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George Smiley: "In my time, Peter Guillam, I've seen Whitehall skirts go up and come down again. I've listened to all the excellent arguments for doing nothing, and reaped the consequent frightful harvest. I've watched people hop up and down and call it progress. I've seen good men go to the wall and the idiots get promoted with a dazzling regularity. All I'm left with is me and thirty-odd years of cold war without the option."George Smiley: "It means that if a rogue elephant, to use Saul Enderby's happy phrase, charges at me out of the thicket of my past and gives me a second shot at it, I intend to shoot it dead - but with the minimum of force."
Peter Guillam: "So what does that mean in little words?"
Sometime in the past, a character has suffered through My Greatest Failure. In the present, they are faced with an opportunity that will cause them to face the thing they failed at again. This usually happens in a couple ways:
- Something happens to remind them of the past event, and the character takes the second chance as a challenge and engage in a quest to complete the task properly. If time travel is involved, this can overlap with Set Right What Once Went Wrong but in a much more personal way.
- Something happens that is ironically similar or closely related to the thing they failed at the first time. The old failure may haunt them and be a source of shame someone or something they care about/are responsible for is at stake; it may even be a Die or Fly situation. The character often must overcome their self-doubt to deal with the issue.
Whether a character succeeds at their second chance depends on the tone of the work and/or the demands of the plot. Failure to overcome the challenge may result in a Downer Ending and push the character into severe depression. Sometimes they will succeed in the attempt but fall prey to Redemption Equals Death. And sometimes they will succeed spectacularly, cue the celebration and probably the end credits. The Failure Knight exists to try to bring the the good outcome of this about. Related to History Repeats.
Anime and Manga
- Angel Beats: The main characters of the series are people who died with regrets, and are trapped in the afterlife until they can come to terms with it, which commonly takes the form of a situation with similarities to something from their life.
- During the baseball episode, Hinata (the second baseman) receives a game-deciding fly-ball, which is hard to see due to the sun. This situation more-or-less exactly mimics his high-school baseball team's final game in the national championships, where he failed to catch the ball. He also fails in the afterlife, because Yui tackles him from behind as revenge.
- In the ending of the series: Yuri graduates from the afterlife, satisfied that she lead the people under her command well, as opposed to her life, where she felt responsible for her younger sibling's deaths. Hinata feels satisfied that he was an asset to the team, as opposed to his life where he ended up being a liability. Naoi becomes satisfied that Otonashi was proud of him, as opposed to his life, where he never accomplished anything until the death of his brother, at which point his father only ever saw him as a replacement for his brother.
- Hajime no Ippo: The story about Eiji Date in 'revolves around this trope. Back when he was young, he fought against the undefeatable world champion Ricardo Martinez, but lost in the second round. (And even worse, his Ill Girl wife Aiko had a miscarriage) After that, he quit boxing and became a well-respected Salaryman, until Aiko pulls a What The Hell
HeroHusband on him because she could see he's bored and depressed with his life and urges him to step back into the boxing ring. He does, and becomes Japanese champion. After winning against Ippo, he once again challenges Ricardo Martinez. It's shown that he surpassed his old self, however, he does fail to win against Martinez yet again and retires forever to become a boxing coach.
- Kaiji: One of the major driving forces for Kaiji to keep gambling in about 6 occasions to date. Lampshaded when he tries to get a Greatest Third Chance and the debt collectors simply tell him that people that deal with them only get two chances. The next part, of course, has some more people offering him a ...fifth chance?
- Kaze no Stigma: The first arc motivates Kazuma a great deal, since he's called upon to save his younger brother from being sacrificed to a demon... just like his beloved Cui Ling was sacrificed to a demon while he watched helplessly, years ago...
- Over the entire anime, it's almost outright stated that Ayano is his second chance at finding true love.
- Lupin III: The Castleof Cagliostro: Lupin III got his ass kicked 10 years before trying to infiltrate the castle and discover the source of the famous counterfeit Goat Bills. His and Jigen's heist of what turns out to be counterfeit money from a casino and the attempted rescue of Clarisse sets him on the task again.
