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"How's it going in there, Kyle? The first six months I was in solitary, I did push-ups every day and I never talked to myself. The next six months, I stopped doing push-ups and I...I confess...I did talk a little to myself. The six months after that...those next six months, Kyle? [[[Beat]]] You don’t wanna know what happened then."
Charlie Crews, Life, speaking to a man in the trunk of his car

Extended social isolation that might make a person go crazy. People who are stranded alone will usually be subject to this. A person on a ship or in space where it is months or years until they reach their destination are also at risk. Solitary confinement can be using this as punishment.

Related to Tailor-Made Prison and Bored with Insanity (for when the isolation induced crazy waxes then wanes). And I Must Scream is an extreme version of this which often goes with total immobilization and/or sensory deprivation.

Various techniques can be employed to deal with loneliness, such as maintaining a strict daily schedule or keeping a diary. In comedy, it's often demonstrated by having the character talk to objects or an Imaginary Friend to alleviate their suffering.

A common effect is for them to greet actual rescues with the belief that they are dreaming, or have gone mad. Bad Dreams may throw them back into the belief they are still a prisoner for years afterward.

Truth in Television, as studies of prisoners in solitary confinement show.

See also Hermit Guru and Loners Are Freaks. Subtrope of The Aloner.

Examples of Go Mad From the Isolation include:


Anime and Manga

  • One Piece's Brook spent fifty-plus years in total isolation and flashbacks suggest he definitely went at least a little crazy in that time. This might also have caused a deterioration of social skills that has resulted in Brook being one of anime's few post-mortem Dirty Old Men.
    • Made worse by his Devil Fruit powers, which resurrected his soul into his undying skeleton, so in his isolation he couldn't even look forward to dying of starvation or thirst before his second lifespan finally ran out at some unknown point in the future. Due to a promise he made he couldn't kill himself, either. So he was stuck there, alone, for fifty years, with only his instruments to keep him company -- and the skeletal remains of his former crew, who he had been in charge of when they died.
    • Also Level 6 of Impel Down is Isolation for prisoners. Shewliew even stated that he was so bored he wished for death.
  • Rozen Maiden manga has Kirakishou who's been isolated in the N-Field so long she begins to go insane.
  • Elfen Lied: Somewhat inverted by Mariko. She was immobilized in a giant containment unit soon after she was born and stayed there for 8 years, with her only contact with the outside world being a lab assistant speaking to her via an intercom. Granted, she isn't the picture of mental health, being a sadistic, homicidal brat, but realistically, she should barely be able to talk, much less function on her own.
  • One of the reasons why Yugi from Tenchi in Tokyo turned to a life of villainy.
  • Likely the main reason Lucia from Rave Master is so screwed up. In general, locking a small child up in a maximum security prison and depriving them of contact with the rest of the world for ten years is bad for one's mental health.
  • Arguably, this trope is the story of Neon Genesis Evangelion in a nutshell. Just about every important character is completely alone (although not in terms of physical isolation).
  • After an untold amount of time floating alone in space, Cars, Big Bad of the second chapter of Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure, is said to go so mad that his mind just shuts off.

Comic Books

  • Element Lad of the Legion of Super-Heroes spent billions of years as the only being in the universe after being flung outside time and space in Legion Lost. He was driven very much insane as a result, although there was also some Showing Off the Perilous Power Source involved. It took him weeks to even remember his former friends when they were brought to his attention.
  • Inverted in DV8 #5, when Copycat gets trapped in a White Void Room. She's already mad (she has multiple personality disorder). Spending time in the void allows her personalities to start integrating.
  • Cable's recent series involving Time Travel and Bishop chasing after a MacGuffin Girl had Deadpool. Wait, I see you all there in TV trope land thinking "But he's already Crazy Awesome." but this Deadpool got stuck in a container underneath the earth for hundreds of years. He created another personality to play Hangman against and then started arguing with that personality cause it was better at playing Hangman than he was.
  • There's a comic in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Mostly Automatic, which has a young man with a sweetheart taking a load of cargo on a trip which should have taken two weeks, during which he happily planned to lounge around playing games and watching vids. But a rock hit his ship, taking out the hyperdrive and the comm. Sublight engines still functioned, but it was ten parsecs to any kind of civilization and would take sixty years, alone on a little ship. He put the ship on automatic and then "quietly, and very deliberately...went...out...of...my...mind..." For the first few years he mostly slept until he ran out of sleep-inducing medication, then he went pretty much mad until he found an inactive service droid in a box in the hold and activated her, which helped.
  • Appa Ali Apsa, also known as the Old Timer, was once of the Guardians of the Universe in Green Lantern; in fact, he was the last Guardian to remain behind when the others departed for another dimension. Unfortunately, being left alone on Oa was not conducive to his continued sanity. Of course, he now had all the power of Oa too.


