[1] Over the course of the interview, Pillinger is clearly determined to make Tony out to be as unsympathetic as possible to the point of insinuating that he is Not So Different from any current arms dealer; he interrupts Tony at every turn, gives Tony no chance to expand on his answers, and more or less dismisses incredibly significant medical breakthroughs as meaningless just because they aren't available in third-world countries.[2] He also brushes aside the fact that Tony hasn't designed weaponry for the military in over ten years, and has in fact put his efforts and resources into venues that could improve the world.
    The real kicker comes when Tony, rather than attempt to make excuses for the damage the weapons he once designed have done, flat-out admits that he knows that no matter what he does, he will always have blood on his hands -- and Pillinger reacts as if Tony has given some long, rambling explanation to excuse himself from responsibility. Tony ends his statement by saying, with obvious sincerity, that he's trying to be a part of making the world a better place regardless. Pillinger responds with a caustic "...I see."
    However, at the end of the session, Pillinger asks Tony why he agreed to the interview. Tony responds beautifully with an Armor-Piercing Question of his own.

 Tony: I wanted to meet you. You've been making your investigative films for what, twenty years now? I wanted to ask: Have you changed anything? You've been uncovering disturbing things all over the world for twenty years now. Have you changed anything? You've worked very hard. Most people have no idea of the kind of work you've done. Intellectuals, critics, and activists follow your films closely, but culturally you're almost invisible, Mr. Pillinger. Have you changed anything?

    • To his credit, Pillinger doesn't even hesitate in responding.

 Pillinger: I don't know.

Tony: Me neither.

    • The two menches shake hands amicably before parting.
  • Butch gives an epic one to both Anita and Gila at the end of the Confidential arc in Spy Boy.
  • In Birds of Prey, the Question once managed to get Huntress (whose Berserk Button is crooked cops) to back down by boiling the entire sorry socioeconomic underpinning of Gotham City's hellholishness down to one simple question: "Do you know how much an honest cop makes in Gotham before taxes?"
  • In Doonesbury a soldier asks her friend what she'll say if she's asked "Was it worth it?", to which her friend says that joining the army was great[3] for her. Her friend responds that they'll be asking if the war was worth it; her friend's response is "what do you think I'm avoiding answering?"
  • In The Sandman, Morpheus asks one of these. Archangel Lucifer, having surrounded Morpheus with the Legions of Hell and intending to trap him, claims that Morpheus is powerless as dreams have no power in Hell. Morpheus asks him, and the assembled demons, what use there would be for Hell if those in it could not dream of Heaven. The demons disperse and Lucifer is forced to let him go.


Fan Fiction

  • In Harry Potter and The Methods of Rationality, the Sorting Hat tries to deliver one to Harry: "What happens if you fail?" But even though it goes on to spell out the answer, Harry still refuses to hear it.
  • Used by a therapist in the Ranma ½ Fanfic Decode Chapter 11. Note unlike most examples this was done to help him.

  "Do you have anything that's unrelated to martial arts that you're sure about? Just with life in general?"

  • Ryo from the Tamers Forever Series often uses friendly versions of these against Rika to covertly tease her about her relationship with Takato
    • Chaos is on the receiving end of several from Takato and Ruki
  • In With Strings Attached, the Hunter confesses to Paul that he's envious of the friendship between the four, and that his life, while rewarding and exciting, has left him without anyone he could trust with his soul. Paul then asks him a series of probing questions about whether he actually likes his life, ending with, “Don't you think if you were really keen on your life, four days with us wouldn't've made any difference?”
  • Twilight Sparkle manages to do this to Prince Blueblood in Getting Back on Your Hooves during a "The Reason
  • You Suck" Speech. After explaning how Celestia and Luna seek such a close relationship with their subjects, a stark contrast to the self obcessed, high and mighty Blueblood, she asks him a question that, for once, actually makes him think about his actions.

  Twilight Sparkle: If they're the highest royalty in the land, Blueblood, what does that say about how you behave when you're so much lower than they are?

  • In Alternative Gods, a Death Note Cyberpunk AU Light and L have an arrangement where L is killing criminals for him, but L does not really approve and is trying to get Light to reconsider:

 L: How does Light-kun feel about death? Death, Light-kun. What is it like to die?

Light: I don't know, I haven't died yet.

L: This is a lie.

Light: (laughing): So I'm dead?

L: Mostly, yes.

Light: Really?

L: Let me ask it another way then, is Light-kun a God?

Light: Yes, I am a God.

L: But before you became a God, you were just a man. As a man, you have died, and now you are a God. So I am asking Light-kun what it is like to die.

  • In the third Black Panther fanfic, Moon Rising, Onia Imugem confronts Black Widow by quoting Proverbs. When that fails, she then brings the parable of the unforgiving servant when she refuses to outright forgive Black Panther for his sins.

Film

  • Asked by one of the characters in Oldboy to himself: "Now, what joy will I have to live for?"
  • I Heart Huckabees: "How am I not myself?" Notable in that it is an Armor-Piercing Question to the person who asked it in the first place, completely unintentionally unhinging his entire life.
  • American History X: "Has anything you've done made your life better?"
  • Star Trek V the Final Frontier: "What does God need with a starship?"
  • Subverted in Good Will Hunting: "It's not your fault." Not quite a question, but repeating it a dozen times does bring the main character to his knees.
    • Also played straight a little earlier in the movie, when the simple question "What do you want?" cuts Will off in the middle of a speech and causes him to just stare blankly at his therapist. The therapist notes that Will can spin bullshit stories and justifications for anything... but he can't answer the simple question.
  • Van Helsing (the 2004 movie with Hugh Jackman) asks this of Frankenstein's Monster, which surprises him so much he stops mid tirade and stares at the questioner.

 Anna: What do you want?

Frankenstein's Monster: ...To exist.

 Hanna: We couldn't keep everyone. There wasn't room.

Judge: No, but what I'm saying -- let me rephrase -- to make room, you were picking women out and saying "You you and you have to be sent back to be killed."

Hanna: Well, what would you have done?

  • A Few Good Men: After the JAG lawyer, Kaffee, insinuates that Col. Jessup had been disobeyed by his soldiers - something which Jessup would be absolutely loath to say, even if it was a lie to cover his own ass - he asks:

 Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?

Col. Jessup: I did the job you sent me to do--

Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?!

Col. Jessup: YOU'RE GODDAMNED RIGHT I DID!

 Galloway: So let me ask, if we ultimately conclude that our national security is best served by denying you further asylum on our planet, will you leave peacefully?

Optimus Prime: Freedom is your right. If you make that request, we will honor it. But before your president decides, please ask him this: What if we leave and you're wrong?

Lennox (to Galloway): That's a good question.

    • In the third movie, Carly goes ask Megatron about if he'll really rule the world, going as far as saying he'll be "Sentinel Prime's bitch". He considers killing her, but realizes she's right.
  • The Matrix has the Dare to Be Badass variety. "Do you think my being faster or stronger has anything to do with my muscles in this place? [Neo shakes his head no, while breathing heavily] You think that's air you're breathing right now?" Asked by The Mentor, of course.