- In the second half of Magic Knight Rayearth, this is essentially why Hikaru seeks to find a way to become the Pillar of Cepharo - because she refuses to let anyone else suffer the same fate as Princess Emeraude. She even openly defies the rules to become the Pillar when she rescues the man who was trying to do the same thing, but in a Take You With Me fashion.
- Trigun (anime): In a flashback, it is shown that Vash's Mentor figure, Rem, had once tried to talk down a crewmember who had gone insane and killed his girlfriend. Another crewmember stepped in and forced the offender out of an airlock before the situation could be resolved otherwise. Much later, after Vash has been pushed past his Despair Event Horizon, he is captured by some locals who blame him for all of the horrible events that have happened throughout the series and plan to kill him in revenge... Until Meryl steps in citing an almost identical speech about the immorality of killing no matter the circumstances, and holding an identical pose. She convinces the group's leader to lay down his weapons, helping to restore Vash's faith in humanity and snap him out of his Heroic BSOD.
- Wolf's Rain: This is the motivation behind Tsume's attachment to Toboe.
- In Shin Kyojin no Hoshi, due to an extremely severe injury, Hyuuma Hoshi has been out of the baseball circles for five years after the end of the original series. Then he returns from the mountains he's been training in and decides to invoke this trope, so he can recover the career that he lost.
- Simultaneously, his Friendly Rival Mitsuru Hanagata retired from baseball during that time to become a businessman and marry Hyuuma's sister Akiko. But some time after Hyuuma returns and rebuilds his career, he wonders if he can do such a thing too and get at least one last match against his close friend and best rival... And it happens. Much awesome ensues..
- Yuri!!! On Ice thrives on the ice skater Yuuri Katsuki's recovery from a big-ass slump that almost destroys his career a whole, with help of his once Celeb Crush and now coach Victor Nikiforov.
- Spider-Man: This has come up a few times, wherein Spidey must save someone who is falling off a bridge, and gets a chance to atone for what happened to Gwen Stacy. In a What If comic, he uses impact webbing instead of a regular web-line to save MJ and their daughter. In another, he tells Mary Jane that he's replayed Gwen's fate in head so often that he knows exactly what to do should it happen again.
- Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls parodies the situation from Cliffhanger.
- The Best Of Times (1986, Robin Williams and Kurt Russell): The main characters' greatest failure was a football catch they blew in a big high school game; they obsess over it so much that years later, when they're in their 30s and out of shape, they plan a rematch game. Hilarity Ensues.
- In the Line of Fire: Frank Horrigan has a second chance to save the President of the US from assassination after he was not able to protect JFK in Dallas.
- Last Action Hero: Mr. Benedict, The Dragon, has lost many times to Jack Slater, the titular action hero in the world-within-the-movie. When they cross over to the real world where the chance to die is real, suddenly he comprehends the concept of "Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him"... It almost works.
- In the real world, Jack is able to save Danny from a fate matching that of his own son.
- Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian: Custer (actually a wax model of him) got a second chance to be a leader.
- Tremors 2:, Earl Bassett reluctantly accepts a well-paying Graboid-hunting job because all of his attempts to cash in on his first encounter with the creatures went belly up. In Tremors 3, it's mentioned the second time around he succeeded, and is now running a successful Graboid theme park.
- Luke is Obi-Wan's (and to a lesser extent Yoda's) second chance at saving the galaxy from the Sith in Star Wars after their failure with Anakin.
Yoda: "No. There is another..."
- Codex Alera, by Jim Butcher: Fade/Araris blames himself for Septimus's death and considers protecting his son Gaius Octavian his second chance.
- Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher: It evolves that McCoy taught Harry's mother before she ran wild and so regards Harry as his second chance.
- Smiley's People, by John Le Carre: This is the driving theme.