Films -- Animated

  • Believe it or not, this actually happens in Happy Feet.
  • It seems that Rango had reached this point in the beginning where he sees each inanimated object in his glass box having a name and a personality and he is able to hear them talking. It's justified because Rango probably spent his whole life stuck in that cage without anybody to talk to but himself.


Films -- Live-Action

  • Ben Gunn from Treasure Island.
  • In Cast Away, our hero ends up talking to a volleyball... which, according to the survival specialist consultants on the film, saved his life from madness.
    • I always felt that he started talking to the volleyball pretty early on. He wasn't really mad at that point but he really set himself up.
  • King Kong: Word of God claims this as the reason for Kong's agressive, violent tendencies in Peter Jackson's remake. Being a gorilla (a naturally social species, like humans) without a family, on an island where Everything Is Trying to Kill You, would do that. Some Truth in Television there too, as solitary gorillas in captivity are often known to go insane from loneliness.
  • Zac Hobson of The Quiet Earth. He recovers shortly before he meets another survivor, though.
  • Happens to the protagonist of I Am Legend -- as a major plot driver. Taxi Driver meets mannequins!
  • Moon: Starts happening to the protagonist -- Or is it?.
  • Rocket Man plays this for laughs when the protagonist is accidentally prevented from entering Suspended Animation for the nine-month trip to Mars, with clips of him at one day in, one month in, and a month in for each subsequent month. By the seventh, he's painting a replica of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling on the ceiling of the spaceship.

    At the end it happens again. It quickly becomes Fridge Horror once you realized he used up most of the food in the first journey...
  • Taxi Driver: Travis Bickle goes insane from the almost total isolation he experiences. He works and interacts with other people but he finds himself completely unable to connect to anyone and develops murderous tendencies. Most of his time is spent alone in his apartment or driving a cab.
  • Inception: This is one of the dangers of entering someone else's dream. Normally getting killed in a dream only wakes you up. However, if you're too deeply sedated, you wind up in a world where time passes much, much, much faster than normal. You will eventually wake up, but the question is, will you still retain your sanity?
  • Henri Young in Murder in the First spends three years in solitary confinement after attempting to escape from Alcatraz. He does have some human contact during those years; unfortunately, the humans are very sadistic guards. When he's finally released from solitary, he has a psychotic episode and kills the inmate who snitched on him and foiled the escape attempt.
  • Similar to the Stargate example below, when Jack Sparrow spends several months in Davy Jones's Locker between the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films, he goes...well...even crazier than he was before. When the other characters arrive to rescue him, he assumes that they're just a more varied sort of hallucination (the ones he was having before were just lots and lots of iterations of himself).
  • The character Luke from Mission to Mars attacks one of the astronauts that's come to rescue him because he thinks the rescuer is a hallucination.
  • In Sunshine, Captain Pinbacker was left alone in the Icarus I for 7 years, until Icarus II comes along. He mistakes Capa for an angel. Then again, he was a little mad in the first place...
  • Oh Dae-Su from Oldboy gets locked up in room for reasons unknown to him for 15 years, being released when he was just about to escape. He gets obsessed with revenge at any cost.
  • In the British film "The Mindbenders" a scientist turns traitor and then commits suicide when about to be arrested. An assistant and friend seems to know what was going on and volunteers to show them. They were experimenting with sensory deprivation which made the older man open to suggestion like self brainwashing. The younger man almost succumbs himself.
  • Mission to Mars finds Luke Graham marooned on Mars for a year after his crewmates are killed in a storm, and he attacks his rescuers when they arrive because he thinks they're just a hallucination. He quickly reverts to normal once he realizes they're real, however.