 Smith: Why, Mr. Anderson, why? Why, why do you do it? Why, why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something, for more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is, do you even know? Is it freedom or truth, perhaps peace - could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson, vagaries of perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself. Although, only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson, you must know it by now! You can't win, it's pointless to keep fighting! Why, Mr. Anderson, why, why do you persist?

Neo: Because I choose to.

  "What did she do, Angela? You know what she did. What did she do, Angela? You know what she did. What are you afraid of? What did she do? What did she do? What are you afraid of?!?"

  • In Grumpy Old Men, John and Max have been feuding for years after falling out over a woman when they were young, and a new love interest has only made things worse. However, when John has a heart attack and Max goes to see him in the hospital, the nurse asks him "Are you friend or family, sir?". A shaken Max pauses for a long time before concluding "...friend."
  • In Dracula 2000 Mary is losing the fight to Dracula, after discovering that he's actually Judas. Halfway through the fight Dracula snarls at her as they stare at a cross: "He won't have me," (referring to his immortality) to which she replies: "did you ever ask?" The question clearly hasn't occurred to him before, and it's enough to give her the upper hand.
  • The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother. Sigerson does the "repeatedly ask a question" bit with Jenny Hill twice: "What was in the letter, Miss Hill?" and "What does your father do, Miss Hill?".
  • Chinatown (1974).

 Jake Gittes: I said I want the truth!

Evelyn Mulwray: She's my sister... [slap] She's my daughter... [slap] My sister, my daughter. [More slaps]

Jake Gittes: I said I want the truth!

Evelyn Mulwray: She's my sister AND my daughter!

 Green Goblin:If there's one thing [people] love more than a hero, it's to see a hero fall, fail, die trying. Despite everything you've done for them, eventually they will hate you. So why bother?

Spider-Man: Because it's right.

  • Inverted rather cleverly in the Daredevil film, in which Matt Murdoch receives an armour-piercing answer to a theoretically rhetorical question. While in the confessional, no less.

 Matt: "Is justice a sin?"

The priest: "Vengeance is!"

    • For context, the sins he's currently confessing to are as a result of going Vigilante Man on a mob boss who was being prosecuted for rape, and whom Matt feels got Off on a Technicality. This would be morally dubious enough already, as rape cases often come down to one person's word against another's, but Matt was the lawyer for the prosecution! In the circumstances his confessor actually lets him off quite lightly, but he makes a sufficient impression that Matt eventually adopts a policy of Thou Shalt Not Kill that's at least in line with accepted Church doctrine.
  • From Wanted - "Why did you come here?".
    • It almost literally becomes an Armor Piercing Question, when Fox asks Wesley this by beating the crap out of him. Made even more explicit because when his formerly aimless, smug demeanor is broken, he finally answers the question. And when he finally answers the question we begin to see him actually master the skills he's being forced to learn and become the badass we was meant to be.

Literature

  • It's not actually a question, but it does fit. In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Padme's Bodyguard Crush, Captain Typho, searching for her murderer then finding him and getting utterly curbstomped, manages to stop Darth Vader cold by telling him "I know you killed Padme." He still gets killed after the pause, but he's comforted by the knowledge that he hurt the Dark Lord. Though, not knowing the actual events, he never knows why - his investigation basically went: Padme was killed with the Force, Skywalker was supposed to be bodyguarding her, Skywalker was killed shortly before her, Vader appeared after that, therefore Vader killed them both.
  • When Zedd is describing Seekers in Wizard's First Rule, he references this trope, saying that a truly great Seeker could bring even a king to his knees by asking a question.
  • Blade of Tyshalle ("What do you want?") The opening quote is about two-thirds of the way through a dressing down Tommie gives Deliann, which takes a little under a page and a half. "What do you want?" happens to be both the identifying codephrase and the central tenet of the persecuted philosophy Tommie holds. Tommie has to ask the question, with mildly different phrasing, over five times. No, Deliann, not what you feel guilty about, not what you think went wrong in the past, not what you like or wish or would settle for. What you want.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's A Civil Campaign ("Why didn't you say 'no'?") Miles makes a horribly clumsy public proposal to Ekaterin, who storms out in a rage (for complicated reasons). Later, when Ekaterin is discussing the incident with her aunt, her aunt notes that running off was Ekaterin's way of avoiding the question, and that she could have said no.
  • In the third book in Jonathan Stroud's The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Kitty asks Bartimaeus a single question. "What about you and Ptolemy? The question gets to him so badly that we don't see his reaction until the next chapter, where about half of it deals with him absolutely breaking down and scaring the crap out of Kitty.
  • Used in The Tale of Despereaux. The question in, well, question is "What do you want, Miggery Sow?" This comes as such a shock to Mig, who'd never been genuinely asked, that Pea only had to ask once.
  • A couple of examples from The Belgariad- Garion has a dream the night before his Awesome Moment of Crowning where everyone asks him "Are you ready?" until he accepts that yes, he's ready to take up his birthright.
    • A sort of inversion of this is that all throughout the series, he keeps asking "Why me?" His aunt finally returns the question, "Would you trust anyone else to do it right?" To which Garion is forced to reply that no; he wouldn't really, therefore burying this question forever.
  • Gordon Dickson's Childe Cycle: Founding Father of the Dorsai, Cletus Grahame, has forced Melissa Khan to marry him as part of his overarching strategy as he explains exhaustively in their bedroom on their wedding night. Melissa has only one question; "Then you never loved me?" "Did I ever say I did?" Cletus responds, and leaves the room. This tells Melissa all she needs to know. He loves her. If the answer was "No", he would have come right out and SAID "No" instead of evading the question.
  • Catch-22 has Yossarian ask the show-stopping question: "Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?" (It's eventually revealed that Snowden had died horrifically during a bombing run, waking Yossarian up to the Crapsack World around him and causing him to realize that he really, really didn't want to die, not for anything.)
  • In Fahrenheit 451, Clarisse causes Guy to begin questioning his entire way of living by asking the simple question "Are you happy?" and causing him to realize that no, he isn't. He's unable to automatically smile after that as "she had run off with it and he couldn't just knock on her door and ask for it back."
  • In The Dresden Files book Small Favor, Michael asks the question "Where is your blasting rod?" to Harry, because Queen Mab of the Winter Court stole it without Harry noticing earlier in the book, and then put Harry's mind into a brainlock that kept him from remembering either his blasting rod or the ability to use fire magic. Harry himself never realized this had happened, and the question sends him into a brief but intense spasming fit once he realizes what had been done to his mind.
  • In John C. Wright's The Golden Transcedence, Diomedes cites the Silver-Gray cultivation of such questions -- such as, if a philosopher tells you it's right to lie, why do you not suspect him of lying when he says it? Loading such questions into the gadfly virus proves crucial.
  • In the Star Trek Novel Verse, we have "Are you Whole?" for the Andorians. Supposedly asked of the mythical hero Thirishar by all-powerful Uzaveh (AKA Andorian God), the question drives the modern Andorian culture in its entirety. To be truly Whole requires both reassembling in unity the four genders derived from Thirishar (essentially, bonding with three others in an marriage quad) and gaining knowledge of the "missing piece", an elusive aspect of racial knowledge hidden to the Andorian people. See the Star Trek Deep Space Nine relaunch in particular.
  • The Guns of Navarone: "The gangrene's past the knee, isn't it, sir?" Andy Stevens uses this to convince his teammates to abandon the idea of No One Gets Left Behind.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: In chapter 15, a group of men ready to lynch Tom is stopped dead by Scout when she asks one of them how his entailment (ie: an inheritance problem) is coming along. The men are all quite embarrassed by the question, and leave rather quickly after. Scout, however, had no idea what she did wrong - she was just trying to make small talk!
  • The original Fisher King could only be healed by being asked the right question. In some tellings, this is explicitly an Armor-Piercing Question that jolts him out of his self-centeredness; in others it just has unexplained magical properties.
  • Attempted by Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when he asks the young Vogon guard if he actually enjoys his work. Subverted because the guard is too close-minded and stupid to do more than ponder the question for a minute or two, then resume throwing the stowaways off the ship.
  • In On Stranger Tides, a captive pirate decides he'd rather be shot than hanged, so asks one of these ("Is it true what Panda Beecher once told me about you?") of the Navy captain who's questioning him. As Panda Beecher is a criminal who pays Navy officers to smuggle goods, on the one hand, and the owner of a whorehouse catering to "exotic" tastes, on the other, the question pushes the captain's Berserk Button and a fight breaks out. Bonus points because it's an Armor Piercing Shot In The Dark: the pirate actually knows nothing against the captain, he just knows lots of Navy officers do business with Beecher.
  • Lampshaded (naturally) in the Discworld novels. The philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle was asked "Why are you here?" by a fellow guest at a dinner party, and took two years to formulate a suitable reply.
    • Or Wen the Eternally Surprised who, after reaching enlightenment, told his apprentice to ask him a question, anything. His apprentice, who was quite stupid and not at all inclined to be philosophical (...or was he?), just said "Er... what [do you] want for breakfast?" "Ah, one of the difficult ones."
    • Also parodied with Detritus' interrogation technique, which simply consists of asking the same three questions ("Did you do it?", "Are you sure it wasn't you what done it?" and "It was you what done it, wasn't it?") over and over again for hours until he gets the right answer: "Yes! It was me! I did it! I did it! Now please tell me what it was I did!"
    • In Jingo, Nobby, of all people, asks some questions that puncture the anti-Klatchian rhetoric going around Ankh-Morpork.
  • In Good Omens, as Adam Young starts to be overtaken by his demonic heritage, his rambles about his plans to kill off all the grown-ups who've messed up the world and leave things to him and his circle of friends, which includes him divvying up the world among them. One of his friends, Pepper, asks what part of the world Adam wants, and Adam slowly starts to come back to normal as he realizes all he really wants is his hometown of Tadfield.
  • Perhaps the biggest Crowning Moment of Awesome in Sarum goes to Captain Wilson's wife Nellie, who upon her return to Salisbury is immediately accused by Holier Than Thou Abigail Mason of being a harlot. Not only does the Captain denounce Abigail by asking the crowd, "And who's this pasty-faced scold?", but Nellie -- quickly sizing up the situation, in which Abigail and her brother-in-law have been watching her spouse Peter Mason being executed for heresy -- declares the Armor-Piercing Answer, before the entire town:

  "Why, 'tis Abigail Mason who's just burned her husband so she can get another."

  • For Artemis Fowl, it's: "Artemis... Isn't that a girl's name?" Artemis later gives his answer with a code phrase that sets the final part of an Awesome Moment plan in action.
  • In Angela Carter's "A Very, Very Great Lady and Her Son at Home," the lady of the title recounts her mother's advice to overcome her shyness by imagining the people who intimidate her looking ridiculous on the toilet. Her son, who has been attending to her for most of the story, proceeds to ask "And do you look pathetic on the lavatory, mother?" She promptly collapses.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire Jaime Lannister says he wants to die after losing his sword hand, and is asked "Are you so craven?". While he has been called dishonourable or treacherous countless times in the past, nobody has ever accused him of cowardice, and so the APQ shocks him out of downwards spiral, and restores his determination to survive and get revenge.
  • In the fifth Temeraire book, Victory of Eagles, Napoleon has invaded Britain. Laurence, who technically committed treason at the end of the last book by saving the dragons of Europe from biological genocide, is given a stay of execution because the Admiralty needs someone to ferret out pockets of French troops - and he has orders to take no prisoners. It's dirty, dishonorable, and depressing, but he obeys until Tharkay arrives, sees his plans for the next attack, and plainly asks, "What are you doing?" It prompts a small breakdown from Laurence, and a frank assessment of what he is prepared to take responsibility for.

Live Action TV

  • In one of the most emotional episodes of Scrubs, Dr. Cox is headed to his son's birthday party and is talking to his best friend, Ben. In the middle of the conversation, the camera switches so that Cox's face is in the foreground, and J.D. walks up to him and asks him what he's talking about. When Cox gives him the expected answer (the topic of the conversation), J.D. waits a beat and asks "Where do you think we are?" The camera then switches back to where Ben was, except he is no longer there. They were headed to Ben's funeral the entire time.
    • In "My Fifteen Seconds", Jill Tracy is back at the hospital for unexplained poisoning. Every time Cox and J.D. talk with her, she behaves in her typical over-the-top and frivolous way. It's only later that the two doctors understand she had tried to kill herself. They rush back to the hospital and the question "How have things been going recently?" finally prompts her to tell the truth.
  • Used very emotionally in the season three finale of Bones, Brennan to Gormogon's apprentice.
    • Not quite a question so much as a series of logical statements, as Brennan explains to Booth as he keeps asking Zack to give up the Gormogon without getting a response, "Zack responds to logic." Brennan proceeds to give a series of arguments that seem to justify Zack and the Gormogon's motives, and then delivers the armor-piercing line: "Yet you risked it all so you wouldn't hurt Hodgins."

  "There was a flaw in my logic..."

  • Babylon 5: "Who are you?" by the Vorlons, "What do you want?" by the Shadows; both of them are asked until the subject stops giving superficial answers and starts revealing things about themselves. J. Michael Straczynski has a degree in psychology and cited Synanon as an inspiration.
    • In the fourth season, Sheridan and Delenn point out that the Shadows and Vorlons don't have answers to their own questions anymore. This is part of what convinces them to leave the galaxy once and for all.
    • Later, more get added. Lorien asks "Why are you here?", and the Spin-Off series Crusade adds "Who do you serve, and who do you trust?" for the humans, and "Where are you going?" for the Technomages.
      • Unfortunately, since the show got Screwed by the Network, we never get a better answer to the Human question than "I don't know."
  • Doctor Who "Are you my mummy?" from "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances". If it's ever heard by any of the characters, they pretty much stop whatever they're doing and adopt looks of pure terror.
    • And in Dalek, as the titular creature is about to kill Henry van Statten:

 Rose: You don't have to do this anymore. There must be something else - not just killing. What else is there? What do you want?

Dalek: (Silence. Turns back to van Statten, and then back to Rose) I want... freedom.

