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 Franklin Pierce Holland (Mayor of Dallas, Texas): We're done for. I asked for a whole company and they've sent me one Ranger.

Captain Bill MacDonald (Texas Ranger): Well, there's only one riot, isn't there?

Texas Rangers are tough.

This trope is basically when the government is Genre Savvy about a One-Man Army.

This trope is most often seen in First-Person Shooter video games, though it's sometimes often seen in movies and television shows. Basically, it goes like this: A huge threat has raised its evil head. This threat is a danger to the entire nation/planet/galactic empire, and has already done a lot of damage. However, the government doesn't do the obvious thing to fight this oncoming hazard (that is, rally the troops, send out the Marines, and use its full resources to destroy the threat once and for all). Rather, they send in one man.

Now, the man might be a highly trained Badass, but he is still only one man[1]. And no one questions the government's choice in sending out one special guy, either. This is not a desperation move, as in Halo, where one guy is basically all the government has left... no, in cases like this, the choice is usually "send the entire fleet" or "send Joe the Badass".

And of course, it turns out to be the right decision in the end.

A common handwave/justification for this trope is that a full military assault would draw unwanted attention to the operation. As in, if we send an army to attack the secret base, the villain will just use his superweapon, and game over. But if we send Joe the Badass, the villain won't react so intensely, and we can get past his guard. More realistically, the entire army may be needed just to hold the villain's army at bay, or at least slow them down long enough to give Joe the Badass time to stop the villain. Of course, this depends on the bad guy being completely Genre Blind... If Joe makes a habit of succeeding at these missions he'll get a reputation for Doing the Impossible.

Related to It's Up to You and The Only One. Can involve liberal Conservation of Ninjutsu.

Examples of One Riot, One Ranger include:


Anime and Manga

  • Happened once in Mahou Sensei Negima. What reinforcement should the Mahora mages send against a force that easily defeated the Kyoto Magic Association and is about to release a Demon God? Their entire mage reserve, that would probably be too slow and too weak to make a difference, as well as leaving Mahora unguarded? No way. Send Evangeline instead.
  • Similarly invoked at times in Hellsing; Alucard is the most obvious example, but certainly not the only one. That series runneth over with Badasses.
    • Points to Alucard for actually being a One-Man Army. At full release of his Restraining Bolt system, Alucard can spawn an entire army consisting of EVERYONE HE'S EVER EATEN. Suffice to say, that's a lot of minions. And he could already fight hundreds of enemies, other freakishly powerful vampires, and reform from grotesque dismemberment and decapitation.
    • Additionally, following a certain incident at the manor, the Hellsing Organization loses most of its rank and file soldiers and resort to hiring mercenaries. The mercenaries are also wiped out to the last man by the end of the manga. Basically, if a character in this series isn't a complete Badass, he's a Red Shirt.
  • In One Piece, a major part of Rob Lucci's backstory involves an instance where pirates invaded a kingdom, taking their several-hundred man army as hostages, and demanded control. The World Government sent only Rob Lucci, who was only thirteen years old at the time, to deal with the situation. Turns out that was kinda overkill.
    • In that Rob decided the best way to accomplish his mission was to kill the hostages.
  • Kakuri in Bokko. When the small border city of Ryo is threatened by a large invading army, they send a request for help to the clan of Bokk. They send a single man to save the city.

Comic Books

  • During the police-strike riots in Watchmen, the "One Ranger" was Dr. Manhattan. Yup, that'll definitely do it. But averted with the other heroes, who tried to calm the riots by themselves and failed utterly.
    • Rorschach managed to quell the riots in his neighbourhood just by appearing.
    • The Comedian....did his own thing. By that, see how Invader Zim handles fires.
  • Deconstructed in Echo. Ivy Raven, NSB field agent, contacts her superiors and begins to get guidance from her Washington organization on locating and stopping the Phi Project, the military/corporate experiment that might end life on Earth as we know it. However, Julie Martin wonders why they have not received any support or personnel to help deal with the potentially Apocalyptic scenario. This causes Ivy to begin to think about it and she starts to agree with Julie that this might have some unpleasant implications as to the trustworthiness of her superiors
  • In one Judge Dredd comic after the "Judge Cal" arc, the Judges are trying to figure out how to clean up a district that had become totally lawless. The council wants to send in a small army of Judges. Dredd decides that they need to send a different message and convinces them to just send one. Dredd went into the district with nothing but his gun and a dump truck. He left, totally unharmed, with a dump truck full of criminals.
    • In fact, the very first Dredd strip portrayed Dredd going against a gang of criminals on his own for the same reasons.