Literature

  • Ben Gunn from Treasure Island is semi-insane from being marooned on the island for several years. He's coherent enough to help the heroes, though.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Both Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent go mad when stuck in earth's prehistory, although admittedly they chose to go mad to save time. Ford got Bored with Insanity, himself.
  • The short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
  • The Seventh Tower: Comes up as a problem for Tal when dealing with a character isolated inside a sunstone, complete with her spiritshadow. Considering the character herself admits to having been mad, Tal is wary in trusting her advice.
  • In the Star Trek Q Continuum novel trilogy, the omnipotent being 0 has spent millions of years isolated outside the galaxy (and his inability to travel at light speed precluded him from travelling to distant galaxies), and has turned mad from the isolation, making him even more powerful than the omnipotent Q.
  • In Jack Vance's Lyonesse, King Casmir imprisons Prince Aillas at the bottom of an oubliette. Aillas gradually loses his sanity and starts thinking of the skeletons of former inmates as friends and comrades in adversity. He gets better after escaping.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley's story Elbow Room is something of a twist: the woman chosen for duty on an isolated station is actually all alone; the other people she thinks are there are her other personalities. She briefly flips out when she realizes this, but then goes back to the way things were. (Someone else who's read this story could probably describe it better.) There's a brief mention of how they tried sending groups of extroverts to man the station together, but they couldn't stand being cooped up together.
  • In the Firekeeper saga, the spellcaster Virim went mad from spending nearly a century or more alone in a tower far from civilization. When Firekeeper and her allies enter it, they find it full of various illusions and images of Virim constantly debating and arguing, representing his every second thought since unleashing the plague that killed the world's magic users.
  • In the second book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy (The Golem's Eye), Honorius is an example of this after being cooped up in Gladstone's tomb for over a century.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40000 novel Black Tide, Tarikus recounts how Fabius Bile keeps the captive Space Marines isolated for months or years to break them. In the short story "The Returned", Tarikus wakes with a jolt, taking seconds to realize he is no longer Bile's prisoner; he has suffered it since his escape. The psyker examining him comments off-hand that obviously he was deeply tormented by his experience. Later, after a test which rendered him just short of brain dead, he awakes peacefully and deeply relishes it.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story A Witch Shall Be Born, Tamaris at first does not recognize her rescuers.
  • Weirdly averted in most of the stories written by Larry Niven. He seems to assume that humans are able to survive extremely long periods of isolation without going nuts, as seen in situations such as people traveling through deep space for years, or a man with a time-accelerating device camping out inside it for six or more months so his arm transplant will heal and throw off the forensic investigators looking for someone who just got a new arm transplant.
    • Played straight in one short story by a guy who ends up spending several million years all alone doing the same routine while flying a spaceship. He loses the ability to think or act outside of that routine.
  • Total sensory deprivation and isolation is used as an interrogation technique by the KGB in Tom Clancy's The Cardinal of the Kremlin; one of the interrogators mentions that it's much more effective than torture. The specifics involve a neutral-buoyancy pool, carefully crafted restraints designed not to be felt, and a sound-isolation technique designed to neutralize the sound of the subject's own voice, so that the subjects couldn't even hear themselves talking.
  • Drizzt Do'Urden in R. A. Salvatore's Exile has a theoretically even worse problem - not only is he being affected by the isolation when hiding in underground caverns alone, but the "company" of the local Everything Trying to Kill You is causing him to combine this with reflexive killer's instincts that can pop up at the wrong time. The only thing that's keeping him somewhat sane through all this is talking to his cat. (Admittedly, she's a magical panther that can understand him, if not answer.)
  • The protagonist of House of the Scorpion suffers from a mild case of this, on account of being locked in a room full of chicken litter for six months.
  • The Stephen King short story The Jaunt had a futuristic mode of transportation which got people to their destination almost instantly, but they have to be knocked out beforehand. Otherwise, the person's mind feels like it spent an eternity in isolation. Anyone conscious during the trip arrives insane or just falls over dead.
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: After seven months of not talking with any other human being except Captain Nemo, The Professor Aronnax and Battle Butler Conseil, the independent and Book Dumb Ned Land, not interested in submarine investigation, is slowly going insane.

