It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these so I decided to poke around TV Tropes (and managed to make it out in one piece) and see what inspired me. Eventually I came across this one and if you’ve been around here long enough you know why a trope called Godzilla Threshold got my attention. This is one of those tropes named for a particular character who has ties to the trope. However, this one can lead to a few different tropes. That’s the danger involved with TV Tropes; a chain of tropes that can keep you spinning around them for hours.
The two tie-ins that interest me are the obligatory hero/villain team-up and breaking out the nuclear option, both of which also have ties to Godzilla if you think about it–the whole “lesser of two evils” thing (which is also a trope name). However, like most tropes it isn’t reserved for the King Of The Monsters himself. I don’t know where TV Tropes comes up with these names (some, like Jumping The Shark, the trope this article series is named for, and the Mary Sue/Gary Stu I know they didn’t invent) but when #@%# gets real, Godzilla is usually who comes to mind anyway. So what is this trope about?
There is wisdom in facing a threat with a proportionate response. Sure, There Is No Kill Like Overkill, but it’ll likely cause a lot of avoidable collateral damage, and it’ll guarantee that tomorrow the next threat is stronger. But every so often, the time comes when the threat is so great, the situation has gone so horribly wrong, that there is no proportionate response. When circumstances are so dire as to justify the use of any and every thing that might solve it, no matter how reckless, nonsensical, or horrific, regardless of cost. When even the summoning of Godzilla, king of the monsters and patron saint of collateral damage, could not possibly make the crisis any worse. Every so often, the situation crosses the Godzilla Threshold.
Usually this involves the use of nuclear weapons but it isn’t limited to that. The term “nuclear option” usually refers to any weapon or action of last resort against a particular threat. For example, the classic hero/villain team-up (which would be a fine enough name so why TV Tropes calls it “enemy mine” is confusing since that kind of unhelpful naming is what turns the site into a time vacuum) is usually in response to a threat so bad to both their goals (the heroes in defending the innocent, the villains in taking over or being the ones to wreck the place) that the only response is to team up. In the minicomics, where the Evil Horde were on Eternia instead of Etheria, He-Man and Skeletor would have to join forces to battle Hordak. If Hordak won Castle Grayskull Eternia is doomed and Skeletor will lose out on gaining ultimate power to his old mentor and current rival. In the old Transformers cartoon Optimus and Megatron had to join forces when either Starscream or the Insecticons did something to threaten the Earth. Megatron wants all that potential energy (and to not die if the Earth is transported into the sun or whatever) and the Autobots to rescue the humans as well as not die themselves.
The trope name proper also calls on Godzilla himself. In the Heisei era, the second series of Godzilla movies after Japan entered the Heisei period–I posted a Morning Video on the topic once–Godzilla is now evil. However, he’s kind of lesser evil compared to some of the monsters he faced there and even crossing periods to Godzilla 2000. As seen in Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah (which I did a Video Review of) they worked with the Futurians to get rid of Godzilla, then decided he was their only hope against those same Futurians when they broke out King Ghidorah, and then used King Ghidorah as a controlled cyborg, Mecha King Ghidorah, to attack the new and more smash-crazed Godzilla. I just realized how that makes the Japanese government look. Make up your minds, guys!
It also means sometimes they have to go with the dumbest, most risk-laden plan they have because nothing else worked and if they failed the world’s doomed anyway, so why not? TV Tropes lists some real world examples of that failing and succeeding.
In the modern era, syphilis may not seem like a terribly frightening disease. Yet it was the HIV of its era, potentially causing a dementia-like condition if left untreated. One of the only somewhat effective treatments was mercury injections, which certainly caused significant side effects but were preferable to tertiary syphilis.
The first fully effective treatment for syphilis was to literally burn it out of the patient’s body by inducing a very strong fever, and the best way to do that is giving them malaria. It was a widely accepted treatment for a time (apparently into the 1950s), even netting its discoverer Julius Wagner-Jauregg a Nobel Prize in 1927.
Simultaneously (1910s), Arsphenamine/Salvarsan was developed and used against several diseases including syphilis – an organoarsenic compound the preparation of which involved adding an NaOH-solution (lye) prior to injection, causing internal chemical burns.
Any scenario that could theoretically lead to a Global Thermonuclear War. (And to a lesser degree, anything that causes extensive use of biological weapons.) The concept of Mutually Assured Destruction however is an attempt at averting the trope, proposing that no-one could win any large scale use of nuclear weapons and that there is no possible way the Threshold could actually be reached.
The Trope Namer is a nuclear metaphor. In fact, Godzilla started as a purely antagonistic force and a metaphor of having a nuke used against you, then became metaphor for the idea of having to use a nuclear weapon once it was realized it would be cool if he fought other monsters.
In Basketball, fouling an opponent in the act of shooting (or in certain other situations) gives the opponent free throws, which are generally much more efficient than regular offense (most players make around 75% of free throws, meaning two free throws will yield 1.5 points on average, while regular offense yields about one point per possession). However, doing this also stops the clock and (most likely) gives the ball back to the other team. In late game situations, the team that is behind will intentionally foul the opponent and hope that they will miss their free throws in order to stop the clock and get the ball back. This rarely works, but it’s the last option for a team that is losing to try and prolong the game to tie or even win.
I wanted to end on something that didn’t involve crippling disease or nuclear war. Of course sometimes the story is about how using the nuclear option is actually a bad idea. Perhaps it will cause more damage than they realize, or the real heroes of the story came up with something better. It could also be the general is one of those xenophobic, borderline psychos who jumps right to the nuclear option, or it could just be a paranoid idiot who takes it on himself because he can’t convince anyone his delusion is reality. Using this option ranks from “I really don’t want to work with these guys” up to “not doing it is more dangerous than doing it, damaging as it might be” to “wait, we learned something and this isn’t the solution after all”. How can a writer go wrong? By making the nuclear option so dumb that it shouldn’t have worked. Sure, sometimes the odds are in your favor but somehow it can come off as lazy writing to get out of a corner. Like Optimus Primal says, “sometimes crazy works”, but make sure the crazy makes sense for the universe the story takes place in. Otherwise you’re pushing a solution that doesn’t make sense to your reader. Remember, the nuclear option created Godzilla in the first place.