Film

  • James Bond. He's regularly sent into situations the British government might more easily clean up by sending in a crack squad of SAS commandos. Somehow, despite the man-power shortage, he always ends up on top.
    • Man-power shortage? This is James Bond! He's too-much man for the bad guys to handle!
    • But Bond first has to investigate the situation, which is a task better suited to a spy. On several occasions he's backed up by an attack force for the Storming the Castle scene -- never the SAS, but then again an army of modern ninjas looks more 'James Bondish'.
  • The first XXX movie is a perfect example. The US government knew where the terrorists were, knew who they were, and had a good idea what they were doing, but rather than send in several highly trained multi-man strike teams, they send in Vin Diesel.
    • To be fair, the opening sequence was the government losing one of their highly-trained intelligence operatives to the bad guys, who had clearly read their book. And sending in strike teams when they don't have any actual evidence, as such, leads to... complications.
  • In Escape from New York, the government sends in Snake as a last resort, but in Escape From L.A., the president consciously utilizes the trope.
  • In the Star Wars films, Jedi Knights are sent out alone (or, occasionally, with their apprentice) to handle whatever problem happens to be occurring at the time. Of course, if the Jedi in question aren't the main characters, this is usually ineffective.
  • The Resident Evil movie Degeneration shows the government's wised up since the events of RE4. When the T-Virus breaks out in an airport, who do they send in to rescue survivors trapped inside? A "Specialist" by the name of Leon Kennedy.
  • In The Fifth Element, Action Girl Leeloo Minai Lekarariba-Laminai-Tchai Ekbat De Sebat is all that stands between the Earth and its Doom. Of course, as far as the government of Earth is concerned, Korben Dallas is all that stands between Earth and its Doom, so this movie uses this trope twice. Would that make it One Riot Two Rangers?
  • John Rambo in probably the entire film series.
    • In the fourth film, right near the beginning, there is an a choice between hiring an entire team of mercenary veterans festooned with guns or hiring Rambo with just a bow and arrows, and a knife. The employer chooses Rambo, and only hires the mercenary team when it looks like Rambo might not be coming.
  • At the beginning of Judge Dredd, two young Judges get caught in a shootout and call for backup. They get Dredd. Just Dredd. It's enough.

 Judge Dredd: [standing tall amidst random fire] What are you doing down there, Judge Hershey?

Judge Hershey: [crouched] Waiting for back-up.

Judge Dredd: It's here.

  • Stated in the David Mamet film Spartan by Bobby Scott, who is sent in to recover the President's kidnapped daughter. The title of the film is a reference to a historical example: King Leonidas I (of Thermopylae fame) sent a single Spartan soldier to a neighboring city-state that requested aid.
    • The actual situation is actually more of a The Only One since the hero has gone rogue and is using his own resources for the mission. The people in charge are doing a cover-up and do not want her rescued. He tells her the story to give her hope and gain her trust.

Literature

  • Remo Williams, the hero of the Destroyer series of action novels is a tongue-in-cheek satire of the One-Man Army genre of adventure fiction, but he's also a perfect example of this trope. The authors even lampshades it in the several of the novels of the long-running series by having everyone note how ridiculous it is to only send one man out to stop the latest menace.
    • Although this may also be the result of Remo being so top-secret that only the President gets to know that he exists, or at least originally being so.
    • It's actually explained in the first book of the series. The secret organization CURE is allowed to lie, cheat, and steal, but not to kill. This is because the President is worried about creating an agency that could be a threat to the country. CURE finally persuades the President to agree to one man. When one CURE member laments that one man is not enough, the head of CURE replies that's all they are going to get, so he better be a Badass. Luckily for CURE, he is.
  • Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40000 novel Brothers of the Snake starts this way -- with a single Space Marine sent to clear an entire province of evil sadist space elves.
    • Also used in one of the Last Chancers novels, where the titular team is sent in to destroy a hive city to contain a Genestealer outbreak. The "mass assault vs. single infiltration" justification is used explicitly.
    • "Sir, why send only one Arbitrator?" "Trooper, there is only one riot."
  • The Ranger's Apprentice novel series actually uses this phrase to describe the kingdom's group of elite archers, spies, and tacticians. It's not exactly wrong, considering this happens several times during the series.
    • In fact, there's a bit of backstory where the page quote is adapted to the (Araluen) Rangers, and the phrase is brought up several times.
  • At the end of the fourth book in Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard series, The Flying Warlord, Conrad suggests this trope. The actual reason he was there alone was slightly different.
  • David Drake's Northworld trilogy. The Consensus sent a fleet to investigate the disappearance of the newly colonized planet Northworld. The fleet vanished too, so they sent another one, and then a third when the second was lost -- and of course, number three disappeared as well. And then they got serious and sent Nils Hansen, a police special operations officer. Subverted, because as of the end of the trilogy, he hasn't returned to the Consensus either. However, he has become a god.