    • Amy gets one aimed at her by "The Dream Lord" aka the Doctor's Enemy Within during Amy's Choice. He mocks her belief that the Doctor trusts her, and when she stands up to him he simply asks "So what's his name?"
      • Amy also gets an armor piercing statement from the Dream Lord. It's effective nonetheless.

 Dream Lord: Poor Amy. He always leaves you, doesn't he? Alone in the dark. Never apologises.

Amy: He doesn't have to.

Dream Lord: That's good. Because he never will.

      • The Dream Lord gets a hefty bag of armor piercing questions to throw at the doctor:
    • In series 4, Davros asks the Doctor something along the lines of "How many people have died for you, Doctor?" The answer is: a lot. As we are told, via a brief flashblack to all their faces from just the past three out of 45 years alone.
    • Don't forget the Doctor's question to all of Britain about one Harriet Jones, Prime Minister. "Don't you think she looks tired?"
    • The classic series also presents a, well, classic example in The Pirate Planet, when the Fourth Doctor is confronted with a room filled with entire planets compressed into football-sized spheres and held in place by technobabble. The Doctor has asked the question lightly several times throughout the serial, not in an attempt to hurt the Captain, but to get him to drop his "loud but harmless bully" facade and admit that he has greater plans, but here is where he really hammers it home:

 The Doctor: The concept is simply staggering! Pointless, but staggering!

The Captain: I'm gratified that you appreciate it.

'The Doctor: Appreciate it? Appreciate it? You commit mass destruction and murder on a scale that's almost inconceivable, and you ask me to appreciate it?? Just because you happen to have made a brilliantly conceived toy out of the mummified remains of planets?

The Captain: Devil storms, Doctor! It is not a toy!

The Doctor: THEN WHAT'S IT FOR?! What are you doing? What could possibly be worth all this?!

    • The Doctor tried this on Davros in Genesis of the Daleks. "Davros, if you had created a virus in your laboratory, something contagious and infectious that killed on contact, a virus that would destroy all other forms of life, would you allow its use?" Davros ponders for a minute before replying that yes, he would.
    • Martha asks Professor Yana how he knows his watch is broken if he's never used it, getting him to admit he doesn't know... ...and shattering the perception filter keeping Yana from becoming the Master, the Doctor's nemesis.
    • And the conclusion of Series 6 now gives us the oldest question in the universe, the one the Doctor has been running away from for his entire life. "Doctor who?"
  • One prominent instance in Malcolm in the Middle were commandant Spangler asks Francis "Can you name one thing wrong with your life that you don't blame on your mother?". Having blamed his mother for every problem he's ever had regardless of how much Insane Troll Logic used to do so, Francis is stumped.
    • Pretty much the episode where the aftermath of Reese's backfired prank had resulted in a diatribe by no other than Lois. All about how Malcolm should become president by finishing High School first. Knowing how Malcolm's usual arguments end, Lois asking her own son to doubt potential of becoming a president rendered him speechless.
  • Several examples of this occur in The West Wing, since it's a show about career politicians with rhetorical training. Sometimes it's the White House staff trying to cut through political facades, like when Oliver Babish interviews Bartlet over his MS, and sometimes it's a reporter, such as Danny Concannon investigating the assassination of a foreign national by US intelligence.
    • Central to the second-season episode "Noel" is a psychologist asking Josh "How did you hurt your hand?" over and over until he tells the truth.
    • An amusing sequence occurs in the introduction to the re-election arc, where a potential candidate for President completely flubs the question "Why do you want to be President?". Bartlet's staff giggle incessantly over the completely unorganized and unconvincing response, until one of them asks the other "What would Bartlet say to that question?" and they realize they don't have an answer either.
  • Dr. House frequently does this to enlighten or enrage. It can be hard to tell at first why he's so persistent. He may think it relevant to a diagnosis, he may be trying to manipulate, he may simply be "trying to solve a puzzle", or all of these.
    • In the first part of the Season 4 finale, "House's Head", the mysterious female bus passenger repeatedly asks House "Who am I?" and "What is my necklace made of?" until House realizes the mysterious woman is a subconscious substitute for Wilson's girlfriend Amber.
  • Heroes: Season 3, shortly after Claire is finally caught and victimized by Sylar, her biological mother Meredith (a pyrokineticist) accedes to her wishes to train her in combat inside a trailer so that she can fight villains like Sylar. Instead, Meredith repeatedly asks her "why do you want to fight bad guys?!" while superheating the air inside the trailer, causing Claire to admit the true reason behind her vigilante urges - revenge on Sylar for what he did to her (tantamount to rape.)
  • Lost Season 3. Also counts as a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Juliette.

 Sayid (to Juliette): You said earlier that if you told me everything you knew, I'd kill you. I'm going to test the validity of that statement.

Sawyer: He means "talk".

Juliette: We don't have time for this.

Sawyer: We cleared our schedules. We got all the time in the world.

Juliette: You know it's interesting... that you two are now the camp's moral police. I'm curious Sayid, how long was it before you told everyone on that beach exactly how many people you've tortured in your life? Do they know about Basra? And I'm sure the first thing you did when you got here, James, was to gather everyone in a circle and tell them about the man you shot in cold blood the night before you got on the plane. So why don't we just skip the part where you two pretend to be righteous? I'm taking that medicine back to Claire, and you're going to let me. Because if she doesn't get it, she's going to die. And the last thing either of you need right now... is more blood on your hands.

    • There's an even better one in Season 1. Locke leaves Boone and Shannon tied up in the jungle, allowing the monster to kill Shannon. After Boone gets free, he comes after Locke with knife, screaming accusations. As soon as he says the words "she died in my arms," Locke delivers his first APQ: "Then why is there no blood on you?" This forces Boone to realize that the whole thing was an hallucination. But then Locke drops his second APQ, asking Boone how he felt when he thought Shannon was dead. Despite his rage, Boone says "relieved," effectively concluding his arc as he sheds his emotional dependence on her.
  • During season 2 of Legend of the Seeker, Richard became affected by a magic-induced rage, and to help him control it, the wizard Zedd kept asking Richard "What are you angry at?", knocking down each of Richard's answers until they got to the real answer: Richard was angry at Zedd for lying to him about heritage and bringing him into the conflict in the first place
  • The second-to-last episode of Season 1 of The Wire: D'Angelo Barksdale decides to quit the Game:

 "Where's Wallace? Where the fuck is Wallace? Huh? Huh? String? String? Look at me! Where the fuck is Wallace?"

    • And a possible callback at the end of Season 4, when the System fails Randy:

 "You gon' help, huh? You gonna look out for me? You gonna look out for me, Sergeant Carver? You mean it? You gonna look out for me? You promise?! You got my back, huh?!"