  I'll also mention that the Canadian, at the end of his strength and patience, made no further appearances. Conseil couldn't coax a single word out of him and feared that, in a fit of delirium while under the sway of a ghastly homesickness, Ned would kill himself. So he kept a devoted watch on his friend every instant.

  • The Saga of the Noble Dead has the ancient vampire Li'kan, who has spent thousands of years alone in an ice-covered fortress on a mountain peak, her unnatural life sustained by an Artifact of Doom. By the time the protagonists encounter her, she has forgotten even the sound of speech.
  • In Jack Campbell's Fearless, several rescued prisoners, despite each other's company, still were badly affected enough to wake up thinking they are back there.
  • Apart from the corrupting influence of the One Ring, living for several centuries in the darkness of a subterranean lake under the Misty Montains probably didn't help Smeagol/Gollum keeping his sanity.
  • In Remnants, Mother is a Sapient Ship whose creators abandoned her for unknown reasons, leaving her AI running. How does a computer go mad? Very, very slowly.
  • In Devon Monk's Allie Beckstrom book Magic to the Bone, used on Cody. They can even get him to do thing he knows are bad by giving him a kitten and threatening to take it away.
  • Ilox in The Wild Boy goes insane after being put in a 'cocoon', a sensory deprivation technique intended to fix his 'problem' with his psychic bond with Phlarx.


Live Action TV

  • In Doctor Who, isolation, or at least having no one to talk to to act as his conscience tends to do very bad things to the Doctor. This is especially proven in the new series, where he goes on a power trip and almost becomes the Master Mk. II in one episode because he didn't have a companion on hand to call him on his darker tendencies. He also admits he gets very lonely without someone around and the times he is seen alone he gets noticeably unhinged if the time elapsed is long enough.
  • Mad Gerald from Blackadder.
  • The Twilight Zone used this in one of their first episodes, operating from a premise of "if a guy's alone in a spaceship for a week, will he go insane?" Something which, back at the dawn of the Space Age, they genuinely didn't know.
  • Parodied in Arrested Development. The patriarch of the Bluth family, while in prison, is thrown in isolation for only a few hours. He goes through various forms of insanity as the (short) time passes, and eventually has a religious epiphany.
  • Tested by the Myth Busters. As the experiment was ended early, it was only determined plausible.
  • Lost has Rousseau, who lived alone on the island for sixteen years and is now not entirely sane. Desmond also applies to a lesser extent, as he was stuck alone in the hatch for several weeks before the survivors found him and didn't look particularly sane then. Sayid hung a lampshade on Rousseau's madness, saying that she has been alone for too long. And in Desmond's case, it was likely a combination of isolation and not getting enough sleep. Claire is another example.
  • Clare in the Hyperdrive episode of the same name is a famous spacewoman in a solo trip around the galaxy who has developed, among other issues, paranoia and the delusion that her cup Mr. Cup is talking to her.
  • The reality TV show Solitary is based on this trope.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Torment of Tantalus," a man is stranded on an alien planet for more than 50 years. When the team stumble across him, he refuses to believe that they're real at first.
  • Law and Order SVU: Elliot Stabler spent a few days in solitary (voluntarily) to test a perp's claim that being locked up in solitary for nearly his entire prison sentence (which amounted to over 30 years by the time the perp finally got out) drove him insane and made him more likely to commit violent crimes because he no longer knew how to function in a social environment. Elliot spends a weekend in the same cell, and nearly flips out when he's finally released.
    • Criminal Intent did this with Goren, showing a day and a half in solitary in about 5 minutes. it was a long five minutes to watch, and when the guy comes to release him Goren practically rips his head off saying "I told you just the weekend!" Cue the guard saying "It's Sunday evening."
  • On Life, Charlie Crews was a well-adjusted cop and family man...until he was falsely convicted of murder and spent 12 years in prison, the majority of which he spent in solitary confinement. He's not quite all there when he gets out.
  • The Fades: This is present in the backstory of Big Bad John. A major reason for his descent into madness and villainy was being trapped on Earth as a Fade, unable to interact with anything or anyone, for at least sixty years after he was unable to ascend.
  • The pilot episode of the original Hawaii 5-0 had enemy agents kidnapping and killing American agents but in such a short time that it seemed impossible that they all talked. Mc Garrett volunteers to be the next one kidnapped and finds they are using a sensory deprivation tank that very quickly scrambles their brains.