Live Action TV

  • The Doctor is called an army by River in the 'Time of Angels' Serial.
  • 24 skirts this trope. Even though Jack Bauer is backed by the CTU and an entire brigade of government agents that ought to be out there backing him up, somehow he always ends up going it alone. Sometimes at the direction of his superiors.
  • The series premiere of Walker, Texas Ranger was called "One Riot, One Ranger." However, in practice, Walker's almost always backed up by Trivette, and for larger operations a full assortment of law enforcement units help out. However, there are quite a few episodes where he does it alone because no one but Chuck Norris can do it.
  • This trope is pretty much the entire justification for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
    • Although the show could be considered a subversion, as it's often pointed out that the only reason Buffy has been the most successful and long-lived Slayer is that she's not alone. By working with a team, she is much more powerful than just a lone Slayer.
    • The Watcher's Council (before Buffy) seemed to employ a we have reserves concept. It didn't matter if a slayer died in an impossible mission, the next one would succeed. Or the the one after that.
  • Babylon 5 has this philosophy for the Rangers. It doesn't always work, and they have back-up, but it's mentioned in one spin-off. "One crisis, one ranger."

Music

  • In Marty Robbin's "Big Iron", a town that has been run by an outlaw that has killed 20 men who came to arrest him is finally saved by a single Arizona Ranger.
  • Steve Earle's "Justice in Ontario":

 It was the local police who made the call.

They said "Send us Corporal Terry Hall."