  • Cal Lightman of Lie to Me uses this all the time to get a reaction he can read off of someone.
  • In The Sarah Connor Chronicles, "Will you join us?" - pierces through Cameron's literal armor, which is saying something. This prompts, amongst other things, an Oh Shit Moment for her, with John even bewilderedly pointing out she's upset, not him.
    • Funnily enough, the same question actually gives her the same reaction twice. First in the future hearing it from Jesse, then again in the present from Ellison.
  • Emily delivers an Armour Piercing Line to Naomi in Skins during the Katie And Emily episode. Naomi is running away from their relationship (again) until three words stop her dead in her tracks - and bring her straight back for a lot of kissing against the lockers.
  • In the classic James Newcomer Star Trek the Next Generation episode, "The Measure of a Man," Picard is forced to defend Data's rights when Commander Bruce Maddox claims he is not sentient and is Starfleet's property, giving Maddox the right to disassemble Data against his will to study and replicate him. Picard's defence is one giant Crowning Moment of Awesome where he questions the real implications of Maddox's work that eventually leaves Maddox shaken and silent.

 Picard: A single Data, and forgive me, Commander, is a curiosity: a wonder, even. But thousands of Datas, isn't that becoming a race? And won't we be judged by how we treat that race?" Now tell me, Commander, what is Data?

Maddox: I don't understand.

Picard: What is he??

Maddox: A machine!

Picard: Is he? Are you sure?

Maddox: Yes!

Picard: You see he's met two of your three criteria for sentience, [intelligence and self-awareness,] so what if he meets the third, consciousness, in even the smallest degree? What is he then? I don't know, do you? (to Riker, who'd been forced to argue for Maddox's side) Do you? (to the judge) Do you? Are you prepared to condemn him and all who come after him to servitude and slavery?

    • The Fridge Logic here is that if Picard is so careful about the slippery slope that he is pressing to err on the side of caution, warning that it could lead to servitude and slavery to deny rights to something that might possibly show the signs of the aforementioned criteria, then why exactly does he have no similar attachments to other advanced computers, like the Enterprise's (he never asks the ship if it wants to go where he wants it to go), or any other form of equipment? It was even brought up that the only reason there was such a fuss over Data was just because Data looks human(ish). These tough questions never are answered again in the series, of course (though Voyager does take a crack at it with the new Doctor).
      • Except of course in the episode "The Quality of Life", when the exact same issues were brought up regarding the emerging sentience of the Exocomps, and both Moriarty holodeck episodes ("Elementary, Dear Data" and "Ship in a Bottle"). Plus there was an episode where the ship DID become sentient ("Emergence"), although it was a temporary condition caused by the presence of an alien lifeform, and the crew spent most of the episode unable to communicate with it.
    • Picard himself is taken aback by Data's question earlier in the same episode, after he suggests to Data to agree to Maddox's procedure for the sake of Starfleet.

 Data: Sir, Lt. La Forge's eyes are far superior to human biological eyes, true? Then why are not all human officers required to have their eyes replaced with cybernetic implants?

[Picard is at a loss for words and turns away]

Data: I see, it is precisely because I am not human.

Picard: [shaken] That will be all, Mr. Data.

  • Law and Order: Ben Stone's cross-examination of an anti-abortion activist who had tricked a woman wanting an abortion into carrying a bomb to the clinic. After the woman self-righteously declared what she had done was just, and that the victim, a former follower of hers who had become pregnant, deserved what had happened, the question came that left her speechless.

 If abortion is murder, then no matter how you feel about Mary Donovan, aren't you guilty of the murder of her unborn child?

    • Another episode involving the killing of an abortion clinic doctor had Jack McCoy questioning the man who had arranged the murder. The defendant was trying to use justifiable homicide as a defense (that he had to protect all those unborn children by having this woman killed). McCoy pierces his armor by asking why then, if he was so sure it was right and justified and necessary, he hadn't done the deed himself instead of just arranging the murder? The man is forced to admit that he believes any killing is morally wrong and thus couldn't go through with it himself, destroying his own defense completely.
    • Law and Order has tons of examples of these on the witness stand.
  • Criminal Minds has Constantly Curious Ellie Spicer ask Tim Curry's character (a serial killer) why he kills people. Subverted when he replies that the best question would not be why he kills people, but why he doesn't kill all of them.
  • The Prisoner episode "The General" shows Number Six defeating a highly advanced computer by Logic Bombing it with a question which he is certain its predictive and logic circuits will not be equipped to answer: "Why?"

 Prisoner:It's insoluble, for man or machine.


Newspaper Comics

  • Argentinian cartoonist Quino made a strip about a man showing to his grandson his collection of books:

 Man: By reading all these books I learned who were the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Incas, Mayas...

Boy: And we grandpa? Who are we?

(a moment later)

Mom: Where's your grandpa?

Boy: In the library, crying.

  • Linus does this in one Peanuts strip when he asks a doomsday prophet who has been terrorizing (or boring) the camp kids for a week: "Have you ever considered that you might be wrong?".
  • In one strip of Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin asks his father, "Dad, how do soldiers killing each other solve the world's problems?" His father has no answer for him.
    • Two from the arc where Calvin and Hobbes go to Mars to escape Earth's pollution: "Is that your candy wrapper over there?" and "Would you welcome a dog that wasn't house-trained?", both asked by Hobbes after Calvin litters on Mars. Calvin realizes he's part of the problem and he and Hobbes go home so as not to ruin things for the Martians.
  • In one Bloom County strip, Oliver Wendell Jones takes Binkley and Opus on a Mind Screw journey contemplating the nature of the universe, all the while asking "Why?" As the trip gets more and more out of control and Oliver keeps asking why everything is the way it is, Opus gets fed up and asks "Well, WHY NOT!?" which metaphorically brings Oliver back down to Earth.

Professional Wrestling

  • On the July 11th, 2011 edition of WWE Raw, John Cena delivers one to CM Punk. Punk had spent the entire promo Moving the Goalposts while talking over his contract to renew with the WWE and trying to win over the audience in the process. Cena comes out and hits Punk with a Kirk Summation, pointing out how big of a Hypocrite Punk is before asking him this question; if you love the WWE universe so much, why are you trying to leave the WWE? Punk, who'd been in full Magnificent Bastard mode all night, gets furious and tries to lay the blame on Cena, but the fact he'd just been offered the very things he'd been complaining about Cena having and more but still hadn't gotten enough to stay in the WWE renders him unable to effectively answer this.

Tabletop Games

  • In Mage: The Awakening there is a spell called "The Inescapable Question" which has the capacity to cause any question to cause the hearer to stop and ponder its meaning and answer (it is noted that particularly savvy mages can get the effect by simply asking "Why?").
    • Hunter: The Vigil: vampires around the world will crap their pants upon receiving a piece of paper, or an SMS, or an email, or a phone call, that asks "Who is Cain?" This isn't necessarily because of the significance of Cain; it's because it means the Cainite Heresy is coming for them.
  • The Dark Champions villain known as Dr. Enigma has a similar power called The Unanswerable Question that can leave a person in a helpless daze. He touches the victim with a chemical and then asks a bizarre question such as "Why must two and two make five?" or "What color is Tuesday?"

Theater

Video Games

 Your friends... What kind of... people are they? I wonder... Do these people... think of you... as a friend?

Your true face... What kind of... face is it? I wonder... The face under the mask... Is that... your true face?

The right thing...what is it? I wonder...if you do the right thing...does it make...everybody...happy?

What makes you happy? I wonder...what makes you happy...does it make...others happy, too?