Music

Tabletop Games

  • In Dungeons and Dragons, there was a demonic armor that was cursed so that the wearer could not remove it once equipped. However, the armor was also enchanted to provide sustenance so that the wearer did not have to eat, drink, or sleep. The story goes that one adventurer found and wore the armor. As his party was adventuring through a dungeon, he fell into a pit trap that sealed itself after he fell in. His party didn't notice him fall and never found the trap. The poor adventurer spent decades in the pit going mad before dying of old age.
  • New World of Darkness has characters who spend incredibly long periods of time alone (say, years) make rolls to avoid degeneration. Failing a degeneration check requires rolling to avoid getting derangements.
    • While player characters usually needn't worry, the books specify that this is a way to justify insane Storyteller characters (such as, say, a Promethean who's spent so long "going to the wastes" he can't even remember how to talk).
    • Changeling: The Lost: Changelings have to roll for Clarity if they go a week without human contact; being already traumatized, abused, and delusional, not having others around to reassure one's normalcy and safety is a great way to sink further and further into madness...
  • Isolation is one of the five Stress Gauges in Unknown Armies.

Videogames

  • In Portal the protagonist comes across the makeshift camps of earlier survivors: isolated for weeks in a death maze presided over by a pathological AI, there is evidence that they have succumbed to insanity, such at the photographs with the faces replaced with pictures of their inanimate Companion Cube. Though it turns out it was actually just one survivor, and that he was already insane to begin with. How he managed to even function faced with both schizophrenia and social isolation is a mystery.
  • In Mass Effect, if you save rescuing Liara for last, you'll find that she has gone half mad from spending so much time in a bubble. She'll refuse to believe that you aren't a hallucination until you physically drag her to safety. She recovers pretty quickly, though.
  • In the Warcraft III expansion campaign, Maiev accuses Illidan, who spent ten thousand years as a Sealed Evil in a Can cut off from any contact with other intelligent beings, of being insane. He archly replies that yes, isolation will do that to the mind. All the more ironic because she was his chief jailer and, as a result, became completely fixated on him as the only purpose of her life.
  • In Myst III: Exile, this is partially why the game's antagonist Saavedro wants revenge.
  • Discussed in Blaze Union as Gram Blaze travels to meet up with Nessiah, who has spent the past several years as a hermit living deep in the forest. Eudy complains that a place like this is way too cut-off from society. She has spent the past few years studying ballistics alone in the mountains. She is immediately called out on this, and Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, this is stated to be a fate which befalls witches who cause a Logic Error but eventually manage to escape. Including Lambda and Bern, which is the reason they're so messed up now.

   Lambdadelta: Hey, are you guys... really real?

  • In Morrowind, Azura and Sheogorath make a bet about whether or not this is always the case.
  • Implied to have happened with The Twelve Traitors in Lusternia. Granted, they were pretty merciless prior to their exile in the Void, but thousands of years alone wandering the darkness certainly weren't kind to Fain. And as for Morgfyre...
  • Averted in Blaz Blue. Hakumen spent 90 years alone in the Void, and retained his sanity through sheer force of will.
    • Played straight for Arakune, though. As a human named Lotte Carmine, he continued to isolate himself in his own research to be the scientist supreme for himself, refusing even the only one who wanted to help him, Litchi (the rest could not care less about him at all). When he goes to the Boundary despite Litchi's warning, the corruption got to him easily due to him isolating himself, and thus turning him into Arakune.
  • Ghost Trick: Yomiel spent years separated from humanity, with his fiancée having committed suicide because he was presumed dead, unable to die, and this is what fueled his need for revenge. Though he wasn't technically alone...
  • Voldo from the Soul Series lost his sanity as well as his sight from years of being locked in the Money Pit.
  • This is one of the many, many infernal punishments available in the game of Afterlife. Souls are trussed up so as to be immobile and suspended in a pit for, say, a couple hundred years, effectively simulating The Nothing After Death. Insanity Usually Sets in After a Hour.