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • Spartans in Halo are treated more as tactical weapons than normal soldiers. This is lampshaded in Halo 2 by a comment from one of the marine superiors.
    • The Arbiter is the Covenant's version of the trope. Because of the lack of honour involved, they tend to use it as a Uriah Gambit.
  • Mass Effect is all about this trope. There's even a pretty well-supported in-game explanation for it, too. The Citadel Council can't send their battlefleet to stop The Dragon because it would spark a galaxy-wide war, so they hand the problem over to their One-Man Army. They don't even provide a ship and crew, the Alliance has to step in and give Shepard their new Super Prototype stealth frigate.
    • All Spectres are One Rangers -- literally; you don't get selected unless you're that sort of omni-competent badass and leader of men. The Council was savvy enough to stay on the lookout for those sort of people, give them a special designation, and use them appropriately. As force responses go, sending a single Spectre is considered one step below an entire warfleet.
    • On the other hand, other than Shepard him/herself every Spectre encountered in the game was either actively working against the council or corrupt. The council gives them no oversight whatsoever, and would actively prefer not knowing what they're up to.
    • Also, this is deconstructed and Subverted. No Spectre truly works alone. Shepard has an entire ship and crew at his command (including a team of six badasses who could each be a Spectre with a little more seasoning and Character Development), along with several independent weapons developers contracting to provide them with arms and armor. Saren, meanwhile, has built himself into a major corporate power player and has an army of mercenaries, asari commandos and geth at his command.
    • The sequel averts this trope completely, as the whole point of the mission is to gather enough elite badasses to pull off a Suicide Mission successfully.
  • Free Space and its sequel were somewhat notable for making the protagonist just a wheel in the cog of the army machine, particularly toward the end of the sequel, where you don't really win anymore... you just hope to survive. It speaks volumes about this trope that the games were actually criticized for detaching the player from the plot this way; people want to be the Guy. Not that one.
  • In general, any FPS game will have this situation, either by design ("We're sending in Joe the Badass"), or by happenstance ("We're sending in a squad of marines, but they'll all be killed except for Joe the Badass").
  • In many games, the player can respawn at the beginning of the level when they die. When the player is also a generic soldier, this allows for the interpretation that they're not really a One Man Army at all - just an endless series of expendable grunts. This is explicitly the case in the side-scroller Prinny.
  • Mobius One from Ace Combat 04 Shattered Skies had well proven his One Man Air Force credentials, so in the Operation Katina of Ace Combat 5 The Unsung War, when a resurgent Erusean military tries to attack, he alone (and AWACS SkyEye, but he never fires a shot and so doesn't count) is sent to fight them off.
  • Lampshaded in Half-Life 2 when Breen notes Gordon Freeman's tendency to plow through enemy forces like a weedwhacker. At the moment of his apparent defeat, he reveals he's aware that somebody wanted Gordon to be there, and to do what he did.
    • Whether this trope actually applies is still an open question. Yes, the G-Man sent Gordon in alone to take down the Combine (presumably), but his perspective and resources are, well... unusual, to say the least.
  • Justified in Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty, where a Navy SEAL team is sent into Big Shell and promptly slaughtered by one of the villains. Even worse, the SEAL team was sent in as a decoy, so that Raiden would be able to infiltrate undetected. High Command didn't just know the SEALs were in danger, they purposely sent them to their deaths.
    • Actually subverted in Metal Gear Solid, at first, it may seem like the government's putting a lot of faith in Snake's abilities, but in the end, it's revealed the entire point of sending him was to spread a biological weapon and kill everyone.
  • Commandos in Command and Conquer. Made quite explicit in the FPS Renegade.
  • This fits Samus Aran of Metroid to a T. The first time is a subversion in that the Galactic federation already tried and failed a large scale attack, so in desperation sent a lone bounty hunter. After she utterly annihilated everything, standard procedure became, "Send Samus first."
    • Not an exaggeration. In Metroid Prime 3, the Federation is Genre Savvy enough to hold off its entire space armada while Samus forges ahead on her own twice: The Space Pirate Homeworld first and then Phaaze immediately afterward. Even after the Federation's badass upgrade, they're not stupid.
  • Urban Chaos: Riot Response. It's you, and, for the beginning mission, your superior. For the rest of the game, you get you, a riot shield, a gun, and if you're lucky, backup in the form of a beat cop, firefighter, or EMT.
    • Sadly, the "backup" you're speaking of isn't backup. They're guys who you rescued and are escorting to a safe location, and until then, they support you.
  • Geneforge 4 & 5, being set during an open war between the Shapers and the rebellion, repeatedly make the point that a skilled Shaper in the right place is effectively an army. In 4, one Shaper is perfectly capable of securing a mountain pass all by himself, and the five infiltrators sent into a rebel-occupied province soon have the rebellion in disarray.
  • The opening sequence of Mega Man X Command Mission sees three Hunters being dispatched to quell a rebellion on a Floating Continent. While their mission is explicitly stated to be infiltration, with the full-scale assault as plan B, the distinction rapidly fades as the game progresses.
  • In keeping with its status as an old school style FPS, Sam "Serious" Stone is the only agent they send through time to recover the Plot Coupons, shoot his way through entire armies (literally, it's what the "Serious Engine" was designed for) and use them to kill the Big Bad. It's All There in the Manual that the time-travel device only allows for one person to be sent through, but still.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the protagonist is mandated by prophecy to become "Hortator", a warrior who goes into dangerous situations that no one else would dare to take on.
    • Though it's left ambiguous as to whether the plot was mandated by prophecy per se: after all, the Player Character is sent in originally by the Emperor, to act as a stepping-stone to Imperial relations with Morrowind. Also, the surfeit of failed predecessors suggests Azura was throwing heroes at the wall to see what stuck.
  • The backstory of Cave Story. An Artifact of Doom, granting its wearer insane magic powers, resides on an island bristling with dangerous wildlife. Several nations want this artifact, so they send entire squadrons of war robots to retrieve it and kill anything in the way. Meanwhile, some other, unknown party wants to prevent the artifact from falling into the wrong hands--opting for quality over quantity, they send a pair of robots to destroy the artifact. Said pair of 'bots succeeds (eventually), while the army robots all get destroyed. [2]
  • The Crusader games have the Silencer sent in on missions it would normally take an entire team of rebels to pull off. He's not entirely alone, with fellow Rebels doing troubleshooting from the base or taking out security measures not reachable from the game map, but you get the impression if they hadn't sent him for the meat of the mission they'd have to send at least five or six guys. In the final mission of the first game, he's supposed to command a squad of rebels, but due to complications they don't show up. He of course pulls it off anyway.
  • Vagrant Story - Riskbreaker Ashley Riot. "Reinforcements? I am the reinforcements."
  • Dawn of War II. The recruiting worlds of the Blood Ravens are under attack from a huge Ork horde. The defenders are Davian Thule, about 5 squads of SpaceMarines and 30 or so raw initiates. They need reinforcements. They get one guy. It's enough.
  • The backstory for the Fallout games explains that Power Armored soldiers weren't just good at fighting the Chinese, but also in subduing riots, with one being enough to pacify a small town.
    • Likewise, the NCR often takes a One Riot, One Ranger approach in its use of its NCR Rangers. Given that a single Veteran Ranger is easily the toughest human unit in the game, about on par with the player character or their NPC companions, this is quite justified.
      • And subverted too, exploring Vault 3 you run into a Ranger sent to kill the feinds there, after killing a few dozen sneaking in there he gets careless and suffers a leg wound form a trap, while he still gets out fine (able his leg needed to be treated) but its stated sending him alone was a bad ideal.
      • Of course, the ranger sent into Vault 3 was simply a standard NCR Ranger, who are tough but generally serve the purpose of being the Redshirts of the Ranger corps. The Veteran Rangers wear a Badass Longcoat for a reason: They're the elite of the elite.
    • The player can develop this reputation throughout Fallout: New Vegas: They may not be Rangers, and they may not technically be associated with any particular group, but that doesn't mean that people won't recognize the Courier's Badass status. Develop a high enough reputation with a particular group (especially the NCR), and rather than offering your services for hire, they'll beg you to help them out with their problems.
  • The first mission in Deus Ex. NSF terrorists have raided and set up a command post on Liberty Island, the location of UNATCO Headquarters. There are UNATCO troops and security bots on the island, but they are ordered to pull back and let the protagonist, JC Denton, handle the situation as a test of his abilities.
  • In each game of the Time Crisis series, one or two (for co-op play) agents with pistols are sent to fight wave after wave of terrorists and solve whatever time-sensitive crisis is threatening the world that week.