  • These are a critical element of Wadjet Eye Games' The Shivah. Rabbinic Q&A duels come up multiple times in the game.
  • One could argue that finding these is pretty much the entire point of gameplay in the Ace Attorney series, since you're trying to peel away lies to uncover truths in the courtroom. Appropriately, the people being asked often react as if they've been physically pierced by the questions.
    • In Ace Attorney Investigations 2, the new "Logic Chess" system involves having a verbal battle of wits to draw a secret out of someone by way of Dialogue Trees rather than presenting evidence and pressing statements. Hits hardest with the final opponent, Yumihiko Ichiyanagi, when the point of the final round turns out not to be a push to acquire any case-relevant information, but to help find a cause that's enough for a completely broken individual to go on living for.
    • The player is actually treated to one of these at the end of the second Phoenix Wright game: is it right for a murderer to get off scot-free, in order to protect the life of a completely innocent bystander? (In context, this also amounts to "what is justice?" and "what does it really mean to be a lawyer?") As one player put it, "I have never been so paralyzed by a simple yes-or-no question in a video game."
  • In one of the final Missions of Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko Bellic finally accomplishes his reason behind moving from "the Old Country" to Liberty City. He's finally tracked down his old war buddy (and the word "buddy" is used loosely) that sold out their troop and resulted in almost their entire squad being slaughtered like pigs, all so the traitor could get money to buy drugs with. Needless to say, in the conversation that follows As shown below), an armor piercer is shot at Niko, that actually effects him...for about five seconds.

 [[spoiler:Niko Bellic: Strange choices?! How much?!

Darko Brevic: (laughing) A thousand.

Niko Bellic: (Close to tears) You killed my friends for one thousand dollars?

Darko Brevic: (laughing) How much do YOU charge to kill someone?

Niko Bellic: (pauses) You ruined me, you fuck!]]

 Mona Sax: What are you so afraid of? What do you want from me?

Max Payne: [narrating] The things I want, by Max Payne. A whisky, a smoke, for the sun to shine. I want to sleep to forget, to rewrite the past, my wife and baby girl back, unlimited ammo and a license to kill. More than anything at that moment I wanted her.

  • In Star Control 2, there is only one question that can get any meaningful response out of the Ur-Quan Kohr-Ah. While this won't let you avoid fighting them in the game, the first time it was posed to them in the backstory (by the Mael-Num), it locked them up long enough to allow for an escape.
    • To clarify, it locked one side long enough to other show up. 'The Words' are a simple plea: "Hold! What you are doing to us is wrong! Why do you do this thing?". Both sides come to total stop when they hear it, causing them to justify their actions. The Kzer-Za more quickly explain themselves, while the Kohr-Ah will give the prey who asks substantially more time.
  • Mass Effect has a question that spurs a centuries-long world that drove an entire species from their planet: "Does this unit have a soul?"

 Shepard: They sound like wonderful people. The galaxy is lesser for their loss.

Erinya: Yes, it is.

Shepard: Do you think they'd want you to do this? (*Asari has a meltdown*)

    • Tali'Zorah delivers what may be one of these when you tell her you're in charge of the Normandy and not Cerberus. Shepard has no reply.

 Tali: So you ordered the listening devices and tracking beacons that are all over this ship?

    • In general, Shepard uses a LOT of these when persuading people, and sometimes regularly in dialogue to keep events moving.
  • During the trial scene in Neverwinter Nights 2, most of your dialogue is composed of these. Your Diplomacy/Taunt/Bluff checks determine the reaction of the opposing lawyer; successes on Taunt checks get really silly angry responses.
  • "What can change the nature of a man?", a riddle asked by the Night Hag Ravel Puzzlewell, in Planescape: Torment. Ravel killed all those who couldn't give the right answer. As it turns out, her right answer wasn't a 'what' but a 'who': She only wants The Nameless One's answer, because the first incarnation was the one who gave her the question in the first place and she still hasn't found an answer herself. The question essentially drove Ravel to mull over it for an unknown number of millennia and slowly drove her mad.
    • Furthermore, The Nameless One's final answer can be used in part of a World of Cardboard Speech to defeat The Transcendent One.
    • There is a very clear straight example, however, which when asked manages to mentally unbalance a Fallen Angel:

 The Nameless One: Have you forgotten the face of your father, Trias?

 "Tell me, Dr. Freeman. If you can. You have destroyed so much. What is it exactly that you have created? Can you name even one thing?"

  • In Resonance of Fate, this happens to several people at various points, actually, but perhaps the harshest of which is- again- the bridge scene, posed by Lagerfield to Zephyr.

 "Tell me! Why did you live while they died? Is your life worth more then theirs?"

  • In Knights of the Old Republic, you infiltrate the Sith Academy and meet a woman with a tragic past that made her receptive to the Sith philosophy. She was enslaved and abused. She finally escaped and originally trained as a Jedi. However, she wanted revenge for all that was done to her and other slaves. Here is part of the dialogue tree that leads to her beginning to question the ways of the Sith...

 Yuthura: I wanted to use the Force to free the other slaves I knew, to fight for what I knew was right. The Jedi restrained me until I couldn't stand it any more. They claim the dark side is evil, but that isn't so. Sometimes anger and hatred are deserved and right. Sometimes things change because of it.

Player Character: But not always. Mostly it makes things worse.

Yuthura: Any failure to get the results I want is due to a lack of power on my part. That can change, in time. As a Sith, my mettle is tested far more than when I was a Padawan. I know this may sound strange, but only my compassion stands in my way, now. Once that is gone, let the slavers beware.

Player Character: But...if you lose your compassion, will you still care about those slaves?

Yuthura: [sounding unsure] I...yes, of course. I--I mean...losing my compassion as in...holding back...

    • The sequel has a question that can be delivered as the punch line to a series of speeches to erode the will of The Dragon:

 The Exile: Sion... Your life... Was it worth living?

Darth Sion: ...It was not. No matter how many Jedi I killed... No matter how many lay broken at my feet... The pain would not end. I am glad to be rid of this place.

  • The amazing scene in Final Fantasy XIII where Hope finally musters up the guts to confront Snow about his mother's death (which he unwillingly contributed to) consists mainly of a barrage of armor-piercing questions that bring the resident Idiot Hero onto his knees in despair. Said questions include "What happens when your actions end up ruining someone's life?" and "How do you pay for what you've done?"
  • Who are you, that do not know your history?
    • Notably, it is not asked by or to the player character: Ulysses asked it of the Think Tank. This almost caused disaster: it led to the Think Tank trying to break out of the Big Empty rather than being more-or-less confined there.
      • Though the player can choose to turn this question around on Ulysses during the final battle.
  • In Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes, Motonari ends up asking Misanthrope Supreme Yoshitsugu about whether his stated goal of bringing misery to all humans includes bringing misery to Yoshitsugu's Morality Pet, Mitsunari. Yoshitsugu, who hadn't even considered the thought of having a human he does not hate up to that point, gets completely stumped.
  • Runescape has one from the finale of the goblin quests. The god of war has possessed your friend, Zanik. During the fight, she can regenerate indefinitely thanks to said god's power. At one point, she says she has to kill you because humans are the enemy. The player asks her: "but am I, your enemy?"
  • In Skyrim, Paarthurnax will respond to the Blades' demands that he be killed with dignity and admits that Dragons like himself aren't exactly trustworthy beings and that he is trustworthy only due to tremendous effort -- he fights his tyrannical urges every day. He invites the Dragonborn to ponder one question, one that has actually made many players hesistate to kill him: "What is better - to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?"
  • In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Juno Eclipse asks Starkiller why he defied his master Darth Vader and saved her. Starkiller awkwardly answers that he needed her to fly his ship, but she retorts that they both know that isn't true. This foreshadows that Starkiller has feelings for Juno, and that he is slowly becoming a hero instead of Darth Vader's servant.