Web Comics

  • In Drowtales, Diva'ratrika only barely managed to avert this after her daughters betrayed her and collapsed her throne room around her, and she stayed alive because of a single slave that was able to fit through the air ducts and provide some company and sustenance. She managed to stay alive for a year, but in that time her sanity definitely began to slip, and in the end she separates her aura from her body, effectively killing herself, and does a Fusion Dance with Ragini, the slave.

Web Original

  • This is one theory as to why Saladfingers is so mentally disturbed.
  • This Grickle short had Santa Claus have this happen to him, leading to a little bit of Fridge Horror that he lives on what amounts to a desolate ice cap. He begins growling like a lion to an audience of elves, and his elves start squealing like monkeys in something that evokes 2001: A Space Odyssey, all while rather creepy music is playing. It's terrifying.

Western Animation

  • In The Ren and Stimpy Show episode, "Hermit Ren," the eponymous dog gets so sick of Stimpy he leaves to join a hermit guild. They provide him with a cave and a boulder to lock him in forever. Completely alone. It doesn't take long for him to lose his mind. He gets kicked out for creating imaginary friends.
    Likewise, Ren (or Commander Hoek technically) goes insane in "Space Madness" when, confined to a spaceship on a long mission, he is deprived of all contact besides Cadet Stimpy. Interestingly Stimpy does absolutely nothing to instigate this as the only bit of mischief he causes in this episode occurs after Ren is long gone.
  • Stewie Griffin from Family Guy was conscious while still in the womb and suffered for it.
  • An episode of Jimmy Two Shoes had Jimmy the only one left in Miseryville. As a result, he began suffering from Hallucinations.
  • Ben 10 Alien Force: Professor Paradox. Originally from The Fifties, he was trying to figure out how to travel through time. Unfortunately, it worked too well and was sucked into the time portal, which then imploded. He spent nearly ten thousand years floating randomly through time, driving him mad. But then he got Bored with Insanity and became "sane...very, very, sane..."
  • An episode of Batman Beyond has the villain putting patients who act up in "Iso"- isolation units, AKA complete sensory deprivation. At least one of these patients is shown to have sustained permanent psychological damage.

 Guard: Just think of it as a lot of peace and quiet!

  • The Penguins of Madagascar: In the episode "All King, No Kingdom", Julien banishes his two followers from their habitat, and soon starts behaving oddly because of having nobody to pay attention to him. He ends up holding a party and inviting his stuffed toys.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick once fell victim to this trope after being trapped in a cave with a crazy old man who convinces them to try to eat each other. Turns out the old man was actually Sandy, and their willingness to resort to cannibalism proved that they were "true survivalists." But Spongebob and Patrick just turn on Sandy and try to eat her.
  • In My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Party of One", Pinkie Pie thinks her friends don't like her anymore and don't want to come to her party, since they have been avoiding her. Being Pinkie Pie, this has an immediate effect on her: as soon as the show returns from the commercial break, we see her holding a party with a collection of inanimate objects, fitting them with party hats and giving them all names and distinct voices.
  • The Ed Edd and Eddy episode "Laugh Ed, Laugh" has all the kids in the cul-de-sac, expect the Eds, come down with the chicken pox. While Ed and Double-D are able to cope with this, Eddy becomes restless with the lack of kids to scam. Eventually, it becomes too much for him and he snaps from the stress; he spends the rest of the episode scamming squirrels and mistaking fire hydrants for jawbreakers.
  • Completely averted in Futurama when Bender ends up as just a head buried in the ground for over a thousand years:
    I was enjoying it till you came along.

Real Life

  • Orfield Labratories of Minnesota created the quietest isolation chamber in the world for various experiments. NASA uses it for training astronauts to deal with the extreme quiet of space. The effects come on extremely fast, with people starting to have auditory hallucinations and asking to be let out in less than forty-five minutes.

Notes

  1. * To be fair, it was his own damned fault that he overshot sending White Mage back in time and got trapped as a result. Plus, he was trying to remake all the universe in his image, so, y'know, not feeling too sorry for him.
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