- Timeline-191, by Harry Turtledove: At the end of the series about the aftermath of the Confederacy winning the Civil War, General Clarence Potter, a leader of the Confederacy who have just been overwhelmingly defeated in World War II, encounters an angry & disgruntled Confederate soldier intent on revenge. Potter tells the man to move on, accept the end of the war and get on with his life and then reflects that he wishes he'd said something similar to Jake Featherston, whose anger at the Confederacy's previous defeat to the USA turned him into this world's version of Adolf Hitler.
- Warhammer 40000:
- Sons Of Fenris, by Lee Lightner: Within the Framing Device, when Tor has unwisely led his forces into an ambush, Ragnar chooses him to lead the attack on a warp portal, because when he had been a young Space Wolf, he had been permitted a second chance, to reclaim the Spear of Rus after losing it while foiling a plot of the Thousand Sons. He explains that Tor
Needs an opportunity to redeem himself, Ranulf. Redemption requires two things, desire and opportunity. I know this better than most.
- Wheel of Time: This sort of epiphany is what breaks Rand out of his "Grr arrgh gotta be hard and bastardly!" funk at the end of book 12.
Live Action TV
- House: In the episode "All In", House has a young boy patient dying of something in a case similar to an earlier one with an old woman whose death came about because of his failure to diagnose it. He insists on taking the case even though the boy's case may not be alike at all.
- Law and Order: Criminal Intent: Goren's mentor seizes on the fact that the latest case resembles his That One Case and forces his way into the investigation. Goren suspects that he committed the murder and staged it to save face, however the inevitable twist reveals that his daughter did it, as he spent his entire childhood talking to serial killers instead of paying attention to her.
- Power Rangers:
- In the first season, Jason failed to stop the green candle from burning so Tommy lost his Green Ranger powers. Lord Zedd made candles for the other Rangers in Season 2.
- Power Rangers Zeo: Subverted, where we learn Jason still has not gotten over failing Tommy personally and vows to not let it happen for a second time.
- Second Chance: The show was about a man who was sent back in time by Saint Peter to make sure his younger self (Matthew Perry) got set on the straight and narrow so he could get into Heaven.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: The Original Series: The episode "Obsession", in which Kirk encounters a monster he failed to destroy 11 years ago; he felt that his earlier hesitation at the ship's phaser console cost 200 crewmen and the ship's captain. He's determined to make up for that failure no matter what the cost. Along the way, it turns out that the creature is not affected by phasers and Kirk realizes firing on time on the creature in the earlier encounter would have made no difference.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- The episode "Tapestry" has Q take Picard back in time to stop himself from getting in a fight which left him with an (about to kill him in the present) artificial heart. What he doesn't realize is how influential that old failure was in creating The Captain character he became.
- The episode "The Pegasus": 12 years previous Riker covered up an illicit Starfleet experiment that got most of his crewmates killed in the name of following orders. When a similar situation happens in the episode, he disobeys orders in order to uphold his principles and save his crew.
- A Ferengi, still bitter with Picard over their defeat by him at the Battle of Maxia, spends years plotting his revenge. More specifically revenge for his son. The episode portrays him as over-reacting (as do the other Ferengi, because there's no profit in it).
- Star Trek: Voyager: In the Series Finale, Captain Janeway, many years in the future, recounts how it took over 20 years and too many deaths to bring Voyager home; when offered the chance to go back in time and Set Right What Once Went Wrong, she jumps at it.
- Another episode, Timeless, Voyager was destoryed due to a mistake of Kim trying to fix a quantum drive so they could get back home quicker. He and Chakotay were the only survivors and managed to make it back to Earth. However he blamed himself and set out to fix the damage by sending instructions to the past. Subverted the first time as it plays out the same. It seems You Can't Fight Fate is in effect but The Doctor (who still going as he's a hologram) suggests trying to avert the disaster rather adjusting the drive. This time it works and good thing too as their future selves are killed just as they save their past selves.
- Twice In A Lifetime: A celestial judge gave a recently deceased person a second chance to go back in time and try and convince their younger self to make the right decision at a crucial point in their lives. Their original failure to make the right decision is what doomed them to a miserable life and ultimately got them killed.