Visual Novels

  • A Profile's second route has Miku as the heroine, who is prone to asking Masayuki questions he really doesn't want to answer about his study habits and how he quit track. The answer that he doesn't want to admit is that he really misses being on the track field. Before this, people were too afraid to mention it in front of him.

Webcomics

 Raven: Are you always this mean to people you barely even know?

Faye: I am not... uh, I mean, not to every- I'm just- it's... Goddammit, I've been flummoxed by someone with the IQ of a herring.

  • Arthur, King of Time and Space: Morgan of Gore, aka Morgan la Fey, Arthur's half-sister the would-be usurper asks herself one in the science fiction arc.

 TT: Have you ever looked into the sky without your shades?

    • When Terezi starts sharing her concerns and doubts with Dave, he is unsure how to respond. He finally asks "Do you want me to tell you to be a better human or a better troll?" She avoids actually answering the question.
  • Freefall: This is all it takes for Florence to finally catch a break in her quest to save Jean - because Rousseau Was Right.
    • It may be subjective, as it's an all-caps comic, but there seemed to be an undertone of intense worry there; "Yes! Of course the glass plates we're eating off of are clean. We use only the finest window cleaner on them... Oh Crap."
  • Ménage à 3: Kiley to Sonya. "So how long have you had these latent homosexual urges?"
  • Slightly Damned: Without quite realizing it, Sammy asks Kieri to think about Buwaro's feelings for her, and their recent falling out. The question... stings.
  • Spina Cage: "Hasn't anyone ever depended on you?" seems to be one for Joven.

Web Original

  • In his phone call to the director of My Pet Monster, The Nostalgia Critic's self-loathing starts to seep in when he gets asked why he's in his twenties and is still watching kid movies.

Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender ("Who are you angry at?") Delivered by Azula and her friends to Zuko in "The Beach".
    • Also: "Then I have a question for you... what are you gonna do when you face my father?"
      • There's also a Shout-Out to Babylon 5: "Who are you, and what do you want?" Delivered by Iroh to Zuko in "Lake Laogai".
      • Although the real Armor-Piercing Question there comes in this exchange:

 Iroh: What do you plan to do now that you have found the Avatar's bison? Keep it locked in our new apartment? Should I go put on a pot of tea for him?

Zuko: First I have to get it out of here.

Iroh: [losing his composure for probably the first time ever] AND THEN WHAT?! This is exactly what happened back at the north pole! You had him, and then you had nowhere to go!!

  • Done in the Justice League Unlimited episode Patriot Act. An old woman asks a mutated superpowered General Eiling, who had previously taken a serum to gain superpowers, and engaged in a battle with several 2nd, 3rd, and 4th string JLU members with no powers, exactly how many people without superpowers he was going to have to kill in order to save people without superpowers. Followed up with an armor piercing answer when a child responds to Eiling's accusation that superpowered people were a threat by pointing out that he was the only one in the vicinity with actual super powers. General Eiling admits that he has become what he sought to destroy and retreats.
  • At the end of Ben 10: Ultimate Alien episode, Solitary Alignment, George asks Ben if people doubt his heroic ability as much as they do George's, Ben agrees and stops fighting and they come to a compromise. Ben will get Ascalon if George is defeated.
  • At the conclusion of the Gargoyles four-part episode, "City of Stone," the Weird sisters ask a series of Armor-piercing questions to Macbeth and Demona. They convince Macbeth to spare Demona's life by asking him about times in his life when murder never solved any of the problems it should have. They convince Demona to give up vital information by asking her whose actions led to her clans' demises (hint: it was hers). Unfortunately, Demona is so deluded that the revelation doesn't last long.
    • That last part is justified, though, as Demona's hatred for humans is so ingrained that it could probably be called prejudice.
    • "Growing old terrifies you, doesn't it?"
      • Another one from the same episode: "Demona and Macbeth are immortal. Are they happy?"
  • In How to Train Your Dragon, Astrid does this when she asked Hiccup why he spared Toothless the Dragon when killing him would have seemed better. When he is forced to finally answer honestly, that creates a personal epiphany that makes him realize his own self-worth as a worthy viking warrior in his own way.
  • In the Sonic Sat AM episode "Sonic and Sally" Tails turns out to be right about the character who looked and sounded like Sally but wasn't Sally. When Sonic goes to confront said character...

 "Tails was right. You're not Sally. Who are you?" - Sonic

    • Prompting said character to push him aside and run for it.
  • Played for Laughs on Futurama when Bubblegum asks Bender "Are you funky enough to be a Globetrotter? Are you?"
  • In the episode "A Bird In The Hoof" on My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Twilight bursts out at Fluttershy "You have no idea what the Princess is gonna do when she finds out you're the one who took her pet, do you?!" Fluttershy replies just by asking "Do you?" This makes Twilight actually pause in her speech before she can continue speaking normally.
  • Kilowog delivers one to Razer in the pilot of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, calling him out on his He Who Fights Monsters hypocrisy:

 Kilowog: We know what you're fighting against, kid, but what are you fighting for?

Superman: Are you my friend? Or are you my enemy?

