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In the Babylon 5 episode Voices of Authority, this exchange happens between Ivanova and Sheridan:

Ivanova: Is there anything else you need?
Sheridan: A glass of whiskey, a gun, and two bullets.
Ivanova: Understood.

What Sheridan says feels like a quote from something. Does anyone know definitively whether or not it is, or if it's original JMS? If it is indeed a quote, what is it a quote from?

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  • Hmm, it looks like the best answer is a combination of the two given: That the line is original JMS, but that he probably knew of the tradition mentioned by @BobWarwick. I hate it when this happens. Which answer to accept? Mar 26, 2014 at 2:55
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    Well, it seems to me as if the tradition mentioned by @BobWarwick likely influenced the line, and Bob has less rep than Richard, so I'll give Bob the win on this one. Mar 27, 2014 at 2:50

3 Answers 3

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TVTropes make this claim:

This is actually a play on a practice of the British Army back in the imperial days, when officers (particularly those of noble birth) accused of heinous crimes would be given the option of a pistol with one shot, and a bottle of whiskey. Their subsequent "suicide" would be less damaging to their family than a trial.

For those that are interested, here are a couple of references to the practice in relatively recent British media:

A drink, a revolver - and the strange death of a Liberal leader
PETER OBORNE: So, who will hand Brown the loaded revolver and bottle of whisky?

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  • An interesting, but not quite definitive answer. Also, are you aware of any other references to said practice? Mar 25, 2014 at 4:50
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    I've looked into this, and all references I can find are variations on the same TVTropes page @Bob Warwick linked. Mar 25, 2014 at 5:29
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    But what is the first bullet for?
    – user11683
    Mar 25, 2014 at 15:03
  • Added a couple of links in the answer, since the link-handling ability is much better in answers than in comments. Mar 26, 2014 at 2:53
  • This is a great answer as it folds neatly into military tradition. That JMS in the statement quoted by Valorum substantiates why there's a second bullet underscores this as the source of the fundamental quote. One of the impressive aspects about JMS is that he was (and is) incredibly well read.
    – JBH
    Sep 22, 2023 at 3:04
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JMS answered this question in an online chat a few years ago;

Subj: Re:Poe, Zampolits, & 2nd Bul[let]
Date: 96-02-06 21:10:01 EST
From: JMS at B5
Posted on: America Online

The second bullet, in theory, would be for oneself.

The clear implication is that Sheridan will drink the whiskey, shoot Julie Musante and then shoot himself - (Warning - link is NSFW / nudity)

As to the origin of the line itself, there's no real indication that that it's not completely original. All of my attempts to find an earlier reference simply lead back to the same TV tropes page where you can find at least 20 variations on the same theme from earlier films and TV shows.

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  • I never had any doubts as to what Sheridan was implying. Although I suppose a debate could have arisen over whether the second bullet was for Sheridan or just in case the first didn't do its job. JMS answers that nicely here. Mar 26, 2014 at 2:47
  • @TreborRude - it's simply a very common tv and film trope. For example, there's a nearly identical line (not played for laughs) in The Dreyfuss affair which JMS would certainly have seen.
    – Valorum
    Mar 26, 2014 at 5:35
  • Thanks, Richard. I clicked that Julie Musante link at work. Thanks a lot.
    – Omegacron
    Sep 15, 2015 at 13:08
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I remember something about Margaret Thatcher... if a Prime Minister was to be removed by his/her own party, they would send two messengers with a bottle of scotch, a gun, and a single bullet. Thatcher kept an extra bullet in her hand-bag, so she could drink the whiskey and shoot the messengers.

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    Welcome to SFF:SE. I suggest you have a look at our how to answer guide for hints on the sort of answers we look for. In this case, a source for your memory would be a good improvement.
    – Politank-Z
    Jul 3, 2018 at 6:47

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