- At Home With Julia features this in what appears to be a parody of In the Line of Fire: one of Julia Gillard's security team was on duty the day Harold Holt disappeared and regrets that he failed to save him. So when Julia is late to a public appearance, he thinks this is his chance at redemption. (It turns out she just locked herself in the Lodge bathroom).
- Invoked during the All-Star seasons of various Reality TV shows.
- Exalted: this is often the basis for the Deal with the Devil by which heroic mortals become Green Sun Princes. After suffering My Greatest Failure, a mortal who would have otherwise been a worthy candidate for Exaltation is contacted by a demon bearing an Infernal Exaltation, who offers them the power to correct their mistakes and accomplish everything they ever dreamed of...so long as they agree to serve the Yozis.
- Chrono Trigger: In an optional side-quest, Lucca is given the opportunity to travel back into her own past (via an unexplained, uniquely red time portal) to prevent her mother being maimed in an accident.
- In a way, Magus' finding himself in the kingdom of Zeal just before the disaster that wiped it out could qualify as this too. Sadly, his efforts to prevent said disaster don't work.
- Final Fantasy:
- Final Fantasy VI: Locke fails to save his girlfriend, Rachel, from falling down a pit in a cave when the bridge they're crossing collapses. A similar situation is set up during the escape from Kefka's collapsing tower at the end, but he manages to save Celes this time around.
- Final Fantasy VII: Cloud failed to save his close friend and companion Aerith. He was helpless to even move when his best friend in SOLDIER, Zack (who also happened to be Aerith's boyfriend), was killed before the game even started. When he finds out that his protegé Denzel and Barret's daughter Marlene have been kidnapped in Advent Children, it takes some chewing out from Tifa for him to get over his fear of failing again and that the second chance.
- Final Fantasy X: The entire pilgrimage is Auron's second chance to end Spira's cycle of death after giving in the first time, allowing his two best friends to die for nothing. It's also Lulu's Greatest Third Chance to actually participate in a successful pilgrimage.
- Metal Gear REX and his father being Driven to Suicide were Hal "Otacon" Emmerich's greatest failures. Philanthropy is his (and Snake's) second chance.
- In Dead Space 2, this is how Isaac eventually comes to view Ellie. When they finally make it to the gunship (their only way off the Sprawl), Isaac overrides her control of the gunship and remotely launches it, leaving him trapped on the station. The Irony of the situation is this is exactly how Ellie views Isaac.
Isaac: I need you to be rescued. I couldn't save Nicole, but I can save you Ellie. So, uh... bye.
- In a sidequest in Baldur's Gate II, it's possible to help a Paladin grieving for his deceased adopted son whom he failed to protect by introducing him to an orphaned little girl who needs someone to raise her.
- Order of the Stick:
- Haley tries to save a Paladin with the resistance from Tsukiko's domination, explaining that she was trying so hard because of her failure to save O-Chul during the Battle of Azure City.
- After Vaarsuvius' fight with Xykon, the elf returns while invisible to rescue O-Chul. This is in contrast with an earlier event in the Battle of Azure City, where Vaarsuvius used invisibility to escape, abandoning a group of paladins to their deaths.
- Captain N: The Game Master: In an early episode, Kevin had to walk through a real-life (well, sort of) version of the one game he could never beat, The Adventures of Bayou Billy.
- Hey Arnold: In one episode, Arnold's Grandpa Phil finds an old rival who once beat him in a tournament of chinese checkers, Arnold convices him of entering the on tournament and they both end up in the finals, after a very long game the pieces land in the very same position as last time, and the rival starts to gloat, but Phil reveals that since last time he discovered there was one move that could end the game in a tie instead. The rivals suffers a breakdown and Phil leaves with the trophy.
- Tarzan: The gorilla Kala is unable to save her baby from Sabor. When she discovers a baby Tarzan, the lone survivor of his family (also killed by Sabor), she quickly takes a shine to him. Then Sabor strikes again. This time Kala is able to save her new child, whom she'll raise as well as possible.