Journalism

  • Jeremy Paxman on BBC's Newsnight, interviewing then-Home Secretary Michael Howard on 13 May 1997, about a supposed confrontation he'd had with Derek Lewis, then-head of the Prison Service, about the possible dismissal of the governor of Parkhurst Prison. "Did you threaten to overrule him?" was asked fourteen times in succession, and each time Howard never actually said whether or not he threatened to overrule Lewis--just that he didn't, and that was what mattered ("The question isn't whether I threatened to do it, it's..." "But did you threaten to overrule him?"). Of course, it's slightly averted in that Lewis successfully stonewalled throughout, meaning the question didn't actually get through the armor. Still, Paxman definitely comes off better for his persistence.
    • In 2003, Paxman told Howard that he had only gone after the question so thoroughly because the next item on the show wasn't ready in time. After Paxman asked him about it one more time in 2004, Howard, at that point leader of the Conservative party, supposedly laughed it off and said he hadn't. Of course, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2005 didn't corroborate Howard's answer and in fact probably suggested that Howard lied (he did at one point ask the higher authorities if he could overrule Lewis).
    • Generally speaking this is Paxman's journalistic style. He presses a question long enough for the audience at least to realise that the Politician or person being interviewed isn't giving a straight answer and is basically trying to change the subject.
  • "When did you stop beating your wife?". Ask the question long enough, and most people around hearing it will eventually cave in and start asking the same question in different forms ("Do you beat your wife?", "Is it true?", "When did you start?") regardless of the validity of the claim. The phenomenon is known as a Loaded Question. Loaded with Armor Piercing bullets. This question is particularly bad as their is no simple answer that is decent. Consider what would happen if a politician answered Yes or No. Saying I have never hurt my wife could work but even then you have been caught on film saying that. This was used during door stop interviews so the person was caught off guard.
  • This is an appropriate tactic. When an interviewer (Asker) engages an interviewee (Giver), it's expected that the Asker will ask unless the Giver refuses to answer. Refusing to answer is acceptable. You simply say "I do not want to answer that". What is unacceptable is answering in a deceptive, dismissive way that makes it look like an answer. That tactic by the Giver really should be countered by a simple repeat of the question until an actual answer comes out or the Giver says "No comment". Anything less is a failure of the Asker's duty.
    • The mystery is why so many Givers who ought to know better think that transparent half-answers look better than "No comment".
      • Because people are generally trained from the moment they learned to talk not to directly lie. Half-truths are easy.
      • Conversely, a person who can easily give a bald-faced lie has an advantage, as people don't expect that.
      • And because "no comment" can make it sound like you have something to hide. After all, if the Giver were truly innocent of what he is being accused of he would just say so, right?

Real Life

  • See also Journalism above.
  • This "man on the street" interview video clearly demonstrates an armor-piercing, mind-blowing line of questioning: 1. Do gay people choose to be gay? 2. When did you choose to be straight?
    • Possible response: "Yes. Straight is the default. Gay is an aberrant choice."
  • The Army-McCarthy hearings is popularly cited as the beginning of the end of Senator Joe McCarthy, who used the Red Scare to intimidate his way into political prominence during the 50's. As McCarthy attempted to accuse someone unrelated to the hearings of communist leanings, Army attorney Joe Welch lost his patience and let out a truly epic armor-piercing question.

 Welch: Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or recklessness. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator.... You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

  • Not an attack on anyone, but Abraham Lincoln came up with a doozy when he and a colleague visited Niagara Falls. His associate, floored by the sight, rambled at length about how this vast cascade was surely the most awe-inspiring display of Nature's grandeur in all creation. Lincoln listened, thought about it, and then summed up something still grander -- the sheer scope of the vast St. Lawrence watershed, that encompasses much of North America -- by asking: "Where did all the water come from?"
    • "Well, you see, Mr. President, when two Hydrogen atoms love each other very much..."[5]
  • Richard Pryor mentions in one of his routines that when he was smoking crack rather heavily, a friend of his (NFL legend and political activist Jim Brown) tried to snap him out of it by following him around the house constantly repeating the question "What you gonna do?", which Richard claims nearly worked, and probably would have if his friend didn't have "to go home to eat".
  • Psychologist Dorothy Rowe features a few of these in her works on depression and personality; in the "laddering" exercise done to determine a person's core values, the question "Why is that important?" is repeated many times. The APQ that distinguishes people suffering depression from those who don't is "Do you believe you are a good person?" According to Rowe, a depressed person will always answer "No".
  • According to psychologists who specialize in suicide prevention, people do not often directly admit their suicidal intent, but instead give vague hints as to it, with statements such as, "I won't be around for this much longer." The proper response to any suspicion of the comment should immediately be, "What do you mean?" If there is further reason to believe suicidal intent, one should ask directly, "Are you talking about suicide?" If the answer is yes or the equivalent of a yes, then one should ask in a normal tone and without hostility or distress, "Are you planning on killing yourself?" Suicidal people often want to be saved from their seemingly impossible situation from which they want to escape, and they themselves do not feel capable of it. To ask if they are considering suicide in this way is as Armor-Piercing Question as they get to many ambivalently suicidal people, often inciting an honest confession. To ask sympathetically if they are planning suicide when there is reason to believe so from their own behavior or statements is often enough to elicit a desperate confession, and proper follow-up suicide prevention techniques.
  • If you've ever had someone, in a serious environment, at a serious time, ask you point-blank "are you happy?" you know the weight of this trope for yourself. Especially if, as in the 451 example above, you don't realize that the answer is "no," never mind understanding WHY that answer might be so...
  • Russell's paradox was an armor-piercing question for the mathematician Frege, who was just on the point of publishing his great work on Set Theory when Bertrand Russell posed the question: "Is the set of all sets that are not members of themselves a member of itself?" Since, in Frege's system, it can be proved that such a set exists, this meant that his system contained an ineradicable contradiction. Frege could do no more than add a note at the end of his work acknowledging the paradox.
  • A common way to phrase Pascal's Wager is to ask a person "what will happen to you when you die", or "what'll you do when/if you meet [the asker's god]". A common counter question to it is to ask "what will you say/do if you end up meeting [a different god]".
  • During the "Profumo Affair" scandal in Great Britain, Mandy Rice-Davies, a young woman involved with the scandal, gave a good one. On being told that Lord Astor had denied having an affair with Christine Keeler, Rice-Davies famously replied, "Well, he would, wouldn't he?"
  • Many conspiracy theories often have gaping holes in their logic that can be exposed with a single question.
    • For example, most 9/11 theories involve the controlled demolition of WTC 7, along with the Twin Towers, after it was struck by debris from the collapse of WTC 1 and set on fire for seven hours. The simplest response is to simply ask "and how did They know that WTC 1 was going to hit 7?" Either it was aimed at 7 with precision enough not to disrupt any explosives, which is impossible, or They just happened to have explosives in the building in case something came up which were not disrupted by the debris from WTC 1 and the ensuing fire, which is also impossible. Like many questions they can't answer, "Truthers" either ignore it, or say it'll be explained in the investigation they hope to run.
    • FDNY knew 7 was going to come down long before it actually did. Truthers say this is evidence of a conspiracy, yet ask them if FDNY was in on the plot or not and they clam up. Because if it is evidence of a conspiracy, they have to accuse the FDNY of being complicit in the murder of over 300 firemen and thousands of civilians.
  • Joseph Heller, when asked, as he occasionally was later in his life, why he'd never written another book as good as Catch-22, replied simply: "Who has?"

Notes

  1. Albeit an area denial weapon that sprays BB-sized bombs everywhere, each with the explosive power of three sticks of dynamite. Eighteen percent of them had timer failures, so people in those areas are still finding the damned things and getting blown to salsa dip. Well, it was his first military project... at nineteen...
  2. Also, he asks (paraphrasing here) if a kid in Iraq with no arms would be impressed by the Iron Man armor, completely ignoring the fact that Iron Man has repeatedly saved/played a large hand in saving the planet and routinely helps keep New York from being turned into rubble.
  3. sexual assault and dismissive attitude of her commander aside
  4. A man chooses. A slave obeys. (It turns out the Player Character has been conditioned in their childhood so they really haven't really been choosing along the way...)
  5. They find another loving pair of Hydrogen atoms, and another of Oxygen atoms, and have a freaky six-way that results in two Water molecules. Ain't it awesome?
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