Western Animation

  • This trope was the promotional Tagline for Bravestarr.
    • Occasionally applied to one of its Space Western brothers, too. Some Galaxy Rangers episodes only had a single one of the main characters present (the Supertrooper duology, featuring The Lancer Shane Gooseman, are the most prominent examples), and were usually split into teams of two.

Real Life

  • In 414BC the city-state of Syracuse (on Sicily) was getting monstered by an Athenian invasion force of about 7,300 soldiers and 134 warships. Syracuse appealed for help to Sparta, which sent one man: Gylippus. The Athenians sent another 5,000 troops and seventy ships. Gylippus won. Not a single member of the Athenian force escaped alive.
    • To be exact, Gylippus was the general sent to lead the resistance.
  • T.E. Lawrence, a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia. The British government wanted to create a civil war in Turkey's Arabian provinces. So they sent in one guy to start one.
    • Although that was, at least in part, because he was originally intended to fulfill a diplomatic role, and not actually involve himself in the conflict directly. When he started doing so with some success, the British sort of just went with it.
  • The slogan for the Texas Rangers, as noted in the TV section entry for Walker, Texas Ranger up above.
    • Makes a bit more sense when you think about the fact that the Texas Rangers are more like a state-level FBI rather than a state-wide police department (in Texas, that'd be the Highway Patrol). They're not supposed to send in a whole big force. They do the investigating and coordinating with different police departments, and when they need a whole bunch of manpower, they get it from the Highway Patrol or local police and sheriff's departments.
    • Interestingly though, as the other wiki's article details, in the actual trope-naming incident it was pretty well averted, with other Texas Ranger captains and the Adjutant General present, though many of them may have come originally with the intention of being spectators at the bout, not keeping the peace when it was stopped.
  • The Mounties (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) have a similar reputation. Their original name was the Northwest Mounted Police, and they were given responsibility of just about everything north and west of Ontario. When the Yukon gold rush occurred, the NWMP made sure is was the most orderly and civilized gold rush ever seen, especially when contrasted against the California gold rush a few decades before. The Mounties today service as the federal police investigation branch (similar to the FBI), and are considered polite, professional, elite, dedicated, and fearsome if crossed.
  • Commando raids were conceived with this trope in mind (although they usually involve a team rather than literally using one "ranger"); send in a small force to go in quietly, carry out a specific objective (e.g. sabotage, assassination, rescue a person of importance, gather intelligence, etc) and then leave (optional).
    • It is also notable that in reality, while commando raids can be effective, they are never the war winning element that they are in fiction. Major wars are won by major battles, not commandos.

Notes

  1. (The ability to create clones or duplicates and summon monsters doesn't count)
  2. In the Aeon Genesis translation, at least. The Nicalis translation implies the opposite, that Miakid gaining the Crown was success for the army of killer robots.
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